Posts Tagged ‘classes’


Jon: Arabic education… oh yeah, and 9/11

September 15, 2011

I never thought I would say this but I really want school to start. I have been here now for almost two weeks and we are just starting Arabic class tomorrow and I’ve had two other classes so far. Two days ago was my Arabic placement test though and we got the results today. My test score was not as high as I wanted so in order to be placed in the class I would like I have to retake the test. I will say this Arabic program and many others use a book called Al-keteb where as my school used a different book (throughout the US there are only about 3 books generally used, Al-keteb used the most). Because of this I learned vocab and grammar in a very different order making it difficult to place me in their system. Some people who have used my book are in Advanced II while I am trying simply to be in Intermediate I. Since Arabic programs are still very new in the US there is no standard program plan. After talking with people though and better understanding the format of the test I do not expect much issue in retaking the test and getting a score needed for Intermediate I, but it is frustrating. For someone who is better at critical thinking processes than memorization learning foreign languages is extremely hard. However once class starts up there are quite a few ways for me to improve including clubs, peer tutors and just studying with others.

I have started my the Environment and Politics of Water class which seems very interesting. The first half is based on science and the second half will be political. I am very happy with this model as I frequently get upset at my Political Science major for its lack of providing background information on policy issues such as biology, economics etc. Also it helps that the total cost for books for the class is about $4.00.

Lastly, I did interview with one organization yesterday for my internship and I received an email later that day saying the organization was “very impressed” and wanted me to intern there. I have another interview tomorrow with Friends of the Earth Middle East, a group that uses environmental issues as a point of commonality between Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians with offices in each area. They have received awards from the New York Times among other international awards for their work. Both groups seem very great and I would enjoy working with both. Heck if my program let me I would probably work for both but I’m assuming I will have to choose.  

Other than that no not much has happened. I did realize though that on 9/11 I didn’t mention much on here about what it was like being in the Middle East on that day. To be honest though that is telling in and of itself. I did not hear much mentioning of it in daily life here, such as at the University, taxi drivers, or on the street, yet that is very typical for political conversations. However seeing arabic news was interesting. I will assume most of you reading this are in America (has my nice blog audience tracker revealed, it also revealed over 53% of you are using safari as your internet browser). So I will first dispel the myth I have come across the most. No Arabic news station that I saw or understood endorsed the actions nor did any celebrate or even feel apathetic. Every station showed and reported extreme sadness at the lost of life. The loss of brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers. The day of 9/11 the world stood with us. That said the events of 9/12, 9/13 and on show how America diverged and lost the worlds support. As John Stewart of the daily show put as the title for their special segment last night “9/13… the day where we forgot the lessons from the day we just swore we would never forget”.  I am not turning this into a large discussion on the wars in the Middle East but I will just confirm that the Middle East severely disagreed with America’s actions after the war.


Emily: Barcelona Letters week 1

September 14, 2011

Dear Victoria: You are my señora for the next three months. Although we have had a few miscommunications the first week, I now feel much more at home. Thank you for opening up your home to random nieve American students.

Dear Clase de Español: I am definitely probably a little to advanced to be in the “beginning” class, however, mi profesora is more than willing to challenge me in order to get better. My deadline of speaking English in Victoria´s home is October 1 and with your will be so much easier!

Dear Skim Milk:  You are the thing I miss the most. Although they have something similar to skim milk it is nothing like my blue-ish-white colored drink back in the United States.

Dear La Playa (the beach):  I have been to you four times in the last seven days of being in Barcelona! That is what you get when you put a midwestern girl near the sea!

Dear Economy Class:  Everytime I take a plane that is more than 4 hours long, I make a personal vow to someday either work for a company that let´s me fly business class or have a job that gives me enough money to afford business/first class.  AKA the flight over to Barcelona was cramped, crowded, and full of bland food because I was in your class!


Lauren: Turning a new leaf…

September 14, 2011
Well first of all I went whale watching on Sunday. Two of my biggest fears in life are whales and boats and I thought it would be a MARVELOUS idea to combine them both and pay 35 dollars to do it. Although I was pretty much terrified the entire time, I somehow managed to get through it. Mostly because I never saw a whale. I saw a few dolphins and all of my pictures came out as little splashes but in person, they were pretty sweet. I have never seen dolphins in the wild so I was pretty excited about that. The one time a whale was spotted during the 4 hour trip was when I decided it was time for a hot cocoa…. typical. However, my friend Emily was on the deck and she is convinced that there was no whale. So I would like to believe that they lied just so that they wouldnt have to give us our money back…. rude.

On another note, I am taking this great class called “Being Icelandic: Icelandic Folk Tales, Beliefs and Popular Culture Past and Present.” *inhale* We go on field trips almost every week and last Thursday we went to a very interesting settlement exhibition called “Landnámssýningin.” It is a small museum in the center of Reykjavik that was established after they excavated a viking long-house in 2001. It is preserved in it’s original location. It is hard to understand through the pictures I took but in person, it is very cool. There was sort of a back room area where the tour guide digitally reconstructed the house and told us how the houses were made and why they were made that way. Also, we go in for free because it was with a class! That is probably the ONLY free thing I will ever get in Reykjavik!

Alright last part of this post… this week got off to a bad start because I was sick. Everyone who came here pretty much got the same nasty cold and so that was absolutely no fun. But I can feel myself getting better so with my health improving, I have decided that my attitude should as well. If you know anything about me, you know I have an attitude. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. But mostly it’s sassy. The past few weeks I have been waivering towards the bad attitude side and I think it is time for a change. I got a nice email from my mother this morning and after some tough love from Luke, I need to quit feeling sorry for myself. It’s been so tough for me to adjust because I LOVE my life at home and this is so different here. My sorority just had recruitment and got 33 new members and I want to be there and meet all of them, school started in Minnesota and I want to be there on a campus I am familiar with with familiar faces, and my sister just got engaged so I want to be in Texas with her flipping through wedding magazines and eating tacos (I can’t even begin to describe the lack of Mexican food here). But the reality of the situation is that I am here. I am here for a reason. I was chosen to have this amazing opportunity to live abroad for a YEAR on a full scholarship! I would be so jealous of someone who told me who had that, right?! I need to quit my bitching and just embrace it. I am here so I need to start BEING here. It may be easier said than done but for right now I am going to try my hardest to stay positive.



Margaret: 手表 包 DVD – shǒubiǎo bāo DVD – watch bag DVD

September 13, 2011

It’s been a little more than three years since I first went to Tiananmen Square and the notorious silk street market, and I must say, not much has changed!  The weird bits are 1. I am no longer a tourist, and the fact that I actually live here gives going to both places a new feeling, and 2. I can actually speak some Chinese now, which made silk street a whole different ballgame.

Of course when I woke up this morning, it was pouring rain, so what better activity to do on a rainy day than going to Tiananmen, right?  There was something glorious and whimsical about being there, splashing about in the puddles in the midst of Communism Communism Communism.  I was actually really happy to be there in the bad weather and found myself singing “Singing in the Rain” on the very pavement that the gate to the Forbidden City was built by the Ming Dynasty in 1420, thousands of students were murdered during the 1989 protests, and five Falun Gong members light themselves ablaze in 2001, though there is some speculation that this incident was a hoax instigated by the government to turn public opinion against the banned spiritual movement.  Sorry Minneapolis, your history just can’t compare.  

Silk street is a giant multi-level shopping center that is a popular tourist attraction due to its wide selection of counterfeit brand name items.  You will find everything from Chanel to Dolce and Gabana to Nike to Abercrombie to Prada to just about anything you could ask for.  However, you can usually find something about the products that makes it just a little bit off.  For example, we found one coat on which the tag read something like Budurbarry, a far cry from Burberry.  The quality of the clothing and shoes and actually just about everything else is especially poor.  It may look nice on the hanger, but once a sweater is examined more closely, one will notice that the fabric is extremely thin.  Skirts and dresses may be unlined and completely see-through.  

That’s why it’s incredibly important to not pay too much.  However, this is the hard part, especially if you have baise de pifu, or white skin.  The stalls are arranged in seven or eight foot cubes, each with one or two clerks, 95 percent of whom are women.  As a white woman, I will walk down an aisle and from every stall I hear some combination of “Hello pretty lady, want to buy?  How are you?  We have bag-es, you want to buy?  Good price just for you.  I give you good price.  Come see, come in.  Watchbagdvd.  For your mother, for your sister, you need earrings?”  Sometimes they will grab at my arms or hands.  If I see something I like, I will first inspect it for quality and then decide on my starting price.  Let’s just say I’m going to buy an I ❤ BJ tourist shirt.  For something like this, I would want to offer 10 RMB, less than $2 USD, as a starting price.  The clerks usually make you punch your numbers into a calculator even though most speak English.  Often times, they will give the price first, and more often than not, they will ask for 300+ RMB, upwards of $50 USD.  I figure they do this with the idea that foreigners don’t understand the exchange rate.  If I bring a Chinese friend, they are inclined to discount their starting price because they know I have someone who can tell me if I’m being ripped off.  When they suggest the first price, I usually laugh or shake my head or something and then offer up my price of 10 RMB.  The theatricals ensue.  Some of them pretend to cry or they scowl or they say “Oh my gawd” in their most American English.  The bargaining begins.  Their prices drop, and depending on the item, my prices go up because I usually start with a lower price than I actually intent to pay.  When they offer up their “minimum price,” I then walk away saying it’s too expensive.  They always call me back with a discounted price, and if it’s low enough, this is when I will buy.  I bought a tourist shirt today for 20 RMB, or just over $3 USD.  It’s a game that always leaves me feeling awful after (which I attribute to my Minnesotan upbringing), and I don’t intend to return to the silk street anytime soon.

This journey down the street was so very different from my experience in 2008 because this time I could do all of my bargaining in Chinese.  This would usually anger the clerks.  They insisted on speaking English to me.  In their head I am a foreign tourist with no idea of the exchange rate who they intend to rip off as bad as possible.  I insist on speaking Chinese with them.  It’s a bizarre flip flopped scenario, the Chinese person speaking English and the white person speaking Chinese.  Little do any of them know that I study Chinese at BeiDa, China’s premier university…

Although I had what I would call a “good day for Chinese,” this week was not without extreme frustration.  My kouyu class has made absolutely clear to me that I never learned how to speak Chinese.  Back home at Minnesota, any time we had to speak in Chinese class, we were given the prompts ahead of time.  I could go home, write my piece, make sure all the grammar is correct, make sure I have all of the tones down, return to class the next day and spit everything back mindlessly, word for word.  Does this help in having conversation in the real world?  Heck no.  I struggled struggled struggled so much in class this week, at times wanting to cry.  It’s one thing to sit in an organic chemistry lecture and have no idea what the prof is talking about.  It’s a completely different ballgame when you can’t understand the professor’s language!  It’s been embarrassing, and at the end of class everyday I worry that I didn’t even hear and understand that night’s homework assignment correctly.  However, I’ve talked to a few other students who have done this before, and they all say that they, like me, drowned for a little while until BAM!  They one day begin to have long intricate conversations in Chinese all the time.  Here’s to hoping that moment comes soon. Read the rest of this entry ?


Doug: Back to school!

September 12, 2011

Well I guess it’s time to start the real “study” part of “study abroad” (couldn’t avoid it forever I guess). Last week we started our first week of real classes after returning from a 5-day-long orientation at Lake Nakuru National Park. Highlights from orientation week included:

  • Trying to learn 21 new names. So far it has been just the 5 of us who came early for the August-Intensive Swahili Pre-Session. Now there are 26 of us total—making it a lot more difficult to go places. A group of 26 wazungu is a pretty big target for pick pockets. One girl already had her bag stolen from underneath a table.)
  • I also had my first experience of being successfully robbed. I was heading downtown with two friends to meet up with the large group of newly arrived semester students. We boarded a bus, and not long afterwards three men with large envelopes (a sure sign of pickpockets) got on after us. They moved to sit closer to us as soon as they could, and when our stop arrived, we stood up to get off. Instantly they started crowding us, “accidentally” pushing me back into my seat, and blocking the exit of the bus. My friend Chelsea realized what was going on and shoved the guy blocking the exit out of the stopped bus. We pushed our way out, and booked it to the other side of the street—only to realize that my travel water bottle had been stolen from the outside of my bag.  Luckily nothing valuable, but still a good reminder that we can never be too careful here.
  • After our 3-hour-long bus ride west of Nairobi to Nakuru National Park, we arrived to the compound in the heart of the park, where we would be staying. We spent the next few days in talks about safety, health, host family stays etc. , doing cheesy bonding games (takes me back to beginning of freshman year of college), and doing evening game drives through the park. Lions, zebra, flamingoes, and buffalo. Oh my! (Going from Arusha National Park in Tanzania, to Nakuru, I’ve seen enough animals to satisfy for the time being).
  • Every morning, afternoon, and evening, a large family of baboons would hop the fence into our compound, and just hang out for an hour or so. We would be sitting in a circle outside, doing one of our talks, and a massive baboon would just come strolling by. It definitely kept things interesting. Periodically our director would have to grab a big stick and chase them away.

Since I haven’t talked about what I’m actually studying here, I’ll briefly tell you guys. The program (University of Minnesota Studies in International Development) is focused on development (surprise!) and there are 4 main academic components:

1)      International Development—here we study developmental theories, what has worked, what hasn’t (and why it hasn’t) and the biggest developmental issues facing Kenya right now. What’s really cool though is that we get to choose a specialization track (Education, Social Services, Microfinance, Environment, or Public Health). I was torn between Education and Social Services, but for now am going with the Social Services track, since I’m thinking of maybe doing Social Work in the future.

2)      Kenya Country Analysis—this is basically overview of Kenyan history, pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, Kenyan political structures, etc.

3)      Swahili—the never ending attempt to become conversational in Swahili continues (I think I’m getting pretty close)

4)      Internship—this part does not come until late October. At that point we all split off and are sent to different parts of Kenya to work an internship with a developmental NGO for 6 weeks, based on what our development interests are. I finally found out (I was a little impatient) that I will be interning at The Wema Centre (Swahili for ‘goodness’)—a children’s home/ orphanage in the rural coastal town of Bamburi, 20 minutes north of Mombasa. Part of what they do is go into the city of Mombasa and work to get begging street children out of the city and into the orphanage, where many children ages 4-14 live, go to school, and eat meals—(much more to come on this once I get there). Oh, and I also found out I will be living with a Muslim family, with young kids, in a Muslim community, so that should be really interesting (again, more to come later)

Classes here in Kenya are a little different than back home for a few reasons. They almost never start on time, often get out early, and while our professors actually are very intelligent and the classes so far have been very interesting, the academic climate is just much different. Nobody is freaking out about GPA, grades, etc. I love Tufts, but let’s just say I’m not sad to learn for learning’s sake, in a much more chill environment.


Grace: Getting sick…

September 10, 2011

…with no electricity and only one bucket of water majorly sucks.  That is all.

Okay, wait, that is not all, this post would be way too depressing if I left it just like that.  Besides getting super sick and feeling really sorry for myself, this week was great.  We started all our regular classes (I’m taking Wolof, French, International Development, Country Analysis, Microfinance, and Public Health), and they were all really interesting and good.  My favorite class right now is Wolof because it is very applicable to my life right now, and the professor is hilarious.  It’s been fun coming home and impressing my family with practicing the Wolof I’ve learned in class.  I’m pretty impressed with myself for all the Wolof I now know, but I’m sure my family still thinks I’m mildly retarded when it comes to learning languages.  I’m sure they wonder why I still struggle to form intelligent French sentence structures after 6 weeks of living here.  But oh well.

After week 6, I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with the culture here, and I don’t feel as totally lost as I used to.  That’s not to say that I never feel totally lost, but now I feel like I know a little better what to expect, what I’m supposed to do, etc. Being here has definitely been a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot in the process: about myself, and about both Senegalese and American cultures.  I still have like 12 weeks left, and I’m excited to learn even more.

Okay, I’m sure the electricity is gonna go out soon (it’s been on for like 5 hours…this is suspiciously long) so I’m gonna go ahead and post this.


Mary: Tales from Dharamsala

September 9, 2011

I’ve been trying to write about our epic Dharamsala escapade for the last few weeks but I just kept getting (surprise) side-tracked. For the most part though, things have been pretty quiet in Jaipur since we got back. I’ve mainly just been focusing on school, which we have from 9:30 to 4:30 every day, and reading in my free time. They’ve really amped up the Hindi lessons! We’ve finally transitioned away from the English transcription system we were using to read and learn new vocab words and now we just write everything in the script! I’m incredibly excited because it finally feels like I’m making significant progress with Hindi but it’s also a lot harder than I expected! It feels so strange to struggle through each individual word, slowly pronouncing the sound each letter makes. It really is like being in kindergarten and learning to read all over again. But still, it’s so thrilling to finally be able to read and write in such a strange and beautiful new language!

Anyways, I’m mainly writing this post to share the story of my journey in Dharamsala! I shall start off my swash-buckling account of the small hill station in the northernmost reaches of this vast and wondrous country with the simple and beautiful truth – we didn’t really do much of anything that week. Though I am sure a collective note of confusion may now be heard rising up from the befuddled peanut gallery, allow me to explain. Fact: the city of Jaipur is exhilarating and fills me each and every day with a sense of awe and admiration for the multitude of ways that humans have come to call this planet we live on home. Unfortunately, I believe that in that week leading up to our departure for the north, I had come to experience firsthand a little phenomenon, all too familiar amongst foreign travelers to India, known as “sensory overload”. I was getting a bit, shall we say, frazzled. I was more than ready for a little vacation to somewhere that wasn’t exceedingly hot and wasn’t plagued with the constant blare of traffic horns. Regrettably, the roughly 30 hour rickshaw-train-rickshaw-train-bus-ricksaw ride it took to get from Jaipur to Delhi to Pathankot to Dharamsala was, quite frankly, miserable. I don’t think I’ve ever had feelings of being dirty, sleepy, hungry, and grouchy combine in as great a magnitude as they did that first evening in Dharamsala. To top it all off, as we wandered the streets looking for a hotel, it was dark and pouring down rain. However, good news is that when things start off going that poorly, they can really only improve. We finally found a hotel, negotiated a reasonable rate for the six of us, had a hot meal (complete with carrot cake and chai) in the upstairs café, took pleasantly warm showers and crawled into very comfortable beds and immediately fell asleep.

The next morning, all troubles of the day before were negated and negligible upon our first look out the window. It was indescribably magical. I actually had the feeling of being in some other world where prayer flags wave invitingly from the forests, tiny little women beckon me forward to feel the yak wool shawls they have just finished knitting, monks with shaved heads draped in curtains of brightest saffron orange meander through the streets and the clouds normally drift down to say nameste and hang lazily about all morning. It was also on this first morning that I had one of my most memorable experiences in India to date.

Hannah and I had gotten separated from the rest of the group, lingering a bit longer at some little shop. We were walking down the street, looking for breakfast when a small boy with thin, ungainly limbs and a wide but crooked smile stepped out of the shadows of the early morning mist, eager to chat. “Hallo!” he called, “How do you like Dharamsala? You are travelers? Where are you from?” He reeled of a series of questions, determined to demonstrate his mastery of the English language, hoping to keep us engaged. We were used to this type of behavior from the local street children, the pestering attention this boy was giving us, and I had a very strong feeling he was about to seek our charity. But I could feel something different about this boy, something more genuine. Perhaps it was his persistent yet determinedly casual knack for keeping up a conversation, or the fact that he did not immediately hold out his hand and ask for money, like so many others, which caused me to pay him a bit more attention. As we meandered down the small street, poking our heads into shops selling everything from yak cheesecake to singing bowls, we continued in the boy’s company. A solid ten minutes went by without him asking for anything. It was only when Hannah and I eventually found and were about to enter a restaurant for breakfast that the boy spoke up, “Please madams I was curious, I will not ask for money, but if you would buy me some rice before going in?” Since my arrival in India it has been my personal decision to refuse to give money to beggars but occasionally if I have a piece of fruit or pack of crackers with me I will pass it on. As the boy stared up at me with silent pleading eyes, I found myself answering his question with one of my own, “Would you like to come to breakfast with us?” He looked hesitant; I could see him weighing in his mind the price of missing out on potential tourists against the luxury of a warm meal. Keen to hear more of this boy’s story, I offered the added promise of buying him a bag of rice afterwards if he came with us, which did the trick. We sat down at a table outside with an excellent view of the surrounding mountains and launched into conversation. I learned that his name was Suratch and that he had lived in Dharamsala all his life. He lived with his older brother and his wife, a younger sister, and his mother. He was 11 years old and had never been to school. He told me he learned English from talking to tourists, and he promptly rattled off phrases in French and “Israeli” (which I took to be Hebrew), saying those were the most common languages he heard besides English. When I asked why he wasn’t in school he looked a bit confused and said simply “I am needed at home”. When it came time to order our food, he explained that while he would rather have the chocolate pancakes, they would be gone like that (with a snap of the fingers) and so he would like to have the porridge with bananas because it would be a better meal. We continued to chat through the rest of breakfast about nothing in particular; it felt a bit like meeting a new kid I was babysitting for the first time. As we left the restaurant and I took Suratch to a nearby food stall to buy his promised bag of rice, we were laughing together at the monkeys and he promised that he was going to marry me next time I returned to Dharamsala. When at last we shook hands goodbye, he looked me in the eyes with an enormous smile and said earnestly “I thank you Mary, I thank you, you are so nice, I won’t forget!” Watching him walk away, I was filled with genuine sadness that I wouldn’t see him again. I honestly cannot tell you why that particular morning I decided to spend around 500 rupees to buy breakfast and a bag of rice for a street kid, when every other morning on my way to school I walk unblinkingly past dozens of women and children holding upturned palms in my direction. I can, however, guarantee that the memory of sharing a meal with the little boy who gave me a glimpse of unadulterated human goodness was well worth it. Read the rest of this entry ?

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