Posts Tagged ‘exams’

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Margaret: 圣诞节 – Shèngdàn jié – Christmas

January 1, 2012

I am tired.  After a truly excruciating week of exams (one test had over 225 new characters), Michael and I headed to WuDaoKou last night to ring in the new year, albeit without plans or 150 RMB tickets to Nova, Beijing’s biggest New Year’s Eve party.  Before we knew it, we found ourselves in a bar surrounded by friends!  In a blur of colors, lights, drinks, and taxis, we were waltzing down the red carpet leading into Nova, housed in a giant, disused industrial gas tank.  Beijing nights…  Happy New Year!

And Merry Christmas!  Amidst all the exam and travel preparations, I haven’t been able to blog at all about my Chinese Christmas adventures, which I must say they were quite exciting!  Initially, my group of friends wanted to have Christmas Day brunch at a hotel in Beijing.  Most of the foreign hotels host lavish meal with free flowing champagne in thoroughly decked halls, so naturally they’re incredibly expensive.  At the last minute, Michael and I opted out and jumped in a cab on Christmas Eve heading to none other than IKEA.  Maybe a few years down the line when I’m a rich Beijing business professional (哈哈) I will wine and dine with Beijing’s finest at the Westin, but at the moment, you just can’t beat a 15 RMB plate of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes on Christmas.  We expected to see more but nonetheless spotted a few other foreigners who had had the same idea.  On the way out, we stopped by the Swedish food mart for some ginger snaps – a real treat!

Although I no longer consider myself a Christian, I was raised Catholic and have gone to church on Christmas every year since I was born.  Over the past few months I’ve been interested in attending a Catholic church here to see what it’s like in Asia but never got around to it.  What better day to go than Christmas, right?  Wrong, but I’ll get to that later.  After gallivanting around IKEA for an hour or so after dinner, it was still several hours away from the 11 o’clock midnight mass.  We headed to the church via subway but got off one stop early at Xidan, a popular commercial area in Beijing that I had just done Christmas shopping at the night before.  The square was full of young people laughing, holding hands, and, funnily enough, wishing others a Merry Christmas.  

The trees were beautifully decorated in gold Christmas lights, and a section of the square had actually been fenced off and lined with hundreds of thousands of white lights, giving the illusion of snow.  We spotted a Santa promoting a nearby blood bank, so naturally I made Michael pose for a photo!  It was a lovely evening, and the joy of the holiday could literally be felt in the air.  A young man approached us to sell us apples wrapped in brightly colored tissue paper.  Earlier in the day I had gone to WuDaoKou to do some last minute Christmas shopping.  Around every corner, vendors could be found selling Christmas hats, cakes, and even Santa suits, but by far the most commonly sold items were apples and oranges.  I bought a huge orange in an elaborate pink Christmas box and asked the girl why Chinese people eat apples and oranges on Christmas.  She said it’s because the word for “apple,” 平果, has the same character as the word for “peace,” 平安.  This struck me as beautiful, and when I peeled into my orange, I reminisced nostalgically about Christmas mornings past when my brothers and I would run downstairs to our stockings to find big apples or giant oranges placed there by my mother, who had done so just like her mother before her.

Finally it was time to head to church.  Beijing has four major Catholic churches: a north church, south church, east church, and west church.  I chose the south church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for midnight mass even though it was perhaps the farthest from IKEA.  The foundation of the original cathedral was laid in 1605, making it the oldest church in Beijing, but the current building dates back to 1904.  I chose this church because the present archbishop, Joseph Li Shan, was presiding.  Interestingly, he is one of only a few bishops recognized fully by both the Vatican and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church.

When we exited the subway station, we entered into the church’s pseudo front yard.  We immediately encountered long tables lined full of creche figurines and framed holographic pictures of Mary and Jesus that were being sold.  People were everywhere, and we were hassled into a line by men with megaphones.  I asked a woman behind me what the line was for, and she responded, “圣诞节礼物!”  Christmas gifts.  Umm what?  Red candles in the shape of apples were shoved into our hands before we were quickly shuttled off.  It was absurd but nonetheless a heartwarming surprise.

We finally arrived in front of the church, but when we tried to enter, another megaphone blared in our ears telling us to get in line.  And then we saw it.  A line a mile long!  We started walking.  And walking and walking and walking.  More men with megaphones kept yelling something about having a 票, a ticket.  My heart sank as I looked down the line at the green tickets in everyone’s mitts.  I had read something on the internet about how church goers were required to buy tickets for midnight mass in 2004, a policy met with outrage that was subsequently revoked.  Eventually I decided to stop walking and ask someone in line how we could buy a ticket.  The magic of the evening was truly heavy the air that night because I somehow managed to stop and ask probably two of the only people in line with extra tickets.  I grappled with my language as I tried to express my delight for their graciousness, eventually blurted out “Merry Christmas” as Michael and I headed away to the end of the line.

While we were waiting, a couple in line in front of us turned around and asked in broken English, “What will happen inside?  Will we eat?”  Umm no?  I quickly discovered that the large majority of the people who had come to attend mass were not only not Christian, but they had no idea what Christmas was.  They were simply curious and had heard that you were supposed to go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve.  This little gem of Chinese culture drove me crazy when our section of the line finally arrived at the doors of the church and they stopped letting people in.  Michael and I were confined to a jam packed square out front of the church.  Two huge television screens showed the happenings inside, and familiar carols sung in Chinese spilled out the wide open doors.  As we waited for mass to begin, none other than Santa came tearing up the aisles of the church, tossing candy into the crowd.  How Catholic, am I right?

The only good part about standing outside in the freezing cold in poorly selected tights and pumps was that the procession came right through us.  People all around us were pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the action.  Amidst the chaos, archbishop Li Shan looked simply at peace.

Right after mass began, we left.  It was simply too cold to be standing out there any longer, and the mass was entirely in Chinese save for an “amen” here an there.  It would have been cool to hear it though.  On Christmas day we headed to the east church for an English mass, and I was surprised that I still knew almost the entire mass word for word.  It would have been very easy to follow along.  In the cab on the way back to Zhongguanxinyuan, Michael and I agreed to open one Christmas present each.  We both outdid ourselves and had a plethora of wrapped gifts under my six inch Carrefour Christmas tree.  My gifts consisted entirely of chocolate, as I had requested.  We fell asleep watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” a tradition my family usually practices on Thanksgiving, although I had had exams the Friday after this year.

The next morning, Michael and I were joined by two of our friends, Megan and Angus, for a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausages, home fries, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate before heading to the east church via cab.  We arrived about fifteen minutes before mass was scheduled to begin, and we joined the mob of about fifty or so foreigners and Chinese outside the locked front doors. We waited and waited and waited.  All of asudden it was 4:00, and then 4:15, and then 4:20.  Finally someone came around and said the side door was open.  Michael and I and a few others ventured over and went in.  To our surprise and frustration, mass was already thoroughly underway with about eight hundred people already in attendance.  We stood in the back.  The mass was exactly the same as a Christmas mass in Minnesota.  The songs, the prayers, the giving of people, all the same.  The only difference was the old white minister stopped and asked in truly the worst Chinese I’ve ever heard for more volunteers to help administer communion.  It was pathetic…

Michael and I had dinner at Subway (our favorite!) after trying and failing to locate a quality Chinese restaurant in a nearby new glitzy shopping mall on Wangfujing.  After a stop in the foreign bookstore, we strolled up and down the decorated street of Wangfujing, veering off down the snack street before heading home.  We passed on the star fish.

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Chiyo: Schools out!

December 9, 2011

I can’t believe I’m DONE with class for the semester! All my final papers have been turned in, and my one real exam was taken yesterday. Oh, and did I mention my PARENTS are in London?! I’m still getting used to them being on my stomping grounds. I didn’t blog yesterday, so I will fill you in on my day yesterday.

I woke up getting an e-mail from a fashion company back home for an internship I applied for, and they want to interview me when I get back to the states, so that was the perfect way to start off my day! Then, I went to my bus/adv final, and felt really good about it when I turned in my final paper and exam, and was free to dink around London for about 6 hours before my LTI class. My flatmate Katie and I visited the German Christmas Market that is right along the Thames, and ate lunch at Giraffe. She had to get back to class, so I went off to Sloane Square to visit the Saatchi Gallery. After taking bus/adv here, I HAD to visit the Saatchi Gallery. It was amazing. Like no other gallery I have visited before. If there’s one thing living in London has given me, it’s a greater appreciation for fine art, and frankly, “odd” art. Which is what the Saatchi brothers had collected over time. I walked around the Chelsea area, because it is definitely a fashion person’s paradise, and headed back to CAPA to hang out in the lounge before class.

In my LTI class, we were a very tight knit group of students, and bonded with our professor like no other. We talked about what we would miss the most about London, what is the first thing we’re going to do when we get back to the states, and just general memories from being here. Before we left, our professor John told us he had a going away gift for all of us. We weren’t expecting anything, so when he told us we all went “Awwwwww.” His wife is a poet, and recently published her first children’s poetry book, and it did so well it’s going on its 2nd edition. He told us he wanted something that we could always remember him by, and it is just the cutest little book! Once we said our goodbyes, that’s when it really hit me-I’m leaving London on Saturday (although I will be back at night, only to leave Sunday for Scotland), and I am trying to soak it all in while I can. After class was let out, 2 of my flatmates and I went to Picadilly for dinner at a pub we went to way back in September, and then called it a night.

Today, I had two final papers to turn in, and was free to go by 11:15. I checked my e-mail to see if there were any updates from my parents that they may had sent me the night before, and I received a notice from my flatmate Katie’s mom telling me she was admitted to hospital. Naturally, I started freaking out, and I gathered everything I needed to get for her, and found out how to get to the hospital she was taken to. Side Note: Katie is doing just fine; just a little scared being in a foreign country and this being her first time in a hospital as a patient. The hospital was a bit of a ways away, and when I surprised her, she was so happy to see a familiar place. Hospitals give me the heeby jeebies, as the last time I was in one was for my sister. I chatted with her for as long as I could to keep her spirits up, but I was already running late in meeting my parents. So I had to say my goodbyes, and was off on the bus, to the tube station, to find my parents at there hotel. I couldn’t get ahold of them via mobile, so I prayed that they would be in there room when I got to the hotel. As I was approaching, I saw my mom on the computer in the lobby, and my dad at reception. I literally ran into the hotel, ran to my dad, and gave him the world’s biggest hug. I was SO happy to see them.

Once I told them why I was running behind, we went up to their room where we caught up, and went on a bus tour since they don’t have much time in London, and want to see everything they possibly can. I talked about each of the places they were seeing, and then we got off right by the Thames so I could show them the German market. My dad loves to walk around, so he was happy to get off the bus and move around. They absolutely loved the market, and are still getting over the shell shock of how expensive everything is here. It started to rain pretty hard, so we had to make a quick decision on where to eat, and where do they pick? GIRAFFE! I couldn’t help but laugh. After dinner the rain had stopped, and my parents were exhausted from traveling all day and most of yesterday, so I went to the tube, while they headed back to their hotel and I will be seeing them tomorrow afternoon. They’re going to the Tower of London, and seeing as I’ve been there twice now, I didn’t really want to go a third time. That, and i have lots of little tasks left here at the flat to take care of. I still can’t believe my parents are in London…

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The gift from our LTI professor 🙂

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Margaret: 宜家家具 – yijiā jiājù – IKEA

November 30, 2011

After a rough week of exams and an even rougher weekend, Megan, my Jersey girl, and I set out for some therapy that only the Swedes can provide.  IKEA, or 宜家家具.  I adore this Chinese name.  宜 by itself means “suitable,” but it is more well-known as one of the two characters that make up 便宜, the word for “inexpensive.”  家 refers to anything to do with “household” or “family,” and 家具 means “furniture.”  Thus, we’re left with “suitable household furniture.”  When read aloud, it sounds something like yi jiā jiā jù.  Genius.

Our first stop, obviously, was the restaurant.  Two plates of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes later, my stomach was full but happy.  For the record: everything tastes the same as IKEA food in the United States and presumably the rest of the world.  Somehow I’d really like to go back there for Christmas dinner.  After about two hours of pushing through 人山人海 (rénshānrénhǎi – mountains and seas of people), I had about 580 RMB worth of necessary materials to IKEA-ize my room.  As usual, I felt a twinge of guilt spending that much at IKEA of all places, but that changed this morning: I woke up warm for the first time in many weeks, the harsh overhead lighting in my bedroom will never taunt me again, my feet didn’t go numb this morning on the ice-like tile, and I had a buddy to spend the night with.  I’ve named him 大王 (Dàwáng) or Big King.  I’ve known a few Americans with this Chinese name.  The English translation in itself is quite ridiculous, but the sound of the second Chinese syllable is really the entertaining bit.

IKEA is a phenomenon in China.  Many urban Chinese go there just for fun, and it isn’t uncommon to see people laying in the showroom beds asleep, with a book open, or cuddling with a significant other.  If you’re interested, check out this LA Times article: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/aug/25/business/fi-china-ikea25.

Lately I’ve been falling slowly into the big black hole of a “Me against China” mood that swallows me from time to time.  Luckily, all of that changed today.  When asked if I feel I’m improving at Chinese, I always answer with a sharp “no.”  Frankly it doesn’t feel like anything.  I still can’t speak basic Chinese in simple situations, usually because I don’t feel confident enough to do so.  Today, however, my jaw dropped when laoshi handed me my intensive Chinese exam.  64 out of 70.  The high score in my class was 65.5.  I looked around at my class of Japanese and Korean students in disbelief.  How could this be possible?  I had always known I was the worst in the class.  My day got even better when I arrived at my speaking class.  Laoshi was rambling on about grades, but I was feverishly looking something up in my iPod Chinese dictionary, almost too distracted to hear 柯小玫, my name, in the same sentence as 听写 (tīngxiě).  So I had scored the highest in the class on my 听写, which literally translates into “listen” and “write.”  Nearly every night I sit at my desk with my book and whiteboard in hand, scrawling out each and every new character, stroke by stroke, and memorizing the sound.  The next day in class, the teacher reads the words aloud, and I write them.  It was no surprise to me I had scored so well on my 听写 – it’s the one thing I know I can do perfectly if I put the time in, which I always do.  I went back to my dictionary, only to hear my name again a few moments later.  I had received the highest score on my oral exam speech along with two other students.  Umm…..WHAT?  I can’t speak Chinese.  I had even awarded myself a 75% on my own performance of a five minute speech detailing the surprise I encountered when I arrived in China the second time to find out that actually not all Chinese people speak English, as I had stupidly and naively assumed after having my hand held for the entirety of my two week trip to China in 2008.  In true Chinese form, Peking University and presumably universities across China have an obsession with broadcasting who in the class are the best students.  Well, as of this point, 柯小玫 is number one, an announcement that was made all the more embarrassing by my loashi’s overly enthusiastic and my classmates’ underwhelming applause.

My exam results made me feel better and worse at the same time.  While it felt good to feel successful momentarily, I quickly reminded myself that I still don’t know how to order food without resorting to pointing at it, I still yell out “left” and “right” from the back seat of cabs because I don’t know how to say “turn,” and my eyes still glaze over blankly when someone tries to talk to me even when they say something that I’m perfectly capable of understanding.  Somehow I’ve managed to “try” my way around Chinese without learning it.  I’ve reached the top of the class with just enough effort to score well but not enough to actually have the language stick.  I guess it’s a good skill to have with regards to organic chemistry or physics exams, things that I will never have to use again, but it’s entirely useless when learning a language.  My test scores have left me feeling rejuvenated and with a clean slate, so these next few weeks, I’m really going to try to apply myself once more.  In fact, I think I’m going to start by looking up “turn” once this is published.

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Natalie: Christmastime & I’m almost done…

December 15, 2010

It’s December… already! I have no idea where the time went, but I’m leaving Norway at the end of this month. It’s a surreal feeling. Home is within sight now.

I had to move out of my apartment this week. That meant packing. To my surprise all of my things fit in the 2 bags I brought them over in! Yeah! Now I’m staying on the couch in the living room. Super snazy. There is absolutely no sound barrier between the room and the kitchen. So when somones cooking at 3 in the morning (?) I can hear it!

This week I also spent revisiting some of the tourist sights in Oslo. Frank and I went to Vigeland Park:



I also did some Christmas shopping for all my lovies at home. I hope you like chocolate.

Friday, Magda, Jamie and I made cookies ALL day. We listened to Christmas music and made sugar cookies, raspberry thumbprints, peppermint bark, and peanut butter chocolate cookies. It took us all day! We also watched “Elf” that evening. Magda had never seen it. She thought it was hillarious.


Saturday Magda and I went to the Christmas market at the folk museum. It was one of my favorite experiences here in Norway other than the fact it was freezing cold out! There were stands selling everything from hand knit mittens to candied apples.



After the christmas market I came back and did some studying for my last final, Norwegian Life and Society. I think I did really well. The only thing I had trouble with was naming the top 3 political parties in Norway. Labor, Conservative… no clue.

After the exam a couple of us took the new T-Bane up to Holmenkollen. It was freezing, but so beautiful. We even spotted some Norwegians in their natural habitat! The woods. There is an amzing sledding hill here in Oslo. You can slide for about 10 minutes! Afterwards you just hop on the T-Bane and ride to the top again. It’s amazing! You have to pay to rent one of their sleds though.



Afterwards we rode to the city center and went to another Christmas market. The lights were really beautiful.
Here are some photos:


Tuesday Cecil came over and we made a wonderful lunch. Basically we threw every vegetable and leftover into a wok and stirred it into a lovely sauce for some rice. Coming down to the last couple days in Oslo is tough food wise. I’m sick of Ramen noodles and I only have 8 packs left to eat! Afterwards we went out to Sognsvann and walked around on the ice and out to a small island.




The frosted over trees are absolutly breathtaking.

And now I have to say goodbye to everyone I know here as I am leaving for Rome and Paris. I have this panicked feeling. This is the end of the most amazing journey in my life. I DON’T want it to end.

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Natalie: D-Day!

November 25, 2010

Today I had my first exam. last night I was so exhausted I couldn’t study a minute more. Exhausted from studying! I’ve never studied so much… EVER!

We had 4 hours to answer one of 2 questions, I chose this one:
Describe shortly what Schanbacher means by the concepts food security and food sovereignty. Then discuss different strategies of reducing hunger in the world. Finally, state shortly your view on the most effective strategy in this respect.

Oh boy. My heart was definatly beating a bit faster, but I knew this stuff and thought I knew exactly how to attack it. Unfortunatley after what I thought was 1 hour, 3 hours had passed. Oops! Now 1 hour left to write 3/4 of the argument I still had to make. Lets just say the conclusion didn’t go so swell. It was odd also because all of the directions for the exam were given in Norwegian. Nice. So it was left on the little old lady who was assigned to watch us to translate for us. It was also weird because we were allowed to leave the room, even go outside with that woman following us… not that I had time for that, but just saying. We were also allowed to have food, maybe another one of the reasons for overestimating 4 hours. The clementines are sooo good here! I needed about 4 more to make the points I wanted to. Oops.
1 down, 2 to go!

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Trystan: Time

May 12, 2010

As I write this, I have 14 hours of exams staring me down. (First off, isn’t that insane!? 14 hours of exams for 3 classes – jeez!). I’ve been studying Norwegian for a good portion of the day, and need to continue. I really hope to take more classes when I get home. I know it’s not “practical,” but I really like the language—this coming from someone who sucks at learning them. That’s not to say I’ve had the same experience as some others studying abroad. I didn’t stay with a host family, nor did I even live with Norwegians. Though I can read and speak at a basic level, conversations with proper Norwegians are still firmly out of my grasp. The speaking is one thing; the dialect is another beast entirely. Conversations I instinctively know I should know are incoherent to me. Bit frustrating, but ah well.

I’ve started planning out my summer travels. Leaving is definitely going to be very bittersweet. I’m scared as hell, but I can’t wait to be “out there” travelling around for 2 months. I’m going to miss Norway, a lot. I’m absolutely going to miss everyone in Fantoft more than I can even put in words. These people have become part of my life in ways that I will not and cannot forget. I don’t want to get too sentimental just yet. We’ve still got a whole month left! Finals, shminals: there’s plenty of time to enjoy ourselves. And I’m going to see most of them in their hometowns / areas this summer. But already I’m starting to feel it. It’s going to be a long, difficult process—one which I’ve never had to deal with before and will most likely not experience again. This kind of long-distance, long-term, conceivably permanent separation? It’s staggering to think about. But it’s also incredibly humbling and gratifying. How was I lucky enough to run into all these people, at these particular times in our lives? It seems to good to be true. I’m starting to get that strange dream sensation that I had when I first came here. Is this real? Am I really in Norway right now? Can this actually be my life?

Funny how that comes full circle. Maybe it’s an automatic reaction to loss or change, I don’t know.

At any rate, this is the best dream I’ve ever had. Please don’t pinch me just yet.

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Adam: Goodbye Norway. Tusen takk.

November 26, 2009

After I returned from Tromsø, the countdown was on. Home was just around the corner. The last week of my semester abroad was fast and random.

Our last few day of classes really focused on wrapping up our Norwegian experience and included a visit to the US Embassy. Much like our visit to the Embassy in Stockholm, our speaker was very rah-rah America. He was also very blunt about Norwegians being a bit too idealistic and naive when it comes to international politics. Snap!

Tuesday was an early morning as we had our Norwegian final to do. It was not too difficult, but after a semester of writing papers, it was odd to just fill in the blank. Later that afternoon, we had our oral exam. Astrid came a little early and brought us a marzipan cake and coffee, because she had to reinforce that she is the world’s best Norwegian teacher.

My last two days were spent at a cabin, which required a two-hour hike to get to. My fave. The stay was a part of class and was meant to be a way for all of us to say goodbye. Instead, it ended up being a really relaxing night that didn’t really include any closure. It did include an intense dance party that consisted of Sonja and I dancing and sweating. A lot.

I actually didn’t feel like I needed closure, since it didn’t feel like I was saying goodbye. Sonja and I plan on seeing each other a lot since we both go to the U. And I enjoy Erika and Kirby’s company enough that I would be more than happy to road trip down to Ohio or Massachusetts to pay them a visit. Also, it’s only matter of time before Lisa and Charlotte come over from Germany and embark on a journey through the States, including Missouri.

My journey home was a long one, but my excitement made it relatively enjoyable. My eight-hour flight from Oslo to Newark was full of movies and sleeping. Going through customs wasn’t nearly as scary as I had originally imagined. And the ghetto little plane I took from Jersey to Minneapolis didn’t blow up or rattle itself a part. I ended up making it home in one piece!

It’s hard for me to believe I did so much in the last semester. I learned a lot about Norway, travelled all over and experienced some amazing things! I mean, I lived it, but I can’t believe that was my life for three and half months.

Now that I’m home, I plan to enjoy my two months off and to see all the people I have missed. My adventure doesn’t stop, it continues. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to go abroad and have such an amazing time!

Tusen takk, Norway. You were great! Ha det bra!

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