Madelyn In TCI: A Morning Dive

September 16, 2019

Hey y’all! So far I’ve been on the research base for nearly a whole week. Our actual classes begin on Monday; this week has been dedicated to tours of the island, the water front, and swim/snorkel/dive tests. Our schedule is usually packed with activities from 7am to 8pm, Monday through Saturday. Saturdays are particularly fun though! This Saturday I woke up at 5:30 am (it was still dark!!!) and enjoyed some quiet time to read until breakfast at 7am. I usually sit on a bench by the conch wall, which drops down to the ocean about 30 feet below, and the sound of the waves on the rocks is very soothing. After breakfast a group of us headed out onto the boat to scuba dive for the first time of the semester. We went out to a dive site where a plane had crashed and formed an artificial reef for many different and colorful fish to congregate around. From the boat, we sunk to the sea floor, which was about 60 ft. down. There were little patches of coral with all sorts of organisms. I saw a giant Caribbean Sea Anemone and the invasive Lionfish almost immediately. I’m currently having some issues with my underwater camera but will be including pictures in future blogs, so stay posted!

On the boat to explore the ocean.

We followed our dive leader to The Wall, where the seafloor drops from 60 ft. to about 300 ft. We felt like Nemo, going to the edge of the coral reef to stare out into the great expanse of open blue water. Along this edge a Great Barracuda saw me and began swimming directly towards me, probably curious. Their scales flash black if they’re truly being aggressive and this one remained silver, but it was still a little unnerving and I was relieved when it turned away. As the group meandered our way back to the boat, I saw a Green Sea Turtle swimming through the coral off to the side. I’m always fascinated by how unbothered and relaxed sea turtles look while they swim. A bit further on in the dive, a huge black fish took an interest in our group. It was about two feet tall and long and kept swimming around all of us and getting very close. Our dive leader and interns didn’t know what kind of fish it was, but it was very cool to get checked out by a fish. The experience just emphasized the idea that we were visitors in another creature’s home.

One of my favorite parts of diving and snorkeling is experiencing such a different world without harming it. We will be doing a lot of this for my classes this semester and I’m very excited to learn more about the marine environment and the creatures that inhabit it! I’m also excited to become more comfortable and skilled underwater with all of the practice. It’s going to be a very fun semester!

Watching another beautiful sunset over the ocean.

A Caribbean sunset.


Camellia Travels the World: Human Rights vs. human rights

September 13, 2019

It has been a week since the program started, and we have been contemplating the concept of “Human Rights” vs. “human rights”. In short, Human Rights is a regime of governance working to advance it from the top-down level, while human rights is an array of struggles against oppression from the bottom-up. This is the guiding rubric of our whole journey; we do not only compare countries and their human rights issues, but also learn different forces that promote and defend human rights.

For that purpose, we are constantly dipping our toes into both waters, and I have to say, I am caught in a maze by the diverse range of organizations and their fascinating works fighting for human rights from all levels:

These are our “classrooms.” On the left is the renowned LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, and on the right is a multi-purposed building called Mayday Space in Brooklyn. Even though both buildings are associated with human rights, there is a distinctive disparity of influence and resources.

Visits for Human Rights. We paid a visit to the U.S. Mission to the UN, speaking with a senior adviser of Human Rights and Social Affairs and learning the U.S. efforts on promoting Human Rights around the world. We went to the office of elected officials, studying their contribution for the people of their districts; we talked with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, learning their specific work in defending Human Rights as International NGOs. Apart from these organizations who directly lobby for Human Rights, there is one organization that astounded me. Witness is an organization that teaches and uses the power of video and technology to promote and defend Human Rights. It does not directly lobby for human rights, but they help others to produce more effective videos and avoid potential harm. The group has offices around the world and its work consists of three layers: on the ground with activists, working as guidance for movements, and connecting with big tech platforms. Besides their unique approach for advocating human rights, their ethics impressed me as well. As we were talking about blurring faces in videos in order to protect victims and activists, our speaker also brought up the issue of privacy of perpetrators: should Human Rights apply to all humans, even if one is a violator or abuser of these Rights? This is a very complicated question to ponder. (To learn more about Witness: https://www.witness.org/).

The Twitter Post of U.S. Mission to the UN about our visit.

Visits for human rights. We met with many grassroots activists and organizations fighting for different rights, criminal justice, labor rights, economic justice for Jews, and housing justice. To explore more about grassroots organizations and their work, we were invited to a celebration dinner for housing justice at Mayday Space. We met many organization leaders who fought for new rent laws in New York. For many years, the tenants of NYC had been suffering from landlords’ violation of rights for just housing: shortly-posted evictions, constant rent increases, high deposits, inadequate repair services, and so on. They had been suffering for twelve years, and finally, they won the battle. After months of demonstration outside of the capitol and sixty-two people mass arrests, they have changed the rent laws. One elder lady also told us an anecdote of her victory: “A few of us went to the landlord’s house on a Sunday morning. We knocked on his door, and after a few minutes, he opened the door without checking who is outside. Then, we handed him an eviction notice. He was so mad, and he called the police. We ran to the yard and stuck the eviction notice everywhere onto the fence before the cops got here.” The event truly showed the solidarity of communities; the group is very diverse: different age groups, different races, different languages, etc. Yet, they united to fight for their own rights as well as all the tenants of New York. (To learn more about new rent laws in New York: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/nyregion/rent-laws-new-york.html). I am truly inspired by their courage and action to challenge the system and gain their rights.

Even though it has only been one week of learning and unlearning, I am overwhelmed by the depth we have gotten into, and I am grateful for all the opportunities to talk with different organizations and workers dedicated to human rights. This is truly an experience one can never get in a classroom. Alright, one week done, fifteen more to go!

Parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.


Madelyn In TCI: Starting the Next Adventure

September 12, 2019

Hey folks, I’m Madelyn, a junior and studying Biology with an Environmental Studies minor. I’m currently on a plane from Milan to Toronto. I’m actually studying abroad in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), but I have two 7-hour layovers in Toronto and then Montreal before heading to TCI. That’s just what happens when you buy the cheapest plane ticket, I guess! Anyways, I spent all of my summer in Greece WWOOFing (definitely look this up if you’ve never heard of it; it’s a great way to experience new countries). Then I took a terribly long ferry ride and spent five days in Bari, Italy, with my Italian host family from high school. It was really fantastic to be able to see them and my friends there again! And the food… my host mother is the best cook any of her friends know, which in Puglia, that’s saying a lot. I learned how to cook focaccia, panzerotti, fresh seafood, and so many different types of pasta. At least in southern Italy, the pasta stereotype is not much exaggerated! I also tried squid raw, which is something very unique to Puglia. It was surprisingly good with just some lemon, olive oil, and pepper!

Fresh squid from the local fish market.

So, after a lovely few days in Puglia, I took a flight to Milan. I can’t begin to explain the amount of struggle it took to make all of my suitcases fit the weight restrictions for this flight. You see, I had to pack everything for 6 months into one big suitcase, one carry-on, and one back pack. This includes my scuba and snorkeling equipment, because I’ll need it for my fall program. This flight to Milan was through Ryanair, which is usually very strict about their baggage allowances policies. By the time I was done organizing all of my stuff, I was dripping sweat and my back pack was quite possibly heavier than my suitcases. But guess who didn’t have to pay extra baggage fees!

In Milan I stayed with an old friend for a few days. Ironically, we were both neighbors in a rural Pennsylvania town, meeting up several years later in Milan. Not only did we explore the city of Milan together; we also took a train up to Lake Como, which is absolutely beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go there, definitely take the ‘funicolare’ up the mountain to the town of Brunate. It’s a quaint little town with many places to walk and enjoy nature. There is also a lot of folklore there about gnomes and fairies and it seems quite natural to imagine little mischievous creatures hiding behind the ancient trees of the mountain.

The tram station going up the mountain from Como to Brunate.

 

Walking through the forest by Brunate.

 

The Duomo at midnight.

So that is the story of how I ended up on a flight from Milan to Toronto as an American studying in Turks and Caicos. My study abroad program is a bit abnormal. It’s actually a marine biology research program, where I’ll be studying the marine environment and learning about how the population and tourism impact the ecosystem, as well as helping to develop policies to minimize the harmful effects. Most of my courses will be science-oriented, and emphasize really getting into the area of study, hence why I need my scuba equipment. My classes should spend a lot of time outside, whether it be hiking around to explore the various ecosystems on different islands, or snorkeling in the coral reefs to see in person the species that we learn about in the classroom. This sort of thing is exactly my jam, so I’m really excited to see how it goes! I’ll keep you all updated on whatever weird stuff I see or do!


Camellia Travels the World: An Extraordinary Journey Begins

August 28, 2019

Hello, everyone! I am Camellia, and I am a junior at the University of Richmond, majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy. I am from Chengdu, China, and fun fact, it is also the hometown of Giant Panda. At the age of fifteen, I boarded the plane from China to the United States to pursue education. During these six years, I have not only learned critical thinking and empirical reasoning, but also Frisbee playing and Netflix binge-watching. In other words, I think I have taken my root on the other side of the world; and, I decided that it is time for a new challenge.

Therefore, I applied for the International Honors Program with SIT. This has been my dream program since freshman year; it is unique because IHP gives me an opportunity to contemplate with one theme on a global scale. Gladly, I will also be with thirty other fellow enthusiasts and a director throughout the program. We are from different universities, we represent different cultures, we have different hobbies, yet we are all coming together for our shared passion for human rights. Over the next four months, we will closely examine the causes of struggles for human rights, the relationship between human rights and activism, and the comparison of “Human Rights” and “human rights”[1]; Moreover, we will travel to four drastically different locations: New York City, USA; Santiago, Chile; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Amman, Jordan. At each location, we will take classes with local faculty and stay with host families to learn and experience the authentic culture.

This journey is deemed to be extraordinary even from the prequels of my traveling. Long story short, I had to go to Boston for my Chilean visa, therefore I came back to the US a few days before my program. Everything went smoothly until I found out my flight from Newark to Boston was cancelled. It was already 8:30 pm, and all the other United Airlines flights were completely full. At that moment, my heart was filled with despair and my eyes were full of tears. All I had in mind was that I have to get to Boston in time. Thus, I cancelled my plane ticket and made up my mind to rent a car and drive, even though I had been tirelessly travelling for the last 20 hours. When I went to the carousel, I noticed another lady waiting for her baggage. I collected my courage and asked her if she was interested in carpooling with me. Amazingly, she agreed, and we even found two other girls wanting to share the ride. In the end, we embarked for our road-trip to Boston. We talked non-stop for almost four hours and learned a lot about each other: Elisa is from Italy, and she comes to the US to visit her high school host family in Boston; Sneha has just gotten her Master’s degree, and she is going to Boston for a job interview; Erin is on her way back to Boston for an important meeting the next day and her husband’s birthday… Now that I reflect on it, I would never have met these incredible people if I only sat quietly on the thirty-nine-minute flight; maybe the cancellation was not so disastrous after all. 

On our way to Boston. Elisa could not believe how much traffic there was at 11 pm in NYC.

There is an old Chinese proverb: “A good gain takes long pain.” I have finally got my visa after everything, and I am ready to start my journey, hopefully without any cancellations or delays. I will be sharing fun stories, travel tips, personal thoughts, and anything you ask throughout my trip. So stay tuned and wish me luck!

Me trying to paint my “selfie”.

 


[1] Stephen Hopgood delineates the two spheres of human rights in his book, The Endtimes of Human Rights, where “Human Rights” represents “top-down” influences while “human rights” relates to “bottom-up” movements.


KrissinKorea: 안녕Cherry Blossoms

April 20, 2019

It is with heavy hearts that Koreans and visiting foreigners alike wish the blooming Cherry Blossoms farewell. Cherry Blossom season lasts about 10 days in South Korea and it’s a pretty big deal. Stores like Art Box and Starbucks start selling merchandise and drinks inspired by Cherry Blossoms at least 2 weeks prior to their blooming. People from all over the world plan their visits to Korea and Japan in anticipation of witnessing this beautiful time of the Spring season. I was lucky enough to be able to walk just down the road to the main part of my campus to see some whenever I wanted to. Unfortunately the blooming period is over and all the petals are being blown away by the wind, which in itself is very beautiful to see. What was once a pinkish-white is now bright green—signaling that summer is on its way. Even though the time has passed, let me tell you guys about one of the most magical Cherry Blossom festivals I went to.

The 2019 Seokchonhosu Lake Cherry Blossom Festival in Jamsil was held from April 5th to April 12th. There was no entrance fee and anyone was welcome to enjoy the Cherry Blossom lined paths around the two, large, connected lakes. The two lakes are split by Lotte World, which is one of South Korea’s amusement parks. At the festival, visitors can bask in the awesomeness of the many cultural and musical performances taking place. Face painting, caricature booths, and experience exhibitions are also available for those who wish to participate. One of my favorite parts of the festival must have been the huge balls of cotton candy my roommate and I bought. They were way too much to finish, but we rose to the challenge.

When my roommate and I first arrived at the festival, one of the most impressive things we noticed was the amount of people in the area. Even though everything was so nice to look at, walking around without bumping into someone every two seconds was a real challenge. We tried our best to move with the flow of pedestrian traffic but many times people would stop abruptly in the middle of the path to take pictures or look around, which would cause a domino effect of people tripping over one another. Not fun. However, as the afternoon went by, more and more people grew tired of the crowd and started leaving, which was great news for the lot of us that stayed. This was the first time that my roommate and I were truly able to enjoy the Cherry Blossoms and got to take pictures of them.

Each Cherry Blossom tree is beautiful, but when you put them all together in clusters, they form huge bouquets that rise way above your head and extend for miles. The effect is amazing. Everything was great, but there was one moment that I remember the most and, as I am writing this, I still remember the feeling it gave me.

The air froze around us briefly before it came peacefully rushing past us as people kept walking by. The breeze hit first, making our hair and skirts billow along with it, but then came the gentle, snow-like falling of the petals. I stood in awe of the event before me and I managed to catch some of the petals in my outstretched hands. This only lasted about 15 seconds before it was over and the magic was gone.

Cherry blossom festival sign

In your heart, there is a Cherry Blossom blooming

I don’t know the next time that I will be able to witness Cherry Blossom season again in Korea, but I hope that it is not too far away. I have truly fallen in love with the many things this country has to offer and getting to experience the coming and going of the Cherry Blossoms was one of the highlights of my experience so far. I look forward to seeing them again soon.


KrissinKorea: Time to Hit the Books

April 1, 2019

Yonsei offers its international students a wide variety of classes to take, taught in both English and Korean. Most of the classes that I am taking while abroad will most likely go towards my major and minor electives. I am currently taking four classes: “KLI One,” “Introduction to Medical Anthropology,” “Media Psychology,” and “Media, Art, and Society.” Each of these classes, excluding KLI which counts as six, count as three credits. I was originally taking a fifth course, “Media Communication in Korea,” but I decided to drop it because studying for my Korean Language Institute class was taking up the majority of my time.

Statue Guy

The founder of Yonsei University: Horace Grant Underwood

All of my classes, excluding KLI, are located in the main part of campus, which is a 10-15 minute walk from my dorming house, SK Global. Although the walk can sometimes be a challenge when you’re running late or the air pollution is bad, usually it’s very refreshing. Yonsei University was built on the side of a mountain so on my way to class I encounter some steep hills and dips, but that makes it more enjoyable and and allows me to feel less guilty about not making time for the gym.

The main/central part of campus is, in my opinion, by far the most scenic and aesthetically pleasing area of the entire campus. Although during the colder months the greenery that climbs onto the buildings and gathers in bunches around the area is dead and gloomy looking, during the spring and summer seasons everything comes to life. I have only seen this in pictures but I am looking forward to witnessing it in person soon!

Although Yonsei University is considered one of the top three universities in Seoul, I have found that classes for exchange students have a lighter work load than at Richmond. That is not to say that I am left with free time, but if I was back at UR I would probably be dying right about now. The expectations for students studying abroad at Yonsei are comfortable and allow me to learn the course material while still having enough energy to explore the city and hangout with friends.

My classes range in length between 50 minutes to an hour and 50 minutes which is great because in total I only have to be in that certain class for about 2 hours and 40 minutes each week. On Mondays I have “Introduction to Medical Anthropology” from 10:00am to 11:50am. After that I have a long break until KLI, which is from 4:00pm to 5:50pm every day. On Tuesdays I have “Media, Art, and Society” from 9:00am to 9:50am, and a couple hours later I have “Media Psychology” from 1:00pm to 2:50pm. On Wednesdays I don’t have class until 12:00pm when I go to “Intro to Medical Anthropology” until 12:50pm. On Thursdays I have “Media, Art, and Society from 10:00am to 11:50am and then “Media Psychology from 12:00pm to 12:50pm. Lastly, on Friday, oh how I love Fridays, I only have KLI from 4:00pm to 5:50pm. Fridays are my favorite because I have a lot of time to sleep in, catch up on homework, or go exploring in Sinchon.

Pathway to Sinchon

All roads lead to Sinchon

I am really enjoying all of the classes that I am taking and so far my professors have all presented themselves as very caring and professional. I hope to continue learning as much as I can and making connections with my fellow classmates. I’m really not looking forward to the final group presentations that I have pending for two of my classes, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Good luck to all of you in school, in work, or life in general. Talk to you all next time!


KrissinKorea: An Evening Spent with Hungry Raccoons

March 18, 2019

South Korea, as well as Japan, is known for having some pretty diversely themed cafes. Just 15 minutes away from where I am staying in Sinchon, there is a cat cafe on the third floor of a building. I have yet to go there, but just this past weekend my friends and I made plans to visit a raccoon cafe in Hongdae. This was something I was looking forward to the entire week and when Friday finally arrived, I was beyond excited.

It took us about 25 minutes to walk from the main gate of Yonsei, to the subway terminal in Sinchon, and finally into Hongdae where we walked from the subway stop to the cafe. The raccoon cafe was on the fourth floor of the building, but if you didn’t know it was there, you could have totally missed it. When you walk in, there are lockers and shoe racks to your left, a barista station to your right, and a seating area directly in front. If you look further into the room you are able to see that a portion of the space is blocked off by a glass wall, which allows people to watch the dogs and raccoons play while they sip their drinks.

Once you pay for your entry pass and a drink, if you want one, you have to go put your belongings into a locker and put on the sandals provided. Customers are also required to take off any jewelry they have on in case the raccoons grab onto them. This process took quite a while for me since I have a bunch of earrings and even a nose ring. Once we were ready to go in, we walked into the entrance of the play area and instantly felt excited. There were so many dogs laying around and others nudging visitors to be pet. The raccoons mostly watched people in between nap periods. They occasionally woke up to grab bits of food, but then went back to sleep. Everything was too cute to handle.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Living the life

One of my friends was especially good at getting the raccoons’ attention and they often let her give them food. Unlike dogs, when you feed them, raccoons grab the food from you with their hands and put it into their mouths. They have the cutest little paws and they are so soft and warm. I was lucky enough to feed one myself and I have to tell you, it was one of the best experiences of my life! I’m not big on baby fever or kids, but I am definitely an animal lover and this was just such a great time!

Even though my friends and I mainly went for the raccoons, the dogs that live with the raccoons are just as adorable. There was a brown husky, a black and brown Shiba, an obese Corgi, and two large English Bulldogs. I’ve never been a huge fan of bulldogs, but there was one that seemed to take a liking to me, and he changed my mind completely. He took the liberty of plopping his entire body onto my lap and demanding to be pet. I spent a large portion of my time at the cafe hanging out with him and I can’t say I was disappointed.

Even though the cafe is slightly out of the way, I will definitely make sure to visit at least once more before my semester ends here in Korea. Until next time, friends, take care!


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