Camellia Travels the World: Special Month in Chile

October 21, 2019

We come to Chile at a special time. September is an important month in Chilean history.

On September 11, 1973, the world’s infamous dictator Pinochet led a coup d’état to overthrow the Socialist Chilean government. On that horrific day, the city of Santiago was overwhelmed by air raids and ground attacks over the presidential palace. Under the terror, President Allende vowed to remain in the presidential palace as a confrontation against the threats. He calmly delivered his final speech to the nation via radio: “My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May there be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath…the only thing left for me is to say to workers: I am not going to resign! Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life.” 

Flag to commemorate President Allende. The quote is from his last speech: “The history is ours, and people make history.”

The violence did not cease after the death of Allende. Under the dictatorship, numerous citizens were abused and tortured. According to the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, the number of direct victims of human rights violations accounts for around 30,000 people; they were taken as political prisoners in concentration camps. Approximately 4,500 people were executed, and around 200,000 people were forced to exile.

In order to commemorate these victims of political violence, people gather for peaceful marches and ceremonies on September 11 every year. After learning and discussing the dark history, we went to one memorial site – Estadio Nacional – at night for the commemoration ceremony.

The Candlelight Ceremony outside of Estadio Nacional.

Walking into the tunnel around the stadium, I was overwhelmed by the heavy ambiance inside. The ceiling of the tunnel was not too low, yet I felt it was barely above my head; the lights were brightly incandescent, yet the tunnel was still so dim; the paint on the wall had fallen out, and it was full of marks from history. On the walls, there was a photograph exhibition that reveals the  terror that people had gone through.

Thousands of people were captured, detained, and tortured at this specific site.

Inside the modern stadium, there was a remaining section with wooden benches surrounded by modern plastic seats. Many people put flowers and notes on the fence to pay their tribute. A group of us went inside the fence and sat on the benches for a while, trying to absorb the atmosphere and comprehend the fear and despair in the dark.

The fenced section inside the Estadio Nacional dedicated to memorializing the horror of 1973.

On a lighter note, September 18 is the National Day of Chile. On September 18, 1810, the Independence movement began in opposition to the rule of its colonizer, Spain. The Independence movement lasted more than a decade, but at last in 1826, the last Spanish troops surrendered, and the Chilean Republic was established. Thus, the Chileans have a week of celebration for their independence.

We went on a cultural “site visit” – going to a fonda. It is a carnival fair for a whole week, where people can buy food and beverages, dance Cueca (a traditional dance), play games, and watch rodeo. There were several fondas taken place in Santiago, so I went to the one at Parque Padre Hurtado, closest to my homestay.

My giant smile and double chin with Terremoto (a drink made of pipeno wine, grenadine, and pineapple ice cream) and Anticucho (a meat skewer).

Anyway, it was a lot of up-and-down feelings in one week. On the one hand, we memorialized and honored the dead from the horror of coup d’etat; on the other hand, we celebrated the thrilling independence of Chile. It was a full cultural experience.


Bryan (not) in Taipei: Borneo!

November 26, 2018

During an extended weekend in November, I had the chance to visit the island of Borneo. The island is shared by three countries – Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia – and is the third largest island in the world; I visited the Malaysian part in Sabah. This was easily one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been and it taught me a lot about this island’s unique history and fusion of peoples and cultures.

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Sabah City Mosque at dawn.

Though I traveled to the island during rainy season (which is not too different from Taipei’s), I lucked-out with the weather since it only rained the first day and second night I was there, giving me plenty of time to explore the city of Kota Kinabalu and the nearby islands, jungle, river, etc. As soon as I arrived, I realized how great a deal of multiculturalism was present, with a mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese, local indigenous, and other groups all present in the city and living together, eating together, and so on and so forth. I also saw the profound Muslim influence in Malaysia, with the Islamic Call to Prayer played publicly multiple times a day, wide array of halal food available in restaurants, and other cultural markers such as dress, though also saw many Catholic churches and other religious representation. Food was a brilliant mix of different cultures and local ingredients. The baozi 包子 I tried in a local Chinese restaurant easily rivaled and in my opinion surpassed those I’ve had in both Northern China and Taiwan.

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A local home located on a hillside in an indigenous village in the jungle, about a 90 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu.

As a student of Linguistics, I was quite impressed by the level of multilingualism on the island. I was told that in Sabah alone there were 72 languages spoken (likely including dialects) and most people living there could speak at least 2-3 languages fluently. At Chinese restaurants and stores, I ordered in Mandarin and no one batted an eye. British historical influence was also quite present. Cars drove on the left side of the road and English was very widely spoken, even among the older generations. Beyond the city, I was also able to travel to the more remote countryside areas of Sabah and see local life and industry. Coffee and tea – two of my favorite things arguably – were both locally grown and quite good. I heard several different opinions on Malaysia’s place in the world and learned of the rivalry between East and West Malaysia.

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Whitewater rafting on the Kiulu River in Sabah.

Borneo seemed to offer it all in terms of things to do, with outdoor activities ranging from snorkeling in the crystal-clear oceans to rafting in the river to hiking in the vast swath of jungle landscape, though it still did not seem overrun by tourists (yet?) or otherwise inauthentic in any way. Malaysia itself is a relatively large country that varies so much from places like Kuala Lumpur to Penang, so any one thing shouldn’t be expected, but this trip offered me a much deeper insight into this cultural melting pot that admittedly I wasn’t fully expecting. In my case, leaving Taiwan helped me see it in a slightly different light upon returning, which is something everyone should keep in mind when studying abroad.

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Zipline from Gaya island to Sapi island, which is the longest island-to-island zipline in the world.

Bryan


Bryan in Taipei: Pre-Departure & The Calm Before the Storm

August 31, 2018

To be clear, this title isn’t exactly accurate given how hectic my last few days in the U.S. were, but I thought it would be fitting since it’s rainy season in Taiwan right now.

My name’s Bryan, I’m a History and Chinese Studies double major from Philadelphia, PA. This Fall will be my 3rd abroad experience in East Asia since coming to UR, following two summers of intensive language study with China Studies Institute in Beijing in 2017 and with State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship program in Dalian this past summer. After some careful consideration, I chose the Taipei program for a number of reasons, the most notable being my geopolitical interest in the region as well as the relative independence the program offers. I’m very excited to see how this semester unfolds.

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View of the Empire State Building from the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

A word of advice to future study abroad applicants: apply for the visa as soon as possible, and make sure to read all of the details closely. I mailed in my visa application in August after returning from two months in China, and I almost didn’t receive it in time. It turns out the office was understaffed and the application volumes were higher than usual. I had to go to the consulate in New York and spent the whole day getting it, but on the bright side I got to visit the United Nations headquarters there! This was a really great experience that got me even more excited to go abroad and learn more about the island of Taiwan and its fascinating history and fusion of cultures. Also, I happened to see an exhibit in Times Square by Taiwanese artist Kang Muxiang, so I recommend checking that out and learning more.

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Instead of being partial to a single work, I decided to show the plaque that explains the exhibit and its intentions.

Looking forward to sharing more!

Bryan In Taipei


Jess en France: Nerves (the Good Kind?)

August 25, 2017

It’s a few days before I fly to Paris, and my hyper-active mind has presented me with a mixed-bag of emotions. I find myself reminiscing the days before I made my move across the country, from southern California, to start my college career at University of Richmond. But as I now face the new prospect of moving across the world, to one of the most gushed about destinations on our planet, the sentiment of these last few days feel similar, yet altogether different than that before I came to Richmond. If you’re like me, you like to plan and over-plan, going over minutiae in your head until planning becomes superfluous (and even unhelpful). But if there’s anything I learned from my move just a few years ago it’s that there’s a finite extent to which planning is actually going to help—especially when you’re travelling and taking root in an entirely new place. This isn’t to say you should “wing it”—travelling can be logistically challenging. However, one of the greatest parts about travelling is letting yourself be surprised by what you find and allowing it to paint your experience, rather than you painstakingly painting it for yourself. And this is where my anxieties fortunately drop-off, at the point where I let myself “be” and let what will come, come.

Hi, I’m Jess. I’m a UR student majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy, and I’m spending my first of two semesters abroad studying at Sciences Po in Paris, France. I chose to study abroad in France for two main reasons—to work on my French language skills and to study at Sciences Po, which offers one of the best International Politics programs in higher education. I will be staying with a host family in Montmartre, which is a large hill in the eighteenth arrondissement (i.e. the outer district of the city) as well as a historically renowned part of Paris that artists have flocked to throughout the years, particularly in the nineteenth century. As someone who loves to write, I can’t wait to scope out a “writers spot” and bask in the wonderment this corner of the city has to offer. So I would definitely be remiss not to mention that Paris is a melting-pot of cultural, artistic, as well as musical, and gastronomical prominence! There is quite a lot to look forward to.

I’ve been truly blessed with such a wonderful opportunity to study here, and there are many people to thank—professors and friends who have supported me, but also the Office of International Education and Chris Klein, my study abroad adviser. Without them, I wouldn’t have been afforded such a life-altering adventure. I cannot wait to share my experiences with you and any tips or words of wisdom I may be able to impart as I venture off into Europe.  I will be posting weekly, so stay tuned!

À la prochaine (Until next time),

Jess


Janus in Singapore: On the First Weeks

January 27, 2017

“Discuss your preparations to go abroad – how you are feeling, anxieties or excitements, last minute projects or plans you are making, etc.”

It feels a little strange writing about my “feelings, anxieties, or excitements” about studying abroad in Singapore when I’m already three and a half weeks through my semester. Singapore Management University (SMU) has this strange schedule where exchange students are encouraged to attend a student orientation on December 29, and classes start as early as January 2, so while many of my classmates were still enjoying the final trips of their study abroad programs or tucked into their comforters back home, I was already on the other side of the world, roaming the streets of Singapore looking for a hostel that had open beds on New Year’s Eve.

Then again, it’s still quite early, and the first three weeks have really been a frenzy of getting my immigration formalities done, attending student orientations, adding and dropping classes, and of course, turning my new flat into a something that resembles home. There hasn’t really been a lot of time to “feel” or “be anxious.” Writing this entry feels like my first real opportunity to reflect on what’s already happened and what I think will happen.

I spent my last semester abroad, too, in Beijing. When I hear about study abroad, usually I hear that students will do significantly less work than they do back home, spend a lot of time traveling or exploring the city, and generally have a lot of time to relax. In a way, it’s a lot like a vacation to another school. My experience was the exact opposite.

I participated in a language immersion program that required me to speak Chinese on weekdays, and classes were from 8:30 to 4:30 daily, and each of us in the program did at minimum 3-4 hours of homework and studying each night. Somehow, there was still ample time for most of us to enjoy the semester and bring home stories that weren’t just about being locked up in a classroom. We still managed to explore Beijing, travel all over China, experience the Beijing nightlife, and even fall into study abroad romances. It was a complete semester, but it definitely came at the expense of sleep. By the end, many of us sported the deepest eye bags we’ve ever had.

I expect that a semester at SMU will be more of the “traditional” study abroad experience. I’m only taking four classes (7-12 hours of out of class work rather than UR’s “10-15”), and they’re all on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I expect I can use this semester to sleep in to catch up on all the sleep I missed in Beijing. Given my five day weekends and Singapore’s proximity to many of Southeast Asia’s tourist destinations – Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, or even a trip home to the Philippines – I wholly expect to drain my bank account by the end of the semester taking flights out to a few of these places.

For now, though, I plan on figuratively walking every street in Singapore. Strangely enough, a lot of students who study abroad in Singapore say that their biggest regret is not exploring Singapore enough, because the presence of all these other destinations makes the city-state a practical home base, and something that you can always say “next week” to, until there aren’t any weeks left. It’s only a little bit bigger than Manhattan, so the process shouldn’t take that long.

Anxieties. I think, given that this is my second semester studying abroad, that Singapore is often described to me as “An Asian New York,” and that I’m used to moving around a lot, I don’t have the usual fears of culture shock or “will I fit in?” or “will I find my group of friends?” Instead, I’m worried about people back home. A semester away isn’t too bad because just about everyone does it at some point. Two semesters, however, seems a bit too long, especially since I spent the holidays in the Philippines instead of New York. It’ll be a full year before I’m back in the United States. I already feel myself losing contact with many of my friends, even close ones.

But that’s something I should worry about after Singapore, I think. For now – enjoy the semester to its fullest.


The Final Post

January 12, 2017

I don’t even know where to start. I get it now…how study abroad can be the best time of your life. You change; you come home a completely different person. I’ve moved around quite a few times throughout my life – New Jersey, Germany, Italy, Okinawa, Virginia – and I have always considered Okinawa to be home. It’s where, for the most part, I grew up, I took care of my family without dad around, made stupid decisions, and maybe even learned from my stupid decisions. Going back every summer and winter break is what keeps me going during the school year, honestly. Knowing I can eat Okinawa Soba, chill with friends at the seawall, and swim in the clear ocean again. Okinawa is home, no doubt. This was the first time that returning home to Okinawa felt unfamiliar. It almost felt wrong. I was leaving home to go to Okinawa.


Immediately after spending two days in Akita, everything became…light. There’s something about Akita. I felt more like myself in Akita. It’s not really the actual place of Akita that made me feel like myself because man, I’m not going to lie, we all hated that we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields. But honestly, if given the chance to study abroad at Tokyo or Osaka, I would choose Akita every single damn time. You could walk 5-minutes off campus and see older people working on the rice fields. These older individuals were all very sweet and had no problem speaking to us despite our broken Japanese. You’d hear a car pass by you every 10-minutes so walking around with the sun beating down on your face was such a nice way to relax. There were shrines nearby that we would walk to, always placing a 5-yen coin and praying at the entrance.

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I’m never going to forget the quick walks to Banafi, the convenience store right off campus. The amount of riceballs and beers bought there was endless. The older guy that runs that store is so dedicated to his job. Working from 7am to 7pm almost everyday and remembering our faces. He even brought his dog into the store sometimes – an old, fat beagle. The dog would slowly wobble over to me and hint for me to pet it. Sitting on the benches in front of Banafi while eating our bentos (boxed lunches) during the summer and drinking our hot cocoa from a can during the winter.


Or the quick walks to aBar right next to Banafi. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, the only bar near us was this one. It was made for the international students, although Japanese students would go as well. There were karaoke competitions, DJ nights, band performances, etc. that students would participate in, hoping to win a free drink by the end of the night. Everyone would go so you’d obviously talk to students you wouldn’t talk to otherwise in class. Oh man, the nights spent there were too fun.


The one and only Shimohamahimehoma beach trip during orientation week is still my best memory from Akita, well, everyone’s best memory. We had only been in Akita for about 5 days and we all decided to go to the beach together. All of the international and first-year students since none of the other students had arrived on campus yet. Waking up super early, riding the train (after missing the first train, of course), swimming for hours, drinking beers and blasting Chance The Rapper, singing karaoke at the shack with the wandering dog, Udon in the city afterwards…we were all so tired and red by the end of the day but full of so much joy. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the semester.

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Train 2.jpgSpeaking of missing trains, you become a true international student at AIU once you miss at least three trains or even buses due to reading the schedule incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been yelled at for messing the schedule up HAHA it was fine though because honestly, the memories made while waiting for missed trains are some of my favorites. Creating videos of the Mannequin Challenge because of the nonstop laughter or the photoshoots I did with my friends around the entire station.


I’m so thankful the school planned out field trips for us. I know that sounds like a cliche high school thing but these bus trips definitely gave us the chance to explore Akita more. All of the international students signed up so once again, you’d spend time with students you wouldn’t otherwise talk to during class. We went to a samurai town, aquarium, deepest lake in Japan, Oga Peninsula, and watched a Namahage performance. Not only did I explore around Akita, I was also able to travel to Tokyo twice and Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara once. Meeting up with high school friends in Tokyo, walking around Shibuya at 4am, and eating ラーメン in individual stalls are a few of my favorite memories from Tokyo. And Osaka, wow, watching Isabella get rammed in the butt by a deer begging for food was absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Or the time Isabella went running ahead of me, desperately searching for a bathroom for me at around 12am, and us ending up going to a club and dancing for 3 hours solely because I needed to use the bathroom.

The small, close-knit community and campus brought us together – eating the set lunches together everyday, chilling in Komachi lobby, staying up till 4am every night. I could list all of the wonderful memories but there’s too many to list. You wouldn’t have the sense of family at any school as we did in Akita. We were all there for each other. It was the people, definitely. Especially Patrik and Isabella. The both of them changed the course of my study abroad experience.


Patrik, man, I don’t know where to start with this guy. Be honest, right? He actually went back to Okinawa with me for the couple of weeks of winter break. We became friends after day 2 in Akita. He complimented me on my smile and I thought he was an arrogant boy. Funny how quickly things changed. Surprisingly we were in the same Japanese class (his Japanese is 10x better than mine), and as a result we were always together, studying Japanese, eating meals between classes, learning the lyrics to Childs Play, talking for hours about the meaning of life…he really loves asking people what the meaning of life was. I still remember the first time he told me about this “beautiful sadness.” I’ve always been told that sadness is a bad thing but now I understand that it’s the complete opposite. We have all gone through pain but it’s only made us aware of ourselves. Patrik made sure that I understood how sadness helps you grow. Without sadness, we wouldn’t appreciate the happiness. Every time I was down, he would come in with this dorky smile, raise his voice, and bounce his shoulders and explain to me that because I was sad now, I know that I was happy before. I made great memories and now I have those to cherish. A beautiful sadness.

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I want to share with everyone that I fell in love with someone while studying abroad. Making myself vulnerable to her seemed like a risk knowing we would only be together for a short time. But, it was a beautiful risk, creating the space for her to make me feel more protected. I experienced the most intense feelings with her…confusion, desperation, pain, heart-exploding joy, and passion. She made me happy. It has been two weeks since I last saw her smile. You know, if it’s meant to be, it will be. We might come back to each other, but we might not. You can’t let the uncertainty stop you from doing anything. Fall hard and deeply in love. Go all in, man, because when are you ever going to have the chance again? Just live in the moment and let things play out the way it’s supposed to. I’m so happy that I fell in love with her while studying abroad. My time in Akita wouldn’t have been what it was without her by my side. Thank you for being vulnerable and letting me be a part of your life.

Like I said, it was all the people. I’m not sure what I was expecting from Akita. Maybe to speak Japanese fluently, meet some cool people from Europe, and leave knowing I had “ the best time of my life” as most people claim study abroad to be. I do have to say, Akita far reached my expectations. Akita has become one of my homes to me. Thank you Akita, for the confusion, heart-exploding joy, pain, constant excitement, and beautiful sadness.


Tori in Spain: Dear Elvira

January 11, 2017

This semester, I had the privilege of taking a class called Public Health and Social Justice with an amazing professor named Dr. Elvira. I really liked her from the beginning because she challenged us to question all of the assumptions that our society is constructed on and is a warrior for social justice. She pushed us to think very deeply, which is something I love about my classes at U of R and was not sure I would find in Spain. A couple weeks into school, I emailed her to see if she would be interested in attending the European Public Health Conference with me in Vienna this semester. To my surprise, she messaged me back and asked if I would be interested in presenting at the conference and joining in on her research.

Throughout my time in Madrid, Elvira was a constant support for me. She and the other two students that were researching with us became some of my closest friends abroad. After our abstract was accepted by the Global Health and Innovations conference, we had to record a video presentation for the next round of competition, and Elvira and I realized that we had done it wrong the night before it was due (claaaassssssiiiccc). Due to the time difference, we had until 6am to turn the project in, so we rushed to school at 10pm to get working. We stayed up until 3am to finally submit the video, getting more delirious every hour. She kept joking that she couldn’t speak English after midnight, and when we were almost done we listened to the song Breaking Free from High School Musical together (she had never seen it!) because we were finally breaking out of the closed university. Everything is funny at 3am, and we bonded deeply that night.

When my laptop and most of my belongings were stolen, Elvira selflessly lent me a laptop to use until the end of the semester. She didn’t even hesitate. She had the means to help, so of course she would. Just one more way to lay down her privilege and love someone, something she hopes to do with every action in her life. I think she succeeds.

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One of my attempts to make Tortilla this winter break!

Elvira showed me the best tortilla Espanola in Madrid (Las Rosas, es la verdad, este sitio tiene el mejor tortilla del mundo), a dish I have tried to replicate 3 times since I have been home.  One night she, Marcus, and I went out for Indian food and talked for 3 hours about faith, gender roles, family, animal ethics, responsibility to society, what we are created for, and fertility. She told me she had never felt the need to have kids because fertility is much bigger than the mere ability to bear children. Fertility is about helping things grow, investing in ideas and people that will change other things of import. Although she has never been pregnant, Elvira is one of the most fertile women I know.

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Good food, good conversation

One of my hardest experiences of my time in Madrid was leading a BocaTalk run one night, and getting verbally berated by a homeless man who was fed up with the rich trying to fix his situation without understanding it. I felt so ashamed and confused, and she was the one I came crying to. I was so upset because I knew he was right, I would never understand, and I knew my stupid sandwich and “sacrifice” of 2 hours sitting on the street would do nothing to solve his lifetime of struggle. I felt like I deserved the emotional violence I suffered at his hands due to my privileged position in society that I had truly done nothing to earn. I was frustrated because there were a thousand things I wished I had said, and a thousand more I could never communicate in Spanish. She reminded me that no matter what, no matter how deep the injustices of ones past or the level of poverty a person is experiencing, no human never has the right to rob dignity from another. Acts of violence, emotional or physical, are never deserved, regardless of the levels of inequity. I walked out of her office with a greater sense of peace in my heart, knowing the truth that I did not deserve what had happened to me, but also understanding what I symbolized for that man (power, wealth, privilege) and desiring to change the oppressive forces that have pushed him down to where he sits.

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Dear Elvira,

I am so thankful to know you.

Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for looking for ways to surrender the power and privilege you have been given in every moment.

Thank you for demonstrating deep humility and selflessness to me.

Thank you for reminding me that it is not my fault that I was born into the privileged position I hold, and thus, I do not deserve abuse for that position.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on when I could not take the injustice I am surrounded with and when I felt guilty for not doing enough.

Thank you for teaching me that life is an adventure, and I don’t ever have to ascribe to societies ideas of who I should be.

Hasta pronto amiga, estoy agredecida para conocerte.

Besos,

Tori


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