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.

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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!


KrissInKorea: My Pre-semester Activities

March 15, 2019

I had approximately nine days after landing in South Korea before my semester started. Even though that sounds like a lot of time, it went by pretty fast. I spent the first couple of days trying to become more acquainted with the area I was living in. There’s actually quite a bit in the neighborhood where I am staying and in the dorm building itself. If you walk a little ways away from SK Global, you’ll be able to find a convenience store, a Paris Baguette, some coffee shops, and a bunch of different restaurants.

In the basement of the SK you can find a 24-hour convenience store, a cafe, a burger spot, an ice cream shop, and a bunch of other small places to eat. Even though only international students live in SK Global, during lunch and dinner hours, you can find this area packed with all different students from Yonsei. My favorite places so far have to be the restaurant that sells spicy beef pho and the cafe that makes super good iced mocha lattes!

A few days before the semester started all of us international students attended our orientation. It lasted about two hours and we were given a lot of information. We learned about class add and drop periods, visas, alien registration cards, public safety, and different clubs that are easily accessible to foreigners.

After the orientation we were able to sign up for some of the clubs mentioned, as well as sign up for one of the two day tours that were set up for international students. My friends and I decided to go on the “Day 2” tour which would take us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁), the War Memorial of Korea, a Korean style buffet, and lastly, a cruise ship ride on the Han River.

The 경복궁 palace was absolutely stunning. It was about a twenty minute drive to the palace from Yonsei University. As we neared the palace, Seoul started to take on a different look than what I was used to. Seoul is usually filled with skyscrapers and large businesses, but the town that surrounded the palace looked more traditional and more like a modernized Korean village. The tour guide mentioned that there is legislation in Korea that prevents the construction of buildings over a certain height in the district surrounding the palace. The Korean government is trying to preserve a part of traditional Korea by taking care of the old-style houses that surround the area and by protecting the integrity of the palace. What impressed me the most was the existence of a massive palace in the middle of a bustling city. When you enter the palace walls, you enter a different time period. It is a place filled with a history and culture that is foreign to me. I very much enjoyed learning about the different practices held in the castle, as well as the power dynamics in place during this time.

One of the first things we learned was about the monkeys that protect the different parts of the palace. According to historians, the more monkeys that are atop a roof, the more protection they provide to that certain area. The palace builders strategically placed them where the king would be most often, as well as in places where he would meet with his court to make important decisions.

The queen and king did not live together, but their houses are diagonal to one another. Although the king is allowed to have numerous wives, the first wife is primary and gets to be closest to the king. When I first arrived in Korea, one of the first things I noticed in the dorm was that the floors were heated. This was very foreign to me, but after learning that the palace was heated via the floor, it all made a lot more sense. I learned that people in old-time Korea slept on the floor mainly because there were fires underneath the floor to heat the house from the ground up.

Once we left the palace we headed to the Korean War Memorial where we had the chance to learn about the many aspects of the Korean War. The museum had a bunch of interactive features and a lot of authentic war materials that were preserved. Our guide in the museum was the cutest old lady and you could tell she really loved the history she was talking about.

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Korean War Memorial

I learned a lot, and I was very happy to go because I now have a more informed outlook on Korean society and how the U.S. is connected to South Korea.

After we left the museum we went to an underground shopping center that had like 5 floors! It was so cool! We went to a Korean style buffet where they had tons of food. I ate until I almost died. Literally. My favorite dish was definitely the stir fried udon noodles and the Korean glazed chicken. I would 10 out of 10 visit again.

Next on our agenda was a cruise ship ride on the Han River. Although I had so much fun at both the palace and the museum, the boat ride was definitely the boat ride. The boat had a bunch of twinkly lights and the area onto the loading dock was pretty too.

While on the cruise ship we got to see Seoul’s breathtaking skyline while traveling at a comfortable pace on the boat. The night was pretty chilly, but the air was so crisp and fresh that it didn’t matter. We passed under more than four bridges and they each looked different. Since it was nighttime, the water looked black but you could see the lights of the boat reflecting in the water and it gave the whole experience a very dreamy effect.

The ride back to the dorm wasn’t too long but we were all so beat. We were out from 12pm to 10pm, which for many of us who were still trying to get over our jet lag, was killer. After a day of fun, learning, and sight seeing, though, it was great to finally get in bed and sleep!

 

 


Dom in Amman: Finding Family- Sisters From Another Mister

March 5, 2019

Hey everyone! I met my host family and they are wonderful!

While students back at the University of Richmond are gaining sorority sisters and fraternity brothers to complete their families, I have gained three new sisters and two new parents. My sisters are 6,7, and 17 years old. The night I was welcomed into their home, I did not know what to say or do. I started out by giving my host mom Rana the gifts I brought for her and her family. She was very excited and added the refrigerator magnet that I gave her to her collection. For students going abroad, you should always bring your host family a gift to thank them for their generosity and to share with them a part of your life. My host family is originally from Iraq and I recently discovered that my host mom is an amazing cook. In the morning, I start my day with pita, labneh, and cucumbers. For lunch, I consume some form of rice and meat. Usually, my lunch is leftovers from the night before and in the evening, I eat dinner with the girls if I am not out late studying.

My favorite thing I do is go to family dinner on Thursday evenings. In Jordan, Friday is like the American Sunday. It is set aside as a religious day and most families will gather together and share a lunch after Friday prayer. Instead of Friday lunch, my host family goes to dinner at my host father’s mother’s house. We call her Mama Shireen. These gatherings usually equate to 10-12 people over for dinner. We hang out, eat, drink coffee and catch up. The last time I was over my younger sisters pulled me into a room and challenged my roommate and I to a singing competition where we belted out Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber songs. This was followed by a pillow fight where I had to defend myself against three rambunctious seven-year old girls. Considering the odds were not in my favor, I lost.

In all honesty, something that I have noticed in Amman is family is very important to a different extent than in America. Here in Amman, there is no emphasis on the individual. You are always part of a unit or team for lack of a better word. For example, students in the U.S. will leave home at 18 to go off to college or begin their lives, but here most young adults remain at home until marriage and even the concept of marriage is partially a family matter. For example, you would not propose to a woman here without asking her father for permission. Additionally, family is not limited here to the people who live in your house. There are no boundaries between the extended family and the immediate. Sometimes when friends great each other they call the other “my sister” or “my brother”. This is a result of the nature of Jordanian people and the Arabic language.

Because of my family and roommate, I really feel at home here in Amman. There are days and moments that feel foreign and strange to me, but with the support of my host family, I am practicing Arabic, learning about Jordanian culture, and finding family.


KrissinKorea: Preparing For the Big Leap!

February 20, 2019
 

Hey guys! My name is Kristen and I am a sophomore journalism student at the University of Richmond. This spring semester I will be attending Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. I leave in a few days and I am totally freaking out. Recently I have gotten into the habit of making lists of the things I should buy before I leave and what I should bring in general. I am planning on packing only the essentials because I want to bring back a lot of stuff! Since I am a procrastinator down to the bones, I’m a little behind on getting everything ready. I am working both my jobs for these last 2 days that I will be here and I am navigating that while trying to prepare for my trip, but I am remaining positive! My family surprised me with a “going away breakfast” this Sunday and it made me realize how much I am going to miss them. I am extremely close with my family and I know they’re wishing the best for me, so I want to have an amazing experience for their sake as well. I experienced a big change in my life during the period of time that I was waiting to study abroad and it made me eager to start over. I want my experience in Korea to clear my mind and to allow me to reset and come back with a whole new outlook. I am looking forward to studying my hardest, making friends, experiencing new things, and growing as a person. I can’t wait to talk to you guys again and let you know how I’m settling in. Talk to you soon!


Dom in Amman:Before I Embark

February 2, 2019

2 February 2019

**Hi everyone! My name is Dominique Cressler and welcome to my blog!! Just so everyone knows I have already arrived in Amman, Jordan for my study abroad experience and everything has been great. I have been here for three weeks. One week of orientation and the other two taking classes at Amideast. Therefore, I will be back to back posting at first to catch everyone up on Dom in Amman. Enjoy my quick journey back in time!**

I have been dreaming of Jordan since I first decided to study Arabic and now it is finally happening! I cannot even conceal my excitement. This is probably the biggest step toward my educational goals and the first step toward my future career. In the future, I hope to become a professor of Arabic studies as well as continue to work with refugees.

I started studying Arabic because of the Syrian refugee crisis. At the time, I did not know what Syria was or where the Arabic language would take me. This was the consequence of a high school education that shelters its students from the rest of the world, but I was determined to learn and become involved. My journey began at the University of Richmond where I am a double major in Arabic Studies and Global Studies: Middle East. There, I started volunteering at a local refugee resettlement agency and began my studies. In a university setting, you study Modern Standard Arabic which is understood by most Arabs, is used in Middle Eastern and North African media, and for reading the Qur’an. At the university level many people do not get the experience of learning the dialectal Arabic. Each country communicates in its own dialect. This is called Ammiyah. Unlike the Moroccan dialect that is heavily influenced by French, the Jordanian Ammiyah is closest to that which most Arab refugees speak. This made Jordan the perfect country to study abroad in. I have known Jordan was the place for me since my freshman year and now I leave in three days for the airport.

I leave for Amman in three days and I am feeling slightly overwhelmed. I am about to venture to a country that feels completely different from my past travels and, despite studying the region and doing research, I still do not realistically know what to expect. I think the hardest thing about this experience will be the language immersion. During the first two weeks my favorite phrases will probably be “I don’t understand” and “Do you speak English?” Once I learn how to navigate Amman and better communicate with the people, I should be fine. Despite immersion, I am also nervous about getting to school and if I will like my host family.

I do not even know who my host family is yet. At this rate I can just imagine the introduction:

Me: Hey, I’m Dom. I don’t know anything about you or your names, but thanks for giving me a bed to sleep in for 4 months. Oh and I brought you Twizzlers and a book of Lancaster because that is where I am from and I like Twizzlers. Lastly, I am from Lancaster, but I am not Amish. Here is a small horse and buggie decoration.

New Family: ….. Hi and welcome to our home. I’m (insert names of new family here). Thanks… What are the Amish?

From there, I will have run out of Arabic to explain the Amish community and why Lancaster, PA is known for it. This explanation was not something I exactly prepared for in my Arabic classes. In reality, I think my host family will be great. I only wish I knew more about them, but I do not meet them until in-country orientation begins. Despite this, I am most excited to connect with people from Amman including my host mom. My goal for this trip is to foster strong connections, finally become comfortable speaking Arabic, and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.

Well I must return to packing! For those who are curious about what Jordan is actually like or want to know more about Abroad in the Middle East or the Amideast program, stay tuned, post questions and I will be happy to answer. Additionally, below is a link to a video about Jordan for those who are interested in knowing more about the country.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC4t3fP1vhY


Brooke Goes Global: Thank you

January 30, 2019

“Women hold up half the sky.” — Chinese Proverb 

I sat, hot and sweaty, in a large concrete room in the country of India. Across from me were 62 middle schoolers wide-eyed and smiling. Skin a golden brown and hair as dark as the night sky, but as shiny as the stars that graze it. I watched as a lanky girl in a red skirt and white polo stood up and introduced herself as the peer-elected 6th grade president of her class. She and 5 other elected middle school peers act as this community’s cornerstones of sex trafficking education.

During my International Honors Program Semester Abroad, I had the opportunity to visit a rural village in India, where this 6th grade girl lived and empowered her entire community. There, families are so impoverished, starved, and desperate they sell their daughters to sex traffickers. Gangs and thugs creep about looking for innocent and naive girls to kidnap. Girls, young and illiterate, are forced victims to the interconnected, corrupted scheme of sex trafficking. More than 2 million young girls disappear off the face of the earth each year. They are kidnapped, sold, objectified and forced into sex trafficking. Hour after hour, day after day, they are raped, beaten, scolded, dehumanized. Their bodies and minds broken by the vicious world around them.

A lot of things contribute to the vicious and hideous crime of sex trafficking across the world. Police corruption, poverty, oppression. But as someone with a passion for public health, my concentration is on the upstream solutions because a temporary Band-Aid fix is not the appropriate treatment for a gashing, oozing, bloody problem. This solution : education. When the entire community is educated, the force against sex trafficking grows. It becomes unacceptable. It emerges as the terrible monster it is. But this only begins with education. Educate your children, your daughters, the community. With education comes empowerment. Empowerment breeds success. It lifts people out of poverty, and its long term payoff is priceless. 

The public health issue I feel especially passionate about is an intertwined complication of all of the above. It centers around the misconception that women only have their vaginas to offer the world. That is why millions of girls are kidnapped, sold, and trafficked for the delight of perverted, satanic people — because they believe women are just their vaginas. That is why countries like Syria, Iraq, and India encourage, promote, and sometimes put into law the covering of women’s bodies — because they believe women are first and foremost sexual beings. That is why, in the United States, women still make 70 cents to every one dollar a man makes — because a woman’s body is to be sexualized, forget the respectability and dignity of her mind. But I am here to tell you that women are the backbone of this country, of foreign countries, of this world. God help this world if women were to disappear. I have spent the last 21 years of my life being raised by a strong, single, independent mother. I have spent the last 15 years of my life being sculpted into an intelligent, courageous, and passionate woman by the American education system. And I have spent countless years, learning from, listening to, and being mentored by groundbreaking and influential women. 

Gender inequality is a public health issue. It leads to oppression, poor health outcomes, and structural violence. I have seen how gender inequality leads to obstetric violence in South Africa. Young girls, often rape victims, are taunted by nurses and doctors. In worse case scenarios, episiotomies are performed without medication, consent, or explanation. Gender inequality perpetuates an unbelievably high rate of Caesarian sections, 80%, in Brazil when the World Health Organization suggests a 10% rate. Gender inequality is why female infanticide still occurs in India, despite laws deeming sex selected abortions illegal. Gender inequality is why 23% of the world’s females are illiterate compared to only 13% of the world’s males. 

The solution to this ominous and fatal public health priority is a complicated assemblage of various social factors, determinants of health, institutions, and autonomy. But it starts with education. 

For example, an essential part of India’s healthcare system are the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs). Each ASHA is a woman and contributes greatly to a healthier, happier population. After basic health education training, she becomes the neighborhood health educator. An ASHA holds after school programs to teach neighborhood children the importance of education and healthy habits. She visits homes to distribute iodine tablets so the household has clean drinking water. She educates families about the importance of a balanced diet on a tight budget. She walks pregnant women to the hospital. Holds their hand while they give birth and, after, provides unconditional support for the infant and new mother. These examples only scrape the tip of the iceberg in regards to her health reform in the community. For her hard work, she is paid modestly so she is able to support a family of her own. Now, many Indian women are using their education to positively contribute to the nation’s health, economy, and safety. 

Gender inequality is why I was abandoned by my birth parents in China. But because of education (and other extraneous factors) I am who I am today — someone who will shake the world, who will make a difference. Education breeds empowered, smart, opinionated, and strong women. Women that come together as one unstoppable and uncompromising force.  Thank you International Honors Program and the University of Richmond for granting me the opportunity to study around the world, as an empowered, intelligent, confident woman.  

Featured are some of my favorite pictures from the semester:

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India was filled with beautiful stands of colorful trinkets.  It was hard not to stop and browse for some souvenirs

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We made a quick stop to Jaipur where we visited the Pink City.

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I have never seen a more beautiful coast than the South African coast.  It might have also helped that I was hundreds of feet in the air hanging from a parachute.

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A better view of the coast line where you can see the infamous Lion’s Head mountain on the left and the start of the 7 Apostles mountains on the right.

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Causally jumping from rock to rock as I climb Lion’s Head.

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Our rural stay in Zweletemba, a formally blacks only township, was a life-changing experience.  To be able to live with a woman, an activist, a hero who truly changed the world for the better was surreal.  If you see me around campus, ask me about Zweletemba.  I love talking about it!

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The city of São Paulo was filled with beautiful street art like the one pictured above.

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We took a weekend trip to Rio de Janeiro and saw the World Wonder Christ the Redeemer Statue.

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I am beyond blessed to have experienced this life changing abroad semester.  Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way.

 


Bryan in Taipei: Final Thoughts and Reflections

December 30, 2018

For my final post, I’ve decided to only include pictures from Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. since it was very close to my apartment in Taipei and I passed through it every day. On my last night in Taiwan, I went there to watch the sunset and the flag-lowering ceremony, which seemed a fitting ending to my semester abroad. Keeping that in mind, I wanted to use my final post to reflect on my experience and what it’s taught me.

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Palm Trees alongside the lake that’s within the memorial grounds

I ultimately decided to study abroad in Taiwan because I was drawn to the relative independence of the program and its allure towards Chinese learners who already had several years of language study under their belt. In these two regards, the program lived up to my expectations. Given the structure of the classes being once a week for 3 hour sessions, I found myself with a great deal of free time even when taking 5 classes overall. For this reason I would not recommend the program to those only at the basic or intermediate levels yet serious about learning Chinese, unless they opt for the Intensive Mandarin track and are willing to stay throughout the entirety of the semester (from September to mid-January). The vast majority of my learning came from immersion outside of the classroom, which is easier for higher levels. In fact, any study abroad program – especially one with as much autonomy as this – is as intensive and immersive as you make it (in terms of language learning). This became far more apparent to me during my time in Taiwan.

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The main memorial hall building. Inside is a large statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen somewhat reminiscent of the Lincoln memorial.

One thing I was surprised to find was just how different several aspects of living in Taiwan versus Mainland China were. Though China in the past two to three decades has undergone rapid modernization and development, it did not seem as widespread and, frankly, Westernized as Taiwan. This could be for any number of reasons, be it comparative size, governance and policies, etc., but Taipei was a city with all kinds of Western influences present. I was even more surprised by the pervasive Japanese influence. Having just studied in Northeast China the summer before, it was immediately apparent how markedly different the sentiment towards the Japanese was in that region versus in Taiwan. The latter seems to welcome cultural, technological, and other influences from Japan quite openly, while I noticed a bit of animosity still lingering in China in some regards. Learning about these distinctions and attempting to unwrap cultural identities within Taiwan, China, and Japan was a major part of my experience. I also learned far more about China than I had expected, which is invaluable for me as a Chinese Studies major.

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A scroll featuring ancient Chinese characters. Rotating art and culture exhibits are located inside the 2nd and 3rd floors of the memorial.

 

No matter where you go, studying abroad will place you in a new environment completely different from Richmond and teach you a lot about yourself in the process. I learned how to cook for myself and plan my meals entirely on my own, though in a grander sense I also learned how to navigate in unknown and unpredictable environments and became a far better traveler. This is my 3rd study abroad experience, and each one has taught me something different about the host country and about myself. On my first two trips, I was the only student from UR, and on this one there was only one classmate and close friend also in the program. While not being around many other students from UR is not at all necessary to have a meaningful and impactful experience, it nonetheless pushed me to further breach my comfort zone and establish new friendships and connections along the way that I otherwise might not have sought out as openly. Studying abroad isn’t all easy and things will undoubtedly be frustrating and difficult, but it’s something totally worth it if given the opportunity, regardless of it’s whether its for academic reasons or to experience a new culture.

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After sunset, I stumbled upon soldiers performing a ceremonial flag lowering ceremony. I am not sure if this is done daily, but it was a nice last-memory of the memorial.

I want to say thank you for reading my posts throughout the semester and allowing me to share different aspects of my abroad experience. I’d encourage people to look into Taipei and other less-mainstream study abroad options because living abroad for 3-4 months is not something most have the opportunity to do and choosing to immerse yourself in a completely different culture has lots of amazing benefits. I’m excited to take my perspective back to Richmond and hear all about others’ time abroad as well.

Bryan


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