KrissinKorea: 14 Hours Later

March 1, 2019

Take Off

My flight was set to take off at 12 p.m. on Thursday, February 21st and land at Incheon airport at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday, February 22nd. My dad drove me to the airport and helped me get my bags checked in. Everything was happening so fast–– or so it felt. He followed me until we got to security and then we said our goodbyes. I already miss him. I felt pretty sad waiting for my flight but I kept reminding myself that this experience will be good for me and I know deep down I’m excited, but change is hard for me sometimes.

When I got on the plane, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the seat next to me was empty. I had so much leg room! The seat itself was pretty stiff, but it reclined a decent amount. When I booked my ticket, I made sure to have a window seat because I love to look out the window during airplane rides. The in-flight entertainment was pretty cool. They had a bunch of music to listen to and different arcade games. I played Pac Man like 20 times! Also, I know people are always bashing on airplane food, but Korean Air knows what’s up. The first meal I had was traditional Bibimbap, which came with a side of rice, seaweed soup, pineapples, and pickles with chili sauce. They also provided sesame oil and chili paste to make the Bibimbap extra yummy. I feasted to say the least, but they ran out of ginger ale when I asked so I opted for a beer. They’re basically the same thing, right?

airplane food

YUM

We flew over areas that I have never been to or seen in my entire life. Since I’m used to flying South to Ecuador, I’ve never had the opportunity to cross over the North Pole, but it was amazing. I couldn’t stop looking outside at the beautiful colors in the sky and at the ice below.

NORTH POLE VIEW

My view of the North Pole

I also really loved the view of New York when we were leaving. Everything looked so small and crowded!

NEW YORK VIEW

My view of the Concrete Jungle

At one point we flew over land that looked like it didn’t belong to Earth and was out of a science fiction film. The terrain was rugged, grey, cracked, and had many river-looking pathways that intertwined through the ridges of the hills. It was crazy. If you’ve ever watched Interstellar, Mann’s Planet looks exactly like what I’m talking about!

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Interstellar reference photo

After about five hours I realized that I would have no butt when I landed in Korea. I was sitting for 14 hours guys! I was losing it! On top of that, I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know what was wrong with me because if I know anything about myself, it’s that I can fall asleep anywhere at any time. I am a high functioning sloth, for real. So for most of the flight, I played Pac Man, listened to music, read my book, and pouted about not being able to sleep.

When we landed at Incheon Airport, I wanted to kiss the floor beneath me. I was so grateful to finally be off the plane. During the luggage claim I ran into a few other people that were heading to Yonsei and we buddied up to try to figure out our way to the dorm buildings. We took a bus and got off at the Ewha Woman’s University back gate stop, which put us at about an 8 minute walk to SK Global where many of us were staying.

Now comes the tricky part.

I brought two big suitcases, a carry-on, and a book bag with me (not the best decision I’ve made in my life). That’s a total of 4 items that need to somehow get from the bus stop to the dorm rooms. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Korea is extremely hilly and Yonsei itself was built on the side of a mountain. Do you know what that means? It means I have to drag everything up one giant hill! Four pieces of luggage and two arms–– that’s what I am up against. Anyway, after numerous stretching breaks, a lot of panting, and a few internal, moral-boosting conversations, I managed to get my luggage into SK Global. I almost cried when I made it, let me tell you.

 

 

Once I checked in, I handed in my tuberculosis test results and grabbed a bag containing my bedding for the semester and headed upstairs. I was lucky enough to get a room on the top floor because the view is great!

VIEW FROM DORM

The view from my dorm

After finally unpacking everything, I walked down to the convenience store to buy some food. I decided on a kimchi rice with tuna triangle kimbap–– my first meal in Korea! So far I’ve been having a great time. I’ll tell you guys about a few of my outings in my next blog post. Take care everyone!


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


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.

flag ceremony

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


Bryan in Taipei: Taiwan’s Natural Beauty

December 28, 2018

view from plane

Mountains of Taiwan from Above

One aspect of my time in Taiwan that has continued to surprise me is its natural beauty. Not necessarily in the white-sand beaches, tropical island sort of way, but in its mountainous and jungle landscapes that I otherwise wouldn’t have associated with a small island. I was not expecting such an abundance of options for outdoors activities or such well-preserved park systems open to the public. During my time there, I was able to go hiking, biking, snorkeling, and more, all easily quite inexpensive and accessible via public transport. With the weather for the most part remaining warm throughout my time there, I had plenty of opportunities to escape the big-city life, even, paradoxically, while remaining in the city limits. Taipei did an excellent job at designating parks for the public and creating large zones for recreational activities and hiking/bike trails.

yangmingshan national park

Yangmingshan National Park

Yangmingshan (陽明山) National Park was located directly north of the city and offered all kinds of activities – including hot springs – for solo and group visitors. From waterfalls to wild water-buffalo, the park was filled with interesting things to do and see that I would not expect from somewhere such a short metro and bus ride away from the city.

dragon cave

Dragon Cave

I also enjoyed Dragon Cave (龍洞) on the eastern coast of the island. We went at the end of November when the water was pretty chilly, but still decided to go snorkeling and saw a lot of fish. There were some really impressive rock formations as well and, since it was off-season for tourists, the place was completely empty. This was in many ways the perfect day trip from Taipei and one that few people really know about.

lion's head mountain

Lion’s Head Mountain view at sunset

Lion’s Head Mountain (獅頭山) was definitely a spontaneous, day-before kind of decision, but I’m glad I went and, once again, surprised it isn’t more well-known. At this spot, Buddhist temples line the central mountains and are interconnected by hiking trails. It was interesting to see real Buddhist monasteries that were self-contained and secluded from most of society. Some temples were modernized while others kept to traditional styles.

These three sites are just a small sampling of natural beauty in Taiwan, which is far more extensive than simply Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. The best part that is probably unrivaled in most other places in the world is the fact that the entire island can be traveled with relative ease by public transport, making it that much easier to take a day trip from Taipei or a long weekend around the island. For anyone interested in studying abroad in Asia, this is definitely something that stands out and makes the experience that much more engaging.

Bryan


Brooke Goes Global: My final stop, Brazil!

November 27, 2018

Here I am, in São Paulo, Brazil.  The last country of our trip.  The final destination.  The official end to our program.  Yet, there is still so much to do, so much to learn, and so much to experience.  

Our group recently arrived back from our rural stay at a Quilombo and an Agroforest.  Quilombos are communities originally formed by escaped slaves.  These brave individuals ran from enslavement and found refuge in the mountains of Brazil.  In time, their practices of agriculture have been passed down from generation to generation.  Today, the Quilombo of Ribeirão Grande in Terra Seca fights for its right to stay.  The area they are cultivating is a protected area of the forest; there is to be no interference by humans at all.  But the people of the Quilombo have been living on this land for more than 200 years.  And they have farmed this land for just as long.  In the last 10 years, they had to prove their culture and their history to the government, so that they could remain in their homes.  This community is incredibly strong and courageous to fight a powerful force, the Brazilian government, and stand up for what is rightfully theirs.  

Visiting the Quilombo was fascinating.  We saw how their farming techniques did not interrupt the flow of the natural plants and forest.  Instead, they complimented each other as crops and trees simultaneously grew side by side.  We walked through the Atlantic Rainforest as the owner of the land showed us her medicinal plants she uses for stomach aches, stress, and headaches.  She pointed to a fruit tree and picked a small peach off its branches for each person in our group.  The cultivating and farming of the Quilombo does not disrupt the natural flow of nature.  It sustains the community’s life while simultaneously complimenting nature.  

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This was the wonderful meal the people of the Quilombo made for us.  They have this amazing business endeavor that involves selling their crops in the city and, in exchange, they have their customers come visit their home in the mountains, so they can see where their food is coming from.

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The stream that cuts through their property is a source of recreation and fun for the children of the community.

Next we traveled to the Agroforest of Felipe Moreira.  We jumped off the bus and grabbed our overnight bags.  We continued down a rocky path where our host traveled to us via zipline.  Us students, however, traveled in a much less exhilarating form — by boat, nonetheless still enjoyable.  We all hopped into the boat and crossed the river that would bring us to the place we would call home for the next few days.  

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A maximum of eight people could fit on the boat, so it took a few trips for all 30 of us to make it to our destination.

Over the next few days, we toured hundreds of acres of the Atlantic Rainforest which just happened to have some crops growing it in as well.  Around 20 years ago, the land of thick trees and heavy foliage was nothing more than grassland.  This particular part of the rainforest had been cut down and destroyed for the grazing of Asian Buffalo.  Nonetheless, in just a couple years, this family was able to completely change the outcome of this part of the forest — with the help of agroforestry.  Agroforestry is the combination of agriculture while also preserving the natural trees and plants that already exist in the area.  With a little help from the humans, and a lot of resilience, this particular part of the Atlantic Rainforest was able to bounce back.  

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Our second day of the trip, we were taken to the top of their property where we could take in the beautiful scenery of the nearby mountains.

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A few steps from the rooms we all stayed in was this beautiful pool that overlooked their property.

 

I was in a small group of students that chose to go deep into the trees to discover all that nature was willing to share.  I was full of nothing less than excitement to hear of the farmer’s agroforestry techniques that sustain his, his families’, and nature’s life.  Agroforestry demands that a diverse set of crops be spread out throughout a large space of land.  This is in contrast to mass factory farming that cultivates one type of plant over acres of land.  The diversity of plants in the forest keeps the soil fertile.  Additionally, when trees and plants need to be cut down to allow sunlight to shine through or room is needed for the cultivation of new plants, the cut plants are left on the forest floor.  This keeps the moisture in the soil so that the crops do not have to be watered.  This particular technique also acts as a natural pesticide.  Bugs lay their eggs in the dead plants on the ground because it’s easier than laying them in living plants growing high above the ground.  However, the eggs don’t survive in a dead plant on the ground.  Hence, very few problems with insects arise in agroforestry.  

The farmer, Damiel, proudly showed us his ample crops scattered throughout the forest.  He had a smile on his face as he cut down a heart of palm tree with two slices of his machete, and then slicing it thinly for all of us to try.  Stomping through the tall grasses, he showed us his pineapple plants.  And reaching high in the sky to get to his berry tree, he grabbed some for us all to try.  We all trampled back to class from the forest with a long sugarcane in hand which would later be made into a drink that complimented our fresh, flavorful dinner that night.  

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Their many pineapple plants!

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Banana trees grew everywhere.  This particular species was different from the type of bananas bought at your typical grocery store.  Despite their green color, they were ripe enough to eat and left a sweet taste in your mouth.

We have commoditized and exploited nature. Prioritizing revenue over biodiversity and beauty.  But nature is resilient.  It will bounce back if given the opportunity.  Nature does not need humans.  Humans need nature. 


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.

zipline

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

Bryan


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