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Those Big Moments and Learning What I Need

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  In the meantime I traveled for our longest travel weekend to Shanghai and Hangzhou, and this past weekend, climbed the Great Wall!  My favorite part of Shanghai was seeing the iconic skyline lit up at night, even though it was smoggy, it was still awesome!  It was one of the moments in my experience where I went, “Woah… I really did come to China after all!  It’s easy to lose fact of how exciting this fact is when I’m in my routine of going to classes and doing homework, but its just a privilege to be here!

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Check out this beautiful sunset! Such a good day.

Hangzhou was the next stop, and it is my favorite city that I have been to in China.  It is absolutely beautiful!  Beijing hasn’t had much in terms of trees and natural beauty, and Hangzhou’s main attraction is West Lake, a gigantic lake surrounded by trees, hills, and lots of tourists.  The best choice we made was to travel to an island in the middle of the lake by boat where it was much more peaceful.  I realized something important, that I need nature in my life.  It is a simple and uncomplicated reminder of God’s beauty and who He is.  My soul needs it.  China is awesome but it is very developed and there isn’t always a huge amount of attention to aesthetic beauty.The weekend in Hangzhou was exactly what I needed!Image

 

Now to one of my favorite experiences of study abroad so far- climbing the Great Wall.  It was another one of those “woah China!” moments.  I’ve started to realize how much I’ve learned and grown this semester and it was cool to reflect on that in a place as stunning as the Great Wall.  We were blessed with gorgeous weather and great company!  We hiked along the wall during the first day, then stayed overnight in a Chinese village.  We got to see so many stars, away from the lights and smog of Beijing.  It reminded me of many great memories of mission trips in high school and working at camp for a summer.  

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My favorite part of the experience came bright and early the next morning, when we hiked up to the wall to watch the sunrise.  It was a grueling hike, made more challenging by the fact that I wasn’t feeling too well, but with the encouragement of friends I made it!  And my goodness, it was so worth it!  Watching the sun rise over the edge of Great Wall was literally unreal.  God’s creation is seriously so cool!  And the fact that it is only a taste of how awesome God Himself is, even more so!

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Glory in the Highest!
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“I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, Your works are wonderful I know that full well!” Psalm 139:14
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“If you never leave home, never let go, you’ll never make it to the great unknown, til you keep your eyes open my love.” Needtobreathe

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Grazzie and Gracias

I know it has been a while since I posted anything but I have a good reason for it. In the past ten days I was on a study trip to probably few of the biggest and finest cities in Europe; Rome, Madrid, and Barcelona.

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Even though it was a “study trip” we had a good amount of free time to explore the cities on our own. I am not going to narrate everything I did in the cities but all I can tell you is that it was an experience that I shall never forget. From the speakers we talked to, it was clear that Spain and Italy are probably the most comparable cities in the European Union. Being in Rome and seeing the lack of rule or lack of implementation of it reminded me of my hometown Kathmandu. Me saying lack of rule does not imply that it was almost anarchy in these places; there were some disorganization but it did not at all hinder the ongoing life of the city. Similar to that Spain was a bit unorganized to. However I was very surprised in both Madrid and Barcelona on how the economic crisis had affected the two cities. Yes they is no doubt that they are hit by the crisis but the motto for Spaniards in this case has been thought to be very composed. They view it as a part of their country developing and are assured that the crisis will pass. Their attitude towards the crisis was well seen in how they never stopped having a good time during the weekends and the football games.

This trip was probably one of the most exciting one for me for two reasons. I got to meet a high school friend after two years and meeting in Madrid of all places after last seeing each other in Kathmandu was a blast. Another reason that made my study trip memorable was going to the Barcelona vs PSG football game. Europeans take their game seriously and I got a firsthand experience of it. Fan riots and cheers were very impressive and when Lionel Messi entered the field 96,000 fans around me made it obvious that he was no doubt the best player in the world.

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It has been a good semester so far and I am looking forward to my last month in Europe. Right now I am with a Knickerbocker Fraternity alumnus in Dusseldorf. Little did I know that my connections from Holland Michigan would come into use when I am in Europe. Keep in touch for what is to come up next because I have a feeling that my semester still has a lot of adventures to offer.

Soccer School, Puppy Chow, and Dunes!!!

Hola a todos!!

So this past weekend marked my 6th (and busiest!) weekend in Chile. It was packed with awesome people, events, and everything that makes studying abroad an experience you will never forget!

Saturday, I woke up at 8:30 for school. Yep, school on Saturday. But this was not a typical school day. At 9:15 I left my little house on the hill in athletic short and tennies. When I arrived, I  warmed up with the group with a light jog, some agility drills, and stretching then scrimmaged on the pint- sized astro turf field. So, if you haven’t caught on, Saturday was my first day of soccer school! The school is organized by the church I attend in Vina del Mar and is made up of about 40 guys and girls of all ages and abilities. Together, we condition, do drills, and play small sided games from 10am-12pm. Playing soccer (something I gave up to run XC at Hope) is something I still miss a ton and I was so excited for the opportunity to share my love of the game with other Chileans. I truly think “futbol” is a universal language.

That same night, I attended an exchange student potluck hosted by the youth group of the same church (awesome church, right?) On the roof of one student’s apartment over looking Vina, we all shared American, German, and Chilean food we had each made from our respective countries (my contribution was peanut butter oatmeal cookies, which were a hit since peanut butter is a hard to find and is basically absent from the Chilean diet). The highlights of the night included explaining to the Chilean students that “Puppy Chow”  (comida de perro) was not actually dog food, a dance party featuring top 40 hits intermixed with bachata, and 20 questions in Spanglish.

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The next evening, a smaller group of us from the same youth group took a micro*  to the nearby town of Con-Con, famous for its rolling Arabian-desert like sand dunes that overlook the ocean. Laying in the cool sand, we watched as the sun dipped below the horizon. Without the sun, our bare feet numbed quickly and we headed across the street to one student’s house, where her mom had hot chocolate and fresh baked bread waiting. YUM!!! Sitting around a table, hands wrapped around a hot mug with my new Chilean and American friends was the best way to wind down an awesome weekend!

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With opportunities for fellowship in a new place, I finally feel part of a Chilean community, not just an observer of it.

Amor y paz

Leah 🙂

Chilenismo de la semana: Since I didn’t add one last week, here’s two!

Micro: buses that run locally

Guagua: baby. not to be confused with the guagua in other parts of Latin America, which coincidently refers to a bus 😉

A Cross Section of Classes (Part One)

So far I am loving the classes I am taking here, so I thought I would share a short summary of what I am taking and why I love them in. This will be in two parts, because apparently I love them more than one post can contain.

Spanish Class (in Spanish): Before coming to Spain, the most recent class I had taken was AP Spanish senior year of high school, so I was quite nervous about learning the language and being able to get by. However, I am now taking a class at the University of Granada with all Spanish speakers and getting by so I think it has improved quite a bit. In class, we mostly review grammer that I have already learned and do fun activities. The worst part of the class is by far having to wake up for it!  

Islamic Art and Architecture (in English): This class is by far my favorite because I feel like it combines everything I have learned in my life so far: history, math, physics, philosophy, artistic design, religion and a little bit of politics. Because in Islam it is prohibited to display figures in public places, they developed very complex geometric designs. These designs aren´t just beautiful, they also represent their worldview and philosophical ideas, just using shapes and colors! The easiest one to describe (but still quite difficult) is the representation of God radiating through everything and everything starting from him. For both the patterns below (roof on the left, tiles on the right), a pattern with a variable of 8 begins with some design of star in the middle. Especially for the tile pattern, the visual understanding or continued expansion of the pattern could not be continued without starting from the center. It is also a very unifying idea because most believers in monotheistic religions, if not most spiritual people, would agree with this idea. These patterns are also echoed everywhere throughout the buildings, from floors to ceilings to doors! 

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Ceiling woodwork in a private section of the Alhambra that they opened specifically for our class!
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Extremely intricate wall tiles from the Alhambra. Probably from the 14th century.

Village Study

I’m currently in the midst of a two week village study in an even more southern region of France! I’ve been quite busy and discovering a multitude of things, so I’ll do updates in installments as not to overwhelm. 

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The first three days were with the whole program in the most beautiful city, Collioure.  It’s right in vineyard, ocean, mini-mountain territory and just a hop away from Spain!  Here we discovered a bit of the history of the “Retirada,” a movement of Spanish refugees to southern France in the late 1930s to escape Fascist persecution.  Actually, it just so happens that we hiked one of the paths that some of the 500,000 Spanish immigrants used! 

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It was a bizarre sensation to be in one place and speaking French, walking for an hour or so, and then being in a new country and completely at a loss for words.  We had lunch in the little Spanish village we hiked to and it involved a lot of creative communication.

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Also in Collioure, we began looking at the history and current state of Catalogne culture.  Catalogne is a cultural region that is mostly in Spain (with Bareclona as its capitol), but it reaches into the south-eastern regions of France.  The language and culture are alive and well in the Spanish region, however they are fading in France.   This is largely due to France’s extremely centralized education system which determines much of the curriculum for all schools in the nation.  Nevertheless, there were plenty of red and yellow flags and donkeys (symbols of Catalogne) to be found.

Now I am living in a homestay in a small town doing a research project of my choosing.  The town is about a 10 minute drive from the ocean, a 30 minute drive from Spain, and an hour and half bus ride to the mountains.  And thankfully, I know each of these travel times through experience! 🙂

Real Holland

It was that time of the year and my facebook newsfeed was overwhelmed with nothing but pictures from Spring Break. While rest of Hope College was on Spring Break, I had four papers and a mid-term to worry about soon after which I had my Spring Break. One of the best things about being in Europe during this type of break is that I got to travel to a totally different country.

It was ironic that I went to Holland for my Spring break. Not the one in Michigan but the one in Europe and exploring the country was a fun way to discover more about the “real Holland”. When you ask someone who has not been to Holland, they would usually perceive it as being very liberal in terms of a lot of things that are usually frowned upon. But there is more to Holland than that meets the eyes only in Amsterdam. Do not get me wrong, Amsterdam is a beautiful city but one you are around it enough you get the feeling that it is filled with way many tourists than you thought. My first encounter with the city was the somewhat similar to that; I thought it was lovely, bizarre, and memorable but at the same time I thought how I could not live there and how it was a tourist attraction.

I would have definitely seen Netherlands in the lights of Amsterdam if I had not explored other smaller cities. I managed to go to Leiden and Rotterdam which gave me a sense of both cultural and industrial sides of Holland. While Leiden was a small cozy city that I could see myself living in, Rotterdam was somewhat similar to any major city in the United States. From one of the oldest college in Europe to one of the largest harbor in the world, exploring Netherlands gave me a chance to get out of my comfort zone, speculate stereotypes, and make judgments after engagement. The country is so much different than how normal outsiders think of it.

I would love to post some pictures but I have not managed to download them yet. I just got back from one trip and I am already packing for another that starts tomorrow. It is a 9 day trip where my program is helping us see how EU influences its member states. I will make sure to keep everyone updated. 

At the heart of Valparaiso is Cerro Rodelillo

parade!Pasta lunch in Plaza Renacer!a peek at the mural!kids help hang the sign for the new Plaza Renacer!me and one the kids takin a break from painting!

Hey everyone!

So  this past weekend, I had an amazing community service opportunity with my program here in Valparaiso, and could not wait to share it with you! I defiantly would say it is one of my favorite things I’ve done in these past five weeks in Chile!

SIT is a study abroad program that is sort of unique in that we are not directly enrolled in a university, but participate in tons of cultural excursions and community service opportunities. Our first community service project was this past weekend in Cerro Rodelillo (Cerros are the neighborhoods that make up Valparaiso.) This cerro in particular is home to  a largely lower-class population, where many of the houses are made from scrap metal and children play in streets glittering in glass. Its defiantly not where the city tour buses will take you. More recently, on feb 14th, 2013, Cerro Rodelillo was the site of one of the most massive fires in Valparaiso in fifty or so years. Hundreds of houses were completely burnt down, many losing all of their material possessions.

Our job in cerro Rodelillo was not to rebuild every demolished house nor solve its the economic hardships. It was much simpler…and larger than that. As a group we cleaned and re-purposed a tiny space, a “plaza” . This dusty plaza was not only where kids could play soccer and swing, but where the community could now come together and start anew.

On Friday, our group of 25 gringos split up in several groups;  some were assigned to clean and prepare the rock wall for mural painting the next day while others played with the kids that congregated there. When the work was finished we hopped on a “micro” (bus) and back to our homes where we showered with running water and ate the “once” * our Chilean moms had prepared for us.

Saturday, however, was the day I will never forget. The wall, we had cleaned the day before was ready to be painted. Together with the kids we painted flowers, rainbows, and even the local club soccer team logo (the Santiago Wanders) with a few paint brushed and lots of bare hands. Although the finished product lacked a theme which we had originally planned for, it turned out better than we could of hoped. Then came the fun part when the kids found even more fun if they painted their “tios/tias” (us!) than the wall. By the end of the painting session everyone was covered in paint (I sported a beard painted on by one of the boys!)

After the painting session, a few of us walked up to a house that had prepared food for the whole community as part of the celebration of the “opening” of the plaza. This “house” was partly burnt to the ground by the fire, tarp walls surrounded the small kitchen area, and a Chilean flag flying above. Inside, an aproned woman inside two huge pots full of spaghetti, lettuce, and tomatoes for us to bring to the plaza. And there we sat the new found plaza, eating, laughing with kids, and conversing with moms and holding their babies. After lunch, there was a mini parade with live music, face painting, and goody bags.  The community also decided on the plaza name: Plaza Renacer, which means “rebirth”, foreshadowing the new life this plaza would bring to the area after a huge tragedy.

It was hard leaving this community which we had now felt a part of the last two days, but it was a heartwarming, too. It was not that we looked at our work as our “good deed” of the week, or that we had given this neighborhood something they could not have done. Instead, we were honored that they welcomed us with open arms, shared their stories, and invited us to be part of a celebration of hope, joy, and renacer

Amor y paz

Leah 🙂

 

Outsiders View (with Insider’s Info)

My parents visited me here in Spain for the Holy Week celebrations here, and there are a few things that surprised/entertained/ shocked them, so I thought all y’all might be interested to hear them:

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Wee- fee: This is how Spainards say wifi. In the eloquent words of my mother, “It sounds like pee pee!”

Table heater:  Because of the lack of central heating, they use very long table cloths and then have a heater underneath the table. The table cloth then doubles as a blanket and holds in the precious heat. It is very cozy and efficient.

City personality:  My parents were a little worried that the cities would be very Americanized. ImageWhile we did see our fair share of American brands and the occasional McDonald’s or Starbucks, they were very contented with the unique character of the cities we visited.

Walk-ability: They had heard about ease of walking in European cities and the fact that everyone walks almost everywhere.

Personal space: I’m so glad I warned them about this. For example, we were sitting on a beach looking at the med and a couple guys can up looking over the fence RIGHT next to us.

People in the streets: My parents couldn’t stop commenting on how many people were in the streets, even when there weren’t processions to celebrate Holy Week. This is because Spaniards in general really to spend much more time outside their houses than normal Americans. Almost all social interactions occur outside the house.

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This is a close-up of a paso or a “float” of the religious processions that occur in Spain during Holy Week.
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Here is a similar paso out during the procession.

So About the Study Part…

It’s not what usually gets talked about, but schoolwork is a significant part of the study abroad experience.  My program, Contemporary Issues in China is fairly intense.  We have Chinese class throughout the semester and Area Studies courses, which are held in intensive blocks one at a time.  Right now I’m in “China in International Relations,” already having finished “Chinese Literature” and the intro course, “Understanding China.”  I have loved my classes here.  It has been so fascinating to learn about some subjects that I’ve never learned before, and to attempt to understand China.  I think what I know most certainly is that I will never know or understand everything there is to know about the most populated and most ancient country in the world.  While a lot of my schoolwork looks like it would at Hope, with lots of reading, writing, and learning characters, the study abroad experience does provide some more unique opportunities including cool field trips and fun activities.  My final block class, “Ethnic Minorities in China” means that we get to spend two weeks in Tibet!

Last week for IR we went to the Old Summer Palace, where the emperors would live until the place burned down.  I’ve been here before, but it was so cool to learn more of the history with my professor along, and chuckle at all of the attention that 15 waiguoren in a group attract anywhere that we go.  I love that this was class for the day!

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Listening to fascinating history while perched on giant rocks with my friends? I’ll take it!
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Old Summer Palace ruins

For Chinese last week we went to a market and had to find items (we only had the word in Chinese), pick out a gift for someone else in our class, and talk to random people.  It was a much needed break from sitting in a classroom.  We’re at the point in the semester where people are staring to get tired and the novelty of being in China has definitely worn off in many ways.  Usually my class starts at 9, but we were told that today we had a mandatory meeting at 8 to talk about our long travel trips.  Our program director starts talking to us about shopping for hiking clothes and I can’t help but notice how distracted he is.  He says, “You need to make sure you have good hiking shoes, but we can worry about that later, today we’re cancelling classes and everyone’s going out into the city!”  Deciding in our still-tiredness that this was probably true we went downstairs to find all of the teachers and RA’s holding signs to different locations in the city.  This was Crazy Day!  A day meant to be totally fun and give us a break.  I went with two IES teachers, one of our RA’s and seven other students to Fragrant Hills Park, a large hill that we climbed on the outskirts of Beijing.  I am a Pacific Northwest girl and the constant being in the city/not being outside in nature has been getting to me.  God gave me exactly what I needed today.  Everyone was so happy to have classes cancelled, and it was a beautiful hike, even when the smog got the best of the view.  We then went to a restaurant that some kids in the group knew for lunch and it was one of the top meals I’ve had in China.  We ordered several veggie dishes, chicken, shrimp, and of course rice.  We were literally silent because everyone was so focused on eating and savoring the food.  It was incredible.  It’s these experiences outside of the classroom that I will always remember.

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Getting ready to go out for Crazy Day!
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The view from the top is ALWAYS worth it!
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Beijing, Beijing smog. The hills on the left are the retreat center for the Communist Party.
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Remnants of an awesome meal! 

 

Not-So-Everyday Happenings

Time is going so quickly, my mind is perpetually confused in some non-existent and illogical time frame.  My french language classes are coming to a close this Wednesday (hooray!) and Thursday I leave for a two week home stay in the mountains!!! Near the ocean!!! And a only a day-hike away from Spain!!! I’ve been looking forward to this trip since I started going through the study abroad application/decision making process, which was about this time last year.

Although lately I’ve been feeling much too into a routine for my liking, the past couple of weeks have certainly been full of their own adventures and random surprises. Here is a quick photo recap of some definite highlights!

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Icicle wall from a hike in the French countryside.  A benefit of less-than-warm and very sporadic weather is icicles mingled with moss.

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Cheese, wine, and bread. This was one of many glorious moments where French food stereotypes prove themselves true. This is the cheese cave at Chez Xavier, one of the best cheese stores in France and certainly the best in Toulouse. It’s quite the complicated process to produce these cheeses!

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Some surprises in the city!  During downtime between classes and volunteering we often wander the streets and browse the through the shops (and botanical gardens?). Toulouse has a a relatively small, but very concentrated down town area so there is always plenty to explore and stumble upon!

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This is the gospel choir that I sing with on Thursday nights with my host mom. Quite the experience! I wasn’t able to perform this Sunday because I don’t know all of the songs yet, but hopefully next time I’ll be able to join in with certainly the most animated gospel choir in all of France. 

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And last but not least, I saw Mumford & Sons!!! They were playing in Toulouse and I snagged a ticket via Facebook and a healthy dose of faith in humanity (which proved successful and not naive. Yay!) It was my second time seeing them live (the first in the U.S.) and it was certainly a very different experience, but very much cherished!

Next time I write, I hopefully be in a little mountain village!

À la prochaine!