Yesterday for the first time in my life, I experienced mountains with snow! I had the chance to snow shoe in the Pyrenees and after that day visit, it’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with those beautiful mounds of earth! It was also my first time out of the city since I’ve been here making the experience even more cherished.
I am thankful to now feel more settled into life in Toulouse; the language barrier becomes a little less imposing everyday, I love my homestay, and I’m now in a routine with classes. For my volunteer project, I’ve been placed in an afterschool program called Alliances et Cultures. This past Friday we made pancakes (being the only American I was considered the expert on this subject). It was essentially chaos, but very much welcomed. Something I’ve found here is that people are generally quieter, so the noise and energy of the kids felt familiar (despite not understanding what they were yelling about).
Amidst the foreign and the familiar, each day I find myself deeper into a beautiful predicament: I fall more in love with France, and more in love with America with every uncovered nuance. The particularities of French culture further define the uniqueness of life in America. I suppose only time will tell how this quandary will play out, but for now I am thoroughly enjoying what I’ve discovered thus far, and I am very much ready to see more!
Before I tell you all about Berlin and Prague, I am going to tell you about what I just did- I just went sledding and skiing in the Swiss Alps and I am very sore. I don’t think I have ever seen that much snow in Michigan (I may have in Nepal though).
One of the biggest features of the program I am enrolled in is that I get to explore Europe while analyzing its political components and have fun at the same time. The Swiss Alps falls under the fun part. Going to Berlin will probably be one of the most memorable experiences for me. The Topography of Terror, which used to be a GESTAPO head-quarter during World War 2 and now a memorial for the persecuted Jews, along with the Stasi prison where prisoners during the reign of East Germany were held, overwhelmed me with the historical significance Berlin reflected. Having withstood two notorious regimes in the past 100 years, Germany has done a really good job to confront their history and develop to where they are now. However, one of the most enlightening insights I got during my stay in Berlin was regarding the East Germany; we had a meeting with two residents who lived before the Wall fell and they both concurred on the point that East German regime was not that bad as everyone thinks it to be. Both of them said that it was corrupt and economically unstable but noted that it was as functional as any government system in the world right now; perhaps, a dual reflection of any situation is required in order to understand it entirely.
While I got to see how Germany and Europe has progressed so much from their past, Prague showed me a nation still going through the transition from a communist nation to a capitalist one. Even though it has been almost 20 years since Czechoslovakia separated, it appeared as if the political system is still inclined towards the old system; a change in political generation has still not occurred. However, it has been speculated that this new era is coming soon and seeing the transition would be valuable.
I will stop with the politics for now. One thing I wanted to tell everyone before I ended was that Freiburg has a “Halloween” type festival of their own called the Fasnet which took place last week. It is celebrated to signify nest of fools taking over the city and the battle of cold seasons against spring which ends with the burning of Freiburg’s carnival costume until it can return again next year. With all the costumes and masks all over the city, all the students who have celebrated Halloween found it a bit similar but apparently more bizarre.
Since I am leaving Freiburg for another trip tomorrow, I will make a point to update everything I do here. For now that’s all folks 🙂
Sunday was the Chinese New Year, or since China now follows the Roman calendar, Spring Festival (Chunjie). Chunjie in China is like the American holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s all rolled into one. Life in Beijing stops as the migrant labor force (about half the population) returns home to other provinces. We had Monday through Wednesday off of classes this week to enjoy the festivities. Here’s how I enjoyed my Chunjie:
Saturday- New Year’s Eve is the big day, where we have a huge meal. Some other kids from my program came over to my homestay and our housekeeper actually said that she wanted us to eat so much that we would explode (I think we came pretty close!). Then we watched the traditional New Year’s Eve “talent competition” television event. It involves singing, dancing, and skits. Celine Dion even made an appearance. No, I don’t understand that one either. It would have been better if we could have understood what was being said and sung! Another key feature of Chunjie is fireworks. Not just your average driveway fireworks, but the big ones that could be used in an actual fireworks show. Here they can be bought by anyone off the street. Starting around 5 o’clock they were going off all around the city just about non-stop, culminating in an earth shaking racket at midnight that went on until about three. Thankfully, I’m a night owl!
Sunday- A friend of my homestay family invited me and a friend to go with them to a temple fair, which is the traditional gathering at Chunjie. There were a LOT of people, and stalls to buy souvenirs and street food, as well as sedan chair rides and other carnival games. We walked around the Old Summer Palace (where this temple fair was being held). It was awesome to meet a Chinese family and spend part of the traditional Chinese holiday with them. Their daughter is 14 and speaks English- love for Taylor Swift is universal!
Monday- I went with my host dad to visit his brother and his family. It was so much fun! His sister in law and her daughter were also there and they even have a dog. The girls were practicing their English with me and I got to practice my Chinese with the parents. The warmth of a welcoming and hospitable home is universal. The family sat around the table and laughed and even though I wish I could understand what was being said, I could understand that the family loves each other’s company. For dinner, I met up with a group from my program and we went out to an American restaurant that was way too expensive, but I had a quesadilla and it was magnificent. Cheese is not easily found in China at all. As much as I love Chinese food, its good to have something different every once in awhile. Trust me, no matter where you go, you will miss the tastes of home eventually!
Tuesday- I hung out with the same family that I did on Sunday and had lunch at their house. They heard from my host family about a dish that I really like called tangyuan (rice flower balls filled with red bean paste), and made some just for me! I ended up watching The Hunger Games with their daughter, and it was really interesting to explain the premise behind the story to someone with limited English, and the themes about government to someone who lives in a country with a very different government than ours, and enjoyed a relaxed evening of great conversation with my friends. Every day is something new!
Wednesday- Today I went to another temple fair with some kids from my program. More masses of humanity, more overpriced food, more ridiculous items for sale. I also went shopping with a friend. I must also add that the fireworks have carried on every night so far. I never thought I could be bored of fireworks, but there’s a first time for everything!
I’m so glad that I got to be in China for Chunjie, to see something that is such an important part of their culture, and to experience the family aspect that the holiday brings. I’m thankful for the families that have graciously invited me into their homes and filled me to bursting with delicious food, for the time spent getting to know friends better, and for God’s provision in bringing me here!
This is the fountain we saw in the center of the patio of the Cathedral in Seville. It looked like an average fountain, with children playing and old men chatting. However, as our professor explained more about the history of the this place, this fountain has been a part of a sacred meeting places for more than 1500 years. They have proof that this fountain was part of a Visigoth Church and after the place for the sacred washing before the Muslims would enter their church an now a fountain in the third largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Who would of thought that a simple fountain could have that much history!
There were many other examples of the mix of Muslim and Christian history and architecture. The one on the right is a tower in Ronda. Where the Christians destroyed and the rebuild the tower can be seen where the rock at the bottom switches to brink halfway up. A similar event occurred at the mosque that used to be where the Seville cathedral is now. On the left you can see a picture of the inside of the top of the tower. After an earthquake destroyed the outer layer of the tower, the Christians rebuild the outside to house bells. The impressive arch can be seen dating from about the 13th or 14th century. As well columns visible are from the mosque at Cordoba to have continuity of the faith, so they date from about the 10th century! As cool as all the history, the best part of the trip was definitely getting to hangout with my new IES friends!
It really does not seem that long but apparently it’s been a little over a month since I have been in Freiburg, Germany. Since this is not the first time I am studying abroad, saying bye to Hope College was not as hard as I thought it would be (compared to 18 years in Nepal). Just like I was open to adventures when I got off at USA a year and half ago, landing in Frankfurt gave me a similar sensation. My first quest was not that great as I had to survive in a totally new country without knowing any German, without knowing how to get to my center, and not having my luggage for 4 days; the not having my luggage is something everyone will remember for a while.
It been a month so far and being in Europe was something I only imagined last year while I filled my study abroad application. I have heard so many speculations about European culture and trying to see if they are actually right or not have been fascinating. Germans do drink a lot of beer, they do have very good public transportation systems, they definitely do not hate the Americans, and many of them do not know the Super Bowl. Apart from me, one of the only non-American when Super Bowl was discussed, everyone was utterly shocked. It was a good thing that Freiburg is a college town because due to requests from college students, a lot of places in town were screening the game till 5 in the morning.
Compared to Holland, Freiburg is a huge college down. With trams running from one side of town to the other, every one who rode it were mostly college students. Being in Freiburg, I was in the same situation as them so I had to survive just the way they did in Freiburg which meant I had to cook a lot. As much as I enjoy cooking, I realized that over a year of convenient meal plan and Burger King had made me SUPER lazy. My parents always told me that I would have a hard time when I had to cook, I always said I would not and when I started cooking, I realized I was right. From mixing spices here and there and cooking things that I would never even see in Meijers, I was very glad to know that I would not starve or go broke soon.
Just when I was getting used to being in this entirely new feeling of independence (more than I ever felt in Hope College) we had to leave for our course trip. Don’t get me wrong, I did not really bother me especially since we were going to Berlin and Prague. Now that I had wrote down so much, I realize that I have done a lot so I will post about my trip to the capital and Czech Republic next week. From not being able to sleep in a new bed to passing out so easily in the same one, this one month has been quiet enlightening one. Not going to lie, but I am pretty excited to see how the rest of the semester will be like.