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Okay, perhaps this photo is a bit deceiving as today we got snow in Toulouse, but a few short days ago this was life after classes, sun-bathing on the banks of the Garrone. Such bliss!!!

I seem to have somehow entered a glorious place in my study abroad experience:  the demands of the language are not as exhausting as they once were!  When I first arrived listening and speaking French sucked the energy right out of me.  This would then lead to a vicious cycle of blank stares and quizzical looks as my exhausted mind tried and failed to find the French words for “Sorry, I don’t understand.” Of course I suppose I’ve been improving slightly everyday, but I know feel like I have finally come to a place where (hopefully) my progression will be more fluid.

And as it turns out, the ability to speak someone’s language makes friendships much more interesting and natural! This past weekend, a friend from the program and I went to a surprise birthday party.  It was a blast and full of French (read “better”) versions of American food!

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We contributed these little guys to the party.  They were an all-around success considering we had to translate the recipe from French. Despite buying two cartons of milk when we needed two spoonfuls, we somehow managed to pull it off.

And in other random and wonderful news, I live right next to a veterinary school. Why is this exciting!? Because their grounds are open to the public!  This means I have a wonderful place to escape the city and bond with some French farm animals.  The random joys! 

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Cultural Shock..Hurts!

Welcome to Valparaiso/vina!
Welcome to Valparaiso/vina!
the view everyday (sun almost always included!)
the view everyday (sun almost always included!)

Despite the title of this blog, I am thankful for and LOVING everyday here in Valparaiso! Waking up to my host dad having toast, cheese and coffee all set out for me (breakfast of champions, right?), rounding the corner of my barrio and seeing the sparkling Pacific and the faint shape of Battleship game pieces floating on the horizon. And everyday I get to study Spanish, history, culture, and community development all together, the perfect combo of everything I love learning about! Not to mention, most days I get to end my day with a scenic run on the pier and sometimes a helado on the beach with friends. In those moments, I have found myself asking, “Is this real life?” But the answer…

is “No.”

While these picturesque, vacation-like images I have described to you are one of the reasons most students desire go abroad (myself included), they come with a cost, a cultural shock that follows.

It begins a week or two into your trip abroad, about the time when you start to see underneath the empanadas and sunny beaches of the country , witnessing also the effects of its history, its social problems, completely unknown by average tourist. Cultural shock affects everyone differently, but it’s felt when you realize the world in which you now find yourself is drastically different from your own, or that it doesn’t match how you originally pictured it. Here are some of culture shocks (big and small) I’ve felt over the past week…

1.) Grocery stores here are not like…(insert name of a specialty U.S. grocery store here). This is actually a sort of big one for me. I am a bit of a health nut and enjoy my greek yogurt, whole wheat pretzels and kale salads (not all together though). Those luxuries are simply hard to come by here in Valparaiso (trust me, I spend 30 minutes combing the local supermarket for them today.) Despite this, you’re never far too far from “home town” favorites (there is a Starbucks ,McDonald’s and Ruby Tuesday’s a block away.) Oh, globalization.

2.) A group of 25 Spanish- speaking gringo kids draws attention on the streets. Our group’s blonde hair and North Face backpacks are not daily occurrences in Chile. We are  in a place where we no longer “blend in” to say the least.

3.) Tear gas spreads fast and education is not a cheap. Last Thursday we witnessed a smaller sized,  student protest from a window in our program’s  headquarters. Education, especially at the university level, is extremely expensive in Chile and many middle class families cannot afford it.  While for the most part we watched the protest  at a distance, the tear gas sprayed by the police wafted through the window causing wide spread coughing fits and headaches, though store owners and small children below got the worst of it. Social and political unrest are not isolated occurrences.

Yet the postitive from this ongoing process of adapting, and change, and cultural shock is that each day, my eyes, mind, and heart are opened a little wider. Not to mention I’m not in this alone. My comfort has been in this:

 “This is my command-be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Amor y Paz,

Leah 🙂

“Chileanismo” of the week: Buena Onda: /cool, good vibe/

Cultural Differences – By the Numbers

17 minutes – How late my class at University of Granada usually starts. Spain is quite relaxed with their sense of time, and it takes so much of the stress off. 

106 people – The capacity of the normal sized bus in Granada that would probably hold 50 or 60 people in the US.

Twice – The number of times I do my Michigan Nice smile to fellow pedestrians in the street each morning before I remember they think its weird. For Spaniards, it’s weird to look into strangers’s eyes, let alone smile. Well, hopefully the people who walk close to my house in the mornings just think I’m friendly! 

50% – The percent of Americans in roles Spanish singers imitate during a popular reality TV show. The influence of American shows and movies is everywhere! Almost everyone knows what Jersey Shore is, and the Simpsons (dubbed version) even has a prime time spot during lunch.

Zero – The number of times that politicians are asked about their religious leanings. Here it is considered very taboo to ask religion when talking to a politician because that is considered more or less a violation of secular government and the separation of church and state. That is one of the reasons that some people consider the US government to be non-secular, a thought that would astound most US citizens.

3 pm – Normal lunch start time. Needless to say, I’m always hungry. 

Study but do not stress out

This has been a slow week compared to the previous ones. No matter where you are or what you are doing there is one thing that we all will have to focus on while studying abroad; that part is studying.

Studying abroad is not just about travelling and getting to know your host country but it is also about comparing the academic content as well as teaching styles from US and Europe. Since I have been here my course work sometimes overwhelms me. With a more than a month of field studies in my program, my whole semester course load is packed into around three months. It does seem like a daunting task but I got a very good advice from one of the alumni of the program: “Focus on school work but don’t let it stress you out”. For anyone who would think of studying abroad this is a good advice to keep in mind. I have noticed that most professors know that you are trying something new by simply being abroad. They have told us the work we need to do but in the meantime they subtly express that we also need to explore more and try to have fun with our courses. Exposing myself to their teaching style lets me see the difference from American college systems but also allows me to appreciate how courses are taught in the United States.

Like I said, no matter how much course load one has, there needs to be time for fun. The sun has finally started coming out in Freiburg and all of my class mates are pretty excited about it. We did not get the best weather when we were here. There was more snow here than Michigan had which means that we were bundled but in layers the whole time. Now that the weather is getting better I have realized that sunlight gives a totally different dimension to the places we have actually been to already. We climbed up an observation deck the first week of our semester and Freiburg looked foggy but now the whole city is visible to us. The change of weather has definitely given us more to do in Freiburg now.

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Buenas desde Chile!

¡Buenos Finalmente desde Vina del Mar, Chile!

After spending what seemed to be a second summer vacation at home in eastern Michigan ( expect for the snow part 😉 ) I am finally in Vina de Mar, starting my semester with SIT Study Abroad. After only a week here, I have had too many new and exciting experiences to count! Here’s just a recap of some of them!

I arrived and met up with the rest of the 25 students in the program last Monday, commencing a week long orientation period in Valparaiso, Chile. During this period of time we stayed in a hotel and spent 3 days in a conference room learning everything from “chileanismos” to how the bus system works to peso conversions to remembering not to pet the street dog (I have a really hard time with the last one!) All that sitting and listening may sound dull, but by Friday, not only was my brain exploding with new information, it had to process all the Spanish! It’s hard to believe, but after basically hearing only Spanish for a few days straight, I think my comprehension and speaking have improved (a bit)! It goes to show that although language classes provide a base, nothing can replace “living” the language.

When Saturday came, we were oriented as much as we could be and were ready to meet our host families!! At 12:00 pm sharp, my host mom and dad, a sweet older couple, arrived at the hotel and lugged my oversized suitcases into the taxi. We were then off to their home in Viña del Mar, the neighboring city to Valparaíso. It’s  a quaint lime-colored house atop one of the area’s many “cerros” (hills) and only a few minutes’ walk from the ocean!

After a whirlwind of a week, I woke up on Sunday and went to a church recommended to me by a Hope alum. that studied abroad in Vina del Mar called “La Union Cristinana”. There, I met up Hope friends Kelsey and Kimberly. The music was by far my favourite part because I recognized some of the songs we sing at the gathering, expect they were in Spanish of course.) After a sort of stressful week, it was good to rest in God’s presence and know that even in a foreign country he’s never far away.

“Chileanismo” of the Week: pololo/a: boyfriend/girl

Saludos muy amables,

leah 🙂

Ps. pictures to come, technical difficulties!

Weekend in Lot

Last weekend I went to the Lot, a department in the south of France, with my program.  Lot personifies and surpasses all the cliché images that come to mind when you think of southern French countryside.  When we first arrived we explored a prehistoric cave, bison and mammoth cave drawings and all! It was absolutely incredible, however I was unable to take pictures as it damages the paintings.

We stayed at a hostel called Eco-Oasis, a charming and eco-friendly place nestled in the foothills.  It is run by a wonderfully kind couple who cooked the most delicious, organic meals! I could go on forever about the food in this country, especially the bread!  We did a fair share of hiking, but it did not come close to compensating for my gorging on the multi-course meals.

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The hike was cold, but we prepared with absurd amounts of layers.  We hiked to St. Cirque Lapopie, a very small village that was voted the most pleasant in all of France.  Apparently in the summer it is constantly packed with people, but we had it all to ourselves.  And right on cue, it started snowing in the most magical way, fat flakes with no wind.

ImageImageAnd back in Toulouse, the city is transforming! As we transfer from winter to spring, the warmth brings everyone out into the streets with music and costumes and wonderful antics! If I was still getting lost everyday, it would be like living in an entirely new city all over again.

 

Exploring Freiburg.

Compared to the big cities I have travelled so far, Freiburg is not as populous or “touristy” but that doesn’t mean there is not much to do here. The past week has been pretty calm but I got to explore Freiburg and I was surprised by how much I could be occupied by the small city itself.

One of my favorite things to do right now during the weekends, if I don’t have much homework, is to go to the Black Forest nearby the town. The cake “Black Forest” was actually named after this part of Germany and I would not have guessed that when I munched on the desert few months ago. I have managed to sneak out of the town couple of times now to enjoy the hike trails the mountains and forests have to offer. So far all the parts I have been to have been snowed on which makes the hike always difficult. However, I got lost once in the area and a random stranger passing by told me that it should not be that difficult for someone who is from Nepal. Regardless of the mountain climbing stereotypes associated with Nepal, the hike was very challenging and being from Nepal did not prevent me from getting half my body stuck inside the snow.

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It has always been my favorite pass time even before I came to Germany but watching FOOTBALL (soccer) has been a completely different experience with a crowd who really care about the game. Every time there is an exciting football game going on, the bars are packed. I have hardly watched a game sitting down in a chair. The football fanatics make the atmosphere incredible and there is no doubt that watching football in Europe is a memorable moment. I managed to go watch the Freiburg team play in the German Bundesliga and the passion shown by the player along with the supporters is breathtaking. Football is one thing that all of my flat mates are passionate about and starting a conversation talking about a random game never goes wrong. 

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P.S.- Having stayed in America for a year and half, it has been hard to say football and not soccer while I have been in Germany. I wrote soccer frequently in my post above just to scratch it out after I realized what I had done. 

I Have Never Been So Cold…

I know this is a long one, but last weekend I went on my first travel weekend out of Beijing!  15 other students from my program and I went up North to the city of Harbin, which is closer to the Russian border than to Beijing!  We took an all night train Friday night and arrived bright and early on Saturday morning and OH MY GRACIOUS IT WAS SO COLD (negative temperatures Fahrenheit .  I unwisely didn’t put on all my underlayers on the train, so I was shaking as soon as we got off!  One thing about traveling with 15 other people is that you end up waiting around for each other.  I was still groggy from sleeping, and we were trying to find each other to get cabs together to our hostel and I was under dressed, but fortunately this was the most unpleasant time of the trip for me.

I went into the bathroom to change at the hostel and left my backpack and such right outside the door, to come out of the stall to see an unfamiliar woman digging through my stuff, like had my wallet open and was thumbing through everything.  Chinese utterly failed me.  “What are you doing?  That’s my stuff!  You can’t do that!”  I then yelled for my friend who can speak Chinese and she thankfully came in right away.  It turns out I had left my pile of stuff in the place where guests leave things that they want to give away (there was no sign explaining this that I saw), and the staffer had been seeing what was up with it.  I then felt really bad for overreacting and we both apologized profusely to each other.  The sight of an unfamiliar person going through your wallet is a lot more unnerving than you would think!  However, the day only got better from there.

We split up into groups, and I and seven others went to Snow and Ice World, the largest snow and ice park in the world.  Its most famous lit up at night, but we decided to save some money and see it in the day.  I was not at all disappointed.  There were so many ice sculptures and we basically had the park to ourselves because it was daytime.  There were ice slides, tubing, ice biking (exactly what it sounds like) and a Chinese thing where you basically sit on a chair that’s mounted on a sled and push yourself around on the ice with poles.  Running around doing things and taking pictures with the ice sculptures helped us stay warm too!  

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Ice hallway

 

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All bundled up with the ice temple!

 

 

 

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Incense and ice Buddha

We headed back to the main shopping street in Harbin and walked around the shops and had some lunch.  I really wanted Russian food but the only place we could find was way too expensive and people needed food so we had Chinese fast food, which is pretty tasty though available in Beijing.  No complaints though.  The Russian influence was really clear in this part of town, for it definitely felt very European to me.  Buildings weren’t skyscrapers which was a nice change from Beijing!  We then went to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, which was gorgeous!  My favorite part was the flock of birds that kept flying around the top and then landing back on the roof, over and over again.  It was captivating!  It was really neat to see a testament to God’s work in China over the years and the beautiful way that He made those birds to fly around.ImageImageImage

 

We went to see another park’s sculptures all lit up.  Highlights include admiring the craftsmanship of the sculptures, falling off of a sculpture, and the wonderful meal that we ate afterwards.  We had a girl who is nearly fluent in Chinese order for us and I had the best eggplant I have ever had in my life.  It was cooked in some sort of savory soy sauce thing… I will never forget that meal.  It was a great group of people and the restaurant gave us a private room with a giant round table with the lazy susan so we can all take from each dish.  It really creates a sense of community that I absolutely love.  We talked, laughed and ate some awesome food before heading back to the hostel for a chill night of talking and hanging out.ImageImageImage

The next morning my friend Mykhanh wanted to go to Catholic church and I said I would go with her.  There were three churches on the same corner!  The first one was an Eastern Orthodox church which we basically just walked in and out of.  Then we went to the Catholic church and ended up going to mass in Korean… why not right?  It was the first service that we found and they welcomed us warmly, not that we could understand a word.  Then we went to the second half of a protestant service in English.  It was such a fun morning and God delighted us with an adventure seeking Him!  It was time to head to the train station and go home after one last walk down the main street for our favorite street snacks, but it was a great weekend!

I love the thrill that comes from seeking and finding adventure.  I love that God is who He is no matter where I am, and I’m learning more and more about walking in Him wherever I go.  I love that I am so free here, to just buy a train ticket with 15 friends and go explore somewhere, to laugh and enjoy and slide down ice slides and expand my view of the world just a little bit more.  

 

Host Family and (Not) Burning Down the House

Being in a host family is a very unique social situation. You are automatically living in very close quarters with people you barely know and at the beginning could barely communicate with. Luckily, it only took one mis-communication for my host mom and I to start learning how to understand each other. My host mom, a very traditional Catholic but a very welcoming and fun person, is named Ascención, but everyone calls her Choni.  During the whirlwind first day, Choni had taught me how to make coffee on the stove using the small percolator she has. However, I didn’t fully understand how to turn it off. I thought, “its just a stove how hard can it be?” How wrong I was. 

My first day of class comes and, of course, I am running late. Everyone else in my host family had already left the house. I pour out my coffee and go to turn off the stove. After 5 minutes, I can get it to turn off except for one upside down four on one of the displays. After 10 minutes, I just had to leave. After class, I go running to the student life office to talk to one of the advisers and also a recent friend Estrella. I try to tell her in Spanish, but an emotional Evelyn attempting to explain in Spanish was just not going to cut it so I quickly switch to English. “I’m sure I’m going to burn the apartment down!” I exclaimed. She ensured me that everything would be alright and that she would give Choni a call. I went back to class and after lingering to talk to my new friends, heading back home for lunch. I was sure I would be greeted with a strict lecture when I arrived back home. However, I was greeted with an enthusiastic “Buenas dias, guapa!” (Hi, cutie) and a delicious. Later that day, she explained it once more and I realized that the upside down four was actually an h for hot.

Since then, we’ve been getting along very well, including attending a kids club and church together and some very interesting discussions during lunch. I’m looking forward to getting to know her even better in the coming 3 months! 

I never thought I would____ !!

I just sat down to write about what I have done in the past one week and realized how the past seven days have been filled with travels and “wow I never thought I would be here” moments. In the past week I have been to Luxembourg, Brussels, and Paris to see how the European Union actually works and honestly speaking, if I had not been to these places my course work would probably not make sense to me.

From talking to the US deputy ambassador in Luxembourg and going to the European Court of Justice to visiting the European Council as well as the Commission, the last week has increased my knowledge about the European Union academically and practically. Getting a firsthand account from people who actually work in these institutions gave me insights on the struggles, strengths, and weakness of the EU in a wider dimension.

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As much as I love talking about what European Union does, I have realized that I need to have some fun stuff written here as well as those are the reasons why I will remember my experience all over Europe.

Let me start with Brussels. I really don’t think I have had so much chocolate in my entire life. Not only is Belgium famous for their chocolate and waffles, they also had a chocolate museum where we actually got to see chocolate being made and got to sample as many as we wanted. YES, AS MANY AS WE WANTED. Being the place where Tintin (the comic book and the movie) was created I had emotional moments every time I saw monuments glorifying the comic book I have spent my whole life obsessing about. Never would I have thought when I was a kid, reading one of Tintin’s adventure, that I would actually go to the place where he was born.

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Like I said this week was filled with “I never thought”. Never did I think that I would see the Eifel Tower; no matter what anyone says the thing is beautiful especially during the night. Never did I think that I would see the Mona Lisa. Regardless of people considering it being overrated, there is no better feeling other than being in front of probably one of the most famous painting in the world. Not only that but being in the Louvre, surrounded by thousands of masterpiece from around the world, was simply overwhelming (maybe it was the size of the museum too).

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Right now I am back in Freiburg and when I look back at the last seven days, I am just thankful that I was able to go to the places I went. As much as I love travelling, I am pretty sure my wallet loves being back in Freiburg and am looking forward to not having a week long travel for another month; I guess it is time to explore the city in depth and get to know my flat mates. Study abroad is all about starting a new adventure when the previous one ends.