Spain Surprises

My parents visited me here in Spain, and there are a few things that surprised/entertained/ shocked them, so I thought all y’all might be interested too:

Zona WiFi Gratis

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 as well.
City personality:  My parents were a little worried that the cities would be very Americanized. While 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.starbucks_mcds
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. My mom looked annoyed that they didn’t select any of the space along the rest of the fench until I reminded her of this.
Life is in the street: They kept commenting on how many people were in the streets, bars, and cafes. It’s not just because we were traveling during a busy time, it’s also that Spainards love spending time in the street.

Winding Down?

In one week I’ll be done with the classroom portion of my time abroad… nuts!  I’m staying in Europe for the majority of the summer to travel and volunteer a bit, and so ready for a change of pace and fresh adventure!  


Recently I had the opportunity to go to Paris!  With all the hype, fantasy, and dreaminess that surrounds this city I was a little skeptical, almost going as a sort of obligation (I am in France, after all). Well I can now safely say that Paris is worth all the fuss… it’s magical! It’s a city made for wandering, my specialty, and while my friend and I hit up the major tourist spots the majority of our time was spent walking, exploring, and running into the most beautiful things by accident.  I have plans to go there again before I leave for the States, and I’m sure that there is an entirely new adventure waiting.


Picnic of my favorite things on bank of the Seine!

I recently finished up my volunteering at Alliances et Cultures, an organization that promotes equality and fights discrimination in their community through a variety of channels:  cinema, ludotheque (think library of games), community planned vacations, classes, help navigating the crazy French administration system.  I helped with homework and taught a bit of English with their after school program.  It was challenging, but a great example of how to unite a very diverse community in practical and useful ways. 

Now I’m off to study for final exams, write a giant paper, and prepare a presentation… I’m sure many of you are doing similar things. Bon courage! 


How far I have come.

What comes to anyone’s mind when they hear Germany? Beer, football, sausages, etc. As much as I would be one of the people who tries to see through stereotypes, this past weekend was probably the most German experience I have had so far. Obviously that is considering the stereotype experiences.

I and almost ten other students from my program went to Munich for Fruhlingsfest 2013 and it was probably one of the most exciting weekends of my study abroad program. People started going to the carnival around eleven in the morning and did not stop till eleven at night. It was more or less 12 hours of extreme happiness and fun. When my friends asked me how I liked it all I could say was “I felt very happy”. I know very cheesy and vague but I was certainly happy when I was celebrating spring the German way.


Apart from the Fruhlingsfest, Munich also made me realize how close I am to the end of the semester and all that I have achieved in the past few months. My exams start in a week and when we visited the Dachau concentration camp all I could think of was how the semester actually began. From Berlin where we got introduced to the atrocities of Germany’s infamous history to a place that has been notorious for their presence in World War 2, I have managed to come a long way. I have read about history and its making in writing and have wrote about them in papers but there is no way I could have known so much more if I was not there at the spot. More than just seeing these places, it was more about experiencing and feeling which got me thinking how I might have changed in the past semester.


It might still take time to see how I have developed in the past semester and I am sure to keep you updated on my hectic exam week and last few weeks in Europe. Anyone who managed to spare sometime from exams to read this, I wish you good luck on your finals.   

Small Time Farming

So it’s been a while! But here is a quick recap of the research project (and other random adventures) that I did in the beautiful Pyrenees-Orientales of France!



For my 10 day stay, I was with a host family in a tiny village in the middle of beautiful farm lands.  Unlike typical midwest farmlands that are usually miles and miles of corn, the fields here varied greatly  in color and type of produce.  My family cultivated apricots, and their entire extended family (who all live within a five minute drive) are also small production farmers.  For my study, I explored the advantages, disadvantages, market, and changing ways of small production farming in this region.  There was a lot to learn, but what struck me most is that the famous “35 hour work week” of France does not exist for these families.  While they remain fairly independent of economic crisis, their life is entirely in tandem and dominated by the seasons, weather, and rhythms of growth. There was something so honest and pure about this family grown business… if the thought of being tied down to a section of land for an extended period of time didn’t freak me out so much, I think I would very much like this type of work. 🙂


For one of the days I met up with a dearly cherished new friend (thankfully, you tend to make those while studying abroad) who was placed in a nearby village and we took a bus to the most beautiful mountains on the most glorious day with the best baguette ever in hand! It was perfect! The bus dropped us off in the sleepy little village and we somehow made our way to the mountain (which was farther away then it appeared).  We essentially just made our own path the whole day, through the fields and hopping creeks until we finally got to the forest-y part of the mountain… and then we just continued to make our own path since we couldn’t find the actual trail. Really can’t use enough superlatives to describe this day… THE BEST!


I really bizarre thing for me is the proximity of other countries in Europe.  One day my host family casually suggested that we “go to Spain for lunch.”  I can’t get anywhere cool within a half hours drive radius from my house (no offense, southwest Michigan), but before I knew it we were in Spain! And better yet, we visited the Salvador Dali museum! Yeesh what a nut! I love every bit of his surrealist craziness… as well as the tapas we had afterwords. Wonderful! 

Next up, an update on my weekend in Paris and my volunteer project I’ve been doing in Toulouse! À bientot! 

“Up North” Chilean Style

It’s 10:09 PM local time, and I’m curled up on the couch in the lodge of Hotel Q’antai in my North Face zipped to the top. You would never know that scorching sun beams filled the air at 4 pm, as it’s probably around 0 degrees Celsius now.  Belly full of vegetable soup, quinoa, mate, and I’m still cold.  I’m cold, but I couldn’t be more content.


Currently, I’m exploring Putre with half my program on an excursion “up north” where we are learning about the indigenous people that have historically inhabited this part of the country, the Aymara. Putre, about 3,500 meters above sea level, is a quaint, rural pueblo of 1, 800 people, no more than 70 km from the Bolivian border. Putre, with its mate de coca (tea made from the coca leaf), snow-capped mountains, and tiny artisanal shops, has me mesmerized. It’s not much, but Putre feels like another little world above the clouds (and at 3,500 m, its close). The sun is more intimate and so are the friendly smiles of the people. The constant car alarms and barking dogs of Viña and Valparaíso are filtered out at this altitude, replaced with the occasional bleeping sheep, tricking canal. But most of the time, a peaceful silence fills the altiplano air.


Above: me at Lake Chungara, close to Putre!

One of my favorite nights in Chile took place two days ago when we participated in an intercultural ceremony with a group of Aymara from the smaller local village of Guallatire. Together, we feasted on llama jerky, toasted corn, and sopapillas (traditional and delicious fried bread). Our group had also prepared a “typical” American dessert of homemade apple crisp to share (which was a hit!) The evening was also filled with learning typical Aymara dances and our group’s performance of Smashmouth’s “All-Star” (it was the only song we could think of that represented “our generation” and that we all knew the lyrics too!)


Above: Aymara dancing to “Tinku”

Just yesterday afternoon, our group also performed a short play for about 80 kids at the local school. We depicted a traditional Aymara folktale about a condor and a fox (I was one of the narrators!). The kids absolutely loved it and one boy asked if we could come back the next day with a new play! Adorable!DSCN0453_434DSCN0453

Above: performing “El condor y el Zorro” at Liceo de Putre

Yep, I may have to sleep in a hat and three layers of shirts at night, but I wouldn’t want it any other way! Viva Chile!

Amor y Paz,

Leah 🙂

Chileanismo: fome- Lame! (haha)

On Being a Laowai

Whenever I go to any famous landmark in Beijing, there is usually a huge crowd of people, and I almost always hear one of a few things while I’m walking through the crowd.  Laowai is a term for foreigners as is waiguoren, and these words follow any non-Asian person through the crowd.  The more of us there are in a group, the more exclamations we will hear.  The more stares we will get.  The more people will blatantly take pictures, sometimes with us, sometimes from a distance without asking first at all.  As with many things in adjusting to a new culture, the best thing to do is to simply laugh it off, or even play along.  Sometimes I’ll give an unsolicited camera a big thumbs up, wave enthusiastically or greet the photographer in Chinese.  This always surprises them.  I have friends who, if it is convenient, pick up their own camera and take a picture back.  

The fact that I stick out like a sore thumb no matter what I do and where I go is something I’ve had to get used to in China.  My friends in Europe are excited when someone confuses them for a local.  That will never happen to me here, no matter how good my Chinese becomes, no matter how culturally aware I am I will always be different.  It can be exhausting sometimes, to constantly be stared at by people riding the bus who don’t really have anything better to do in that time anyways, the kids who look at me with wary eyes on the street.  However, I’ve more or less learned to deal with it.  Its only on the bad days that these things really annoy me.  Its good to remember that people are just naturally curious.  

Being a waiguoren does have its advantages.  It is assumed that I can’t speak Chinese and that I need help with everything.  Sometimes this is true, and playing the dumb tourist can be useful.  My Asian-American friends meet confusion from Chinese people as to why they look Chinese but can’t speak the language.  I have my friend Mykhanh’s spiel about how her parents are Vietnamese but she is American almost memorized.  If I am with an Asian friend, Chinese people will consistently speak directly to them and not to me at all.  Side note: my friend Irene and I were able to help two German girls order a cake in the bakery yesterday… accomplishments!  This can be exhausting for them, just as constantly sticking out is for me.  Having these multiple perspectives as a part of my experience has helped me to see the China experience in a way different from my bubble.  Which is a very, very, good thing.

This will be my last blog for awhile as I am headed to TIBET tomorrow for my class about ethnic minorities in China.  I’ll have internet again in about two weeks!

A Cross Section of Class (Part Two)

Antropología de la Diferenciación y la Estratificación Social (in Spanish at Universidad de Granada): This is by far my most intimidating class. I can say without a doubt, I have the lowest level of Spanish of anyone in the class. However, I am keeping up and learning a ton. As you can tell by the name of the class, Anthropology of the Differentiation and Social Stratification, many of the words are cognates so that helps a lot. The professor is also super willing to work with me and the other students are very understanding and helpful as well. It’s kind of fun being the only American in a class of about 35. Not to mention the subject of the class has been completely enlightening for me. We have covered gender issues and how the effect how our society is structured and now we are moving on to social class. Don’t tell my parents or my advisor, but the class almost makes me want to go into the social sciences. 😉

Mediterranean Ecology (in English): This class is awesome, especially since we get to go on the best field trips. During class and lectures we talk about what abiotic (non-living) conditions make the mediterranean area unique and how plants and animals have adjusted to cope with those conditions. During the field trips, we examine the plants, animals, and geological structures we learned about in class. For example, we got to see Spanish Badlands! And one of the driest places in all of Europe, called Cabo de Gato.

San Jose Beach
A fellow Hope student Lexi and I on the beach during the overnight trip.
Climbing in Volcano Rocks
A bunch of fellow ecologists in a volcanic rock formation!

Islamic Civilization before 1492 (in Spanish): Most Americans know the date 1492 as the date “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” from our nursery rhymes. However, that is also a very important date in Spanish history because that was the year the last of the Muslims were pushed out of Southern Spain or Al-Andalus (where Andalusia gets its name). This class is a quite comprensive cover of Islamic history, with special emphasis on its effects on Andalusia. Our professor also leaves open time to discuss current events that relate to the class which is very enlightening as well.

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!


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.  




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!

Glory in the Highest!
“I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, Your works are wonderful I know that full well!” Psalm 139:14
“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


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.


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.


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.

group picfood


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!



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 😉