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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 🙂

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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!

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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.

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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!)

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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)

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.

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. 

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! 

 

Unexpected & Beautiful: Chengdu

This past weekend was a long travel weekend, so we had Friday off of classes.  On Thursday night, I flew with two of my friends to the city of Chengdu (成都) in the Sichuan Province of western China.  We originally decided to go there because it is the only place in the world where you can hold a panda, and there are other awesome sights as well.  It turns out that holding a panda is $300 US dollars per person.  Our flights cost less than that.  Needless to say, I decided not to do what I had gone to Chengdu to do, however, it was the other unexpected things that made the weekend so awesome!

My favorite moment of the weekend was one that was totally unexpected, not usually considered at all desirable, but absolutely spontaneously hilarious.  Three friends and I were riding back from the Sichuan Opera when our car broke down.  Straight up stalled out in the middle of the road.  Out we got to push.  If the sight of four laowai pushing a van down the street wasn’t enough, a bus pulls up beside us and stops at the intersection.  There were probably about 30 Chinese people on board who were all staring at us, some of them literally, with mouths wide open.  We could not stop laughing.  They all looked so confused, and the absurdity and adrenaline rush of the situation made everything that much funnier.  I will never forget that, totally unexpected or planned, yet hilarious nonetheless.

–Three things I appreciate about flying in China: free food, free checked bags and you don’t have to take off your shoes to go through security.  Meet Marytha and Alyssa!  We had a great weekend together.

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–We got in the car to go on our day tour of the Leshan Buddha (the largest Buddha in the world) and the pandas to find some kids from IES Shanghai.  What are the chances of that?  They were a fun group to spend the day with.  The Buddha was pretty magnificent, and the pandas were oh so fun to watch even though I was bummed about not holding one.

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–One of my friends at Hope, Yijun, is from Chengdu.  I got to meet her parents and they treated us to a delicious dinner with true Chinese hospitality!  It felt like being at home with family, they were so kind!  It was a very unique experience that I wasn’t expecting to have, but it might even have been why I came to Chengdu.  I’m so thankful that everything worked out.

–Wandering random shopping streets with no goal or time frame in mind.  Sichuan is known for SPICE.  The one spicy dish I ate I also managed to get in my eye.  Needless to say, I’m still a spice wimp.

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–Something that I LOVED about Chengdu was how many green trees there were (Beijing basically has none right now).  We also checked out a monastery that had some beautiful gardens away from the city.  It was interesting to observe some Buddhist religious practices and I definitely want to learn more about Buddhism as it is a belief system that has greatly influenced Chinese culture.

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–On Sunday, Marytha and I were going to go to a nearby mountain but train tickets were sold out by the time we got there.  We decided to explore some parks in Chengdu and had an absolutely awesome day!  We paddled a canoe (a midst many greetings of “Hallo!” from our fellow Chinese mariners), danced with Chinese people (including to “Gangam Style”), and rode this suspended bike ride at the part of the park that had a mini amusement park.  It was so glorious to be in such beautiful creation and to enjoy it with many Chinese people as well.  Some sort of white puffy pollen was floating in the air, like snow, which only made everything feel more like a fairy tale!  We even managed to run into Alyssa and her friend without planning to at all.

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Chengdu was an absolutely beautiful city, and I’m so glad that I made the choice to go, even though I didn’t hold a panda, train tickets were sold out, the car broke down… it was still an awesome weekend, with the best memories in the unexpected & beautiful.

 

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!