By Kayan

5 things I like about China

1. Food is Cheap – a good meal cost around USD$2-USD$3. Really, it doesn’t get any better than that. Not only that, if you and a group of friends decide to do a group dinner you can try a variety of excellent dishes at around USD$4-USD$5. ONLY IN CHINA!

2. Transportation is convenient – there are two bus stops only 5 minutes walk away for only 0.4 yuan, the subway is a bus ride away at only 2 yuan per ride, and there are taxis everywhere. It’s great.

3. Everything you need is right there in front of you – there are restaurants every TWO STEPS literally! You can never go far to get something good to eat. Street food is good, and the store is 5 min away from my school, the ATM’s are everywhere. It’s really convenient.

4. People are willing to help you if you get lost – people here are friendly and mostly willing to give a helping hand!

5. The historical sites are amazing – I’ve been to Tiananmen Square, Llama Temple, Hangzhou, Summer Palace, 798 district etc……its all so beautiful with such rich history!

5 things I dislike about China

1. Stares from the locals – Being black, I’m like a huge elephant in the room. I’ve caught people gaping, sneaking pics, and I’ve been touched three times without permission. It gets to be a problem sometimes, but what can I do…没办法。(mei banfa..meaning there’s nothing you can do)

2. The air quality is CRAZY BAD – some days I cant see the mountains. And on these days many people where masks, and runners are encouraged not to run. Just imagining what that would do for your lungs is terrible.

3. Transportation is too crowded – I cant count the number of times I have to squeeze myself into a subway or a bus. Sometimes there are so many people that the bus just has to leave. So even though transportation is convenient, its not that convenient.

4. The cheaper restaurants are more likely to be dirty – There’s one particular restaurant we like to go to eat because their food is cheap. But I once got a dirty cup, the floor is also dirty and also at other restaurants. Sometimes I get paranoid and wonder what is happening back there in the kitchen.

5. The drivers are crazy and the traffic is daunting- We have a rule…don’t cross the road until you see the natives cross it! Comparing pedestrian rights in California to China is a HUGE difference. Pedestrians absolutely do not have the right of way, even when the light says we can walk.

By Dorraine

I just completed the final expedition of my program here in Thailand and it was by far my favorite. For this course we went to Thailand’s southern coastal region and also to a couple small islands off the mainland. Academically, we focused on the exploitation of marine resources between local people, the government, the fishing and tourism industry.

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Minority no more!

Touching down in the South of Thailand was like entering a new country. Unlike the North, this “new country” had few if any wats (Buddhist temples), instead there were mosques on every block and the inhabitants themselves looked a lot different……they were dark! For the most part their complexion varied from a golden yellow hue to dark brown tone. At last I was one of the masses! As the sun gradually bronzed my already bronze skin (bun mi up) I found solace in the fact that I was not strange or out of place here.

While on the island of Lipe (an island in the Adang Archipelago off the south coast of Thailand) we spent a day at the Mountain resort, which was where I met Sally. She was the most pleasant, entertaining and definitely the most fashionable waitress at the restaurant. Our introduction occurred while ordering food. She interrupted me mid-sentence to ask me where I was from. I politely replied “Jamaica, rujack?” she shook her head and said she had never heard of it before (not a surprise). I then bravely tried to explain to her that Jamaica was a country near America and similar to Lipe in that it was an island. Futile. Still confused she thought it better to move on with the conversation. With a smile she reached out and touched my hand and said “You beautiful, I beautiful too, we ben sisters.” Laughing and somewhat flattered I accepted the familiar relationship as I could see some similarities. We both had dark skin and thick dark hair, but in my opinion that was the end of the resemblance as Sally was a 6’’ tall, broad shouldered lady-boy with a nose ring and bright green and yellow eye shadow and spider-like eyelashes. For the rest of the trip I referred to her as “Pi Sally” which means big (in age and in this case size) sister.

Regardless of which island or coastal community I was at I constantly heard the phrase “Dam farang” being uttered around me. Despite what it sounds like in English it does not mean damn foreigner it means dark/black foreigner (this became a big joke among my group members). Locals in both the north and the south were not used to seeing black tourists but what was different was how they responded to me. In the north it was “oh you are beautiful!” because your exotic and strange and I have never seen your kind before. But in the south it was “oh you are beautiful!” because you look like us. Either way I gladly took the compliment but in the South I felt that people treated me as one of their own instead of a tourist which was a great feeling.

 

 Tourism in a nutshell

I have never been a big fan of, or particularly supportive of commercial large scale tourism especially on islands like Jamaica. But visiting Lipe took my hate for it to another level. As a tiny island all facets (good and bad) of tourism were obvious and plain to see. Around the coast were luxurious resorts, romantic bungalows and bars galore and in the interior were the dump and the slums where the locals lived. On larger islands like Jamaica we have the luxury of hiding the unpleasant aspects of the tourism industry from the tourist, because, let’s face it no tourist actually wants to see the harsh reality of their ‘paradise’ or see how they might be contributing to it. Back home we can put up concrete walls around the ghetto and place the dump far enough away from the resorts to create an illusion of a paradise, but Lipe was not as lucky.

Exploitation of Illegal migrants, organized crime and pollution left right and center were among the few realities that surfaced after exploring the island. It was a stark contrast between Lipe and other islands in the archipelago that had no tourism industry, but I guess that’s development for you.

I felt like the little mermaid!

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Snorkeling is probably the most incredible experience one can have observing nature. The sea, the ocean, in fact any large water body is such a strange and unknown world for most of us, that even though we eat, read about or even study these sea creatures, seeing them in their natural habitat is still such a phenomenal experience.  I want to explain how awesome it is to hover over a reef which is like a community of tiny ridiculously colorful plants, animals and everything in between but no compilation of words I can string together will ever do it justice. I risked the life of my camera to capture images of this experience and despite having damaged my camera beyond repair…I think it was worth it!

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Family life

Do you know what it’s like to grow up in a small community where everyone is seemingly related, and eating dinner 3 times at three different houses is common and where you can’t walk to your house without stopping to chat at each and every house along the way? No? Well I do, and if you don’t mind putting on a couple extra pounds it’s a fantastic way of life. My host mom in Ban Jao Mai was the last of 13 children and each of her siblings took on the responsibility of feeding me, entertaining me and making me feel at home.

The King’s birthday is one of the bigger national holidays in Thailand and we got the opportunity to spend it with our host families. And like my family in Jamaica national holiday translates to family time which translates to massive quantities of food and a trip to the beach/waterfall. For this family outing we went to a waterfall (not as nice as Dunn’s River but it can pass) about an hour away from the village packed into 4 pickup trucks (and van backs). Descending upon the venue like an army we unloaded our vans and prepared for lunch which included curry chicken, fried fish, rice, soup, cake, fruits and Fanta. It was such an authentic experience because they weren’t going on the trip to entertain us foreigners but because as a family this was how they spent time together. This was my favorite home-stay because the novelty of having a foreigner in their house wore out very quickly, and in no time they treated us, talked to us and fed us like we were locals. We ate as they ate, dressed as they dressed and socialized as they socialized and in my opinion got a ‘true-er’ understanding of their culture.

Muslim village

The Southern regions of Thailand are predominantly Muslim; the three most southerly regions have also been plagued with terrorist activity allegedly related to a secessionist movement and Islamic fundamentalism. Ignorantly this incomplete knowledge led to the formation of silly expectations of how difficult and restrained life would be as a woman living in that region.

The very first night in Ban Jao Mai completely shattered those expectations; a street dance put on by a community member celebrating winning the lotto inclusive of mini-skirt wearing singers, dancers, gambling tables and drunk old men was certainly not what I expected. It reminded me of home. The community that we stayed in is considered a Muslim village which implies that Islam as a religion informs and influences the culture. Similarly most communities in Jamaica would be considered Christian but this does not however have a bearing on the conviction to which the religion is practiced. I found this to be true in Ban Jao Mai as well. They all considered Islam their religion of choice but had varying levels of conviction. Some attend prayers at the mosque while others didn’t, some women chose to wear their hijab while others didn’t. Religion was not the key feature of this community, the people were.

Final thoughts

Part of the reason why this course was my favorite was because its backdrop was more beautiful than any other I have experienced in Thailand. From island to mangrove to mudflat to coast, Thailand is a beautiful country (dear I say it…even rivaling Jamaica). To be able to have a class on a boat in the middle of the ocean made me first of all aware of how blessed I truly am, and second made me more passionate about working towards protecting and preserving the natural environment of my country.

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By Ly

I am going to dedicate this entry to a few city parks that I have visited in Quito so far. My first impression was that they are really big, at least compared to those in Vietnam. It is possible that I am more familiar with places in my hometown and therefore do not feel so disoriented in Vietnamese parks. Perhaps I was comparing them to the humble Bronson Park downtown Kalamazoo where I can easily trace my finger along its borderlines from 20 meters away. I have also been to the Millennium Park in Chicago but only to visit the Crown Fountain and the famous Bean- two points of reference that are too prominent to possibly get lost. By February, I might actually end up visiting more parks in Ecuador than I do in the States. Besides, two out of the three Quito parks I have checked out give a spectacular view of the city from above.

Let’s start with El Parque Carolina, located near the popular shopping mall Quicentro. Also, this is where I accomplished my “spying” photography assignment.

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Bienvenidos-Welcome! A place to bring your kids to have fun, munch on a cotton candy, play soccer or paddle on a lake.

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Exercise

Next to the colorful SpongeBob float is where people of all ages do morning exercises. There is a small stage where the instructor models the movements and sets up microphones and speakers for the best music. The scene reminds me of Hanoi- people enjoy doing exercises outdoor together to breathe in the fresh air and socialize each morning.

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Food and drinks on wheels are popular around the park. I had a coconut for $1.25 and it tasted great. You drink the water straight out of the coconut with a straw.

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Violin

Earning a living.

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Pick it up

There are (old) people and sometimes children collecting recyclable waste from trash bins. To the best of my knowledge, they can sell plastics and glass (among others) to a private recycling system that exists in parallel with the government’s one. Someone told me that the former was the only manner in which recycling was done in Ecuador before the government started investing in this project.

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One of the favorite spots for teenagers. As you can see graffiti is common here.

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Here is another one taken by the Rio Coca bus station, where my fellow friends in Quito take the green bus to go to La Universidad de San Francisco in Cumbaya, where I live.

The next attraction is Itchimbia, located really high up in the South side of Quito. I went there to help out at a food fair called Ecuador Cultura Gourmet, in which Camari, the company I am volunteering at, participated. I got to try a lot of tasty food “hechos en” (made in) Ecuador from chocolate, Andean products to sea food, cheese and coffee.

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View from Itchimbia

The park gives a nice view of the Historical Center where the gorgeous Basilica Church stands out. You can imagine how steep and hilly the streets are based on the picture. At K, I had to walk my bike from the Upjohn library to… Monroe Street, but here I think I would be better off leaving my bike at a corner and carry myself up and down the hills. There was indeed a downhill mountain bike competition last time I was around in the Center.

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The virgin statue in the Historical Center

View from the statue (google)

View from the statue (google)

This is the view from the Statue

Last but not least is the Metropolitano park, an ideal outdoor location for big family gatherings. Some arrive in cars or small size trucks, bringing their bikes, balls and food to have a picnic while others simply walk their dogs and go jogging in the park. There are many “miradores” (viewpoints) with children’s playgrounds along the periphery of the park; each spot seems to be occupied by a family or two. Unlike the Carolina or Itchimbia, the Metropolitano is similar to a forest with many running and biking tracks.

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View from the metro

Here comes the Ecuador’s experience. I did not enter the park from the main entrance but from a small, less traveled dust trail. No one was around at that time and I thought people must be hiding away from the burning sun at 2:30PM. I kept walking in the woods, knowing that I ‘should’ be in the right place, having asked a few people before entering. I saw one biker who told me to go up where there were “bastante gente” (Many people). “Many”-are you sure? Following the trail anyway, I walked past a group of young bikers and motor-bikers in the middle of nowhere. Well, I thought to myself, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to be on my own like this but “too late, not much can be changed now”. I walked a little faster, away from the group, feeling a great sense of relief that I did not get any cat calls (which happens frequently during my 10 minute walk to and from the university). Just to be on the safe side, I texted my friend where I was, finding my over-worry both funny and necessary. I later told the story to one of my Ecuadorian colleagues, who to my pleasant surprise sympathized with my experience, saying she would have done the same thing. I kept pursuing my way to the viewpoints and quickened my steps. It took me about 20 minutes until I truly reach the park…, the crowded part on top of the hill. It was worth the pain to get to know this place and seeing the city from up high :-)

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Colorful posts

These colorful posts then lead to a breezy viewpoint balcony.

And here is an idea of what kids do in the park :D

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Playground

Taken in the Carolina but there are a lot of this in the Metropolitano also. I don’t know what they are called in English, swings maybe?

Floats on your rooftop- I don’t see why not.

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Floats

I’ve had fun spying in the park and enjoy the city’s pretty views while doing my photography homework :D I have not gone on a bike in Quito yet and would love to try one out really soon, be it on the streets or in the park. Coming up in the next entry will be photos of the Amazon and the Coast. Don’t forget to stay tuned for those of the Galapagos in February :-)

By Dorraine

Couple weeks later and I am just hearing about hurricane Sandy, details of the election and so much more. I enjoyed this second expedition but I’m glad to be back! This past course; Political Ecology of Forests focused on the political, social and economic implications of the creation of conservation forests on the hill tribe villages of the Karen ethnic group that live and farm in these areas. In the past 3 weeks I hiked between six different villages located in the mountainous North West region of Thailand and stayed with local families.

I’m from Jamaica

We visited 6 villages and in each village if the villagers had actually heard of Jamaica they thought that it was in Africa. In Huay Hee (the second village) I told my host father where I was from and he replied “Oh you run fast”. I quickly accepted the stereotype as I was surprised that he had even heard of the island. He then told me that he watched the Olympics and saw “Bort” (l and r’s are commonly confused) run and win the sprints. Feeling confident about his world knowledge he then began to tell his son other countries in the same region as Jamaica; “Jamaica, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal”.

After the third village it became easier not to correct people for thinking Jamaica was in Africa as I lacked the Thai vocab to do so efficiently. But it does amaze me that such a tiny island so far and removed from the mountains of Thailand still can be known in these rural communities. Wi large all bout!

Religion

It’s a very comforting feeling to witness your faith being practiced outside of the expected setting and even more awesome to see it practiced within the context of a different culture. There in a mountain top village surrounded by Buddhist and Animist villages I attended a female church service that had all the elements of any average Christian (protestant) service: singing, clapping, misbehaving kids, old ladies falling asleep and lots of amens and hallelujahs. The entire service was delivered in Karen, so too were the songs and even the Bibles, but despite that I have come to the conclusion that faith is not bounded by language or culture. Because in that moment I didn’t have to understand what was being said to feel like I was a part of a community of believers.

Being a minority in a minority village

On the last day of my visit to Nam Hoo (a village of only 9 households) I had the strangest experience of the entire trip that reminded me yet again I was a minority (as if I forgot). While sitting outside of the community meeting hall on a step, a random middle aged female villager walked up to me smiling from ear to ear, mumbling Karen sentences in between laughs then attempted to give me a piggy-back ride back to her house. As the villagers all joined in laughing, chattering and pointing at me I did the only thing I could do (awkwardly) return the smile and refuse her offer. Our guides seeing my complete confusion translated what she and the other villagers were saying. The woman thought that I was so beautiful that she wanted me to stay with her in her village and be her daughter.

The translation in addition to boosting my ego made the situation a lot less awkward and removed the fear that I would actually be abducted. Her response did get me thinking about perceptions of beauty. In the city there is a ubiquitous presence of very pale Thai faces (with very European facial features) on billboards, TV and magazines. Additionally almost all cosmetic products contain whitening agents; whitening soap, lotion and even deodorant. But despite this attraction to fair skin; there in that village of Thai minorities I, the darkest girl in the group was considered beautiful. While I don’t doubt that the woman thought I was indeed beautiful I do think that her being a minority within her country made her more attracted and interested in me as a fellow minority because of this commonality.

Hikes

I have come to notice that the average American uses the word “awesome” very loosely and their definition of it rarely ever coincides with mine. In asking fellow students about the hikes (half of the group completed the hikes before my group) the general consensus was “Oh it’s just awesome and incredible; you’ll love it!” …………. Not really!

Hiking is rough! Walking uphill through serious bush with 50lb backpacks, in jungle heat with the omnipresent buzzing of strange looking insects and illusive leeches is a mental game I have yet to master. I am always smiling, usually happy and willing to talk and socialize but during hikes I’m completely somber and silent. The most unfortunate part is not being able to enjoy the beauty of the ‘now’ because I’m so focused on the end. But I do want to be able to enjoy a hike from start to finish and not just at lunchtime or at the end but I lack the endurance the mind-over-matter frame of thinking to do that. Luckily I had a great set of students in my group who know my weaknesses and help me push through it and keep my spirits up during the ‘sufferation’. One of my friends (an avid hiker) insists that after a couple more hikes I will not just grow to love it but become a pro at it and hike from state to state. While I know that will NOT be happening anytime soon, I do think experience and practice is key to fully enjoying this activity.

Host families

Human interactions are extremely peculiar, random and sometimes illogical. For instance, you can know someone for years and still not feel close to them but then meet someone and within a matter of hours create a bond or connection so deep that you can’t even explain it. It’s even stranger when these bonds occur over language barriers.  In Nam Hoo another student and I lived in the big house at the top of the hill with the talking bird and the fancy out-house. Our home had three generations of women; our nong (younger sister) who was 19, her mother who was in her 50’s and her khun yaye (grandmother) who was in her 80s. Khun yaye was virtually deaf, had about two teeth in her mouth and was the sweetest and most unforgettable person I have met in Thailand.

She had this way of talking to us as if we knew what she was saying, speaking and smiling then pausing to anticipate a response from us that she couldn’t hear much less understand. Like all Thai women hosting guests khun yaye never allowed our plate to be half empty before piling it up with even more food. She would then sit down beside us, watching us eat and literally cheer us and our gluttony on chanting “Oh ah ah” (eat more).  One afternoon my roommate and I sat out on the verandah doing homework when khun yaye brought us passion fruit scooped out into cups sprinkled with sugar. The thoughtfulness of the gesture made me pause momentarily before accepting the cup. But Khun yaye thought it better to spoon feed me the fruit. The funniness of the situation made us all laugh quite haughtily.

I guess it’s how much she reminded me of my grandmother that made me feel so close to her, what made her feel close to me……I’m not sure but I’m glad that she did. Before we left the village Khun yaye did the most grandma-esque thing ever; she stuffed candy and fruits (that she harvested herself from the farm) in our packs, she then gave guavas to all the other students in our group. Feeling moved to thank her and tell her much I enjoyed her company but not being able to communicate that I hoped that giving her a gift would suffice. I wrapped a red yellow and green Rasta bracelet around her wrist and gesticulated that it was hers to keep. Surprised and seemingly very happy she clasped her hands bowed and said thank you in Thai. As we walked off, on route to the next village I remember seeing khun yaye smiling and waving at us with the Rasta bracelet securely wrapped around her wrist.

 

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Grandma

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Me and Crew

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Church service

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Outside of church

 

By Roxann

It is said that time flies fast when you are having fun! I couldn’t agree more! I just still can’t believe it is already November!  I still have so much more I want to experience. Talking about experience, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Paris. Words cannot describe how “amazingly beautiful” the city is. It is probably the most adventurous week I ever had because whenever I return to my hotel during the nights, I usually fell asleep after about 15 minutes.

Paris is known for some of the best tourist attractions in the world. When I decided that I was going to spend a week in Paris, I wondered if that was too short of a time to see it all. Mainly because, the first 3 days I spent most of my time with the other students from K college doing mandatory sightseeing. So, I had decided beforehand to spend at least 4 hours at each of my favorite sites. Of course, this did not work out as planned! Well, little did I know that it was not as easy to walk around in Paris as it was in Strasbourg. When you look at the Paris map, you would think that it very easy to get around by foot. Let me tell you, if you ever made it to Paris, “DON’T BE FOOLED”, please take the metros because you will be walking for endless hours. However, the advantages to walking include exercising and a better view of the beautiful ancient style architectures and the river that runs in the center of the big city.

My Adventures

During that one week, I did a lot of things. On the Sunday morning I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, so that I could experience mass for the first time. Of course, there was a long line of people also waiting to experience the mass procession and take photos. This was also my first time going to a Catholic church. It was really interesting to see what a French Catholic mass looked like. I cannot talk about Notre Dame, without mentioning the beauty of the building. To be honest, I doubt my description will do the job, so here are pictures instead!

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I walked on one of the most famous streets in the world and the most famous in France for 4 hours while I take in the Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Channel and other shopping malls. Take a wild guess on which street am talking about. If you said the Champs Elysees, then you are absolutely right! After spending half of a day at the Musee d’Orsay, I decided that I wanted to see the Arc de Triompe .  As I walked towards the Arc de Triompe, which seemed so near at first, I passed the love bridge, which was beautifully decorated with love locks in all kinds of colors. There were so many locks that there was hardly any space if you wanted to place a lock on the bridge. Walking on the Champs Elysees was amazing, except for the constant watch-outs for pickpockets because the street is overcrowded. There were flash mobs on the street, people of all kinds of different ages playing all types of instruments and groups dancing to the latest hip hop hits. When I reached the Arc de Triompe, I learned that I had to climb 250 steps to get to the top. No kidding! After walking for such a long time, I now had to climb 250 steps. Oh, by the way, I am also scared of heights. At that particular time, I decided to challenge my fear of heights, because I heard the view from the top of the Arc was simply incredibly. I am so happy that I climbed those stairs because the view was amazing. I think I would definitely do that again . . . well just maybe? After my visit at the Arc, I decided to go to the Eiffel Tower because I wanted to see it in the day and in the night. Here are some few photos.

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The Offices of the Mayor of Paris

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The river that runs through the city

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The love bridge

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On top of the Arc de Triompe with friends.

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Day view of the Eiffel Tower

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Night view of the Eiffel Tower

Other interesting places that I visited were the Louvre Museum, where the Mona Lisa resides and the Chateau de Versailles. I remember learning about the French history in high school in Jamaica and so when I visited the Chateau de Versailles; it was like seeing everything that I had studied. I got to see the Monarchs bedroom and living rooms; the gardens were huge! I just couldn’t imagine what someone could do in such a huge place. I am still trying to decide what I enjoyed the most in Paris but I definitely think that spending an entire day at the Chateau in Versailles is in the mix for my top Paris experiences.

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Chateau de Versailles

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The Gardens at Château de Versailles

I could go on and on but I will stop for now. I hope you enjoy reading my blog and I am looking forward to telling you about some other experiences.

Au revoir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Dorraine

10 leeches later, 3 hikes down, 5 villages visited and my first expedition is over! It’s hard to believe how much can be seen, experienced and learned in two and a half weeks, it’s even harder to put those experiences into words- but I’ll try anyways.

Word to the reader: this is a blog of thoughts and feelings (most of which are incomplete or being processed) based on an experience I have yet to fully digest. I, in no way intend on offering an analysis of my experience—just a couple of lingering thoughts.

What did I do?

My first Expedition- AgroEcology focused on the ecology of agriculture (shocking… right?). We focused on agricultural food systems and how various factors such as politics, society, economics and the environment can help or hinder its sustainability. It is a lot more interesting than it sounds- I promise! But anyways, we visited several rural Northern Thai villages and got to see first-hand what hindered or what aided the creation of sustainable agricultural systems. We also ate some insanely spicy but delicious food, slept in cool bamboo houses, and walked through dozens of agro-forests.

Villages

Coming from a developing country I have seen both urban and rural poverty, but one of the Dara-Ang (ethnic minority in Northern Thailand) villages we visited was very different. Dusty dirt roads, no running water or electricity the community was in an unfortunate state.  The isolated and disconnected community was home to a couple hundred people who had been living in Thailand for decades but still were not considered Thai, had no citizenship, no land rights and were not recognized by the government. Without citizenship their movement within the country was restricted, they were not eligible for public health care and had no claims to land (regardless of the time settled).

The entire visit had me drawing comparisons between Thailand and the US in terms of the illegal-migrant situation and the related federal policies. It also got me thinking about national identity- what does it mean to be Thai? Being born in the country, speaking the language, looking Thai or was it all about citizenship?

Pig Slaughter…I mean Pig Harvest

So as we are studying sustainable food systems it seemed only right that we learned where our meat comes from and how it is processed. What better way to do that than to “process” a pig ourselves. For those of you who have never engaged in such an activity here is the step by step replay.

  1. Wake up early to feed the pig (the final supper)- a mixture of banana tree cuttings and molasses
  2. Prepare the harvesting materials (a club/baseball bat and a machete)
  3. Remove the pig from the pen and bring to an open field
  4. Find an individual willing enough to knock the pig unconscious
  5. Knock the pig unconscious, the quicker and harder it is done the better it is for the pig (and all involved)
  6. Cut the throat and let it bleed out
  7. Remove hair using boiling hot water
  8. Butcher as needed

Unfortunately the harvest did not go as planned as we encountered several mishaps along the way. Firstly, they were several vegetarians in the group, one of which was in tears (she was wailing) the entire process. Second, the pig was not knocked unconscious in one blow as we all anticipated- but was rather bludgeoned to the ground. Even though I am an avid-meat eater it was at times difficult to watch the pig slaughter but I do think it is an important part of my relationship with meat- knowing where it comes from and knowing how it is processed. For some in the group, it reaffirmed their beliefs as vegetarians and for others was the start or re-start of a healthy relationship with meat.

Hikes

In a program of 27, I was one of three persons who had never been hiking before and no amount of classmate comforting could help prepare me for a 3 hour hike with an eighty pound backpack (ok- maybe I’m exaggerating a bit) over the rolling mountains of Northern Thailand from one Dara-Ang (ethnic minority group in Northern Thailand) village to the next. Based on my newly acquired experience, hiking is 40% physical and 60% mental. Walking up a steep muddy path through corn fields, edging my way around a 12 inch ledge with a 50ft drop beneath and crossing a river bed on a bridge made of 3 bamboo poles required more mental strength, courage and confidence than it did physical acuteness.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am for the most part apathetic towards physical activity, despite this I cannot deny that hiking is perhaps one of the most rewarding activities I have ever done. After pushing your body beyond the point of discomfort and fatigue, and coaxing your mind to facilitate this, you will hopefully reach a point- a pinnacle of some sorts where you will realize it was all worth it. For me, reaching the top of the mountain (hill- as the more experienced hikers called it) gifted me with that “Ahaa” moment where my struggles led me to a place of such awesomeness and beauty that the only physical and mental feeling I was left with was accomplishment and awe.

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Lows

LEECHES!!!!!!

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On the final day of expedition we had a watershed hike that turned out to be my most difficult and my least enjoyed day. I am assuming that Jamaican blood is sweeter than American blood because I was feasted upon by more leeches than any other student. I am not usually afraid of things like that but just the sight of this snail like creature attached to your skin, expanding gradually with each sip of blood it takes from your body is just disturbing and repulsing. To add insult to injury while attempting to eat lunch near a river a leech decided to draw blood from my arm. In an overly dramatic style I flailed my arms to rid myself of this parasite, but instead spilled my lunch in the river. At the sight of my pitiful situation our local guides were kind enough to offer me some grapefruit (som-oh).

To be honest; aside from the leeches the hike was not that bad and was quite beautiful. However the leeches, my headache and hunger just ruined the experience for me.

Highs

Personal growth is one of those things that you would assume are inevitable based on study abroad adds or promos. The way brochures and websites describe it makes it seem as though you will grow as a person just by nature of being on the program, and that you don’t have to actively do anything to facilitate this growth. FALSE. What study abroad does is present you with countless opportunities to push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable.

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When it comes to foreign languages I am usually very shy and hesitant to speak, so I made a special attempt to practice my Thai and initiate conversations with native speakers. In Ban Huay Pong, the penultimate village we visited, I avoided the awkward silence usually had between people who don’t speak the same language and used the little Thai I knew to start a conversation (of sorts) with my host family. In between laughs, looks of confusion and clarifying nods my host mother and host sister willingly joint us on the living room floor for a conversation about their occupation, family and style of dress. As excited as we were to learn about them, so too were they excited to learn about us.

While asking some very elementary questions about their traditional clothing my host sister randomly left the living room went to a back room and returned with an extra suite of their traditional dress. Within a couple of seconds we went from discussing what her belt was made from to dressing a fellow student from head to toe in Dara-Ang clothing. They then paraded her around the village as a “real” Dara-Ang woman. As is expected with a bunch of foreigners we got many stares but even more laughs and smiles of approval. Throughout all that excitement I kept on thinking how happy I was that I ignored my anxiety and used my Thai and was able to, at least on some level bond with my host family.

Being Back

I now have a week long break before the next field course. Personally, I don’t think it’s enough time to fully recover, gather my thoughts and prepare for another 3 weeks in the bush. But then again when would I ever be ready? And how much can I actually prepare for a culture-shocking, incomparable new foreign experience? …….. Not much is my guess.

So until next time wish me luck for the wilderness!

By Roxann

Salut!

There is so much to tell you that I don’t even know where to start. I can hardly believe that it is already a month that I have been here. I know you are probably anxious to find out about my experience in France. There is not one word that I can find that encapsulates the entirety of my experience thus far. However, with everything that I have seen, heard, smelled and tasted, all I can say is “Beautiful”.

  

Speaking French in France

I had no idea what my host family would be like before I came to France. As you would have imagined, I was nervous but also anxious at the same time. The first person I had a French conversation with was my host mom. Well, I am not sure you would call that a conversation! When I arrived, my host mom was already at the Hilton Hotel waiting for me. She greeted me with the “faire a la bise” and we walked silently to the car. On our way home, she asked me a plethora of questions about my nationality, family and school life. Actually, we talked about a lot of things. Well, she did most of the talking because all I remembered saying repeatedly was “Qui” (yes).  Did I forget to mention that she had to repeat herself so many times that I felt extremely bad? Even though I had revised my French before I came and everyone kept telling me that I should not be worried because when I get there, everything would resurface, it was far from the truth. She spoke so fast and my responses were so chopped up that neither of us could understand each other. Nonetheless, I was still determined to talk to her, even if it meant writing what I wanted to say, which I did!

After spending a week with my host mom without any French classes, I realized that my French became a little bit better. Even though she was still speaking fast, I could understand more of what she was saying, even though she also had a strong Arabic accent. Extremely happy about my improvements, I looked forward to my French classes the coming week. I must also tell you that I probably understood every 10 words! I felt really dumb when I looked back in my notebook the evening after I came home from school and I realized that nothing made sense. Not to mention when I saw other students in the classroom answering questions and speaking in paragraphs. It did not get better as the week progressed because every day I had a new teacher and so for every day I had to get accustomed to a different accent. Worried about how I would do in the exam at the end of the week, I spent most of my evenings for that week watching French TV and listening to French radio.  If you must know, I did pretty well on the exam too!

What I came to realize is that, it is not that I didn’t really understand but I kept on telling myself that my French is awful instead of using what I already know while simultaneously learning more. I was afraid of talking because I wasn’t sure anyone would understand me. After acknowledging this challenge, I resorted to speaking more even if that also meant I had to repeat myself 100 times, even though I could tell that the person I was speaking with is a little annoyed.

Living in a White majority country with an Arabic family

I had no idea what my host family would be like before I came to France. As you would have imagined, I was nervous but also anxious at the same time. I was told that I would be living with a host mother who had two children but who did not live there. Let me just cut to the chase. My best experiences thus far in France are with my host family. My host mom is French Algerian and both her children were born in France. I have never had much experience interacting with Muslims or living with Muslims, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Without a doubt, my family includes me in almost everything that they do. Knowing that I was Jamaican, they asked me about my culture and I could tell that they did their research because they were asking me things that I didn’t even know. And of course, being a Jamaican seems to be greatly appreciated wherever you go, thanks to Usain Bolt and Bob Marley. Surprisingly, I realized that the first thing that would come to people’s mind when they hear about Jamaica is Bob Marley but now it is always about Usain Bolt. My host mom plans events with me almost every weekend and we also hang out at the movies, beach and other fun places. One of my most treasured experiences is the first Muslim wedding that she brought me to. I had so much fun dancing and eating all types of wonderful food that it didn’t even occur to me that I was the only Black person there. Everyone was really nice and I enjoyed the company and the dance lessons. Surprisingly, I felt more at home than I felt in the US. Even though I could tell that they were not accustomed to interacting with Black people or sharing a home with a Christian, I never felt like an outsider.

Realizing how much time they invested in making me feel comfortable, I wanted to return the favor. I spent time not only learning French with them but also Arabic. I inquired about their culture as I also observed that they still held strong Muslim traditions and values. In fact, I decided to do my ICRP at a mosque, teaching English to children because I was deeply interested in learning more about Islam as a faith and Arabic culture.

 
Still in the minority!

One of the first things that I observed and which I had known beforehand, was the fact that I would be among one of the minority groups in France. What I didn’t expect was that people would stare at me incessantly. I figured it is probably my kinky hair because I don’t see many Black people here with hair like mine and because I have a different skin color too. I realized that even though it was one of the first things that I noticed here initially, I really don’t think about it as much as when I had just came to Kalamazoo College. I guess being at K in a predominantly White school, I had gotten accustomed to the idea of being a minority student.

Culture Shock (Just a little!)

One of the few things that surprised me was the fact that toilets were separated from bathrooms. Additionally, contrary to popular opinion, the French do wear a lot of colors, not only BLACK! When I was told that the French eat a lot of bread, I really thought it was just probably 3 or 4 times per week. I basically eat bread with some form of meat every day for dinner and even lunch sometimes. Initially, I was tired of bread but for some reason, if I don’t eat bread every day now, I feel like my day is incomplete! To be honest though, I never tasted anything like French bread. It is scrumptious!

As you can see I am having a great time here and I will give you more updates at time goes by . . .

Au revoir!

By Ly

I do not write very often but I would love to give you a view of Ecuador from the perspective of a Vietnamese student. And I mean the REAL VIEW since I like playing with photos a little better than writing :P

“Photography for Communication” so far has been my favorite class at la Universidad San Francisco de Quito. We only meet once a week  for three hours straight but I feel pretty relaxed and enjoy using photos as my language. My professor customized the syllabus so that everyone can  take the course without having to buy a Digital single lens reflex (dslr) camera. The idea is “saber ver,” learning how to see and thus cameras are only a means to transmit what one perceives. I have never learned anything about Photography before so the idea is really fresh and fascinating. The class makes me pay more attention to what I see in daily life, what messages I am capturing and communicating in each photo. In a way it’s very similar to writing. It also encourages/forces me to take photos more often instead of locking my camera in the drawer for fear of losing it. To put things into context, robberies and petty thefts are somewhat a problem in Ecuador. It is simply the norm here that men and women, Ecuadorians and gringos alike clutch their bags securely or bring them to the front in crowded public places. We are advised to bring only what we are willing to lose while going out :P No worries, you will learn to be wise, adapt and enjoy this beautiful country. For example, I would not take pictures in public without having at least a friend with me.

By the way, “gringos” is a very popular term to call foreigners in Ecuador, mostly those from Western countries. As for my case, ecuatorianos have no trouble identifying me as a “chinita” (Chinese girl) on the street… and if they do ask where I am from, I appear to them as a “japonesa” (Japanese girl). These are just a part of the Ecuadorian culture and I learned that they do not mean to offend you :D Being an Asian in Ecuador is more or less an advantage; it is easier to blend in as I do not stand out so much compared to my American friends. (The other day an Ecuadorian lady even asked me for directions at the bus stop!)

So six weeks in, we have had a group trip to Octavalo and a lot of fun (incidents) exploring the country. Before I get wordier, here you go, the Views :D

An outlook from the balcony of my house in Cumbaya, 20-30 minute bus ride from the capital city Quito (Ki-to). I don’t regret choosing to live in a more tranquil neighborhood and being able to sleep in and walk 10 minutes to school. Many of us live in Quito, a crowded center infused with the excitement of the city’s night life. So really it’s a matter of preference and personality fit.

Cumbaya, Ecuador. Ongoing construction- a typical trait of a country in the process of development (pais en vias de desarrollo). To make up for the limitations of my small camera, I spend more time playing with Photoshop :P And yes, wherever you go in this country, you are surrounded by enormous mountains.

La universidad where we study :) “Can you find the hidden mickey?” – My first thought when looking at the dome. It’s not big but there’re many paths and hard-to-find buildings. I like my classes though I do wish I were able to use Spanish more fluently…

Octavalo is a famous indigenous town three hour away from Cumbaya. People here are famous for their artisan products, especially weaving textiles made of wool, leather goods and hand-painted platters… The photo, which I took for my assignment- portraits without faces, is of an indigenous woman in her pretty traditional clothes. It was really interesting (and creepy) when you started looking and picking out distinguished traits of a person.

Sure thing football is the king of sports (in the rest of the world :P). Picture taken on the way to Octavalo.

Cuicocha, the crater lake formed at the mouth of the active volcano Cotacachi near Octavalo. The water is so clear and blue- my photo just doesn’t do it justice.

Cannot miss out Quito. A sunny day. We have had some trouble with the incendios (forest fires) because of severe drought and late rainy season. Horrible as it was, some fires were provoked by humans pouring gasoline in the forest. The rain finally arrived a few days ago and from now on sunblock in the morning, jacket and umbrella ready in the afternoon.  Happy weather!

That’s it for September. More views to come next month :)

Never thought I would find Milo and Ovaltine here, loving the “Nigerian African food market.”

A day at the park trying to do homework but taking pictures instead.

Housemates in Clark Park playing volleyball and football (soccer).

My Power and Authority seminar started at the 30th Street Amtrak Station. You feel like an ant is this building, it’s huge!

 

 

 

By Ramon

We were challenged to stay away from the big restaurants chains and get some local Philly food. This is from a restaurant called Rice & Mix.

This meal is from Jean’s Cafe, as part of our local food challenge.

A snapshot of my new house in University City, Phildadelphia!

Our little visitor, he comes over from time to time. Everyone in Philly walks around with dogs, but we have adopted a cat!

Check back next week for more snapshots from Philly!

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