Colleen in Singapore: Final Reflection

January 26, 2016

 

I cannot believe how quickly my abroad experience has flown by! After a 20 hour flight back home from Singapore, I am extremely jet-lagged but also excited to reunite with family and friends. After reflecting about my travels on my flight back home, I feel that I have grown both intellectually and emotionally in the past three months.

Last week, I travel to Myanmar with a few friends. We biked around the Inle Lake, rode motobikes in Bagan, and walked around the city of Yangon. The different landscapes were breathtaking. There was a combination of modern skyscrapers, colonial architecture, and Buddhist Pagodas, making it feel like a live history textbook. I felt like I could envision Myanmar at the time of Buddha, but also saw the modern world within the high rises strewn throughout the city. It was here that I reflected on the passage of time, an idea that has always been quite challenging for me to grasp. Yet, I saw this concept of time hidden in the various landscapes of Myanmar.

 

I am quite sad that my abroad experience has come to an end. I will miss the friendsly strangers that I to ta

I am quite sad that my abroad experience has come to an end. I will miss the friendly strangers that I talked to alongside street cafes, I will miss all the different cultures within Southeast Asia, I will miss the friends that I have made, I will miss the warm weather, and most of all I will miss the thrill of adventure.

 

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Even though I will miss my abroad experience in its entirety, I will cherish these moments for the rest of my life.

 

Before going abroad, I told myself to always keep an open mind. This helped to remind me to say yes to new adventures, and get to know people from around the world. At times, I was scared and uncertain, but it was in these moments that I learned that no matter how big and diverse the world may seem, we are connected in some way. I learned that, at the end of the day, no matter how different we may appear to each other, we all want quite similar things out of life.

 

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I know that his post does not do any justice to the feeling of gratitude I have for everyone who made this possible. Thank you to my family and friends who have supported me throughout this journey, and thank you to the University of Richmond Office of International Education for believing in and inspiring any student that walks through its doors.

 

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Dan in Argentina: Signing Off

January 10, 2016

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Six months ago, when I got off the plane in Argentina, I had no idea what to expect, not to mention no idea where to go. My first observation of this country was that they don’t have signs… anywhere! I follow the other passengers on my plane to the long migrations line. It isn’t until ten minutes in that I realize the smallest sign in the distance which reads (in both Spanish and English) “International Visitors.” Cool, I’m in the wrong line.

I “perdón” my way out of the line for Argentine citizens and over to the much longer correct line. The whole time, I worry about speaking with the migrations officer and hoping all my luggage got through the two flight, 15-hour travel day. “Passaporte?” Ahh ok, I’ve got this. I hand the guy my passport. “¿Dónde vas a quedarte?” “Ummm…” ¿¡Dónde vas a quedarte, vos!?” Ahhh…vos?…what? “Where you stay in Buenos Aires?” From this moment, I knew my time here would challenge me. Truly, every day in South America posed a struggle of varying size. Whether waiting 45 minutes for the bus, being ripped off by a cab driver or getting a mild bout of heatstroke, every day was an adventure, an adventure that I loved in its entirety. Argentina and I may have gotten off on the wrong foot but I can’t help but remember this experience as anything less than amazing.

 

The friends I made during this trip will be some of my best friends for the rest of my life.

The friends I made during this trip will be some of my best friends for the rest of my life.

 

I will always flock to whatever part of the U.S. my host family visits and I can’t wait to visit them back in Argentina someday!

I will always flock to whatever part of the U.S. my host family visits and I can’t wait to visit them back in Argentina someday!

 

The places I traveled to in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are bucket list items for many people.

The places I traveled to in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are bucket list items for many people.

 

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Coming home is the ultimate bittersweet feeling. I have learned to love Buenos Aires. I am finally comfortable traveling around the city, speaking the language, and being far from home. The summertime weather is in full force and I love it. All that being said, I am excited to go home. I missed the beauty of falling leaves and am excited to catch up on some cold nights with coffee by the fire. I can’t wait to see my family and all of my friends. For almost six months, Buenos Aires has been my home, my host family has been my family and my friends have been (please excuse this eye-roll-worthy moment) my everything. Now that I’m going home, I hate to think that all will change.

But in reality, I will return to Buenos Aires one day and feel at home as if nothing changed. I will stay in touch with my host family and see them again someday. And of course, I will see my friends back in Richmond come January. Coming home changes things a little but the way I look at it, I will always have these memories to hold on to this experience.

I couldn’t have asked for a better time. I truly got to know my city, traveled around a little, made amazing friends and learned a lot about the culture, language and daily life in Argentina. I will always cherish this semester.

To the city that had me tapping out many days but excitedly back in the ring the next, I bid you “adios.” To my beloved Buenos Aires, goodnight. Te amo.


Colleen in Singapore: Myanmar

January 5, 2016
Over 2000 temples and pagodas cover the ancient grounds in Bagan. The hot air balloons took off just as the sun began to crawl its way out of the horizon. The combination of the balloons, the silhouettes of hundreds of pagodas, and the thin layer of mist that lurked over the land made it the most breathtaking sunrise I've ever seen.

Over 2000 temples and pagodas cover the ancient grounds in Bagan. The hot air balloons took off just as the sun began to crawl its way out of the horizon. The combination of the balloons, the silhouettes of hundreds of pagodas, and the thin layer of mist that lurked over the land made it the most breathtaking sunrise I’ve ever seen.

 

In the middle of Myanmar is Inle Lake, which is home to various tribes. Renting bikes and getting purposely lost was a great way to see the authentic lifestyle of the people of Inle Lake.

In the middle of Myanmar is Inle Lake, which is home to various tribes. Renting bikes and getting purposely lost was a great way to see the authentic lifestyle of the people of Inle Lake.

 

My friends and I rented a boat one day and set out to see the floating villages, markets, and craft/ specialty shops. One of the specialty shops we stopped at specialised in making handmade scarfs, blankets, and various garments. I was blown away when I learned it took two months to make one handmade scarf. Insane!

My friends and I rented a boat one day and set out to see the floating villages, markets, and craft/ specialty shops. One of the specialty shops we stopped at specialised in making handmade scarfs, blankets, and various garments. I was blown away when I learned it took two months to make one handmade scarf. Insane!

 

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The last stop of the Myanmar trip was Yangon. Although I didn’t care for this city, the Shwedagon Pagoda was the most impressive pagoda I’ve seen- and I’ve seen many, many pagodas here in Southeast Asia.

The last stop of the Myanmar trip was Yangon. Although I didn’t care for this city, the Shwedagon Pagoda was the most impressive pagoda I’ve seen- and I’ve seen many, many pagodas here in Southeast Asia.

 


Colleen in Singapore: Vietnam

January 5, 2016

Here’s another post about a trip to Vietnam:

 

From the mountains to the beaches and bustling cities, Vietnam is as beautiful as it is diverse. In Hanoi, I stayed in the Old Quarter, which seems to be the soul of the city.  I thought I would be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city, but, much to my surprise, Hanoi had a real charm to it. On Friday night, the streets of the Old Quarter were closed off to local traffic. Vendors, food stalls, and live music filled every street.

From the mountains to the beaches and bustling cities, Vietnam is as beautiful as it is diverse. In Hanoi, I stayed in the Old Quarter, which seems to be the soul of the city. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city, but, much to my surprise, Hanoi had a real charm to it. On Friday night, the streets of the Old Quarter were closed off to local traffic. Vendors, food stalls, and live music filled every street.

 

Sapa is a quaint town located in the northwest. The real charm, however, is the surrounding country side with lush mountains that are home to hillside tribes and unforgettable views.

Sapa is a quaint town located in the northwest. The real charm, however, is the surrounding country side with lush mountains that are home to hillside tribes and unforgettable views.

 

During our hike from the village to Pen's house, which took 2.5 hours, we ran into Pen's son and niece. They do this 2.5 hour walk every morning and afternoon to get to school--and it takes them about 45 minutes.

During our hike from the village to Pen’s house, which took 2.5 hours, we ran into Pen’s son and niece. They do this 2.5 hour walk every morning and afternoon to get to school–and it takes them about 45 minutes.

 

After taking the night train back to Hanoi and parting ways with my friends, I made my way to Halong Bay. I opted out of the notorious booze cruises and stayed on the island of Cat Ba, located a little further into the Bay.

After taking the night train back to Hanoi and parting ways with my friends, I made my way to Halong Bay. I opted out of the notorious booze cruises and stayed on the island of Cat Ba, located a little further into the Bay.

 

The last stop of the trip was Hoi An. The ancient town of Hoi An is a World Heritage Site, so the whole town is extremely well-preserved.

The last stop of the trip was Hoi An. The ancient town of Hoi An is a World Heritage Site, so the whole town is extremely well-preserved.


Colleen in Singapore: Northern Thailand

December 28, 2015

How lucky am I to have a mother that traveled halfway around the world to come visit during my recess week? Meet my mother, Patty. After giving her a tour of Singapore we made our way to the city of Chiang Mai, located in Northern Ireland.

 

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After flagging down a tuk-tuk at the airport, we made our way to our charming hotel, Tanita House. Tanita is a family-owned hotel, made up of a few wooden cabins with plenty of greenery. There is also a great little cafe on the hotel grounds. The almond iced coffee did not disappoint.

 

Patty and I decided to take a thai cooking class on Sunday. Before being taken to Thai Cooking School's organic farm for the class, we made a quick stop at a local market to learn about classic Thai ingredients.

Patty and I decided to take a thai cooking class on Sunday. Before being taken to Thai Cooking School’s organic farm for the class, we made a quick stop at a local market to learn about classic Thai ingredients.

 

The cooking class lasted for several hours, and I can confidently say that I ate more than any previous Thanksgiving dinner. It was cool to use ingredients straight from the farm (we handpicked them ourselves) and to see all of the ingredients come together to make delicious curry, stir fry, tom yum soup, pad thai, and mango sticky rice.

The cooking class lasted for several hours, and I can confidently say that I ate more than any previous Thanksgiving dinner. It was cool to use ingredients straight from the farm (we handpicked them ourselves) and to see all of the ingredients come together to make delicious curry, stir fry, tom yum soup, pad thai, and mango sticky rice.

 

The next morning, Patty and I had a full day tour of CHiang Mai. Our guide for the day, Tong, picked us up at Tanita early so we could make morning alms as offerings to the monks . After morning offerings, Tong gave us a tour of Doi Suthep, the most famout temple in Chiang Mai. Today, Doi Suthep is a Buddhist Monastery.

The next morning, Patty and I had a full day tour of CHiang Mai. Our guide for the day, Tong, picked us up at Tanita early so we could make morning alms as offerings to the monks . After morning offerings, Tong gave us a tour of Doi Suthep, the most famout temple in Chiang Mai. Today, Doi Suthep is a Buddhist Monastery.

 

After grabbing lunch at a local joint, Tong took us to visit the Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe. Here, we learned about the various traditions and culture of the tribe.

After grabbing lunch at a local joint, Tong took us to visit the Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe. Here, we learned about the various traditions and culture of the tribe.

 

The last activity of the day was elephant riding at a local elephant conservatory. We took a bamboo raft to get there, passing many elephants on the way.

The last activity of the day was elephant riding at a local elephant conservatory. We took a bamboo raft to get there, passing many elephants on the way.


Lindsay in Thailand: Putting the “Study” in Abroad

December 23, 2015

Thailand is full of random adventures, and I myself have had many since my arrival, but I thought this week I would clue you all in a little more on the reason for my being in Thailand—my studies in Khon Kaen.

My program through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) has a catchy name, Development and Globalization (DG), but you may wonder what actually falls under this umbrella term? My answer? I’m still figuring it out. In the information packet I received, I understood this program as one that allows me the opportunity to “study complex environmental, development, and globalization issues.” It has done that, and so much more.

Unlike our sister program, Public Health, the DG program is not associated with Khon Kaen University near our CIEE school headquarters. It is an entirely separate program that has its own educational model that is much different from most classroom learning models. This program focuses on learning from a ‘human perspective’ by speaking with villagers, NGOs, and government officials among other individuals in the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand.

 

The Development and Globalization group met with water buffalo herders during our land and agriculture unit.

The Development and Globalization group met with water buffalo herders during our land and agriculture unit.

 

This semester, our program focused on the development and globalization issues of organic agriculture, water management, land rights, mining, and also did a Laos agricultural comparative unit. These five units are primarily student-led and are divided into two-week segments. The first week is comprised of reading…reading…and more reading. In this mix, we also have a few guest lectures, Thai language courses and Thai peer tutor sessions focused on our unit topic as well as two discussion and information-based meetings led by the two student unit facilitators. These “UFac” individuals are responsible for not only planning this week, but also providing the link between the Thai ‘ajaan’ professor’s as well as preparing for the following week of exchanges.

 

In an area affected by a dam construction, this man now fishes where homes used to be.

In an area affected by a dam construction, this man now fishes where homes used to be.

 

In the second half of the unit, our 10-person DG group, two ajaans, and our beloved ‘wan’ driver make the trek to the local village affected by the development issue we are studying. Throughout our five-day stay, we speak with villagers about their situations and struggles to gain an overview of the issues facing the area. In order to view the situation from the other side, we also meet with government officials who offer the political context. Additionally, we interview local Non-government organizations and NGO persons who are knowledgeable on the subject not only in our current focus area, but also in other areas throughout Thailand.

 

The infamous “wan” ride with the DG “wamily,” including our translator and driver.

The infamous “wan” ride with the DG “wamily,” including our translator and driver.

 

Something especially unique about this program is that, during this week of unit exchanges, we actually live with villagers. Two DG students are assigned to one family and homestay, and we reside with them all week. Being able to follow them through their daily routines, learn to cook traditional foods from them, take showers with a bucket of water and a bowl, help them in their garden, round up the qwai (water buffalo), and communicate with them as well as we are able has really made this semester something special for me. In such a short time, we seem to become a member of the ‘krop kruwah’ (family). I have been “a daughter to them” and have even cried when I left some of my homestays. These families have not only taught me so much about Thai language and the social justice issues they face, but they have taught me the true meaning of kindness and making someone ‘feel at home.’

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Some of my homestay families and villagers who stole my heart

 

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Upon arrival in Khon Kaen, our group is tasked with making a unit ‘output.’This final project is supposed to be a reflection of what we learned over the past two weeks, and often incorporates aspects that would benefit the affected community in some way. After brainstorming as a group, we work vigorously to finish our project and plan a two-hour “workshop” where we present our findings to our ajaan professors and student interns. Some unit outputs have included a lesson plan on organic agriculture, a 25 page report on organic farming barriers, info-graphics concerning land rights issues, paintings reflecting Laotian agency and dependency, and an information packet provided to the European Union before a visit to a mining affected community.

 

 Kaori, myself, Elyssa, and Megan showing our support for Na Nong Bong, a community we exchanged with who is negatively impacted by a mine in their community.

Kaori, myself, Elyssa, and Megan showing our support for Na Nong Bong, a community we exchanged with who is negatively impacted by a mine in their community.

 

Following this workshop is the ever so popular “plus, minus, delta” evaluation where we evaluate as a group what we did great and what could have been done better. Additionally, we have a “sadthi” quaker-style meeting to allow personal reflection and expression of our current feelings after an educationally and emotionally exhausting week. Finally, it is time for a good night’s sleep before the repeat.

I have to be honest with all of you. In the beginning of the program, I thought I was in over my head. I saw the little black program planner book as daunting with so many scheduled classes and outside exchanges. I questioned how much time I would have to myself. Yes, I am fully aware that I signed up to ‘study abroad’ but I questioned how much studying was too much abroad. This program is far from what might seem like traditional abroad expectations. I may have not hopped from country to country every other weekend and I may not have shared experiences with many other Richmond students, but I was able to really see Thailand for all its beautiful wonders and civil flaws. I was able to see big city lights and little village dirt roads, I became a ‘regular’ at the local coffee shop, I befriended the coconut ice cream stand lady who knows my order by heart, and I was able to reflect on all these things and more as time passed me by. Although I am sad to be leaving here in a few short weeks, I know that this place, those Thai villagers, and my program friends was, and always will be, a home and family to me.


Dan in Argentina: …and Uruguay

December 18, 2015

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What do you know about Uruguay? For me, I knew absolutely nothing about this small coastal country. Its borders Argentina in the west, Brazil in the north and the Atlantic in the east and contains a little over 3 million citizens. With views like these, it is easy to believe that Uruguay ranks as one of the Latin American countries with the best quality of life.

What do you know about Uruguay? For me, I knew absolutely nothing about this small coastal country. Its borders Argentina in the west, Brazil in the north and the Atlantic in the east and contains a little over 3 million citizens. With views like these, it is easy to believe that Uruguay ranks as one of the Latin American countries with the best quality of life.

 

 

In Argentina we have Milagnesa sandwiches (thin, breaded steak and chicken) and in Uruguay they have Chivito sandwiches. This thin steak sandwich comes complete with ham, egg, olives and mayonnaise. It was so good I had it three times during our four day trip.

In Argentina we have Milagnesa sandwiches (thin, breaded steak and chicken) and in Uruguay they have Chivito sandwiches. This thin steak sandwich comes complete with ham, egg, olives and mayonnaise. It was so good I had it three times during our four day trip.

 

My traveling companions this trip were Lauren and Sam, my University Torcuatu di Tella crew. Here we're standing on Brava Beach in the Hand of Punta del Este. The fingers emerging from the sand are supposed to represent a drowning man. The artist wanted to use his sculpture as a warning to beach goers of the danger of the area's large waves. Since 1982, this sculpture has been a huge tourist attraction and a staple Instagram picture for tourists.

My traveling companions this trip were Lauren and Sam, my University Torcuatu di Tella crew. Here we’re standing on Brava Beach in the Hand of Punta del Este. The fingers emerging from the sand are supposed to represent a drowning man. The artist wanted to use his sculpture as a warning to beach goers of the danger of the area’s large waves. Since 1982, this sculpture has been a huge tourist attraction and a staple Instagram picture for tourists.

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