Layla in Australia: Redfern

November 17, 2015

We are in the thick of exams season at Sydney Uni! Exams work very differently here compared to how they are at Richmond. They’re spread out over 3 weeks, with the first week being a ‘reading week’ where there are no exams. I was unlucky enough to have 3 exams on the last 3 days of the exam period, and to put the cherry on top, the last on is on a Saturday! Needless to say, I have quite a few long nights ahead of me. In this post, I’m going to talk about housing here in Sydney and the neighborhood I live in.

Sydney University exchange students get a discount to live at a building called Urbanest Cleveland Street in Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It’s about a ten-minute walk up the Cleveland Street to the edge of campus. However, Sydney real estate prices are very, very expensive, and Urbanest is no exception. I would compare Urbanest to Gateway Village back at Richmond, but it is much more expensive, even considering the favorable exchange rate. Luckily, the Office of International Exchange is generous enough to give students studying abroad in expensive locations a $1000 stipend, which helps mitigate the ridiculous cost of housing in Sydney. There are other student accommodations in the suburbs surrounding Sydney Uni, but my Urbanest location had the advantages over these options of ensuite bathrooms, a kitchen for each apartment, availability on a semester-only basis, and the discount.

I share an apartment with five other (American) exchange students, one who also happens to be a Richmond student. The six of us share a kitchen, with each of us having our own bedroom and bathroom. The building itself is very modern and comes equipped with a (very expensive!) laundry room, computer lab, gaming room, and gym, among other amenities. So while Urbanest is expensive, I think that the quality of the housing and its proximity to campus is worth the cost.

 

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It's definitely a comfortable size for one person.

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It’s definitely a comfortable size for one person.

 

While my building is technically located in Redfern, it is actually at the corner of 3 different Sydney suburbs – Redfern, Chippendale, and Darlington. It’s also less than a five-minute walk to Redfern station, one of the biggest train stations in Sydney. You can take a train from Redfern to pretty much anywhere in the city (except for the airport, which can be frustrating as a travelling exchange student). Living so close to the train station has been a highlight of my time in Sydney — I’ve never lived in a city before, and public transport has always been nonexistent. Not having to rely on a car and being able to catch a train anywhere I want to go in the city has been an amazing experience.

On the way to Redfern station, I walk up what was formerly the most infamous street in Sydney – Eveleigh Street, or ‘The Block.’ The first time I walked up Eveleigh Street, I immediately noticed a grouping of tents in a field, just in sight of the station. I later learned that the tents were what is called an Aboriginal Tent Embassy. To explain the origins of this tent embassy, I need to explain Redfern itself.

 

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

 

Redfern is a suburb with notorious connotations in Sydney. When I first told my parents that I’d be living in Redfern, they balked. As people with a view of Sydney from the early 2000s, all they knew of Redfern was its seedy reputation. The neighbourhood is known for its high concentration of Aboriginal Australians. As I’ve learned in my Australian history class this semester, the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and non-indigenous Australians has been extremely complex and is fraught with tension to this day.  For example, even before Australia became an independent nation, the advent of white settlers decreased the native population by 90%, and up until the 1970s, the federal government forcibly removed indigenous children from their families under the guise of “child protection.” Aboriginal Australians still experience severely disproportionate rates of poverty and incarceration, and lowered life expectancy and health. It’s been fascinating to observe the differences between the way indigenous peoples are treated here versus in the United States. Here, the prime minister in 2008 made a formal apology on behalf of the government to the indigenous population, there is a National Sorry Day annually for people to reflect on the historical treatment of Aboriginal Australians, and before many speeches and ceremonies, it’s customary to mention that the indigenous tribe is the “true owner of the land.” Thinking of these differences though, I can’t help but reflect on one of the signs I saw at the tent embassy: “don’t recognise, decolonise.” While it seems like Australia is much more progressive concerning its relations with its indigenous people compared to the United States, is it just a facade? It doesn’t seem like merely mentioning and apologising and reflecting is enough — what actions are being taken?

 

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

 

One day right before mid-semester break, I walked my normal path up Eveleigh Street to Redfern station and was shocked to see that the field where the tent embassy had been was completely empty. I later learned they had been evicted. As the presence of my student accommodation complex suggests, Redfern has been rapidly gentrifying and has mostly shed its infamous reputation. It’s not fully gentrified yet — there are always a few people begging outside of the station — but it’s been dramatically changed in the last decade or so. Developers from a charity called the Aboriginal Housing Company evicted Aboriginal people from their homes on Eveleigh Street and then demolished them, promising to provide low-cost housing for the original residents. Instead, the company has decided to build more student accommodation on the land, and the tent embassy was erected in protest. The eviction came coupled with a promise of a grant to build the promised low-cost housing alongside the student accommodation, but I definitely will be following this case when I’m back in America to see if it actually comes to fruition.

 

This image isn't mine; it's from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also -- see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That's Urbanest Cleveland Street.

This image isn’t mine; it’s from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also — see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That’s Urbanest Cleveland Street.

 

Living in Redfern has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s been a way for me to see the history I’ve been learning about in class first-hand. It’s been a lesson in prejudice — I was initially nervous to be living in Redfern, but I’ve since learned that it’s not at all dangerous and not to judge places on their reputation. And lastly, it’s been an amazing way to experience living in a city for the first time.

 

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.


Colleen in Singapore: Student Life at SMU

November 5, 2015

Hi everyone! Although I have been posting a lot about my travels while abroad, I promise that yes, classes, group meetings, projects, and exams are very much prevalent in my day-to-day life here in Singapore. That’s why this post will be dedicated to my experience thus far at Singapore Management University.

 

IMG_1172

SMU’s campus is smack in the middle of the city. Campus is made up of six schools: School of Accountancy, School of Business, School of Economics, School of Information Systems, School of Law, and School of Social Sciences. There is also an administration building and a library on campus.

 

IMG_1168

 

 

The layout of SMU classrooms is quite similar to Richmond. While students are graded on participation, classes are more lecture-based than discussion-based. Each class is three hours and fifteen minutes, which does take some getting used to. Luckily, teachers give fifteen minute breaks in the middle of class. My biggest class size is 45 students.

The layout of SMU classrooms is quite similar to Richmond. While students are graded on participation, classes are more lecture-based than discussion-based. Each class is three hours and fifteen minutes, which does take some getting used to. Luckily, teachers give fifteen minute breaks in the middle of class. My biggest class size is 45 students.

 

All of SMU's Buildings, with the exception of the administration building, are connected by an underground walkway. This makes getting around campus a breeze, especially on those hot Singaporean afternoons. The underground walkway is also connected to the MRT station, so getting to school is as quick as three stops on the metro.

All of SMU’s Buildings, with the exception of the administration building, are connected by an underground walkway. This makes getting around campus a breeze, especially on those hot Singaporean afternoons. The underground walkway is also connected to the MRT station, so getting to school is as quick as three stops on the metro.

 

SMU has a rigorous academic schedule, one that is similar to Richmond. However, grades are heavily rooted in midterms and final exams, as there is not much homework assigned. Right now, the semester is coming to an end, and the work load is definitely picking up. The last week of classes consists of many group presentations, and the following week will be final exams. I really can’t believe that my time here at SMU is coming to a close!

 

A panorama of SMU's campus. This photo was taken from Wikipedia.

A panorama of SMU’s campus. This photo was taken from Wikipedia.

 


Lindsay in Thailand: ‘T’ is for Thailand & Bye Teow (Travels)

November 4, 2015

Since being in Khon Kaen, the occasional cabin fever feeling has fueled many of my last minute travels. My first trip was actually outside of Thailand. On a Wednesday I booked a ticket for Singapore and on Friday I arrived, much to the shock of both Colleen and I. Colleen, a fellow UR blogger, was one of the first friends I made at Richmond. She was my freshman hall neighbor in Laura Robins and we lived through the always awkward and transitional first year together. She is one of those people that can make me question how I went eighteen years of my life not knowing her, so when I found out we would still be living in the same hemisphere this semester, I could not have been happier.

 

I can’t believe there’s a boat in the sky!

I can’t believe there’s a boat in the sky!

 

My reunion travel began late Thursday night with an over-night bus adventure to Bangkok, taxi drive to the airport, and plane ride. At two in the afternoon Friday, I finally arrived on the island city-state. Standing in the Singapore airport that prides itself on being “an experience in itself” with a broken phone, I questioned if I would ever find Colleen. By pure luck, I bumped into her twenty minutes after landing and our adventurous weekend began.

After the exchanges of “oh my goodness I’ve missed you” hugs, “how is life” responses, and “look what happened” pictures, we ate dinner in one of the well-known ‘hawker centres’ filled with superb street fare (and Indian food I had been craving so much). We wandered about the city streets, perched on an apartment rooftop, and eventually made our way to the CÉ LA VI bar and observation deck atop the Marina Bay Sands Resort The dancing lasting until four in the morning and the amazing view of the modern city made for a pretty surreal night.

 

The ever so majestic Gardens by the Bay

The ever so majestic Gardens by the Bay

 

The next day, we walked…a lot. We were able to pack in an extensive tour of the city and even found time for yoga and a catnap atop a magical rooftop garden. We spent the rest of the night strolling through the Gardens by the Bay and laying in the grass marveling at the twinkling lights and harmonious music. This was when a “oh my goodness I can’t believe I’m here” moment kicked in and I left the gardens with such a love for this city. Of course, we could not have finished the night more perfectly than with the ice cream and chick flick we mindlessly consumed. This weekend getaway ended too soon as weekends always do, but it was so nice to spend time in such a wonderful city with an even more wonderful friend!

Continuing the last minute planning trend, my next trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand was very unexpected. Two girls on my program, Leah and Julia, and I mentioned doing a weekend trip on Monday. It was not until Friday that the subject came about again and one hour later, we were in a taxi on our way to the Khon Kaen bus station. A ten-hour bus ride to Chiang Mai was the only thing we knew we had booked for our weekend trip. We did not have hostel reservations, day tours, or tickets back to Khon Kaen, but we were not concerned.

 

Even with our last minute decision, we made it to the bus station just in the nick of time.

Even with our last-minute decision, we made it to the bus station just in the nick of time.

 

I still stand by the idea that a lack of formal plans or expectations makes for the best adventures. Somehow for me, everything always seems to work out, even if I least expect it to. The three of us managed to check into a hostel at 8:25 a.m., and by 8:35 we were running to catch a songtow (a ‘taxi’ like mode of transportation that is essentially two-rows of seats in the back of a truckbed) with our half-cooked pancakes in hand for a day trip trek. What makes Chiang Mai one of the most popular destinations in Thailand is because of its combination of lively night markets, ancient wall ruins, and magnificent mountains, all of which we were able to take advantage of.

 

Elephant hand hug

Elephant hand hug

 

We began our day visiting an elephant recovery center. We fed the elephants bananas and bamboo, and even bathed them in the river. The elephant I was giving a bath, Di Jai, however, decided she did not want to take a bath anymore and walked out of the river. Meanwhile, I was still on her back left wondering how in the world I was going to get down.

 

IMG_3789

 

After we visited with the elephants, we trekked our way up to a waterfall near where the Hill Tribes reside. We swam and splashed in the water until it was time to go rafting. Julia, Leah, and I were assigned to a canoe with another couple and our rafting instructor. He led his unexperienced team through some pretty incredible rapids and showed us the best views of vast mountains and lush rice fields. We ended the day with the largest night market in Chiang Mai filled with silks, Thai pants, and even live animals, and eventually made our way home to Khon Kaen the following day. Chiang Mai is an incredible city that is too big to see in a day and a half, so I hope to return there someday soon.

My next travel destination, Nong Khai, is a small treasure nestled beside the Mekong River just two hours from Khon Kaen. The capital of Laos, Vientiane, is situated just on the other side of the Friendship Bridge, an Australian infrastructure connecting the country with Thailand and aiding Laos development. From my guesthouse situated beside the calm running water, I felt like I could almost touch Laos.

The city of Nong Khai is quite tranquil and charming. Upon arrival, the locals welcomed me and four other ‘farang’ friends as if were family, offering their best English ‘hello, how are you’-s and calling us beautiful (“suwai”) as we passed the open shops. We stumbled upon the small downtown area early on our trip that was bustling with both indoor and outdoor markets. These stores had some of the most magnificent Thai silks and woodcarvings, along with some of the most unusual kanomes (snacks) I had ever seen, including buffalo hide and dried bat.

Nong Khai reminded me just how affordable Thailand is. For just 50 baht ($1.40), my friends and I were able to rent bikes for the full day which really enabled us to see the city’s nooks and crannies (and feel like young kids again). By simply looking at the skyline, we saw the top of an intriguing statue. We followed the figure like it was the North Star. After several close encounters with angry dogs and potholes the size of black holes, we were left amazed. We found the Sala Kaew Ku Park. This sculpture garden, constructed over a 20-year span, contains Luang Pu Boun Leua Sourirat’s Hindu-Buddhist inspired visions with some even towering at over 82 feet tall. I cannot describe how I felt at that time, standing so small beneath what I still think is the closest thing I’ve come to a Wonder of the World.

 

IMG_4141

 

Following this portion of our day’s exploration was a race to get back to our guesthouse. At 5:30, a ‘sunset boat’ would leave the small port for an hour ride on the river if enough people were interested. Upon arrival, we were the only ones waiting in line for the ride. This actually worked well, because for just $30, the five of us together rented our own personal houseboat restaurant that sailed the Mekong for an hour under the cotton candy sunset sky. Laos was even closer now, and so were the Laotian dragon boat racers we once saw from a distance on the Thai riverfront. The night commenced with a margarita at the only cocktail bar in town and a wonderful four-hour night/early morning bike ride to the Friendship Bridge and through the market square. Nong Khai remains one of my favorite destinations in all of Thailand.

 

 

From left: Annie, Billy, myself, Jamie, and Elyssa enjoying our ride down the Mekong River.

From left: Annie, Billy, myself, Jamie, and Elyssa enjoying our ride down the Mekong River.

 


Lindsay in Thailand: The Thai Funnies

October 19, 2015

 

I had an iced latte. Now I'm just missing the pumpkin spice.

I had an iced latte. Now I’m just missing the pumpkin spice.

 

Today, I reminisced a bit about home. I found myself missing Fall leaves and the stereotypical pumpkin spice latte. I decided to somehow satisfy my seasonal coffee craving as I put on my scarf (in the 80 degree heat) and headed to a quaint café nearby. Even with my personal attempt of a mock pumpkin spice latte, I craved something unusual- what my Gram might call the Sunday newspaper “funnies.” Using this as inspiration, I thought I would make my own written comics, compiling a few funny occurrences and random thoughts from my Thai adventure so far. Enjoy!

  1. Apparent Differences in Distance
  2. Language Barriers or Avenues of Understanding
  3. Finger Foods
  4. Facebook (and Selfie) Official

Apparent Differences in Distance

My first morning in Khon Kaen, my lovely roommate and her friend wanted to take me and another exchange student out for breakfast. They informed us about a great cafe nearby, Have a Break. We walked 25 seconds down the street from our apartment, hidden from the sun under our umbrellas, to find that Have a Break was closed. Disheartened, our Thai roommates turned around and began to head back to our rooms. I then suggested going to another cafe two buildings down. With this proposal, they stared at the further café’s sign for a couple of minutes and insisted it was too far away. I replied that I did not mind the extra exercise, and in another ten seconds, we arrived at Cafe Me 2 less than 100 yards from our original departure point.

 

My first, and definitely not last, honey toast

My first, and definitely not last, honey toast

 

A closer look a the infamous Thai dessert!

A closer look a the infamous Thai dessert!

 

Before leaving for Thailand, I envisioned the people to be extremely active, contrasting them to the stereotypical “lazy Americans” who use drive-thrus so they do not have to get out of their cars to pick up food and who even drive in circles to get the closest parking spot at the gym (I know… I’m guilty of this too). I was shocked to find the existing aversion to walking not only in the city of Khon Kaen, but also in many rural villages. Thais love their motocis. I have been told that “walking four miles is dangerous” and have also been driven to village houses 100 yards down the dirt road. If you see a Thai individual, especially students in Khon Kaen, it is likely that their motoci is just a step and a hop away.

 

My Thai roommate, Yui, on her motorci

My Thai roommate, Yui, on her motoci

 

P.S. In addition to seeing up to four people on one motorbike, do not be surprised to also see cages of rabbits, full-grown Poodles, and babies like I was!

Language Barriers or Avenues of Understanding

At my first community homestay, I accidentally caused a ruckus. I stayed in a rural village a half of an hour outside of Khon Kaen with a Thai family for three days. My family consisted of my ‘Mehh,’ ‘Paw’ and another exchange student, Billy. Each morning, Meh made a ginormous breakfast that in actuality could constitute both lunch and dinner, as well. One morning, I approached my Meh in the kitchen with the little Thai I knew. As she fried chicken, I made a chopping gesture to indicate I wanted to help prepare the vegetables. She stopped what she was doing and simply stared at me. I repeated the motion as her head tilted in confusion. I then stated ‘sa poem pack.’ Now, I know this phrase does not come close to what I wanted to say, but at the time I thought “hair wash vegetables” might suggest rinsing veggies. With no luck, I tried ‘ab nahm pack.’

 

Keo Kruyah Kone chan (my family): One of our lovely neighbors, myself, Meh, Billy, and Paw

Keo Kruyah Kone chan (my family): One of our lovely neighbors, myself, Meh, Billy, and Paw

 

Ab nahm, meaning to take a shower, is a word Thais know very well. It is not uncommon for Thais to shower up to three times per day, so Thai families often offer their shower to guests even before offering a cold beverage.

 

My family and neighbors packing all the leftover food Billy and I could finish for breakfast for our lunches...Yum!!

My family and neighbors packing all the leftover food Billy and I could finish for breakfast for our lunches…Yum!!

 

In actuality, I did not want to shower with vegetables, but my Meh thought I did. She handed me an assortment of greens as she escorted me upstairs to the bathroom. I refused, and in desperation, Meh handed me forks, knives, spoons, and fruit as I was sat down at the table. Meh’s cries for help as she leaned over the fence could barely be heard over Billy’s laughter. Soon enough, I found myself swarmed by ten villagers attempting to understand that I simply wanted to help Meh make breakfast, not wash vegetable hair or shower vegetables.

 

Students gathered together as our Thai families gave blessings in a traditional ceremony before our departure back to Khon Kaen.

Students gathered together as our Thai families gave blessings in a traditional ceremony before our departure back to Khon Kaen.

 

Although that was an experience in itself, I did not find the next one as humorous. Because I was leaving for Singapore to visit my friend Colleen right after class, I wanted to make a copy of my passport photo on my lunch break. I arrived at the photo shop soaked after an unexpected monsoon and handed the worker my soggy photo. I requested one ‘4×6’ photo, and what did I leave with an hour later? Not only four 6x6s photos, six 4×4 photos, 150 baht additional payment, near tears, and a single 4×6 passport photocopy, but also a new understanding and appreciation.

While I intentionally attempted to remain calm and refrain my frustration, the photo shop worker did it with ease. He did everything he could to help me, from bringing out an electronic translator to offering his own money to pay for the photos I did not intend to purchase. For such a simple gesture, it made me question myself: How helpful am I to those who don’t speak English in America? How accommodating are we as a country to non-native English speakers?

I cannot count the amount of times I have heard the phrase “If you want to live in America, speak English.” I have heard of many people hanging up the telephone or raising their tone of voice with telephone assistants who are difficult to understand. I myself have giggled when I heard foreigners mispronounce an English word.

Since becoming more aware of our nation’s language deficit, I found I do not have much room to laugh. A mere 18% of Americans are fluent in another language while 53% of our European counterparts are fluent in at least one other language.

I myself have traveled throughout Europe and I cannot say anything more than ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘goodbye’ in any of the six countries I visited. Many citizens in these European countries; however, could hold conversations with me in English. They did not know if I was a tourist, new community member, or established citizen, yet they catered to my little comprehension.   Yet, I can still recall several moments of frustration when they did not understand my questions and requests—all in English.

Until now, I have expected others to accommodate to my sole English speaking capabilities. I had never honestly and intentionally tried to master a language. I had never been in a place for an extended amount of time where I could not find a single soul who could speak English. Have you?

I swear that if the Thai people had not expressed so much kindness and patience with me (and my language incapability) as they have so far, my experience would be very different. Studying abroad in any location is a difficult transition, even if you do speak the same language. I could not imagine permanently moving to the U.S. as a foreigner or refugee, searching for a new adventure or new life, and not being given the same assistance the Thai people have willingly offered. Before evaluating someone else’s communication abilities in the U.S., I hope to recall the difficult language barrier I faced, and the beautiful friendships I formed through eventual and somewhat unconventional communication methods.

Finger Foods

I have always been a fan of eating with my hands and playing with my food, and I am happy to say Thailand is too. In my first week of orientation, I took a class called “Thai Etiquette.” Along with learning how to properly wai, situate my legs while sitting on dinner mats, and point my feet in a temple, I learned how to eat with my hands.

 

A Thai etiquette class

Thai etiquette class

 

Although I was thrilled to eat with my hands, I was not initially as keen on all the food sharing. For any fans of the television show, Friends, you might say I was Joey who “doesn’t share food” as easily. That has sure changed for the better! In Thailand, communal eating is very popular. In Isaan villages, the families roll out mats onto bamboo tables. The family will then gather cross-legged on the mat, surrounding the bowls of traditional Northeastern Isann food.

 

IMG_3143

A traditional Isaan meal

 

At any homestay, I can be sure to find Som Tom (spicy papaya salad), blah toad (fried fish), ky toad (fried egg), guy yong (grilled chicken), and moo bing (minced pork) at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Proper technique includes making a small ball of cow neow (sticky rice) and using that as a ‘spoon’ to scoop up small bits of each of the dishes. No one has a personal plate and communal eating utensils are also used (which means less dish washing).

This communal finger food setting is one that I love! Not only does it avoid loading your personal plate with more than you can handle, it also ensures you will not feel bad about wasting food left on your plate or stuffing yourself (too much, although it is inevitable most of the time). You do not have to worry about finishing your meal too early or being the last to finish because you simply eat until you are satisfied-no rush needed.

You can also extend the ‘communal’ eating aspect to ‘community’ eating. At each of the five village homestays I have been to, it is not uncommon to have seven or more additional friends and relatives gathered around the family’s table. Eating is considered an art form, and one that everyone should enjoy. Meh and Paw do not hesitate to yell “gin cow” to random passer-bys on bicycles, tractors, and motorcycles. ‘Gin cow’ literally means ‘eat rice,’ but also ‘eat food’ because most every dish involves some form of rice- white, black, purple, red, sticky, sweet, fried etc.,. The list goes on and on.

Facebook (and Selfie) Official

Farang; a word I might even consider a nickname now. Farang in Thai means “a person of white race.” I hear this term quite often followed by shutter clicks and camera flashes. Once, while on an overnight seven-hour bus ride to Bangkok (without my fellow ‘farang’ friends), I was sleeping with my night mask near the aisle. I woke up quite quickly when a bright light crept under my cover. A girl two rows ahead of me was taking a selfie with my ‘farang’ self and forgot to turn off her flash. She was initially shocked when I became quite aware of it but was not too embarrassed as the picture taking continued without hesitation.

 

My first Thai selfie, complete with peace signs and all

My first Thai selfie, complete with peace signs and all.

 

This experience was unique, but not too dissimilar to others. In Thai culture, it is much more acceptable to take pictures of people you do not know. I have had hiking tour guides, children, restaurant owners, gym instructors, and even Thai government officials sneak pictures of farang.

Keep in mind; however, that even if you don’t ever meet those people again, those stealthy photos may resurface. Many times, you can even view them as a shared link or as a post on your facebook wall. When I was studying Thai with a friend at a local café, two Khon Kaen university students were seated next to us. We didn’t speak to each other during the four hours we were there, and I only occasionally heard giggles after I attempted to formulate Thai questions and responses. (Then again, if I heard what I actually sounded like, I would laugh at me too).

 

American feast with Farang!

American feast with Farang!

 

It was not until I packed up my belongings to leave when the two girls stopped me and asked if I could be friends with them. “Of course,” I responded. I wanted to hang out with more Thai peers. Rather than exchanging phone numbers, they immediately handed me a pad of paper to write down my name, asking if I ‘facebooked’ often. They then requested a ‘selfie’ with me. Before even walking down the stairs of the small café, I had two friend requests and was tagged in a photo. Before coming to Thailand, prepare yourself. Be aware that Thais are #selfiegame strong.


Colleen in Singapore: Settled in Singy

August 19, 2015
apartment view

View from our apartment in Little India

baby sculpture

Giant Baby Sculpture, Gardens by the Bay

Exploring Merlion Park

Exploring Merlion Park

 

public transportation

The MRT is extremely efficient and makes getting around a breeze.

First week in Singapore (Singy as we call it) is under the belt! I’m extremely impressed with Singapore. It’s safe, clean, organized, has incredible architecture, vibrant culture, friendly locals and of course, delicious food (I’ll have to do a separate post just on the food here- it’s that good.) Dare I say that I love this city more than the mouth-watering garlic naan Nicole and I feasted on the other day.

 

TIPS:

If you’re planning on buying a SIM card while you’re in Singapore, it’s probably best to do it upon arrival at the airport. I tried to go to cell stores in Singy and a lot of them were sold out. 7-11 ended up having them. You can also buy your E-Z link pass (pass for the subway) at 7-11.

I also suggest bringing an old phone to use as your Singaporean phone, that way you don’t have to keep on switching out the SIM cards on your American phone.

You can either buy a converter here or bring one- they have plenty of cheap ones here.

Bring sunblock- it’s kind of pricy here.

Don’t bring a lot of stuff! You should be able to fit everything in one suitcase + a carry on. There’s a mall on practically every corner in Singapore, so I would save your shopping for here anyways.

If your course for SMU has a prerequisite you haven’t taken, email your professor and make sure you can still take the class.

Since SMU classes meet once a week, it’s easy to make your classes on two consecutive days. This gives you ample time to travel.

I really love my apartment and where I live (Little India) but make sure you’re content with the location of your apartment. You don’t want to be too far away from the all the action. If you have any questions about good locations, feel free to ask!


Layla in Australia: First Impressions

August 11, 2015

Hello from Sydney! Sorry about how long it’s been since I’ve updated. I’ve been so busy falling in love with Australia that I forgot to update this blog! I’ll try and detail some of my first impressions about Sydney here (although at this point, I’ve been here for about three and a half weeks).

Many people who are thinking about traveling to Australia fixate on the length of the flight. While it is undoubtedly long, it’s not unbearable. I was lucky enough to have a nonstop flight (the world’s longest!) to Sydney from where I live in the States, Dallas, which definitely helped cut down on the travel time. Between the movie, two meals, six episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, and sleeping, the 17 hours passed by more quickly than I had expected.

I’ve often thought over the past fourteen years what it would be feel like to finally arrive back in Australia and see it from the plane. Before selecting my seat, I carefully researched the best position to catch a glimpse of Sydney from the air… but neglected to consider the fact that I would be landing around six o’clock in the morning. In the middle of winter. Needless to say, it was pitch black when we arrived in Sydney,  and my 17 hours spent in the window seat was for nothing. Even then, the lights of Sydney that I could see and the sensation of being on solid ground again combined for a wave of emotion, a mix of nostalgia and excitement. Once off the plane, I was immediately struck by the weather — apparently it was the coldest stretch in Sydney in years! Though jarringly different from the 100-degree days I had left behind in Texas, I quickly discovered it actually… wasn’t that cold. More than my massive suitcases, the thing that pegged me immediately as a foreigner was waiting on the outdoor platform for the train to my apartment in a short-sleeved T-shirt. Since then, every reference to the brutally cold winter by an Australian has just made me smile — by Richmond standards, this is nice spring weather!

The very welcoming signs in Sydney Airport made me very happy.

The very welcoming signs in Sydney Airport made me very happy.

I arrived in Sydney on a Friday and left early the next morning for my first trip, a weekend pre-orientation for exchange students up to the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens, which are a few hours north of the city. This trip was a whirlwind — in less than two days, we went to the Australian Reptile Park and got up close and personal with some furry locals, wine tasting, whale watching on a boat, and sandboarding down massive sand dunes.

Me with a kangaroo friend, 2015.

Me with a kangaroo friend, 2015.

Me with a kangaroo friend in 1999.  Guess I've changed a lot since then, but kangaroos are just as cute.

Me with a kangaroo friend in 1999. Guess I’ve changed a lot since then, but kangaroos are just as cute.

It was definitely a fun trip, but it made me even more resolutely sure of something I had been thinking about back in America. While it’s comfortable to make friends with other foreign students, I made a promise to myself to focus on cultivating friendships with Australian students. I can build friendships with other Americans at home, but the goal of my study abroad experience has always been to rediscover the place I left as a child. For me, the only way to do that is to really immerse myself into Australian culture and befriend Australians, not Americans who couldn’t name the Australian state Sydney is in. (Yes, that actually happened on the trip. For anyone studying abroad, please do some research about where you’re going beforehand! American ignorance abroad is a stereotype that’s hard enough to break when people aren’t reaffirming it.)

I spent the rest of the week before classes began discovering Sydney — just taking off in a random direction from my flat in Redfern, a suburb a bit more than two miles from Circular Quay, which is the part of Sydney’s downtown (what the locals call the CBD or central business district) that most people associate with the city, and exploring whatever area I find myself in. What I’ve noticed so far is that “Sydney” is a bit hard to define. The CBD is a very small area, and even the “city of Sydney” which is the umbrella for the CBD and the inner suburbs is still much smaller than I imagined, with a population roughly similar to the city of Richmond. Only when adding in the massive metropolitan area, which stretches about an hour in every direction, can you appreciate the full population of the city. Nevertheless, I remember exploring Sydney’s Haymarket, Sydney’s Chinatown, during my first week in the city and feeling the energy from the crowd as I walked down Sydney’s major street, George Street. Normally I feel a little overwhelmed and claustrophobic in a big crowd, but for some reason, it just felt lively and freeing. I realized then how much I already loved being in Sydney.

The classic touristy picture from Circular Quay of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Surprisingly haven't been here in the daytime yet.

The classic touristy picture from Circular Quay of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Surprisingly haven’t been here in the daytime yet.

I especially love Sydney’s compactness and ease of public transport. Coming from America, it’s amusing to listen to Sydneysiders complain about their public transport — at least it exists! It’s a fairly quick walk from where I live to most of the inner suburbs or the CBD, and I can easily find a train or bus to wherever I want to go. Where I grew up in New Jersey, the closest train station that would take me on an hour-long train ride to Manhattan was a half an hour drive away! This ease of travel has made it simple for me to explore Sydney, especially the quirky neighborhoods of Surry Hills, Glebe, and Newtown. Every day, I fall more in love with the city, and every so often I’ll turn around and see a view like the ones below that just reminds me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be here. I can’t wait to discover more of this amazing city, and finally venture to the famous beaches when it gets a little warmer!

The Sydney skyline from Victoria Park, the park that borders my university.

The Sydney skyline from Victoria Park, the park that borders my university.


Dan in Argentina: Traveling Around Bs As

August 3, 2015
Buenos Aires subway

Buenos Aires, a major metropolis, has all the bells and whistles when it comes to public transportation. While some of these bells and some of these whistles may not always be perfectly polished, they still ring and…whistle. In Boston, it’s the T; in London, it’s the Tube; and in Buenos Aires, it’s the Subte. I have only explored “Linea D,” apparently the best line in the city, but I have to say, it’s the best for a reason. So far, the subway is 10/10 in my book.

 

Buenos Aires bus

In sixth grade Spanish class, we learned about city terms. “Semáforo” means traffic light. “Rascacielos” was a fun one to say meaning skyscraper. And “autobús” is bus. Well, not in Argentina. Here, the busses are called “colectivos.” Why? I have no idea. Regardless, there are about (not even exaggerating) 160 different bus routes, each with its own fleet of identically colored colectivos. It’s can be confusing but at least there’s always a bus for anywhere you want to go! You have to be careful though because they often start driving before the doors are shut!

 

Bikes in Buenos Aires

The Spanish word for bike is “bici” and the city of Buenos Aires has recently been trying to go green and promote bike riding. Yellow bikes like this one are all over the city. The riders mostly ride in the designated bike paths (which are on almost every street) but sometimes they’re right in there with the traffic next to the huge “colectivos.” I haven’t signed up to take advantage of this free bike share yet but I will soon!

 

Bikes in Buenos Aires

While running to my last appointment before obtaining my student Visa, I stopped for a moment to appreciate the beauty of this bike, its shadow and my favorite word ever: “café.” We love a good café in Buenos Aires. As the winter weather turns each day from gray to sunny, sights like these will become more common and I can’t wait!


%d bloggers like this: