T Minus Five Weeks: On Being Ready

More than a year ago now, I wrote my very first post about going abroad. I was scared and hesitant, unsure about this grand adventure I was about to begin. As usually happens, my fears did not come to pass (with the possible exception of not being able to understand my professors).

With exactly five weeks left in my stay here, I can honestly say that I love Lyon. I love the beauty of walking along the Rhône on a sunny day, Fourvière looking down on me. I love the relaxed culture and the knowledge that I can take time to breathe instead of always being on the go. I love the ease with which I can be in another country. I love the food, the cheap and plentiful produce at the local market, and the fact that I’m rarely more than five minutes from a boulangerie or a patisserie.

No matter how much I love these things, though, I know I have to leave them behind. My time has become increasingly filled with plans for the future: my plane ticket has been bought; housing has been (sort of) located; my summer job has been confirmed. Before I know it, I’ll be saying my goodbyes and getting on the train to the airport.

It’s bittersweet, to be sure, but in all honesty I’m kind of ready to go back. It sounds ridiculous—why would I be ready to trade this wonderful life for a 9-to-5 office job and the smothering humidity of a DC

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The Wonders of Watching

About a week ago, I packed a small bag and set out for Jujuy in northern Argentina.  I didn’t have much information about where I’d be going before I left except that the air would be thin and cold.  As a chronic over-packer, I had to work to convince myself that for this weekend adventure in “la naturaleza” I’d be fine with just a scarf and jacket, and to leave my wool winter coat in Buenos Aires.  While the information I had was great for letting me know what to pack, it gave me no idea about what I could expect to see when I got off the micro (or small bus) in Tilcara.  In this area where my group would be staying, I found a tiny town of only a few thousand people, a few hundred thousand cacti, and an archaeological site managed by the University of Buenos Aires.  In the trip as a whole, I got so much more.

Purmamarka, Jujuy, Argentina

As a Texas native, albeit a decently traveled one (if I do say so, myself), I’m not the most accustomed to mountains or altitude of any kind. The sage brush-covered, parchment colored hills of central Texas are really the only topography I see on a regular basis.  It was thus the best kind of shock for me to wake up from a three hour nap (having lost the fight against my exhaustion almost the moment I sat down in the micro) to find myself looking up at

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All M

Well, April is officially upon us and with it comes the looming threat of midterms, the looming excitement of a trip to Yunnan, and the holiday of Qing Ming Jie.

Qing Ming Jie, known in English as “Grave Sweeping Day” (it’s one of the few Chinese holidays that is not a literal translation, qing ming means “bright and clear”) is a traditional holiday in China where people return home, visit the graves of their ancestors, and clean them.  This can range from dusting the grave off to full on gardening, removing weeds and trees that have taken root.  Once very important, China’s rapid modernization made the holiday less popular (why visit the grave when I have to work?), so in order to preserve the holiday, the Chinese government officially deemed the first weekend in April Qing Ming Jie, and made the following Monday a holiday. I’m not sure if this actually increased participation in the holiday, or just gave people an extra day to sleep.

The holiday’s importance lies deep in traditional Chinese belief.  While I am no expert in Eastern religions, venerating one’s ancestors and honoring one’s parents is very important in traditional Chinese religions,  relating to the concept of “ancestor worship.”  It actually is not that far from traditions in other cultures, such as bringing flowers to graves on birthdays, which is a common practice in the west.  Bringing flowers to graves on Qing Ming Jie  has become more and more common in China, especially since the practice of burning Min Bi has fallen out of

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On Selfishness and Sacrifices

My decision to stay in France for a full year was, in a way, a very selfish decision. I knew that by going abroad for a full year, I was sacrificing some things: time spent with friends back on campus, a Tombs Night on my 21st birthday, campus events. I wouldn’t be an RA. I wouldn’t be tutoring. I wouldn’t be able to run for any leadership positions in clubs. I wouldn’t be able to take internships. I would be trading Georgetown’s top-notch faculty for classes in a language I didn’t totally understand. I would be giving up my job to live off of my savings and, if it came to it, student loans.

All of these predictions did of course turn out to be accurate, and then some. One of the things I didn’t forsee was how difficult it is to get things done from across the ocean. I can’t meet my roomie for lunch to talk to her about where we’re living next year. I missed out on the chance to get free housing through a campus job thanks to the simple fact that I couldn’t interview in person. Trying to write an honors thesis proposal without having ever met my advisor in person has been one of the more frustrating academic experiences I’ve had in some time. My world would undoubtedly be simpler if I were still in DC, and I would be moving forward with my life in a way that I’m not sure I am here.


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What's in a Language?

Everyone gets along in Senegal. Christians, Muslims, Animists, they all live peacefully with one another. Christians celebrate Tabaski and Muslims give gifts at Christmas. Although French is the official language, Wolof is spoken by a large majority of people. These are some of the broad statements that summed up our initial introduction to Senegal during the first week of the program. These ideas are frequently reinforced in real life, from schoolchildren celebrating Mardi Gras in head-to-toe costumes and the news read every night in an effortless blend of Wolof and French. Nevertheless, I’ve found time and time again that here in Senegal just as much as in any other society with its own cultural nuances and peculiarities, you should never take things at face value.

With the background information we were given in countless orientation sessions, information packets and blogs written by students who have “been there, done that”, we were constantly assured that there is no tension at all between Senegal’s numerous ethnic groups and faith traditions. Being from a country that also boasts of its peaceful religious landscape and ethnic harmony, I was starting to wonder if there was more to the story.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as though I found this narrative of peace and unity too good to be true. However, I did note that quite a few of the people I had spoken to who praised the pluralism existing in Senegal belonged to the statistical majority, both religious and ethnic. Of course other ethnic

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In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion

Sunday, the 23rd of March, marked a significant milestone for all of us in Shanghai. In addition to being the first Sunday after the vernal equinox (day is longer than night again!), it also marked that we have officially spent one month living in Shanghai. As always, it seems to have passed by quickly in retrospect, but I assure you, four hours of Chinese class four times a week never seems swift.

This weekend also was our first group trip. The program offered four destinations for this weekend: Yangzhou, Wuzhen, Hangzhou, and Nanjing.  I decided after careful consideration (by “careful,” I mean ruling out Hangzhou because I have been there and not even considering Yangzhou and Wuzhen) to travel to Nanjing. Nanjing was the capital of six dynasties and the Republic of China, and is also technically in the Southern portion of China (south of the Yangtze River), which is why it was given the amazingly creative name “Nanjing” (“Nanjing” literally means “Southern Capital.”) We visited some amazing places, like the old city gate built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)which was partially destroyed during the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945, we know it in the west as “World War II.”).  We also visited the presidential palace, which served as the seat of the government of the Republic of China from 1927 to 1937 (Japanese occupation of Nanjing, capital moves to Chongqing) and 1945 to 1949 (Communist revolution and birth of the People’s Republic of China, nationalist government flees to Taiwan).

But two destinations

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A Cornucopia of Troubles

Confession: I have had so much to write about in the past two or so weeks that I haven’t written at all, simply because it is often times a lot easier to just jot down phrases or words that remind me of how I feel or what happened that day, rather than express it in a prose-style. In an attempt to update you all on everything, I’ve effortfully created some headlines that illustrate small events that have made me think, “Gotta tell the future study abroad kids about that.” So future Georgetown in Madrid folks, this one’s for you:

The Maid’s Iron(y)

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a three-story house for my home stay residence. The majority of the kids in our program are in apartments, simply because that’s where the majority of Spaniards live. My host family comprises of the following people: my environmental biologist host-mother, ophthalmologist host-father, and three siblings (an 18-year-old sister studying medicine and twins brothers that are 14). In addition, our household has a maid named Leonila from Bolivia that helps cook and clean throughout the week. She’s worked in the position for about 7 years now and often tells me stories about how she wants to go back to Bolivia, where her five kids (ranging in ages from 17-27) live. Despite her wishes, she can’t buy the plane ticket back because what would be her savings is always sent back to Bolivia at the end of each month to support her family. Her husband abandoned their family after

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First Days Always Suck.

*Note: This post was written on February 17th, 2014. I forgot to post it up previously, although the events that occurred refer to the above stated date.

Though I didn’t necessarily have high expectations for the day, I must say that my first official day of classes at the Universidad de Complutense in Madrid (UCM) (and let’s not leave out the additional 45-minute commute to the satellite Somosaguas campus) have collectively been nothing short of a tiring, confusing, and elongated Tuesday. Starting out the day with my alarm set and ready to wake me up at 6:30am, a feat I hadn’t had to overcome since my high school days, my body immediately internalized the rude awakening by cursing me with the signature mark of sleep deprivation: the ever-hollow under-eye circles. Six weeks of waking up after the sun had actually risen made me want to crawl back into bed that much more this cloudy, February morning. Alas, I got dressed and proceeded to start my day with a hearty breakfast of sorts, knowing I wouldn’t be back in my safe-haven home until late that evening.

Let me elaborate a bit on this so-called “filling” breakfast: the most important meal of the day isn’t in Spain what its name implies in the US. No (turkey) bacon is served, scrambled eggs are savored only at dinner in the typical Spanish dish tortilla de patata (eggs with potatoes and onions sandwiched inside), and I am pretty sure hash browns don’t even exist on the Iberian Peninsula. No friends, my

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The Logistics of Language

Translated classics from around the world sold in the subway stations.

A few nights ago during dinner I found myself in a situation I never thought I’d be in.  I was attempting to explain precisely what a bagel is for my host family who were all looking at me, from 70 year old Marta to 8 year old Federica, with similar looks of interested confusion.  Looks that said, “I really want to know what you’re talking about but I have absolutely no idea what it is; do keep trying, though.”  And keep trying I did.  Eventually I was able to convey that a bagel is a circular piece of dense bread with a circular hole in the center; that they come in both sweet and savory flavors and are often eaten with cream cheese; and that they are very common in New York City. This explanation came however after many false starts on my part and even more attempts to guess what I was trying to say on the part of my host family.  It resembled a very poorly played game of Taboo and I’m still not sure if I was able to get my message across.   Hopefully my host family learned about a new type of bread that is rather conspicuously absent from the life of a student who has gotten through her first 2 and a half years at Georgetown thanks in no small part to the Corp’s bagels.  I certainly learned that my Spanish is nowhere near

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I've been Shanghaied!

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, due to multiple issues (studying, illness, and general internet connectivity problems), so I think I’ll compensate by writing a particularly long post for all three of you who are reading this.

Three weeks in and I think I finally have the routine down.  I understand how to live here, if not in practice, then at least in theory.  A typical day goes by this routine:

6:25 AM: Alarm goes off. Turn it off and go back to sleep. Ignore last night’s promise to get up at 6:25.

6:25-7:20 AM: Fitful dozing, glancing at clock every five or so minutes to make sure to make it to class on time.

7:20 AM: Dress quickly and brush teeth. Ignore hunger for breakfast.

7:35 AM: Rush to class, worrying that I will be late.

7:45 AM-8:00 AM:Arrive in classroom fifteen minutes early.  Ponder why I skipped breakfast. Review words for dictation.

8:00-8:50 AM. First fifty minutes of class. Turn in homework and take dictation. Forget the second character of the third word, and the English meaning of the fourth. Remember immediately after turning in.

8:50-9:00 First break. Get a banana, consider it breakfast, attempt to make conversation with others on break, fail, go back to classroom.

9:00-12:00 PM Class, break, class, break, class. Get assigned an immense amount of homework.

12:00-12:30 Lunch.

12:30-6:00 Waste five and a half hours on internet doing nothing.

6:00-7:00 Stress about how I have no time to do my homework.

7:00-8:00 Get started on homework.

8:00-Call parents to tell them I have no time

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