Round Table Dining in China

Let me start by sharing these two facts about me: I’m a huge foodie and Chinese food is an irresistible family favorite. I love everything about food whether it’s home cooking, gourmet dining, or searching for the most delicious palate. When I eat with my Chinese friends in the States, they always ask for the “real” menu. The notion of a secret menu that caters to a Chinese palate and another that offers Western-friendly options was very peculiar to me. Naturally, I was ecstatic to try authentic Chinese cuisine.

 

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A home-cooked Chinese meal.

 

Chinese people are some of the most hospitable folk I’ve met in my life. When I arrived in Shanghai, my friend Alvin invited me to join him and a Canadian expat for an authentic Sichuan hotpot called Là Fû. Alvin ordered many dishes such as frog, rabbit head, cow intestine, brain, ox tail, and tongue. Initially, I was nervous about trying some of these but they were surprisingly delicious. It was there that I received my first lesson in the cultural differences between China, America, and Egypt.

 

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Enjoying Là Fû.

 

First, the Chinese version of spicy is something you should probably avoid unless you’re a fire-breather or a dragon. Another part of Chinese etiquette is making sure that your guest has enough to eat. If your host sees that you have finished your plate that is his cue to order more. By the time I realized this, I felt like a turkey on Thanksgiving Day—stuffed. Alvin was very adamant about paying which brings me to my third lesson: The person who extends the invitation is usually the one who will foot the bill.

Last weekend, my roommate and I journeyed from our apartment to The Bund in search of Din Tai Fung. In 1993, this restaurant was rated top ten in the world and featured Shanghai’s most famous dumplings. We finally found it after an hour of walking and although the portions were small, it exceeded every expectation. This week my friend Nick came to visit and took me to a Korean barbecue called “B.C. 2333” where I was treated to the best Korean food I’ve had thus far. Afterwards, they took me on a native tour of Shanghai and I felt as if I was seeing the city for the first time.

 

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Din Tai Fung restaurant.

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At BC 2333.

 

There are many differences between the Chinese and Western style of dining. In both cultures, eating out is a way of socializing, but in China there is a greater emphasis on sharing and being a good host. Something I really admire about this culture is the round table style of dining. It is very personable and I like being able to share dishes with my friends. Finally, I would recommend bringing a Chinese friend with you because it is extremely difficult to order authentic food without speaking Mandarin. Unless you’re eating pizza with Italians, nobody knows pizza better than Italians.

 

Pizza

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Hong Kong’s Work Culture

As I sit crammed on Hong Kong’s famous subway system, the MTR, I am surrounded by tired souls. Gaunt figures that fade in and out of consciousness, as their limp heads sway with the train, returning home from their workplace.

 

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Crowded MTR as the working class flock to their destinations.

 

Hong Kong’s work culture is like nothing I have ever experienced. It is a culture where unpaid overtime hours are expected almost daily and are the norm, where off days feel like a holy grail, where people are unable to de-stress by going to the beach, bars, or just sleeping all day. My local friend’s commentary on their work life is practically identical: It is a beast that consumes and spits you out with scars in the form of sunken eyes, irritable moods, stress, and fatigue. Perhaps this is why the people of Hong Kong are so strong willed and resilient. The work culture strengthens them, something that I’ve noticed is happening to me too. One of my reasons for studying abroad here was to develop myself as a professional, and Hong Kong’s work ethic is forcing this development in ways I did not imagine. This one of the many reasons why I love Hong Kong.

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong

I Feel Ready

Ready to take on the world after my study abroad journey. I feel more prepared to look a potential employer square in the face and tell them I am a globally-minded individual that can work with an assortment of personalities. I have had the opportunity to take a long, honest look at what I believe and how I think and actually question my beliefs. I believe that this is something everyone should do a few times throughout their lifetime in order to be open to new ideas and possibilities.

 

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Learned so much about Spanish and European architecture here in Salamanca!

 

I also feel prepared to raise children that are more globally-minded and can think beyond the “us and no more” mentality and begin to feel compassion for their world and beyond. Before I could only give them vague guidance on how they should approach interacting with new cultures and personalities, but now I can give them advice based on solid experience. My experiences. How cool is that?

 

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This is the most magical food in all the world: paella.

 

Working with the people of Spain in their homes, in their schools, in the grocery stores and beyond has given me insight into how other people think about things like managing a home, teaching, and customer service. I have learned to be a bit more patient. Not only for other people and learning to allow others’ ideas to come up against my own, but patience for myself to allow some of these ideas to take root and change me.

 

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Climbing Monte Urgull in St. Sebastian.

 

Hasta luego.

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Filed under Meya in Spain, Western Europe

How Studying Abroad Changed Me 

Dozens of smiling faces came rushing towards us with open arms. As my own arms opened, so did my mind, and soon after, my heart. A whole minute had passed and the children were still hugging us as if we were their long lost loved ones.

How do people change? By being inspired. By knowledge and experiences. By love.

 

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My classmates and I with some of the girls we got to play with for the afternoon.

 

My professor scheduled our class to visit a school that is providing poor children in the Lurigancho district with quality education. During the car ride there, I was shocked to see the beautiful bustling city of Lima disappear into dusty street roads, makeshift shack houses, and crumbling buildings in a mere hour from where I was staying. Even now, it continues to boggle my mind that the physical landscape in Peru can shift so dramatically according to the level of poverty and inequality in the area.

 

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A student walking back to her home after a day learning in school.

 

As we neared the school, our group was greeted by Patricia McLaughlin, a benevolent Irish Catholic nun who helped build the school from scratch when she came to Peru in 2001. Today the school continues to enroll children from the surrounding shantytown, providing them with proper nutrition and education. What makes this school’s story even more amazing is getting to see the incredible results. Recently, the 7th grade students have performed higher in reading comprehension and math than any other 7th grade students in all of Peru. Furthermore, many students have moved on to university level education and some have even been admitted into the most prestigious university in Peru.

 

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My classmates and I posing for a picture with the head of the school, Patricia McLaughlin (wearing the blue scarf).

 

As a future educator, being able to witness my dream career lived out before my eyes is incredibly inspirational. I feel motivated now more than ever to teach English to children in underdeveloped countries. In addition, I have a newfound desire to learn my native Spanish language and a greater appreciation for my own Mexican heritage.

Living in Peru has also helped me become a more independent person. Although I still rely on others for some things, I can now proudly state that I can cook food for myself, take public transportation by myself, go grocery shopping, and complete other adult tasks. Additionally, I am better at problem solving when presented with a difficult or stressful situation and I have become even more open-minded than ever before. Furthermore, I am more aware of my surroundings and can ask for directions and find different places. For the first time ever, I actually feel like the young adult that everyone around me sees.

 

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Learning to cook some traditional Peruvian dishes at SkyKitchen. Pictured here, I stand holding my finished Papa a la Huancaína dish.

 

Reviewing my experience as a whole, studying abroad has given me a new perspective of how to view the world I live in. Before, my world was centered around me and the people that I interacted with. A successful life was one in which I landed a secure job, had a beautiful home, and became married with a family. Now, I see the world and all the people in it. I appreciate the life I have and know that I can live without all the luxuries and material things. I am blessed to have a roof over my head, nutritious food to eat, and a safe community to live in. To me, a successful life is one that involves helping people in need and inspiring them to follow their dreams.

As my month here in Peru comes to an end, I look forward to sharing my study abroad experience with others and using the knowledge and skills I have learned back home in the United States. Until my next adventure, ciao!

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Filed under Isabel in Peru, south america

Study Hard, Travel Harder

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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Video Bloggers, Western Europe

The Return

It feels like planets have lined up in order for my graduation day to come. At this point, I feel like the happiest person on Earth, because not only have I returned with such profound experiences in Argentina, but now I have the freedom apply what I have learned to my life at home. I have big plans for the future, but it starts here at my mother’s home where I will be moving in after graduation to help her around the house and start fresh.

 

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Graduating with honors, class of 2016.

 

I didn’t come back with reverse culture shock like I had imagined, but I did go to the grocery store and came back with loads of cereal, junk food, and things I didn’t know I missed since I’ve been gone. I hope I don’t pick up any old habits! But in other terms of culture shock, I haven’t had any. However, I do feel like everything I have learned has significantly strengthened my critical thinking skills and my respect towards others. I can’t be any more thankful for having the support from my family and friends during these last few months and years.

 

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My family.

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I can’t help but miss Argentina. I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss traveling, I miss the conversations I had with people on the streets, and I miss the music and culture. I feel like there’s always a surprise in Buenos Aires….I’ll be back soon, but not before I explore other parts of the world. My experience studying abroad opened my eyes and I think I caught the travel bug.

 

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Wanda Abramor, a tango instructor in Buenos Aires.

 

One of my plans is to travel across the United States. While in Argentina, I realized I have hardly explored anything in the States. This summer I will take it upon myself to travel across the country to New York from Los Angeles. Not just for fun, but also to get a sense of what it is to be a North American. There are tremendous differences in all parts of the world and I want to know what make the States so different. Especially because of my experience in Argentina where I met people who felt strongly for or against North Americans. I need to experience it for myself.

 

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Protesters during National Day of Memory (“Dia de la Memoria“) where nearly all Argentine citizens gather to celebrate democracy and memorialize the 40th anniversary of the civil dictatorship (1976-1983).

 

In the meantime, while I prepare for my trip across the country, I plan to publish a lot of the material I have from my study abroad experience in Argentina. One of the things I did was work with talented individuals by documenting their lives and their art. Because of them, I was able to experience an Argentina that exists outside of tourism. Now I owe it to them to publish this material and create for them more media presence. In addition, I will be posting a YouTube series of my 10-day trip in Salta and Jujuy, Argentina. This should be exciting because I have some real stories to tell, like the time the bus broke down and no one told me we changed buses and I almost lost all my stuff. I think this series will not only be fun to watch but will be of good use for anyone who plans to travel these northern regions in Argentina.

 

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Beef empanadas.

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Catholic Church in Angastaco – Salta, Argentina.

 

Something I feel most certain about traveling is that there is nothing I can be certain about. For example, I can plan to travel from point A to point B but I can easily be thrown off course by all the exciting things that are happening around me. I’m not saying one should always take the road not taken. I’m saying that sometimes our plans should be open to the circumstances that present themselves. I can’t do everything I set out to do, but I will make the best of my experience wherever I go.

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america

A Realization of Sorts

Hola! In roaming the streets of Salamanca, I am aware of an awakening taking place here. When I gaze out over the river Tormes or stop for café con leche in a hole-in-the-wall café, emotions grip me. I am both terrified and curious. What is happening to me?

 

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The new bridge of Salamanca overlooks the Tormes River.

 

I am terrified because I am being forced to come face to face with the limitations I have placed on myself. I can chose to either open my mind or stay bound to the expectations placed on me by myself and others. In the forefront of my mind is this mental chain that says no self-respecting wife and mother should be away from her family for so long. I feel like I am shucking my responsibilities, that my children need me 24/7 in their lives and that the sun will not rise tomorrow because I’m not there! In the back of my mind is a small voice fighting to be heard that is saying “LIVE!” Should I choose to listen, this voice promises that I will make a lasting impression on not only my children, but their children. That in some small way, I’m not being selfish, I am imparting a sense of adventure and self-worth that can only be learned by the example that I am setting.

Today, I chose to listen to the latter. Tomorrow I don’t know. But a part of this experience is the realization that every day is different and full of possibilities. And also the realization that every day holds a choice for me. Today, I choose life.

 

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Exploring the old streets of Salamanca.

 

Hasta luego.

-Meya

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