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My friend and co-worker Minji Kye  is a 21-year old exchange student from Korea studying design at the U of M.  She has been in the United States for several years already. According to the Open Doors website, there are many more international Korean students that travel to the United States rather than American students traveling to Korea. The other day, Minji mentioned the Easter celebration she had with her host family.  It made me wonder what kinds of holidays she normally celebrates in Korea.  She gave me a list of some important Korean holidays, which I then proceeded to read up on.

Chuseok is the most important holiday in Korea. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, and lasts 3 days. Koreans consider it their duty to visit their family’s ancestral graves, and to participate in Bulcho, the cutting of the weeds around the graves. In the morning, they perform Chare, memorial rites, where they pay respect to their ancestors. Women participate in a circle dance, called Ganggangsulle. There is also a game played during this time called Gama, where two teams have four-wheeled sedan chairs, and they try to take or destroy the other team’s chairs.

Seol-nal is the celebration of the Lunar New Year. It is more popularly known as Chinese New Year. During this time, Koreans travel to their hometowns to reconnect with their ancestral roots.  It’s celebrated in many parts of Asia, and is the second most important holiday in Korea.

Samil-jeol is celebrated on March 1st. It’s the Independence (or movement) day to remember the anti-Japanese demonstrations against the Japanese occupation of Korea on March 1st in 1919. As part of a special ceremony, the declaration is read in Tapgol Park in Seoul.  As a related holiday, Kwangbok Jeol is Liberation Day. It commemorates the Japanese accepting the Allies’ surrender on August 15, 1945, thereby liberating Korea from Japanese occupation.


Below a redwood at Henry Cowell SP

Last month, I spent an afternoon at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

It was 80 degrees outside but felt like 60 in the park. If you’re looking for sunshine avoid redwoods, they own it.

I won’t attempt to describe these trees beyond the fact that they’re huge. But I will say that Henry Cowell Redwoods SP has a couple defining features:  more trees than people, and quietude.

Depending on the nature of your studies abroad, maybe a day at a tree’s pace will do some good. See LonelyPlanet’s list of international tree reserves.

If you’re more than a tree tourist, the University of Minnesota’s Department of Plant Biology offers international research programs through the National Science Foundation.

In any case, here’s a picture I took of a squirrel at the park:


Yesterday I went to my “study abroad in-person orientation.”  My program starts in London on May 19th! This was the last step in the process to prepare for study abroad; you can read about the online application in my first post.

The email that I received from the Learning Abroad Center said the meeting would go from 2:30-5:00, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it, but it actually was really beneficial.  Everyone there was also going to London in the summer.  Of course we started with a “get to know you” game, and as terrible as those usually are, at least we loosened up a little bit, and we got to know the people that we will be spending 2 months with in a foreign country.

We also took a “how much do you know about the UK” quiz, and apparently I don’t know anything about the it –their Prime Minister (Gordon Brown), their type of governmental system (constitutional monarchy), and that Eric Clapton is a citizen.

One thing that I was not excited to learn about was the packing restrictions.  Zach Mohs (the go-to guy for the London Study Abroad and Internship program) suggests 3 pairs of pants, 6 shirts, 2 sweaters, 1 nice outfit, 7 pairs of socks and underwear, 1 nice pair of shoes, 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes, 1 jacket + scarf, hat and gloves, and 1 swim suit/towel/beach sandals.  Odds that I will pack only those things: 0%.  Odds that I will not have enough room in my suitcase and will have to ship clothes home at the end of the trip: 98%.

Although I think their idea of what clothes to bring is a little skewed, I am definitely glad they told me that I will need a converter and adapter for the plug-ins.  That is something I just wouldn’t remember packing, and my hair would suffer the consequences.

I also didn’t realize all the things I get included in my trip.  I get one trip to Bath and Stonehenge, 40 pounds a week for food, and a rail pass to take me anywhere in the city I want to go!  This meeting only made me more excited and anxious for my trip.  Stay tuned for further updates and info!

Italy may have offered up a smooth and creamy gelato, but it has nothing on Argentinean ice cream. Freddo, a family business that opened in 1969, changed the way ice cream is experienced in Argentina. Some of the ice creams are smooth and creamy, while others might be described as irresistible or dense, traditional or kosher. Freddo offers up a flavor for everyone. The variety is vast and it is divided into groups such as chocolates, creams, dulce de leches, and fruits.

This flavorful fiesta in your mouth usually contains more milk and less cream than the American counterpart. This means you can save a few calories (as long as you keep the quantity down!). This treat is super sweet too – perfect after a full entrée!

If you’re headed to Buenos Aires anytime soon, it’s a good idea to check out what the L.A. Times travel section says about ice cream shops in that beautiful city. Apparently those little shops are busy, busy all year round.

A few days ago my parents received a photo atlas of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in southern Colorado, authored and illustrated by a family friend. He runs a small photography business from his website, and has gained prestige in the field of digital photography over the years. Last year I interviewed him about his photography, and he offered the following advice to newbies: “Now there are so many possibilities of taking good technical pictures that lots of people can jump into it. A distinguished photo is good or bad based on its composition.”

I’m amazed at how many students that go abroad transform into prolific photographers.  With so many photo ops abroad, it’s worth taking a few minutes to learn some tips on taking good pictures. Here are a few very basic photographic rules from my parent’s friend that are guaranteed to make your pictures better.

1. Divide your picture screen into three equal parts. Try to have the object of a photo in just one of them. This is called the Rule of Thirds.

2. For portraits, make sure there aren’t any background objects that stick out of your subject’s head.  Even shadows can make a person’s head look a little lopsided or goofy.

3. Also for portraits, make sure you don’t cut out any body part at the limbs.  People tend to look disfigured in pictures when this happens.

If you’ve ever been to an authentic Japanese restaurant, then you probably know three flavors of aisukuri-mu (ice cream): green tea, red bean, and vanilla. They all sound so normal, and they typically are  (red bean tastes similar to strawberry and it’s my favorite one to get at the sushi bar!). But when you are in Japan, or maybe just at a Japanese grocery store, such as Kim’s Oriental Market in St. Paul or United Noodles in Minneapolis, you’ll discover that there are many more flavors available  than just the typical three.

Instead of picking out a chocolate or vanilla, you could try squid ink, ox tongue, soy sauce, or even Dracula cool garlic mint.  Of course that’s not all…there are over 100 outrageous flavors in the Japanese ice cream world!  But besides the many quirky flavors available, nothing specifically sets regular Japanese ice cream apart from American ice cream. They generally have a similar consistency, although Japanese ice cream is not always as heavy.

The one very traditional type of ice cream, which is actually only 20 years old, that you should try in Japan is mochi ice cream. To most ice cream eaters, mochi seems like an odd creation. Made of an outer layer of soft dough (a type of sticky rice) and an inner layer of ice cream, this delicacy is considered finger food. Common flavors include green tea, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mango, and red bean paste.

Even to an avid ice cream eater, this stuff sounds a little scary.  Chicken wing ice cream doesn’t seem too tantalizing, and I’ve got my sources (a few Japanese friends) that tell me that even the scariest sounding ones are actually sweet flavors that go down oh so smooth. I’ve loved the regular flavors for years, but maybe it’s time to be adventurous.

Celebrities are all over TV, in the movies, on the radio. But who is considered a celebrity overseas? I talked to my co-worker, Randy Chang, who is an exchange student from China. His definition of a celebrity was well put:

“Basically, I think the definitions of being celebrities are all the same. There must be something special. Nice look, sense of humor. Voice (Singer), or Body language (Actor).”

Randy is 22, a senior at the U of M, and majoring in Math and Statistics. He listed off a few Taiwanese performers who are stars in China. Unsurprisingly, I had heard of none of them.

Jay Chou is a singer who has produced 9 studio albums and is working on a 10th to be released this May. He is known for composing all his own songs, which blend traditional Chinese music with R&B, rap, and rock.  He has also delved into acting, directing, and producing.

Mayday is an alternative rock band. They have been making music since the late 90s and just finished a tour last year. There are 5 members, all male. Their music began with a hard edge to it but later albums sound more like anthems. They have said that their inspiration for their rock music style came from the the Beatles.

Kwai Lun-Mei (also Guey Lun-Mei) is an actress. A lot of her recognition was actually gained from starring as the lead actress in a movie called Secret, directed by the above-mentioned Jay Chou. She has been in several movies as well as a couple TV shows.

This is just a basic list of who’s famous in China. It seems their stars are very talented and keep really busy.

You may think that the only way to be beautiful is to be tall and thin, with a perfect smile and shampoo-model hair. But don’t expect that to be the case wherever you go.

Singer and tabloid magnet Jessica Simpson now hosts a new show on vh1 called “The Price of Beauty.” While the show features many over-the-top publicity stunts and has not received many viewers, the basic concept seems good. Simpson and a few of her friends travel around the world to document the tortures and treatments that women endure to fulfill an elusive idea of beauty.

My own quest to discover what other countries consider beautiful led me to a slightly more established source: Oprah. Not only did Oprah host Jessica Simpson for a discussion about beauty earlier this month (read about it here), but she also did a similar show about worldwide beauty in 2008. During both shows, special correspondents like Lisa Ling traveled around the world to see how women from Japan to Norway define and achieve beauty—with everything from leg-lengthening surgeries to tattooing their lips blue.

Some of the most surprising things I read? Japanese women swear by bird dropping facials. And Brazilians outdo Americans in their pursuit of thinness—the country is the biggest consumer of diet pills in the world. Women in Thailand tribes elongate their necks with stacks of brass rings, and girls on a West African island try to get as fat as possible (by eating gallons of high-fat milk) in preparation for marriage. Read more on Oprah’s website, and also watch her exclusive global beauty secrets video.

Suffice it to say, there are as many definitions of beauty as there are cultures and people in the world. It’s especially interesting to hear these definitions from women themselves. Marie Claire magazine runs a monthly column called “What I Love About Me,” which features groups of women, many college-aged, from around the world flaunting their favorite assets. Women from Iceland, Dubai, or Barcelona praise their piercings, scars, and eyebrows. You can even find similar columns featuring women from around the United States.

Take a look around while you’re traveling abroad. You may think that you stick out here in America, but other countries may find your tattoos, curly hair, or long neck to be just right.

The Euro must work for all of Europe right? Wrong. May countries will take the Euro along with their own local money, but if you plan on traveling to the United Kingdom you will need to switch to pounds, shillings, and pence.  Since 1971 the pound has been divided like the dollar: 100 pence=1 pound, and the exchange rate is 1 pound = 1.53 dollars.  Their coins are 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds.

Denmark, Norway, and Sweden all use forms of the krone. Sweden calls it a krona, and Norway calls it a kroner.  1 krone= 100 øre (“öre” in Sweden).  The exchange rate of 1 American dollar = 5.56 krone = 7.24 krona = 5.93 kroner.

Poland uses the złoty, which is divided into 100 groszy.  1 dollar = 2.88 złoty

Russia uses the rouble, which is divided into 100 kopecks. Our 1 dollar goes a long way in Russia; 1 dollar = 29.16 rouble.

Lastly, Switzerland uses the Swiss franc.  It is one of the world’s most stable currencies due to the countries political neutrality.  1 franc = 100 centimes and 1 dollar = 1.07 Swiss francs.

So if you plan on traveling all over Europe, use a currency calculator and make sure to change currency at the border!

My roommate Jory Pestorious, 21, Pharm.D. at the U of M, studied ethnobotany in Hawaii over winter break. The class, Plants in Human Affairs, is a 12 day, 4 credit program and is run through the  Center of Spirituality and Healing.

Jory’s tip for those going abroad:

Don’t go, because you won’t want to come back.

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