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I realized that my friend Claire Watne is bound to come home soon, so I sent her an email to see how her trip was wrapping up and what her plans were for after she came home. I’m sure being in another country for several months changes your perspective on how you want to live. Claire gave me quite a lengthy explanation and she has changed a lot about her future.
Claire started her email in Spanish, and though I didn’t understand it. I can tell already she is becoming more fluent, using it much more than English, as she often switches between the two. She told me she is still having a really great time, and is very reluctant to leave, but she won’t be gone from Venezuela for long. “I’m also still planning on coming back next year after I graduate, and have made plans to attend la Universidad de los Andes, which is a FREE public university here. It’s one of the best in Latin America. 🙂 I’ll probably go for Modern Languages and learn French and Italian, or something like that… I’m also hoping to get a job with them teaching English, which would include 100% benefits for free.”
Her semester ends this Thursday, and most students are leaving the day or two after their tests. but Claire has chosen to stay a couple weeks past her finals so she can explore Venezuela on her own time. “I’m going to be staying with a friend in el centro (downtown), and just chilling… we’re going to go to a beach called Chorroni for a few days during that time as well.”
Her plans for when she gets home? Visit friends, family, and of course, show off some new dance moves. “I’m definitely going salsa dancing at Famous Dave’s and showing off my Venezuelan salsa… which is very different from Mexican and Puerto Rican salsa that they dance in the states.”

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A common rumor about Europe is that Europeans hate Americans for, well, being American. But how true is this rumor? I myself have heard it on several occasions, and I’ve witnessed it firsthand during my travels to France. As far as I could tell, after being in France for a week, the French did not particularly like American tourists, at least not the ones that refused to attempt the French language.

My good friend Alasdair, a Natural resources major at the University of Connecticut, filled me in on what he thought.  He spent almost a year studying in Germany, and had some surprising things to say about the rumor. According to him, Europeans that he met were indifferent to the fact that he and his friends were American. He said that he didn’t notice any outright hostility from the citizens of Germany. He mused about the possible reasoning, “I feel that after Obama was elected, most Europeans sort of had a renewed faith in Americans.” His girlfriend Amanda accompanied him on his trip to Germany, and together they had some interesting experiences.

“While Amanda and I were in Brugge, Belgium, we were in a grocery store purchasing provisions when a little old lady overheard us speaking English. We got to talking and we asked her some good local places to see and do in town. She got so excited she invited us back to her house around the corner and was telling everyone in the streets ‘I’m with Americans.’ She was so adorable and excited to be hosting Americans. At her house, she helped us plan the rest of our Valentine’s weekend, treated us to a glass of wine in her finest crystal, and let us meet her adorable dog. She also gave us a teddy bear because it was Valentine’s Day.”

Since I know Alasdair to be very well mannered and educated, I couldn’t imagine that he would encounter a European that disliked him. And after reading his responses, I concluded that any hostility directed toward Americans was due to their actions, and not their nationality. “I came across a few more stereotypical Americans once in a jazz cave. They were pretty drunk and trying to bust their way on to the stage. I guess because it was a pretty loose jam, they thought it was open mic night or something. Everyone there got pretty upset about it and they were obviously American (baseball hats, jeans, etc.).”

Maybe it’s just Germany that contradicts the rumor, but either way, this rumor has a lot less truth to it than it’s given credit for.  When studying abroad, it’s even easier to make a fool of yourself as it is in America.  Be aware of the customs and the culture, and you’ll be just fine.

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.

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.

While I was talking with my friend Emily, who is an exchange student from Taiwan, she mentioned that she was excited to go to her first American wedding. This casual comment made me realize that I often forget that weddings in other countries are quite different from our own. I had never really thought about what weddings in other countries might be like, because I have not been to more than a couple American weddings myself. Emily and I emailed back and forth as she told me about one of the Taiwanese weddings that she attended back home. All weddings have the same essential goal: to unite two people. But from how invitations and gifts are done to what types of foods get served at dinner, there are many differences that make every wedding special.

Sherry: Hey Emily! Remember when you mentioned going to an American wedding? What’s a wedding in Taiwan like? We can start at the beginning, how are the invitations done?

Emily: Invitations are pretty casual. It’s pretty typical to issue a general invitation to your work colleagues, for example, and to send a formal invitation to those who respond. It’s also fine to bring a SO [significant other] or date, or even a friend who is visiting from out of town (along with their red envelopes, of course). Wedding gifts in Taiwan are cash only. The invitations are sent along with a traditional red envelope (aka the ‘red bomb’), in which you put the gift. A typical amount is about $60, but this can vary. The gifts generally pay for the wedding dinner with a little left over.

Sherry: What about the parties? I’m assuming bachelor and bachelorette parties are pretty American in culture…

Emily: There are two official parties. The first is the engagement party, held a few weeks before the wedding, in the Bride’s home town. Traditional engagement cookies are given out to the guests (people often bring these in to tea time at work). The second is the wedding party, in the groom’s home town. The ceremony is done privately, with mainly the family – in this case, a standard civil service at the courthouse. The Taiwanese civil service involves a lot more bowing than the Western one, and this is where the paperwork is done. Legal signatures are done with formal name stamps (known as chops) rather than a pen.

Sherry: That’s really cool. I guess they really stick to their traditions in Taiwan. Could you go through how the wedding itself works?

Read the rest of this entry »

Want to teach abroad instead of just studying? Be the teacher, not the student, with The Japan Exchange and Teaching Progamme (JET). They send recruits to various cities in Japan to teach Japanese students English.

In order to promote internationalism, the JET program doesn’t usually place participating students in large cities. They are placed in medium to small sized cities and rural towns, which is a great way to really experience the culture of the country. The term lasts for a year, and there are a few different positions available. Students can be Assistant Language Teachers, where they directly teach English to kids aged from elementary school to high school. Coordinators for International Relations work in communities on activities dealing with international exchange. Lastly, Sports Exchange Advisors promote international exchange through sports. The website is full of resources for applicants, current participants, as well as former participants. Their pamphlet says it all.

It’s not necessary to have any knowledge of the Japanese language, but the program is fairly competitive (there is an interview process). I took Japanese my first two years at the U of M, and a few people came into our class to talk about the program. A couple of them have gone back to Japan through the JET program more than once, and all the others said they would go again if they had the chance.

This opportunity would result in nothing short of an amazing experience, since it is one of the largest exchange programs out there.

Are you in your junior or senior year, and still want to try to travel abroad before you graduate? Then consider this opportunity (because it might be free!). When I was searching for potential scholarships the other day, one of them caught my eye because it was about studying abroad for a year in one of five different countries for a truly unique experience in travelling.

The International Reciprocal Student Exchange Program (IRSEP) is offering a full scholarship to non-traditional travel abroad sites. The IRSEP was founded by students in 1952, making it the University of Minnesota’s oldest exchange program. It’s one of the many programs and scholarships the University offers, except it takes you to really interesting, uncommon places for travel. The five different options are Quito, Ecuador; Tianjin, China; Penang, Malaysia; Berlin, Germany; and finally, Reykjavik, Iceland. They all sound like really cool places, so I know I would have trouble choosing!

Participating students would serve as an ambassador for the program, before and after their travels. To apply, junior or senior status is required. The Learning Abroad Center has more information regarding the scholarship and its destinations.

My friend Claire Watne, a 20-year-old junior at the U of M majoring in Linguistics and Spanish, just left for Venezuela. I zoomed an email her way to find out about her trip thus far.

Sherry: What program are you in right now?
Claire: I’m a part of the VENUSA program in Mérida, Venezuela. It’s a semester-long home stay program. I’m taking classes in different fields (like business, literature, culture, politics, etc.) in Spanish, but most of the people here are taking Spanish grammar classes.

Sherry: How was your flight?
Claire: My flight was as expected; getting through the Caracas airport was a challenge (as well as very nerve-wracking), but I was in a group of about 30 Americans, and we had a guide from the Miami airport to Mérida. It was three flights (Minneapolis-Miami, Miami-Caracas, Caracas-El Vigia) and a two-hour bus from El Vigia to Mérida.

Sherry: What were your first thoughts upon arriving?
Claire: There were a few things that stuck out to me at first; the biggest one is the drivers here. Everyone is crazy, there are no speed limits, and seatbelts are decorations.

Sherry: Was it difficult to find your way around at first?
Claire: It wasn’t really difficult because I didn’t try to do it alone; I had my Venezuelan friends take me on tours, and such. Now that I’ve been here for a month, it’s pretty easy; there are four major avenidas that run N/S, and all the calles are numbered. It’s pretty easy, especially because all the buses just go up and down the same street.

Sherry: Was there anything you saw that you expected, and is there anything that you didn’t expect?
Claire: I tried not to have expectations before I got here because Read the rest of this entry »

Jordan Zaffke just returned from Sweden. He is 21 years old and in his third year at the U of M as a double major in international business and accounting. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, so I emailed him to find out about his trip:

Sherry: Why did you choose to go where you did?

Jordan: I chose to go to Sweden because I grew up following Swedish traditions, and I have family over there. I grew up in a Swedish culture, and wanted to experience it first hand. I also decided to go there because it would have been a great experience to learn a different culture and practice the Swedish language.

Sherry: Was it weird being away for so long? From your friends and family?

Jordan: It wasn’t so much weird being away; it was just different. It forced me to make new friends. I still was in contact with friends and family via skype and facebook, but I didn’t see them everyday. In the end, it was for the best, because I met many new friends from around the world, and that is something I am proud of.

Sherry: What was it like there?

Jordan: It was somewhat similar. The weather was similar (rainy, somewhat chilly), and the country has many of the same things we do–H&M, McDonald’s, and the like. However, their grocery stores and and government run businesses were vastly different. In grocery stores, we were forced to buy our own bags everytime; they were not provided to us for free. Also, waiting in queues was big in Sweden. At the bank, you took a number and stood in line. The same goes for the post office, restaurants, and the like. Read the rest of this entry »

As students travel abroad, a lot of them attend schools in other countries. Something they don’t consider are all the students that travel from other countries to attend school here. My friend Emily is an exchange student from Taiwan. She is 21 years old, in her junior year, and majoring in Economics at the U of M. I emailed and asked her about the differences between the schools in Taiwan and the schools in the United States. Emily went to the public high school in Taipei for 5 years before coming to the United States, where she attended Healy High School in Pierz, Minnesota. She said she was surprised at the differences she encountered:

Emily first explained that the only knowledge she had of the United States before the move came from music, movies, and the news. So she experienced quite a culture shock upon arrival. She told me the biggest differences between the school systems were how they were run, and how much time was spent studying.

“In Taiwan public high school, the system is a group of students staying in the same classroom, and then having different subjects as teachers switch classrooms.” She explained that Taiwanese students have to get used to studying together, because they are always in the same class with one another. School in Taiwan started at 7:30 am and ended at 5:00 pm; even with that long day, students would still go to the library after classes to continue studying.  But if you ask me, that just sounds intense compared to my high school!

Emily also said she noticed that American schools put more emphasis on sports, as well as students having part-time jobs while in school. She believes all these extracurricular activities take away from the importance of education.  It’s an interesting take on things.  Just remember that when you study abroad, the differences in school systems are likely to affect you.