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As of May 2010, only three of us will still be University students.  The rest of us will be off to new adventures, putting our editing skills to use in the “real” world—and by that we don’t mean the MTV show.  This coming year you can find us in theaters, publishing programs, and study-abroad sessions around the world. (And hopefully not living in our parents’ basements.)

By the time we have to have real jobs, we hope to be on the cover of Forbes for singlehandedly resuscitating the publishing world.  You will be able to find us at magazines, art organizations, travel publications, and independent publishers.  Actually, we’ll settle for any paying job with benefits.

Thanks to everyone–and we do mean one–for reading our blog. You’ve put up with our tangents about Muppet bugs, statues, fairytales, and Taiwanese weddings.  And especially thanks to all the subjects of our posts for putting up with all our desperate, last-minute requests for interviews. We stole your anecdotes and we gave you no glory, except a brief mention here.

Time to close the laptop and go somewhere.

Desiree, Agnes, Merisa, Sherry, Jaynie, & Drew

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If you’re getting ready to study abroad, then this post is for you.  Yes, it does reference going to Ireland mostly, but there are some good pointers for wherever you may be headed!  Aleyse Peterson, my good friend from Augsburg College, fills us in on her preparation experience for studying abroad in Ireland in the fall of 2009.  It wasn’t as much work as she had first expected; the biggest thing on her end was acquiring a passport.

So what is getting a passport like?

According to Aleyse, it’s a simple process.  “You just go to wherever nearest to you they do passports, fill out the paperwork, and they take your picture. Then you wait for however many weeks until you receive it in the mail. For Ireland, if you are there for 90 days or less, you do not need a Visa.”

You can find applications at post offices, learning abroad centers, and on the U.S travel site.

Is there any other paperwork?

“I had paperwork for my program I was going through—one piece of which I had to have signed by a notary.” Notaries do the official verification of legal matters—in this case, financial business.

“The best part is, when I got to immigration in Ireland, the guy I got was really nice, and when I said I was from IES, he didn’t even make me show him the papers,” said Aleyse.  “If you are in the country for only 90 days or less, you don’t need a visa. Well, our program was for 110 days or something like that, so it was up to immigration if they wanted to make us go pay 150 Euros to get a Visa. About half of us had to; I got lucky and didn’t.”

What is packing like?

“It was interesting. You have to try and fit everything you will need for three and a half months into as little baggage as possible! Not easy.” Said Aleyse.  “I ended up taking two suitcases, one bigger than the other, and paying the extra for the second bag. Oh, and I had my carry on.”

Aleyse’s packing style: one bag for clothes, one bag for toiletries and other everyday items, and a carry on full of electronics—especially a digital camera!

“Everything is more expensive in Ireland than here, as it is around most of Europe, so bring what you can with you from the states. That’s just an opinion though.”

There you have it then—a few tips in preparation from an experienced traveler (did I mention she’s been to Costa Rica and a bunch of other states across the nation)!  So good luck to all you future study abroaders with getting your passport, doing any other paperwork, and deciding what to bring with you!

Courtney in Kenya with her host dad and one of her host moms.

The Africa in the news is often portrayed as dangerous, impoverished, and war-torn. But this depiction is only one facet of the continent. My friend Courtney, a senior Global studies major and English minor, had an entirely different experience when she studied abroad in Kenya for a year. Over email, she shared some of the most eye-opening and enjoyable experiences she had while abroad.

Courtney came to Nairobi, Kenya, somewhat unexpectedly. A German-speaker since fourth grade, she had been planning to study in Germany, but everything changed when she began taking Swahili classes on a whim: “I fell in love with the language and my Kenyan professor, and knew I wanted to go to Kenya.”

Despite her love for the country, she was unprepared for at least one thing: her polygamous host family. “I didn’t really get the whole situation straight until after a while,” she explained. “My program didn’t tell me what my situation would be like, nor did my family announce to me when I met them, ‘Hi, we are polygamous.’”

“At first it was sort of hard to figure out who was who,” she said, because people from the nearby village were always visiting and sleeping over.

“Our home was a courtyard with 8 small houses, which were allotted to different wives and extended family,” she said. “In total, I think there were about 40 permanent people in our compound. But everyone does everything outside, so you can’t really tell who belongs to which house.”

It took about two weeks into her stay before she met all the members of her immediate host family. “My [host] dad introduced me without flourish to a woman at the breakfast table. ‘This is my third wife. You know we Africans are like that right?’”

While her host family was rather larger than she had expected, Courtney felt a comfortable and familiar family atmosphere. “Life passed as normal,” she said. “The kids (and there were lots of them) played with each other, the women sat around chatting after the day’s chores were done, and my dad drank tea and chatted with his friends. It’s kind of weird how not weird it was.”

The ease with which Kenya accepts diversity continued to surprise her. While there are extreme differences between rural and city life, it was the groups that lived side-by-side that impressed her.

“In Nairobi, for example, you can walk down the street and pass a man in jeans and a Michael Jordan jersey, a woman in a bai-bui and hijaab, a Maasai warrior carrying a spear, and a man in a business suit carrying a briefcase,” she said. “People just coexist with an unspoken respect for one another’s lifestyles.”

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My next-door neighbor sleeps five feet away from me. We both live on the second floor of adjacent duplexes. Our windows face each other.

I finally met the guy behind the curtain last week during a grill-out party. His name is Ahmed Omar, and he goes by Mido.

He’s a 26-year old veterinarian studying animal viruses at the University of Minnesota; here for the research portion of a Masters project he started in Egypt, his homeland.

Interviewing him was easy. We just opened our windows and started talking.

I asked Mido to describe some general differences between Minneapolis and his home in Cairo. He first cleared up two common American misconceptions: Egypt is not one big desert and the main mode of transportation is not camel.

“Cairo is similar to Minneapolis,” he said, “We have twin cities, Cairo and Giza, and we have the Nile river that runs between them.”

Although Cairo crushes Minneapolis on the population scale—13,300,00 to 382,618—Mido said Minneapolis is more culturally diverse. In Cairo, Arabic is the dominant language and Islam the principal faith. The  houses are larger, too, yet due to crowding, most have been carved into numerous apartments.

Egypt and the U.S. do share one aspect: an obsession with sports. “We have the same things for fun,” Mido said. Though the other type football, soccer, is more popular. Egypt has won a record seven championships in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Moving to the other side of the Earth was a challenge for Mido, to say the least. This was his first time outside Egypt, so Minnesota might as well be another planet.

The cold was a shocker he said. Egypt is one of the hottest countries in the world, and he came here this past January.

But adjusting to this place meant more than buying a winter coat. “Another challenge I have faced here is being a Muslim,” he said. “I didn’t find many mosques to go to and pray.” He’s right. According to Google maps, there are only four Mosques within a five-mile radius of the campus.

Then there’s the language barrier:

“The first month [here] was really hard, because I had no friends,” he said. “How do you ask someone to be your friend? In Egypt, it’s easier. Same culture. Same language.” Having only studied British English, the Midwestern accent probably doesn’t help. Nevertheless, Mido remains positive. “The people are so nice here,” he said, and “the language problem will be solved over time.”

While Minnesota doesn’t have the Great Pyramids or year-round warm weather, Mido has been struck by one Midwest wonder: The Mall of America. “It’s very huge and very great,” he said. “It’s the best thing I have seen until now.”

A new statue in Senegal has been causing a stir this week (read this CNN article for more). The 164-foot copper structure (which features a man, woman, and child with arms outstretched) has been criticized for everything from its expense to being the product of the Senegalese president’s self-indulgence.

Yet it is not the first statue to receive widespread attention for its dramatic back-story. A number of statues around the world have become tourist destinations because of their creator, height, or history. From the multitude of online lists ranking the most popular or tallest statues around the world, I picked out a few sculptures that I would like to see someday (along the lines of my post from a few weeks ago about quirky buildings worldwide).

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen

Photo courtesy of http://www.VisitDenmark.com

1. The Little Mermaid. Inspired by the popular Hans Christian Andersen children’s story, the mermaid has sat curled in the harbor of Copenhagen, Denmark, since her creation by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen in 1913. But the lady has not led a peaceful life: she has been the victim of vandalism, three decapitations, and an attempted drowning in 2003. (Time your visit carefully: According to The Daily Mail, the mermaid will leave her home for the first time in 100 years to visit the World Expo in Shanghai from May to November this year).

2. David. Michelangelo’s contemplative interpretation of the Biblical figure took three years to complete and, according to ItalyGuides.it, the sculptor continued to work on the piece even after it was revealed to immediate acclaim in Florence’s Piazza della Signora in 1504. The statue was moved from its original location to the city’s Academy Gallery in 1872 to protect it from the elements (a copy was put in its place). The success of David is said to be what inspired the Pope to invite Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

Photo courtesy of the China Culture Center

3. Great Buddha at Leshan. There are innumerable Buddha figures around Asia, but this 71-meter-high statue has a unique claim to fame as the largest carved stone Buddha in the world, according to Touropia.com. The serene figure occupies an entire hillside of the Sichuan Province in China, and its construction took nearly 100 years, beginning in 713 AD during the Tang Dynasty. The Buddha’s giant fingers are about 11 feet long, and its bare feet are each large enough for 100 people to sit on.

4. The Statue of Liberty. Although it is right here in the U.S., our 105-foot-tall statue, created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, represents an international friendship. A gift from France for America’s centennial celebration in 1876, this symbol of democracy and freedom raises a torch covered with 24k gold, holds a tablet inscribed with “July 4, 1776,” and stands upon the broken shackles of oppression, according to StatueofLiberty.org. Her iconic green color is actually the natural weathering effect of her copper covering, which is less than the thickness of two pennies.

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I am leaving for Europe in less than a month and my packing list is still too big, but after hearing this story my mom told me, I will not be bringing shorts with me to Germany!

“I am an avid runner, and when I lived in Duusburg, Germany that didn’t change. The first few days of running I went alone. I ran along a path beside the river.  It was safe, and easy, and one direction one way, and then straight back.  What I found a bit weird, was the expressions of the men that were working on some sort of construction project along the path.  It was a very large project, and the workers were up very high on scaffolding.  Because of the extreme heights I could not really make out what they were saying, but I was pretty sure it was directed at me.  I just shrugged it off to bored construction guys that were being entertained by an older than average jogger.

“Well…..as the days went on, I continued to jog the same route.  Sometimes I would bring one of my grandson’s with, but the route remained the same. The comments from the construction guys seemed to become more frequent, and almost in a funny sort of way.  The day I figured it all out was a very busy one.  I wanted to get my run in, and my daughter-in-law had errands to tend to.  I told her I would take one of the grandson’s with me on my run.   We had a plan. We would meet up at the Kodak picture store in one hour.

“Off we went.  Me and my grandson on our run, and she to run her errands.  I had on the same clothes that I always ran in.  My nylon running shorts, my t-shirt, and a wind breaker if needed.  For some reason I felt a bit more adventuresome that day.  Maybe it was because it was such a beautiful sunny day.  I ventured off of my regular route and was loving it!  There were many more people on this route. Lots of people walking and shopping.  For some reason, I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. I thought that people were laughing at me.  I thought that maybe it was because I ran so slow, or because I was so old, or because I was running pushing a baby in a stroller.  I didn’t know what it was, but it was something!

“An hour later, I met up with my daughter-in-law at the Kodak store.  I mentioned to her that my run was good, but that I thought that people were laughing at me.  She shrugged it off, and we continued to walk to the Mcdonalds down the way.  As we continued on, she also noticed that people were laughing at me.  I started to check my self over, like you do when you think your zipper is down.  Everything seemed fine to me!  Well…..fine to me in America, is NOT FINE in Germany!  After several conversations with the locals, I came to understand that you don’t jog in shorts in Germany unless you are of the male species!!  You see….to them, it was like I was jogging in my UNDERWEAR!!!   Women do not wear shorts, much less nylon running shorts!!!  Joke was on me!!”

I’ve noticed among my friends that in addition to Spanish, French, and German, Japanese is a popular language to study at the University of Minnesota.  My good friend Dane Christensen, a double major in Asian Languages and Literature with a focus on Japanese and Political International Economics with a focus on Southeast Asia, studied the Japanese language for 3 years before he studied abroad in Tokyo for about a year.  He plans to live abroad for several years after graduating college.  I wanted to get a feel for what living in Japan would be like compared to Minnesota, so I asked him about his experience.

Desiree:  Did you have a lot of free time?  Was it just like being at school at the U?

Dane:  The school I went to was the 4th most prestigious school in Japan for private universities.  The classes I took were harder than classes at the U.  School took up a lot of my time, but I also worked a lot as an English language tutor.  Japan is an expensive place to live, so I had to work since I was broke a lot.

Desiree: Where were your favorite hangouts during your free time?

Dane: I would spend time in Kabukicho, which was an area near a very popular place called Shinjuku at the center of Tokyo.  I would spend time there because my friend lived there.  I would also frequently visit Yokohama where my then girlfriend was living.  We knew the cheap bars, the fun bars, and so whatever we felt like doing in the evening we knew a place we could get to by subway.

Desiree:  Besides bars, where else did you go?

Dane:  That was just the nightlife, but we would also go out to arcades sometimes, which are still popular things in Japan.  With my friends, I’d go out to dinner.  There are a lot of different districts in Japan.  Tokyo is sectored off into categories based on things you can buy.  The technology district was pretty cool, but there was also a different section you could go to just for clothing, etc.  During the day, there are also a lot of beautiful parks to go to.

Desiree:  You mostly hung out off campus then?

Dane:  My university that I attended was a place I also hung out at because I was in activity clubs at the school.  In Japan, these clubs function the same way intramural sports leagues do at the U of M.

Desiree:  What kinds of activity clubs were you a part of?

Dane:  I was a part of basketball, hiphop dance, and capoiera (a Brazilian traditional dance).

Desiree:  What made you join these clubs—besides the fact that you are always a part of some club?

Dane:  Well of course I joined the clubs because I was interested in them, but then when you join these clubs you become friends with the people in them.  These friends are your social crowd.  That is the social norm in Japan to hang out with the people that you do things with at school.  It becomes sort of like an obligation because the clubs would set up social gatherings in addition to practice and meetings, etc.  It’s a good way to meet people though.

It seems as if Japan is one of the easiest places to assimilate into.  After hearing about Dane’s experience, I would love the chance to check it out!

My friend Ashley, a University senior, was studying art in Florence last spring. Her only complaint was that it was hard to access authentic Italy because tourism often seems to overtake Florence. Still, every now and then she was able to see a quieter side of Italy.

“I was drawing an Italian liberator statue in the middle of this piazza. There was this old man sitting by me, and he asked me what my name was and what I was doing, and I told him I was an art student. He asked me about some of the things I had seen in Italy, and I responded I’ve seen that and that etc. and he said ‘well have you seen the face of Michelangelo?’ I was confused because I thought I had heard him wrong—by the way, all of this was in Italian—and I was like what? But then he said va va which means come, come with me, so we walked over to the city hall and there, on this twelfth century building, [the Palazzo Vecchio] was a carving of what appeared to be Michelangelo’s face. The story goes that Michelangelo was admiring the David* from that spot where he was sitting, and proceeded to draw his own face on the side of the wall**.”

*The David is one of the most famous statues in the world; it the idealized figure of the biblical David, sculpted by Michelangelo. Ashley explains that the original statue once stood in the place she describes above, but today a copy of it graces the spot.

**This face is more popularly known as I’ importuno, or “annoying”. Apparently Michaelangelo drew the profile of an annoying or drunk passerby here, though versions of the story differ.

My friend Brooke, an architecture student, just got accepted into Syracuse University for graduate school—congrats Brooke! Last year she went to the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen. When she got back she filled me in on all the amazing things she did, but this story is amazing in a creepy crawly way.

I don’t know if it’s typical of architecture students, but I don’t know anyone who studies as late as Brooke. Even in a different time zone, she was up until 1:30 AM. “After brushing my teeth I went back into my room” she said, “only to find the hugest bug I have ever seen.”

It was “hanging on the lamp above my room, which actually hangs about even with my head.” I drew a picture of it as evidence because my camera was out of battery,” said Brooke, ever the architecture student. A few words here are worth a thousand pictures: “It had legs like a daddy-longlegs spider, a quad set of wings, a head the size of a pea with a Gonzo (the muppet) snout, 4 antennae sticking out of it’s head, and the body of a long, thick maggot—so, I about died.”

Unable to actually approach it, she considered her options. She could wake up Nina, her host mom, or call 122 (the Danish 911). The drawing was over. She turned off her right brain and turned on her left:

1) The bug would stay in place as long as the lamp was on.
2) I could not kill it, because I didn’t have a large enough shoe, and the lamp was an expensive Danish design that was all wavy with no flat surface to get a good hit.
3) It was only a few feet from my bed, and I didn’t want to be that near to it
4) There was no way I was sleeping in my room that night.

The next morning the “damned thing” was still there, but Nina finally came to her rescue. “Oh these things are in the garden, they won’t bite you!” Nina said. Brook wasn’t buying it:.“Ya, the thing could potentially have swallowed me whole.”

Despite their best efforts, the maggot-spider-Gonzo impersonator eluded them.” To this day, I have no idea what became of the bugger,” she said “I hope it died.”

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!