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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thomas and Cambridge Dining

Life at an 800 year old university is rather different than that at UTD. It tends to change one some. First off, I rather fancy tea now. Secondly, I now use the word “fancy”. From the restrictions of the various colleges (just try and sneak past the porters at Emmanuel!) to the gorgeous architecture, it’s a rather surreal world compared to back home. One of the coolest things about Cambridge is the way they still hold formal halls. These are the highest social grace amongst the colleges here. Each college holds different types of formal halls, has different chefs/ceremonies, and has different restrictions on who can attend. At my college, Hughes Hall, we keep things relatively modern and egalitarian. While suits and tuxes are required, we are flexible on the need for gowns. In addition to this, the fellows of the college drink and dine with us. We take our sherry overlooking the fields at sundown, proceed to dinner once the gong is rung, bow our heads for a single short Latin grace, dine amongst the fellows, and then proceed to our port. This stands in stark contrast to hall at Trinity, where the building is only lit by candle and torch, and the fellows are kept completely separate from the students. While the students sit at long tables and eat substandard food in plastic chairs, the fellows sit in throne-like carved masterpieces, eating meals personally prepared by Michelin-star level chefs. The rest of the 31 colleges fall somewhere along this spectrum, but it’s fascinating to see each hall and its specific rules. Life here at Cambridge is dominated by the colleges, and formal hall is your passport to each one. On that note, here’s a photo of me in proper gown fashion before hall at Trinity, home of Newton, Dirac, Tennyson, Bohr, Maxwell, and Byron.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

800 Years of Politics

My college, Hughes Hall. Nice, but nothing super amazing.

King’s College. People really do go to school there.

Back home, we have a fairly simple way of viewing university structure. The president and provost sit at the top, under them are the deans, and under the deans fall the various departments and responsibilities of the university. Here at Cambridge, however, we have constituent colleges which hold a great deal of power, making university politics and policy a great deal more complicated. Some universities in the U.S. (Rice comes to mind) have constituent colleges as well, but they have more of a social function and mainly exist to promote diversity among the class. On the other hand, the college at Cambridge which you are a part of determines a great deal – your education, your social class, and your overall opportunities provided. For example, Wolfson is a relatively poor modern college which is located far from the city centre. Wolfson students have decent housing, are mostly foreign graduate students, and often keep to themselves. On the other hand, St. Johns is a very wealthy college. The students of Johns are located in the best part of town, have fantastic amenities (having your own turret in a castle must be nice), and are treated to all sorts of luxuries (Michelin star chef, free wine, special recruitment events, etc.). Should a St. Johns student want to study abroad or play a sport, the college will pay their fees or buy them equipment in order to further their experience. This disparity in wealth and experience leads to interesting situations as the colleges have completely separate budgets from the university and are under no obligation to share their money with it or with each other. In recent years, Cambridge has been facing many budget shortages leading to research cuts and difficulties paying faculty salaries. On the other hand, the wealthiest colleges of Cambridge often have yearly surpluses in the hundreds of millions of pounds. Because the colleges hold so much money, the university simply cannot act without their support and cannot regulate many things which the colleges control.

Recently, the UK is debating whether to raise tuition for its public schools leading to the belief of many that Cambridge will re-brand itself as a private university. This, of course, has been met with a great deal of controversy as Cambridge currently only charges 3000 pounds a year in tuition for UK and EU students. If it goes private, students will need to pay more like 20,000 pounds a year in tuition, making it completely unfeasible for the majority of students at poorer colleges. However, should the big colleges choose to flex their financial muscle and push the initiative, the smaller colleges will have little say in the matter, as a Cambridge without a Trinity or Johns is simply no longer Cambridge. It’s a bit like if we ran Congress without the Senate as an equalizing body. Ostensibly, every college is equal under the Cambridge banner, but in reality, size matters. It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens next, as the policies and standards the university establishes in the next five years are going to greatly affect its status as one of the great research and educational institutes in the world. Despite all the upheaval, two things remain certain: Cambridge must find ways to support its world-class research, and the largest colleges will continue to dominate the political life at the university.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Liz Living in Brazil

The world is flat—that is, if you ignore Aristotle and believe instead in Thomas Friedman, as I have so chosen to believe, based not only on his evidence in The World is Flat, but (perhaps more importantly) on my own international experiences.
I’ve been here in Florianopolis, Brazil for about a month and a half now. The biggest shock for me has been how similar life here is to life in the States. Internet access is widespread, the quality of life is high, and people are well-connected with the world around them, both within and outside of Brazil. Every other week, I pore through an issue of Exame (similar to Fortune in the States) that discusses both national and corporate problems—the costs and benefits of a bullet train between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, an analysis of corporate bonuses, the explosive growth of Southeast Asian economies. They suffer the same inequalities—of income, of regional development, of social prejudice.
They’re worried about the same things we are, and in turn, having many of the same discussions we are. The other day, I pulled up the Wall Street Journal, only to find that the hot-button issue of the day was infrastructure stimulus spending. Just today, I read an article arguing for (you guessed it) more infrastructure spending here in Brazil. Of course, that article was in Portuguese and referenced President Lula and the Brazilian Congress, but you could have just replaced those things with American references (and translated it into English, of course), and it would have been nearly the same.
What’s the lesson I’m learning? It’s more important now than ever to become a global citizen, not a citizen of a particular country. And while that sounds like an overwhelming task, the so-called “flattening” of the globe is making this task easier to achieve, as well as achievable from anywhere (although living abroad for a while certainly helps). It’s a matter of identifying global trends—trends in business, politics, regional development, and the like. Once you start to notice the trends, it becomes much easier to think globally rather than nationally. And that ability to approach things from a global perspective is necessary to succeed in our contemporary “flat” world—even if you still insist the Earth is round.

The Edge of Europe

Spending 6 weeks in Spain studying Spanish was an unbelievable experience. But, believe it or not, one of the most exciting experiences I had during my time in Spain was traveling to Lisbon, Portugal for a weekend. Not only is Lisbon the largest city in Portugal, but it’s also on the western coast of the country, facing across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.
The monuments were fantastic. Belem Tower, which served as a ceremonial entrance to Lisbon and later a political prison, was an impressive sight. It sat just down the coast from the Monument to the Discoverers. This impressive structure serves to remind visitors to Portugal of the important role it played in new world discoveries.
Perhaps most impressive was the Castle of Saint George, sitting high above the city. This fortress was built over hundreds of years, and at its core represents impressive Moorish architecture built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This castle also afforded fantastic views of almost all of Lisbon.
My trip to the Western edge of the European continent ended with a trip to the beach, a truly cultural experience. The water was cold and the sand hot, but taking in the sun with Portuguese is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Erich in Spain

Words cannot express the feeling of witnessing a nation in the moment of ecstasy that follows a World Cup victory. Seeing an entire plaza erupt with spontaneous cheering, chanting, and celebrating is something that I will never forget. I know I will not be able to properly convey the feeling of this moment, so instead I will try to describe the scenes that led up to this once in a lifetime moment. The preparation for the World Cup game started hours before the actual game was to be played. With a scheduled kickoff at 8:30, my friends and I made sure to be at the Plaza Mayor no later than 4:30 to ensure our seats. Even still we were later than many people and ended up only being able to sit on the side without shade. Luckily all the spots to sit at in the Plaza Mayor are restaurants and cafes with patios and therefore we were able to hold our seat as well as have a nice afternoon snack while we waited for the game. Having secured our seats, we began to explore the main square that was to thousands of spectators for the upcoming game. There were flags hung from the multitude of balconies surrounding the plaza, a huge flag unfurled down the center of the plaza, and people everywhere dressed in the colors of La Furia Roja. As more and more people began to flow into the plaza, waiters began to set up large TV’s in front of patios. As the hour of the game approached, the mode quickly turned from a festive mood to a very tense, anxious mood that would last for the duration of the game. The game was a blur. From kickoff to the final whistle, I remember cheering whenever something went Spain’s way and joining the collective groan when it didn’t. All of that paled, however, to the reaction brought on by Spain’s late goal. The crowd exploded into a mass of spontaneous cheering, the likes of which I have never seen and most likely never will again. The fans would never return to their seats again as they either watched the rest of the game standing up, or commenced to start celebrating the victory, a celebration that would be kept track of by days, not hours and a celebration that will play on in my head forever.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Christina in Amsterdam

I spent last weekend in Amsterdam, a city that I'd been trying to visit since I spent last fall studying abroad in France. I ended up choosing the perfect weekend to go, as I was treated to sunshine and beautiful weather the entire time I was there. This made it so pleasurable just to sit in the Vondelpark and people-watch and read while sitting in the sun, and to wander along the romantic canals lined by hundreds of bicycles.

Upon arriving at the Centraal Train Station and not knowing what to expect, I was a tad surprised to find myself in such an urban, crowded, touristy place. I started my time in Amsterdam on a very commercial street lined with hostels, bars, and "coffee shops," and not far from the famous Red Light District. I most enjoyed being able to escape this area, touring the outer rings on foot and by tram, enjoying the 17th century architecture, ambling through parks and canals, and visiting the wonderful museums. There was such a range of Amsterdam's history to experience, from Rembrandt's house from the 1600s to the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family during World War II. I was so glad to have had the chance to finally experience this unique and colorful city.

Caitlin says, "Hasta luego!"

My two month stay in Sevilla is now over, and I'm now beginning my travels through Spain, France and Italy. As much as I enjoyed staying in Sevilla with my host family and new friends, I'm excited to be traveling again. I've already hit Valencia, especially the Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) including the aquarium, which I have Ginny to thank for directing me towards! Then in Barcelona I saw Las Ramblas, Parc Guell, La Sagrada Familia and some other really cool stuff done by Gaudi.Travel is great because you meet so many new and interesting people every day, whether its in hostels, airports, train stations, restaurants or museums. I've met interesting people of all ages from lots of different places: an older woman who told me all about her love for Ireland, a British guy talking about his extended travels, an Australian girl doing a tour of the world, and a Danish girl talking about the differences and similarities of our countries. This is what studying abroad is about, it's learning about different people and cultures and broadening your perspective of the world.

While most other summer travelers are starting to head back to home or to UTD, I've still got another 16 days of travel. Although I'm definitely enjoying it, I will be ready to be back in Dallas and get back into things. Before then I'll just get to see and experience the food in France, the Mona Lisa, works of art by Michelangelo and Botticelli and Velásquez. I've already seen a lot of Spain and I'm very excited to move on to other countries in a few days.

Hasta luego!

Clifford and the World Cup

Sunday July 11 was one of the wildest days I have ever encountered in my life because of the World Cup.

In the afternoon, I went to see the Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella. Barcelona's Arc de Triomf is red, smaller, and simpler than Paris's Arc de Triomphe. It isnt as grand, yet I love the red bricks that just make it nice to look at. The Arc is right across from the Parc. This park is magnificent. There is this pond/waterfall thing that has golden horses and stuff. It is huge and just plain cool. In the park was also a big mammoth statue, the zoo, Parliament, and lots of trees and grass.

After the Park, it was about 2:30pm, so I started heading over to the Picasso Museum which is free after 3pm on Sundays. I thought I was going to be a bit early, so I was taking my time and sauntering down the street. When I got to the museum, bam, a freaking huge line that starts at the door and keeps on going. It was 2:40pm when I got there. So I go stand in line, and behind me, the line keeps growing and growing. Luckily, the line moved very fast, and I got into the museum at around 3:05. I didn't think the Picasso Museum was very good, and I would have been disappointed if I paid to go in. Picasso's famous works are either in Madrid or Paris. The Picasso Museum is going under renovations right now in Paris, so I didn't get the chance to go there. Barcelona's museum has a lot of his early works, and from his Blue and Rose Periods. It only took me a little more than an hr to go through the museum. It really isn't that big.

After the museum, I went back home, then left for Plaza Espanya for the World Cup final around 6:15pm. The city set up 2 giant screens for people to gather and watch Spain play. By the time we got there around 6:45, there were already a lot of people there. The atmosphere was just crazy, and got crazier when the game started. There were 75,000 people there in Plaza Espanya last night. No joke. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder. (In Madrid, there were over 200,000 people gathered to watch). It was impossible to move around if you needed to use the restroom or something. I went before the game started, and it took about 30 minutes to get back to my friends. When Spain scored in extra time, everyone went ballistic. We were all jumping up and down, screaming, people where slashing their drinks all over everyone, fireworks were going off. When the game ended, the fountains surrounding the area turned red. More fireworks went off. Some people are pretty stupid though. They set off the fireworks, it goes up like 10 feet, and comes right back down towards the crowd. Everyone just pushed everyone back to create a big circle for the fireworks to land. People started jumping in the fountains and such. It was just insane. After this was all over, people started throwing beer bottles, chairs, and tables at policemen who had shields ready, and they fired some rubber bullets at people. I didn't take my camera because I didn't want to have so much stuff in my pocket, so the World Cup pics above are Jenny's. The metro was insane too. People were pushing their way into the metro doors, even though no more can come in. I've never been anywhere so packed like this. It there was an accident, everyone would have died on the spot. It was body on body. This guy tried to fit into the metro, but the doors wouldn't close, so he had to get off. As he got off, the guy next to me pickpocketed him. Coins fell out of his pocket, so he knew he just got his wallet stolen. The metro doors closed right after he got off. The look on his face was priceless yet sad. That's why I always keep my hands in the pockets at all times. Lesson learned for him. I'm so glad I got to experience this here in Spain. I didn't think Barcelona would be that into the Spanish team with them wanting their independence, but they were. Some people we met said that they were Spaniards for just today. It was really fun, crazy, and wild.

"Whoosh" you where here in Ireland!

Liz traveled to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, which is just south of Dublin, along Dublin Bay.

LC2 Adventures at the Yuan Yang Rice Terraces!

During one of our free weekends in Kunming, China, we decided to visit the Yuan Yang rice terraces in the southern part of Yunnan Province, which are beautifully terraced fields of rice carved into the hillside by the Hani people. Yuan Yang is about a 7-hour bus ride from Kunming, where our study abroad program was based. We took an overnight sleeper bus there on Friday night so we would arrive early Saturday morning just in time to catch the sunrise. The Chinese sleeper buses we rode on were really something else! The beds were only long enough to fit a child and wide enough to fit a petite Chinese person, the sheets on the beds looked (and smelled) like they had not been washed in a while, and the floor was sticky. There was no air-conditioning and no concept of personal space on the bus.
When the bus arrived at the Yuan Yang bus terminal early on Saturday morning, the driver merely turned off the engine and did not let us know that we had arrived. Around 5:30am, we were rudely awakened by a small Chinese man who shined a flashlight in our faces and yelled at us in rapid Chinese about hiring a private van for the day. So, disheveled and half-asleep, we stumbled out of the bus to bargain with the man. It looked like our slight disorientation and grumpiness came in handy, as we got the price that we asked for.
The day started breaking as our van drove us through the Yuan Yang countryside, which was lush green and beautiful. The hills and rice terraces were shrouded in mist and fog early that morning. As the fog lifted and the sun rose, it was mesmerizing to stare at the beautifully carved hillsides scattered throughout with small huts, colorful villages, and corn patches. We felt really insignificant looking at the vast fields and majestic hills.
After spending some time at various rice terraces, we visited a weekly market in a small hillside town, where locals who lived on the hills and in the valleys gathered once a week to sell goods, shop for groceries, and socialize. The market was full of people shopping and gossiping with each other. It was very interesting to observe colorfully-dressed people of various Chinese minority groups, with baskets on their backs full of vegetables, cloth, baby chicks, or even piglets. It was also interesting to notice that although many of these farming people worked hard and lived simple lives, they were still content with their lives. After a full day at Yuan Yang, we took another sleeper bus and arrived in Kunming at 3:30am, ready to bargain (again) for a ride back into the city.
The Yuan Yang rice terraces were quite a sight to behold and it was wonderful to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a day. We enjoyed experiencing minority hillside culture in the market and spending some time in the serene and beautiful Chinese countryside. Despite minor setbacks along the way, we made it there and back safely, with lots of fun stories and experiences to share.

>>written by Lye-Ching and Lewis

Photos: 2 pictures of us at the Yuan Yang rice terraces in Yunnan Province, China. The other 2 pictures are from the Stone Forest and Tiger Leaping Gorge, which are also in Yunnan Province, China.

Anastasia in Hong Kong

After I finished my internship, I moved north away from the city center, staying in the dorms at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in the Sha Tin district. The university campus is much bigger than that of UTD and is located on a hillside, such that I have to take the bus to and from class. There are also elevators in the buildings, taking you from the top of the hill to the bottom, making the campus a big game of chutes and ladders.

I took two business classes: Asian Business and Management, Engineering and Technology Management. The classes have been great, and we’ve had several group projects. I got to work with people from Britain, Canada, Korea, and Mainland China. As part of the Tech Management class, we took a field trip to the Science Park and visited the RFID Center, where we learned about radio frequency identification technology – the kind that Walmart hopes to implement in coming years.

As part of the cultural program at CUHK, I have taken two trips. One was a local boat trip to give the students a tour of the nearby islands. We visited a fishing village and small temple, had a seafood lunch, and then explored amazing rock formations on another island’s beach. The second trip was at the very end of my stay, and I just got back. We toured Beijing for three days, visiting the Olympic stadium, Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Great Wall, and several other smaller sites. The most beautiful, in my opinion, was the Forbidden City – the center of Beijing, which only the royalty was allowed to enter: the tiered, carved, and embellished golden-colored roofs were stunning, overlapping into the distance.

Now that it is time to leave, I feel like I am leaving a new home. I have finally gotten to know the city, made friends, and gotten into a daily routine. Most of all, I will miss the friends I made here – the expats, the locals, and the other tourists. Especially I will miss my roommate, who was from Mainland China. We didn’t communicate for a while, until one evening we launched into a long discussion. She would ask me questions about the U.S., and I would point out the differences. Some of the things we learned in class were very relevant. For example, she isn’t able to use Facebook or Google, which are not available in China. Instead, she uses the Chinese search engine Baidu, which my group researched for our final essay in Asian Management.

I have learned a lot about the local culture that will help me in my future career, and I would love to return to Asia for work or leisure. Before, I had only called St. Petersburg and Dallas home, but I would now be willing to add Hong Kong to that list.

¡Hasta Luego Costa Rica!

Some places people travel are life-changing. For me, Costa Rica has been life improving. Two months of Spanish language courses, two months of weekend travels, two months of living with a Costa Rican family, and two months of planning my days according to what I intrinsically had a desire to do most certainly set my daily routine on a delightful path. It’s difficult not to make the most of each day when my host mother cooked delicious food and then asked me at each meal what I did yesterday, how I liked it, and what I was planning on doing today.
My meal-time musings ended up taking me to a couple beaches and beautiful mountain sights. It turns out a on the southern tip of the Peninsula of Nicoya there is a beach town that reminds me of a neighborhood that could be found in Austin. Organic food and live music in a town set in between three waterfalls and wide stretches of beach. When I made my way to mountain landmarks, with bus rides were reminiscent of roller coasters, I could not help but marvel at the landscape. A striking attraction is called Rio Celeste, a river on the side of a volcano with minerals that turn the water opaque blue. Hiking a progressively harder trail leads to waterfalls and hot springs. It’s not every day the social norm is to strip down to a swimsuit, relax in a hot spring, and talk to traveling Spaniards, Germans, Americans, and Costa Ricans about their travels.
Many things I encountered would not constitute a typical day back in the States. Many more can in fact be replicated once I return but I’ve come to associate with Costa Rica. I will miss winding bus rides through the mountains, spinning classes in Spanish, the occasional “tranquila mi amor” when I am unsure of what to do, the delicious coffee, the delicious food, the helpful strangers, and most of all the “Pura Vida” attitude.
So, I will fight the urge to perpetually live in paradise and make it to my retun flight home. This will not be easy, and I can only console myself in saying “Hasta luego Costa Rica! Yo regresaré.”

(The picture is at Rio Celeste.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lye-Ching and Lewis in China

It's nearing our fourth week in China, and needless to say, the experience has been nothing short of spectacular. We're on the bus right now in the middle of a seven-hour bus ride back to Dali from Shangrila, with our fellow intrepid travelers asleep around us. Looking out the window, it seems as though we were plucked from Dallas and sent on a journey through a post card, with gorgeous landscapes rolling past as the bus careens around curves and up mountains. Our bus driver handles his bus like a Nascar speedster, and oftentimes we feel like we're riding a rollercoaster.
Our first few weeks were a combination of exploration and classes. During the week, our daily regimen included morning Taiji with a twenty-four style master in the small park next to our hotel. After thorough exercise of our Qi (often with locals stopping to gawk at the foreigners or other tourists stopping to take pictures), we go to the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Hospital to have our language classes. Our classes are small and are geared towards the level that our Chinese is at-I (Lye Ching) am in a class of two and I (Lewis) am in a class by myself. Chinese is immediately followed by morning lecture, a lunch break, and then afternoon lecture. Our lectures have covered ranges of topics, including basic theories of traditional Chinese medicine, Daoism, massage, maternal and child healthcare, HIV in Yunnan, and the Chinese healthcare system. Our lecturers are doctors, professors, and researchers, and their knowledge about their subjects has been a wonderful resource. Afternoons after lecture generally involve going out to explore the city, trying to find yet another amazing restaurant for dinner, and then settling down for the evening-whether it's hanging out at the hotel, chilling at a bar near Green Lake Park, or heading out for clubbing.
Of course, one of the biggest things we have to mention is the food-the food here is amazing, and the group that we hang out with has been blessed with an adventurous palate, making meals both simple and exciting. We've explored hole-in-the-wall restaurants as well as nicer ones recommended by locals, and we have never been disappointed by the cuisine. Many of the restaurants we've explored are run by different minority groups (there are 26 different minority groups in Yunnan), so we've been able to taste all sorts of styles of cooking. Food is cheap too-it's possible to get full meals complete with a drink and pay less than the price of a vending machine soda in the United States. Insane. Vegetables and meat are also fresh and not processed, making dishes remarkably delicious and our stomachs happy. Going back to the U.S. and paying "normal" prices again for meals is going to be both unfortunate and depressing. Our visits to restaurants are supplemented by visits to convenience stores and different bakeries to stock up on snacks, carbs, and water. We also raid fruit markets, buying mangoes, peaches, plums, bananas, liches, dragon-eyes, oranges, apples, and pineapples-amongst other things. Our stash of food becomes late-night snacks while working on Chinese homework or hanging out.
Kunming is an enormous city-the population has tripled in the past ten years and it's pushing a population of 8-9 million people. Our hotel is in an extremely convenient location-five minutes from the hospital and from both the Bird and Flower Market and Green Lake Park. Whether we haggle in the market or ride bumper cars at Green Lake Park, there hasn't been a shortage of activities for us to do. One thing that has been a great experience is English Corner-a spontaneous gathering of locals, students, and travelers on the outside of Green Lake Park on Thursday evenings. Essentially, it is a coming-together for people who want to practice their English with whomever, and when our group of twenty students arrived the first night, we became magnets for the Chinese. It was as we were told-the foreign-looking students would be "pop stars," and those who could speak both Mandarin and English were "treasures." We chatted about anything and everything-from books and movies to America's economy and politics, and sometimes even random questions such as, "Does Lady Gaga wear trousers?" or "If you slept with multiple women, would your girlfriend break up with you?" One of the other activities that we were given to explore Kunming was a drop-off activity on our second day. The group was divided into five teams of four, with the captains being those with Chinese proficiency (we were both leaders of our respective groups), and then handed some money as well as a slip of paper with a location on it (written in Chinese of course). Each group was then sent on its merry way to find its way to their mystery destination, and we reconvened back at the hotel later in the afternoon to share our adventures. It was certainly an experience, and both of our groups had a great time figuring out how to enlist the help of locals in determining how to get where we needed to be as well as spending time at our final destination (The ancient city of Guan Du and the Bamboo Temple).
We haven't limited adventures to Kunming, however. We've explored the Western Hills near Kunming, walked through Hua Ting Temple and climbed up to the Dragon's Gate and even further to the Sky Pavilion, where we could see the vast expanse of Kunming from above. We've visited Shi Ling (The Stone Forest)--climbing up, around, and through enormous rock pillars and formations, the remnants of an ancient seabed. The second weekend, we visited Jiu Xiang, caverns near-ish to Kunming (and by near we mean two and a half hours by bus and shady van transportation). The caverns were stunning, and we hiked a trail through the caves and amongst the stalagtites and stalagmites. Everything was lit with rainbow lights, making the formations look both beautiful and eerily odd at the same time.
Apart from our Kunming adventures, we also went on a week-long excursion following our midterm, which has been amazing. We went to Dali, Lijiang, Shaxi, and Shangrila. We have had adventures with bargaining, delicious food, and beautiful landscapes. We witnessed the commercial tourism that swallowed Lijiang, the calm and picturesque rural town of Shaxi, and had yak butter tea in Shangrila. Our adventures included a homestay with the cutest host families ever, looking at stars underneath the Shaxi sky, watching a pig get slaughtered by a rural family before morning market, and watching a Dongba ceremony. The past week has been a whirlwind of activity, and the excitement has yet to subside. At the moment, however, everyone is worn out and passed out on the bus, though doubtless everyone will be up and alert soon once we stop for lunch. This trip has been amazing thus far, and we’re only halfway through! Stay posted for another update!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Andrews thoughts of Argentina

I can not believe how efficient I was this trip. When I arrived and was still learning how to use the colectivos or buses in Buenos Aires I was almost positive that my entire study abroad would be composed of waking up, running to get class, spending my time inside the classroom, and returning back home to eat dinner and sleep. While I did end up spending a significant portion of my time doing those things, I also made sure to travel on the weekends and to visit as many museums and try as many new things in Buenos Aires as possible. By the fourth week I had traversed the country. I had spent a weekend in Northern Argentina near the border with Brazil and Paraguay where I went to see Iguazu falls. I had also traveled to the southern tip of the country in Patagonia where I went with Anna and Saskia to see the glaciers in Calafate. In Buenos Aires, I had visited the Museum of Latin American Art, the Xul Solar Museum, The Barolo Palace, the Plaza de Mayo, Congress, and the Eva Duarte Museum. Through the culture and identity class taught by Dr. Demello, I had the opportunity to study Argentine society. I attended lectures from human rights professors and anthropologists and researched and afterwards wrote four essays on topics such as the Dirty War, the art of Xul Solar, and the differences between the urban immigrant population and the rural indigenous and criollo populations in the country. I hope that other students take this trip in the future. I was a little hesitant at the beginning because while other students were participating in internships or taking classes, I was hard pressed to show how the trip related to my future career interests or educational goals. But looking back, I realized how immature my thinking was. This trip was one of personal growth and discovery. It still amazes me how much I learned about Buenos Aires and Argentine society when I was down there. And although the program lasted only one month, I feel that there were so many resources and opportunities available to students that wanted to experience as much as possible while they were in Argentina.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

¡Pura Vida! says Alice!

Some education takes long hours of study and sleepless nights before an exam, another kind feels as easy as breathing. Learning Spanish in Costa Rica is most certainly the latter. My classes teach me the mechanics and vocabulary of Spanish, but living, traveling, and socializing with Ticos (Costa Ricans) allows my brain to breath in Spanish.

The majority of my time is spent in San Jose where I study at Veritas University (the exact opposite of UTD: art, language, and architecture are this school's strengths and it is common to see classes painting outside). I also live with a wonderful host family a short, though hilly walk from the university. Like any big city, San Jose is crowded with people and traffic and most Costa Ricans don't really like it. I enjoy calling San Jose my home base because there are buses to every part of the country. Since the entire country of Costa Rica can fit within Texas seven times, most beaches and volcanoes are within a five hour bus ride.

For my first three weekends the program I am in arranged excursions to Tamarindo, Arenal, and Manuel Antonio. These two beaches on the Pacific, Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio, are beautiful and have nearby national parks that protect some of the abundant wildlife of the country. Volcano Arenal is the most active volcano in Costa Rica and I was able to hike as close as people are allowed in order to take a Woosh picture. The clouds cover most of the volcano, but you can make out a faint outline. By the way the country is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and I felt my first earth tremor during my first week abroad. The area around Arenal has spectacular waterfalls and hot springs that were quite enjoyable.

After my first month of Spanish classes came to a close I traveled around the country for a week making a slingshot route from the Caribbean Sea to the mountains of Monteverde to the Pacific of Playa Sámara.

On the Caribbean coast the language Patwa, a Creole English-based language, is widely spoken. One vendor in Puerto Viejo explained how some of the words are formed from a mix of English words. It is really fun to listen to, but is incomprehensible even to an English speaker.

Making my way back through the volcanoes outside of San Jose, I enjoyed a tour of a coffee company called Cafe Britt. Much of the monetary system of Costa Rica was formed from coffee trade, and after independence the government directly subsidized farmers to grow the college students' fuel. Illegal drugs may be smuggled through Costa Rica, but there is plenty of caffeine here to supply my legal addiction. The high altitude and volcanic minerals make this coffee delicious.

Traveling to the mountains of Monteverde and hiking the cloud forest of Santa Elena and then catching some waves (yes, this Texan has learned the basics of surfing!) in the most tranquil beach town of Playa Sámara was super fun because I could travel on the public buses and get away from the gringos of the group in the officially planned excursions.

Now that I am comfortable with traveling around the country (which was much easier to learn than in Ghana) I am excited about my upcoming month of continuing Spanish at Veritas University and then taking my knowledge on the road to some other beautiful places in Costa Rica.