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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.

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.)