The Joys of Megabus

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Since I’ve been here, I have had a significant, personal discovery… Megabus! This is undoubtedly the best mode of travel for students. Studying abroad in the first place is not the most money-friendly decision, but while gallivanting across the globe you don’t need to spend a fortune to have unforgettable experiences. If you are going to study abroad in Europe, I beg of you to check out this particular bus service. You will be floored at how far a few dollars can take you. It has stops nearly everywhere in the United Kingdom and for most big cities of Europe as well. If booked far enough in advance, you can go from UEA to London (which is about 3 hours away) for the shockingly low fee of £1. Many of the prices range between £1 and £15 (which is the equivalent range of about $1.50 to $23). I have now taken advantage of Megabus a few times from my university to London and have even taken it for a extensive, sixteen hour journey to Amsterdam.

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The journeys to Amsterdam and back were at least £100 cheaper than flying and in a way that was not even the best part! During those long, long rides I had the opportunity to see so much of Europe. French, Belgian, and Dutch scenery and cities passed by and left me with not a single dull moment during the trip. Yet another new experience that Megabus enabled for me to have, was that of crossing the English Channel via the Channel tunnel!

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The Channel tunnel connects England to France through a 31.4 mile long tunnel. This tunnel holds the record for having the longest underground portion at 23.5 miles of underwater tunnel! Honestly, it made me a little nervous thinking about how our bus would be underwater for so long, but mostly it amazed me.

The tunnel is actually rather far away from the water, as it was built though a deeper layer of earth underneath the sea floor.

The tunnel is actually rather far away from the water, as it was built though a deeper layer of earth underneath the sea floor.

Popping up in France from giant hole dug underneath water that started in England is quite a strange experience if you really think about it!

The journey to Amsterdam was long, but all the interesting surroundings kept me happy and so did the bus’s conveniences of outlets, a bathroom and free Wi-Fi. Overall, Megabus is the best way for a study abroad student to travel cheaply and see Europe through a different perspective.

I appreciate it even more for getting me to my destination safely! Amsterdam was worth the long ride. It’s a unusual city full of kind people and history. Being able to visit the Anne Frank house was the most enlightening and moving event of the trip. Passing through the secret bookcase into the areas where she and her family hid and lived (for nearly 2 years) is beyond description. The whole house gave me a new understanding for what Jews had to face during the Holocaust. Once through the rooms and corridors of the house, the space opened up into a room where her diary and other writings were on display.

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The house in the middle is the Anne Frank House, located at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam.

The Blumenmarket (flower market), canals, and colorful graffiti were other points of interest from my adventure.

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Thank you for reading!

Surprises of the English Countryside

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Fields, sheep, fields, cows, fields, and more fields, I had previously thought were the only things surrounding my university, but recently I discovered that the countryside holds a few surprises in the shape of mansions and manors. In the area, there are several manors (and their beautiful gardens) which are opened to the public. Blickling Hall, about 30 minutes away from UEA, was my first experience of these gems.

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The main Hall of Blickling Estate. Its grandeur and history bring hundreds of visitors daily.

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Nearly a perfectly symmetrical view of Blickling, taken from inside the gardens.

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Anne Boleyn was Queen of England from 1533 until her death in 1536. She was the second wife of Henry VIII and mother to the future Queen Elizabeth I, but bore no male heirs. In 1536 she was beheaded for supposed witchcraft while the King had already begun to court someone else.

Blickling Hall and Estate are outrageously historical. Earliest records of the property date to the 15th century, and close to this time one of the most famous families resided here: the Boleyn family. Anne Boleyn and the two siblings who survived her, Mary and George Boleyn, were all born here at the beginning of the 1500s. It is said that every year, on the date of her execution, Anne appears at the estate carrying her decapitated head. (I’m sure that this ghost tale had something to do with it being voted the most haunted house of Britain in 2007.)

The main building, which is still standing today, was only established in 1620. Sir Henry Hobart, who was a Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, purchased the property in 1616 and then had the manor built on top of the ruins of the Boleyn family’s house. Up until the start of World War II, Blickling Hall was owned by various elites of Norfolk. At the start of the war though, the Royal Air Force requested to employ it as a lodge for those in the service. Blickling Estate was passed over to the National Trust in 1960 and soon after, in 1962, it was opened to the public for visiting.

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Upon the front doors “ANO DO 1620″ is carved, just meaning that it was established in the year 1620.

Aside from the diverse history Blickling Estate has acquired, it has also developed over the years a massive garden and woodland park. In total, Blickling Estate encapsulates 4,777 acres! I certainly did not get to explore all of that area; however, I did investigate the 55 acres of garden directly adjacent to the manor. Despite it being wintertime, the garden was thriving with flora and fauna.

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A pheasant enjoying the lush garden.

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I did not dare peep into this hotel…I bet that the bugs just absolutely adore this pile of rotting wood.

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This experience of Norfolk history was enlightening and beautiful! It has inspired me to make plans to visit the other historically-rich manors scattered throughout the county. Blicking Hall opened my eyes to the secrets hiding in the quietest corners of England. Thank you for reading!

Butter Week

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I know I talked a little bit about блины (blini) in my last entry, but I wanted to elaborate on both the food and the concept of Maslenitsa as a whole. Maslenitsa is a holiday that takes place the week before Lent in Russian Orthodoxy. As far as I can tell it’s a bit like Mardi Gras or Carnaval except it starts on a Monday and is an entire week, unlike the day of Mardi Gras. Being mildly limited in my knowledge of Western Christian Lent and the surrounding traditions/holidays, I can’t say too much on how the actual celebrations differ, other than there are no beads or toplessness involved in the popular culture of Maslenitsa as far as I can tell, and it remains a holiday more about family and friends in the public consciousness. If this, or the excessive day of drunkenness, happens, I have not been privy to it and that’s fine with me. At this point in the weeks leading up to Lent, strict Orthodox Christians have already stopped eating meat and are limited to consuming dairy. As a cheese-loving individual, I have no problem with this. It’s also where Maslenitsa gets its name. If you know any Russian, you probably already know that the word Maslenitsa has its root in the Russian word масло (maslo), or butter. That’s right, the week leading up to Lent is Butter Week. Sounds delicious, no? Let me tell you, it is. While I haven’t eaten as many blini as some people I know this week, I’ve enjoyed them with jam, sour cream, honey, salmon, chocolate, cheese, and, of course, butter. Since they really are a lot like crepes, they can be eaten filled with pretty much anything, although I enjoy them especially with cheese or salmon. Last Sunday, to kick off the holiday, we all gathered at our Assistant Resident Director, Vika’s apartment and she taught us how to make blini. They’re pretty simple—a lot of eggs, milk, flour, and sugar—all mixed together and ladled into an oil-coated pan where they are fried into thin, delicious pancakes. This past Wednesday, I ate them again when my host family and I gathered around the kitchen table and ate them for dinner with delicious soup and a variety of fillings. After I write this, I am going to head out and participate in the weekend Maslenitsa festivities, which include eating more blini, strolling with friends, sleigh rides, and the burning of a straw effigy of Maslenitsa herself, which usually occurs on Sunday. Although many of the outdoor traditions surrounding Maslenitsa died down or ceased during Soviet times, they are busily being revived in parks all over Moscow and other regions of Russia.
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Freshly made and delicious with raspberry jam

Like many Christian holidays, Maslenitsa also has Pagan roots, and was originally a holiday to celebrate the imminent end of winter and the coming of spring. This is where the blini come into the equation. Like I said blini, like most pancakes, are yellow-ish and round. What else is yellowish and round? The sun, of course! These delicious, crepe-like treats are not only fun to make and easy to consume, they represent the sun and its return after a long, cold winter. Honestly, I’m not so sure spring is going to be here any time soon, but I really like the symbolism of making and eating a sun-shaped food in order to usher in the new season. Those Pagans really seemed to know what was up a lot of the time, and their holidays (I mean, Christian holidays) are certainly a lot of fun.
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The blini-making station in all its glory

Gorbachev, Blini, and Mandatory Touristing: On my way to tearing down the (cultural) wall

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It was a balmy 35 degrees Fahrenheit here when I wrote this. That’s right, two digits. Read it and weep Philly, I know you’re jealous. It’s okay, you don’t have to pretend otherwise. It’s actually been unseasonably warm here, which while not shocking, is mildly convenient and I’m not complaining. Not that I’m generally one to complain a lot in the first place, but it’s nice because really, it’s been difficult to find much of anything to complain about here anyway. I know that’s the initial excitement of being abroad talking, and that it may eventually wear off, but hey, that’s okay. For now I’m going to embrace it. I mean really, the fact that it doesn’t bother me that the thermometer hovers around freezing is a miracle, seeing as I absolutely loathe the cold and have frequently thought to myself, “Why aren’t there any tropical islands that speak Russian?” The truth is that I simply don’t have time to think about whether or not my face is going to freeze off, or really anything else for that matter, between classes and homework and whatnot. I spend twenty-two hours in class every week from Monday through Thursday, and Fridays are set aside for educational excursions to historical, important places such as Moscow State University, Tretyakov Gallery, and the Lenin Library, the second biggest library in the world after only the Library of Congress.

While this packed schedule doesn’t leave much time for touristing during the week, the weekends thus far have been full of exploring museums, restaurants, neighborhoods, and parks, and engaging in highly Russian activities such as cross-country skiing and blini-making. In case you don’t know (and why would you), a blin is a thin, pancake-like food that is treated sort of like a crepe in that it can be filled a variety of different things, both sweet and savory, and consumed for pretty much any meal. They’re delicious, and this Sunday our assistant resident director, Vika, invited us to her house in order to learn to make them in celebration of the start of maslenitsa, the festival that takes place the week before Lent. During this week, people make and consume dozens of blini as a way to celebrate the coming of spring. It’s one of those strange and entertaining mixtures of Paganism and Christianity–the welcoming of spring tied to the start of Lent and Easter time, and I can’t wait to join in the festivities.

In other news, I met Mikhail Gorbachev last week. That’s right, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. You know, glasnost and perestroika? “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”? Yeah. Him. He came to the university to speak, and while I honestly had a little trouble understanding him, so did people much more proficient in Russian than I, so I suppose that’s something. Regardless, it was an interesting and certainly once-in-a-lifetime experience to hear the former president of the СССР (USSR), speak to a group of college students and professors. After the talk, we waited patiently in the hallway for him to come out of the auditorium. He came out and asked, “Where are the Americans?” before requesting to stand “between the two beautiful girls” (my two friends) for pictures. While I didn’t know what to make of any of this and was too nervous to say anything, I can say I met Gorbachev, which I’d say makes an otherwise very frustrating and tiring week completely worth it. There are plenty of pictures and I have to giggle when I think about applying for jobs in the future. I’m not sure yet what I want to do, but if it involves international relations (which it very well might), will both sides think I’m a spy? I can picture it now: “You fraternized with Mikhail Gorbachev! We’re sorry, but you don’t pass our security clearances.” And what about Russia? “You fraternized with Mikhail Gorbachev! Are you passing information along? This is a plot!” Of course, this is all wildly far-fetched and chances are it will never be an issue, although of course at orientation they warned us against talking too much about politics, wanting to work in the government, etc., due to the current situation. Regardless, what an experience! I hope I have many more like it in my time here. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for this next four months. I could go on forever about making blini, snow, my host family, and my classes, but those are topics for a different day and another post. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the week before Lent, gorge myself on blini, and see what other famous world leaders I can meet. До свидания!

 

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Well, Now We Know

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My time spent in Kunming thus far has, in many ways, been a series of “Well, now we know” moments. For instance, a few nights ago, a group of us went to a local restaurant for dinner. None of us was entirely sure what was on the menu – the selection was small, and entirely in Chinese. We’d recognized that all of the dishes were noodle dishes, but other than that, didn’t have much of an idea of what we were ordering. We gave it a shot anyway, and soon discovered that the restaurant was an extremely spicy noodle place. I wasn’t able to taste anything after a few bites – the peppers and spices had temporarily removed all function in my taste buds. When the group was finished and we were all ready to leave, we agreed that the outing was simply a “Well, now we know” moment. Now we know what we’re in for if we ever return to that restaurant.

Another of these incidents occurred the other day, when my roommate and I decided to make a trip to Carrefour, a French chain store similar to Walmart. Carrefour is relatively close to Yunnan University, but a little too far to walk, so we headed to the closest bus station. We’d made the trip once before, but we were both a little unsure of which direction we needed to go. We took a guess, and, unfortunately, guessed incorrectly this time. After about fifteen minutes on the bus, we realized what we’d done and got off at the next stop. What was even more unfortunate was that none of the buses stopping at Carrefour stopped where we’d gotten off. Thus, we walked back to the stop near our school and finally got on the right bus. Well, now we know which is the right direction to head when we want to get to Carrefour.

Despite the mishaps, I see these incidents more as mini-adventures, ways of exploring Kunming and what it has to offer. Trying new foods and heading in unfamiliar directions won’t always go smoothly, but I don’t think that necessarily means those adventures were unsuccessful. Recalling how I felt prior to leaving for China, I don’t want to limit myself in terms of trying new foods and expanding my familiarity with the city. Maintaining a vegetarian diet can sometimes make me feel limited, but I also feel motivated to be as open as I can with trying new things. Luckily for me, Yunnan Province is the most diverse in all of China, with 51 out of 56 official ethnic peoples living here. With all of this diversity, there’s always something new to try.

 

 

Some scenery on the campus of Yunnan University (also called YunDa)

Some scenery on the campus of Yunnan University (also called YunDa)

Cuihu Gongyuan, or Green Lake Park, is one of the more popular scenic spots in Kunming.

Cuihu Gongyuan, or Green Lake Park, is one of the more popular scenic spots in Kunming.

The spicy noodle restaurant we went to sits on Cuihu Lake.

The spicy noodle restaurant we went to sits on Cuihu Lake.

Home in Kunming

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I feel as though I’ve finally settled in to what will be my home for roughly the next three months, and I’m relieved, to say the least. The first two weeks of classes have been a challenge, but I suppose that is to be expected when adjusting to new coursework while simultaneously adjusting to life in a completely foreign country. Move-in day was yesterday for the dorm students – we’d been staying at the university’s hotel while renovations were completed. The move went smoothly overall, as I’d kept all of my belongings in my suitcase while staying in the hotel. I’m happy to say I’ll now have a desk of my own at which to write my blog entries for the remainder of my time in Kunming.

We’ve all been busy with coursework lately, but we’ve had opportunities to get out and explore the city. The IES professors gave us all a scavenger hunt list of activities to complete, spread out in various spots around Kunming. My favorite place on the list was, of course, a restaurant. Lao Fangzi is a traditional Yunnanese restaurant, considered one of the best in Kunming. Finding it was difficult, because it’s set in a more remote location in the city near a cluster of old buildings currently under construction; I’m certain that if I hadn’t known it existed, I would never have stumbled upon it. Ordering a special rice dish was part of the scavenger hunt, which our team was happy to complete. The restaurant’s décor creates a traditional Chinese atmosphere with lots of bright red and gold hanging lanterns. It was an exciting experience, eating great food customary to Yunnan province with the charming scenery to match. The scavenger hunt was an opportunity for all of us to gain some more knowledge of the city, and to scope out places we can visit more throughout the semester.

The most pleasant aspect of this city I’ve been able to pick out so far is the generosity of its people. Although Philadelphia will always be a special place for me, I’ve found that the people here are much, much more willing to offer help to strangers. The difference in language has been the biggest barrier I’ve faced thus far, but even those who can’t speak a word of English are happy to help me when I’m lost. Everyone I’ve spoken with so far has been patient, not showing any frustration towards my broken attempts at Chinese. It’s put me a little more at ease in this new space, knowing that all I have to do is ask when I take a wrong turn, which I’ll admit has happened frequently.

Every morning, I walk up the steps from my dorm and out onto the street, and I pass an elderly woman sitting in her spot on the sidewalk selling Yunnanese-style bags and wallets. And each time she spots me, without fail, she speaks up and starts a conversation. Even when it’s just a hello, I am reminded of why this city is such a contented place to be. The calming personality of its people creates an atmosphere that makes me feel welcome and so glad to be here.

 

Like the rest of China, Kunming is slowly getting ready for the Chinese New Year with paper lanterns.

Like the rest of China, Kunming is slowly getting ready for the Chinese New Year with paper lanterns.

Lao Fangzi, considered one of the best Yunnanese restaurants in Kunming.

Lao Fangzi, considered one of the best Yunnanese restaurants in Kunming.

Welcome to Russia: Where Nothing is Easy but the Tea is Warm

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Welcome to Russia: Where Nothing is Easy but the Tea is Warm

“Nothing is going to be easy.” Jon, the Moscow Resident Director for American Councils, my study abroad program in Russia, imparted these words of wisdom to us just minutes into our pre-departure orientation in Washington, DC. “Lower your expectations. In fact, get rid of them entirely.” While these were not the words of encouragement my nervous psyche was looking for, they’ve so far rung true. I know, I know, that sounds terrible. Lower my expectations? Study abroad is supposed to be a magical experience and everything I’ve ever dreamed of, of course I’ll have expectations! However, his words have made perfect sense so far and although this past week in Russia has been exhausting, it’s also already been wildly rewarding.

It’s still odd to me that it’s been over a week since I arrived, groggy, disoriented, and several hours later than I was supposed to, at Domodedevo Airport in Moscow, Russia. Due to flight cancellations and an unexpected detour through Zurich, my trip was already an adventure before I even set foot in the Russian Federation. I departed from Washington, DC late last Thursday afternoon and had an uneventful first leg of my journey. However, I was informed in Geneva that my flight to Moscow had been cancelled and that Swiss Air was re-routing me through Zurich and on to Moscow from there. Great. Not being overwhelmingly fantastic at sleeping on airplanes, it took my addled brain a minute to process this information. The extra time spent waiting in Geneva and then connecting in Zurich would not put me in to Moscow until 6 pm–roughly three hours later than my designated arrival time. I frantically emailed Jon to tell him that I would not be able to meet the group flight in baggage claim after all, and that I would be going through customs by myself and connecting with everyone back at the dormitory. Thankfully, my Swiss Air flights were not only blissfully brief, clean, and efficient, I made it through Russian Passport Control without a hitch and even managed to buy myself a train ticket from the airport with ease. Hungry and tired, I arrived at the university dormitory, my suitcase covered in slush, and collapsed into bed.

The next few days went by in a blur of in-country orientation, language placement testing, and doing a bit of exploring before classes began. Tuesday, January 27th, I officially began language and culture courses at the International University in Moscow (In Russian: международный университет в Москве or Mezhdunarodniy Universitet v Moskve). All my classes are completely in Russian. There might be the occasional English word to further explanations here and there, but every single class is taught by a Russian professor in Russian. Jon was right, it’s not easy. Surprisingly, I can understand most of what they’re saying, but my speaking skills lag behind. I never noticed before how many little words and phrases are essential to every day life, but simply not taught in the classroom. How do you say, “What’s the difference between _____ and _____?”? What’s the word for “Actually”? And really, most importantly, is there a Russian equivalent of the phrase, “My brain hurts”? Because at the moment, my brain hurts.

It hasn’t all been classes and exhaustion, however. There are also piles of snow! I say that in wake of the snowstorm that hammered the northeastern US, but as far as anyone’s told me, only left Pennsylvania a little chillier. The snow here is actually quite pretty. There has not been a single day so far that it hasn’t snowed at least a tad, but I think it’s in the realm of how I imagine Seattle–a little precipitation every day, but no huge storms or main events. It’s part of life, and everyone wraps their шарф (scarf) a little tighter and goes on with their day. The slush on the roads makes me eternally grateful for the waterproof, insulated boots that I purchased for myself for Christmas since when I imagine roaming the streets of Moscow in Converse sneakers, a little part of me gets frostbite.

Though it’s only been a week and nothing has been easy, I could talk at length about my wonderful host family, my professors, the friends I’ve made here, both Russian and American, and the beauty of the city in general. And I will. But now, it’s time to engage in that long-standing and most wonderful of Russian traditions, drinking tea. This country may be cold, but as far as I can tell, the people are warm and the “enigma” that is Russia? Well, I might just get to see beyond that.

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Here I am across the river from Red Square! Although you can’t see it, St. Basil’s Cathedral is just off my left shoulder.

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Moscow State University Main Building, which is one of the Seven Sisters built during the Stalin Era. It’s over 30 stories.

A Visit to the Mekong

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We finished up a busy week of orientation in Dali with a visit to the Mekong River on Saturday, our first of several throughout the semester. We first had lunch in a small village that sits along the Mekong – fresh fish soup, and luckily lots of vegetable dishes for the vegetarians in the group. After lunch, we headed out on the river. The weather was perfect for being outside; you can see the sunny day we had in the pictures along with this post. In about a half-hour, we reached the Manwan Dam and hiked up the road to get a better view. This dam, one of five currently operating along the Mekong, has been troublesome for both locals and environmentalists working in the Mekong Delta. The dam and its environmental effects were the subject of most of our discussion that day. Due to security, however, we weren’t able to walk too close, and instead viewed the dam from the peak of its adjacent hill. After a few hours of hiking and discussion, we returned back to the village where our bus awaited to take us back to Kunming.

Our week in Dali was an incredible experience. I’ve already visited some of the scenery I’ve been dying to see since before leaving for China, and I’ve still got the rest of the spring semester to do some exploring! It was great first exposure to our time here with IES Abroad. We started getting more in depth with our class discussions, particularly with those about the environmental issues the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) currently faces. One thing I’ve learned thus far is that I’m a bit of an outsider within the IES group when it comes to knowledge in political science and environmentalism. As a computer science major, I’ve never had to think twice about how much a single dam can actually impact its surrounding environment. Perhaps you can imagine the eye-opening experience I had, having our first two-hour class discussion solely on dams along the Mekong. Now that we’ve had about a week’s worth of our Core class, which focuses on regionalism and environmental development in the GMS, I’m feeling a little nervous about how difficult this course will be for me. Nearly all of the students at IES Kunming study some form of political science or environmentalism, specializing in Southeast Asia. Maybe my knowledge isn’t up to par, but I want to keep an open mind throughout the semester. I know that this program will be an opportunity for me to branch out and learn in-depth about a topic I’ve never studied before.

We’re back at Yunnan University in Kunming now, and in our first week of classes. It feels as though the semester has officially begun, and I’m happy to have homework again, believe it or not. It’s been over a month since I last had any real work to do, and I get antsy when there’s nothing to keep me busy (and sane). I feel ready to settle into a regular routine again, and to see what the semester has in store.

The Manwan Dam, one of five currently operating dams on the Mekong River.

The Manwan Dam, one of five currently operating dams on the Mekong River.

A small village that sits along the Mekong.

A small village that sits along the Mekong.

Back to Classes!

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Today marks the end of my second week of new classes for the Spring semester. With these new classes I am reminded of how different schooling is here than Temple. As I discussed in a previous blog post (https://templeuabroad.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/english-academia-the-opposite-of-it/), two of the biggest differences are the inclusion of “formative” assignments and the much larger amount of reading to do each week. In addition to these two disparities there are two more which have surprised me.

Courses, not majors

Firstly, people here do not have “majors” instead they have a “course.” At Temple, a major signifies that you will be taking a lot of classes within that discipline, but various other electives and general education classes provide students with a well-rounded degree. Students of the University of East Anglia mostly follow a strict outline of courses that are focused on their area of study. For example, a person getting their engineering degree from UEA will only take engineering-based classes and take the exact same classes as all other engineering students. No general education requirements, no history, no electives, no mosaics!

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I have spent many days here, at the UEA Library, reading and reading and reading. Despite the gray, plain exterior, the inside is incredibly comfy for a day of studies.

Due to the fact that I am not taking a set “course” here and have three very different classes… I have run into some small issues. Most people in my classes already know each other, because they are in the same “course.” At Temple, there is always a good chance that you will not know a single person in a new class, but that usually leads to making new friends since everyone is in the same boat. It is slightly intimidating the first few days of classes to see so many of my new classmates already sitting, chatting, and laughing together. Although it is worrying, class discussion and group work slowly helped me break into the already formed social groups!

University, not college

Secondly, a big difference about education here is that what I am currently attending is not “college.” All of the UK students have already completed something called “college” before coming to UEA or would have prior to going to any university. After completing high school, which ends around age 16, students have the choice of being finished with schooling or going onto college. For those two years of college students tackle various coursework and exams that lead to “A-level” qualifications. After the completion of the qualifications, such as “A-levels,” students move onto universities. The whole system is much more complicated than my explanation, and there are many elements that I still do not fully understand; however, I have certainly learned that it is incredibly different from the educational system of the United States. Hopefully throughout the remainder of my stay, I’ll understand this system even more.

New vocabulary

As always I am picking up on new words:

Cuppa: Cup of tea of course! Even though it’s a combination of the words cup and of this term is specifically about the tea. No one would ask if you would like a cuppa and be referring to a coffee.

Lorry: a big carrier truck, like an 18-wheeler.

Cozzy: short for swimming costume, or as most Americans would know it as…a swimming suit.

Zed: pronunciation of the letter ‘zee’.

Ta: shorted version of thank you.

Here are some more scenes from the university which has been my home for the past 4 and a half months:

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View from the very center of campus. It’s not hard to understand why the UEA student newspaper is called “Concrete”.

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Most southern building on campus, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, which has its own museum.

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This week I saw my first snow since I have been here! It was less than an inch total, but everyone on campus surely enjoyed it.



My First Week as a Laowai

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It’s been nearly a week since my arrival in China, and I’m still waiting for the present to feel like reality. So much has happened; it’s difficult for me to cut down my experience thus far into a 500-word blog entry, but I’ll try my best.

Getting to Kunming was a lengthy 36-hour process—a little longer than anticipated. Flying from Philadelphia International to LAX was as expected. My troubles arrived, though, when flying to Beijing. After thirteen hours on a plane, I finally landed in Beijing a half hour later than planned, and with only an hour in between flights to begin with, I had nowhere near enough time to navigate the airport. I’d sprinted to the Customs line, taken a subway to the waiting area for my terminal, then a bus to get to the actual gate, only to be told that the gate for my flight to Kunming had closed just a few minutes prior. Those initial thirty-ish minutes in Beijing Capital International Airport were perhaps the most stressful of my life, but in hindsight, I’m glad that I caught a later flight to Kunming. The next plane left at 12:00 noon, which gave me around six hours to sit down and catch my breath.

I finally arrived in Kunming around 4:00pm, and discovered that my troubles weren’t quite over yet. After searching frantically for my checked luggage at the airport, and to no avail, I decided it was time to use whatever Chinese I could put together to explain to the Baggage Claim official what the problem was. They hadn’t yet found my luggage, and so I left the airport and headed to Yunnan University with only a backpack and the overnight bag I kept as a carry-on.

Despite the rough journey I’d made, or perhaps because of it, I was relieved and excited when arriving at my final destination. I was greeted by students who had already arrived at the IES Center, and who were as eager (and exhausted from two days of travel) as I was to start the semester. We went out to dinner at a local Yunnanese restaurant, and began the next morning with our week-long orientation. It was a pleasant surprise getting a phone call from the airport in Kunming that day—they’d found my luggage, the night before we left for orientation.

I’m writing this entry from Dali, the city we’ll be in for the duration of our orientation. Dali is an incredible place with beautiful scenery, sitting at the base of high mountains in the west of Yunnan. It’s culturally rich, with a lot of buildings and shops illustrating the many aspects of Yunnan’s particular style. If you ever get an opportunity to visit a smaller city like Dali, and you’re not Chinese, you’ll learn that the local people are very much interested in you. They don’t see laowai, or foreigners, much, and so you’ll find that everyone you pass on the street is curious about you. They’ll stare or smile when they see you, but only because you’re an unfamiliar sight. My favorite aspect of Dali and Kunming so far has been, without a single doubt, the food. I was incredibly excited to learn how many vegetarian options there are here; I’m surprised at every meal to see how many ways there are to prepare tofu and vegetables. There’s even tea served at each meal, so it’s a little like I’m in heaven.

I’ve only been in China for about a week, and I’m already in love. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the semester brings!

Xiaguan, or Old Town, in Dali lies at the base of mountains near Erhai Lake.

Xiaguan, or Old Town, in Dali lies at the base of mountains near Erhai Lake.

The view from my bedroom at our guesthouse in Dali.

The view from my bedroom at our guesthouse in Dali.

My favorite meal so far - lots and lots of rice and veggies!

My favorite meal so far – lots and lots of rice and veggies!