Summer Palace

April 22nd, 2014 by under China, Semester. No Comments.

CollinsBy Allison Collins

They say it is prettier in the summer, which I am sure is true, but have a hard time imagining. So far the Summer Palace is one of the prettiest and coolest places I have visited. After buying an entrance ticket and getting past the gate you come to a giant gray stone bridge that spans over a river and connects you to the main grounds of the palace. Some might even say the old gray bridge held beauty. Standing in the middle of it looking to both sides and seeing the river and the decorative little buildings on the shores could definitely be considered pretty.

The palace cannot really be seen from the bridge. It is one of those cases where the farther you walk into the trees the more you can see and the more excited you get until you suddenly pop out on the other side and are faced with this extraordinary site of a building not sure whether you should walk closer, stop and stare, or take a picture. I did all three, in that order, as did many other people. Getting to the top was more of a hike than a walk and I couldn’t help but think that a tourist attraction like this would not be allowed in the States as everything was uneven and you literally jump from rock to rock at some points.

It is hard to find just one photo that captures the Summer Palace.

It is hard to find just one photo that captures the Summer Palace.

Hundreds of people were there of all ages, families passed small babies from family member to family member as they climbed to the top, grandparents were helped from rock to rock, and young men held the hands of their girlfriends who had decided to wear heals ( Something I do not understand but many Chinese women sight see in heels ). The farther up you climb the more magnificent the view of the city is until you reach the top and feel as if you can see the entire city. The main goal is to see the lake which is on the other side of this magnificent mountain and requires you to climb back down the other side.

It appeared as if there was a smooth touristy way down but I decided to climb back down through the old buildings. Slightly more of an exertion but absolutely worth it as everything is covered in old paintings and no two paintings appear to be the same. When you finally arrive back at ground level at the lake, the view is incredible and pictures don’t do it justice. You can see all the way around the lake and standing still to take in the warm sun glistening off the water and watch the little boats bob up and down in the light breeze is a must. The Summer Palace is absolutely beautiful in the spring. They say it is prettier in the summer, which I am sure is true, but have a hard time imagining…

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Resturant Culture

April 22nd, 2014 by under Belgium, Semester. No Comments.

HuangBy Clara Huang

The very first day I arrived in Belgium, I embarked upon a terribly awkward adventure with my roommate to do some sight-seeing. We were trying to find Grand Place from our apartment, which on a good day (and when you know where you’re going) takes about 35 minutes to walk. What ended up happening, however, was much longer journey in which we fumbled our way around Brussels and made a lot of uncomfortable “getting to know you” conversation. At long last, we finally found Grand Place. After taking a few obligatory pictures though, we smiled nervously at each other, unsure of what to do now. “Do you want to get a coffee or a beer?” my roommate suggested. I had no better alternatives, so we set off in search of a suitable café.

One of the obligatory tourist pictures I took of Grand Place.

One of the obligatory tourist pictures I took of Grand Place.

Up until my departure I had worked at a restaurant for almost three years, both hosting and serving tables. The name of the waiting game in the US is “turn and burn.” Since servers work on tips, the more tables you have, the more money you make. So the object is to turn tables quickly and get people in and out as fast as possible, all with an ingratiating smile on your face.

Now, I did know that servers in Europe don’t make their money off of tips, but I still thought it would be rude to take up a table in a restaurant with only one round of drinks. I tried to explain this to my roommate in a combination of languages that could best be described as “Franglais,” but I don’t think he understood. Resigned to failure of communication, I sat down at the restaurant he chose and ordered a drink.

At first, it was tough to get used to the European way of dining out, considering how I was so used to giving and getting fast-paced, nauseatingly friendly service. But I’ve come such a long way, and I think I might even prefer the way Europeans view restaurant-going. To them, it’s a chance to relax and socialize. You’re never rushed, and you ask for and pay the bill when you’re ready to leave. You can sit there for as long as you like, as long as the place isn’t closed. You don’t have to pull out your phone to calculate an appropriate tip, or pay taxes beyond what is already included in the bill.

Without tips, there is also a distinct lack of the “American” sense of entitlement (like how some people argue that they need some way to incentivize good service). I have yet to witness someone getting outraged that their table isn’t ready, sending back food because they don’t like it, or throwing temper tantrums at managers. When I return to my restaurant, I will inevitably think fondly of the times I walked into a café, ordered one coffee, and sat there for two hours without anyone rushing me out.

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The Best Class at Maryland

April 21st, 2014 by under Nicaragua, Spring Break. No Comments.

CesnovaBy Oxana Cesnova

Is there one class that you can take at UMD that would allow you to get to know every single student in that class, to go out and dance with your professor, to explore the culture of a different country, and to make a difference in people’s live at the same time?

Now there is! Choose the Nicaragua study abroad spring class, and it will change you forever.

Even though this course was only nine days long, every student had the opportunity to interact and become friends with other thirteen students in the class. We worked hard together on all the projects. We travelled and got to know Nicaragua and its culture. We had fun together.

Our group after a hard day of work.

Our group after a hard day of work.

Having time to choose between certain cultural activities made us get closer with people that share our interests, explore Nicaraguan culture at our level of interest, get to know each other and become friends. I will never forget these times.

Of course, getting to dance with our professor and program facilitators at one of our dinners together was a completely new experience on its own. I could never guess that Pat can dance that well. Every person brought their own talent to the table. How was I to know that going on a bike tour with Lilly would be that much fun? How would I guess that Professor White is the best person to teach you how to shop at the local market?

It was a great experience that taught me a lot, and changed my prospective on many things/opinions. For example, I was always describe the country that I am from as a very poor country. Which is still true… But now, I know that there are way worse places to live out there; places that need our help and support, places where students like us can teach small entrepreneurs some easy tricks about running their business more efficiently and make a difference in their lives!

And lastly, this trip was a great opportunity to practice my Spanish skills. Fue una gran oportunidad para practicar mi español. Now I am more dedicated than ever before to study and practice it more often.

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Cultural Experiences in Dubai

April 18th, 2014 by under Spring Break, UAE. No Comments.

FengBy Sherry Feng

On my last full day of the UAE trip, I got to experience something truly phenomenal – staying overnight within the beautiful sand dunes of the Dubai desert. Before heading out to the desert, I was excited but unsure of what to expect. I had heard from previous students who had gone on this trip that they really enjoyed the desert stay and it was one of the best experiences they had while in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Because of this, I was extremely excited to see what was in store at the desert.

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One of the camels available for riding.

In order to get to the desert, my classmates and I boarded specially modified SUV’s which had built in hand rails that would assist the passengers in case of flipping or a roll-over. We drove through the city and slowly, the urban buildings grew sparse, and I began to see expansive areas of sand and flea market style shops. My driver stopped by a small dollar store, where the store vendors began putting on various styles of head wrap scarves on my head, which many of our classmates purchased. Our professor informed us that the head scarves are useful to prevent excessive amounts of sand from getting into hair. After stopping at the shop, we departed for the dunes, and that began the bumpy ride. After the first dip at the sand dunes, I understood the importance of the handrails. I felt like a small child strapped to an oversized roller-coaster seat. At each turn and spin, I could feel myself being lifted off the seat, and it amazed me to see how calm and collected my driver was. With such a large group of students, we needed seven or so SUV’s and all the drivers had to stay within a certain distance to each other so that we would not lose sight of each other and become separated in the vast desert dunes. After about 30 minutes of crazy turns and near flips, we arrived at the entrance of the desert excursion tents, where we would spend the night. There were fancy tents and canopies for us to stay in, called the Majlis, meaning “a place of sitting.” According to some of the previous company visits I’d already been to, the Majlis is used by hosts to receive and entertain guests, a traditional setting that includes ornate cushions and low tables to serve Arabian coffee and dates, a common delicacy in the Middle East and in the UAE.

After exploring the tented area, I decided to wait in line for the camel ride and look around at the other activities within the desert excursion. I really enjoyed the camel ride; many of the camels had outgoing personalities, trying to nudge riders on other camels and ruining some of the pictures that people were trying to take. During dinnertime, my course-mates and I were able to see some interesting performances, including belly-dancing, which I’d only heard off before. In addition, I got to see some very interesting sand sculptures from one shop vendor, who sold desert scenes and engraved personalized messages in bottled sand sculptures.

Spending time in the desert was a wonderful experience, from the bumpy SUV ride, to the belly-dancing performance, to the fruity hookah, and to the intricately-made sand carvings. It was amazing to be able to experience this on the last day of my spring break trip, to feel the cool sand between my toes and the earthy calls of animals and birds as I woke up in the morning alongside my classmates and friends. I’ll never forget this valuable and rare experience; it opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of Dubai as the city prepares for the 2020 Expo – between the luxurious Ferraris in the city and the serenity of the clear morning colors of the desert sunrise, I believe that like me, every single visitor will have the experience of a lifetime.

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Finding Motivation Through Another’s Eyes

April 18th, 2014 by under Nicaragua, Spring Break. No Comments.

LingamBy Charulata Lingam

In San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua we were paired up with local entrepreneurs and were asked to help them with a particular marketing strategy. My entrepreneurs were Ruth and Mirna, two sisters who had multiple small businesses and needed help developing marketing materials that would help them attract business and showcase their products and services. I was eager and excited to meet Ruth and Mirna hoping to help them with all that they needed. Our first meeting was a little complicated as they spoke no English and my group barely spoke Spanish and although we were fortunate enough to be provided with a translator, it was hard to express affection and our excitement. The ladies were a little shy at first but as we began to discuss the project at hand they become more comfortable. I learned quickly that these ladies were very business savvy and had very clear expectations of what they needed and wanted from us.

Working with Ruth and Mirna.

Working with Ruth and Mirna.

The task at hand was to create a logo that encompassed their catering and bakery businesses, create flyers that highlighted their products and services and create signage for the weekend farmers market where they sold an array of foods.  On our first day with them we did a great deal of research and began working on the marketing materials. On our second day with them we received a brief tour of their kitchen area, which was also their home where they catered the meals and baked good. We then spent a few hours helping them prepare Pollo con Arroz (rice with chicken) for the entire Smith group and the entrepreneurs they were working with. This time and task together gave us a chance to laugh and bond with each other. We spent time with their families in their home and loved every minute of, and of course the food was phenomenal. We spent the rest of the day completing the marketing materials and even created some financial statement templates that they could use to keep track of income and expenses.

Ruth and Mirna lived in small one story homes with no more than two rooms including bedroom and kitchen/dining area. They worked relentlessly to make ends meet but they had big dreams and a strong drive. The little that we were able to do for them helped them out tremendously and they were extremely appreciative of it. I will never forget my time spent with two of most loving, caring, strong and driven women I have ever met. I have touched my heart and given me a new perspective of life and business.

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Australia Eats: Beyond Vegemite

April 18th, 2014 by under Australia, Semester. No Comments.

UngerBy Lizzy Unger

Australia is not a country known for its culinary culture.  All I knew about Australian food before coming here was that they ate a strange spread called vegimite that was rumored to be awful.

For the most part, Australian food is similar to what I would expect English food to be like. They call fries chips, eat a lot of fried fish and sausage rolls and love meat pies of all sizes.  The other day I was talking to my Australian friend and we somehow came to the topic of food served at children’s parties.  I explained that at most kids parties in the US, the food served is usually a combination of greasy pizza and sugary cake.  Apparently in Australia the usual suspects are small bite sized meat pies called “party pies” and a strange concoction of sprinkles and butter on white bread called “fairy bread.”   Another silly sounding Australian favorite that I am a big fan of are chocolate cookies called Tim Tams.

A Vegemite Ad.

A Vegemite Ad.

Overall I have really been enjoying the food in Melbourne (although I have yet to try fairy bread.) One of my favorite things is the huge daily market, victoria market, that is a block from my dorm.  There I can by a huge array of cheap and fresh fruits and vegetables from colorful, chaotic stands. There are also gourmet delis with fresh baked breads, delicious cheeses and a wide array of homemade foods.   The other thing I love about eating in Melbourne is the wide selection of affordable and delicious asian food.  My favorite new discovery is definitely the Malaysian hearty soup called Laksa. It is made with a spicy curry base and served with two types of noodles, a variety or meat and seafood and an occasional vegetable. It is so tasty, I have become addicted to it!

I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater and decided that after two months here it was finally time to try the infamous vegemite. I thought, if my Australian friends genuinely like it, how bad could it be? It turns out pretty bad. It is a thick black paste that tastes kind of like an extra salty,  bitter soy sauce.  It is definitely an acquired taste.   Another typical Australian food is Kangaroo.  Although they are adorable, they are also in abundance and commonly eaten here.  I had a “‘Roo” burger the other day and it was actually delicious.

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High Density Living in Hong Kong

April 17th, 2014 by under Hong Kong, Semester. No Comments.

Zhang 2.0By Michael Zhang

After being in Hong Kong for three months, crowded streets and packed busses are of the norm. It was when I took a weekend trip to Cambodia and came back to Hong Kong that I realized how crowded Hong Kong truly was. In almost every corner of Hong Kong Island and the areas surrounding central Hong Kong are skyscrapers and more skyscrapers.

The urban area of Hong Kong has the highest population and density in the world. Some areas have population densities of more than 400,000 people per square kilometer. There’s currently seven million people living in Hong Kong, but most of the seven million live in 25% of the land. 75% of Hong Kong land is either underdeveloped or undeveloped. This fact has caused housing prices to spike in Hong Kong.

Crossing the street in Hong Kong.

Crossing the street in Hong Kong.

With that being said, Hong Kong is still quite enjoyable to live in. Density is something that I think is easier to adapt to than I thought before coming to Hong Kong. The areas that Hong Kong University students live in are in a lesser-crowded part of Hong Kong Island which is a nice break from the more crowded central Hong Kong and Kowloon side Hong Kong.

However, I’ve found the high density to have a lot of advantages too. Because of the high density, everything you need is really close to where you are at any given moment because there’s such high demand. There is almost a 7-11 at every corner and a 24/7 food place. Public transportation in Hong Kong is amazing and does a really good job transporting people from place to place. Because of the high density, public transportation is even more imperative.

What are really common in Hong Kong are queues. There are practically queues for everything and the queues are almost never short. There’s a queue to use the elevators to go up to my 5th floor class. There’s a queue to order lunch and then a queue for a seat. The craziest queue would probably be the bus queues. There are queue lines marked for most bus stops and if you are taking a bus that takes you across Hong Kong Island to Kowloon Side, such as 970X, there can be 50 people in the queue in front of you during the evening or morning rush hours. With that being said, the line still moves ridiculously fast because there is such high frequency of busses.

The high density of people also explains the high number of shops and shopping malls. It seems that every corner you turn, there is a big shopping complex and the shopping complexes are extremely packed. Hong Kong is a good example of a densely populated city and I think that it has both its positives and negatives.

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The Changing Face of Dubai

April 16th, 2014 by under Spring Break, UAE. No Comments.

EspositoBy John Esposito

Now that I’ve been able to sit and reflect on my week in the UAE, I’ve been able to give deep thought to the significant cultural differences I experienced. It was strange to see that nearly all of the companies we visited were either directly run by the government, or had some strong ties to it in one way or another, a marked difference from American private industry. Beyond this, it was fascinating to learn about traditional Emirati culture, as well as see how the nation has made a significant departure from it in recent years.

The cultural immersion was truly one of biggest takeaways from my experience abroad. Our evening at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding was a perfect representation of this. We toured the facility, which featured Emirati architecture from the days before oil was discovered. It’s hard to imagine that this nation transitioned from homes made from coral and stones, to unbelievable skyscrapers in just a few generations. Our next stop was a mosque where we received an enthralling lecture on the Muslim faith and culture. Our final destination was a spacious room where our host fielded questions while we were fed dates, Arabic coffee, lamb and rice, all staples of Emirati cuisine.

Michael, a security guard at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi

Michael, a security guard at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi

Still, other than this visit, or seeing the traditional dress of many of the men and women of the UAE, the culture was not always evident. Especially in Dubai, a new culture is forming, one with global influences. In what I can only compare to what I’ve experienced in New York, the major cities of the UAE are becoming a melting pot of individuals from vastly different backgrounds, all with the singular goal of finding a better life. What really intrigued me was how willing they were to share their stories. I met Michael, a security guard from Nigeria working at Emirates Palace, and Kunal, a waiter at a hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. By far the best conversation I had though, was with a man from Morocco who was in his first hour of work at the Yas Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi. He had given up everything to come here and begin a new life, and to see his genuine ambition and happiness was unbelievable, even inspirational.

Overall, these experiences collectively sum up my time in the UAE. A nation with a changing face, still managing to maintain its rich history, the UAE is a place of wonder and excitement. Although I’m disappointed my journey has come to an end, I can say proudly that it was life-changing. The unbelievable things I witnessed and experienced, along with the amazing people I met made this the opportunity of a lifetime.

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Quick Fire Tuesday – Trivia Round

April 15th, 2014 by under Quick Fire Tuesday. No Comments.

What is an interesting fact or piece of trivia about the city you live in?

 

 

Yum yum, dim sum!

Yum yum, dim sum!

Michael Zhang: Hong Kong is home to the world’s most affordable Michelin Star restaurant called Tim Ho Wan. It serves dim sum and has dishes starting at a little under $2 USD a dish. This Michelin Star restaurant is also unique in the sense that it is actually in a MTR station, Hong Kong Station.

 

Melbourne at night.

Melbourne at night.

 

 

Lizzy Unger: Melbourne has been rated the most liveable city in the world for three years in a row by the “Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Livability Survey.”  The survey calculates liveablilty by looking at health care, stability, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.  Although I knew this fact before I came here, I had no if this city would feel more “liveable” than anywhere else.  It turns out it does.  It feels very safe, has efficient public transportation, lots of beautiful parks and a plethora of free city wide events.

 

I did my part in celebrating Shrove Tuesday with a delicious stack of banana pancakes.

I did my part in celebrating Shrove Tuesday with a delicious stack of banana pancakes.

Michelle Goliger: One fun fact about London is that it celebrates some really cool holidays, like Shrove Tuesday(Pancake Day) and National Pillow Fight Day, which took place last weekend with a huge celebration in Trafalgar Square! London also has the second largest celebration of the Chinese New Year in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future hanging garden.

The future hanging garden.

Hayley Smith: In Milan, the first ever “vertical garden” will be built called Bosco Verticale! Milan has been taking extensive efforts to become more eco-friendly, and they are hoping this will encourage others to take on other green initiatives.

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Viennese Food Culture

April 15th, 2014 by under Austria, Semester. No Comments.

OvesBy Elaine Oves

Grüß Gott! Study abroad is a great opportunity to study and learn about the local culture, but also to explore nearby places. A couple weekends ago, I visited Barcelona with a couple friends. We walked around and saw a lot of the main sights – Park Güell, Sagrada Familia, The Ramblas… It was interesting to compare the architecture in Barcelona and Vienna, especially the cathedrals. Both cities feature a couple famous cathedrals built in a gothic style – the main features are similar, but the details vary. For instance, Stephansdom is a classic example, while Sagrada Familia has some gothic features, mixed with modern styles. Although I greatly enjoyed wandering around charming Barcelona, I gained a greater appreciation for Vienna. Vienna has high standards of cleanliness and safety, and the work culture is more structured.

The grocery store, a  two minute walk from where I live.

The grocery store, a two minute walk from where I live.

When I returned, I had a full week of classes and studying. I had a couple presentations and a midterm before Spring Break, which begins this week. Last Saturday, I decided to take a break and check out Naschmarkt. It’s a big, open-air market with food and other goods. It’s famous in Vienna, so many tourists go and some of the prices get bumped up, but it’s still quite affordable. I composed my lunch of small portions – olives, bread, some slices of meat, cheese, and fruits. All the food there is fresh and local! I’ve heard that there are smaller markets, where almost only locals go. I plan to do some research and try to find one soon. Speaking of food, I haven’t mentioned yet that grocery stores in Vienna close at 7pm, which is pretty early by American standards. Furthermore, the Viennese maintain Sunday as a day of rest – so grocery stores (and most others) are closed. At first, I found this inconvenient and I missed buying groceries multiple times. However, now I have adapted to going grocery shopping earlier in the day. Back home, there is usually one big grocery store, like Giant, for several surrounding neighborhoods. People usually drive to the store and stock up on groceries for a couple of weeks. In Vienna, there are a variety of brands, ranging in quality and pricing, scattered throughout the city. The grocery stores are a third of an American size, and there is always one located within a 15-minute walk from any residence. Therefore, Viennese people go grocery shopping every few days and carry their groceries home.

It’s interesting to compare cultures and observe differences in routine things, like grocery shopping. Main sights characterize the city, but everyday life defines the culture.

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