Giving Back

November 18th, 2015 by under Semester, Taiwan. No Comments.

DSC_0662by Sara Ho

Early on in the semester, I received an email with an ad requesting English tutoring volunteers at a nearby elementary school. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I wanted to find some new ways to interact with locals, as well as try something I’ve never done before.

Every Wednesday, about 10 of us go to the school. We read English books one-on-one with 6th graders for about an hour. One of the interesting things I found was that we were not reading physical books, but instead were using an application on iPads! Technology is really changing the way people grow up.

After having done this for about five weeks, I really enjoy being able to spend time with these kids. Not only are we helping them improve their English, but I also feel like my Mandarin is improving as well, particularly because if a child doesn’t understand a part of the book, I’ll try and explain to them in Mandarin. Thankfully it hasn’t gotten to the point where I don’t know how to explain it, but in any case, it is yet another opportunity for me to practice my speaking! Plus, there is even one girl who is merely at this English tutoring to practice her conversational English, as her English-level is much higher than her peers – it’s great to be able to see her enthusiasm for learning English!

Joining this volunteering group has also allowed me to make new friends with other international students. After volunteering, a few of us usually go out and eat lunch together. In addition, I have experienced the kindness of our Resident Director (the one who sent out the initial email). She’s definitely there to help you feel more comfortable with the transition to living in Taiwan and I’m amazed that she tries to remember everyone’s name in the building (She’s said “Hi, Sara!” to me a couple of times already).

In light of the recent events that have been happening around the world, my prayers go out to everyone affected.


Change Your Lens

November 17th, 2015 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

When I heard about the attacks in Paris this weekend I was in a safe village in the German countryside. I was staying at a close friend’s home, eating dinner with his father and another friend, while enjoying some traditional German food and drink. In this welcoming and safe environment I was still subjected to feelings of fear and uncertainty. Never before had I witnessed an event like this unfolding in real time; as soon as the shootings started we heard about it and followed along almost simultaneously with the information that the news was providing us. The events that occurred that night were absolutely tragic, and my heart goes out to the people of France.

What really struck me about this event was the fact that it could have happened in my own city. It could have happened in London, down at the University bar where we spend our Monday nights. It could happen tonight at the France and England friendly match that I’ll be attending at Wembley Stadium. It’s a strange sensation for me, this feeling of insecurity. As a white male from suburban America it’s not so common to feel scared for my well-being. I’m not a minority, I’ve never really lived in an unsafe place, and I don’t truly know what it feels like to have the constant threat of attack or abuse.

While I was contemplating all of my insecurities following the Paris attacks, it dawned on me that some people are forced to feel this way every hour of every day of their lives. Let’s take those in Syria perhaps, or many of the other countries in the Middle East where this kind of violence is all too common. If I were to look at every-day life from their perspective, it would seem that their threat of being attacked is one hundred times more likely. If I were in their place I would have a constant insecurity about where the next drone strike is going to take place, or where the next suicide bomb is going to detonate. It’s impossible for me to imagine the feelings of fear and helplessness that these people live with.

Seeing these attacks in Paris makes me feel insecure because it was a large city with Western ideologies, and of course several of the victims were probably white. Those attributes all relate to me, they make the danger actually seem real for once. And yet this sort of thing has been going on for years in the Middle East. How can I complain about feeling threatened when there are people who had to leave their homes to escape this kind of violence? And they’re not just leaving their homes, they’re abandoning their past lives with no idea of where they are going to go! That’s what living with this kind of every-day fear does. Those are the decisions it forces you to make. I have no right to complain about insecurity when I see the struggle that any refugee is going through right now.

It is without question a time for mourning those who were killed in Paris. The feelings of solidarity that England and the World have shared with France have been truly inspiring. But we can’t let this one attack take away from the fact that we should be mourning every day over the violence that ensues in the Middle East. Violence which takes the lives of so many innocent people who are caught in the middle of this conflict. If one were to stop looking at the French and US bombings in Syria as a normal, every day occurrence, as a necessary evil to bring down IS, perhaps we would see them how the people of Syria see them: as acts of terrorism. If you decide to look through their lens, suddenly the world is a different place.



November 15th, 2015 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

squareby Nora Keller

As I sat in bed watching the news coverage of the attacks, I felt a real pit in my stomach.  Oh, god I’ve seen Eagles of Death Metal twice.  I posted about it on Facebook, because I’m a millennial and that’s what we do:

“Yesterday Beirut, today Paris.  My heart goes out to all the innocents. Respond and rebuild with love. Do not let violence beget violence. It is the terrorists, the fascists, the bigots, and the darkness that benefit when we respond out of fear and out of hatred. Embrace each other and move forward together towards a better and more compassionate future.”

This was, perhaps, a naive idea.  I spoke to my friend as we watched the coverage together online.  His reaction was much more grim:  “I expect the right wing nationalists to become ascendant in Europe.  It’s going to be awful.”

I wish I could say he was off the mark.

I woke up in the morning to a barrage of bigotry and islamophobic garbage flooding my screen.

Can’t say it’s a surprise.  This is what happened after Charlie Hebdo.

This is already happening again in my beloved new home.

The century darkens.


Being in Europe after such an event is strange.   Everywhere I look in London I see flags, signs, flowers in support of the victims of this atrocity.  The solidarity being shown is beautiful, and inspiring.

I have to say, however, the reaction of the western world (see: western media) in comparison to this tragedy in comparison to that of other similarly timed tragedies is confusing.

43 people died in Beirut.  102 people died in Ankara.  129 people died in Paris.  Slews of people die daily in Syria.  Over 3 million people have fled Syria and 6.5 million are internally displaced.  In April, 147 people were killed at Garissa University College in Kenya.

Where are the facebook filters for these men, women and children?  Where are the flags and signs of solidarity?

Where the hell was the public’s outrage when the U.S.A. bombed a hospital in Kunduz???

George Arnett put this very well:

“…We are taught that brown people killing brown people is not senseless; it’s expected and it’s normal. We, though most of us have no real ties to France, have immediately lifted them in our hearts. This is something we should do. However, the lack of mourning for the deaths of the innocent people in Syria, Baghdad, Beirut – and wherever else violence has touched – shows our bias and how ready we are to canonize and pray for a select few. We pray for those in the west, those that personify our western exceptionalism and ideals rooted in what whiteness designates as worthy of attention. We are taught to mourn with Paris, but not with Beirut or even Newark or Chicago. Social media outlets implement ways to honor certain victims, but not others. Parisians are cloaked in martyrdom while Lebanese are met with silence and blame as they await the coming of our mourning. That in itself is terrorism, for it teaches people that they aren’t valued. It places a hierarchy on who is to be grieved and is contradictory of any assertions that all lives matter.”


The outpouring of love the world is expressing for the victims of Paris is beautiful.  Now imagine what the world would be like if we expressed this same concern against all such acts of violence.  The answer is that it’d be more humane.


London Calling

November 9th, 2015 by under Semester, Spain. No Comments.

By Lina Bauer
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One of the many perks of studying abroad is having the ability to travel every weekend to cities all across Europe. Since arriving to Barcelona I have traveled to Granada, Paris, Amsterdam, Girona, and Tarragona – all of which are amazing cities. This past weekend I chose to travel to London. I spent three lovely days exploring the city.

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I started out seeing a play at the National Theatre – which is one of the many famous theaters in London. Afterwards, I ended up crossing the Tower Bridge at night – which is one of the most incredible views I have ever seen. The entire London was visible, and walking across was quite magical.

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The next day I continued on to see Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and many others!

While in London, it was interesting to note the many cultural differences between Spain and England. One of which is that because the sun sets in London much earlier than in Spain – Londoners have dinner quite early in comparison to Spaniards. In Barcelona, normally people eat dinner quite late from 9 PM to midnight. In fact, good luck trying to find a restaurant serving dinner before 8:30 PM! In addition, London is such a bustling city – it reminded me quite a bit of New York, but with a much longer history and numerous cute teashops all over!


Simple Things Bristol

November 2nd, 2015 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

squareby: Nora Keller

For my birthday weekend, I took a train to visit my friend, Maeve in Bristol.  I met Maeve when she was studying abroad in Maryland, and she recently moved out of London and into Bristol for an engineering job.  Londoners are very proud of their city, and like to say that it’s really the only worthwhile city in England.  I have to say, that they are sorely misinformed.  Bristol is a city brimming with life.  It’s full of amazing people, art (see: street art), food, and most importantly, great music.  Bristol is kind of like England’s answer to San Francisco.  It’s a port city with a bunch of hills, colorful houses, and a famous bridge.  It also seems to attract a lot of crunchy-granola/modern hippie types.

Fun fact: Bristol is also the home of Banksy.  Accordingly, the city is pretty open to graffit so Bristol is covered in awesome street art.


My birthday visit just so happened to coincide with Bristol’s Simple Things Festival.  I couldn’t be luckier!  Simple Things is a a music festival that takes over a few venues and stages within the city for a day and night of fantastic music.

I got to hear all sorts of interesting bands and artists.  Simple things featured everything from electronic to swing, metal to indie, and surf rock to grime.

My favorite new bands (not, like, new new – but bands I hadn’t already been a fan of) were Micachu, Mild High Club, and Penguin Cafe.  Lower Dens, who are a fantastic Baltimore band, were there too.  I actually felt a little homesick when I watched their set.  Speedy Ortiz were also there playing.  Speedy are on Carpark Records.  I interned for Carpark Records a year ago, so I was pretty starstruck for their set.

Headlining the show were grime royalty, Skepta and JME.  Ruff Sqwad ft. J-Cush, more grime pioneers, were on stage right before them.  I’d been wanting to check out a grime show ever since I found out I’d be in England, and this is pretty much the jackpot of grime shows.  The reason I was so keen to see some grime is because it is a genre that is thoroughly British to its core.  Grime came out of the London in the early 2000s, and the rest of the world is still catching up.  I’m not sure if you can even make grime if you aren’t British; the accent seems important.  I am by no means an expert on grime (or anywhere close to an expert), so please forgive me if I get some things wrong.  Grime is really difficult to describe because it’s a sort of “fusion” music – a cross between hip hop, Jamaican dancehall, UKG, drum & bass, and a million other things.  What I do know, and can assert definitively, is that it’s great.  I LOVED these shows.  Anyone who comes to the UK should do themselves a favor and check out some grime.



Taiwanese Classroom Culture

October 31st, 2015 by under Semester, Taiwan, Uncategorized. No Comments.

DSC_0662by: Sara Ho

After 7 weeks of classes, I think I have finally gotten a grasp on class culture in Taiwan. For a typical 3-credit course, lectures are (unfortunately) 3 hours long! However, most professors give breaks after every hour, though the length of each break varies between 10-30 minutes. The first week of classes was quite tough because I was  not accustomed to listening to a lecture for so long! The great thing about 3 hour long lectures is that a particular class will only meet once a week, so I have two full days of no class!

Here are some observations I made:

Textbooks: For many courses, a student or the TA volunteered to buy the textbook for any interested in purchasing it. Once the books came in, that same student/TA collected money and distributed the textbooks. I was so amazed at how convenient this set up was, since I was so used to going out and looking for textbooks on my own! From what I understand, it seems that publishers and re-sellers tend to give better prices when you buy textbooks in bulk. The set up also seemed to highlight the Asian value of the importance of relationships.

Lecture logistics: Most of my classes ended up being taught in Mandarin Chinese. I was a little worried about this, but it’s certainly been a great way to truly immerse myself in the language. Plus, not to worry, most tests and textbooks are in English! Up to this point, I’ve only had one quiz, which displays that the main grades in courses are the midterm and the final. I have taken a few classes back home that were similar, but we definitely had more quizzes and other assignments that helped me gauge my understanding of the material.

Group work: To my surprise, I have already had quite a bit of group work, whether it be group homework or upcoming end of semester group projects. It was a little difficult as I did not know anyone in my groups, but almost everyone has been very friendly and it’s been another way to practice my Mandarin!


My textbooks for my courses (Almost all in English!)


Appreciating a Gloomy Night

October 19th, 2015 by under Semester, Uncategorized, United Kingdom. No Comments.

IMG_1868   By Derek Arnette

It was a somewhat damp Sunday evening, but there was plenty of warmth in the air as we made our way down the dimly lit roads. Our large group proceeded along Monument Street, very aptly named seeing as it holds the tallest freestanding pillar in the European Union*. We shuffled alongside the others on our walk, eager to hear about the haunted sites that London offers. The ghost of a Roman soldier wanders the local market at night; a man who’s remains were moved can no longer rest peacefully as he haunts the local church; a young boy who’s grave was robbed and now walks outside of his crypt in search of the robber. No, there’s nothing like a Sunday night walking tour in Central London.

St Pauls Cathedral

St Pauls Cathedral


When I first heard of a walking tour it sounded like the most cliché form of tourism that anyone could participate in. How could someone take pleasure in being dragged around the city by a history nerd with nothing better to do? All tourists, especially those who try not to stand out as such, share this sentiment; but how truly naive. A walking tour is a fantastic way to see a city from the ground up. We saw some of the city’s most hidden gems while the tour guide told us story after story about London’s gruesome past. The tour took place in central London, winding its way along the Thames River and eventually landing us in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the second largest dome in Europe*.

This particular tour was called “Haunted London”, and we heard several tales of gloom and doom from our host. One that caught me as particularly gruesome was of a young boy who had been killed by Cholera at 8 years old. As we stood outside the crypt that the boy was buried in, the guide told us of how one night after the boy’s death, his father heard his son calling for

The Monetary Exchange, Haunted by an investor's Wife

The Monetary Exchange, Haunted by an investor’s Wife*

him in his sleep. Our guide described how the boy’s father made his way to the crypt, and broke in with the help of a local locksmith. Once inside they found that the boy’s crypt had been robbed. Grave-robbers were somewhat common in this time, as many doctors would pay a hefty price for a “specimen” to run tests on*. The robbers removed all of the young boy’s teeth, and sold them to a local dentist who could use them to make dentures. Strangely enough, the boy’s father found a great deal of blood inside the coffin. Apparently the boy had been mistaken for dead by the local doctor, and buried alive. When the robbers opened the coffin, they quickly finished the job. Apparently mistaken burials were a common occurrence back in that time. The young boy still wanders the church to this day, clutching his mouth so as to hide his missing teeth.


*Random walking tour facts.

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The Beauty of Public Transportation

October 17th, 2015 by under Semester, Taiwan, Uncategorized. No Comments.

DSC_0662by Sara Ho

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been living in Taipei for a month and a half. One aspect I have loved and will surely miss a lot is how incredibly convenient public transportation is!


Inside the High Speed Rail Train

With two days of no classes plus weekends, I have surely taken advantage of the MRT to explore many different Taipei neighborhoods. This is something that I would never be able to do back home, most likely attributed to the fact that Taipei is a bustling city, whereas Bethesda is a suburban area. Most people drive cars back home, so it makes sense that the public transportation system is a burden.

This past weekend I also had the chance of seeing a different Taiwanese city’s public transportation system. I took the High Speed Rail to Taichung with a friend (for a long weekend trip), yet another form of convenient public transportation that Taiwan offers. It was about an hour journey and I’d highly recommend taking it to visit other parts of Taiwan because it’s fast and allows you to spend more time exploring a new city!


Gaomei Wetlands at sunset

After the trip, my friend and I came to the conclusion that Taipei still has the best public transportation, mainly because Taichung doesn’t have an MRT system, which made traveling to different attractions a bit hectic (though we managed). We had to take buses and bus frequency was typically quite low. In fact, sometimes walking somewhere was even faster than taking the bus because you had to wait so long for it to come to the stop! We also took the local train to get to a major Taichung attraction, Gaomei Wetlands. (Definitely a must see if you ever make a trip to Taichung!)

Overall though, I’d have to say Taiwan still has one of the most convenient and clean public transportation systems I have come across in all the cities I’ve been to. It is this convenience that allowed me to explore Taipei on my own and travel to Taichung for a weekend trip. I can’t wait to see where it will take me next!


Theatre on the Precious Stone Set in the Silver Sea

October 16th, 2015 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

squareby Nora Keller


City University London offers two classes exclusively to its exchange students.  One, Historic London, allows students to explore the city of London via a series of walking tours focusing on the rich history and culture of this great city.  The other, Performing Arts in London, covers the history of theatre, ballet, and opera in England.  I’m taking both classes, and I would recommend that anyone studying abroad at city should do the same.  I’ve already learned so much and had a lot of fun doing it.

One of the biggest perks of the performing arts class is that you get to go to a series of performances in London for a reduced rate.  This Tuesday, our class attended the first of these performances.  We got to go to Shakespeare’s Globe to see Richard II.  The whole experience was phenomenal.  This is not exactly the same theatre in which the original Shakespearean plays were performed in the 1500s; that theatre was burned down.  The modern reconstruction is an approximate replica of the original theatre.  The building itself is open-roofed and round – with seats surrounding the stage.  People can get standing tickets directly around the stage for just 5 pounds!  We had the privilege of seats.  The building itself is very beautiful, and the architecture of the place makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time.


The performance itself was wonderful.  All of the actors did a phenomenal job.  I have never seen Richard II before.  The story is a bit complicated and the language, while very beautiful, is a bit difficult at times to understand.  I would highly recommend looking up a summary of the story before going to see any unfamiliar Shakespearean play.

Anyone planning a trip to London absolutely should try and fit in a performance at the Globe.  For just 5 pounds, you really can’t go wrong.  What’s more English than watching a Shakespearean play at the globe with a pint in hand?


La Mercè

October 14th, 2015 by under Semester, Spain. No Comments.

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By Lina Bauer

This past month seems as though it has flown by entirely, and it is difficult for me to believe that only two and a half more months remain in my study abroad in Barcelona! Every day has brought something new and different. In September, one of the biggest Spanish cultural events occurred – La Mercè. It is an annual festival held in Barcelona to observe the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy.


This celebration was no ordinary celebration. It included the works – music festivals, dance performances, complete with fireworks and human pyramids standing among the crowds gathered at Place Catalunya. I stumbled upon the festival of the arts quite by chance. I had just decided to stroll around Parc de la Ciutadella, which is one of the most beautiful parks in Barcelona (although to be fair almost every park in Barcelona seems to have a lovely charm of its own). I discovered an Argentinian tango festival and the park, which had been completely transformed from the week prior. It seemed like the set of a 1930’s film set in Paris. It was completely charming, complete with a Ferris wheel, and lights and flags decorating the entirety of the park. The night of the last day of La Mercè is my favorite night yet in Barcelona.

A strong cultural difference between the United States and Spain is that Spain has a great many religious and cultural holidays, in which the entire city participates in together! Most of the residents of Barcelona attended events during La Mercè, including even taking free dance lessons and going acrobatic shows!