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Cultural Adjustments and the Excursion to Pingyao

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Written by Andrea Patton (College of Wooster), Student Correspondent

Depending on who you ask, there are 3-5 stages of cultural adjustment. Basically, when you first start living in a new culture, you are a tourist. You want to see and do everything your host culture has to offer, and every difference that you experience is novel and exciting. Then when that wears off, you get homesick. You start seeing all the differences between your host and home culture as undesirable and you become critical of your host culture. What happens next is a matter of some debate but in essence, you find a happy medium. You see some differences as good, and others as less than pleasing, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your host and home culture. Then you approach that blurry line between adjustment and integration. I’m not sure if accepting all the differences and being happy in your new culture is enough, or if you need to decide the new culture is the one for you before you are truly “integrated.” But this isn’t a blog about psychology or sociology, so I’ll get to the point.

I don’t think these stages of cultural adjustment apply to my dealings with Chinese culture. Although I did have the first one in spades, I’ve never felt critical about the Chinese culture. It is different, but I have yet to feel angry or frustrated at those differences. What I can tell you is that these stages apply to my feelings about the Chinese language. As I wrote previously, the first week of the language pledge was not that difficult. It was still novel and new, acting words out was funny, and learning new vocabulary was exciting. I was a “tourist” of the language. But then that novelty had the audacity to wear off before my Chinese language skills progressed to the level of fluency. As the days wore on, I became more frustrated with the differences in Chinese grammar and word order. The most upsetting part was the feeling that, although I could tell my Chinese had improved since my arrival, more than ever before I could see how very, very far I still have to go – even if my actual goal is not complete fluency.

Luckily, I think I can say I’m on the upswing. Before I was frustrated because every time I would feel confident with Chinese, I would have an experience in which I understood less than 5% of what was happening. In other words, the world would tell me I was wrong. I may not have magically become fluent in the last week or so, I’m feeling better because not nearly as frustrated in those situations anymore. Many things have contributed to my adjustment, not least of which was last weekend’s trip to Pingyao.
This past weekend we took our historical trip to Pingyao, the Qiao Family Courtyard, and the Jinci Temple. The ancient city of Pingyao has documented roots back to the 11th century BC! I saw a well dug as long ago as the Song dynasty (960-1279). The city wall and most of the extant buildings are from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Wandering through the buildings in Pingyao that have been standing for centuries,may seem like significantly more fun than driving around Shanxi by bus, but they were both incredibly rewarding. Specifically, getting out of Beijing and seeing other bits of Chinese history was fascinating, and doing so with my roommate was a great experience. Living in Beijing with its more than 20 million people, it is easy to forget that not all Chinese people are Beijingers. Just under half of them do not live in a city at all. So while as a Westerner in Beijing I have to deal with some uncomfortable aspects of life, the idea that China is a “developing country” doesn’t always mesh with my experience of the place. But driving through the countryside and getting literally only a glimpse at how so many other Chinese people live was enlightening and therefore refreshing. I can sometimes get in my own head, and get myself wound up with stress, so stepping outside of my normal life and having that experience of the countryside was a good thing for my state of mind.

What’s more, spending nearly 48 hours straight with my roommate was also so much fun. If you’ve ever traveled with friends you know that, no matter how much you spend with them on a regular basis, spending 2 days with only them can be an immersion course in friendship. She helped me read a Chinese newspaper article, taught me a few games (one involving words and the other involving poker cards), and I taught her one of my own. We chatted about Pingyao, our impressions of the city, traveling in Europe, our lives, our families, our friends, our love lives, Americans’ ice cream preferences, and we shared a little Chinese music. This was the real gem of the trip. I may not have understood every little thing that was said (and I know I didn’t always make sense to her), but I got to connect with my roommate. We had real honest to goodness conversations in Chinese that weren’t interrupted by schoolwork, or directly related to my asking her for help. (On a side note, I have to sing my roommate’s praises. She’s incredibly nice and a lot of fun. Plus, her help figuring out this colossus of a city has been invaluable! I can’t imagine living in Beijing without her.) Our conversations in Pingyao were just two friends getting to know each other. And if I can do that, I know that I will keep on being happy here in Beijing.

 

Outings in Japan

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Written by Evyn Fong (MICA)
AICAD in Japan, Spring 2013 Student Correspondent
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AICAD in Japan

I have no idea where I was when I took this. I somehow found my way home…

So, everyone who’s ever played pokemon knows that in Pokeworld, cars are totally unnecessary and the fastest way to get around is by bicycle. That’s pretty much Japan.

Biking around is the best (in my opinion, anyways!) way to sightsee, get exercise, practice your Japanese (you’re going to get lost…), and also get new places!

AICAD in Japan

Going across the Nagarabashi Bridge to Namba on bike.

I try to bike somewhere new… well, as often as possible. This usually happens by accident, since I am directionally challenged.

The most adventurous project I’ve undertaken so far is the 8-mile bike ride across busy roads, country roads, and technically not-bicycle-friendly roads into Namba. I’ve done it three times now, and I’m finally learning how not to get lost.

AICAD in Japan

Bike parking lot!

Biking in Japan is quite the experience. At first it seems like everyone is going to get hit by all the cars at the same time. Then you realize that using any kind of movement in Japan, including walking, is basically playing high-stakes Frogger. Everyone watches out for everyone else and does their best not to collide!

The types of bicycles here are also different. As opposed to American multi-speed, multi-gear bikes, the typical Japanese bicycle is far more retro-styled. There’s no gears, and it’s a far more.. relaxed? style of riding than I’m used to. Fun, though!

There’s tons of bike shops in Japan, as well. You can refill your tires for free at any of them, since they have pumps for free use outside the shops. Bike parking lots also abound in urban areas- make sure to park in these, or else your bike might get towed!

My favorite place to bike so far is to parks, though. I went to one called Ryokuchikoen, north of Aikawa last weekend. So fun!

bike1

bike2

bike3

AICAD in Japan

One mystery I solved since coming to Japan: How do Japanese people find their bikes in those gigantic parking lots where EVERY BIKE LOOKS THE SAME?! Answer: either you remember exactly where your bike is, or you spend like an hour looking for it.

The Life of a Nomad Part 2: featuring Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and Poland

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Written by Danielle Ortiz-Geis  (American University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Fall 2012

 

 

I’ve never been more fond of a group of countries before, putting the Czech Republic aside of course. Maybe it’s because I knew that my time abroad was swiftly coming to an end and I was trying my best to enjoy what was left of my time in Europe or maybe it’s because overall these countries were just everything I had been looking for this whole semester abroad. Either way, my travels that occurred at the end of my semester were by far the best that I have experienced in my life.

I started off this part of my journey in Budapest, Hungary, where I was accompanied by the rest of the people in the program. To this day, Budapest still remains by second favorite city in this part of Europe. As I mentioned earlier, the inclusive travels in this program should be a leading factor in YOUR ultimate decision to study abroad in Prague.

While in Budapest you should:

1. Cross the Chain Bridge and visit the castle at night

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

2. Do the same thing in the daytime to get a better view of the city

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

3. Make your way over to the Parliament so that you can appreciate its gothic architecture

Budapest, Hungary

4. Go to the Christmas market for hot wine and food

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

5. Relax in the Romanesque baths, of course

Budapest, Hungary

6. Stop at the Millennium Monument

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

For lunch I recommend that you go to any local Hummus Bar, where you will surely eat the best falafel of your life. My friends and I went to this great buffet called “Trofea” for dinner, where we paid $25 each for unlimited food (the meat was grilled right in front of us!) and endless wine /champagne. At first $25 sounds like a lot, but think of it as the cost of dinner and going to a bar. Speaking of bars, I highly recommend that you check out the oldest ruin bar in Budapest, which is called Szimpla Kert.

If you have extra time in Hungary, you should also check out Szentendre, a small picturesque village where you can get some of your holiday shopping done.

Hungary

Hungary

Though my time in Hungary marked the end of my travels with CET, my own personal adventures were far from over.

A few weeks later my friends and I embarked on our own journey; our first stop was Vienna.

Since we stopped in Vienna on our connection train to Salzburg that night, we only had a few hours to explore the city. My friends and I had already been there before though, we decided to head straight to the market for some sushi, followed by getting dort from the original Sacher Cafe for dinner.

A few hours later, we had finally arrived in Salzburg and checked into a quaint little hostel, Yoho. Though there was not much to do at night in terms of the bar scene, we did have lots of fun exploring the beautiful Christmas city.  Our real adventure started the next morning when we trekked all the way from the town to the snow-line of the top of an Alp, where we then proceeded to do a victory dance in celebration of our accomplishment.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Later that night we explored the Christmas Market and were sad to find that the ice-skating rink had been closed. Nevertheless, we still had fun.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

The following morning I went on the most scenic train ride of my life on the trip from Salzburg to Ljubljana, Slovenia. The snow-covered mountains and rooftops reminded me of the antique Christmas villages that you can buy in stores.

Slovenia

Slovenia

Our hostel was extremely cute, as it even came with an honorary mascot in the form of the owner’s dog, Rosie. Each room was influenced by a different Jazz artist; I got to stay in the Miles Davis room. Not to mention that there was also a bar attached to the main hostel part.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

We ate at a nearby restaurant, where were were greeted with the most hospitality that I had received my whole time abroad along with the most delicious gnocchi. From there my friends and I ventured to the center of town, which led me to the conclusion that Ljubljana has been really underrated. With its abundance of pastas, bridges connecting main roads and narrow distances between side streets, I had thought I was in Venice for a minute, the only difference was the there’s a castle in Ljubljana.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

The next day was without a doubt, the most beautiful day of my life. We left around noon and headed to Lake Bled from the main train station for about 6 euros. An hour later, we were greeted with the sight of the snow covered Alps reflecting in the crystal blue water of the lake. White doves floated peacefully on its surface and in the distance we could see an old church positioned in the middle of an isolated island.

Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia

Like our usual pattern, we then climbed to the top of the castle so that we could get the most scenic view of our surroundings. Scenic doesn’t even begin to cover it; heavenly describes it better. It was in this moment that I realized that some people will never get to see something as beautiful as this, and in that instance I began to appreciate my surroundings and this particular experience even more.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia

Slovenia

Slovenia

I truly did not want to leave this utopia, but I only had about a week and a half left in Prague so I wanted to enjoy my time left there as much as possible, and I did.

Before I knew it, it was December 13th : the day I had to come back to the US.

Luckily for me, I had a 6 hour layover in Warsaw. As you can tell from my posts, I’m quite the explorer and I take advantage of traveling whenever/ wherever I find it, which is why it was no surprise that I took this time to explore Warsaw. This adventure was different from my others in the sense that it was my first and only solo travel.

I took a bus from the airport to the old parts of town, where I was able to see some historical buildings and also get some more holiday shopping done. If there’s one impression that I had of Warsaw, it’s that the city is extremely modern.

Warsaw, Poland

Poland

Warsaw, Poland

My last European meal consisted of mixed pierogi with spinach, meat and cheese fillings, topped with a bacon and oil mixture. On the side I drank the most savory cocktail consisting of raspberry orange tea with a splash of rum.

Now that I’m back in the US, I truly do miss everything about Europe. The food, the drinks, the scenery- nothing comes close in comparison to my experiences in Europe. These four months were truly the best in my life. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures as much as I enjoying living them.

Foolhardy Adventuring

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Written by Shan Dupont (Middlebury College), Student Correspondent

“…we can’t keep second guessing ourselves anymore. We need to pick a direction and stick with it otherwise we’re going to spend the whole night lost out on this mountain…”

Recently, a few friends and I realized that, despite the three months we’ve already spent living in China, there was a surprisingly underwhelming amount of exploring we had done in Hangzhou. With a vacation here, a vacation there; a trip to Lin’an here, a trip to Shanghai there, the total days we’ve spent roaming Hangzhou could be summed up on less than two hands. While our Hangzhou independent research class does grant us some leeway to wander the streets and gradually unravel the public transportation system, if forced to give advice to the Lonely Planet, I’d feel bereft of speech after hesitantly muttering “the West Lake.”

This creeping emotion was anesthetized on Saturday when we went for a hike through the glorious Resting Cloud Mountains of Yunqi. About 12 kilometers from the West Lake, legend tells that these solemn mountains had once been the home to a collection of auspiciously colorful clouds that, passing through China, decided to linger here just long enough to guarantee this scenery a worthy name.

Delays were going to be a theme for the day, as despite our plan to depart at 11:30AM at the latest (a Saturday is a Saturday, no matter how ambitious), due to unavoidable conflicts *cough* we didn’t step on the bus till 2:00 in the afternoon. Acquainted with the furtive glances received from passengers in slight astonishment at our Chinese proficiency, we obediently sat as the bus surfed through the endless waves of green tea plantations and cut through quaint little Chinese mountain villages, until it finally dropped us off at the step of the mountains.

Hiking our way through the lush bamboo-clad mountains, we became aware of all the temples and monasteries that China’s history had peppered throughout the scenery. We walked along concealed wooden pathways that led to meditation pavilions, and we followed the scent of incense that led us to Buddhist ceremonies. And then we started climbing.

One of the particularities about China is that, though the sierra landscape is gigantic, it seems as if all the mountains have been claimed by at least one staircase. Our rational as we started climbing was that, if there is a staircase, it must have two exit points. We wouldn’t have to turn around, we could keep along it until we made our way out to the other side. Right? Wrong.

The first hour of climb was undoubtedly the steepest, but we frequently crossed other Chinese tourists, a reassuring sign that where we were going wasn’t deserted. We reached a peak, toured the monastery, took touristy photos, and decided not to turn around but to follow a new trail that seemed to lead to the next mountain. This trail, however, wasn’t as meticulously paved as the one we had been following this whole time; instead of large even steps, there were little jagged rocks that seemed to follow a general direction. 25 minutes of walking later, we reached what was, in all likelihood, one of Hangzhou’s most stunning, yet undoubtedly Chinese, massif landscape. We stuck around to look over the setting sun, and then intrepidly persevered on the little jagged-stone path.

The remaining light quickly faded, yet, unburdened from worries, we kept walking; kept ignoring any hint that the next checkpoint wasn’t an exit but a peak. Around 6:00, when there was almost no light left (considering the increasingly short days of winter) and we hadn’t seen another hiker since leaving the monastery, that’s when the panic kicked in. This precariously cemented path clearly was taking us higher, not lower, and this thin crescent moon wasn’t going to be of much help. Our two options at that point were: keep on going the uncertain road or to accept defeat and start the two hour trek back to base camp. It was dark, deserted, and increasingly resembled a horror film scenario. With what little light our phones could muster to light to way, we ditched our faith in the little path and humbly made our way back to our starting point.

There were only two of us, and to avoid any hysteria from kicking in, we shared stories of previous summers and life before college. It was interesting to see that, in our attempt to stay calm, we had a great time chatting about things that seemed like a lifetime ago. It wasn’t long, though, before we smelt the familiar vestige of burned incense, and even less before we were back on the bus. We grabbed dinner by the West Lake, ended up trying a form of baijiu called ‘snake shots’ (you don’t want to know) at a bar called Maya, and then… well, that’s another story.