These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
I have arrived in Ireland, and thus far it has already been an adventure, from plane delays to getting lost. To any potential travelers to Ireland be sure to know how you are getting to your destination from the airport. We (my fellow students and I) were under the impression it would be easy to get a ticket for a bus that would take us to Galway. It turns out that “easy” turned into a hour-and-a-half of walking around trying to find some sort of booth that sells tickets. Finally we broke and decided actually to ask for help and our dilemma was answered quickly. Turns out you simply buy the tickets on the bus, it is brilliant! If only there was a sign to tell us this information.
Themed restaurants are very much en vogue in Beijing.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine offered to take me to one. She told me it was a 1980s restaurant, and that I had to be sure to bring ID. Only ‘80s babies allowed.
I was trying to envision what an ‘80s nostalgia restaurant would look like. As an American kid, I grew up with Nickelodeon cartoons and Boy Meets World, but the 1980s in China were what? Tian’anmen Square and Reform and Opening? My cultural reference points were somewhat lacking. I had no idea what to expect.
We caught the subway into a more central part of town and leaving the busy streets behind, followed my friend’s smartphone map through ever-narrowing side roads. In the middle of a neighborhood, we turned into a small alley between apartment buildings, walked past a public restroom, and turned a corner. It was a fairly ordinary Beijing alley: cement walls and narrow roads, little shops and their proprietors sitting outside. Except for the large crowd of twenty- and thirty-something Chinese people milling about, we might have been anywhere.
A man with a rockstar ponytail was sitting by the door, checking reservations and handing out oversized pieces of paper, formatted like a Chinese grade-school exam: the menu.
The staff was in the middle of cleaning out the restaurant for the next round of diners. Everyone loitered outside, waiting until they finished and the doorman began to call roll. As he shouted names, groups piped up with “present!” and filed into the restaurant.
This building had been remodeled to look like an elementary school classroom: blackboards on the walls, a hopscotch mosaic on the floors, a Chinese flag over the blackboard, pictures of Lu Xun on the wall, an old arcade video game console sitting dark between the tables. Groups of adults were crowded into small wooden desks and chairs.
The back room had posters of movie stars and rock bands from the 80s; the walls and door were all covered with graffiti, a mix of English and Chinese writing stretching up to the ceiling. Unlike a typical restaurant where tables turn over regularly, everyone was let in at once, squeezed in all together around desk-tables. It was one long dining experience, a kind of interactive performance dining, on display once a night. Reservations required.
The “teacher” waved a wooden pointer around, summoned the class monitor to put any unruly “students” back in line, and barked commands while the diners worked to contain their giggles. He was imposing and hilarious. “Students! Class begins!” Much of what he said went over my head, but I got the gist of it, and my friend Jade helped fill in some of the gaps.
The restaurant sold bags of favors shaped like uniform shirts, tied with a red scarf. Jade told me about the red ties students had to wear around their necks when she was in elementary school, the class inspections, and how students would get demerits for forgetting to wear theirs.
I recognized ring pops and push pops among the packets of candy – a cultural commonality. Jade told me the wind-up jumping frog was a toy every Chinese child had. Finally, there were multicolored rocks that looked like jawbreakers. The teacher hit them together at the front of the room, causing a shower of sparks.
Dinner ended with a trivia contest. The tables transformed into teams, each with a buzzer rigged to ring in. The questions were all about Japanese anime characters and movie scenes, video games and television shows. I was no help, but the diners at other tables scrambled to be first to buzz in with the answer.
When we left nearly three hours later, it was dark outside, and the competition was still going.
That is right folks I am heading to Ireland, Spiddal to be more precise. It is an exciting notion, as well as frightening. This will be the first time I have truly been cut off from home, and by cut off I mean the entire Atlantic Ocean. Despite this separation I am invigorated with this extraordinary adventure put forth in front of me. Where will it lead? There is one way to find out, one ticket to Ireland please!
“Why Ireland?” Is usually the first question people ask me when they discover I am traveling there for a little over three months. My answer is simple really; it worked and heat is not my friend. Further persuading was found with the possibilities of this trip; such as an overnight stay at Inishmore (Aran Islands), seminars at the Hill of Tara, visiting the Rock of Cashel, etc. In addition to these excursions I also wish to further my understanding of people and various cultures, while Ireland is not exotic, it is certainly different then Minnesota.
With only a few days till my departure it has finally become apparent to me that I will indeed be living in a different country for several months. My days consist of check lists and last minute errands to ensure I have all that I need. Before I know, it I will be waving good bye to family and friends and boarding a plane. Let the adventure begin…
This weekend was really amazing. On Friday we left for Livingstone, an 8-9 hour drive. Unlike some of my more adventurous counterparts, I didn’t go skydiving, but Victoria Falls was beautiful. We ate at an awesome Italian restaurant that gives all of its proceeds to supporting vulnerable children, and went to high tea at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. We all felt super classy.
Today, it was back to service learning at Vision of Hope. We’ve managed to sell fifteen rugs to the group so far, and are hoping to sell a few more before we leave. 40% of the proceeds go directly to the girl who made each rug, and the additional 60% go back into the organization so they can sustain future IGAs. The great thing about this project is that they use scraps from fabric shops to make each rug, so they are made at very little cost. When we were thinking about ideas with strong revenue potential, we thought of notebooks because making paper has no cost, and the fabric we are using to bind the notebooks is also very inexpensive. Each notebook costs about two kwacha to make, but can be sold for thirty-five, which gives us really strong profit margins.
While we were gone over the weekend, the girls made eighty-two pieces of paper. Some of them had holes in them or were too thick, but with what we had we were able to make our first two notebooks today. The girls were really excited, and the notebooks look great. With the first notebook the girls made today, we are going to print pictures we have taken of the girls and paste them into it so we can give them something to remember their experience by. I think they are really going to like it, and it will be a good reminder for how far they’ve come.
It was awesome to see our project coming together, and I really hope the girls are able to sell these notebooks successfully at markets. Already, everybody in our group wants at least a few, and we have promised to buy as many as they can make by this Friday. I really hope I can return to Zambia in a few years and see how far Vision of Hope has come. This is probably the most positive experience I have ever had working for an NGO, and it has made me really want to pursue a career in NGO consulting or with a foundation.
I am starting to feel really lucky that I have had such a wonderful experience at Vision of Hope. Each of the girls I have met have been incredible, and I would come back to Zambia just to see how much further Vision of Hope has come. Yesterday we did an empowerment training with the girls, where we went over their future plans. I hadn't realized how long it would take, as most of the girls are just learning to read and write, and needed help with spelling. A couple of them are still illiterate, but are hoping to go to school next year. Their hopes and dreams for the future were just like any other child's, and it was a great experience to hear what they had to say.
Today the girls made their first piece of paper for an income generating activity we secured a small grant for. The girls are then going to make notebooks, which they will at the market. It was a lot of fun for us to see how excited they were, and I am really hoping we can at least finish a few prototypes before we leave at the end of next week. I am really going to miss the girls, as they have played a really important role in my experience here.
"I don't go to school now, but would like to go next year. In five years, I will own my own tailoring shop." -Modesta
"I want to be a journalist. When I am a news reporter, I want to take care of my family and my children. In five years, you will see me on the television." - Sopiso
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