These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.

Read about our contributors: Gretchen A. Brown, Katelin Harned, Emily Atmore, Catherine Earley, Rachel Fohrman, Paul Lundberg, Andrew Morrison and Emily Walz.

Posts about International travel

Carnival in Rio De Janeiro: What is normal?

Posted by: Andrew Morrison Updated: March 12, 2014 - 4:54 PM

BRAZILESOTAN

Andrew Morrison | March 12th 2014 17:49 BT

Two weeks ago, I woke up in Rio De Janeiro to a cacophony of samba music and streets flooded with elaborately costumed belligerent tourists while the residents of Rio went about selling fruit and stocking their shops. It was 7:30 in the morning and my week long Carnival experience was merely beginning. A strike among the waste management staff in Rio had left the streets covered in garbage but people continued to celebrate no matter what they were stepping on. Carnival is like the marriage of Halloween and ancient African traditions to an average tourist but I wondered how actual Cariocas, people from Rio De Janeiro, actually feel about the festivities. To understand the customs of the holiday, I will take you into my experience and offer resources for you to learn more about this remarkable and cultural celebration.

[Traditional dances at Ipanema Beach were just one of the many cultural performances open to the public to participate it - Credit: Andrew Morrison]

Story

Carnival was derived from ancient Roman Catholic traditions and was transplanted to Rio De Janeiro during the 19th century. The mixture of cultures making up the population of Rio and the extravagant samba school parades are what makes Rio one of the most unique Carnival experiences in the world. Last year, Carnival attracted over 2 billion tourists and generated approximately 2.5 billion in revenue. In Rio, Carnival is big business. The celebration differs regionally however, with the greatest popularity occurring in the northeastern and southeastern regions of the country. The large cities in these regions basically shut-down during the week of Carnival which takes place Friday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

[With waste management workers on strike and thousands of tourists flooding the city, garbage began to pile up rapidly during Carnival - Credit: Andrew Morrison]

Mechanics

The extravagant parades are made up of 12 different samba groups competing to be the best school of Rio De Janeiro. Each group represents a different neighborhood of Rio De Janeiro and they must develop a completely original choreographed song with an allotted 80 minutes to perform. These performances are practiced for seven months in a giant warehouse in complete secrecy and when Carnival finally takes place, each group of 5,000 plus performers takes public transportation to the famed Sambadrome and begins their show. The floats are enormous and highly elaborate like moving art galleries pushed by people for the entire 80 minutes. No machines are allowed in the performances. The best six of the 12 samba schools go on to the champion’s parade but only one is the true champion.

[Perhaps the most iconic figure of Carnival is the Queen of the Drums - The woman that leads the entire samba school and must impress judges with her samba choreography - Credit: Ndecam via Flickr CC]

Details

This year the group Unidos Da Tijuca won the competition with their “agility” themed performance. Every performer represented something related to speed like a pack of cheetahs or a swarm of racecars. Another group represented pirates of the Caribbean, complete with twirling sword fights and scallywags being shot out of cannons hundreds of feet above the crowd. The bit that consistently entranced me was the duo flag bearers that lead each group like a prom king and queen. They have the honor of presenting their school’s signature flag and the mission of charming the crowd, judges and cameras. Often, but not surprisingly, a member of the duo is a Brazilian celebrity. The entire Sambadrome experience costs a minimum of $200 for basic admission. Tourists can also pay to participate in the famed parade, even wear the costumes and learn the choreography. 

[The Sambadrome is the epicenter of Carnival in Brazil seating over 72,000 patrons - Credit: Chupacabras via Flickr CC]

The Reality

Some attend the Sambadrome annually and are loyal fans to specific groups but what I learned from my experience in Rio De Janeiro was that most Cariocas would rather participate in one of the hundreds of Blocos de Rua, or block parties. The block parties are where you can learn the dances, meet the samba band members, and actually participate in the new and old Carnival traditions. These Blocos occur across the city, are completely free, and each with a totally different vibe. Some are strictly samba while others might be alternative rock. The event begins with a band, followed by dancing, and finally a parade where everyone participates including children and elderly people in wheelchairs. It is a beautiful sight to see an entire community celebrating together.

[A young boy costumed as Captain America sprays silly string into the air as his mother holds his shield. These are the kind of parades in Rio that I truly appreciated - Credit: Andrew Morrison] 

My 11 days in Rio De Janeiro proved that the city had all of the exotic charms I wanted to discover for myself. Carnival proved to be the most elaborate and extravagant party I have ever attended and not to mention the record-smashing number of men wearing bras. Ultimately, I fell in love with the freedom of the celebration and the inclusiveness for all people no matter where they rank socioeconomically, what age group they are in or what gender pronoun they choose. The workers strike finally ended with the group earning the increased rights and wages they had demanded and the streets of Rio De Janeiro returned to normal. The celebrations of the workers melted into the block parties almost as if there had never been a problem. Despite the major dispute, Carnival remains the week in every year where Brazil opens up their streets to the world and pushes you to ask, “so what is normal?”

My name is Andrew Morrison and I am an environmental science senior from the University of Minnesota completing soil science research in southern Brazil for an entire year. If you have suggestions or ideas please contact me via my site

To learn more about Brazil use these resources:

- The entire Sambadrome parade of 2013

- A free online course about the history of Brazil

Emerald Isle Bound

Posted by: Paul Lundberg Updated: August 18, 2013 - 4:42 PM

 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…

Brisbane & About

Posted by: Updated: June 6, 2012 - 8:54 AM

I have been calling Brisbane, Queensland, Australia my home for the past 3 months and I haven't posted a blog entry about my Aussie home yet, so I thought I would give you all a tour. Or at least a look into my life here. 

 

This is the front view of my flat!

This is the front view of my flat!

 

It's got an exciting garden in the front. It's amazing with all the kinds of wildlife that visit - well, birds... that is. There are huge ravens that cackle outside my window in the early morning. There have been moments in the wee morning where I have wanted to hit them over the head and make them die. haha... Their voices are very aggrivating. 

Bush Turkeys are another one of my frequent visiters. I never did really like them, but I sort of started liking one in particular. He always walks on my fence. And he doesn't introduce himself calmly with me just glancing up to see him. He clutters by on the fence almost falling off and while catching his balance he frightens me (while I am unaware of his presence.) and makes me jump 4 feet off the ground. Uffda...

My bush turkey - I am still trying to think of a name for him.

My bush turkey - I am still trying to think of a name for him.

 

Brisbane is the 3rd largest populated city in Australia and it settled on the twisting Brisbane River. If you heard about the horrible flooding of 2011 in South-East Queensland, Australia, then you may not have realized that, that was Brisbane. It had been raining for weeks on end. I swear that it was the most rain I had ever seen. literally. I had never used an umbrella that much. The day that it started getting really bad was on January 10th, 2011 and that was actually the day that I was flying back to the States. I am glad I left when I did or I could have been stranded at the Airport or rather stuck in Australia for longer which would have caused issues with University. (Even though, I wasn't thrilled about leaving Johan and the warmer weather compared to our Minnesota Winters.) Throughout January and February I was worried about my friends and boyfriend back in Aussie. (So, yes... this was just a little backstory for you about the Brisbane River and 2011 flooding.)

taken from Google Maps. This is part of the Brisbane River.

This photo was taken from Google Maps. This is part of the Brisbane River.

 

One thing that many Non-Australian's tease Australians about is that their country was full of convicts, because a large number of the people who were brought to Australia in the very beginning were brought as convicts to lessen the pressure in the prisons of England. On the site below it states that 165,000 convicts were transported over the first 80 years. Then again there were also many people that came during a Gold Rush of 1851. It's so interesting to hear how people immigrate to their different countries. For some more info check out this site.

Just a few nights ago Johan (my boyfriend) and I went for a walk from Kangaroo Point and across Story Bridge. Anything near the river is beautiful at night. It is a must see if you are in the Brisbane. 

Brisbane at night in Black and White.

Brisbane at night in Black and White.

 

An exciting thing to do if you are in the Brisbane area is checking out the Story Bridge Adventure Climb (where you can actually climb on a guided tour on the bridge).

 

Brisbane Sun Setting. :) awe!

Brisbane Sun Setting. :) awe!

 

Here are a few of my boyfriend's pictures, below. :)

 

On Story Bridge facing the road... and... traffic.

©Johan Joubert  -  On Story Bridge facing the road... and... traffic.

 

Beautiful!

©Johan Joubert -  Beautiful!

 

 

Me and Brisbane with my blue pants! :)

©Johan Joubert -  Me and Brisbane with my blue pants! :)

 

 

Me and Johan! haha!

©Johan Joubert -  Me and Johan! haha!

 

This blog post was a bit shorter on the writing part, but filled to the brim with pictures. I guess the old saying is true about pictures being worth a thousand words. I hope you enjoyed these pictures of Brisbane. I will post again soon with more adventures "down under" as my sister, Cassidy will be coming to visit us in about 15 days! I am so excited to see her again! 

Check out my blog for more about my writing, and my adventures "down under".

And since I showed some of my boyfriend's work on here, go on over to his blog and check out his writing, photography, and art.

Cheers x 

Welcome to The Naki.

Posted by: Updated: May 24, 2012 - 6:21 AM

 I apologize for the lack of attention I've been giving to this blog, but I've been running around so much it feels like I haven't had much time to sit down and record some of my adventures. 

Last weekend however, I was invited to spend the weekend in Taranaki with a friend of mine from University. Taranaki is the region that makes up the western peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. The defining characteristic, being Mt. Egmont (Taranaki being the Maori name) which is a massive cinder cone in the center of the peninsula. The national park surrounding the mountain is almost a perfect circle, and the mountain is considered to be one of the most cylindrical volcanoes in the world!

Mt. Taranaki from the Dawson Falls car park

Mt. Taranaki from the Dawson Falls car park

Aside from the mountain, Taranaki is a relatively flat region given that most all of New Zealand is built into some sort of hill or incline. The region is known for it's farms and off shore oiling rigs. There's even a heated debate underway over the use of fracking within the region and the country as a whole.

While I was there, I stayed in the coastal town of Opunake, called "Ops" by the locals. Opunake has a population of about 1,500 and an even smaller feel to it. Farms run right up to the shore line and meet drastic cliffs that drop off into the ocean.

The edge of Opunake

The edge of Opunake

While I was there, I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the mountain as well as some other cool geological features that resulted from it's most recent eruption.

Dawson Falls. The falls were formed from pyroclastic flows following the last eruption of Mt. Egmont 250 years ago!

Dawson Falls. The falls were formed from pyroclastic flows following the last eruption of Mt. Egmont 250 years ago!

A hike up to the ski field on Mt. Taranaki

A hike up to the ski field on Mt. Taranaki

What truly made this a great weekend though, aside from the scenery was the hospitality I received. If you or anyone you know is planning on traveling to New Zealand anytime soon, I highly reccommend looking into farm stays. Staying on a farm is become a much more popular and accessible form of accommodation in New Zealand and really is a great way to connect with the country. My friend's farm was relaxing, clean and had an irreplaceable homey feel to it, something any traveler would appreciate.

View from the farm where I stayed.

View from the farm where I stayed.

We were even able to enjoy some roast sheep that was, to say it discreetly, fresh?

We also got to explore the larger city in Taranaki; New Plymouth. New Plymouth is a great hub for outdoor adventure and architecture that is very reflective of the region. A 12 km coastal walkway surrounds the town, with great views of the ocean, and if you're their at sunset, the colors are astounding. A highlight of our trek, and worth going out of the way for, was the Te Rewa Rewa bridge. Built to frame the mountain, it reflects the strong surfing culture of the region, and resembles a wave breaking over Taranaki.

New Plymouth's coastal walkway

New Plymouth's coastal walkway

Te Rewa Rewa

Te Rewa Rewa

As always, if you ever find yourself on the west coast of any landmass, take some time to watch the sunset.

 

An Exception to the Chinese Rule

Posted by: Updated: May 6, 2012 - 8:56 AM

 One of my favorite parts of our program here in Beijing has been all of the Chinese students I've gotten the chance to become friends with. Here's a profile of one of them.

“I don’t think she has any fun at all! I’ve known her three years now, and not once has she stayed out anywhere past 8 pm. Not even the library!” Li You is gesturing emphatically as she describes a roommate who she finds particularly boring, laughing at how dull the girl is.

Li talks rapidly in perfect, unaccented English, with no trace of hesitation or uncertainty. Her silver Tiffany’s bracelet jangles as she adjusts her green flannel shirt; both are souvenirs from her recent trip to America. Her black hair is cut in a sleek, stylish bob that sways with her as she explains how different she is from her roommates at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics. 

“I’m not normal, I don’t want you to think all Chinese students are like me or that they all think like I do,” she said. “I’m different from most UIBE students.” It’s true that Li seems to have little in common with some of her classmates. They’re majoring in engineering while she dreams of being a journalist; they are homesick for their parents while she longs for American adventures; they refuse to even go out to a bar for one drink while Li loves going clubbing on occasion.

Even at birth, Li was already different from her future classmates. In a country of only children, she was born in the Fujian province as the second daughter to a Xiamen businessman and his wife. “My parents really wanted a son, so they had to pay large fines for violating the one-child policy when both my younger brother and I were born,” Li explained. She spent much of her childhood fighting with her older sister and younger brother, an experience very different from her northern roommates’ solitary upbringing. 

Once she started school, Li’s gift for academics continued to differentiate her from others. Even in elementary school, her teachers recognized her exceptional intelligence and eagerness to learn; she was constantly being encouraged to consider more advanced classes. She was only in primary school her father gave her a biography of a Chinese girl who had traveled all the way to America to study at Harvard.  Even as a child, Li was a voracious reader and finished the book in a matter of days. From then on, she said, America was her dream.

Knowing that she would need top grades to do all that she wanted to, Li continued to impress her teachers. She tested into her province’s most prestigious middle school and high school, which was more than an hour away from her family’s house. Because she lived on a boarding school campus from the age of 13, she said she became used to being away from her family at a young age.

Neither of her parents went to college, because they grew up during the Cultural Revolution when all schools were shut down. Though her father became a successful businessman even without university training, Li said, “My parents made it a priority to give me and my siblings the opportunity to attend university.”

When it came time to pick a university to attend, she knew she wanted to go even farther away from home than her high school. She had originally wanted to go to a university in America, but her dad deemed that to be a bit too far, so she settled on Beijing instead. Li loves her family, but like many 21 year-olds, she appreciates the freedom that being so far from home gave her. “If I had stayed by my family, I still would’ve had a curfew,” she said. “They would have their own opinions about people I was dating and everything else I was doing.”

Out of the realm of her parents’ supervision, freshman year of college was a time of exploration for Li. “That was my first taste of freedom, so I did a lot of rebellious things I would never have done in high school,” she said. “I even learned how to smoke cigarettes, though I only do that every once in a while. I enjoy my life here in Beijing, I can do what I want.”

It was her junior year of college when Li finally got to fulfill her dreams of visiting America. She spent half a year doing a study abroad program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale that broadened her views of the world. It didn’t take her long to adjust to American culture. Shortly after her arrival in Illinois, Li was learning American idioms, partying with American friends, and even dating an American boy. She said she found that some of her views changed during her time in America.  

Li said, “I began to question small parts of Chinese life that I’d never thought of before.” In China, it’s fairly common to see a guy walking around carrying his girlfriend’s purse; it’s simply considered the polite thing to do, similar to the American tradition of men holding doors open for women. Li was confused at first when the American boy she was dating didn’t carry her purse, but her roommate explained to her that American boys didn’t really do that. Li said, “I got used to it, and now I just think it’s so weird when I see boys carrying their girlfriend’s purses here in China. I never would have thought that before.”

That was a minor example, but Li found her perspective on bigger issues changing as well. Her whole life, she was taught that proper Chinese girls follow certain societal rules. In America though, Li discovered that it’s hard to have any fun if you follow all of those rules. Her face flushed and she became visibly irritated as she lists off things her roommates and most Chinese girls consider taboo. “They won’t drink any alcohol, not even one drink,” she explained. “They would never ever get drunk. They don’t dance. They don’t wear makeup.   They don’t stay out late. They don’t have sex before marriage. They won’t do anything fun!” 

Although she had been starting to feel annoyed with her “boring” roommates even before she went to America, Li’s time in Illinois solidified any doubt she had. “I want to continue to travel and learn more about the world outside of China now,” Li said. She is currently studying for the GRE and plans on applying to American schools for graduate programs in journalism. Her father was hoping that she would use her accounting major to move back home to Xiamen and get a job there after graduation, but that is not what Li has in mind. 

“He didn’t want me to pursue journalism because he doesn’t think I can make money in that,” she said, but Li said she told him that she was determined to do it and wouldn’t change her mind. Finally, her father relented, saying that if she was set on doing it, he wanted her to “try her best” at it. 

Although she wants to go to graduate school in America, Li says that she plans on returning to China after graduating. Unless of course, “I fall in love with an American or something crazy like that.” Then for a moment, Li’s perpetual cheer turned serious and she said, “China will always be my home. I want to see the world, but I know I’ll still want to come home in the end.” 

*Note: The student's name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Vienna, the city of music.

Posted by: Updated: March 22, 2012 - 6:02 PM

On the next chapter of my adventure I arrive in Vienna by train. The ride here was quite pleasant; much more enjoyable than riding the trains in France. I find the hostel very easily using the emailed directions, and I am greeted at the front desk by a kind woman speaking fluent English. She checks me in, and I'm given the keycard for my room. It's a nifty little card that works on a radio frequency, so no need to insert it into the door. She says this also works for the locker in my room. It's cool to only have one thing to keep track of.

After a quick shower I crave some exploring. There is still plenty of light left in the day and I intend to use every second of it. I grab a map from the front desk and then walk out of the hostel and take a right turn. With no real destination I just walk in the direction that interests me at the time, and keep walking until another interests turns me.

The first place I come across is the Vienna Opera House. It is made from tan-colored stone and has a beautiful copper roof that has turned green over the years. I next pass a couple of wonderful parks that are filled with lush, green grass and plenty of picnickers. They look to be fantastic areas to spend a warm afternoon. Vienna seems to be filled with beautiful parks. Soon after I walk through the Hapsburg winter palace without even realizing it. The palace itself is so large that it seems to be just a normal city block of buildings. In truth though it is one large palace that the royal family used for living during the winter months. It amazes me that the Austrian monarchy was in power until the end of World War 1, and these wonderful old palaces are still kept in good condition. I continue walking, passing a couple of Gothic cathedrals, some wonderful buildings, and the town hall. At the town hall I stop for a while. An entire ice skating area has been set up outside the building, so I watch the skaters glide through the winding courses of ice. I notice they are selling tickets and rental skates, but I decide to pass this time. The sun is going down now, and I am so tired from the train rides and the walking. I make my way back to the hostel and immediately go to my room to fall asleep.

 

Vienna opera house.

Vienna opera house.

 

 

The town hall with an ice rink out front.

The town hall with an ice rink out front.

 

When I awake the next day I remember being told that Vienna has some excellent museums. After I eat breakfast I leave the hostel and head for the Natural History Museum. The admission is cheap, so I grab a site map and head in. The museum is laid out in a winding spiral from bottom to top, so it is very easy to make sure you have seen everything.

The exhibits start out with minerals and stones. I believe there is nearly every variety of mineral and stone in these first six halls. Once done with the mineral halls I move onto the fossils and bones section which I find much more interesting. They have ancient fossils and skeletons from present day animals as well as long extinct ones. The one bone that stood out to me the most was the portion they had of a blue whale. It was only one bone. Just half of the lower jaw. It was propped up in a corner, for good reason, and went from the floor to the ceiling. It must have been at least 25 feet long. I was really impressed by the size, and I wish I could see a whole skeleton. I walk through the rest of the exhibits that mainly contain stuffed versions of animals, extinct and present day, and make my way to the end of the museum. I grab my coat from the coat room, leave a couple of coins in the dish, and walk out and go back to the hostel. The museum was really worth the money, and I am happy as I took the time to enjoy it.

 

Endangered flightless parrots of New Zealand.

Endangered flightless parrots of New Zealand.

 

The following day I decide to visit another one of the iconic tourist attractions of Vienna, the Schönbrunn Palace of the Hapsburg family. It is very easy to get to and even has its own metro line station. When I get there I am astounded by this monstrosity of a palace. It must take up at least ten city blocks, and it's four stories high. The intricate details on the outer walls are beautiful. I pay my entrance fee and start my tour of the palace. The audio guide playing through my iPod headphones describes to me all of the different rooms that the tour goes through. All together the palace is amazing, but I also find it somewhat boring to look at gold and family treasures. I don't stay for long in any of the rooms and finish the tour. The real attraction for me here is the Vienna Zoo in the backyard of the palace.

 

The front of the Schönbrunn Palace

The front of the Schönbrunn Palace

 

Since I bought the winter ticket at the palace I was given access to the zoo for no additional charge. Lucky for me it was not very busy either. Also it was feeding time, so that meant plenty of opportunities to watch cute animals eat. I spend at least 30 minutes alone at the red panda exhibit watching the staff feed them pieces of apples and pears. Too bad you can't have one as a pet. The rest of the zoo is amazing. It is situated on the palace land. There are plenty of forests and hills containing different exhibits within the zoo as well. In the forest there is even a suspended walkway where I was able to walk from tree to tree and look down on the wildlife underneath. When I get to the end of the suspended bridge I find myself in front of the rainforest exhibit. As I walk in I am immediately stunned by the heat and humidity compared to the chill air outside. My glasses fog up completely and render me near blind. Once my vision returns to normal I follow the path in the exhibit and come across a vast assortment of really awesome animals. There is even a python exhibit that has the python's sleeping quarters situated, including a glass floor, right above the walkway so you can see it as you go by. This is quite freaky as it looks like there is an enormous snake that is going to drop on you if you look up. My favorite place though is the otter exhibit. There are two lively otters that have made their home here. Both seem very hungry, and when I come close to the barrier they run towards me thinking I have food. I grab a small leaf and toss it over the fence. They promptly grab it and wrestle with each other for a short while until they realize it isn't edible. Reluctantly I leave the otters and wander through the rest of the zoo. Nothing really tops the otters as far as entertainment goes though, and I leave the zoo soon after.

 

Hungry otters.

Hungry otters.

 

By this time I am getting pretty hungry. I've heard so many good stories about the food in Vienna, especially the schnitzel, so I must have some. After a quick search on the Internet I find out that there is a famous restaurant for serving schnitzel close by called Figi-Mueller's. They are supposed to be one of the first places to start selling the schnitzel, so they have to be good. The line is long when I get there, but with me only needing a table for one it doesn't take long to get seated. I order a schnitzel with a side of their potato salad and some white wine. The food arrives quickly, but I am still drooling at this point. The reviews were right. This is absolutely spectacular. The bread crumbs on the meat is wonderful. It has just the right amount of salt to add to the flavor of the meat. And the potato salad is downright delicious. They add a corn oil sauce to the potatoes that gives it just the right amount of flavor. Washed down with a sip of white wine, this is one of the best meals I've had in a while. It's really filling too!

 

Delicious Weiner Schnitzel.

Delicious Weiner Schnitzel.

 

After the meal, and with my stomach thoroughly stuffed, I walked back to the hostel. There I laid down and relaxed in the common area. I met one of the guys that I was sharing a room with named Unai. He was from Spain and traveling in the same way that I am. We had some good conversation about the differences between Spain and the States. Soon after my full stomach started taking its toll on me and my body was telling me to get some sleep to digest. I kindly obliged the commands and walked back to my room and climbed into bed. As I lay there waiting for sleep I played over in my head the things that I experienced these few days in Vienna. It put a smile on my face as I drifted off.

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