These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
The prior weekend was the first long excursion weekend of my study abroad. It took me to Glenstal Abby, Dingle, and Killarney. It was without a doubt one of the most impressive experiences I have had.
Glenstal Abby is a Benedictine order of monks. One of my professors is a member of this community. The trip to Glenstal consisted of an impressive tour of the castle like structure. Inscribed on the main gate was the word PAX, meaning peace in Latin. After our tour of this impressive castle some of us had the chance to celebrate mass with the monks. It was an unique experience has they still use Gregorian chant music. I must say it was incredibly beautiful.
Once we had said our good byes to the monks of Glenstal my group and I departed for Dingle. It is a small town that is located on the scenic Dingle peninsula. On our arrival the group got lost trying to find our hostel, despite the small size of the town. Our living situation was a little cramped as we had four people in a room that was about 6x8 feet.
Our next day consisted of an unusual opportunity; we had a free day to explore Dingle. This consisted of our group herding around the town looking around shops, going to aquariums, walking to the shore, and an amusing hurricane simulator. The evening finished strong as our group received the news of the Jonnies beating the Tommies. For those who do not know St. Johns and St. Thomas are rivals. On hearing the news our group began chanting down the streets of dingle drawing stares of clueless locals.
Once our stay at Dingle was completed we boarded the bus once again and began our drive to Killarney. Killarney is one of my favorite cities to date. It presents an unique feel. Additionally the tallest peak in Ireland is not far. This of course enticed many of our group to go climb this. We had already climbed one mountain (Crough Patrick) a week before. Crough Patrick was about 2,500 tall. The mountain we climbed was named Carrauntoohil. It is a little over 3,400 feet tall. This mountain creates and impressive shadow on the landscape. I distinctly remember our initial descent still in disbelief at what we were about to climb.
We were lucky on the day we decided to climb as it was the clearest day of the week. Once our group was together we began our walk to the base of the mountain. After a decent walk one of my fellow students asked own of our guides about how far we were and the guide replied, “Oh we have not even started.” Not long after that comment he pointed at a jagged wall and said “alright we are going to climb up right here, this is the first level of three.” At this point many of us became giddy with excitement, and anxious about what was in store for us. It took about three hours to complete the hike up to the top, six hours round trip. Our descent down took us to a path known as the devils ladder. It was aptly named as it consisted of sheer drops with jagged rocks jutting out. In addition a small stream poured into the path making it wet and slippery. Luckily for our group there were no major issues on our way down and we all made it back safely.
At this point the group and I were exhausted and ready for the long bus ride back, hoping to grab some shut eye. The bus ride back must have been the quietest bus as a good 80 percent of us were fast asleep. It was a fitting end note to an excursion of new heights.
Life is not always a beach.
In addition to beach hopping and Tim Tam indulging, I spend a portion of my time here in Australia in the classroom. I am an accounting major, interested in writing, headed to law school. It is easy to tell that my interests are vast. Thus, I am equally fascinated by each of my different curriculums. These include an Introduction to Sharia course that focuses on Islamic law, an Introduction to Marketing class which is particularly interesting from my international perspective, and a Plein Air painting course in which I attempt for the first time ever to paint. Without a doubt there is more wholesome culture exchanged in the classroom than on the beach or at the bar (although I was once blamed for American involvement in Syria by a guy at a nightclub in Brisbane).
I just survived my first foreign midterm examination period and surprisingly have to share that despite all the fear instilled by advisors and professors back home, it was not all that more stressful than typical American midterms. I had a speech and separate paper due in my Islam course, a large exam in my Marketing course and a 5 painting portfolio critique in my painting course. When you consider the daily assignments U.S. universities give in addition to midterms, Australian schooling has a much lighter workload. This is not to say it is necessarily easier. Australian universities place a heavy emphasis on independent work. The actual classroom time per week is typically 3 hours, 2 hours for a once weekly lecture and 1 hour for a once weekly Tutorial where the larger lecture group splits into small manageable classroom sizes for discussion. This means that the required time commitment is minimal, but the necessary independent studying is heavy. In order to further allow for flexibility, the lectures are not attendance based and many lecturers video and audio tape their lesson each week and post it online. The Tutorial is a favorite aspect of the Uni system here. It is a low-key period in which the professor or an assistant clarify lessons, review topics, answer questions and generally “hangout” with us students. In one of my first “Tuts” (as it’s commonly called) for my Islam course, we watched YouTube videos and discussed current events in relation to the Muslim-Australian community. I even made a few jokes with the professor. I highly regard the addition of a laid back, less strenuous but still academic setting for faculty and students to dialogue in the American university systems.
On my first day of Introduction to Sharia I found myself completely out of my element. I was listening and trying to understand through two unfamiliar filters of perspective. I was foreign to Australian culture and even more distant from the religion of Islam. 10 weeks into the course I still have a Muslim-Australian culture. I have learned to take a separate set of notes to be googled and understood later. Without a doubt I feel so much more educated about one of the largest religions and cultures in the world in two months of learning than in 15 years of schooling. The exposure that is given to the Islam religion via some media outlets is unjustly wrong and I am now equipped to see through the biases.
As expected, American and mid-east relations have come up in discussion. This is particularly interesting for me, as I am aware of these references. At times though, I am sorry to know the controversy so deeply. I feel pressured to both shame and boast my country’s history and policies. I cannot avoid hearing American criticisms with a grain of salt. No matter my personal feelings, it is hard to be scrutinized as a representative for my entire country. What I say and how I act in that class represents the American culture. This is a pressure that Muslim-Americans feel every day. To be representatives of the best kind of Islam there is. I researched and wrote an essay on this topic and the assignment was an incredibly eye-opening experience in itself.
Had I not studied abroad it would be impossible for me to understand how it feels to be both shameful and appeasing but proud and argumentative. I am so grateful to have been given the chance to step out of my American bubble and experience the criticism and love from the outside world. This is an experience in itself that should encourage anyone to travel. It allows us to reflect on our home and to be able to return having gained a new perspective and the ability and desire to improve. This is what I will return home with in December.
On my first day of Introduction to Marketing I was asked to sell myself. It was a horrifying request. We were soon to pick groups for a large marketing project and the professor asked that we sell our abilities to our fellow classmates, promoting ourselves as valuable group members. Initially I was shocked, and started to worry that this forward nature was typical to Australian culture. But after we began the activity, it was clearly not. No one wanted to talk about themselves in front of the class, nonetheless boast about themselves. Most people made a vague comment about being good with people, adding that they haven’t had a lot of group experience and then ended with some self-deprecating comment about their inabilities. Essentially, most people did exactly the opposite of what they were asked. We all felt uncomfortable discussing our talents in front of strangers in a competitive way. Seeing this activity fall apart, I decided that when it was my turn, I was going to really go for it. I boasted about my detail oriented major, my obsessive organizing and planning and my ability to be also creative in my writing and photography. I discussed my tendency to take the lead. Of course by the time I sat down I was red-faced and entirely embarrassed. But I am happy I put myself out there. It’s in my American nature to be competitive.
In the following weeks I was able to use my international perspective in other ways that added to the classroom atmosphere. My professor often asks me specific questions about the culture and proceedings in the U.S. and how I understand or feel about Australian culture. It feels incredible to be instrumental to a course I am just a participant in.
I am not sure when or where in my time here, whether it was the understanding of different international perspectives from Islam or the business differences from Marketing, but I decided midway through my semester that I would love to focus my career on international business. When you want to expand your business globally- how does that happen? What are all the laws and culture considerations that need to be made to smooth that transition and negotiate rights? These are the answers I want to sort through. I want to study international law and how it relates to business functions. I have finally pinpointed my desired career.
I was asked before I arrived here how my time in Australia would improve my business career and I had some generic answers, but little did I know what this time would do for my career path. It has truly opened doors for me.
On my first day of my painting course I had an entirely different experience. The course is much less about learning Australian culture (unless you consider studying the bark on the trees and the Gold Coast skyline learning the culture) and more so learning about myself. In this course I have been challenged in a different way. I cannot blame it on my lack of Australian knowledge, or my foreign perspective, but instead it is my lifelong inability to draw, paint, and create with my hands in general. I have been truly challenged in a way where I am totally unsure of a solution and at times cannot reach it even if I see it. This painting course was taken as an opportunity to see the Australian landscape and relax- but it has been much more than that. I have learned to not compare myself to others and understand that we all have diverse talents and to ask ourselves to compete in different races at the same pace is unfair. It has been good for me to feel humbled. I have a new appreciation for art and already spend much more time at art galleries studying paintings. I plan to continue to paint when I am home for my own well-being. What I have learned in this course I will bring home with me also.
Overall, in my time in Australia I have revived my love of education and learning. Studying abroad is more than just landscapes and accents, but a chance to better round yourself as a person and to broaden your perspectives.
Made in the moon’s image, the most famous Mid-Autumn festival food are the dense, round pastries known as mooncakes, or yuè bĭng 月饼, given as gifts between family and friends.
It had originally been the tradition to hand-make mooncakes. I live in a dorm. I have no oven and no idea where to start making a mooncake. This year, I joined the majority of people in opting to purchase mine pre-made. From the traditional lotus seed paste and salty duck eggs (the roundness, again), to sweeter flavors like taro and pineapple paste, there are an unpredictable variety of fillings to choose from.
Beyond their role as snack and traditional gift, mooncakes are something of a cultural icon. Legend has it that secret military plans baked into mooncakes helped in a Han uprising against the ruling Mongols during the Yuan dynasty, letting the Ming revolutionaries spread messages coordinating their attack. This year, the Wall Street Journal ran photos of pandas in Guangzhou province being fed special bamboo-powder mooncakes for the holiday. Even merchants like Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs have gotten in on the game, creating for sale their own versions of mooncake-shaped sweets.
Mooncake-giving has also become linked to status, and in some cases, corruption, when incredibly lavish cakes are given to politically and socially influential figures in the hopes of gaining favor. Gifts to officials in past years have reportedly included gold-encrusted cakes stuffed with sharkfin and other expensive delicacies, and beautiful boxes with room for hiding bribes. This year, demand for these most luxurious mooncakes is said to be down following the new president’s emphasis on cracking down on corruption. Mine were a more garden-variety, picked up from the grocery store, shoved into a flimsy plastic bag and weighed by the gram. It was a little more than 14 yuan for the dozen I got, or about two dollars - nowhere near the highest-priced boxes that sell for hundreds.
All this and despite my best efforts, I still have no idea what the majority of the filling flavors were.
This week marked 中秋節 (zhōngqiū jié), or the Mid-Autumn festival. Celebrated in several Asian nations, Mid-Autumn festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon is full (September 19th this year). The same as the Northern hemisphere’s harvest moon, it falls during the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. Given the importance of the full moon, the holiday is also referred to as the Moon festival.
The history of celebrating the autumn harvest is very old, and the accompanying veneration of the full moon also goes back several thousand years. The festival in its more organized form seems to have gained popularity during the Tang dynasty (618-907AD).
Today, Mid-Autumn festival is a public holiday in China. Traditionally a time for reuniting with family and giving thanks, most people spend the holiday with relatives. The moon in its roundness is said to symbolize family unity.
I spoke with my Chinese roommate about her plans to spend time with relatives for the holiday. Not having enough time to get back to her immediate family, she is spending time with other relatives, including an uncle. The word she used for “uncle” led us to a discussion of vocabulary for relatives, which is far more complex in Chinese than in English. There is one word for “uncle” used when speaking of one’s father’s elder brother, and another for one’s father’s younger brother, and yet other words for maternal uncles and uncles-by-marriage in what seems to me to be an almost endless variety of combinations. In this case she explained the relative is really her mother’s cousin, but since it’s her mother’s side of the family she used the word for maternal uncle. We briefly digressed into the many words for “cousin.” Having some forty-odd first cousins, this particular family vocabulary complexity has always plagued me. I am usually reduced to describing the relationship (the daughter of my father’s younger brother, who is younger than I am) instead of using the proper word.
In addition to the different words for cousins on your father’s and mother’s side, she also reminded me that the correct term also depends on whether your cousin (male or female, elder or younger) is born to your father’s brother or sister. Essentially, there is one category of words for the cousins who share your last name, or “belong” to your family, and another for the category of cousins born to female relatives who “belong” to someone else’s clan/household and have other last names. She said though that sort of thinking is outdated, the words are the vestiges of the idea that girl children are born to be “given away” and after marriage, she will no longer belong to your house, and any children born to her belong to husband’s family.
Of the many fables surround Mid-Autumn festival, one of the most popular is the story of Houyi, the mythical hero who saved the world from drought and famine by shooting down nine of the ten suns in the sky until only one remained, and Chang’e, his wife. Houyi was rewarded for his efforts with an elixir of immorality, which he gave to his wife for safekeeping. Once when Houyi was away, an evil disciple came to Chang’e and demanded the elixir. To protect it from falling into his hands, she drank it herself and floated away in the sky, coming to rest in the moon. Heartbroken, Houyi lined up her favorite cakes under the moon, hoping to bring her back. Others in sympathy joined him in setting out offerings. Chang’e’s outline is said to be seen in the full moon.
This story has many variations, one of which was acted out by my classmates in shadow-theater style.
Chang’e is also known as the moon goddess, or the goddess of immortality. The first spacecraft in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program was a lunar orbiter named “Chang’e 1.” Chang'e 3, China's first lunar rover, is set to launch later this year.
For those who cannot see their loved ones, the festival is also a time for “expressing the strong yearnings for family and friends who live afar,” with whom we share the same moon, no matter the distance. Poetic, and fitting for the many foreign students who are my classmates, all of us far from home.
This weekend I embarked on one of the loftiest hikes of my life; the location was Croagh Patrick. Croagh Patrick is a 2,507 mountain found in County Mayo not far from Westport. When our group was originally asked if we would be interested in going many of us did not know what we were getting into. We did not understand why people standing at the beginning of the path were wishing us good luck. It did not take long however for us to find out the meaning behind their remarks as the path quickly became steep and rocky. The path was wide at first, but narrowed as we made progress towards the top. There were other hikers who were joining us on our way up and some who had made it to the top already and were coming down. This caused problems as the path became so bottle-necked that no more then 2-3 people could pass at a time without being on the edge of a several hundred feet drop. To make this scenario more precarious the incline was close to 70 degree slant.
Once we made it to the top the view was a letdown. This was because we were so high that we were actually in a cloud. We decided to wait to see if the cloud would pass and it did, rendering the most spectacular views I have ever seen. One could look out for hundreds of miles. The town where we started was all but a dot in the distant landscape. After some time we reluctantly made our way down the rocky slants and arrived at our hostel for a much needed rest.
The next day we went to Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine order of nuns. It is more known for the castle which was built by a man named Mitchell Henry. He built the castle for his wife who fell in love with the land. It is a story not too different with that of the Taj Mahal. It is a spectacular piece of architecture with a view straight from a fairytale.
Once our time was done at the abbey we went to Connemara National Park. This region of land is known for impressive winds and extensive bogs. We hiked around the base of a mountain and again were rewarded with great views of not only landscape, but unique flowers as well. One in particular is known as the Sundew. It is a plant that eats insects as the bog land is not nutrient rich. This visit to Connemara National Park ended our weekend and we began our way home, many of us passing out on the bus ride back.
The Burren, a colossal limestone landscape found in the County Clare, is where my most recent jaunt has taken me. The endeavor started long before my group and I arrived at the Burren as the roads were not generous. Imagine a standard road that is a single lane; now draw a line down the middle and presto it is now a two way road! This created several a circumstances of close calls as our sizable bus would skim the edges of the road and the oncoming car. Needless to say the drive consisted of sudden braking and swerving, which in turn caused those prone to motion sickness not happy.
|Gardening and landscaping (1)||Alternative (1)|
|Leisure and recreation (1)||Recreation (1)|
|Food and drink (3)||Politics (1)|
|Transportation (1)||Culture (1)|
|Wine country (1)||People (23)|
|Bridges (1)||Locally-produced food (2)|
|Bird travels (1)||Weird (1)|
|Adventure travel (18)||Backpacking (1)|
|Climbing (1)||Environmental travel (1)|
|Europe (6)||Hiking (1)|
|International travel (24)||Regional travel (2)|
|Road trips (1)||Travel deals (1)|
|Bears (2)||Lions (1)|
|Packers (1)||Super Bowl (1)|
|On the road (2)||Values and morals (1)|
|Elk River (1)||Family Fun (1)|
|Outdoors Women (1)||Under the radar (1)|
|Travel (40)||Workshops and conferences (1)|
|Food, beer, wine events (2)||Wine (1)|
|Parks and recreation (2)||Urban living (1)|