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

Read about our contributors: Emily Atmore, Catherine Earley, Rachel Fohrman, Paul Lundberg, Andrew Morrison and Emily Walz.

Mooncakes

Posted by: Emily Walz under Travel Updated: October 28, 2013 - 3:41 AM

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.

Mid-Autumn in Nanjing

Posted by: Emily Walz under Travel Updated: September 21, 2013 - 11:15 AM

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.

A Weekend of Adventures

Posted by: Paul Lundberg under People Updated: September 16, 2013 - 5:22 AM

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.

The view at the top of Croagh Patrick

The view at the top of Croagh Patrick

The group that made the hike

The group that made the hike

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.

Kylemore Castle

Kylemore Castle

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 Sundew

The Sundew

The Burren and Beyond

Posted by: Paul Lundberg under People Updated: September 9, 2013 - 5:53 AM

 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.

 
One of the roads we took to the Burren

One of the roads we took to the Burren

Once we arrived at this impressive rocky expansion we were all very ready to hike after being confined to the bus for a little over a hour.  Our group was met by some Burren experts who kindly informed us about various aspects of the Burren.  For example the Burren is the most diverse location for flowering plants in Ireland.  They represent about 70 percent of all the flowering plants in Ireland in a space that is one percent the land mass of Ireland.  Unfortunately it was not flowering season, but it was still a remarkable view.  It did not take long for me and the remainder of our group to traverse Mullaghmore, a large rocky mountain found in the Burren.  Once at the peak we ate the lunch we had packed and hiked back down the other side where our bus was waiting for us.
Mullaghmore in the Burren

Mullaghmore in the Burren

 
After this near 6km hike our group moved on to yet another impressive landscape, the Cliff of Moher.  The Cliffs of Moher created an impressive view with sheer drops of 300-400 feet.  These drops went straight into the frigid ocean below.  Looking part way down the cliffs one could see birds flocking to the crevices created over generations of geological abuse.  The Cliffs of Moher created an eye popping few which further built upon are already busy day.
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

 
After this busy day our group was pretty tuckered out, but we kept going as we went to see the national championship for hurling.  We stopped at a pub on the way back in County Clare and watched the spectacle unfold.  The event was something similar to the Super Bowl in America; fans painted with their team’s color and shouting with excitement.  The teams that were playing were Clare and Cork.  It was an amazing game as both teams played very well.  The ending could not have been any more spectacular as Cork was winning by one with only seconds remaining.  Clare fought back getting the equivalent of a buzzer beater to tie it up.  The pub exploded with energy as we were in County Clare.  Interestingly enough they do not do extra time to settle a tie, instead they reschedule and play again until there is a victor.
 

Noosa Thrills

Posted by: Emily Atmore Updated: September 5, 2013 - 4:03 AM
I had once planned on writing this weeks post about my schooling thus far but this weekend’s adventure in Noosa Heads needs a spotlight. Noosa is a beach town about 80 miles North of Brisbane in Queensland. It is located on the Sunshine Coast- an area that earns its name. A group of us spent the weekend just outside town at the headlands of the Noosa National Park.
 
We began our journey Thursday night when we traveled a third of the way to Noosa, staying the night in Brisbane with some friends. It was shocking to believe I have spent two months in Queensland and not ventured a quick hour north to the beautiful capital. The city has a much different feel than the touristy Gold Coast. It is a very lived-in place. Full of bustling men and women in suits, joined by runners and long boarders in the many parks that boarder the Brisbane River. In all of Australia I definitely have felt most at home in Brisbane. The town was preparing for a month long music festival, which guarantees that we will be retuning soon, if not as soon as this coming weekend.
 
Friday
The following morning after enjoying a sleepy breakfast along the river parkway, we headed north to Noosa via Greyhound for the rest of the weekend. We arrived 3 hours later at our hostel- the Dolphins Beach House. The entire grounds were pink, even my bed linens. Once we got past the vibrant colors, it was clear this was going to be our weekend oasis. We had two rooms with our own private kitchen, living room and bathroom. It was a very low maintenance hostel with no frills. This included no hot water during the hours of 10am and 5pm, and all showers were to be limited to 10 minutes before the hot water was shut off. I later found out I wouldn’t be bothered by this rule because I would burn my entire back at the beach and actually prefer a cold shower.
 
After taking it all in we headed towards the beach, which was conveniently just a 2-minute jaunt. On our way we passed 4 or 5 small sidewalk restaurants and stores. It was just a one-block mini-town but was bustling with families, dogs and surfers. After the sun went down on Sunshine Beach we headed back to the hostel and to our surprise found an older gentlemen sitting on what we thought was our couch watching the old American TV show “Pimp My Ride.” We learned that Tony was living in a room below us but it was full of drunken partiers and he was looking for a quiet area to watch the upcoming AFL “footie” game. After at first being a little off put by his presence, we began to enjoy his commentary on the horrible orange flames the “Pimp My Ride” crew was detailing on a vintage hearse owned by a teenage “burger technician.”
 
We could only handle so much of the bad TV and so a couple of us headed to the one-street town to find salvation in fine cuisine. After scouring the restaurant menus to compare prices, we ended up back at our first choice feeling less guilty about the slightly higher prices because we at least attempted to find the best deal. We were drawn to Fratellini because of the warm vibrant atmosphere, but also because of the colorful blankets on each chair. We even contemplated stealing them to keep us warm for the night at our hostel. After enjoying a delicious Italian dinner we left. Without blankets. We arrived home to Tony still on our couch, now watching Melbourne vs. Sydney in Footie. We watched the remainder of the match with him and finally had someone explain the game in laymen’s terms. There are 18 players on each team on the field at once. There are 4 posts at each end. If the ball is kicked without any interception from either team into the two most middle posts, then that is considered a goal and is awarded 6 points. If it is intercepted but still gets through the posts, or goes into the either of the two outside posts then it is 1 point, called a “behind.” There are many more forgotten rules and apparently new precautions that have been put in place for player safety. After watching Melbourne win, we headed to bed.
 
Saturday
The next morning we happily slept in before heading to the beach for some morning sun. This is where I received my nice red coloring that I would suffer for later. After covering up and eating lunch we walked along the beach to the headlands of Noosa National Park. We had learned about Paradise Caves from Tony the night before and asked him many times to remind us of where we could find them. Despite our efforts, we still could not find the right trail and as we were asking for directions we saw Tony running down the beach towards us. He was our savior. He had seen we were clearly lost and pointed us in the right direction. As Tony had said, the caves were not to be missed. Cautious about my fear of heights, I didn’t venture all the way down the wall into the caves. From our spot on top we saw sea turtles swimming in the tide. After spending a glorious couple of hours staring at the bluest water I have ever seen, we waded through the sand back to our hostel to change for a night downtown.
 
We happened to come to Noosa during the annual Noosa Jazz Festival, but instead of paying 45 dollars to eat and listen, we wandered along the streets hearing jazz from the different restaurants echo together. It was a wonderful evening, which included quesadillas and gelato. We had a nightcap with the other girls back on our hostel’s street before heading to bed.
 
Sunday
We set our alarms for 5:15am and put on all of the clothing we brought, including our bedding and went to the beach for the sunrise and some yogurt. After our 8am checkout we headed on a more ambitious hike through the National Park. Stupidly, we began our hike barefoot as we had not needed shoes in the rest of Noosa but quickly learned this was a huge mistake. We had planned to hike a few hours in but instead found the most beautiful rock expanse that jutted into the ocean and ended up staying there for roughly 3 hours. It marked the beginning of Alexandria Bay, also known as the nudist beach in Noosa. We were far enough away that we were able to avoid any unpleasant sights but there was one nudist couple that hiked towards us. We were not too eager to share our rock with them. Thankfully they returned to the beach before reaching us. Other exciting sites were tons of crabs, dolphins and more sea turtles.
 
We decided we wanted to see the caves one more time before we left so we stopped there on our way back through the Park. With a little encouragement from my roommate Steph, this time I decided to climb all the way down to the caves. I knew this would be the last time in Noosa and as it was September 1st, I was feeling my time in Australia slip away as well. I was a little apprehensive at first, but I knew Steph was also afraid of heights and had done it successfully once and was doing it a second time. After a little mental preparation we began scaling the rock wall down to the caves. Steph talked me down the entire way and I arrived safely but shaking from fear. At the base of the cave we were among beautiful pools of ocean water. It was more gorgeous than I possible could have known from above. However, I spent most of my time down there gravely anticipating the climb back up. I had seen many kids come down and up, and intently watched two couples climb up for reassurance. But, there was nothing that could assure me that I was going to be able to do it myself. Steph could clearly see that I was anxious, and after realizing we were surrounded by crabs on our rocky perch, she was anxious as well. So we mutually decided to start our climb back up. After some debate I decided that I wanted Steph to lead so I could see where she placed her hands and feet. And now completely alone in the caves, we started our ascent.
 
I was doing okay until about halfway up. Then my first-ever panic attack set in. I froze. One foot was flat on a rock ledge; the other placed unsteadily, half over the edge. My hands were clinging to indents in the rock above me, and my mind was numb. I was paralyzed with fear. I told Steph I didn’t know where to put my feet and she looked back trying to explain what step to take next. I said I couldn’t. She told me I was fine, and I was going to be fine. But I wasn’t. My heart was racing and I could no longer hear what she was saying. I remember staring at her and firmly saying “Steph. I am not fine”. She knew it in this moment. She saw the fear in my eyes that radiated my entire body. She asked if I wanted to go back down, but I looked down and knew that going down meant I would not be coming back up, not on my own at least. Looking down was a huge mistake. A new wave of fear hit me as I saw the rocky pools below me. And then another wave of fear hit and another, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. At this point I started to black out everything around me, everything except for Steph’s face. She was the only thing keeping me in that moment. Thank god for her. I can’t even really remember where I found the courage to take another step and grab a different ledge, but it must have been Steph because all I remember is Steph’s face and her voice telling me to breathe.
 
I could not tell you how it happened but we made it to the top of the cliff. Exploding with adrenaline, we were both total wrecks. What had just happened? As we walked down the trail towards the beach we reflected on what we just experienced together. Steph told me about the intense fear in my eyes, and her immediate guilt for convincing me to go down in the first place. I was both elated to be alive and on the verge of collapsing from fear. I would not have made it out if it weren’t for Steph. She was my motivational speaker in that moment. No one will ever understand what happened on that Cliffside but us, and this became apparent when we met up with the other girls and there were not words to explain what had just happened. For the first time I actually encountered the true nature of my very real fear of heights. Even now a few days later writing about it, I am unable to explain the feeling I get when I revisit that moment which felt like hours of my life. The pictures forever in my memory will be of looking down at the crashing waves over the rock pools and looking up at Steph’s face.
 
Both mentally and physically drained from our traumatic day, Steph and I slept the entire way home. We were awoken at our final destination by a fireworks finale, being held at the Gold Coast Show, which is an annual carnival event. It was magnificent, just another thrill on our long weekend of adventure. Without a doubt this was an unforgettable weekend in Australia.
 
View of downtown Brisbane from South Bank

View of downtown Brisbane from South Bank

 
Streets Beach, Brisbane

Streets Beach, Brisbane

 
Dolphins Beach House common area

Dolphins Beach House common area

 
Surfboards at the all pink painted hostel

Surfboards at the all pink painted hostel

 
Entrance to our apartment at the hostel

Entrance to our apartment at the hostel

 
Our apartment kitchen

Our apartment kitchen

 
A little taste of hostel living

A little taste of hostel living

 
Sunshine Beach

Sunshine Beach

 
Another view of the ocean

Another view of the ocean

 
Noosa Jazz Festival

Noosa Jazz Festival

 
A surfer heading out before sunrise

A surfer heading out before sunrise

 
Runners at sunrise

Runners at sunrise

 
The beginning of the hike through Noosa National Park

The beginning of the hike through Noosa National Park

 
Ocean view from the National Park

Ocean view from the National Park

 
Our rocky oasis looking out on Alexandria Bay

Our rocky oasis looking out on Alexandria Bay

 
View of the climb down to Paradise Caves

View of the climb down to Paradise Caves

 
The rocky pools of the Paradise Cave

The rocky pools of the Paradise Cave

 
 
The Journey Continues

Excursions, Irish Style

Posted by: Paul Lundberg under People Updated: September 1, 2013 - 8:52 AM
A couple nights ago a few students and I went into town to see a group known as Asland.  They mostly performed covers of songs, with a few original songs.  We were lucky to have gotten a group rate allowing us to pay less to get into the pub.  It was an amazing experience to see the town of Spiddal come out and watch the performance.  It did not take long for the performers to notice that we were American, and not Irish.  Once he discovered this he jested with us about it.  The night ended with bursts of energy as once they had completed their final songs people began banging on the table begging for more.  Asland was happy to comply with the demands.
 
Our most recent excursion took my classmates and I to the Aran Islands, we went to the biggest island known as Inishmore.  We took a ferry to the island and stayed overnight to see all the ruins.  During this time we walked close to the entire length of the island.  This large amount of walking did not go unrewarded as Dún Aonghasa had some of the most splendid views I have ever seen with a sheer drop of about 300 feet.  Furthermore it was a clear day, uncommon in Ireland, allowing for a jaw dropping view of the sapphire blue ocean.
The spectacular view from Dún Aonghasa

The spectacular view from Dún Aonghasa

 
I am living life on the edge!

I am living life on the edge!

 
Our day continued with a long walk across the islands lower road (there are only two the high and low road).  It was our hope to see seals basking in the sunlight on one of the beach sides on the island.  Sadly we found no seals, but we were apart of a traffic jam consisting of cows, a tractor, a van, and fellow hikers.  This was a laughable experience to say the least.  This long walk took us to the hostel that we would be staying at for the night.  It was to our great delight that the hostel provided food, and even greater so it was a buffet!  My fellow classmates and I devoured the meal with ravenous hunger.  It must have appeared that we had been starved for the past week, when in truth we are just poor cooks on a budget.

The next day we hiked back out to view Dún Eochla.  It is yet another fort on this island used as a watch tower for invading ships.  Again the spectacle was amazing as we were blessed with another clear day, despite a strong wind giving many of us wind burn.  Soon we found ourselves walking back to the ferry as we were exhausted from the past days of adventure.  We had to say farewell to the Aran Islands, but welcomed our warm beds waiting at our cottages.

 

Dún Eochla

Dún Eochla

 

 

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