Week 1 in Beijing

I arrived in Beijing last Friday and I can’t believe a week has gone by already but it somehow feels like I’ve been here for a while. The minute I got to the airport and got to my gate I was already being immersed in the Chinese language. The airport attendant speaking Mandarin, which I could not understand at all, gave me a reminder as to why I am doing this program, to significantly improve my Mandarin language skills. When I arrived at the Beijing Capital Airport I was warmly greeted by one of my soon to be Chinese teachers and then driven to Peking University and my dorm for the next eight weeks. At this point I was quite tired as I had just sat on a plane for 13 hours and the 12 hour time difference back home proved to get the best of me. The first couple of nights I found myself waking up in the early hours of the morning but after about 3 or 4 days my body was used to it.

The first weekend in Beijing we mainly got settled and started preparing for our intensive Chinese language courses. We have class every morning from 8-12 and then a 30 to 40 minute individual session with a teacher in the afternoon. I am taking 2nd year Chinese right now and plan to take 3rd year when I come back to campus in the fall. Because we are doing a whole year’s worth of language in one summer, the classes are long and the studying is a lot but it is still manageable and still have free time on the weekends. We also signed a language pledge where we are only allowed to speak Chinese throughout this program. After the first couple days my brain was already being stretched to the limit from the amount of Chinese I was speaking but I can already tell that my pronunciation and grammar is improving so I can’t imagine how I will be able to speak after eight weeks and not just after one.

Hearing natives speak the language also drives me to study the language more by knowing how proud of myself I will be if I can get to a level where I can communicate fluently in Chinese. So far, I have been able to communicate with Chinese people at varying levels of success but I found that many people will start talking to me in English even if I am speaking Chinese just because I am an obvious foreigner. Another cool thing we have here are language partners that are students at Peking University. We met them the third day we were here and were very friendly; they even took us on a tour of their campus. I am hoping they can help me with my language skills as well as showing me other places to go and things to do in Beijing.

During my first weekend after starting classes in Beijing, we went to the Great Wall. This was not my first time going to the Great Wall but it was still a great time and one thing I can say is that I didn’t remember how tiring climbing the wall really is. We went to the Mutianyu section of the wall this time, which is famous for its beautiful scenery. We got lucky and went on a day where it was quite sunny and were able to take a lot of nice pictures. The next day some of us went to the Hongqiao pearl market which is basically a giant five story store with various street vendors throughout. While at this market, bargaining with the sellers is a must because they start off at ridiculously high prices but if you are persistent enough you can buy a lot of cool things for quite cheap which I was luckily able to do. Overall, my first week in Beijing was memorable and I am looking forward to the rest of the time I am here.


“He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a great man.”

你好 from Beijing!

As I expected, life in the “Northern Capital” has been completely the opposite of what I have expected. Tucked in the northwestern corner of the rectangular-planned city, the neighborhood’s steely high-rises seem to suggest I’m in smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan, rather than in the rocky ledges of rice terraces and paper lanterns I expected. The population of 21.7 million Beijingers (almost exactly two million more than that of New York, for reference) speak in a rapid-fire accent notorious for inserting “Rs” into words to transform their pronunciation completely on occasion— for example, warping the tame “wan,” for to play, into “wanr,” whose pronunciation is just as challenging to tackle as the spelling suggests. Within the first full week I’ve tried to manage the jungle along with my classmates, I have noticed that cab drivers have presented me the greatest obstacle for understanding with their barrage of “wanr-s” and “huanr-s.” Accordingly, I have adopted the language goal of being able to communicate with a cab driver without turning red in the face before politely smiling and resorting to writing a character down on my phone. Luckily we are situated in a dormitory complex devoted to international students, so the shopkeepers nearby and maintenance crew are typically very slow-speaking and understanding of my fumbling vocabulary.


Elsewhere, I’ve met the warning that previous students of this program offered me that “you’re going to feel like a baby because you don’t know enough to express yourself.” This easily flustered me the first three binding days of the language pledge, but yesterday one Beijinger approached me to, presumedly, ask me directions to somewhere on campus and this was a success for two reasons. First, some stranger thought I, a very clearly out-of-place foreigner, seemed to know what I was doing and where I was going. Second, I could confidently and fluently answer this man to tell him that “对不起我的中文不好。我不可以帮你.”  “Sorry, my Chinese is not very good, I can’t help you.” It’s the small victories.

This Saturday, the program went on our first venture beyond the dining hall and the College of Chinese as a Second Language to the Great Wall. Chairman Mao Zedong famously said, “He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a great man.” In the fashion of great men (and women) we bussed to the site at Mutianyu for a day hiking up the sides of mountains in a part of the wall built in the mid-6th Century. While I expected a touristy site that was very overhyped and slightly underwhelming, my expectations were surpassed by the spectacular scenery and the centuries of history associated with the area.


The following day during one of the first periods of downtime, I joined a few classmates in paying a visit to the Pearl Market, famous for its knockoff goods and incessant haggling. This was the first time I have actually felt proud of my Chinese speaking ability, as vendors would recoil in seeing a touristy American visitor able to express that their prices were rip-offs in a manner able to counter their persistent shouting and calculator-thumping. Immediately upon discovering I could rattle off my numbers and basic phrases like “too expensive,” “forget it,” or “I don’t want this fake good and you are trying to rip me off,” the vendors would halve and even quarter their prices on the spot. Similarly, I have started to think first in Chinese for many of these interjections and short sentences. Apart from the immensely important tones, my biggest difficulty in synthesizing sentences on my own is remembering that locations and times go before the verbs, while I usually think to include these details as an afterthought slapped on the end of a sentence. In good time, with good practice.

Until next week!

Underground Palaces

Before coming to Russia, I could count on one hand the number of times I had been on a Metro. Upon arriving in Moscow, I learned I would be primarily using the Metro to get around. I was in a panic! I could barely speak the language and had no idea how to use public transportation. I also didn’t have good memories of the Metro systems in the States. I remembered dark, dirty, crowded places where no one wanted to linger long. After almost two weeks in Moscow and countless trips on the Metro, I can confidently say the Moscow Metro system is one of the most user friendly systems I have ever encountered.
The first station I ever entered was Белорусская. It was like being in a museum or an art gallery. The station was well lit, the walls and floors were well designed and beautiful to look at, and it was so clean despite the large numbers of people passing through. I pass through it nearly every day, and the wall decorations and mosaics still catch my interest. However, the most stunning station I have seen so far is Киевская. It is one of the most frequently used stations and has light fixtures resembling chandeliers, paintings on the walls of the platforms, and statues.

Киевская станция

Киевская станция

Not all stations are as opulent as Киевская, especially as one gets further away from the center, but all the stations are clean and safe. My favorite station is Боробъёвы горы or ‘Sparrow Hills’. It’s close to my home station and is one of the few stations above ground. The station itself offers a beautiful view of the Moscow river and the local park is large and perfect to гулять. It’s also close to МГУ, the most famous Russian university, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Боробъёвы горы

Боробъёвы горы станция

View from inside station

View from inside station

More importantly, the system itself is easy to navigate.


The efficient beauty of the Moscow Metro System

The different lines are color coded so while I may not have the actual names of the lines memorized, I can always refer to the ‘dark blue line’ or the ‘red line’. If I accidentally got on the wrong train or pass my station, it’s a simple matter of getting off at the next station, crossing the platform, and boarding the opposite train back. The trains pass by pretty regularly (I haven’t had to wait more than three minutes for my train) and the stations are rarely closed or under construction.

The Metro also has unspoken rules that all Russians follow (and make it really easy for foreigners to stick out). If you’re not walking down the escalator, stick to the right side. If you’re walking down the escalator, walk down the left side. Always give up your seat to old бабушки or women with children (thus, all the men tend to rarely get a seat). Get where you’re going and don’t just stand in the middle of the Metro talking. On the Metro itself, don’t speak above what’s necessary for your friend beside you to hear. It’s a beautifully efficient system, and that I feel quite fortunate to experience. My resident director told my group at the orientation that the Moscow Metro system is the best in the world, and after experiencing it firsthand, I am inclined to agree.

Tours Week 3

Week 3 passed by in such a blur! My friends and I are just starting to get to know Tours— even though it is a village about half the size as my hometown, it has a lot more to offer than meets the eye. This week the sun came out for the first time since I came to Tours, and the village under the sun looked like a completely different city. It was as if all my worries melted away with the clouds, and the nice weather brought a new kind of vitality to the classroom and the dinner table alike. I went out more and explored restaurants, chocolate stores and patisseries. I welcomed challenges in the class and outside, offering to order for my group of friends at restaurants and participating in the excursions. During this week’s excursion, we went to the Cathedral at Tours. The architecture was amazing, even better than that of Notre Dame in Paris in my opinion, because it combined the works of different artists from different generations. Because the Cathedral experienced destructions and reconstructions, and the length of the construction allowed different fashion and techniques to form with the old. Listening to the guide was no trouble at all, especially since the guide, who was also our art history professor, was extremely passionate about the Cathedral and the story it tells about Tours and France.

Our main professor, who teaches writing and grammar on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday, impresses us each afternoon on those days with his knowledge of history and culture in France as well as in a lot of other countries. His lectures are always engaging and intriguing. My French improved tremendously these days—I can read stories which I never thought I could understand in such a short amount of time, and communicating with the locals is much easier. Whereas before, my attempts to speak french in restaurants and shops were often met with strange looks and shrugs, now the locals are able to understand and interpret exactly it is I needed. On Wednesday I had to buy allergy medicine at a pharmacy, and while I stumbled over some words, I could communicate my needs to the seller without major hiccups.

At home, I am starting to learn french traditional cuisine with my Madame. Each night we prepare a three course meal for a total of three people living in the household. I have begun to recognize common herbs, the names of the most typic sauces used in dishes, wine and types of cheese. While preparing the meal, Madame is always very helpful in explaining the new vocabulary and demonstrates the simple procedures every time for me. The conversations we have over the kitchen sink have greatly boosted my confidence and oral skills, which have proved to be more than useful every day!

Sorrento – Week 4

As my fourth week of class ends here in Sorrento, my final examinations are just around the corner. It’s incredible how quickly these past weeks have passed, and how integrated I feel in the daily life of Sorrento. Just the other day I was complaining about the rather sudden arrival of mostly British tourists in Sorrento to some Italian friends of mine, and how the sudden spike in tourism has affected my time spent around town, and they had to remind me that I am technically a tourist despite having lived here for a month. It was a playful reminder of how much I feel a part of the community here, and yet how much room I still have for growth.

This week I traveled much less so I would have some quality time with my friends and host family in preparation for final exams and really hunkering down on my schoolwork. I’ve noticed that there is very little stress in Italy, a very different feeling than in the States. If I’m a few minutes late for my early class of the day, I receive a pat on the back for sleeping in and we continue with the lessons. There is no such thing as a set schedule for anything here. Buses, trains, and appointments all tend to run late and there is no pressure to do much of anything on a tight schedule. Time should be spent with those who make you happy doing what makes you happy, and for this reason I am already dreading my return to the hustle and bustle of life in America.

The view of Positano from about halfway up the mountain.

The view of Positano from about halfway up the mountain.

My friends and I went to Positano over the weekend to visit the beaches and the incredible views of the Amalfi coast. I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the city, but my sense of awe was quickly muffled by the long and winding walk down to the beach on such a hot and humid day.  Positano is a well-known tourist destination for the rich and famous of America, and for that reason it was difficult to communicate in Italian with any of the store owners. It seemed that every tourist was from America, and I found it a little troubling to be in such a beautiful Italian city that seemed to be overrun by American tourists. After some time at the beach, my friends and I were eager to return to Sorrento and to our friends.

My host family held a birthday party for the young girl upstairs who had just turned nine yesterday. I walked in the kitchen to find five pizzas, a chocolate mousse cake, and homemade tiramisu. Needless to say, I was elated. My roommate was in Florence for the weekend, so the party consisted of myself and five Neapolitan women ranging in age from 9 to 70. It was so interesting to see the family dynamic of neighbors, and how age has created very few barriers for these women. They were so comfortable with each other and immediately adopted me into the group, taking photos with me and making fun of my “american appetite”. Hands were flying in every direction as they were so fond of the hand gestures Italians are famous for. Sometimes I find myself using them as well, and it will be interesting to see if my family picks up on it when I see them in two weeks. My friends from home had jokingly given me a book of swear words and slang in Italian claiming that it held “everything I really needed to know”, and I was so glad they did. That nine year old girl had the mouth of a sailor, and it was funny to know precisely what she felt comfortable saying around her mother and elders. I was surprised at how much I understood at the dinner table, and how much I was willing to participate in conversation. Carla, the birthday girl, was eager to get to know me as her interest in American culture could be validated by my knowledge of pop culture.

Carla's birthday cake was made by a family friend, Maria, who owns a pasticceria.

Carla’s birthday cake was made by a family friend, Maria, who owns a pasticceria.

As final tests approach I feel bittersweet about leaving Sorrento. I have forged so many great bonds here with people from all over the world. I am sincerely going to miss being able to speak Italian with virtually anyone I meet and the carefree nature of summer life on the Amalfi coast.

Morogoro Wiki 2

Last Saturday was one of my favorite days thus far in Tanzania. Another student, Alex, myself, and our teacher, Elly (Eliamini), planned to hike to a popular peak in the Uluguru Mountains called Morningside. We planned to leave around 8:30 and walk to the base of the hike, but as things go didn’t head out until closer to 9. One of the delays in a morning was an unwelcome spider that scurried into my room. It sounds a bit silly writing that a spider delayed our departure, but I was quite shocked when this spider that resembled a tarantula, but was far larger than any tarantula—or spider at all—I’ve ever seen. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’m apprehensive when I open my door to exit my room that another will be waiting to enter. I’ve comforted myself though that it is wholly paranoia because I encountered another far-too-large spider in my bathroom doorway one night. That one I managed to kill on my own though!

Creepy crawly things aside, we began our day walking through the campuses corn fields and taking a side road off the highway to a junction outside of town. From this junction we caught a daladala into town and then walked from town to the base of the hike. I would’ve been content if that was all we did for the day, getting to see different areas of Morogoro. I enjoyed getting to see homes and little shops along the road, the junction with produce stands, and the nice restaurants and hotels on the road that led to the base. I particularly enjoyed the fields of sunflowers on one side and the mountains on the other. I did underestimate the effects of walking an hour to the base in hot temperatures with no shade, and was a bit more tired than I would have liked to be at the start of the hike.


The hike was lovely, but difficult. It was about two and a half hours to the peak where we ate lunch and then climbed about two hours back down to the base. It was beautiful the entire way! We got a range of views outward toward other mountains and the city and surrounding area of Morogoro. It was a clear day and we stopped at a look out where we could see past the Uluguru range to a mountain range in Dodoma too. I think because I only see mountains under special circumstances, I find myself quite happy to be surrounded by them and am constantly taking in the views. This was definitely true on the hike, but also something I get to enjoy each day here. Gazing out and seeing mountains far into the distance has been my favorite view so far, though. The mountains are incredibly green and lush. I’m not sure if it is considered a rainforest, but it looks similar to one with a diverse range of plants, everything bright and in bloom.

After exerting about all the energy I have, we made it to Morningside. There is a rundown house at the peak that was originally a German military site, then passed to British control, and now considered a historical site. We ate lunch here, enjoying the view and the chance to sit down. The way back down was far easier and I had a chance to enjoy the views more, learn a little about the education system in Tanzania, the language school, and see some of the people that lived along the trail farming. There was an area as we headed down on a path different from our hike up that was one of the steepest paths I’ve encountered. To add to the steepness, it was on an edge and the ground was covered in straw from farming, making it very slippery. Alex and I slowly struggled down this ridge, while Elly jogged down a bit, waited then did it again. This exemplifies the entire hike: it was strenuous for Alex and I, but a casual stroll for Elly. Overall, it was a beautiful day and hike; and I rested well when we returned!




Old German Military Site


De’VIA art

Today, we had to make a presentation on a piece of Deaf Art, or De’VIA (short for Deaf view/image art.) De’VIA came about following a meeting of eight Deaf artists in 1989 at Gallaudet University. The eight penned a manifesto describing what De’VIA art aims to express. The chief difference between De’VIA art and other Deaf Art is that regular Deaf artists are free to create art in any form, media, matter, or subject, but De’VIA artists focus on expressing innate cultural or physical Deaf experience through visual art.

There are three main tendencies: 1) a focus of Deaf perspectives and insights in relation to the natural world or Deaf cultural environment, spiritually or in everyday life; 2) the use of strong colors and contrasting textures to express values and experiences; 3) exaggerations or emphasis on certain facial or bodily features especially hands, eyes, mouth, and ears.

For my presentation, I chose De’VIA artist, Susan Dupor’s 2004 work, entitled “Quiet Woods Forever.” I chose this work because it stood out to me as such a vivid expression of the Deaf experience and seemed to hold incredible hope for the Deaf community.

Susan Dupor was born deaf to a hearing family in Wisconsin, and did not have access to formal language until she was 4. Her artist statement tells of how formative those early years of her life was for her even though she did not have language skills. As a toddler, she often went into to woods to play and learned through touch and sight. As a result, her paintings often depict scenes in nature.

Quiet Woods Forever, Susan Dupor, De’VIA artist, 2004

There is a lot of movement in this picture, depicted as a sequence of images. First, there is an older girl giving a young girl a deer skull, something she may have discovered in the woods as a young girl. I surmise that the young girl might be her daughter, and that the giving of the deer skill is a symbol of her handing on the tradition or culture of learning by sight and touch – the Deaf way. The older girl ascends the tree as her hands come together right at the highest point of the tree trunk. This is the sign for “equality” or “justice”  and seem to allude to the idea that there is hope for improvement towards equality between the hearing and the Deaf. The young girl is signing as well. She begins with her finger on her forehead, and ends with a sign that looks like the Hawaiian “aloha.” This is the sign for “forever.” But notice that the young girl’s hand actually gets bigger towards the end, again expressing movement and growth for the future. Together, the signs say “justice/ equality, forever.”

The colors on the painting are saturated and bright, signifying light, a key need for the Deaf to thrive, since they are visual people. The young girl is wearing white, signifying her innocence, while the older girl has blue jeans, signifying joy, and blond/ yellow hair, signifying hope. Both primary colors come together to make green – the color of the shirt she is wear, signifying her experience of both in her life.

De’VIA artworks are not only for the Deaf, but also for the hearing to understand Deaf perspectives and experiences. Dupor’s artwork is hopeful, but some others tend to express more darkness, oppression by the hearing, and loneliness. If you’re interested in learning more about De’VIA, do visit Deafart.org for a list of De’VIA artists.

Music and Merriment

This past weekend, I played board games with my Chilean classmate, Paola, and a few of her friends.  Aside from Paola and me, everyone was a native French speaker, which was challenging but also immensely satisfying when I realized that I could understand basically everything that was going on.  Being there and talking with them really helped me see how much I’ve progressed since arriving.  My oral comprehension is far beyond what it was a month ago.  I’ve picked up on a lot of slang as well, which I’m very excited about, because one of my objectives for the summer was to know when informal French was appropriate and be able to speak it.  Thankfully, I got placed in a host family where I’ve had the opportunity to practice this a lot.  My host dad really likes slang, and he’s been really good about explaining the register of the words that I’ve picked up.  It has really helped me in informal, conversational situations like the get-together last Sunday.  

The afternoon of board games was an interesting test of my French in another way as well; one of the games we played required a pretty wide vocabulary.  It was a little like Pictionary, in that there were words that you have to get your teammates to guess.  It was frustrating sometimes when I knew exactly what the word was, just not in French.  They were really nice, though, and let me guess in English twice.  But it was really exciting that that was all I needed!

Then, Tuesday was la Fête de la Musique, known internationally as World Music Day.  It was started by the French Minister of Culture in the 80’s, and now it’s celebrated in countries all over the world.  There were free concerts organized all over the city, but there but anyone who wanted to could perform as well.  Before you were even out of earshot of one group, you’d come upon another.  

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If this doesn’t give you an idea of the kind of variety there was, nothing can

What I loved the most was that it really was a celebration for everyone.  I saw families, old couples, teenagers – people from all walks of life – come out to take part in the event.  It’s hard to describe the atmosphere, but I think the closest I can get is that the city was incredibly alive.  

My time at Tours is going far too fast, but I’ve still got lots to tell you about!  A la prochaine!

Final week in Tours

Last blog! I head home tomorrow! My last week here has been mostly relaxed and full of good food and conversations, which is the way I like to show real affection to a place—more so than traveling around and trying to see it all. That’s why I liked it here in Tours; it has that sort of atmosphere, not too huge and tourist-y to make me feel out of my element.

This week’s good news: I got a final grade in my French class, and if I were staying here, I would qualify for the next level! Practically I know it doesn’t mean much since I’m not staying, but it’s definitely a personal achievement. I would have enough trouble with those crazy listening exercises in English! Good to know I did all right on them. One of my teachers told me I had good class participation, which means a lot to me since her discussion exercises were easily my favorite part of her classes.

Overall, this was definitely a learning experience for me. I say that in a very serious way—this is the first time I’ve ever left the United States, and I was completely on my own. It was hard to adapt to, since for the entire first week I hardly met anyone my age. I’d like to say that I’ve gained a certain amount of maturity from the experience. Obviously, it was also a learning experience in the way that I hoped it would be—learning French. I came in with a high level of it, but I can now slip in and out of it so easily and express ideas without stumbling or using the word chose (thing) quite as much that I’m starting to think I might be fluent. I’m not quite sure what the qualifier is, but if I haven’t reached it yet, I must be close!

A huge, huge thanks to the people who made this possible! I’m very honored to have received this scholarship.

1st week in München (5th week overall)

I arrived in München after a 8 hour train ride from 1am to 9am after five train changes throughout the night. I would not recommend just picking the cheapest train ticket to anyone after this, most of the trains were not LCE, (the kind that have comfortable chairs, are quicker, and are just overall better). However the 39 euro price instead of 70 won me over, but I repeat, it is definitely worth the extra money! Anyway I arrived to my host family just in time for breakfast. Immediately they set to making one of the most amazing breakfasts I have ever seen. Caprese salad, scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, and schwarzwald speck (bacon) with a plate of 5 different types of both meat and cheese along with strawberries, apricots, and cherries and orange juice and a cappuccino. Needless to say, we spent about two hours at breakfast talking/eating, and I felt welcomed at once.

The classes here have been much better organized that the classes in Berlin. In Berlin it was really a “find your own way” type of atmosphere, but here they make sure that the extra curricular options are known to everyone. As I said before they put me in a B2.1 class which is where you start to meet other students who are trying to study in Germany. Most of my classmates are actually DAAD scholars from all over the world, who are given 5 months to learn German before their classes begin. Needless to say their German is excellent and often puts mine to shame, but it is nice to finally have some non-German friends who can speak about complicated subjects freely. I am the only american in the group, and so far I haven’t met a single other american in the whole school. So far the group I have been hanging out with after school consists mostly of Italians and Swiss students, along with a few students from South Africa.

The Fußball spirit here is amazing, with the EUFA 2016 tournament going on. Every day huge groups gather at Biergartens and Olympia park to take part in public viewings. Its great to watch the games with people from all different countries because someone is always really invested in at-least one of the games of the day. sadly I haven’t explored the city too much yet. The weather has been continually overcast, cold, or raining, so I am hoping that next week will turn out better for outdoor exploring.

At-least the bad weather has given me an excuse to work on my Fulbright application and a few others that I haven’t as of yet dedicated near enough time to. I know it’s really disappointing for the crowd of dedicated readers… but I do not have a pro-tip of the week this entry, because I have not made any noticeable social mistakes. This only means, I haven’t been out in public enough. The only tip I can give you all is never take a non-LCE overnight train just because its cheaper! I am sure to make a mistake by the end of next week, so tune in again to learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to have the same awkward experiences as me. Until then!