Blog Entry #3 June 7, 2016 ‘Gustong-gusto’

Blog Entry #3

June 7, 2016


            In 2011, I had the opportunity to study Brazilian Portuguese for three months before beginning my work as a missionary in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I found the process tedious and frustrating, but also recognized it as a necessary growing pain a crucial element to cross-cultural adaptation. Learning Brazilian Portuguese was absolutely essential if I was going to spend the next 3.5 years in Brazil. Learning Brazilian Portuguese allowed me to immerse myself in the culture, and enhanced my professional and personal life. However, learning a language is also a process- and one that cannot happen overnight. Because I have a very limited window of time to study Tagalog in Manila, I have been forced to take a unique approach to learning.

The idea of trying to learn Tagalog in 7 weeks for a 6 month internship in the Philippines, sounded stressful and overwhelming. I realized without the first week of language lessons that even though I have less time to learn this language, I still need to approach it with the same laidback approach I did in Brazil. If I make Tagalog learning fun, I will also be successful. I am not going to be able to learn everything in the 7 weeks I have to study- so I may as well enjoy the opportunity. Holding on to it too tightly will only result in frustration and a sense of defeat.

For me, fun includes trying out a new phrase at the palengke (market) or striking up conversation with the watermelon tindero (vendor). It means making notecards and taping them up around the house- physically labeling items in Tagalog to help me remember their names. It also means being able to laugh at myself when I make mistakes and introduce myself as someone who is ‘nag-aaral ako ng Tagalog’ or ‘I am studying Tagalog.’ Learning a new language is about experimenting. The minute language learning starts becoming stressful, I need to take a step back and explore ways I can make it fun. When it is fun I can honestly say, ‘Gustong- gusto Tagalog!’ (I really like Tagalog!)

*A glimpse at one of my vocabulary exercises during my Tagalog classes.



Blog Entry #2 May 16, 2016 Sunrise

Blog Entry #2

May 16, 2016


When I first started thinking about going to the Philippines early to study Tagalog, I was forced to do some serious reflecting. Did I want to leave my family 7 weeks before the start of my internship? How would I pay for the language study? And perhaps the biggest question in my mind was why did I want to attend? What motivated me to apply for the Summer Language Award and enroll in a language program?

The plane took off from Minneapolis, St. Paul and began to cross over the Pacific Ocean. As the plane climbed higher, clouds covering the view below me until it finally became dark, the ground below me turned black. There was nothing to tell me how far away the plane was from the ground. Unable to see anything outside my window, I quietly closed my eyes and let the quiet hum of the plane and the soft leather of the seat rock me to sleep.

As the plane arrived near Manila International Airport on the final leg of a nearly 30-hour journey, I opened my eyes. I noticed a bright red light cut horizontally across the thick window of the airplane. It took me a good minute to figure out what I was looking at. It was the sun, just beginning to wake up, and I was at eye level with the horizon it was quickly climbing over. I watched as the line moved from dark red to orange to yellow- it was truly magnificent. I felt as though I could reach out and touch it, and I imagined how hot it must be, as it began to wake up the 100 million person population in the Philippines. As I watched it I thought to myself, ‘the sun is smiling for me. What a welcome to the Philippines.’

As the plane began to descend, the clouds around the thousands of small islands below me continued to ascend. At some points the plane was even eye level with the clouds and I could not help but smile. After a dark night, the clouds were lifting to reveal a beautiful new life below. Around each little island was a light blue color, as if a child had taken a Crayola crayon labeled ‘marine’ and outlined every single island below in that same color. Below me lie hundreds of thousands of houses with different colored roofs, and I wondered what the people who lived inside them were doing. Looking down as the clouds floated up, I can only describe my feelings in one way- comforted, affirmed and at peace.

I felt comforted being able to being able to look below me and finally see this marvelous place called the Philippines. The place I had been looking forward to visiting before I even before I arrived at the University of Notre Dame to begin my Masters studies. For so long, the Philippines had been nothing more than an idea in my head… but now it was becoming real.

I also felt affirmed of my decisions. My decisions to attend the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and apply for the Summer Learning Abroad Award seemed like they made sense. The decision to arrive early to study Tagalog- well it just felt right. The feeling of affirmation, while difficult for me to articulate, was simply a feeling of ‘knowing.’ Sometimes when everything else feels uncertain, the sense that I am doing the right thing or making the right decision is the only thing guiding me. That was the feeling I had on the airplane, the feeling that I was in the right place, doing the right thing at the right moment. I had found a sense of peace amidst clouds and ocean views.

*Views from amidst the clouds as I arrive in Manila, Philippines.





Week 6 – Salzburg

This weekend I paid a visit to Salzburg, the westernmost big Austrian city. It is very close to Bavarian state of Germany. It only took me two hours by train to reach Salzburg from Munich. I visited Salzburg because it was one of the four metropolitan cities in the age of Charlemagne. But now Saltzburg does not have much Carolingian remnant. Its topography today was basically established in the eleventh century, the cathedral in the center of the old city, the benedictine monastery near it, and, the great castle on the mountain:


Final weeks in China- Week 7 and 8

As I entered my last two weeks of NDIB, I buckled down and made the most of every moment in class. Week seven was very challenging, not only due to the material (we were learning how to discuss complex economic and political topics that I find difficult to discuss in English, much less Chinese!) but also because the hope of seeing our families was becoming closer and closer. China and my hometown of Chicago are 13 hours apart, and finding a time to talk to my friends and family was difficult. As much as I love China, I also missed my loved ones immensely.

Week seven, on Friday, I hosted and performed in Notre Dame’s China Night. In addition to singing a song with my classmates, I created a rap about my weeks here in China studying and experiencing the culture with my friends, making sure to thank my teachers who have worked so hard every day preparing the next day’s class. They have so much patience with us, which really shows as they answer our 100th question of the day. I also performed with my classmates in a skit parodying a game show in which I asked the contestants who were vying for my heart Chinese cultural questions in order to see if we were a good match or not (none of us were a good match, and I ended up choosing myself in the end). The whole night was tons of fun, and this wouldn’t be a Chinese program without a Chinese talent show!

On Saturday, I headed to the Lama Temple, a nearby hutong filled with restaurants, shops, and small cafes, and the Temple of Confucius. Although every temple is different, they are all treated with the same high level of respect and care from every visitor. For dinner, I met up with my Chinese teacher from last semester at Notre Dame, and it was so nice to see her in her hometown. She’s one of my favorite people ever, and for her to comment on the large progress in my Chinese proficiency meant a lot to me, especially as I was able to carry on a fluent conversation with her all night. On Sunday, I went to mass and bargained at the Silk Market, which was fun to use my Chinese to make up elaborate stories for why I absolutely needed silly items, but was unable to pay the ridiculously high asking price.

During week eight, despite becoming sick in the beginning of the week (no matter how careful you are, the water and food in China will still make you sick sometime!), I still managed to make it to the Temple of Heaven, the Old Summer Palace (which was filled with ruins of the original Summer Palace that was destroyed by the French and English), a few neighborhoods, the Pearl Market, and the Silk Market (Couldn’t forget those last minute souvenirs!). After giving my final oral presentation and finishing my last written final, I was sad to see the program ending. On the first day, I had given a speech to a few directors of Peking University during the welcome banquet, and now on the last day I was giving a closing speech to the same directors. My progress was evident in the sophistication of my second speech compared to my first speech, and I’m so proud of the progress that I’ve made with the help of my awesome teachers.

I’m so thankful that Notre Dame and the SLA Grant gave me the opportunity to study in the native country of my favorite language, and I can’t believe that it’s finally time to return to America. I’m so happy for all of the cultural and educational experiences that I have been afforded, and I hope to return to China in the future to continue my educational pursuits. I can’t wait to see how much more my Chinese can improve!

Reconnecting with my faith in China- Weeks 5 and 6

Returning to the daily homework, quizzes, essays, and oral presentations of class was difficult after such a fantastic weekend touring Xi’an, but I was glad to dive back into learning more and increasing my Chinese proficiency.

The weekend of week five was rather mellow, as we were able to choose what we wanted to do and go exploring ourselves. On Saturday, I headed to the Summer Palace, which is also Beijing’s largest garden. Filled with temples and winding paths, the Summer Palace truly was a site to behold. From the Summer Palace, I headed over to the Olympic Stadium. Beijing hosted the 2008 summer Olympics, and with the 2016 Summer Olympics coming up, I wanted to see the stadiums in Beijing. I toured the Bird’s Nest, the huge track and stadium that now hosts soccer matches. I was also able to enter the Water Cube, and was shocked at how small the stands were that surrounded the swimming and diving pool.

On Sunday, I went to mass for the first time in Beijing. It was so interesting to see how similar yet different a Catholic mass was in China. There was a bit of an issue with communion, as a non-Catholic accepted the host and then discarded it, but the priest handled the situation with grace. The mass was held in English and French, and it was nice to see people of all nationalities coming together in such a unique place to celebrate their faith. I definitely plan on returning every Sunday for the remaining weeks, and I really enjoyed reconnecting with my faith.

Week six came and gone, new vocabulary and grammar structures learned and ready to be tested during the weekend with conversations with locals. Friday for lunch, we were treated to hot pot again, and this time the meal was complete with performances. A man came and stretched noodles in front of us while a traditional mask-changing performer gave us a very unique show. After lunch, we headed to a movie theater to watch an animated Chinese children’s movie. It was amazing and empowering to be able to understand the entire movie’s dialogue, and it felt like my Chinese study was definitely paying off!

On Saturday, I headed back to the 798 Arts District, excited to be back in my element. It was even better than I remembered, and I loved exploring and finding all of the quirky art plastered across alley walls. Saturday night, we were treated to a traditional Chinese acrobatic show, and I was absolutely floored by how the performers made every insane act look like the easiest thing in the world. Sunday, I headed back to Church and stopped at the Silk Market on my way home. The Silk Market was an exciting place to be, as it was fun to use my Chinese to bargain for goods. The shopkeepers are very good about being patient with our Chinese, and it was really amusing to have fluent conversations in Chinese explaining why exactly I absolutely needed to buy a silk pillowcase, but could definitely not meet the asking price, as I was a poor college student.

I can’t wait to experience more of China, and I’m sad that next weekend will be my last weekend in one of my favorite cities! I’m so thankful for the opportunity to study the language I love in its home country, and the benefits of language immersion are becoming more and more evident every day.

I’m in China!: Well kind of.



It’s bittersweet to know that I’ll soon be leaving China for the States. I remember that during the trip, I would get frustrated with certain aspects of Beijing, such as the inability to see blue skies only except after a rainy night or the fact that there is no such thing as “right of way.” But… I’ll miss all of that. I’ll not only miss the obvious things such as the famous landmarks like the Great Wall or Tiananmen Square, but I’ll miss the small daily things more. I’ll miss my daily walk to the classroom and back. I’ll miss the Peking University guards saluting me into the campus. I’ll miss starting my day off with Ye Laoshi saying “上课!” I’ll miss the small classes with Liu Laoshi and Zhou Laoshi. I’ll miss the walks to the Hollywood or Nongyuan cafeteria. I’ll miss the 一对一’s and the talks and words of advice that my teachers would give me about life. I’ll miss going to Rayma after class for some ice cream, and going back to the classroom again for office hours. I’ll miss Ajisen Ramen, because honestly that’s my favorite restaurant in the entire world. But I’ll miss the people more. I’ll miss Ye Laoshi and his playful fatherlike demeanor. I’ll miss Liu Laoshi and her bubbly personality. I’ll miss Zhou Laoshi and her inability to wear any other color besides black. I’ll miss my friends, especially Emma who is from Penn. I’ll miss her blue hair and her random outbreaks of dancing. It’s only been 8 weeks in China, but it honestly feels like I’ve been there longer. Not only did I learn Chinese, but I learned more about just what it is like to be in China.I thought that China would be some kind of wildly different place, but I realize that it’s very similar to the United States. There is a huge disparity between the wealth of those who are at the 1% and those who are playing music on the streets. There are modernized buildings and some skyscrapers. But most of all, it seems like most, if not all, of the people work incredibly hard. Not just in studies, but in life. I’ll miss these things and much much more about China. Being in China these past eight weeks really broadened my perspective about different cultures and people, and this trip has motivated me to explore more of what this world has to offer. 再见 China. I’ll see you again someday.


I’m in China!: Eating weird stuff

The last weekend, a few of my friends and I decided to go to places in Beijing that we missed out on such as the Temple of Heaven, Wangfujing Snack Street and we of course had to make a quick stop to the Silk Market. The Temple of Heaven was pretty incredible and I realize that when I get back home, it’s going to take a while to get used to not seeing thousands of years old temples and mosques. After we stopped by the Temple of Heaven to take a few pictures, we went to the Wangfujing Snack Street, because one of my friends JJ really wanted to eat a scorpion (little did he know, he was going to eat a live one). 

When I first arrived at Wangfujing, I saw tall buildings and shopping centers everywhere. I was immediately reminded of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. We went into one of these malls and seeked out a dessert restaurant called Snow Monster, which is by far 在世界上数一数二 (in the world, top one or two) places you need to go. They served this thing that was kind of like a Korean dessert called Bingsoo, except it was a lot better. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was certainly a religious experience eating this ice cream/shaved ice/God-sent dessert from heaven. After this, we went to the actual Snack Street, which had delicious little treats like scorpion, larvae, starfish, and seahorse. Wow! Tasty! Haha I was too freaked out to actually try these things, but JJ and Emma (the blue-haired girl from Penn) were so down. While struggling to remove the tail of the live scorpions and getting ready to eat, JJ and Emma started to draw a crowd. Incredible. Because I had cringed so much throughout the entire half an hour of watching them eat/snapchatting their experience, I suggested to go back to Snow Monster. So we got another one.

This was probably my favorite weekend in Beijing and it’s hard to know that there are only a few more days left in this awesome city.

Exploring China with My Sister

My sister is a flight attendant so she had the opportunity to work and fly to Beijing to see me. When I stepped into her air conditioned room in a five star hotel and used her very American toilet, it felt like I was in America again and seeing the Hawaiian chocolates and guava juice on the table was so reassuring. With my sister, we were able to hunt down the best Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing, climb the Great Wall together, and explore the other hidden parts of the 798 Art District. My sister had her rough moments, whether it was using the public restroom for the first time or eating authentic cuisine that she was not used to but all in all, it was an amazing experience for us to explore China together.


The weekend was a little challenging for me because I wanted to plan a smooth sailing tour for my sister using the very limited Chinese that I knew. Although it was with much difficulty, it was really satisfying when I realized that I was able to communicate with other locals. At the beginning of the program, the director told us that learning Chinese is a lot like learning how to swim. The best way is to just dump us in the water, and that is exactly what the weekend felt like. There were times when I just could not understand other people and I really had to push myself to communicate to the best of my abilities, but in the end, I left every conversation feeling a little wiser and more confident in my language skills.

sister 4sister3

During these next couple of days that I have left in Beijing, I am going to miss a lot of the simple things that I took for granted, like the mango ice cream that only costs 12 cents, the amazingly convenient subway that took me all over Beijing, and the guards who greeted me when I was walking to class every day at Peking University. Having my sister over served as a reminder of how much I have grown in this country that have taught me so much, and it was exciting for me to actually see that growth amid the chaos and fast pace of day to day life in China.


Tours week 6: learning french cuisine

My host family has finally let out her frustration about american cuisine. At the dinner table one night, she suddenly laid down her fork and knife, cocked her head to one side and inquired, “do you really just eat burgers and fast-cooked meat in the States?” It was such a silly question that my roommate from Michigan and I was too surprised to answer right away. But given our stay here we have experienced first-hand how the French cure, smoke, bake and cook their meat, and to be honest, the “American way” just cannot compare. In our household, the simplest steak is first soaked in spices or sauce then sautéed in melted butter. To add to that we were sporadically served French Terraines or slow cooked roast, and for dessert souffles and home-made gelatos. The unhurried way the French make their food, every dip and taste, sauté and frappé is thoughtful and measured. My Madame showed me her recipes—each christmas she collects ideas and traditional recipes from her family all across France and publishes a little booklet of recipes, which she distributes to each family member. It has become a little tradition within the family, she explained as she waved her hand theatrically over a little pile of twenty or so booklets.

One evening, I decided to join Madame in the routine dinner preparation, after all, what better way is there to learn conventional french? When Madame heard that I would like to learn gastronomy, she was both thrilled and flabbergasted. After a short while we decided to try a pistachio chicken french terrain. The process was surprisingly complicated; we pureed three different concentrations of cream fraiche and chicken, smashed the pistachios, and boiled the sauce. Then we assembled the layers in a traditional terrain pot and laid it in the oven. The whole procedure took about 3 hours and by then end our hands were clay and our foreheads were beaded with sweat. About an hour later, my first terrain was ready! Once turned over, it held its shape well and had four different colors and layers. But what was most exhausting was communicating in french, especially when learning techniques, I had to combine the movements gestures and words to slowly understand what I’m supposed to do. But in the end it all turned out a huge success—both the food and my gain in vocabulary!

Final Weeks in Germany

As with my previous post, weeks full of learning and activity have kept me from updating this blog as frequently as I would like. Now that I have completed my courses at the Goethe Institut and have a few more days of travel before I return to the United States, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on my major experiences this summer: learning German, living in Mannheim, and acquainting myself with the culture and politics of Germany.

The final two weeks of my second Goethe Institut course, which ended last Thursday, went by so quickly they were hard to absorb. Unlike my first course, which had one instructor for all four weeks, this one was divided between two instructors who each taught a two week section. While my instructor for the final stretch did a fine job picking up where the other left off, it was nevertheless a transition that broke up the continuity of the course. Anticipating my return to the United States and the start of a new semester this fall also preoccupied me over the past two weeks, so my attention was divided as the last class approached. Despite this, I felt a real sense of achievement and camaraderie with my classmates on our final days of the course. I had studied with some of these people for my entire two months in Germany, and I will miss them and the unique international community that composes Goethe Institut. And while the busyness of the past two weeks made me question how much German I was learning, my travels after leaving Mannheim have shown to me how far I have come in my ability to use the language in daily situations, and to intuitively piece together what words and phrases mean even if I have not studied them formally. I’m grateful for the continued opportunity to practice speaking German as I travel a few days here before returning home.

Some of the people I have talked to have asked my why I choose to study in Mannheim. The city of squares is certainly not Germany’s most picturesque, so I partly understand why some would be curious about my choice. But looking back on my time in the city, I think Mannheim was a wonderful place to be introduced to contemporary Germany. While some might not appreciate its industrial business landscape (the city houses major corporations and manufacturers like John Deere, Daimler, Caterpillar, Siemens, and Unilever), these companies are a very real part of what makes Germany one of Europe’s strongest and most powerful economies. Whenever I walked along the Rhine, I saw not only cruise boats but barges carrying automobiles and other goods north. I appreciate the important economic realities that are more visible in Mannheim than in some of the country’s more picturesque cities. Another way in which the city exemplifies contemporary Germany is the significant role it has played in housing the thousands of refugees, die Flüchtlinge, that have immigrated here in the last two years. Mannheim was already a multicultural city because of the immigration from Turkey and southeastern Europe decades early, and once again it has become an arrival city. More than 80,000 refugees have passed through here in the past two years while being distributed through the region, and the city has given more permanent shelter to 12,000. While I did not necessarily sense this while walking the main streets (I did not to visit Benjamin Franklin village, the former US military base that now houses refugees), knowing that Mannheim was participating the refugee arrival process inspired me to research this situation more than I might have otherwise. Studying in this city helped me to get beyond the image of Germany as a country of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers), or of Oompah and beer halls (although I like those too!).

Beyond the formal learning, and the cultural and political education I undertook in Mannheim, I’m most struck by the importance of my interactions and relationships with native German speakers. In fact, these interactions and relationships undergirded my formal learning and and education. Numerous daily conversations in the street or in shops not only spurred my language acquisition, but also forced me out of my comfort zone and made me more open to learning. Most important of all was the friendship that developed between me and my conversation partner who I met with to practice her English and my German once a week. After my Goethe Institut course finished and I had checked out of my apartment, I went over to my friend’s house for tea and a homemade cake, and then she gave me a ride to catch my train. A few days later we met for a final time in Constance where we both were traveling. That my departure from Mannheim and from Germany is marked by saying goodbye to a friend, and not just completing a language learning program, has been one of the highlights of my time here.

As my time in Germany winds down, I can’t help but remember Carol, the character in the 14e Arrondissement segment of Paris, je t’aime, as she reports to her French class about her trip to Paris. Her experience is funny and also touching for its portrayal of a language learner making her way through an experience abroad. I can’t say I’ve experienced a moment like the one Carol describes at the end of her report. But I hope that this summer will not be my last opportunity to be in Germany.

PS: I know this blog has perhaps been a little light on the photos. I’ve posted a selection from my time here below (click on each photo for better resolution). 

A boat in the Rhine

A boat in the Rhine

Benedictine Archabbey in the Donau River Valley town of Beuron

Benedictine Archabbey in the Donau River Valley town of Beuron

Banners commemorating the Hieronymus von Prag and Jan Hus in front of the Münster in Constance.

Banners commemorating the Hieronymus von Prag and Jan Hus in front of the Münster in Constance

Flowers on Reichenau Island

Flowers on Reichenau Island

Writing a postcard on a train

Writing a postcard on a train