3-Portami all Spiaggia!

This week was filled with plenty of adventure, including a second exam!

Monday, I walked around my neighborhood. San Lorenzo is pretty particular. Just outside the Aurelian walls and east of Termini, it is known for being a bit duro, or hard: the streets and buildings look rough with graffiti everywhere and beer bottles in the piazze. This neighborhood, however, is one of the more lively quarters, especially since it hosts many of Rome’s #1 university buildings. Because La Sapienza is so nearby, there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area catered to suit poor college student bank accounts. It is also located near the Esquilino neighborhood, the hub of stranieri, or foreigners, in Rome. For this, there are many options in terms of Asian markets to shop for groceries.

Smokestack of San Lorenzo
A mural in San Lorenzo

Then on Tuesday following class, I walked with some of my classmates down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. Following that, we walked into Monti, one of the more hip neighborhoods in Rome, to grab lunch at a fast food pasta place called Pasta Imperiale (yes, they exist and they’re fabulous) and then a gelato afterwards at a well known gelateria in Monti called Fatamorgana. That evening, I had prepared a non-Italian dinner for myself. The day before, I had marinated a piece of salmon. Then I sliced it to eat with rice, cucumber, seaweed, and egg. Later that evening, I had planned to meet again with Flora, my Italian friend.  As I waited for her, I sat on Via dei Fori Imperiali. There was a group playing live music and many people enjoying the unnaturally cool evening. It was so pleasant to sit within the ancient city in a contemporary context. We finally met up and then went together to a bar just near Colle Oppio. Hidden behind what seemed like ruined walls was an Indian themed bar with accents of Middle Eastern and Saharan African accents. There we watched a fire dancer perform and a live band playing themed music.

Via dei Fori Imperiali
The Arch of Constantine
Fatamorgana gelato
Quasi-sushi dinner/break from Italian food!
Tuesday night waiting for Flora
Voodoo Bar
Corso Vittorio Emanuele

Wednesday after class, I had lunch with Huda and then we went on a mission to find a good panna cotta, which literally translates to cooked cream. We walked from Esquilino, where we’d eaten, to San Giovanni in a bar/pasticceria called Pompi. There, we found the custard dessert with the options of different toppings. I ordered frutti di bosco, or forest fruit topping.

La panna cotta

After deciding that Saturday I had wanted to go to Nemi, a small borgo famous for its fragoline, I didn’t end up making it. I took the intercity bus from the station intending to make a change in Genzano. The only problem was the bus only stops if you request, and it’s almost impossible to know where the stops are. After missing my point of change, I ended up arriving an hour outside of my destination. It was around 2:00 in the afternoon, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and I wasn’t going to make it in time to catch lunch in Nemi. I found the train station, but a bus ticket back to Rome, and got back within an hour and a half. Luckily, the tickets had only cost about 2,00 euro each so it was a cheap mistake to make.

Sunday, however, was by far the highlight of my week. Huda and I had made plans to go to one of the beaches near Rome. Since I had been to Sperlonga the year before, and many Italians rate it amongst the best near Rome, we headed there for our seaside adventure. We arrived at the train station and took a bus from the station to the city. Once we arrived, we each had a crema caffe’, essentially a coffee frosty, to cool us down from the heat. As we walked the main via, we started to go down to each beach to see if we could rent an ombrellone and two lettini. The way Italian beaches work is this: restaurants and bars will own a plot of land which usually includes a strip of waterfront. This way, they can make money from renting umbrellas and beds to beachgoers. The first beach we asked was al completo, or full. We walked on to the next, also full. We checked each bar and restaurant: tutti al completo. We decided to backtrack to ask the restaurants we had passed earlier, and thankfully, someone had cancelled their reservation, leaving exactly one ombrellone and two lettini for Huda and I.

Crema caffe’
Pizza Bufalina alla Napoletana

Hello, China!

Summer Palace

I stepped out of the airport completely drained from my sleepless 13-hour flight and awfully sweaty from the long wait to get through customs. The last time I spoke a word in Chinese was almost six weeks ago, so it wasn’t surprising that as I stepped out of the airport and saw a Chinese lady holding up the brightest yellow sign that said NDiB, I, exhausted yet somehow fully aware of the Language Pledge that this program would reinforce, was almost too afraid to approach her. However, I later found out through my terribly broken Chinese that she would be teaching 2nd-Year Chinese; she would be my teacher!

The Language Pledge was not officially implemented until the first day of class, when each of us signed a “contract” to promise that we would only speak Chinese during the entire program. Yes, I was warned that the Pledge would be challenging, but little did I know that I would still struggle with it after one full week of being here. Although I did not expect myself to be able to communicate fluently by now, I definitely thought that after one week I would have felt more comfortable carrying out basic conversations with others in Chinese. The strange, ironic feeling I got, however, was that the more I learned during the past week of class, the more incapable I felt of my Chinese abilities. It suddenly hit me that wow! Chinese is indeed an incredibly difficult language, and perhaps the objectives I set out for myself prior to the trip was unrealistic. There was no way I could come close to speaking fluent Chinese even after two months of being immersed in the Chinese culture. Understanding that it won’t get any easier from here, I only hope that I would soon get used to the struggle of communicating in Chinese. Although it might be frustrating, I must learn to embrace the challenge.

Besides that, my first week here was full of exciting things! My classmates and I did not wait too long to kick-start our adventure in Beijing. After our Placement Test on Saturday (the day after we flew in), we went out to explore the Summer Palace to tick off the first box on my Beijing must-do list. We also went to Nanluoguxiang, a famous old, traditional neighborhood, Tiananmen, and tried Beijing Kaoya (roasted duck) and scorpions.

Eating scorpions on Wangfujing Street







However, I’m still not used to sitting in class for four consecutive hours every day. In fact, once I get out of class I cannot bring myself to do any more work. With that being said, I have created for myself a slightly different schedule than others’ to maximize my experience here in Beijing. I sacrifice my sleep and wake up early to complete my homework and prepare for quizzes before class. In return, I get to spend my afternoon and night exploring different parts of Beijing with, if not my classmates, my siblings, who are also in Beijing for their study abroad program. I have realized that as long as I keep myself busy exploring new things, I won’t be too overwhelmed by the academic aspect of the program. In addition, venturing out and interacting with local people is, in my opinion, the best way to practice Chinese and truly learn the culture.

brother, Julie, and sister in Sanlitun
our new friend, the tuktuk driver


Chinese Views on American Influence

Before coming to China, my brother, who had lived in Shanghai, China for five years, told me about Chinese people’s’ reluctance to discuss controversial topics, especially with foreigners. I hadn’t really thought much of it, but since my arrival to Beijing, it seems to be the only thing I think about.

Every single class, our teachers always seem to implement our views on controversial tropics, especially President Trump. With all the uproar in the news nowadays, I don’t blame them, but after a while, you start to wonder what their views are. Respecting cultural sensitivity towards my teachers, I never asked them, but instead, decided to ask Chinese people on the street of different ages and genders what their opinions were on today’s controversial topics.

First, on the train ride back from Xian, I asked a twenty-five year old college graduate wearing an oddly Waldo-esque t-shirt several questions. Starting off slow, I asked him whether he watched or read the news often. After fervently nodding yes, I was excited to hear what he thought about America, Russia, China’s economic boom and shift towards Western-style living over the years. To my dismay, whenever a question about government or economics came up, he repeated he wasn’t knowledgeable on the subject and would rather move on to another topic. It seemed as though every topic was too liberal! After much disappointment, I asked him whether he liked America and Western influence in China. He said he loved America, especially movies. He said his favorite movie was Harry Potter, which ironically, is made up of British actors.

Later, I asked a young woman working on the train what her opinions were of America and our president. Just like the young man, she refused to answer the questions and instead kept repeating she loved America. After my third question, she politely excused herself and moved to the opposite side of the train. In shock, all I could wonder was am I so frightening? I am a 5’4, nineteen year old American girl wearing a Notre Dame T-shirt and Nike sneakers. Why are they so scared to tell me their opinions?

Finally, I asked an old woman about her opinions of America. She was very against Western culture, and kept repeating that the reason for increasing childhood obesity in China was due to American food. Feel my anger rising, I tried to maintain my calm and explain to her that fast food is only a small portion of American culinary. Refusing to believe me, she walked away murmuring to herself in unintelligible Mandarin.

After these encounters, I still don’t really know what Chinese people think of Western culture. Most people are too polite to say their real opinions. Hopefully, their opinions are good, but seeing photos of Beijing before and after Western influence, I could understand why they wouldn’t be.