Month: October 2015 (page 1 of 4)

Ireland – The Past, Present, and Future

In the summer of 2015, I received the amazing opportunity to study abroad for two sessions through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). The first session was in Prague, Czech Republic and the other was in Dublin, Ireland. As it was my first time in Europe, I wanted to make sure that I made the most out of my experience. I spent a total of 10 weeks in Europe and I managed to travel to the following countries during my time abroad: Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Ireland, Northern Ireland, The Netherlands, Switzerland, England, France, and Iceland.

My goal of visiting as many countries as possible countries caused me to go beyond my normal every day habits. I was able to reach out to local community members to learn more about their culture, make friends with people from all over the world, eat foods I never thought I would try, travel and navigate by myself, and make spontaneous travel decisions. These instances added to my personal development. In addition to acquiring typical travel experiences, I also had many moments where I had to step back and reevaluate my perspectives on culture.

What I had initially thought about when someone mentioned Ireland were the typical associations: friendly people, Guinness, St. Patrick’s Day, and Leprechauns. While those associations may be accurate in some way, I also learned about Ireland’s conflict with Northern Ireland. My class and I had traveled to Northern Ireland for an academic excursion; the weekend included a tour of the city of Belfast, a tour of the Titanic center, and a short trip to London-Derry. Northern Ireland is well known for its history of violence and it had been declared ‘unsafe’ for citizens of the Republic of Ireland to visit until the past decade. As dangerous as Ireland and Northern Ireland had been in the past, it was incredible for me to learn how far these two areas have grown since the 1970s.

The most memorable moment of my study abroad experience was when my class and I traveled to London-Derry. We learned first-hand about the conflict that took place between those who declared themselves as Protestants or Catholics by speaking to locals who witnessed the unfortunate mass-murder events. When I entered Northern Ireland, I could pick out the stark differences between the two territories – the North uses the British Pound instead of the Euro, they use miles instead of kilometers, they have officers that carry large amounts of ammunition and drive around in a bullet proof car, there are tall walls that separate Protestant or Catholic communities, and last but not least, every section of Northern Ireland is covered in flags that declare which political and religious side is welcomed.

Prior to studying abroad, I had not even known that Ireland and Northern Ireland were considered to be two separate countries. While abroad, I was often reminded of how Europe has had centuries of conflict and violence, with all territories having different reasons for engaging in warfare. My time in Northern Ireland inspired me to think critically about human rights issues. Not only did this experience allow me to delve into Ireland’s history, it also allowed me to understand the culture and society of Irish people today. It was truly a moment that I was grateful to receive.

– Marilyn Pikovsky, Dublin, Ireland

Summer in Kyoto: an Abundance of Belief in Adventure

4.  Stone Statues, Southern Sado Island, near Ogi, JapanLiving in a 14th century Buddhist Zen temple in the heart of the incredibly culturally rich city of Kyoto was a surreal experience — sleeping on tatami mats, raking the pebbles of the gardens in the morning, eating native cuisine while sitting cross-legged in a circle, hearing the monks ring the bronze bells to signify that it’s time for meditation, seeing the ancient hardware-free wood joinery of my new home’s construction, being careful to not step on the entry threshold, removing shoes before walking onto the sacred floors — the authenticity of these five weeks were filled with wonderment, mindfulness and endless pleasant sensory surprises — everything was so new to me.  Before arriving, I was a little worried I might feel a bit uncomfortable in a place so geographically and culturally distanced from the rural Appalachia in which I grew up.  Instantly, though, I felt as though I was fully meant to be exactly where I was.

Dipping my feet into the goodness of Japan via this study abroad program was the most appropriate first step I could have imagined for preparation of the next chapter of my Asian adventure.  I said my see-you-laters to my fellow UO classmates, packed my panniers, and spent the next seven weeks of my summer vacation pedaling north.  A solo bicycle tour — my first of (anywhere near) this length, and in a country which I can only speak a handful of words of its 5. Sun Dried Squid, Northern Honshu, Sea of Japan Coast, near Ajigasawa, Japanlanguage.  Setting out with books and paints in tow, my expectations were to spend a summer keeping myself entertained — self-work and inner-reflection were on my to-do list as was meditating and practicing yoga daily.

Not long after parting ways with my American friends, I began to hear the Japanese language surrounding me.  And not long after leaving the upper edge of Kyoto’s city limits, I saw nearly no one else who appeared to share my European ancestry, (with the exception of just a couple of touristy stops along my route.)  As the mid-rise buildings disappeared in the clouds behind me, so did the populations who were versed in speaking English.  I wasn’t sure what sort of interactions I was headed for, but I felt ecstatic and as liberated as could be — I had no route in mind, no schedule to adhere to, no one’s rules to follow — just a tent, a sleeping bag, a camp stove and an abundance of belief in the thought that adventure fulfills all the soul’s needs.

After a couple hours on the road I pulled over for rest number one.  Barely half way through munching on a carrot, a local farmer rolled to a stop beside be and handed me two fresh, bright green cucumbers.  I grinned from ear to ear, bowed a few times and repeat the only phrase I’ve mastered — arigatou gozaimasu.  What kindness!  And from a perfect stranger!  Cherishing this moment, I headed onward through the cryptomeria hills and to the shore of Lake Biwa where I spent my first night.  Only ten miles or so into my second day of cycling, I realized that the cucumber incident was not a fluke.  I stopped by a small market to charge my phone and I was promptly greeted by an employee who offered to share a watermelon with me — I graciously accepted and proceeded to offer slices to other visitors as well.  One of these customers happened to be on his way to a nearby beach to practice windsurfing in the day’s ideal conditions.  He invited me for a lesson.  By the end of the evening, I was cooking a traditional communal stew, nabe, with him and his friends.  I was invited to stay at their house.

6. Circum-Pedal Mt. Yotei, Southern Hokkaido, near Makkari, JapanThis only brushes on a sliver of the generosity I was shown in the first 48 hours of my tour.  And, without exaggeration, this was typical for the entirety of my 48 day journey.  I was overwhelmed with the kindness and hospitality consistently poured in my direction on a daily basis.  I didn’t know what I had done to deserve it, or how I could ever repay these miracle workers, but I didn’t want to turn down any opportunities to bond with such lovely people; I didn’t want to miss out on a story that could make this adventure all the more enriching.  I found myself falling more and more in love with life with every shared smile and laugh.

All along my 2000 mile meandering route up to and around Hokkaido, I had hardly made it through two chapters of my novel and I still had three times as many blank pages in my sketch book as filled ones.  (And most of the pictures I had drawn were for the purposes of communication.)  I had a few yoga sessions from time to time, but not nearly as often as I was unexpectedly invited into someone’s home.  Places to sleep, hot showers, delicious homemade meals — these were certainly gifts to be grateful for, but it wasn’t the crux of it.  People were incredibly patient — the language barrier posed its challenges, but speaking with pencils and hands proved to be surprisingly effective, even if it took 45 minutes to say what could have, under other circumstances, been said in three.  I couldn’t believe how willing people were — willing to take me in, to trust that I wouldn’t cause harm, willing to share so much time and energy for a cause with no direct physical return, willing to reach out to a foreign stranger who is simply passing through.

My goals were accomplished but not in the form I’d envisioned.  In discovering these qualities of these new friends and acquaintances, I discovered something which I will forever strive for — to be a caring citizen not for the sake of feeling 3. Tojinbo Cliffs, Sea of Japan Coast, near Awara, Japanobligated to, but because it brings so much mutual joy.  I hope to always feel that there’s room and time in my life to share it with those who pass through it, even if I realize that they might not extend identical offerings in return, but solely because the universe aligned us at a certain time and place.  Japan restored my faith in the goodness of humanity, and I intend to carry this mantra with me wherever I may go or wherever I might be.

– Halley Anderson, Landscape Architecture in Kyoto

Exactly How Bad is it to Teach English in a Developing Country?

AE_04             I arrived at my village energized and bright-eyed, enamored with the Nepali culture and language I was just beginning to learn. I had arrived two weeks ago in Kathmandu and from there hiked up to 2,000 meters, to the base of the shining Annapurna Mountains that would watch over me every day of my internship. I started this internship with next to no formal training in how to teach, but was confident that my enthusiasm would indefatigably carry me forward.

When I actually got into the classrooms, however, I was amazed that conditions could be so bad. Students often lacked pencils, erasers, and notebooks, and usually sat elbow-to-elbow in dark, crowded rooms with hot tin roofs. Floors and furniture were uneven, filling the rooms with constant rattling sounds that easily drowned out my voice, which was echoed and dampened as it bounced off the rock walls. The English schoolbooks were riddled with errors. I ran into cultural differences as well. The English education of Nepal was so poor that even the other teachers of my school, who had taken University-level courses in English, didn’t recognize or understand how to correct the errors. The books’ content was poorly organized and ill-explained. Teachers would hit students if they didn’t behave, fostering oppositional relationships without real respect.Digital Camera

My teaching failed miserably at first. Without speaking much of the native language, I couldn’t explain to students what I wanted from them. Refusing to use the textbooks, I drew some ire from other teachers. Refusing to hit students, I couldn’t force them to do anything at all. I wanted to be a fun teacher, anyways, who earned the love of my students, but without much experience in the classroom I was at a loss to even do that. It only took my first day of teaching to realize that I seriously needed to change.

I started rigorously planning lessons, critically reviewing those lesson plans to determine which teaching techniques worked and which didn’t, and searching for teaching techniques and materials I could use in the classroom. The only way to hold student interest was to make my lessons intrinsically interesting and enjoyable, so I did my best to do just that. I studied the Nepali language so that I was able to better connect with the children and tell them what I wanted from them. For two and a half months I taught, worked on teaching until I was exhausted, slept, and taught more.

Digital Camera          And at the end of it all, during my last week of teaching, I had one perfect day in the classroom. I held every student’s attention for every class period, completed my lesson plans precisely, and found upon assessing the students that they’d all had learned what I was trying to teach them. I’ve never felt more proud or joyful – a teacher’s pride, felt for the students, not at all for oneself, and a teacher’s joy at pure, successful cooperation. As I’ve continued my work as a teacher, now in Japan, I’ve often held that memory before me as I would a crystal prism, casting illumination all around, pushing colors into dark places. I won’t let it, or Nepal, go.

– Adrian Engstrom Von Alten, Nepal

Entering the Professional World

IMG_20150731_213330760I was offered an internship at Chang’an Bank in Baoji, Shaanxi Province, China.  I was supposed to rotate through their banking divisions and learn how banking is conducted in China such as help determine and provide credit ratings to banking clients and customers, help determine loan rates, provide services regarding foreign currency current accounts and fixed deposits, and learn how to conduct business with state-owned and private companies in China.  They were job procedures that would not only enhance my Chinese proficiency and help start my business career, but they would also satisfy the requirements of both of my majors at the University of Oregon.

IMG_20150425_154728479_HDRIn mid-July, as I was about to embark on my internship in Baoji in Shanxi province, I get a call from the head of Chang’an Bank informing me that the public security bureau would not approve my internship.  He explained to me that the procedures and administrative formalities in order for a foreigner to get into banking in China are extremely problematic, primarily due to the fact that banks in China are state-owned enterprises.  My summer vacation was coming to an end, my term at Nanjing University had already finished, my apartment lease was about to expire and because my internship fell through, there was a chance that I would not see any of my internship-related scholarship funds successfully go through.  I had literally hit rock bottom.

With my back against the wall, I was able to use my network of connections from both school and traveling in order help me find affordable housing on such a short notice and most importantly, find an internship in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China at 立信会计师事务所(Torch CPA) working as an accountant.  I started officially on August 10, and so far I have been learning the basic foundations for audit accounting.  Over the past few weeks I, along with other Chinese coworkers, have been looking hundreds of pages of files regarding a company’s past year revenues, taxes, expenses and audit reports and transferring/filing them into excel spreadsheets, as well as analyzing and evaluating the firm’s financial statements.  This was one of my most memorable experiences because I believed that it not only helped me grow as an individual, but also help me realize how far my Chinese has progressed while I have been in Nanjing.

Just when I was about to think, “Enough’s enough, I am ready to call it a day and go home,” I started to recall and think back on all of my previous challenges and how I was able to persevere through them.  IMG_20150327_184346607When faced with adversity, I carried on, never accepted defeat and never merely settled for good, but the very best I can. Those sorts of actions I truly believe define me as a person.  When life throws you curve balls, all that matters is what happens afterwards is how you react and make of the circumstances that are given to you.

– Henry Lawrence, Nanjing, China

La Vida Ecuatoriana

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1563.During my three weeks in Ecuador this summer, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet amazing people, see some incredible places and things, and experience a different culture firsthand.  All of the memories I made in the little city of Bahia de Caraquez are ones that I’ll always be able to reflect fondly upon.  However, looking back now, one memory in particular stands out from among the rest.

The tiny hostel we stayed at was owned by a local family that our group got to know really well, and their son was around the same age as all of us students.  He introduced us to a lot of young local people and on one of the last nights we were there, we got together for a bonfire on the beach at the tip of the peninsula that the city was located on.  They picked a beautiful spot, overlooking where the Pacific Ocean meets the Rio Chone, next to a little red and white DCIM101GOPROGOPR1963.striped lighthouse on the point.  We all sat together around the fire on giant pieces of driftwood and talked, laughed, and danced into the night.

My Spanish isn’t very good, but I did my best to communicate with the friends we made.  Their English wasn’t very good either, so we met halfway with a humorous mix of English and Spanish words and lots of hand motions.  I learned how to play the bongos and how to dance salsa barefoot on the beach.  The tide was out, exposing almost a quarter mile more of beach, and we walked down to the edge of the water and looked out into the darkness, which seemed to go on forever.  I was so content that night, so happy in my surroundings.

There were so many things that happened over the course of my trip- but I always come back DCIM100GOPROGOPR1682.to the way the simplicity of that night made me feel.  I felt included in the culture, not like an outsider looking in like I did for most of the trip.  I felt connected, alive, and in awe of the place where I was and the people I was with.  I think that night may have captured the essence of the entire trip, and it makes me smile every time I think about it.

– Sullivan Schuster, Ecuador

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