A Young Monk Told me I was Beautiful

(Originally posted by Rebekah Glebe, a Journalism and Communications major studying abroad in Thailand.  She her blog at http://rebekahtglebe.wix.com/rebekahroams)

Even after spending a month here, I am still enamored by monks. Their bright saffron robes knotted around their bodies catch my eye every time they pass by. They have a mysterious air about them that draws me in. Monks are everywhere; I don’t think I’ve gone a day in Chiang Mai without seeing one. But I hadn’t interacted with them at all. I had been watching from afar, curious and intrigued. But this morning I had the opportunity to teach young monks English with a group of students from my program. It wasn’t structured, so we had to make up a casual lesson plan on the rot daeng to the monastery.

The large group of USAC students filed into the classroom and a group of young monks (16-20) drifted in and took their seats at wooden desks. We all introduced ourselves and wrote our names on the board, and had the students say our name back to us to practice reading and speaking in English. Then, we went over a list of prepositions and explained each one slowly. We made the lesson more lively by acting out each word and asking the monks to describe the scene with the words we had taught them. “Sally is behind Mark,” or, “Bekah is under the sunglasses”. Simple to start. Then, we had each monk come up and write a verb on the board. Using their list, we incorporated the verbs into our little teaching skits. “Iva is running in front of them,” and “April is singing between Mark and Sally.” It was a tad unorganized, very unstructured, but a boatload of fun.

Looking at the group of young monks, I could pick out the studious types, the goofy kids, and the quiet ones. Some of them were taking notes; their eyes were glued to the speaker. Yet others gazed into the distance, a daydream face I know all too well. When we did something silly, like act out “singing,” they would laugh and smile with us. It hit me that these monks were just regular kids. We were teaching people, just like us, but they wearing bright orange and had sworn to abide by 227 precepts.

Choosing words
Overseeing the class
Small groups

Small groups

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The second activity was “conversation practice.” We broke up into small groups, and the reality of their regularity sunk in even more. I learned that a 17 year-old-boy liked rap music (like Whiz Khalifa). Another like watching movies, particularly Spiderman. They had even read Harry Potter (did we just become best friends?)! These young men, some of which had been living as a monk since they were 5 years old, had elements of 21st century life engrained into their being. It surprised me at first, but the more I thought about it, it made perfect sense. They were regular kids in the turn of the century: they just happened to be Buddhist monks.

During the breakout conversation session, two of the monks were speaking Thai to each other and looking at me like they were trying to figure out the english phrase. They pointed to my eyes and my hair, and one said, “You are beautiful”. I was a little surprised that he came out and just said it, but also flattered. Then I was confused, because I knew monks are supposed to ignore women (to an extent). I wondered if it was somehow taboo for him to say that. But it wasn’t awkward or discomforting. It was a genuine compliment, almost more of a statement. I suppose seeing beauty in others is acceptable in their culture, and pointing it out doesn’t have any connotations or romantic ties.

This experience demystified the meaning of “monk”, but I am no less enamored by their presence in the city. They still have that air about them that makes them seem more… enlightened. I guess that’s an obvious descriptor, but you can really feel it when you are near them. Being a monk is more than wearing orange and waking up at the crack of dawn; it’s a conscious and mindful lifestyle which emanates from their very being. I’m not trying to be super cheesy and preachy here, I promise. But it’s hard not to describe them in these ways.

-Rebekah

Stranded in a Strange Surrounding Week One

(Originally posted by Cory Odom, a CSU student studying abroad in Spain.  Visit the blog page at https://strandedinastrangesurrounding.wordpress.com)

My name is Cory Odom, and I have just arrived at strange land that the locals call…. Espannyeah?

DAY ONE:

It would seem I am not alone on this voyage through this country. I met a woman who people tell me is my mother here, as I go in for a hug (A common greeting where I am from) I am met with two kisses to each of my cheeks. Yes, you heard me correctly. Without being bought dinner, this stranger kissed me on my face. I am told that this behavior is common, so it would seem that this land is full of loving people. May the lord have mercy on my soul.

This woman speaks in a language I can barely understand at a rate I cannot comprehend. I hope that if I smile and nod enough I can make it through this experience.

I have discovered a word of seemingly magical qualities. Vale, or Ball-ehh? One can never be sure, but it has the power to progress a conversation without having any idea what is going on. I will use it often as I cling onto any hopes of comprehension, but for now I will take a quick nap and will get back to writing later today.

DAY THREE:

My quick nap has rapidly turned to days straight worth of sleep. I can only guess what day it is. Today the other survivors and I walk around the city of which we now inhabit while a learned man bombards us with questions. Now is my chance to show my intelligence and mental prowess. I will come back boasting stories of my quizzical victories.

UPDATE: I h20150903_102632ave answered all questions incorrectly, and I must remember to never talk of this day again.

Later at an ungodly hour I find a bar.  I stay in the bar for what seems like an eternity before I decide to leave. Confident in my navigational prowess I head off to my house. I should be home in no more than 25 minutes.

UPDATE: It would seem as though all the streets here look identical. I have spent the last hour wandering around the streets of this town at 3 in the morning. Do not worry for me, for I am sure that nothing bad has ever happened to a lost tourist wandering alley ways so early in the morning.

I find my way home, by this time it is 3:30 in the morning, and I quietly unlock the door to my new home so as to not wake my surely sleeping family. As I open the door my mother tells me that I am back early, and that she did not expect to see me here for another couple hours. When retelling the events of my evening to this woman, I leave out my wandering in hopes to maintain my rapidly diminishing manliness.

DAY FOUR:

Today we explore a place called Madrid? The place is indescribable, almost like…..

DAY FIVE:20150906_185839-1

I awake today with a start, as today is the day that I get to run with the bulls! This is a story I have heard of this land for years, today I will finally be able to cross something off my bucket list.

UPDATE: My host mother has forbidden the idea of running with aforementioned bulls. But my Facebook friends don’t need to know this fact…

I spend the next couple of hours watching other men fulfill their dreams of participating in the event, even one man who later got gored (Remember to never tell host mother she was right in not letting me run).

And when that day ended, I had to prepare for classes. Apparently they expect me to learn here.

What you won’t think of when you hear the word “Oktoberfest”

(Originally posted by Amanda Thompson, a CSU student currently studying at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.  Visit her blog page at amandaelizabethblahg.wordpress.com)

Oktoberfest is typically known for its steins of beer, lederhosens and dirndls, sausages the size and length of a small child’s arm and the enormous extravagantly decorated beer tents that could fit thousands of people. Most individuals who do attend the festival would come back and rave to their peers about how many steins they chugged, the ridiculous amount of money they spent on carnival rides and all the moments that were probably forgotten in the mix.

In the midst of all the crazy festivities, sometimes one just needs to get out and explore Munich and experience it for more than just a party. Sometimes one just needs to hop on a bike or a random train and go for a ride.

Biking around the streets of Munich, Germany felt as if I was biking through a fairy-tale. The architecture and medieval-like designs of the buildings resembled castles fit for kings and queens. Past the massive castles and bell towers were wide and lengthy tunnels decorated and tagged with unique artsy designs. Unlike the typical graffiti filled tunnels, the art designs on the tunnels in Munich were full pictures that fit perfectly on each wall. None of the designs overlapped one another. Riding through these tunnels put me in a state of pure awe and amazement as I zipped past each mural-like design.

Next stop: The Eisbach River. This river is completely unlike any other river I have seen or heard of. As a California native, I have seen plenty of surfers surf…in the ocean. In Munich however, surfing comes with a bit of an unique twist. The surfers of Munich catch their wakes… in the middle of the Eisbach River. The speed and intensity of the river’s current was enough to sweep anyone under and away if they were not cautious. Watching the surfers ride the wakes and then proceed to swim in and out of the rushing rapids with ease, was enough to shock any bystander.

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Three castles, one tunnel, ten surfers, and one of the most exhilarating, scenic bike rides later, it was time to head back to the steins of beer, lederhosens and dirndls, sausages the size and length of a small child’s arm…and a carnival ride that blessed my eyes with the greatest panoramic view of Munich.

Another way to escape the insanity is to go up. Cough up the eight euro, pick a set of swings, and prepare for the gorgeous view, adrenaline rush as the ride lifts you up and takes you around and that infinite feeling of being up so high you feel as if you were flying. As my feet lifted up from the ground, I watched the ground, the thousands of people and festival grounds shrink smaller and smaller. The view that was presented before me was absolutely breathtaking. Munich’s iconic castle-like buildings, dome structures and intricately decorated apartment buildings were presented in full panoramic view. I lifted my arms and tilted my head back, embracing the wind and the feeling of flight. I absolutely enjoyed Oktoberfest for the steins of beer, lederhosens and dirndls, sausages the size and length of a small child’s arm and everything it is typically known for. But I also enjoyed it for its hidden surprises and adventures.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Kyrgyzstan Independence Day

(Originally posted by Carl Kasten, a CSU student studying abroad in Kyrgyztan.  His blog can be accessed at http://prokastenator.tumblr.com/page/2)

This is Kyrgyzstan! It’s an interesting place, a sort of mixture of local revival culture and soviet throwbacks. Case in point, this statue of Lenin solemnly gesturing back to Moscow in the middle of Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day.

Sorry for the delay, I’ve been spending the last two days trying to get used to the time change and figuring out Internet and all that over here.

This is Kyrgyzstan! It’s an interesting place, a sort of mixture of local revival culture and soviet throwbacks. Case in point, this statue of Lenin solemnly gesturing back to Moscow in the middle of Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day.

As a non industrialized country, the dissolution of the Union meant trouble for the Kyrgyz Republic. Before, raw materials, fuel, and finished goods could be easily moved within the Soviet Union, but now Kyrgyzstan finds itself with a wealth of minerals and few options for processing them.

All the same, the city is nice, the people are friendly, and perhaps most importantly, street food is hot and cheap.

As a non industrialized country, the dissolution of the Union meant trouble for the Kyrgyz Republic. Before, raw materials, fuel, and finished goods could be easily moved within the Soviet Union, but now Kyrgyzstan finds itself with a wealth of minerals and few options for processing them.

All the same, the city is nice, the people are friendly, and perhaps most importantly, street food is hot and cheap.

A picture of the performance from Independence Day.

So there were three of those groups of spearmen, and after this photo was taken they split up into lines, and each group introduced a short act representing a period in the history of Kyrgyzstan.

I like this picture for a couple of reasons. The celebration was interesting to watch, but watching the guards interact with the crowd was just as amusing. This bloke bummed a cigarette off the guy in the front row. Also note the people sitting on the right. Elders are highly respected in Kyrgyz culture, they’re referred to as “aksakals,” or “white-beards,” even the women. They were lucky enough to have their own seating up front, everybody else had to stand behind the barricade. And finally, note the man in the blue cap giving me the shifty eyes for being the only person in the country over six feet tall.

Tomorrow we’re taking a trip to a lake aways outside of town. I expect I won’t have internet there, but I’ll take pictures and be back by Monday.

A picture of the performance from Independence Day.

So there were three of those groups of spearmen, and after this photo was taken they split up into lines, and each group introduced a short act representing a period in the history of Kyrgyzstan.

I like this picture for a couple of reasons. The celebration was interesting to watch, but watching the guards interact with the crowd was just as amusing. This bloke bummed a cigarette off the guy in the front row. Also note the people sitting on the right. Elders are highly respected in Kyrgyz culture, they’re referred to as “aksakals,” or “white-beards,” even the women. They were lucky enough to have their own seating up front, everybody else had to stand behind the barricade. And finally, note the man in the blue cap giving me the shifty eyes for being the only person in the country over six feet tall.

The Milk Market

(Originally posted by Katie Virostek, a junior at CSU studying abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland.  You can access her blog here: https://travelingwithoutmymomanddog.wordpress.com/page/2/)

This morning I had the pleasure of going to the Limerick Milk Market with my API group. It is located in the City Centre under this big white pointed tent, almost like a circus tent, and also in the streets surrounding the tent. It runs every Friday-Sunday, with Saturday being the busiest day. What an awesome place. If you are hungry, do NOT go there because you will buy everything you see and eat it right away. While I did not see any milk, there are TONS of other goods you can buy, including some non-food ones. Cheese, fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, coffee, tea, bread, any kind of dessert, candy, honey, chocolate, flowers, tools, clothes, jewelry, scarves, greeting cards, you name it, they probably have it (except milk).Images of the Milk Market milk-market1

For now I somehow managed to only buy croissants, a Lemon Meringue Tartlet, and baklava. Do not doubt that I will be making several trips here before I leave.

In one of the clothing shops I also ran into a Cincinnati Reds jacket. What country am I in?!

For lunch we went to a local bistro called Papaz. They are famous for their sandwiches, and let me tell you they did not disappoint. I got the meatball one…….yum. To be noted is that they aren’t served in bread, they are served in more of a pita or gyro pocket. To end the day we walked through a small local art museum and through the People’s Park. Limerick has a lot of cool things to do for not being a huge “city,” and I look forward to more weekend trips into the city.

That’s all for now, folks! If this post didn’t make you hungry, you are a strong soul.

Slainte,

Katie

Experiencing Real Culture Shock

Dani Langevin grew up Summit County, Colorado. Currently she is a junior at Colorado State University. Now it’s time for her to embark on my study abroad adventure with Semester at Sea for a four month journey around the world.

[Originally posted on November 13, 2013. To see more from Dani, check out her blog directly here.]

What a life changing experience! There was a whole new world at my fingertips, one I had not expected. All of the freedoms that I had ever known were taken away from me. I no longer had all of the freedoms that I do in America.

As soon as I stepped foot off the ship I had a different feeling and could sense that we were definitely in Africa. The streets were dirty with rubble everywhere. Stray cats and dogs run rampant through the alleys. Homeless people are begging on every corner. Being in Casablanca was a sad reality. Another one of my first observations were the gender inequalities. I felt as if the women in Morocco were incredibly suppressed. I understand that their culture is very different, which I respect, but on the other hand I find it hard to believe that they chose to live that way. Did I feel uncomfortable wearing clothes that were different than theirs? Yes. Did I adjust what I wore to fit in more? Of course.

The first day was by far the most uncomfortable day of my life thus far. People followed us. People yelled at us. People tried to take advantage of us as Americans. And most of all – people stared. One of our goals for the day was to see the Hassan II Mosque. I had no expectations for it, but was completely in awe once I had sized up the enormity of it. It is the 7th largest mosque and has THE largest minaret in the world. I look like an ant in a picture with it. Now trying to go inside turned into quite the adventure and is what I mean when I say we were yelled at. We first tried to follow some other people into an entrance and were yelled at in Arabic, so we backed away. Then someone pointed us towards another entrance which we were also yelled at for trying to enter (come to find out this was the men’s washroom). Then we tried to go in another entrance and finally encountered an English-speaking Moroccan who told us that visiting hours had been temporarily suspended for Adhan (call to prayer). Once we were able to go inside the mosque it was surreal. It is just one giant room with very high vaulted ceilings and rugs to pray on. To add on to the point I made earlier about the suppression of women, the women have to prayer in a closed off balcony of the mosque as to not distract the men while they are praying.

Another memorable experience of this day was a conversation I had with a Moroccan man at the medina (similar to a flea market, but much larger and secluded). I had looked around the corner into a little restaurant, although it wasn’t much of a restaurant, to see what they were selling and a man immediately invited me (and the two guys I was with) in. We were hesitant at first, but decided to see what they wanted and I’m glad we did. I talked to this man the entire time we ate our meal. What we ate was called crepes, but it was more like a thick, flavorless pancake with cheese on it. The Moroccan mint tea is to die for and the crepes weren’t all that bad either. But the point of this is the conversation with this man. The first thing he said to me when I sat down was – “here in Morocco we are not racist.” That’s an interesting way to start a conversation. We continued to talk about his country and he told us so many things to do/see/try while we were there. This just goes to show that you have to put a little trust in people because most people really do have good intentions.

I spent the rest of my trip on a camel trek through the Merzouga Desert. What I thought was going to be a nice drive to the desert turned out to be rather long. And what I mean by rather long is 12 hours. We (10 girls and our driver, Ebraheim) basically got to see the entire country by van on our way to the desert. As miserable as the drive was, the night in the desert was so worth it!

We met up with our “camel drivers” before Ebraheim left us to them for the night. Ebraheim was also the name of our camel driver. He’s from a Burbur nomad family, but left his family to work as a camel trek guide. As the van drove away I got my first glimpse of a camel – and I was going to ride it! I wish I could explain to you how nervous I was to even get close to it. I guess it’s kind of like the first time you ride a horse, except for the fact that it’s an “exotic” animal that most Americans have never seen.

Getting on the camel was thrilling! The way they stand up is like nothing I had ever experienced. You have to be very ready for a lot of forward and backward jolting as they stand up on their knobby-kneed legs. We walked about halfway into the desert before stopping to watch the sunset. Desert sunsets totally trump mountain and beach sunsets! The colors were incredible! After the sunset we rode our camels through dusk until we found the Burbur nomad camp that had been set up for us for the night. That night was dreamlike! Ebraheim and another guide cooked us a traditional Moroccan dinner of bread, soup, a tajine of veggies/chicken, fruit, and of course Moroccan mint tea (aka Moroccan rum). We danced the night away to their drumming. The stars in the middle of the desert are brighter than any other stars I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of shooting stars I had seen. Unreal. That night we had very rustic sleeping arrangements. We slept on the blankets that had been on our camels backs in these little tents at the nomad camp. In the morning we woke up bright-and-early for breakfast and a desert sunrise. Jimi Hendrix (my camel) so graciously took me back out of the desert to where our van driver was waiting for us. The whole experience was amazing! I’m not sure I would ride a camel again (it’s very uncomfortable), but it’s a bucket list item. Check. The dancing and night sky in the Burbur village will be a night to remember.

Another painfully long day of driving awaited us and 10 hours later we arrived in Fes. Sadly we got there too late to do anything, but a shower and a nice bed in a hostel was very welcome.

As for the first country of real adventure, I’d say it was a success.

An Indian Wedding

Jennie Maydew is a junior Art major and is spending one semester in Hyderabad, India.

[Originally posted October 31]
To see more from Jenny, check out her blog directly here

Before coming to India, I had many ideas about Indian weddings. From what I heard, I assumed they were the most extravagant, decorative, and festive ceremonies around. I didn’t want to leave India without attending one, so was pleased when I was able to attend a wedding with four girls from my program. It was a friend’s friend’s friend’s sister’s wedding, but we were invited as if we were the closest of family (I mentioned family is all-encompassing word, right?)

My first Indian wedding! Here’s how we were invited: my peer tutor Pooh is friends with the man four from the left, who is friends with the woman on the far right, who is the bride’s sister! (That’s how we “knew” the couple)

My first Indian wedding! Here’s how we were invited: my peer tutor Pooh is friends with the man four from the left, who is friends with the woman on the far right, who is the bride’s sister! (That’s how we “knew” the couple)

Indian marriages typically come in two styles: arranged marriage and love marriage. Arranged marriages occur when the bride’s and groom’s respective families seek out a potential spouse, and match the couple themselves. The couple meets, then gets married soon after. Arranged marriages, though controversial and becoming less popular, are still common. Love marriages, on the other hand, take place when the couple-to-be seeks each other out. It’s the method most similar to that of American marriages, but usually still involves compatibility between families and parental approval. This particular marriage was a love marriage.

The part of the ceremony where guests threw flowers on the heads of the bride and groom

The part of the ceremony where guests threw flowers on the heads of the bride and groom

The ceremony consisted of traditional Hindu rituals and was led by a priest reciting ancient verses. In the hour-and-a-half-long ceremony, the couple did all sorts of actions: pouring things into fire, circumambulating the stage, receiving showers of rice and flowers. In total, though, it was less elaborate than I thought it would be. It was a small wedding with fewer attendees than most. A few nights ago, we passed a dancing wedding party on the road that was sending up fireworks as the bride paraded on a golden chariot (my expectation of Indian weddings).

My and Rhia’s henna, done especially for the event

My and Rhia’s henna, done especially for the event

I have to thank my host family for helping me get dressed for this event. My host mom and sister adorned me with their entire collection of gold jewelry and tied my sari up ‘Gujarati style,’ a different draping method from Gujarat, India. My host mom put a black dot below my ear to ward off penetrating gazes, which is a tradition for brides—who get the dot on their cheek—and for babies as well. My host mom’s mother-in-law also blessed me and Rhia with a prayer to create similar protection. I’m lucky to have such loving friends and family who invite me to weddings and help me wear Indian clothes, all while selflessly keeping my best interest in mind. As I’ve said before, Indians are so eager to share their culture and don’t mind—and rather appreciate—when we as Americans adopt it. This generosity continues to emanate, and as I approach the final month of my stay in India, I realize this spirit of sharing is one of the values I appreciate most about Indian culture—and one of the things I just might miss a lot upon my return home.