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Taiwan!

This past week, during our week of vacation, CIEE took its students to one of three locations: Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Gausu Province.  I chose to go to Taiwan, so early last Saturday morning, I found myself on a plane with 22 other CIEE students bound for Taipei!

In total, we went to 4 cities: Taipei, Tainan, Kending, Hualien.  We spent about a day in each city, going to museums, temples, beaches, night markets, and even one city council (in Tainan).  Although Taiwan isn’t very big, since we got around mostly by bus, we rode for several hours every day. 

Each city we visited had their own versions of the “night markets” Taiwan is so famous for, but Taipei’s were definitely the biggest and most exciting. I went to several, but Shilin Night Market was my favorite- seemingly endless stalls of clothes, jewelry, snacks, and boba all for dirt-cheap prices. I actually went there twice, once on the first night of the trip, and once on the last night of the trip, when we returned to Taipei for our flight home.  Since we only had two nights in Taipei and I spent both of them at that night market, I hope you can tell that I really liked it there! I ate fried tofu, fried scallions, fried radish cake, you name it, and I ate it fried.  Plus, I love bubble tea, and it actually originated in Taiwan, so I had no trouble finding that sweet drink in every night market!  As a vegetarian, I was worried I wouldn’t find too much to eat at these night markets, since I had read that most are famous for their seafood, but I managed to eat to my hearts content at every market we went to. 

My other favorite place in Taiwan was the Buddha Museum, which houses a Buddha’s tooth relic and aims to teach the world about Buddhism, all in a beautiful temple-like setting.  My classmates and I were blown away by the expansive architecture and equal commitment to education and worship at this museum! 

We went biking in the countryside of Hualien for about an hour, which was very peaceful and beautiful.  Our tour guide told us a story about the nearby mountains: if you see them from a certain angle, they look like the profile of a woman, and many people in this region often tell this “woman” their hopes and wishes in the hopes that she will help them come true.  We biked for a while, with farmland as far as the eye could see, cradled in a valley between several amazingly high mountains.  I’d love to go back and explore that area more, but it was in a fairly rural area of Taiwan, so I am not sure that I will have the opportunity to return.

Taiwan is a beautiful place, but I am not sure I was able to do everything I wanted to do there.  With such a structured tour, I spent a lot of time on the bus, and not very much time at all the museums, galleries, and markets which I find so interesting.  I’d love to go back to Taiwan, now that I have am familiar with the area, and explore it on my own!

breaking free

Isn’t is wild how much can change in just one year? If you stop and think of all the things that have changed in your life, it’ll seem pretty crazy. I do a lot of this kind of self-reflection often and every time I am still shocked at how different my life is right now than it was at this time last year. Let me explain.

Last year I was, of course, a senior in high school. I confess, I was not the type of person who was really into school spirit or school activities. All I could think about was graduation. I spent 10 months waiting for one day. Out of the 8 classes I was taking, I only really cared about two- guitar and Chinese. Forcing myself to go to class every day (like the good student I am) was draining. Pretty depressing, wouldn’t you say? At a certain point after I knew I was going to take a gap year, I began to set my sights on a different experience. Yes, I would be leaving high school (which I felt was long overdue) and yes, I would be going to the place I had been thinking about nonstop for the entire year, but to get where I really wanted to go would take even more time. My gap year program did not begin until the end of September, so I really had the longest summer break ever.

The difference between last year and this year is like night and day. Quite literally, actually, considering back in America while it is the morning here, it’s the evening there and vice versa. I am able to focus all of my energy and brain power on the one class I have and I have noticed HUGE improvements in my ability to speak, comprehend, and write all in just over a month of being here! I feel wildly accomplished and I’m not even finished yet. I like being in class, which isn’t something I could say about any of my core classes last year. In addition to my Japanese class, the time I spend outside of the classroom has kept me highly entertained. As I have mentioned before, there is no shortage of things to do in Tokyo. Often, I find myself in a museum (shoutout to Ueno park for being wildly convenient to walk to from school) or exploring an area I haven’t been to before. Exploring on foot is great because it helps me develop my personal mental map of Tokyo, which I take great pride in. And if Tokyo isn’t enough, I can take a weekend trip elsewhere! In fact, just this weekend I was in Osaka (more on that later ;-) ). I have so much freedom to plan how I spend my time, I never feel like I am stuck anywhere.

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Being able to meet new people has been so refreshing for my life, I really feel like a completely different person. Not only have I met some people the CIEE college students have met in their classes at Sophia University, but I am able to meet people on my own at the language school. All of the people attending my language school are foreigners, but I think it is great that I will be able to forge memories and connections with people that live elsewhere, too. I am very excited to meet with them in the future? Also, because my language classes are on a weekly basis (meaning it is short-term so new people come and go each week) my classes are always changing.

So far so good?

So I have been thinking a lot about what to write for this blog and I realized that it was really difficult writing something out of the blue without any guidelines. But guess what I realized something. This feeling was just like taking a gap year. You go into a gap year abroad with many expectations. But the truth is there are really no guidelines or rules that help you. Yes you may be able to read on other's experiences to prepare yourself. You may find some resourceful things online as well but there really is no strict way of going about it. Instead this is what I have been doing so far to get my so far so good experience.

  1. Make a schedule

The only way to survive and make sure you meet your deadlines is by making a schedule. Plan your day to day activities or at least plan what you want to get done every week. Make them specific and tick them off as you get them done. You will be surprised at how much you can achieve.

2. Make a budget and put down everything in writing

One major problem you face while abroad is spending. You want to buy everything you want to go everywhere. You want to do and try everything. But guess what? EVERYTHING needs and demands MONEY. So make a budget and make sure you write everything you buy down that way you are able to track your spending and keep your self in check.

3. Make new friends

Be open to making new friends and it does not really matter where. Make friends with your baker, your grocer, the mailman if you have one. Especially in a place with another language aside English. Making friends with the locals will help you to practice the language since they are most likely not to speak English. Also try hard to speak the language all the time. It is better to speak it and be corrected so you learn than to shy away and learn nothing at all.

4. Grab all the comfort you can get

I know how difficult it can be to be in a new place abroad away from your family and friends and regular lifestyle. It can be hard and you might get homesick like crazy. But hey it's the twenty first century guys you can do something about it. Face time your parents once in a while. Let them know you are fine, know they are fine too. Look at pictures of your loved ones send them pictures too let them know you are fine and let them share in your experience. Also don't hold it in all the time. Talk to people and let them know how you feel ask for their opinions on things it will help you to make better decisions. The last thing breath, go to the park, run around, take in some fresh air you will be glad you did.

I hope this will help you to have a better time abroad. All the best!!

EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY

Hello everyone, this is Esaaba and this is officially my first post on typepad. Hurrayyy!!! Yaayyy me!!

Well, for my first post, I will be talking about the expectations I had prior to my arrival in Paris and their realities once I got here. I have made a list of FIVE(5) of which I will be sharing with you.

  1. WEATHER

Coming from the African continent, Ghana to be precise I was physically and probably not emotionally prepared for the cold I came to meet. Well, prior to my arrival I had been told it was going to be cold, but did I expect it to be this cold?...the answer is NO. I was Not READYYYY. I had to cover up all the time the first few days for my body to be able to adjust well. My lesson, pack well...My advice to everyone getting ready to come abroad; anticipate and pack for all weather conditions. You will be glad you did.

2. EXPLORING THE CITY

Prior to coming here I thought I will have a lot of time to go all around Paris, exploring and enjoying my Parisian life all the time. I knew I was coming as a student but I was hoping to be very touristy too. The reality on the ground is that that is not entirely possible. Don't get me wrong I have been to some very amazing places here in the city but it is different when you are a student with other commitments and when you are on a leisurely holiday. A gap year is not a year for fun...you have every sing
le day in your life for that. A gap year is for you to develop and build yourself and that is exactly what CIEE gives you. their program is really amazing and the art history course helps you to explore Paris and understand the reason why things are so. Thank you CIEE!

3. CLASSES

Being fresh out of high school, one major reason why people take gap years is that they will want to relax a little before going on to the next phase of their school lives. So well I expected the classes to be a bit more relaxed but woosh that did not happen. The classes at the Sorbonne are especially challenging but once you get past the shock of the fact that university and high school are two different things you will be fine. Just psyche yourself to study and you will soar.

4. METRO

So I had heard about the metro and I had personally experienced a little bit of it whenever I was in England but it is very different in Paris. Apart from the language which can be troubling for non-french speakers, it can be difficult reading the maps in the metro and it is usually very difficult to ask anyone for help. Don't worry this should not deter you, just put your geographical lenses on and you will be a pro in the metro in no time. One thing that usually helps is taking note of the landmarks around you and knowing your metro exits.Parissss

5. FOOD

I was ready for this...or so I thought. The bread, the cheese, the fresh fruit and vegetables but the truth is I never thought I would miss the food from home. I do. I miss it and I crave it. Most people coming to Paris just cannot wait to get here. They want to taste all the Parisian foods because well let's face it Ratatouille encouraged us and the exotic names connered and persuaded us. France has amazing food, true, however they is still no place like home. No matter where you go there is always going to be something that you will miss that you will never be able to get in a foreign land, especially if you are coming from Africa.

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Who am I?

Hi all, My name is Esaaba Archine and this is basically going to be a blog about my Parisian experience. I hope you will enjoy the journey as we explore Paris together and learn so much while having fun of course.

recent activities

Every day is an adventure here in Tokyo. While that sounds incredibly cheesy, it’s the truth. Tokyo is a gigantic city with an endless amount of things to do. Not only is there something for everyone, but there is so much to do here that there are even places you probably never even considered visiting. Like a place where you can make paper, for instance. That’s something I did last week. I’m not kidding. It sounds kind of weird at first and you’re probably rereading what I just typed because there’s no way I could have actually said I made paper. But yes friends, I did. And it was great.

As my official one month arrival anniversary is coming up this week (tomorrow, actually), I wanted to take a look back at the activities I have participated in so far and share my experiences!

1. Kamakura

Kamakura was my first excursion and it was a solo trip (by solo, I mean I was not in a group with the CIEE college students. It was just Rina, the tour guide, and me). Getting down to Kamakura from my home in Chiba was (luckily) not too complicated. I was a bit worried though, since in the past I have been known to get a little lost whilst traveling to a station I have never been to before. But I made it there on time and with no problems, so that in itself is something worth mentioning.

In the morning, we visited Tsurugaoka Hachimangū and learned a lot about its history! In the afternoon after lunch, we visited Kōtoku-in (the big buddha statue in Kamakura) and then Hasedera Temple where we had a beautiful view of the water. Fun fact: Obama also visited these sites a couple years ago. Stores in the area have pictures of him there hung up and I honestly love that.


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2. Walking Tour of the area around Sophia University

I don’t know if there was really an official name for this activity, so I’m just rolling with “walking tour”. This activity, as with the activities following it, were done with the college students (see: the group picture). Basically, the afternoon was spent walking around checking out landmarks like the Parliamentary Museum, the Diet Building, and the land around where the imperial palace is. Fun fact: Yotsuya station’s Tokyo Metro line is above ground because it was built in the area that once was part of the large moat around the imperial palace’s lands. Now it is filled in, obviously, but since the land is still low in that area, the subway is actually above the JR line railroad tracks. How neat!

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 3. Ikebukuro Safety Training

This was the first (and only?) weekend activity we have had. In the beginning I must admit that I was not into the idea of having a required activity on a Saturday but boy, I was WRONG. It was a LOT of fun. Let me explain- we went to an interactive center where we learned how to deal with potentially dangerous situations and safely navigate them. We learned how to use fire extinguishers. Fun fact: the number one cause of fires in Tokyo is arson! Remember to put your trash out on the specifically designated days, everyone. In addition to learning how to extinguish a fire, there was an activity where we learned how to escape a building if there is a fire. The way that situation was simulated was through an interactive maze. The floor was slippery from the “smoke” that was put into the room during the scenario, and while we were all focused on making sure our mouths and noses were covered and not standing up, we definitely forgot that talking is a big NO. The kids watching us from the outside definitely roasted us (pun intended) about that one because there’s an acronym they teach kids here about how to escape fires. The last situation we experienced at this safety training center was what to do during an earthquake. There was an earthquake simulator that shook the ground up to the highest earthquake magnitude. Honestly, this simulation was pretty scary, so that’s one thing I hope I don’t experience while here. All in all though, this activity was a lot more fun than I was expecting.

3.5: Yosakoi Festival

This was not a CIEE activity, but I’m mentioning it anyway because it was great. After the safety training course, our group continued hanging out together. We were planning on finding somewhere to have lunch, but were thoroughly intrigued by all of the people we kept seeing on the streets in flashy costumes. Of course, we wanted to figure out what was going on. After following the trails of colorful groups, we found ourselves surrounded by food stands and watching a dance competition. We found out later that it was a celebration for the Yosakoi Festival. I loved watching the performances. Personally, I really loved watching the dances because I liked the music and the chants that went along with them.

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 4. Tea Ceremony

“If you’re only drinking one cup of tea, why does the tea ceremony last so long?” was the big question that afternoon. The answer: because a tea ceremony is about so much more than just the cup of tea. There is preparation and thought put into everything. From the bowls we used to drink the tea out of, to the decoration on the confectionary we had during the ceremony, everything was planned to go along with a certain motif. The theme for our tea ceremony was to embody the feeling of autumn. There is an order to the way things happen during the ceremony, as well. Everyone gets their tea at different times, as there is only one person making it. After every cup of tea is made, careful attention is given to each instrument used to make sure nothing is broken so the ceremony can continue with the next cup. Once finished with drinking the tea, everything is cleaned up and restored back to its original state (this is really important!!!). The bowls were passed around with the matcha (green tea) and spoon so we could see the designs and how delicate everything is. We were told to have the mentality of taking everything in as much as possible because that moment was once in a lifetime. Never again will it be that day with those same exact people doing the same thing. It’s an intense train of thought but I think it helped immerse us into the experience , and step out of real life for a little and appreciate that moment.

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 5. Washi Paper Making

Ah yes, the aforementioned paper making makes its resurgence at long last. Prior to showing up at this activity, I was under the impression we were going to make origami or something. I guess it didn’t register with me that “paper making” actually meant making paper. Go figure. Now, this isn’t your average paper. This is washi paper and it requires several steps for its creation. You have to dip the wooden box into the calpis*-looking water at a certain angle to get the right base for your paper, vigorously shaking the water in several directions. Its easy to mess up (if you’re an amateur, hah can’t relate since I did mine perfectly on my first try ;) )if you aren’t careful, so it took almost everyone a couple tries to get their paper without any ~designs~ (aka mistakes). After shaking the water, a paper layer forms, which you then flip it over “like a ninja” (that’s a real quote from the guy who taught us how to do this, by the way) onto another table where it is then taken off of the base it was on so it can be brought over to the dryer. After being dried by the vacuum table, the paper is then carefully removed and then placed on a heated metal stand. Several minutes later, the paper is complete. I have never been so proud of a piece of paper in my life. 

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*Calpis is a drink here in Japan. It is one of my recommended drinks and you can get it at any convenience store.

Introduction

Hi! I’m Allana and I’m currently in Shanghai learning Mandarin as my gap year!

I designed my gap year to be a “breather” year between high school and college: a time for me to take a break from the stress and bustle of school.  Even though learning Chinese and immersing myself in Shanghai’s culture is certainly a lot of work, it’s so fun that it doesn’t really feel like work.  Being able to learn vocabulary and immediately apply it when I buy groceries or ask for directions is amazing. It’s easy to pick up and guess the meaning of words I hear again and again around the dinner table.  There’s really nothing like learning a language in its native country!

In high school, I focused on electives that supported my passion for the sciences and music.  I’ve never been very good at the blunt memorization of learning languages, so after taking Latin throughout middle school and for two years of high school, I decided to dedicate my brainpower to mostly STEM and music classes, which I enjoyed very much.  I didn’t have the schedule space or the mental capacity to learn Chinese during high school, but I’ve been fascinated by the country and the language for several years.  Taking a year to solely learn Chinese was the perfect option for me.

As a serious musician (I play the harp), I grappled with the decision of whether to take harp lessons from a Shanghainese teacher or take a break from playing music during the year.  During high school, I participated in weekly lessons, 3 orchestras, and in a harp ensemble.  I also sporadically filled in in other orchestras who needed a harpist. Since I love the instrument, I was reluctant to rest my fingers for 9 months, but I eventually decided to play it by ear once I got to Shanghai.  After all, I did dedicate this year to learning Mandarin, and if my harp responsibilities conflicted with my language-learning, I would have to drop the harp lessons.  With four hours of class and three to four hours of homework per day, I have not yet found time to pursue my harp studies in China, but I will keep the option open!

My family includes myself, my three sisters, my parents, our two cats, and our twenty-odd chickens.  I do miss them a lot and talk to them frequently.  However, my host family makes me feel welcomed and at home even though I’m halfway across the world from my real family. 

My host grandmother is an amazing cook; I have no idea how she cooks such delicious food every day and manages to never quite make the same thing twice!  However, I do crave American food quite a bit.  At home, I’m used to both making my own food and eating the food my parents make.  We constantly try to cook outside our culinary “comfort zone” and, as a result, we eat foods from all over the world quite regularly.  Here in China, although the food is wonderful, I wouldn’t dream of eating Moroccan, Italian, or German foods, since I know the authentic Chinese food my host family will have prepared for me will be more delicious than anything I’d get at an international restaurant.  However, I do miss my parent’s signature dishes- chili, sautéed homegrown vegetables, baked mac-n-cheese, and more! American staples like cheese, pasta, Greek yogurt, and home-y candy bars are nearly impossible to find here in the city, and I have a growing list of foods I want to eat when I return home.

Taking a gap year in Shanghai meant giving up several of my own hobbies and family traditions, but the payback is worth it.  I’m learning an incredible language, experiencing life as a (mostly) independent adult, and exploring a brand new city.  Shanghai is awesome- there’s always something to do here, whether you are looking for a quiet afternoon in the park or a hectic lunch at a tiny, crowded noodle shop.  I’m excited to blog for the next several months and hopefully provide some insight into my time here in Shanghai!

expectation vs. reality

I have officially been in Japan for one week today! Hooray!

It feels like it has been simultaneously longer and shorter than that. Weird.

Settling into a daily routine hasn’t officially begun since things have been hectic since I arrived. My language classes only started today and last week I had CIEE activities on top of moving into my homestay. I was meant to be at different places at different times each day which does not make for the creation of some sort of routine. SO! With the beginning of classes today, I think my routine will begin to solidify.

The night I arrived in Japan I got a full night’s sleep. I thought I had somehow escaped jet lag…. boy was I wrong. Every day, I get tired around 6 pm, often going to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 pm. I can’t help myself; sleep is just so good. I know it’s normal to take a while to become fully adjusted to such a new timezone, so I am not very worried. Still, it surprised me how jet lag can creep up on you at any time.

When I was shown the train lines I would be taking every day from my house to school, I was very surprised to find that the train ride is quite short! Personally, I like riding the train, but I admit sometimes it isn’t the most comfortable (ahem, rush hour). Having a short commute via train allows me to get some more sleep in the morning before school which I like. Maybe when I can actually sleep until my alarm goes off I’ll like it even better. Additionally, I was surprised to find out how close I am to a major train station. The availability of such a station allows for the convenience of being able to access essentially anywhere in the greater Tokyo area from almost any train line and even further away with the shinkansen (bullet train)!

Tokyo is really great about being foreigner-friendly, especially when it comes to the railway. However, for the first couple of times when you take the train, it’s really important to make notes about where you have to transfer (if you have to transfer) and (and this is the important part) how to get there. On my route to school, I transfer at a rather small station from a JR line train to a Tokyo Metro line. I am still getting used to where I have to go when switching trains, which tunnel to take and which platform I should stand on. Until I am completely comfortable with my daily route, I will certainly have to watch out for my transfer and get used to where I am supposed to go in the station.

Today was the first day of school and I think it went really well! I am very excited to learn a lot during class and use what I have been taught outside in the city and with my host family. While I knew most of the material today, this week’s course is basic and should help me solidify my understanding of sentence structure which I know I struggle with when speaking. In addition to speaking, I think it will help me grasp some more basic words I should probably know but maybe might have overlooked in my previous self-study because I thought they weren’t as relevant or used as often. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong. You use a lot more words than you think about on a daily basis). The class was very fast-paced, so I think that within the next week or two I will be much more challenged which I am looking forward to!

introduction

Hello all and very nice to meet you!

My name is Rachel and I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I live with my parents, older brother, cat, and fish. 

I was drawn to the gap year experience when I was faced with a challenging decision: go to a college that doesn't have exactly what I am looking for and transfer after reapplying next year, or take a year off to reapply and use my four years at a school that really suits me. Once the decision was made, I had to choose from all of the gap year programs available and what I would like to spend my year doing. Well, the thing I was most interested in was having time to live abroad before I go to college. I felt like that is the kind of experience you can only have at this point in my life without having to worry about a job or work for university. The second thing I was looking at for in a gap year program, was content I would enjoy and that would help prepare me for college. There were several sites with programs that were community-service based, but I knew that wasn't something I was totally into for an entire year. Others were focused on studying languages abroad, but not the languages I have been focusing on or will continue with in college. I compared and contrasted programs and decided that CIEE's language and culture programs were the best fit for me.

I hope that through this gap year I can achieve three main things:

1- I would like to improve my speaking, reading, and writing abilities in both Chinese and Japanese.

2- Make a lot of friends! Not only other gap year students, but also people living in the countries I am going to spend my time in. 

3- Enjoy myself. I do not expect this experience to be easy by any means, but I do want to have a good time. I like going to language class. I see life in another country as an extended class where I can use what I learn in the classroom and apply it. I want to go out of my comfort zone and experience things I can only see or do where I am. I want to come back home next year with a LOT of stories and memories I will have for the rest of my life.

The only thing I currently have on my bucket list for my time in Japan is to take a weekend and visit Osaka.