The Berlin Wall

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my departure from Germany. So far I’ve been really busy with appointments, studying, watching the World Cup, and readjusting back to American life. Now that I have a little bit of time, I would like to tell you one of my favorite highlights in Germany.

One month ago, my host family and I took a trip to the capital of Germany-Berlin! We walked around the city for a bit, went to tour the dome at the Reichstag, took a city bus tour, and saw the one thing I wanted to see most-the Berlin Wall!

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I remember that I’ve always wanted to see the Berlin since the 6th grade, when I learned it in my Social Studies class. And coming across the Berlin Wall that day was actually pure luck. I knew that most of the wall was torn down, and probably wouldn’t be able to see it still standing. We were actually looking for a parking spot, when we suddenly find a part of the wall still standing.

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Some history about the wall:

After WWII was over, the German Reich was taken over by the Allies and split up into four zones: (Western Germany) American, British, French, and (Eastern Germany) Soviet. And Berlin was split up into the same four zones. On August 13, 1961, the communist party of the German Democratic Republic began putting up barbed wire and a protection wall between East and West Germany. The people of East Berlin were basically deprived from the western world. They were not allowed to leave East Berlin, and if they try to escape-they were shot by the border patrol. However, Germans from West Berlin and West Germany were allowed to go to East Berlin by going through Checkpoints, such as Checkpoint Charlie (pictured above). At least 136 people died trying to escape, and over 5,000 people have successful escaped from the East to the West. Communism began to falter in 1988 and 1989 in countries like Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. And in 1989, an announcement from the East German government official Gunter Schabowski came-the borders between East and West Berlin were open. There was a huge celebration afterwards. People began hammering the wall down. After the wall came down, East and West Germany were finally reunited as one single state on October 3, 1990.

East and West Germany

East and West Berlin

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First Two Weeks

Tomorrow is the two week mark since I’ve been in Germany. Before I came here, I thought the German culture and American culture/lifestyle were at least a little bit similar. Well, I was wrong. The food/meals, school, transportation, etc. are a lot different.My life here is completely different than my life in America.

Food/Meals: The meat and other foods are a lot larger here than I expected. The food is always fresh, and almost always prepared-unlike in America where we seem to just grab something out of the freezer and cook in the microwave. For Fruhstuck (breakfast), I normally eat muesli on schooldays and eggs or bread with meat, cheese, and meat on weekends. During school, I’ll have Pausenbrot (bread or a sandwich eaten during breaks). Then after that is Mittagsessen (lunch), which is the largest meal of the day. Lunch for me is always something different: Maultaschen (my favorite), spaghetti, pizza, cordon bleu with french fries, sausage, doner, etc. And then is Abendsessen (dinner), which is usually just bread or brezel with meat, cheese, butter, etc. German food is delicious, especially the desserts.

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School: The school I am attending is called a Gymnasium. In the Gymnasium that I’m attending, there are Grades 5 through 12 (I believe). My classes change everyday, and each class (or lesson) is 90 minutes long. 3 days a week I have 3 classes (or blocks) and I get to leave at 1 pm. In between each period is a 15 minute break. On Monday, I have 4 blocks and I get to leave at 3:30 pm. After the third block, there is a 30 or 45 minute break for lunch. On Thursday, I have 5 blocks..which means I don’t get to leave school until 5 pm. Leaving at 5 pm isn’t actually all that bad. The class subjects are almost all the same like in America except for Religion. All my classes (except for English and Spanish), are taught in German (of course). The first couple days, I didn’t understand at all. But everyday, I learn more German and understand more and more. Something else that is different is that we are allowed to leave the school during the breaks (well, not leave leave), to enjoy the fresh air or go into town to get food.

Transportation and Punctuality: I go to school everyday by bus, however, not a “school bus.” Every school morning and afternoon, I get on the public bus and it is always packed of school kids-so it seems like a school bus. But on the bus are kids from different schools and can get off wherever they want to. Public buses here are really convenient, you can pretty much go anywhere by bus-but you have to wait sometimes awhile for them to come. The cars here, I was told, are mostly manual and not automatic. And the trains and subways..can’t say anything about them yet because I haven’t been on any so far. As for punctuality, when the bus is scheduled to come at a certain time-it will be there exactly at that time. If you have plans to meet someone, always be there at the schedule time.

Environment: The Germans definitely care about the environment. The streets and sidewalks are always clean, and never littered with trash. They recycle and have individuals recycling bins for paper, glass, plastic, etc. And they conserve water. I really wish we did this in the United States. I never really realized how much we’re wasting until coming here.

So far, I like my new life in Germany. Like I said, it is definitely different. Sometimes it can be a little difficult being in a new culture. So far, I made a lot of mistakes and mispronounced a lot of words. But it’s from these mistakes, that we learn the most.

Below are some pictures of Wertheim, two of the castles in my area, the Main and Tauber rivers, etc.

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Chinese Dumplings

I have less than one week until I depart for Germany, and in exactly one week I will arrive in Germany! To keep my mind off my anxiousness, I decided to write about Chinese dumplings. Why? I absolutely love dumplings, and I especially love Chinese dumplings.

So today I will be writing about the five types of Chinese dumplings (and buns) I mostly came across (and ate) while I was in China: baozi, tangbao, xiaolongbao, jiaozi, hundun (aka wonton).

包子 Baozi is a steam filled bun. Baozi is filled with either meat or vegetable fillings. Two types of baozi are 大包 dabao (big dumplings) and 小包 xiaobao (small dumplings).

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汤包 Tangbao (“soup dumping”) is a large baozi filled with soup and meat (usually). There are two forms of tangbao. The first (traditional) looks like a regular baozi, and is directly bitten into and drunken. The second (modern) is that the soup liquid is drunken by a straw and the skin is eaten afterwards. Tangbao is my favorite Chinese dish. 我要吃汤包!

soup dumpling

小笼包 Xiaolongbao (small basket buns) is a small baozi that is steamed in a small bamboo basket.

xiaolongbao

校子 Jiaozi is a dumpling that is filled with meat and vegetable filling. It is wrapped with a thin piece of dough, and is compressed and compressed with the fingers. There are three types of jiaozi: steamed, boiled, pan fried.

jiaozi

馄炖 Hundun (wonton-Cantonese) is a type of dumpling usually filled with meat. It is usually mixed with spices, salt, and garlic or green onion. Wontons are boiled or deep-fried. In China, each region has its own variation (Beijing, Sichuan, Ningbo, Shanghai, Cantonese..).

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CIEE Leadership Academy in China

I am finally back from 4-week my study/visit in China. I must say, I had an absolute blast. At the beginning of the trip, I met the 7 other students and my group leader accompanying me on this trip. We were complete strangers, intimidated by each other. However, by the end of our 4 weeks together, we grew closer and became close friends-we learned there was nothing to be afraid of.

The CIEE Leadership Academy in Nanjing, China is mainly composed of 6 components: living (host family), service, language (Mandarin), leadership, and the week-long tour.

The first 3 weeks, we were in Nanjing, China. Our first two days in Nanjing consisted of orientations, meeting up with our Chinese host siblings/co-teacher, and moving into our new host families.

Living: We were matched with our siblings by our interests. And I must say, CIEE couldn’t have done a better job with matching me to my host sister, Tracy. We had identical personalities and the same interests: music, languages, etc. She was shy at first, but she quickly opened up to me and we quickly became close. My host parents were also very warm, kind, and passionate people. They made me feel completely at home. One of the biggest pluses is that my host mom loves dumplings (and making them, too)-I absolutely love dumplings!

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Service: Monday-Friday morning, the 8 of us students and our Chinese peers became English teachers to migrant children (5th graders) at the Yuhuatai Elementary school. We taught from 9 a.m.-11:20 a.m. Each class was 40 minutes long with 10 minute breaks between each of the three classes: English class, games component, and the cultural component. In my class, I had 14 students (10 boys and 4 girls). By the end of the third week, I had only 12 students (8 boys and 4 girls). I did have some troublemakers in my class, some quiet students, and some in between-but they were all eager to learn and have fun!

Afterwards at 11:30, we would have lunch at the school cafeteria.

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Leadership, Language, and Cultural Activities: After lunch, we would go back to CIEE Center where we would have classes 5:30. Everyday, however, composed of different classes:

Monday: Taichi, Leadership, and Lesson planning

Tuesday: Chinese, Leadership, Lesson planning, and Chinese

Wednesday: Lesson planning and Field trip (lasted until at least after 7)

Thursday: Chinese, Leadership, Lesson planning, and Chinese

Friday: Taichi and Lesson planning (we got to leave early on Fridays)

On our field trips, we went to the Confucius Temple, Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Masoleum, Ming Tomb, Presidential Palace, Yangzhou, etc.

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On the weekends, we all had free time with our host families to explore or do whatever we wanted. My host family arranged for me and my host sister to go to Suzhou for the second weekend, and stay at my host dad’s younger brother’s home with him, his wife, and their 10 or 11 year old son. When I was in Suzhou, I went to three beautiful gardens, a temple, the Suzhou museum, and also went to a movie theater (or cinema as they call it there in English). During this same weekend, several other members of my group also went to Suzhou while others did other activities in Nanjing like going to an opera and/or climbing the Purple Mountain.

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Week-long Tour: After our three weeks of living, teaching, and learning in Nanjing, we said goodbye to our host families and hopped on a train to our first destination: Shanghai. We stayed in Shanghai for about 3 days. There we went to the Chenghuang Temple area, the Bund, the French Concession, the Shanghai Museum, an acrobatics show, and went to Zhujiajiao-a Shanghai river town.

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Our next stop on the tour was Beijing. In Beijing, we went to Tiananmen Square, the Wangfujing shopping area, the Great Wall, 798 Art Zone, Kungfu Show, the U.S. Center in Beijing, the Forbidden City, and the Silk Market.

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This experience was an once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am extremely glad I decided to do this program. A month of my summer to go to China and learn the Chinese culture, learn to become a leader, learn Mandarin Chinese, live with a host family, make new friends and connections, and most importantly, make a difference in the lives of others. There is no better feeling that that.

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I highly recommend this program to all high school students. It is only 4 weeks to go to one of the following countries: China, Japan, Spain, Dominic Republic, Czech Republic, Senegal, Ghana, Jordan

CIEE Leadership Academy website:

http://www.ciee.org/high-school-summer-abroad/

Tomorrow Starts a New Journey

As it says in the title, tomorrow is the start of a new journey for me. I’ll be heading to the airport and taking multiple flights until I finally reach Nanjing, China on Friday night. It’s going to be a tiring next couple days, including rushing to make a 35 minute connection, but it will be all worth it. I’m so excited to be in the inaugural class of the CIEE Leadership Academy in China and for my 4 week exchange in China-I will be in Nanjing for the first 3 weeks and Shanghai and Beijing for the 4th week.

In a couple hours I will be going to sleep and then waking up at 4am. I’m all packed and ready to go..I hope China is ready for me!

*Note-since I’ll be in China for 4 weeks, I probably won’t update until I get back from my exchange. I’ll be sure to blog about my adventures in my next post! (possibly the end of July or in the beginning of August).

So You’re Going to South Korea: Customs and Culture Shock

Last summer, I went to South Korea for the first time to visit my relatives. This summer, a few of my relatives came to the United States and stayed with us for the past two weeks. Being in South Korea last summer really opened my eyes. The Korean culture and the American culture are quite different from each other. If you’re going to South Korea, there are two things you should be aware of: the Korean customs and culture shock. 

The 3 major Korean customs you should be aware of are bowing, dining etiquette, and gift giving.

Korean bowing is similar to the American handshake. Bowing can be used for different occasions such as greetings, farewells, and showing gratitude. However, in South Korea, it is very important to bow towards people older than you and higher rank than you. This is important because of the respect towards age and seniority. Age and seniority can impact how one may bow to another. The younger or lesser person initiates the bow and bows lower to the older or senior in order to show respect.
bowing

Before entering a Korean home and even some restaurants, everyone is expected to take off their shoes. Walking into a Korean home with shoes on is considered to be of great disrespect.
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Koreans eat with chopsticks and spoons, unlike Americans who eat with forks, spoons, and knives. When using chopsticks while eating, never put your chopsticks in the rice as it is considered rude. Moreover, it is not appropriate to pick up any plates while eating because all plates and bowls are expected to stay on the table. When drinking, Koreans use both hands to pour a drink for someone else. Koreans use both hands to hold the glass when someone else pours your drink. The person of lower seniority or age turns their head away from the elder or senior to show their respect.

Giving gifts in South Korea is considered to be very common. When visiting a Korean household or first business meeting, always bring a small gift such as fruit, good quality chocolates, or toilet paper. Do not buy expensive gifts as Koreans may feel obligated to buy a gift of equal value. Gifts should not be wrapped in green, white, or black paper since this is considered to be unlucky. Contrary, giving a wooden goose is a sign of luck. Do not sign any cards in red ink or give a gift in a set of four in which indicates death. Both hands are used when giving or receiving gifts.

Now, let me talk about culture shock. Going to another culture can be overwhelming. As soon as you enter the country, everything is different. When I walked off the airplane and entered Incheon International Airport last year, the first things that I noticed were that everything was written in Korean, everybody was speaking in Korean, and everybody for the most part looked similar. Towels in South Korea are about the size of a wash cloth/hand towel (I would suggest bringing your own towel from home). It is completely normal for two people of the same sex to hold hands (two friends holding hand, mother-daughter holding hands, etc.). When this happens in the United States, people would automatically think that the people holding hands are homosexual or view it as strange. Another thing is that Korean pizza is very “special.” When we ordered a chicken pizza last year, the pizza was topped of with chicken, corn, some other vegetables, and other weird toppings; The pizza also came with a side of pickles.
DSCN3588Another thing is communal dishes/plates. While eating, there is your main dish-usually soup, rice, and your side dishes. Usually, you don’t get your own plate. You’ll have your own rice bowl, but all the other dishes are shared. All the food is placed in the middle, and everyone eats directly from these dishes.
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For anyone going to South Korea, I hoped this blog post will help you prepare before you go!

Study Abroad Update: YFU and CIEE

Last week, I finally heard back from YFU. I received a letter, and I found out that I am an alternate for the Skylink Travel House scholarship (which is a scholarship to go to a Latin American country for a year). However, I’m only an alternate for that scholarship and not for any of the scholarships to go to Japan for the summer. I found out that the Skylink Travel House scholarship is actually not that popular, which surprises me. I guess it’s just me thinking, “Who wouldn’t want to study abroad in Latin America (or Europe or Asia or anywhere else)?” 

I also heard back from CIEE…again…A couple months ago, I came across the CIEE Leadership Academy. This particular program is brand new (not CIEE, CIEE has been operating for quite awhile now). Anyways…I applied for the CIEE Leadership Academy to go to China, and I was offered a partial scholarship of $1575 out of $6300. I was gracious that they even offered me that amount of money, but I ended up declining the offer. Now this happened about a little over a month ago. I recently received a phone call, and they increased their previous offer. I couldn’t say no to that offer! Which means…중국에 갈 거예요! I’m going to China!

Life can not get any better. In less than a month, I’ll be graduating. Then, I’ll be going to China for a month. A few months later, I’ll be going to Germany for a year. Sometimes I wonder to myself…is this really my life? 

*Knocks on wood* Don’t want to jinx myself!