Packing for China: A series

Clothing

Packing for two or more months abroad is a daunting task, especially when you are unsure of what lays ahead. Your destination might have completely different customs, shops, and even a different climate. As for me, I studied in Kunming, China for two months during part of June, all of July, and part of August. Kunming has a mild climate and is known as 春(chūn)城(chéng), or Spring City; it rained most afternoons and stayed in the eighties. In the next few posts, I will outline the items that you’ll want to pack and the items you’ll want to put back.

1. Rain jacket with zippered pockets: BRING IT!

My mom lent me her black Columbia rain jacket as an afterthought when sending me on my way to the airport and I am extremely thankful as this was easily the most useful item I could have brought. Not only did it keep me dry in the daily downpours, it also had three zippered pockets which often eliminated any need for a purse or wallet. In addition to the two standard side-pockets was a pocket that ran parallel to the main zipper on the upper left side that you only could access if the jacket was unzipped on the top. So, if you had your jacket fully closed, nobody can tell there is even a third pocket. Many days I could just through my room key, some cash, and my cell-phones into all of the pockets and head out. The zippers were key to allowing me to rest-assured knowing that no pick-pocket would make an easy target of me, both because purses are easier to steal and because zippers make it highly improbable they can snatch your belongings without you feeling them doing so. I think this jacket was a great investment and would recommend any jacket you bring that is suitable for the weather have zippered pockets, especially ones with hidden ones.

2. Flip-flops/Sandals: Think before packing.

The shoes I brought to China were: two pairs of tennis shoes, one pair of two-inch heels for special occasions, one pair of slide-on sandals for walking around the dorm, one pair of dressier but still casual sandals, and one pair of Chaco sandals. My classroom was only about a two-minute walk from my dorm so I could have gotten away with wearing impractical shoes every day and not suffered massive blisters or sore feet, but I still wore my tennis shoes or Chaco sandals every day. I ended up only wearing my two-inch heels for about three hours during and after my graduation ceremony on my second-to-last day in China. The slide-on sandals were indeed suitable for moving around my dorm, and if you don’t already know this about Chinese culture, it is very unusual for a Chinese person to not have a pair of slippers or slide-on sandals specially reserved for wearing around their residence to keep the floors clean and their feet warm. I bought the dressier sandals only a few days before leaving for China and they ended up not being great for walking for extended periods of time and I only wore them a few times. Something to consider when you want to wear sandals around any city is how clean the city sidewalks are. Kunming constantly had rainwater puddling up on the sidewalks and mixing with dog (and even human) urine and feces. I witnessed people, generally young children, and canines alike using the sidewalks as a bathroom. So, before you are walking around in sandals and feel a splash of water on your feet and ankles you might first consider the chemical makeup of that street-water. I only felt comfortable wearing my Chaco sandals as often as I did because the soles are extremely thick, maybe one and a half inches, and if I stepped in water there was generally none touching my feet. Ultimately, tennis-shoes are almost always going to be a safe-bet sanitation and comfort-wise.

3. Clothing that hang-dries quickly: YES.

In China, clothes-washing machines are commonplace, but their companion clothes-dryers? Not so much. Exhibit A: My dormitory had a washing machine but no dryer. There were clothes-lines outside of the hallway windows on each floor, but you couldn’t be guaranteed your clothes would not be stolen and that the day’s weather wouldn’t involve torrential downpour on said clothes. I ended up hanging my clothes in my bathroom, closet, and the window’s curtain-rod. Some of the clothing would dry relatively quickly, sometimes in half a day, while other clothing, like jeans and clothes made of cotton and other absorbent material, would take upwards of three days to fully dry. Oftentimes, the slow-to-dry clothing would start to smell funky after several days of dampness and you’d have to wash it again. The clothing that did best was active-wear meant to wick away sweat, like my Dri Fit “Harvard” shirt. The clothing that dried quickly also tended to not become wrinkled. When choosing your wardrobe, I would advise you to first verify the clothes-washing and drying situation in your student housing so that you know what to expect. I know it is almost impossible to only bring clothes that are convenient to clean, but I think it is at least a helpful factor to consider when deciding between two pieces of clothing.
4. White clothing: Maybe…
If you are studying in a large Chinese city, chances are there will be air-pollution, one of Kunming’s appealing qualities to me was the clean and breathable air, but I know that many students choose to study in extremely polluted places like Beijing and Shanghai. If you are one of these students, think twice before packing that white shirt. I have heard that any white clothing you choose to wear in these smog-filled cities will soon become gray with soot.

These four clothing tips wrap up my first blog on packing for China. I hope that you find these tips helpful and continue to read on.

Image result for jacket with inside pockets Image result for chacos

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Hola Mexico

So I have started my next study abroad journey. This time I am in the magical city/state of Puebla, Mexico. And I will stay here for the next five months. My first week in Puebla has been full of amazing sights and new experiences. Puebla isn’t like anything I imagined. It’s a place where city and nature has come together. It’s vibrant and full of life and I am excited for the months ahead of me.

It’s interesting being here in Puebla, not only as an OU student but as an exchange student at the partner university UPAEP. It’s been fascinating having the perspective of an exchange student. I feel that this new perspective has given me insight on what it’s like for exchange students back home at OU.

Hopefully at the end of this journey I will be at least semi fluent in Spanish. I think that’s what I am most excited for; to learn a new language and embrace another culture.

I can only learn and gain insight from what Mexico has to offer.

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Water is Life

As almost everyone in Northern Uganda says, water is life and life cannot continue without water. To emphasize how important water is to the people of Northern Uganda, I want to highlight the difficulties that they face. In the United States we don’t usually face difficulties with water because we don’t realize how heavily we rely on it because it is available at our fingertips. Some of the biggest challenges with water are that villages are very large and it’s an extremely long distance to get to water sources and the lines to use the water sources are also extremely long. There is such a small amount of water and usually people can only bring back one Jerry Can at a time so it takes multiple trips to get an adequate amount of water. The villages that people live in are often very spread apart from the water sources and sometimes a walk to the closest water source can be as long as 2 km. Boreholes also break very often because they are not maintained monthly, and getting enough money for repairs is very difficult because people in the village often don’t have any extra money to spare. Although the villages do have water and sanitation committees to organize these repairs, pipes bursting and rusting are still very expensive and the village cannot collect enough money to usually pay for the repairs. Another problem with getting clean water is that normally it takes around 20 to 30 minutes just to pump other hand pump from the borehole even before water comes out in addition to this children are often the ones that are collecting water and most of the time they don’t know how to properly use the hand pump so they often are slamming it down so it breaks really easily. A solution to some of these problems could be drilling another borehole or new wells near the villages or pumping water from the Nile through a pipe leading to the villages that surround the river. We can also see that water is extremely important to the people of north and Uganda because they have mini customs about water some of these customs include not fighting Atwater points including while waiting in line for a bore hole or waiting in line for a spring as well as when you’re at the Nile collecting water you’re not allowed to fight anywhere near the water site. Another custom is that there can be no fighting for water so someone has collected water and they are walking back to the village you’re not allowed to fight in order to take the water away from a person. Another custom is that if women are pregnant you cannot fetch water until 8 AM and if you have just given birth you were not allowed to fetch water at all in addition to this you cannot wash any eating utensils at the river or else you’ll get a taboo put on to you which basically means you’ll get a curse put onto you and your family. The reason I chose to include a picture of a borehole with a hand pump is to just show how many people get their water in the villages of Northern Uganda. This picture is an example of a well-maintained borehole since it does have the concrete around it and the concrete is it cracked however this borehole does not have any fencing around it to keep animals away from it nor does it have a card to keep the hand pump from crashing completely all the way down onto the rest of the metal structure.

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Uganda 2017

 

Although I have been to Gulu before, there were many things that I noticed this summer that I didn’t notice my first time here. My impression of the town has definitely changed since the last time I was here. The first time I arrived in Gulu I remember being overwhelmed by the differences between Gulu and the cities in the United States. This time however, these differences no longer overwhelm me because I was expecting them this summer. Some of the most noticeable differences were with the roads and the buildings. These differences were most noticeable because they are the ones you can see immediately when you arrive in Gulu, but you are also reminded of them every time you walk or drive through town. Unlike the United States, Gulu does not have stop signs, yield signs, stop lights, or really any traffic right away rules. In the United States, traffic rules are taken very seriously and we get tickets for simply turning into the incorrect lane. Because Gulu has a lack of these traffic signs and rules, I was surprised to see that they have a driving school. In addition to differences in roads, there are also differences in buildings.

The buildings in Gulu are very close together and don’t really have parking lots or parking spaces in front of them like the more spread apart buildings in the United States do. I also noticed that walking is a major mode of transportation in Gulu. Coming from Dallas, a city where most people drive cars or take public transportation (buses and trains) to every destination, it was very different to see so many people walking to every one of their destinations, especially when the walk was a pretty long distance. People from cities such as New York City or Chicago may be less overwhelmed by these differences because these cities tend to be more compact and walking is also a major mode of transportation.

Aside from these viewable differences, I also noticed that greetings are very important in Gulu, and very often people will greet you just as you pass them on the street. As I mention this I realize that we may get more greetings from people simply because we are “mzungus”. In Dallas people are friendly, but often times people keep to themselves when walking and are mostly focused on their own agenda rather than interacting with others. Along with these interactions, I also noticed that people in Gulu will say “sorry” to you when you experience any sort of mishap. For example, if you are walking down the street and trip over a ledge, almost everyone around you will sort of mumble “sorry” under their breath or even say it directly to you. Many people also say “you are welcome” in the sense that they are happy to have you in their shop or happy to see you, not in the sense of a response to thank you. Another specific detail I noticed is that in Gulu, “to let,” which is placed on buildings, is the equivalent of “to lease” in the United States. I was really excited that I was able to discover new things about the community we were staying in. I chose to include the picture of the Uganda flag on this journal entry because I wanted to represent the community we were experiencing.

 

 

 

 

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Final Thoughts for my Semester in Germany

My semester in Germany is coming to a close soon. In many ways, this study abroad experience has been similar to the time I spent in Taiwan. Yet, not surprisingly, I was able to learn many things about Germany and myself that I wouldn’t have been able to learn in Taiwan, let alone back in the States at OU. I think that one major difference is that I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit while in Europe. When I was in Taiwan, I didn’t do much traveling in general. It might be because I’ve already traveled there many times, so there isn’t as much of a novelty to exploring the island. However, if you’ve been reading my blogs you know that I did have a really fun time on one trip where I had the opportunity to visit many Taiwanese elementary and middle school students, including those that I taught, in the southern city of Chiayi.

Aside from traveling, the way the academic systems are structured is the next difference that I can think of off the top of my head. I’ve gone into quite a bit more details in other posts, but essentially the systems in Taiwan and Germany require you to be significantly more self-motivated in order to succeed (at least from an engineering student’s perspective). However, I believe that Germany’s undergraduate academic experience is even more pronounced in this regard. No homework is assigned, no homework is due. Each final is worth 100% of your grade, and that’s it. No midterms, no attendance (in engineering courses).

I think that experiencing the challenges in these systems has given me a new reason to work harder when I get back to OU. I will now appreciate all of the work that professors put into structuring their classes as well as other things that I take for granted more often that not. In fact, there are many things that professors in the US do that they don’t really have to, like actually have multiple midterms in each class which is plenty of work. Any professor could just decide that they would only have a final, and that would be the culmination of an entire semester’s work, just like the way they do it here in Germany. Of course, I’m fairly certain there would be an uproar among students to a certain degree if any professor did decide to do this.

The point I think that I’m trying to get at is actually quite simple. I expected to go into study abroad and have an amazing time traveling and getting to meet new people. Academically, I was prepared to be challenged by learning the same rigorous engineering coursework in different languages. What I really had no clue about at the beginning of this academic year abroad was that the path to getting these different experiences out of study abroad turned out to be, not surprisingly, completely different from what I expected. It’s almost like I had a goal right in front of me, and in order to actually get there I had to do a complete 180 and take what turned out to be a treacherous path to get to something that I thought would require little to no effort.

These blogs will continue after I get back to OU, although I won’t be studying abroad anymore at that point. I hope to continue to post about my experiences throughout the rest of my academic career (and maybe even beyond that). Although this whole blog thing is actually an assignment that I am required to complete as part of the Global Engagement Fellowship, I am infinitely grateful that it has motivated me to recorded my experiences while abroad, something that I am fairly sure I would not have done otherwise.

My Europe Travel Summary

I’ve decided that this blog post will be essentially a summary of the travelling I’ve done across Europe during my time in Germany. A few months ago I went into detail on my first few trips, including before my semester started in Belgium, Luxembourg, and quite a few cities in Nordrhein-Westfalen (the “Bundesland” or state of Germany in which I’ve been living). While the semester was mostly occupied by lectures and other activities, we did have a week between my orientation course and the official begin of the semester. In early June, there was also a complete week that we had off for a religious holiday. Of course, after my lectures and German class finals, I have around two weeks “free” before I head back to the States. I put quotations around the word free since, as I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been busy preparing for my engineering finals.

Let’s start off with the places I’ve visited in Germany. I’ve been to most of the major cities in Nordrhein-Westfalen, including Düsseldorf and Köln (Cologne in English). Aachen is in the west of the state and lies near the border with the Netherlands. South of Köln is Bonn, which used to be the capital of West Germany and is famous for the Haribo brand of gummy bears. In the north is the Münsterland and its capital Münster. I was able to see the start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf. Köln is where all of parties usually are (although you can party almost everywhere in Germany), as well as where I was able to see an amazing display of fireworks.

My first major trip outside of Germany was Italy. There I had the opportunity to visit most of the famous central and southern Italian cities. The next weekend I visited a friend of mine who studies in Zürich. After spending a day in the financial capital of Europe, I was able to spend some time at the lake near his parent’s house in the western part of Switzerland. My next stop was Geneva, which is in the southwestern point of Switzerland and probably my favorite city in Europe.

My other major trips were to famous cities in the countries Österreich (Austria), France and Denmark. For the trip to Österreich, I traveled with the same company that I traveled with to Italy. We visited Hallstatt, and town with a stunning view of the lake surrounded by mountains next to it. Salzburg is a city not far away from the border with Germany, and we had the opportunity to see Mozart’s birth house from the outside.

On my day trip to Paris in France we started by visiting the Eiffel Tower. Yes, I know a lot of people will complain about me only taking one day in Paris. And yes, I will visit the city again in the future if I get the chance again. Our next world-famous stop was the Louvre. A collection of some unique roman sculptures was followed by an amazing display of countless paintings, large and small, famous and yet-to-be-discovered. Of course, we had to see the Mona Lisa, although you couldn’t really get a good view of her since she is constantly surround by a dense semi-circle of desperate tourists trying to get the proverbial selfie with her.

My last major trip before the end of my lectures was to Copenhagen in Denmark. As a college student on a budget, my first observation was that everything in Scandinavia is significantly more expensive than in Germany. Of course, it being a tourist didn’t help much either. We took a boat tour, saw the famous Little Mermaid statue, and had some fun walking around Tivoli, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world.

This post obviously wasn’t able to touch on every single place I visited this semester, but it should suffice as a decent overview of my travel-packed weekends. My last blog of the semester will be up in a few days!

Academics in Germany

While I am enjoying my time at my host family’s home, my days are still busy as I have my finals coming up. After an entire semester of lectures, discussion sessions, and office hour visits, all my knowledge has to be displayed on one test for each of my engineering classes. While it is to be frank quite stressful, I know that I only need to pass them. My strategy now is to work through all the old finals that are available, and asking my TA’s when anything comes up that I don’t fully understand. At this point, all I can do is review the lecture slides and complete as many practice problems as possible.

It’s actually been also quite a bit of work trying to figure out when I am actually going to take my finals. The regular dates for my engineering exams finals are all at the end of August, and I obviously stay until then since my Fall semester will already have begun back at OU. At first my plan was to take them both at the end of July, but this wouldn’t give me much time to prepare for them. The next option was to take them both on the same dates but then have an OU professor proctor them when I am back in the States. This is how I am still planning to take one of my finals.

The other will is actually coming up next Monday, the day before I leave Germany. The professor told me he would rather have me take the final while I am still in Germany. My Best guess is that his reasoning is to prevent the test from accidentally being released to other students. Right now I am in full gear for this upcoming final, and the TA has even been nice enough to offer me separate one-on-one office hours since I am take the final a bit earlier. This is really useful since the classes are large and there are only two TA’s at the regular office hours who are always overwhelmed by stressed out students and their questions.

I am infinitely grateful for all of the people at the Ruhr University here in Bochum that have supported my through this challenging semester. One thing I think I learn more and more as I get older is that working with others makes tougher tasks easier in most cases. A mistake I made in Taiwan was that I didn’t make as much of an effort to seek out help from TA’s and professors. All of this knowledge I have gathered from my year studying abroad in two different countries will help me immensely as I prepare for my transition back to OU.

I am aware that the transition back to an American university will not be easy by any means, but I think that after an entire year abroad, there is a significant part of me that is excited to finally be back at OU soon and to be able to learn all of the new concepts in English (not a foreign language). I’m also aware of what is knows as reverse culture shock, and I am preparing for this as well as other challenges that await me when I get home.

The next blog will be up soon!

Your Mom Was Right: Act Like a Grown-Up and Say Thank You

Your Mom Was Right: Act Like a Grown-Up and Say Thank You

No matter how experienced a traveler you are, one of the biggest issues when planning to study abroad is funding. Plane tickets, housing, food, travel expenses, and visas can all add up to a considerable amount of money. I’d like to take this moment to say that there are a lot of different sources of funding, both from your university and from external sources. Always talk to your professors, especially ones in the foreign language department, because they often know about scholarships for your specific study abroad destination.

If you get a scholarship, that’s great! People are handing you money, what’s not to love? But in the excitement of being able to pay for your time abroad, don’t forget the people that made your experiences possible. With scholarships and grants come the responsibility to meet the organizations’ or sponsors’ requests as well as to show your gratitude for all of their support.

I was fortunate enough to receive a substantial scholarship from Delta Phi Alpha, the National German Honor Society. Upon returning, I wrote them a report summarizing my experiences as well as thanking them for their generosity. This sort of essay really means a lot to the people who receive it; it shows that you are truly grateful for their support, and that their money wasn’t taken for granted.

Here is a link to my report on the Delta Phi Alpha website:

http://deltaphialpha.org/2017/08/scholarship-report-amy-griffin-in-graz/

In short: funding is out there if you take the time to look for it, and if you do receive any, make sure to show your gratitude!

Depression is not an accessory

There is an Eiffel Tower keychain that sits on my bedside, a trinket from my most recent trip to Paris. It should be a reminder of fun, of sunshine, of flowers, of laughing with my best friend and eating escargot for the first time. It should remind me of my first time in Paris when I experienced the beauty of the city from the top of the Arc. It should bring back the smell of delicious baguettes and cheese from the Saturday market and the feel of the breeze off of the river.

Instead it bears a more grim memory.

I suffer from depression and anxiety, probably due to genetics as it runs through generations of my family. It is the most difficult barrier that I have to a normal life. Yet, despite the many struggles that I and many others in this world face due to depression, I have been floored by the recent glorification of mental health disorders through main stream media in shows like 13 Reasons Why and To The Bone. There is largely debate on whether these shows are doing the right thing by bringing attention to issues that are largely taboo in our society. Some writers have insisted that, by allowing younger people to watch these shows, they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their parents or peers. This may be true for some. As a teenager, I read 13 Reasons Why and really loved it. It was truly a sad story about a girl named Hannah who told the backstory of her suicide by sending tapes to different people in her life who contributed to her suicide. However, as an adult I see it much differently. I understand the selfishness of the main character as she blames others for her suicide. I see how the plot focuses on an almost-revenge. Hannah died, but she is able to put the burden on others by blaming them for her own decision. The reality is that depression is much more complicated. It is a disease that seems to be simplified in these television shows. Depression is not a pretty girl that makes tapes and then kills herself. Depression is a journey with ugly consequences that will never be shown in popular media. It continues to be whittled down to its most basic form, suicide and tears – an accessory to draw in an audience.

Depression is not an accessory.

It is not something that can be experienced through watching a television show. It is not something that makes a show revolutionary. Depression is not always suicide. Depression is not merely sadness.

Depression is a disease. It eats away at your brain until you can’t fight back any longer. Depression is a cage – as much as you want to break free, there is no way out. Depression is vomiting in front of tourists under the Eiffel Tower because your new medication does not mix with wine. It is sobbing while screaming that you want to die as your best friend holds you back from running. It is laying in bed for days at a time with no shower, the smell of three-day-old bad breath and the feeling of tangled hair at the nape of your neck. It is losing friends because you cannot bear to speak or to see the light of day. Depression is drinking beyond memory and cutting beyond pain. Depression is failure. It is the numbness from buckets of medication. Depression is being in the most beautiful city on earth surrounded by millions yet feeling alone. It has good days and it has bad days. It is everything and nothing at the same time. It affects 350 million people on the planet yet it still comes with a stigma that is hard to break.

By allowing television shows to represent one person’s version of mental health disorder, we continue to perpetuate the idea that all depressed people are the same. All of us commit suicide. All of us are moody and constantly tragic. But the reality is so much more. Depression is not an accessory. Yes, it affects everyday life, but there are millions of people currently functioning day to day with the disease. There are so many of us that have had times where we almost took our own lives and yet there are some of us who have never tried. There are some of us who will never have to be on medication and there are some of us who take what seems like hundreds of pills each day. There are some of us that suffer and are not diagnosed and there are some of us who have known since we were young. There are great days where we can function on normal amounts of sleep and can laugh with our best friends. We can climb mountains. We can go to work and take care of our children and go on a date. Then there are times when the physical symptoms make putting a cup of coffee to our lips unbearable.

Television wants to make it seem like depression is the same for everyone. It wants death to seem like the only option.

I am here to defend those of us who do not fit that mold. I am here to say that depression is not the same for everyone. It goes so much deeper than a 14 episode show can allow a viewer to understand.

Depression is not an accessory. It is not always suicide. It is not always pretty. It is not always ugly. Depression is normality for some of us. And that should be defended.

Work Week! I Moved! A New Chapter!

Every year, Panhellenic hosts a big event for all of the chapters to come out and show “Pan love.” Each chapter dresses up in their theme / colors.

After returning from Mexico, it was time to start the next chapter in my life. 10 days after returning to the USA, I moved in to my sorority house to prepare for recruitment. I was / am so excited to have the opportunity to live in the house with all of my great pals!

My roomie Sarah and I in our new room!

After we moved in, we immediately started preparation for recruitment. This process was rather overwhelming, to be honest. We learned door songs, watched talented sisters practice their speaking / special singing parts, and decorated various rooms in our house. Of course, we also had lots of fun too: snow cones on our big lawn, a carnival-themed dinner, late night Sonic runs. This all took place over the course of the week. Tomorrow, recruitment starts and I am both nervous and excited. It should be interesting, that’s for sure!

It was my friend Katie’s birthday the other day. We surprised her by blindfolding her and taking her to some of her favorite places around Norman and decorating her room.
We had “Alumni Night” where the alumni come and watch some of the productions / songs that we have prepared for recruitment week.
Katie girl!! <3

As I said, recruitment starts tomorrow. Wish us luck and sanity, please!