Illinois Study Abroad News

Category Archives: Asia

4 Ways to Help You Get Started Studying Abroad

SAO 11

Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

Here at the Illinois Study Abroad Office we get an array of questions ranging from “what schools are most similar to the University of Illinois” to “what city has the best student life?” However, one of our most frequent inquires is the age old question “how do I even get started trying to study abroad!?” Well you are in luck, from the comfort of your own couch I will tell you four ways that helped me plan my international abroad experience!

  • Decide what you want out of your academic experience.

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You meet people from around the world, visit breathtaking monuments, and (depending on your location) can travel to other countries as well. However, we must remember the study in study abroad. You don’t want to end up at an institution you don’t like for 4-6 months just because it is in Italy! Figure out how studying abroad fits in with your academic goals. Ask yourself, do you want to take general education classes or fulfill major requirements? Does your college restrict you from taking certain classes away from campus? Thinking about your academic future can definitely help you narrow down your choices for which program you would like to apply to.

  •  Speak to your advisor.

Your home university advisor is not around to just send you pesky e-mails about class registration! Use their guidance to help you decide which classes you can take abroad and how this will affect you once you return from overseas. Here at the University of Illinois we have a specific set of advisors in each department that specialize in helping students choose classes that will keep their academic career going. Click here to see this great resource and contact your Study Abroad 299 advisor today!

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  • Where do you want to live?

The study abroad experience allows students to enjoy a variety of locations in over 60 different countries. So many options can provide a variety of living experiences. Think of what type of environment you want to live in abroad. Do you prefer something similar to your home university? Would you like to be in a small rural city or large city? How comfortable you are with figuring out public transportation? Would a host family or dorm life be a better fit for what you want out of your study abroad program? Questions like these helped me choose my perfect host university!

  • Visit your Study Abroad Office!

It is true that the study abroad experience is a lot of independent research and decision making; however, your Study Abroad Office is always here to help you! One of the best ways to get started is visiting your local SAO advisors and staff. Sometimes talking to someone is the best way to figure out what you really want in regards to leaving the country. Program Assistants at the Illinois Study Abroad Office are students just like you who needed guidance on how to study abroad and now we look forward to helping you out in the same way! Please come visit to talk about your study abroad experience today!

SAO2

5 Tips On How to Be the Best Frequent Flyer

Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the University of Illinois Study Abroad Office 

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330

Let’s be honest, we don’t choose to study abroad to be two hours away from home! As exciting as it may be to take in the sites of the “Big Buddah” in Hong Kong or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France we must realize it takes A LOT of time to travel to these places and more often than not we have to get there by plane. From personal experience, I can say that traveling around the world in a high speed Boeing is no walk in the park – unless you’re flying first class. From “stuffed” ears to the delicious boxed meals, sometimes the only thing that kept me going was the thought that I would soon be scarfing down delicious gelato in Rome. Since, I think everyone should capitalize on the opportunity to study abroad I want to share my 5 helpful tips for flying 30,000 feet high in comfort and style!

Tip 1: Drink Water

As much as your parents encouraged you to drink tons of water as a child, I’m afraid to say they are absolutely right! The cabin air is not humidified on a plane and this leads to chapped lips, dried nasal passages and thirst that needs to be quenched. Yikes! However, you should never fear, drinking water can negate all of these symptoms. Many kiosks and stores in the airport sell water bottles after security so stock up and avoid dehydration in between those free cups of soda and juice!

drinking-water

Tip 2: Bring Travel Size Hand Sanitizer 

This may seem like a small request but it will help out your health in the long run. As you walk through customs and security you will be coming into contact with many people. Traveling, as fun as it may be, does make your immune system pretty low. One way to negate that is to bring hand sanitizer. Walgreens or any local drug store sells TSA approved sizes of sanitizer that can help you avoid some of the flu and cold germs you may encounter.

Tip 3: Bring Healthy Snacks 

Sure long distance flights have in-flight meals, however, you may get hungry in between. Buying snack foods such as nuts, granolas, carrots, etc. can help curve those hunger pains until the flight attendants come around again.

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Tip 4: Pack Light in Your Carry On Luggage

The under seat luggage storage is becoming as small as Alice after drinking her shrinking potion in Wonderland. I would suggest to pack only the basics in a carry-on to alleviate weight and stress when traveling. Make sure you have your required travel documents – passport, acceptance letter from foreign university, visa, etc. – along with an mp3 player and headphones of choice to zone out during the flight!

Tip 5: Get up & Walk Around

…only when your seatbelt sign isn’t on though. For some students, flying around the globe to the Philippines or New Zealand will take almost half a day! I don’t know about you, but sitting slightly upright above the Earth sounds more of a job for an astronaut than your regular day citizen. Being in that position for so long can cause swelling in the feet and ankles because there is such low cabin pressure, as well as dry air. Along with my number 1 tip of drinking water, walking up and down the aisle during safe times can help alleviate this issue. So go ahead, nudge your neighbor and get out of that middle seat – walking around can help your body so you can hit the ground running to your host university…and it isn’t so bad to use that as an opportunity for a potty break too!

safety-abroad-home

Explore The World Like No One Is Watching

Travel Stock PHOTO

Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office 

“We should come home from adventures, perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.” –Henry David Thoreau

Before I stepped a toe into any airport to fly solo to the United Kingdom, I spent months combing over blogs, government sites, and even Pinterest – I’m ashamed to reveal that last source – in failed attempts to piece together clues about what my study abroad experience may look like. Although I have lived in several countries in Europe before I never visited the city my program was being held. I was finally bursting out of the “campus-life” bubble and, even though that feeling was invigorating, the idea of not being around familiar surroundings was terrifying!

However…I made it sixth months “across the pond” and returned home –for the most part- unscathed (sorry for those impromptu ear piercings in France, Mom and Dad)! The most rewarding moments I had abroad were the times that I traveled off the beaten path and explored the cities I was so fortunate enough to be in. Here are three tips that helped me make the most of my time outside of the classroom:

Talk to the locals. “But what if they realize I’m a foreigner?” Well you are, so embrace it! Don’t worry if you think a native will judge you; chances are they will find you to be a novelty and will want to know more about you too. Plus, you may even pick up a few new friends along the way. Locals are a great resource to understand a city’s public transportation system, the best eateries, and the coolest places to blow off steam after long nights of studying.

Istanbul Coffee Shop Stock Photo

Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. Grab a map, your camera, and just go! Your study abroad program will go by much quicker than you think. Before school starts and things really pick up try to map out some tourist locations you would love to visit around town. You may think you’ll have 4-6 months to see it all but between finals, making friends, and traveling you may miss out on some hidden gems located in the city of your host university.Huff Post Stock Image - Blog Post

Travel light on the weekends. If you study in Europe, you’ll soon find out that historic towns with cobblestone streets – although completely gorgeous – are not great for rolling around luggage. If you are taking weekend trips to a neighboring city try limiting yourself to a backpack. You really only need the essentials and it will be much easier to carry if you have to wait for a train or need to pass time outdoors until your hostel room is ready.The Abroad Guide Stock Photo - Blog Post

Fear of the unknown is absolutely normal but don’t let that deter you from exploring something new! Let’s be honest, you’re most likely going to get lost at one point during your journey but you’re also going to come back with memorable experiences and tons of pictures that will make all of your Instagram followers terribly jealous.

Another Summer Snack: Qubani ka Meetha

Guest Blogger: Rahul Panchal

I spent the summer as a research intern working at a diagnostics lab in Hyderabad, a bustling metropolis in Southern India. I won’t bother sharing all the work-related details here because you can find them on another specially dedicated blog I wrote to document the experience, Andhra-Style: My Life in Hyderabad. Do give it a read if you want to know more about me! I think I was able to make some pretty gritty and introspective realizations about my life at the time.

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The cramped work area where I conducted my experiments

One thing worth sharing are the contradictory emotions. While I was in Hyderabad, I was faced with a culture that was familiar, yet so alien at the same time. There were many days were I felt lonely, bored, and just wanted to fly back home.

Is it weird though now, to say that I miss almost everything about Hyderabad? I miss those rain splattered walks through work along Abid Road, through the full blown sensory assault that would greet me everyday. The incessant sound of cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles honking their horns, the endless flow of humanity spilling onto the streets, the smell of the frying oil wafting away in the mornings from little vada and dosa stalls, the uncomfortable splashes of mucky water, swept up from roadside puddles, seeping into my shoes. I miss the lab, all cramped up in that small and windowless space,  full of the incessant chitter-chatter of my coworkers in rapid Telugu. I miss my initially feeble, but eventually triumphant attempts at speaking Hindi and trying to be more “Indian”.

Hyderabad’s Finest: the Famed Chicken Biryani at Shadaab Restaurant

For obvious reasons, I miss the food the most: waking up to an arrangement of fried goodies and peppery hot masala chai, gulab jamuns and puffy-hot pooris every Tuesday at the workplace cafeteria, spending the weekends at Lakshmi Aunty’s house, where I was reacquainted with her simple, yet heavily satisfying cuisine after so many years, and the biryani, oh, oh, oh do I miss that biryani. Juicy chunks (or legs) of chicken or mutton (goat) layered between intensely aromatic basmati rice and served with a peanut and coconut gravy known as salan, I could probably go on for posts about its uniqueness and how I will never be able to replicate this true Hyderabadi delicacy in my home. That makes me sad because most biryanis found here in the States or really anywhere outside Hyderabad for that matter, just cannot compare. What’s Andhra stays Andhra.

Fortunately, there are some Hyderabadi treats which I can prepare within the confines of my small, apartment kitchen. Best of all, this little dish is chock full of one my all time favorite snack foods, dried apricots. Where my love affair with these bright orange gems began is not hard to trace. I would go through almost a bag a day back in Denmark, for they were both cheap and a good way to hold over the hunger until the next meal. When I learned that one of Hyderabad’s trademark sweets features dried apricots as the key ingredient, it became imperative that there was going to be no way that I would be leaving the city without having bowls aplenty, all to be licked down to the last bit of golden and sticky apricot goo.

Qubani ka Meetha, which translates to “apricot-sweet” in Urdu, the language of Hyderabad’s Muslim community, is a dessert straight out of the kitchens of the Nizams (old Muslim rulers) of Hyderabad, who would have most likely sourced the dried beauties from the eastern lands of Afghanistan and Iran. Today a staple at most Hyderabadi weddings, qubani ka meetha is enjoyed by all Indians alike, but if you want a truly authentic taste, you still have to venture into the old Muslim quarter of the city, across the dried up river bank, to grab a taste at famous eateries such as Shadaab, where I was able to grab a delicious mouthful.

Qubani ka Meetha in its original splendor, how I enjoyed it in Hyderabad

Simplicity is the essence of this dish for the simplest recipes only require a boiling down of dried apricots, water, and sugar, finished with apricot kernels and a spoon of malai (clotted cream). Thus the quality and more so type of product, specifically the apricot, really factors into the final taste of this dish. In India most, if not all dried apricots, are unsulphured, meaning that they are not treated with sulfur dioxide to give them that bright orange color. They have a different taste, one that is often sweeter and more earthy. Furthermore, the pits are left in, and the utilization of the kernels within, little seeds that resemble almonds, both in terms of taste and appearance, provide the element of crunch. As sweets in India are usually only reserved for special occasions, Indian cooks typically show no restraint with the sugar, so during both instances in which I hadQubani in Hyderabad, they were cloyingly sweet, a taste that was only tempered by stirring in some of the malai. 

While I loved the Qubani ka Meetha with all its realness at Shadaab, this became one of the few dishes were I felt that I could actually make it, dare I say better, with the usage of American ingredients back home. There were naturally some big changes I had to make. Firstly, that the dried apricots we get in the US are the more familiar brightly orange-tinted Turkish varieties, which for me, have oddly enough always bursted with a fruity reminiscence of the fresh fruit. Secondly, as these apricots come without the pits, I decided to substitute this textural element by stirring in some toasted almonds. Also, as making malai usually requires long hours spent over the stove, boiling milk down and  stirring it continuously, I opted for serving with vanilla ice cream instead because as a busy and overworked college student, I ain’t got time to replicate all of my ancestral ways. The change I am the most proud of though, is the addition of crushed cardamom seeds.

A key flavor in almost all Indian desserts, cardamom is used as often in India as vanilla is in the US, but the two don’t taste anything the same, save for their floral aromas. Lusty, jammy, and full of the warm aromas of an Indian childhood (thanks to my buddy cardamom), the flavors of Qubani ka Meetha will have you missing it as soon as you finish your first bowl. Good thing, I made it again last weekend.

Recipe: Qubani ka Meetha

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried apricots, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, adjust to taste
  • 6 crushed cardamom pods, optional
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, toasted
  • vanilla ice cream, for serving

Method:

  1. Soak the apricots in warm water overnight, till they have plumped up fully.
  2. Pour the apricots with the water (it should have a nice orange color) into a heavy bottom sauce pan with the crushed cardamom pods. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, mashing intermittently, until the apricots are softened and falling apart.
  4. Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds, cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.

Cooking Notes:

  • If you want your Qubani to mimic both the taste and appearance of the Hyderabadi original, try using unsulphured apricots instead of the conventional Turkish kind. Also there are a good deal of Indian grocery stores that carry Indian apricots as well. These may be complete with the pits and will naturally lend you the most authentic flavor.
  • Qubani ka Meehta can also be served with a vanilla custard, creme anglaise, unsweetened whipped cream, or Greek yogurt.
  • My new favorite way to use Qubani ka Meetha is by featuring it as a cake filling. Use your favorite yellow cake recipe, place a thick layer of the Qubani between the layers, and frost with a cardamom whipped cream. It is guaranteed to blow the minds of your guests. It sure did for mine :)!

Find more of Rahul’s recipes and stories at his blog, Cooking Fever

 

How Hyderabad Ended Up Stealing My Heart: Silver Linings in the Qubani ka Meetha (Dried Apricot Sweet)

Guest Blog by: Rahul Panchal

After spending my spring semester in Denmark, my desire to be a globetrotter pushed me into pursuing a summer research internship in Hyderabad, India. It was there, in the bustling metropolis of Hyderabad, that I worked at a diagnostics lab for three months. Unfortunately, the vision of India that was formed during a glorious odyssey throughout Europe was far from the actual reality, and being a student afforded a much different culture shock than being a working adult.

rahul 5

The first week was stressful to say the least. Being all alone, living in cramped accommodations, and struggling to fit in amongst far older coworkers, I felt very out of place in this alien environment. All those previous trips to India meant nothing, and at one point, I did not see myself as being as “Indian” as I thought I was. These types of challenges are just a part of the package when you go abroad, and you are either empowered to overcome them, or you learn to live calmly in spite of them.  For me, while in India, it was a little of both. So, is it weird to say, now that I’m back, that I miss almost everything about Hyderabad, even these cultural nuances that seemed to challenge me every day??

I miss those rain splattered walks through work along Abid Road, through the full blown sensory assault that would greet me everyday. The incessant sound of cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles honking their horns, the endless flow of humanity spilling onto the streets, the smell of the frying oil wafting away in the mornings from little vada and dosa stalls, the uncomfortable splashes of mucky water, swept up from roadside puddles, seeping into my shoes. I miss the lab, all cramped up in that small and windowless space, full of the incessant chitter-chatter of my coworkers in rapid Telugu. I miss my initially feeble, but eventually triumphant attempts at speaking Hindi and trying to be more “Indian”.

Rahul 4

For obvious reasons, I miss the food the most: waking up to an arrangement of fried goodies and peppery hot masala chai, gulab jamuns and puffy-hot pooris every Tuesday at the workplace cafeteria, spending the weekends at Lakshmi Aunty’s house, where I was reacquainted with her simple, yet heavily satisfying cuisine after so many years, and the biryani, oh, oh, oh do I miss that biryani. Juicy chunks (or legs) of chicken or mutton (goat) layered between intensely aromatic basmati rice and served with a peanut and coconut gravy known as salan, I could probably go on for posts about its uniqueness and how I will never be able to replicate this true Hyderabadi delicacy in my home. That makes me sad because most biryanis found here in the States or really anywhere outside Hyderabad for that matter, just cannot compare. What’s Andhra stays Andhra.

Rahul 2

Fortunately, there are some Hyderabadi treats which I can prepare within the confines of my small, apartment kitchen, and you can now too. Best of all, this little dish is chock full of one my all time favorite snack foods, dried apricots. Where my love affair with these bright orange gems began is not hard to trace. I would go through almost a bag a day back in Denmark, for they were both cheap and a good way to hold over the hunger until the next meal. When I learned that one of Hyderabad’s trademark sweets features dried apricots as the key ingredient, it became imperative that there was going to be no way that I would be leaving the city without having bowls aplenty, all to be licked down to the last bit of golden and sticky apricot goo.

Qubani ka Meetha, which translates to “apricot-sweet” in Urdu, the language of Hyderabad’s Muslim community, is a dessert straight out of the kitchens of the Nizams (old Muslim rulers) of Hyderabad, who would have most likely sourced the dried beauties from the eastern lands of Afghanistan and Iran. Today a staple at most Hyderabadi weddings, qubani ka meetha is enjoyed by all Indians alike, but if you want a truly authentic taste, you still have to venture into the old Muslim quarter of the city, across the dried up river bank, to grab a taste at famous eateries such as Shadaab, where I was able to grab a delicious mouthful.

Simplicity is the essence of this dish, for the simplest recipes only require a boiling down of dried apricots, water, and sugar, finished with apricot kernels and a spoon of malai (clotted cream). Thus the quality and more so type of product, specifically the apricot, really factors into the final taste of this dish. In India most, if not all dried apricots, are unsulphured, meaning that they are not treated with sulfur dioxide to give them that bright orange color. They have a different taste, one that is often sweeter and earthier. Furthermore, the pits are left in, and the utilization of the kernels within, little seeds that resemble almonds, both in terms of taste and appearance, provide the element of crunch. As sweets in India are usually only reserved for special occasions, Indian cooks typically show no restraint with the sugar, so during both instances in which I had Qubani in Hyderabad, they were cloyingly sweet, a taste that was only tempered by stirring in some of the malai. 

Rahul1

While I loved the Qubani ka Meetha with all its realness at Shadaab, this became one of the few dishes where I felt that I could actually make it, dare I say better, with the usage of American ingredients back home. There were naturally some big changes I had to make. Firstly, that the dried apricots we get in the US are the more familiar brightly orange-tinted Turkish varieties, which for me, have oddly enough always burst with a fruity reminiscence of the fresh fruit. Secondly, as these apricots come without the pits, I decided to substitute this textural element by stirring in some toasted almonds. Also, as making malai usually requires long hours spent over the stove, boiling milk down and stirring it continuously, I opted for serving with vanilla ice cream instead because as a busy and overworked college student, I ain’t got time to replicate all of my ancestral ways. The change I am the most proud of though, is the addition of crushed cardamom seeds.

A key flavor in almost all Indian desserts, cardamom is used as often in India as vanilla is in the US, but the two don’t taste anything the same, save for their floral aromas. Lusty, jammy, and full of the warm aromas of an Indian childhood (thanks to my buddy cardamom), the flavors of Qubani ka Meetha will have you missing it as soon as you finish your first bowl. Good thing, I made it again last weekend.

Rahul 3

Recipe: Qubani ka Meetha

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried apricots, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, adjust to taste
  • 6 crushed cardamom pods, optional
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, toasted
  • vanilla ice cream, for serving

Method:

  1. Soak the apricots in warm water overnight, till they have plumped up fully.
  2. Pour the apricots with the water (it should have a nice orange color) into a heavy bottom sauce pan with the crushed cardamom pods. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, mashing intermittently, until the apricots are softened and falling apart.
  4. Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds, cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.

 Cooking Notes:

  • If you want your Qubani to mimic both the taste and appearance of the Hyderabadi original, try using unsulphured apricots instead of the conventional Turkish kind. Also there are a good deal of Indian grocery stores that carry Indian apricots as well. These may be complete with the pits and will naturally lend you the most authentic flavor.
  • Qubani ka Meehta can also be served with a vanilla custard, creme anglaise, unsweetened whipped cream, or Greek yogurt.

My new favorite way to use Qubani ka Meetha is by featuring it as a cake filling. Use your favorite yellow cake recipe, place a thick layer of the Qubani between the layers, and frost with a cardamom whipped cream. It is guaranteed to blow the minds of your guests. It sure did for mine :)!

Note: Rahul has plenty of other foodie reflections on his own personal blog here: http://cookingfever.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/how-hyderabad-stole-my-heart-qubani-ka-meetha-dried-apricot-sweet/ 

Honorable Mention Based On Photo

“Reflection in the Sand”
Amy Restko
Study Abroad Program: SAO Spanish Studies in Granada, 2012
Location of Photo: Sahara Desert, Morocco

Restko-Personal

“Shopper Insights at Pondy Bazaar Fair”
Wan-Ting Lee
Study Abroad Program: BUS Sustainable Product and Market Development for Subsistence Marketplaces, 2013
Location of Photo: Pondy Bazaar, Chennai, India

Lee-Academic

“Monkeying Around in the Wu-Tang Mountains”
Brian Norberg
Study Abroad Program: SAO Alliance to Xi’an Fall 2012, AIESEC Summer 2012
Location of Photo: Northwest Hubei Province, China

Norberg - Personal

“New Heights”
Jessica Weston
Study Abroad Program: SAO University of Canterbury, 2013
Location of Photo: Castle Hill, New Zealand

Weston-Academic

Settling into Hong Kong’s Traditions during the Lunar New Year

Guest Blog: Samantha Luce

I am a Junior in college studying abroad in Hong Kong for the Spring of 2013. These are my adventures.

Post from Tuesday, February 12th

Because of the Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) on Sunday, we actually get this whole week off from school. While the festivities were on the small side (CNY is considered a family holiday), there was still a parade and other more low-key activities for celebrating the Year of the Snake.

On Monday I went to the Wishing Tree Festival in New Territories. There is a tradition where you write your hopes for the new year on a paper and tie it to an orange before throwing it into the tree. If your wish catches it will come true!

The tradition has changed slightly: the tree is now a copy of the original (which you can see in the photo is dead looking now) and the orange is plastic (so you don’t belt small children in the head with oranges).

Chinese-Throw Orange

It took me about 11 tries before my “hopes” caught in the tree, which is why I look so victorious in the photo below. I really hope it isn’t a bad sign that it took me so long! I will just guess that it means I have to work hard this year (and being at University of Hong Kong, this may not be a bad assumption!)

Chinese-Orange

After the Wishing Tree Festival, Pui-Chi and I headed over to Shatin to see the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. In reality there are 13,000+ buddhas there.

The monastery is on the top of a large hill, and it was a steep hike up (430 steps!). But it was worth the climb because we passed many gold buddhas on the way, and were met with stunning views. The temple was busy because of the holiday but that didn’t take away from its absolute beauty and peaceful ambiance. We poked our heads in the various temples which literally had walls lined from ceiling to floor with thousands of mini Buddhas, each differing in pose and expression (based on the donors of the statues).

Overall it was a great experience, and the view from the top was truly amazing. See, Hong Kong is a very modern city, and there is a strong Western influence on it (probably from being under British rule for nearly half a century), so it’s nice to see some of the more traditional Eastern culture still being valued and expressed.

Temple

Before coming to Hong Kong I had never been inside a Buddhist temple, now I feel as if I have been in hundreds. It is such a beautiful religion, and I love being in a city where I am able to learn more about the Buddha’s teachings from both a Western and an Eastern view point. I guess that’s why they say studying abroad really broadens your perspectives!

Until next time 🙂

Finding My Legacy

Guest Article: Sydney Gorman

ChinaAlliance

As a young woman of mixed heritage, I had the unique experience of absorbing two cultures growing up: American culture and Chinese culture. I spent a great deal of time with my Chinese family; understanding the importance of the Moon and Chinese New Year festivals, applying a certain familial structure of respect, and learning that moon cakes weren’t exactly the greatest thing to eat. However, I didn’t begin to speak Chinese until I took it as a class being offered for the first time my sophomore year of high school.

I knew that I had family that still remained in China even after both my grandparents had fled to escape Mao’s Communist regime. I also knew that there was a complex family history between both of my grandparents. My grandmother’s father had been a general under reform leader Sun Yat-Sen, who had been looking to put an end to the hierarchy of the Qing Dynasty. My grandfather’s mother had been one of the remaining descendants of that same dynasty, desperately trying to cling to power.  As you can imagine, I became more intrigued by the idea of visiting China and meeting the other members of my Chinese family and hearing their perspectives on their family histories.

The opportunity to study abroad came with my acceptance to the University of Illinois as a Global Studies Major. My junior year, through the Alliance for Global Education program in Beijing, China, I spent the Fall 2011 semester experiencing a whole new side to my culture, speaking Chinese to native speakers, and interacting with the Soo and Dan families.

When I met my grandmother’s half-brother, and his wife for the first time, there was definitely a language gap—most of the time I was unable to get across what I actually wanted to say. But they were very patient with me and extremely hospitable and treated me like family. They took me out to dinner and did everything they could to make sure I was comfortable and safe in Beijing, in spite of having only met me a few times during my stay. However, each time my Chinese had improved and our conversations became more in-depth.

ChinaBeijingReunion

Similarly, I met with my grandfather’s family while my parents came to visit in China. Most of the family could not speak English, so we mostly relied on my grandfather’s brother, Soo Shao-Zhi, to translate some of the more complex dialogue. Again, the entire family took us out to dinner for Beijing roast duck and treated us like we saw them all the time. It was a wonderful experience.

I think the biggest realization that I had such a caring family was when I became sick; the moment I informed my mother’s cousin of my illness, they took me to the family doctor and purchased medicine for me to take. During the week they repeatedly checked on me to make sure that I was doing well.

I asked both Dan Gong-Pu and Soo Shao-Zhi to tell me about their lives prior to the Communist takeover; I don’t think that I could have ever come up with a story as fascinating as the one told to me firsthand by my family. One day I hope to compile all of their stories and share them with the world.

While my experience is unique to me, I believe that people can find out more about themselves in one semester abroad in China then in many years. It is important to make your own story and to be able to share it with others. I hope that if you have the opportunity to study abroad, you take it immediately! You never know what sort of adventures you might end up having when you are in a new place. I hope my journey with the Alliance for Global Education inspires you to create your own story.

ChinaFamilyPhoto