Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pressing Forward

Hey, everyone. Been a bit since my last post, so there's a lot to catch up on, and I apologize in advance because I know I'll end up leaving out a lot. First of all, O-Week was great! There was a Jumping Castle, Slip n Slide, 70s Party, other parties, barefoot bowls, Amazing Race, and much more. It was a great way to get to meet all the new people living on res and also to catch up with old friends on res. My housemates and I went into the city together, and bonded pretty well. We're all so different with all of our nationalities and personalities, but I'm glad to say I get along with and appreciate each person who lives in my unit. We also have an excellent RA, who has helped us along whenever we get into a rut with each other. We're a pretty cute little family, I must say :)

After O Week classes began, as they must. This semester I am taking Music History 1, Contextualising Indigenous Australia, The Art Museum, and Tourism in Society. I was meant to take Politics of Australia and Asia Relations, but after the first lecture and tutorial I was bored to death and knew that is definitely not how I want to spend my friday mornings/afternoons this semester, so I dropped it and picked up Tourism in Society on Wednesdays, which quickly became my favorite subject. I feel very liberal artsy this semester with my various units, like a true MC student.

One of the best things so far this semester has been Future Music Festival! A few days before it I was invited to go to an MGMT concert, which was pretty amazing in a cool venue in Newtown, my favorite suburb of Sydney. Saturday night I rode down to the Racecourse with some friends from res, and we heard from some fantastic music at Future. MGMT was there, and my personal favorite was Ke$ha (don't laugh!). Other artists were Pendulum, Dizzy Rascal, and some others that I hadn't really heard of before. They had a silent disco tent, where we went in with headphones and could switch between two different dj's. One of my favorite parts by far!

Last week, I got to meet up with a friend I met on my J Term trip to Germany last year. He was on his way to holiday in New Zealand, so stopped by Sydney for a few days. It was great reconnecting and getting to show him all around Sydney (and Max Brenner's, which is this amazing chocolate bar you should go to if you're ever in Australia!). One thing I love about travelling is meeting new people and making friends overseas, and it's even better if you end up meet again someday!

Australia has been different thus far for sure though. While I haven't really encountered the homesickness problem again yet, other problems have arised. I expected people and my relationships with them to change, but I didn't really brace myself for just how much change would occur. This got me really down for a while, and still bothers me, but I'm coping much better now considering I'm in a different country and don't have the same kind of support system that I do when I'm at home. Another issue I'm dealing with is finding a job. I really didn't expect this part to be difficult, but it's been pretty frustrating. I started applying for jobs two weeks before I came back here, and have probably applied for 50 in total. I had a group interview for a clothing store today, and am going to Parramatta tomorrow for some sort of interview session about stuffing mailboxes with brochures. Hoping one of those will work out, but with my luck so far who knows! Frustrations have started to mount, but I'm trying to stay upbeat about it all and remember enjoy the time I have left here. All of my experiences combined, good and bad, have really started to mold me as a person. It's shocking how much I've changed since last July. Even though things can get tough when you're away from home, I'm still glad I chose to spend another semester at UWS. I have a feeling there's a lot more to come that I can look forward to. Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed that I'll get a job so I can earn enough money to travel :)

Next time....you'll be reading about the adventures of Seth Purkey and I in Sydney! Seth is an MC student studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne, and he's coming to visit Sydney this weekend. Should have lots of good stories to tell next week!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Snow in October - Winter

This picture to the right is the second week in October and it is already snowing... The tempture right is about 32 F (-1, 0C) and this is only the beginning. I have heard that it will snow till end of March and still be somewhat cold.

October has been boring month, with classes about everyday and studying. However, November has brought more snow, colder temperatures but beautiful pictures. Below will be pictures from November. The Pictures will tell you everything that I have to say so far about Finland.

The above pics where taken out of my friend's flat while have dinner

The pic on the right is from a lake that is next to the Uni.
The Pic on the left is taken from the beach in Oulu in November.

This was taken during end of Nov. as I took a trip to Northern Finland 'Lapland'. It was very cold about -5F! But it was worth it though. When I look at the pictures I can say I have been to the Arctic Circle.

Below are Random pics that I can not leave out... These pics are done by a friend of mine here in Oulu using a HD camera. Here you can see the True Nature of Finland.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Adventure to Lapland and Norway

Its fall now here in Finland (September 25th) the leaves are changing and everything. However, the leaves just don't change colors as in the US, the leaves change into bright color leaves. Lapland, northern region of Finland is know for magnificent fall because of the color of leaves in the fall time. So, my flatmates and I decided to take a trip to northern Finland and to the highest point in Europe, Norway. We rented a car in Oulu and took a 12 hr journey to the north.

On the way up to Lapland there was usually a curb/look out to view about every 5 miles or so.Where we could look at the land scape of Lapland. As we travel through Lapland we saw nature at its best nothing but landscape for miles... There is not much of anything in Lapland maybe a small town with a dinner or two and that's it! It was so remote we had reindeer crossing the road and sheep once in Norway.

Once we where in Norway we started to look for our hotel or cottage that booked for the night. I did not book the the cottage one of my flatmates did this so, I had no idea to what to expect. The cottage was located by a lake in smallest town imaginable there was nothing in the town but the cottage that we where staying at! During the night it was 40 degrees in September c'mon. Also the heater was small in the little cottage so I froze during the night it was cold! The next moring we had to go so packed and left however the best pictures where on the ride back.

It had been raining the whole time however on the way back the sun decided to show so we pulled over and took some amazing pictures of Lapland and drove back home.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oulu and Friends

September 13,2010
I have been in Oulu for about a week now and I have made some
close friends, people from Russia, Australia, Italy, Germany, Spain,Belgium, Slovakia, and France. I have also meet all my flatmates, two from Germany and one from Slovakia all seem to be good people and good flatmates.

I live in the international dorm, which has 8 floors consisting of four rooms, living room and kitchen, which is quite nice. The dorm is also called 'club 16' where most parties take place, which is good and bad, but club 16 is where to be.

Oulu City is very beautiful during the fall. The air/wind is refreshing, better than the humidity back home where you feel like your suffocating. Oulu is one of the biggest cities in Finland, however it a small city compared to major cities in Europe or the U.S. There is also a market open downtown where one can get anything that he or she disires. In addition, one can get meals in the market, authentic meals of Finland...haha such as Reindeer! It taste quite good like sausage I guess.

The University is huge. The whole university is connected throughout, this because of the winter... can't wait (but it almost feels winter to me here already as Alabama is 50 degrees in the winter) Also, the uni is very colorful, bright blue, orange, red, green, etc. This because of the 3 1/2 hrs of day light in the winter that Oulu has. I guess people don't so depressed.

Food, Snow & Other Cultural Delights

by Kirsten Sheppard
Almaty, Kazakhstan
I forgot about these toilets.  Squatty-potties...sigh.  Not my favorite!

If I were to think about what I love most about traveling to new places, I would say that I love to experience the food in new places. There are, however, limits to my openness around food. I don’t really want to be like that guy on TV who tries the weirdest, grossest things in each country. I’m not going to be the first to drink snakes blood, eat undercooked meat, or baby eels cooked in squid ink covered in boiled white fish. Left to my own devices, I will seek out local suggestions that fit neatly into my already defined categories of food: vegetable, chicken, pasta, pork and beef, but with the local flavours, spices, and manner of cooking.

Being hosted in another country often tests my food boundaries, since etiquette governs my decision making (thus needing to eat, or at least make the appearance of eating the above mentioned eels in Spain). I have yet to be put in an uncomfortable food moment in Kazakhstan, but the possibilities await with horse meat, tongue, and fermented horse or camel milk on the menu. I’m hoping more for the realm of Manty (form of dumpling) or the local shish-kebab (can’t remember how to spell it here).

In Kazakhstan, the breakfast buffet has had a table of very sweet items (along the lines of danishes, but not danishes), hot items including omelets (not really omelets, but scrambled eggs), beef sausages (aka mini hot dogs), potatoes (yum), and then the normal German-inspired options of breads, deli meat and cheese. Any guesses which section I gravitated to? Oh – and of course, dark, spicy Russian-style coffee.

The main meal of the day here is lunch. If you eat out in a restaurant, the best deal is often what they call a biznes lanch which is a fixed menu meal. You get soup (mine was a broth that had a chunk of meat, barley, broth, veggies, and a lump of sour cream), salad (cabbage with vinigarette), and the meal (mine was a breaded chicken cutlet and mashed potatoes) and tea (no one drinks cold drinks here when it is cold outside). Good price ($4), average food.


Medeu (site of the 2011 Asian Winter Games)

Yesterday it started out raining, but by mid-day it was snowing. By evening we had about a half-foot of snow. Sound horrible? Not even a little bit. There is no stress involved with snow here. It reminded me of being home in Canada. People know how to drive, the roads are made for dealing with snow, people still go outside and on with their lives. I traveled by gondola, foot, driver and taxi yesterday, all without any trouble at all.

Dressed in Black

This is where the President of Kazakhstan stays when in Almaty
I fit in here so well that our taxi driver asked my colleague “why we (as locals) were talking in English to each other?” She responded that I was a foreigner, but generously left out how appalling my Russian is. After that we switched to French. But the real reason I fit in here is that there is only one color in winter. Black. If you know me, then you know that black is my color, especially when I travel. Who knew? My style is distinctly not Kazakh/Russian but that is harder to tell under winter clothes.

Ballet around the World

Albina & I at the Ballet. Picture got a bit squishy...

I randomly get to go see the Ballet in other countries. I’ve now been to the Ballet in Canada, USA, Switzerland, Georgia (the country) and Kazakhstan. We went to see Carmen last night at the Abey State Opera and Ballet Theatre. Strangely enough, I’ve now seen Carmen specifically in all of those countries. What a cultural comparison. It was interesting to see the interpretation of the same ballet in different countries. Kazakhstan has an excellent ballet company (maybe the Russian influence?) and the theatre was historical and beautiful. The weirdest moment of the evening was at the end as we exited the theatre, I ran into a familiar face. This was completely unexpected and we both just looked at each other in shock for a moment, and then greeted each other appropriately. In fact, we barely know each other since the person I ran into was my Lufthansa flight attendant, but still.

Ok – off to a busy work day. I am going to need to sustain myself on coffee, since my body has yet to adjust to the time here. I was up until 3am (rather than waking at 3am like the day before), so hopefully tonight will be a more normal sleep. Today I interview 13 students and grade their essays in English.

P.S. having trouble uploading pictures, so I'll add to this blog when it works.
View from my hotel room.  Average building here

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Almaty, Kazakhstan

I made it to Almaty, Kazakhstan by 3am.  Before they even open the doors on the plane you can smell Almaty.  The air quality is not what one might call fantastic.  After talking to people here, I learned that it is because the heat for buildings is provided by these big coal-driven factories, so in the winter the air quality gets bad.  The interesting thing is that there is a set date when the factories turn off (March 15th or so) so if it is cold after that then you get cold.  Sound familiar, Maryville College? 

Getting out of the airport reminded me of Guatemala...and the Philippines...and Armenia.  You cross through the "nothing to declare" doors and you are pretty much out on the street with taxi drivers climbing over themselves to try and encourage you to go with them.  (meanwhile there is an orderly marked taxis system right past them.  But fortunately, I just had to look for a sign from the driver there to pick me up.  A long silent trip to the hotel was just what I needed.

This is a Russian Orthodox Church (Zenkov Cathedral) in the middle of Panfilov park in downtown Almaty.  Inside was filled with gold and patron saints, and people lighting candles.  Did you know that in Russian Orthodox churches there aren't any pews?  Yet the ceremonies are long like Catholic Mass. 

I have only really done a quick walking tour of the downtown area, but it is based on a grid system and North is uphill (toward the mountains) and South is downhill.  The Soviet architecture is prevalent in Almaty, with only a few newer buildings.  A lot of the signs are in both Kazakh (state language) and Russian (official language) which doesn't help me since I can't read Russian.  Well, I can go letter by letter, but it still doesn't mean much to me.  The street names are named after Russians or Kazakhs.  In fact, many that were Russian names are being changed now. It makes it confusing for visitors who knew the old names to get around though.  Fortunately, my hotel is on Gogol St. so that makes it easier for me to remember. 

Speaking of Russian.  I am suffering from my inability to understand Russian.  I am finding I can survive quite well on silence and the word "spasiba" (thank you) though.  Whoever told me that most people would speak English lied.  The schools are now requiring 3 languages (Kazakh, Russian and English) but that means that the future generations will speak English, not all of them now.

I got the 24 applications of the students I will be interviewing in Almaty today.  Should be interesting reading tonight.  I am looking forward to hearing about their goals for studying in the USA next year! 

Now I'm off to find some Kazakh food. I'm only a little afraid since the menu in my room listed dishes including horse meat and tongue....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Frankfurt International Airport

by Kirsten Sheppard, Director, CIE
Traveling to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, & Tajikistan

Aaahh Frankfurt International Airport...the waystation to the rest of the world. Not the prettiest airport. Not the most user-friendly. Not the most comfortable to wait 5 hours for your next flight. But it is filled with latte macchiatos and German chocolate so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much!

It does seem as though you could fly pretty much anywhere in the world from here. Something to think about for those of you who want to live somewhere that will give you access to everywhere. I'm hanging out at McCafe (yes - that is the Starbucks-ish McDonalds franchise in the rest of the world). No Big Macs but yummy coffee. I practiced my German and ordered all in German. The lady didn't even switch to English, so I was pretty pleased with myself. I even understood when she asked if I wanted it here or to go. Fortunately "hier" is in my German vocabulary.

Like most travelers, I am spending this short layover wondering what I forgot; whether or not I should get a voltage converter for 12 Euros (just in case); wondering if I can find somewhere close to my gate to sleep some more; not feeling hungry, but desperately craving German food. Ok, maybe that last one is unique to me.

But really I need to be studying my Russian for my next two weeks in former Soviet nations. I have no hope of learning the native languages of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, but since I have a hidden passion for all things Russian (coming from a year of studying the USSR in grade 7) I thought I might get to practice. Unfortunately for me, the little Russian I know (from spending a summer living with 4 Ukrainians) is not helping me decipher the Barron's phrasebook pronunciation. I am also thinking that I will not be in a fully functional state when I arrive in Almaty at 2:30am after very little sleep.

For those of you I have failed to tell, I am off to Central Asia to participate on an Interview Panel for the Global UGRAD program. We will be selecting students to come to the USA next year to study as exchange students. Maryville College has been a long-time supporter of this program, and we have received students most recently from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, and Uzbekistan. It has been 3 years since I last traveled to do this (to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan), and so it should put my travel skills to the test. I don't often get to go somewhere I have never been before, where I don't speak the language, and don't know anyone! As you might imagine, I am both excited and nervous.

One of the main things I will be working on with students when I get back to MC is pre-departure preparation. We will be talking about visas (I had to get 3!), flights and emergency back-up arrival plans. So far all of my flights have been on time, and I expect to have a driver pick me up on the other side. I don't expect to have to make alternate arrangements, but I am trying to figure out how to give taxi directions in Russian in case the driver isn't there. Thanks to Alex for giving me the tip to bring small US dollar bills (aka $1/$5s) since Frankfurt doesn't have the currency I need and I couldn't get it in the USA either.

Ok - well off to explore German delights.  Side-note: I am also coveting people's ipads here in the airport.  I will have to see what kind of international service costs are for one of those. I wonder if it is cheaper than the 5 Euro/hour internet I purchased?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First Days of Finland

The adventure begins in Finland as a new whole world is shown to me.Downtown (city center) is 10 minutes from the university by bus and 15 – 20 minutes by bike. Many of the students buy a bike and take it to city center, but the bus is fine for me. Anyways, downtown is quite quit, what I mean by this that the city is not loud… in contrast, France you could here people talking all the time. Oulu is on the coast and sits on a island as there are many rivers and canals around Oulu. It is sept. and its already 50 degrees here in Oulu, back home it 90 degrees wow what a difference a day makes.
Moreover, I went to the grocery story and wow it was difficult to pick out what to eat… nothing was in English at at all, I just guessed what the food was… I mean it looks like ham, so it must mb ham… ha. I just pick up simple things to get me through few days, such as bread, peanut butter, jelly ,cereal, eggs and my favorite Ramon Noodles… At night there was a party in the dorm for the new exchange students, there I meet many of the people living in the dorm. People from everywhere in Europe, however only a few Americans.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Hague and Amsterdam

By Chase Newman
Leien University, The Netherlands
This past week marked the first actual trip that I took outside of Leiden since I arrived almost a month ago. While I know people who have already been to Paris and Madrid, I'm just getting started- and I plan to catch up!

Last Friday I took the train to the Dutch city of Den Haag, otherwise known as The Hague. This city serves as the seat of the Dutch Parliament. I boarded the train at about 11:00 AM with a few people who I've recently become friends with in what was a rather eclectic crew- one Hawaiian, two Germans, a guy from Portugal, and myself the Tennessean. We didn't have much of a plan and just sort of figured it out as we went along, but it turned out to be quite a fun day. We got somewhat lost a few times, which meant by the end of the day we had walked a lot and were ready for a nap. We ended up seeing the Parliament building (but we missed the last tour by 15 minutes), Queen Beatrix's working palace, the Peace Palace where the International Court of Justice is housed, and we checked out the M. C. Escher museum which was my favorite part of the trip. Escher is one of my favorite artists so it was a treat to be able to see his work up close and in person. Also, the museum is housed inside of an old palace, so the building itself was a work of art. Inside of the museum our group met another group of students, two from Russia and one from New York. We talked with these people for a bit and ended up grabbing some coffee with them after leaving the museum. Finally we hopped on the train to go back to Leiden after a day well spent.

Saturday night I met some new international students through one of my friends, and we all had dinner together and a Dutch pancake house, or t' Pannenkoekenhuis. This was the first time I had ever eaten a famous Dutch pancake, and let me say that I am now officially a fan. I ordered an apple, cinnamon and sugar pancake which ended up tasting delicious. Dutch pancakes are a little bit thicker than the French crepes, but are about the size of a large pizza. In other words, they look beautifully delicious. Our pancakes were served on huge Delft-ware plates, which are beautiful works of art that the Netherlands are also famous for. After dinner we went and saw a movie, True Grit, which was shown in English but with Dutch subtitles. Inside the movie theater myself and the two other Americans in our group began talking to a woman in the family seated behind us. She was also an American from New York, but had moved here after marrying her Dutch husband. Come to find out, she actually has a cousin who went to Maryville College. I was blown away simply by the fact that she had even heard of Maryville. After talking a bit, she said she would invite us over for dinner sometime soon and got contact information from one of the people in our group. As the cliche goes, "it's a small world."

On Sunday I took my first trip to Amsterdam. I decided to go by myself for the simple fact that all I planned on doing was going to museums, and I always take a REALLY long time when I go to museums because I'm the guy that has to read every single little thing, so I figured I would spare everyone the agony of having to go through a museum with me. I'm not used to using public transportation, considering that I live in Tennessee, so this ended up being a bit stressful. By the end of the day I had taken a train, a bus, and a tram, all to get to and from the museums in Amsterdam. But, thankfully it all worked out. I visited the van Gogh museum while there, and got to skip the long line outside since I bought a museum card that gets me free access to a number of museums in the Netherlands. This museum holds the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the world, as well as quite a few paintings from other well known artists. I really enjoyed the layout of this museum, as it began by showing works from other artists who were early inspirations for van Gogh. After comparing a few side by side it was really quite easy to discern where he drew his influences and inspiration from. Van Gogh is actually my other favorite artist, so it was nice to be able to see works from both of my favorite artists in one weekend. The audio tour provided quite a bit of great information as to the backgrounds of a number of the pieces. I was a bit disappointed that many of his most well known pieces were absent, such as the Starry Night pieces; however, I was able to see my absolute favorite painting, Almond Branches in Bloom, and it looked even more beautiful in person than in the pictures I've seen. This was pretty much all I saw of Amsterdam, but I will definitely be making many return trips because there's quite a lot left to see.

On Monday I visited the Naturalis museum in Leiden with some friends. This is basically one really big nature museum with a LOT of stuff to look at. It was all very interesting stuff, but it was very overwhelming and was just too much to look at in one day. But, since I have the museum card, I can go back as many times as I want!

It's been quite cold here lately, so cold that there's been a thin layer of ice over some of the canals the past few days. It actually just finished snowing a little bit a few minutes ago. As much as I love snow, I am not a fan of this weather. At all. I've had a bit of a cold the past few days as well, so that doesn't make things any better.

But, that's all I've got for updates at the moment. Oh, and happy birthday to me!