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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

到了昆明

So, I finally made it

I have been in China for a week and two days and so far have finished four lessons of Chinese and taken two tests. When CET says their language programs are intensive, they mean it. My plane landed on a Wednesday and all of the CET students had until Sunday to speak English with our fellow classmates and teachers. Then our language pledge began in earnest this past Monday and we are all prohibited from speaking English unless it is with family or friends at home and out of earshot of any other classmates. Being limited to speaking Chinese with new acquaintances in a new place is very frustrating and humbling. Our program director told us to appreciate the fact that this might be the one time we have in our lives to be completely surrounded by Chinese, and I have kept that in mind every day. My roommate is a graduate student at Yunnan University and although our communication is very slow going at times we get along very well. Our dorm (which is actually a hotel) is located in downtown Kunming where you can’t swing a cat without hitting at least five restaurants or shops. Kunming is a beautiful city with many trees and flowering vines in unexpected places, and on the horizon above the buildings, you can see the lush green mountains. The weather is very mild, and, in my opinion, is comparable to that of Orlando, Florida; There are often sudden rainstorms in the afternoon and the temperature generally stays in the 80s. Tomorrow, my class will climb a nearby mountain and I can’t wait to see the spectacular views of the city and the province’s natural beauty. I will be updating my blog each week I am here and on each post will give my valley and peak of the week (a valley being the low point of the week and a peak the highlight.)

Valley: Performing poorly on my vocabulary quizzes and feeling frustrated when I couldn’t get my point across in Chinese.

Peak: Doing well on my first ever oral exam and going to a concert at Yunnan University’s second campus in Chenggong.

 

The Study Abroad Preparation Process Pt. 2

This is the second post in my series on the preparation required to study abroad. My last post discussed choosing a study abroad program. After you choose a study abroad program it is essential that you look into the requirements for entering the country you plan to visit. Usually, the study abroad office at your school will have recommendations on steps to take after being admitted to the program of your choosing, and that is why I made an appointment with a travel nurse. That’s right, there are nurses whose full-time job is to advise travelers on the preventative medical measures they should take as well as prescribe any necessary vaccines or medication specific to their destination.

Navigating preventative travel medicine.

When traveling out of the country it is important to check the CDC  in order to find not only the required vaccinations for entering any given country but to see what diseases you are at risk of contracting while abroad and what preventative measures to take. Chances are if you are from America and are going to a European country you won’t need any additional vaccinations from those administered in childhood, but it doesn’t hurt to check the CDC and see if there is an ongoing outbreak of any disease in your destination. After checking the CDC’s website for Travelers’ Health I learned that the only vaccination required to enter the People’s Republic of China is Yellow Fever, and that is only if you are coming from a country with a known risk of Yellow Fever, which the United States is not. However, the CDC still recommends that Americans traveling to China be immunized against several other diseases, so I made an appointment with a travel nurse at my campus’ medical center to discuss what preventative medical measures I should take. One mistake I made when I attended my appointment was that I forgot to bring my shot records. We were still able to come up with a treatment plan, but it was all dependent on information that was not in her hands and could change once she actually saw my records. I would need four vaccinations before leaving and take an anti-malaria drug for the entirety of my stay. The cost of all these medications quickly added up to close to $1000 and I had only planned on needing around $300 in necessary medications. If I had known before looking for funding just how much the necessary preventative medicine cost, I would have made a few different decisions, like working and saving more.  But in the long run, I know this medicine will prevent debilitating and lifelong diseases that would require far more than $1000 for treatment.  Another important factor to consider when arranging for vaccinations is the amount of time needed to pass between the administration of a drug and the exposure to the disease, or if a medication requires several rounds or shots over a long period of time you need to start the treatment process according to that schedule and your date of entry. My travel nurse was also able to give me some general tips on how to stay healthy in the region I am traveling to, such as which foods to avoid and what bug spray to bring.

 

Summary

  • Look at the CDC’s web page for Travelers’ Health when planning a trip out of the country.
  • Make an appointment with a travel nurse and discuss what lifestyle choices, medications, and vaccinations you need to stay healthy, and don’t forget to have your shot records in hand!
  • Plan for extra costs when it comes to preventative medicine.
  • Make sure you start the treatment process early enough so that you are safely immunized by the time you leave.
  • Preventative medicine is worth it. You can either pay a couple hundred dollars for anti-malaria medication or risk being hospitalized and possibly dying, as well as spreading the disease and endangering the lives of others.

The Study Abroad Preparation Process Pt. 1

I am excited to announce that in Summer 2017 I will be spending nine weeks in Kunming, China studying Mandarin with CET Academic Programs at Yunnan University. This trip has been in the works for the past two years and it feels unreal that it is approaching so quickly. I did not anticipate how much effort would go into planning this study abroad trip and it has been one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Studying abroad, like most things that seem fun and stress-free, involves a lot of planning on the front end so that your time spent in another country goes smoothly. Although the list of things to do before my plane takes off is lengthy, I know that because of all the work I am putting in now I will be able to focus on my studies and adventures when I’m in China instead of worrying about things like catching a mosquito-borne illness. I am making a series of posts to discuss the challenges a student considering study abroad might encounter and how to address them.

Deciding which program in China to attend.

This has been the hardest part of the entire study abroad process. There are probably hundreds of options to study in China for the summer and trying to distinguish the best from all the others is a daunting task. My advice is to be open during your search process and to prioritize what is most important for you to get out of the experience. The program I am signed up for is completely different than the plan I had been set on for the past one and a half years. I thought I would go on OU’s Journey to China for four weeks and then study at a Chinese university for another four weeks via a Confucius Institute program. This plan would allow me to visit at least six different cities with OU and then work on my Mandarin through the Confucius Institute. I had even completed all of the required paperwork and missed the deadline for opening any new applications when I decided to change plans. This change of heart was due to several reasons including but not limited to the fact that there would be a full month between the two programs where I would have to travel alone and I would not know which Chinese university CI would send me to until I was already in China thereby creating a logistical nightmare. As I came closer to the middle of the Spring semester I realized that, while some people may thrive on extended solo travel and pulling trips together at the last minute, I do not. This realization prompted me to look into other Summer programs in China that would provide much-needed safety and structure. I started out by looking into the city of Kunming because my boyfriend has family there. If I was in Kunming I could finally meet his extended family and have a safety net of people to help me if anything bad should happen. Kunming was also attractive due to its reputation as having spring-like weather year round and no air pollution. Luckily I found a company called CET Academic Programs that provides a nine-week highly immersive language learning program in Kunming. I was able to sign up just a few days before the application window closed and work with the OU Education Abroad office to extend the deadline to register a program with them. I am very happy with my decision and love that the program provides structure in the form of classes five days a week but leaves your weekends open to explore the country, with the exception of a few planned outings.

Summary

Find what is important to you and look for a program that fits those priorities. In my case, those were structure, safety, total immersion, and some flexibility to explore on my own time. Maybe you have traveled extensively and know that you like spontaneity and are comfortable with making itinerary up as you go. Maybe you have never left your hometown before but know that you prefer knowing your plans for any given weekend far in advance. Read about other people’s study abroad experiences and decide what seems more or less appealing to you. Finding a program is a daunting challenge when there are thousands of options and the wrong choice could mean you are miserable for several months, but with the proper research and an honest appraisal of your own limits, you are sure to find one that fits you.

 

The History and Art of Persian Calligraphy

On April 11th in Farezenah Hall, Moslem Parvin gave an hour long presentation on Persian calligraphy. He briefly dove into the evolution and the past of Persian calligraphy before demonstrating his own skills with nib and ink. Persian calligraphy came into its own as an art form due to the restrictions set out by Islam discouraging idolatry. In other words, it is forbidden to portray sentient beings in art to prevent the worship of idols. So Muslim artists found other ways to visually express themselves and their religion through geometric patterns, arabesque art, and calligraphy. This calligraphy takes decades to master, Moslem notably said of the art, “If you practice for 20 years you can become an amateur.” How anyone has the patience (and steady hand) to master such an intricate and time-intensive art amazes me and I have the utmost respect for Moslem and his fellow calligraphers. There is a lot of memorization involved as well as a skillful hand. Calligraphers must know the exact proportions of each letter they write to the other; diamonds drawn next to the letters serve as a sort of standard. The geometrical aspect of the calligraphy is impressive and would take far longer than the hour we had to fully understand. There are entire research papers and books dedicated to understanding the connection between Islamic art and geometry. Moslem showed us a slideshow with several different styles of calligraphy and my favorite was the kind that formed outlines of animals using words or Zoomorphic Calligraphy. At the end of his presentation, Moslem gave a live demonstration by drawing some of the attendees’ names and passed around his portfolio of works. My conclusion: Persian calligraphy is an amazing art form and I am glad there are still people who dedicate their lives to preserving this cultural tradition.

Learn more about the relationship between geometry and calligraphy here.

“Chinese Matters” Workshop

“Chinese Matters” is a new initiative by the Chinese Program at OU to educate students on both current events in and pertaining to China, as well as the importance of learning Chinese. The workshop I attended on April 10th featured two OU students, Jeremy Allen and Kendrick Holmes, discussing the challenges of learning Chinese and the economic future of China, respectively.  Jeremy spoke first, discussing his techniques for studying and memorizing new vocabulary and summarizing his past trips to China. Kendrick was next and focused on the booming Chinese economy and why more Westerners should take note. Both presentations were relevant to me; Jeremy spoke about his experience in Kunming (the city I will spend 9 weeks in this summer) and had helpful learning tips and Kendrick touched on using Chinese to leverage yourself in a job market.

Lasting Impressions:

I took the advice of Jeremy to use Anki, a memorization software that allows you to create flashcards and then reminds you to study them in predetermined time intervals, like every day or once a week or every three weeks, depending on how recent the material is.

Some of the points that Kendrick touched on that have stuck with me include the fact that China is one of the largest consumers of Hollywood movies and one of the biggest producers of electric cars. Another interesting story that Kendrick shared was how he improved his Chinese while studying abroad in Beijing by sitting in public areas and focusing on the different accents and dialects being spoken and writing down different phrases he could not recognize in order to translate them later on. Perhaps that is an activity I will try while in Kunming this summer!

The first “Chinese Matters” workshop was a success and I look forward to the other speakers and topics to be presented in the coming year.

Chinese Lantern Festival

At the beginning of the semester, I attended the Chinese Language Club’s Lantern Festival Celebration. On February 7th at the Jim Thorpe Multicultural Center, no fewer than forty people gathered to partake in traditional Chinese cuisine and celebrate the declining darkness of winter. The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month, or on the first full moon of the year according to the ancient Chinese calendar. The calendar was formed according to astronomical cycles, with each month beginning on the new moon. We were celebrating a few days early as the 15th day of the first month actually fell on February 11th. The centerpiece of the CLC celebration was the table set up with ten or fifteen Chinese dishes including the food of the hour, yuanxiao or tangyuan. Yuanxiao is balls of rice flour most commonly filled with sweetened black sesame or red bean paste and the name literally translates to “first evening”, referring to the evening of the first full moon of the year. It is also a homophone for “togetherness” and often eaten during family reunions (Wikipedia Contributors). I came, I ate, I chatted with fellow China enthusiasts and Chinese citizens alike. I had a great time at the celebration (it’s hard to have a bad time when Chinese food is involved) and got to catch up with a friend who had been in China all summer. China has such a rich past and a plethora of holidays unknown to the Western world and I love being able to experience and learn about the stories and traditions important to my close Chinese friends.

Pictured below: Tangyuan with sweetened black sesame filling.

Rice Balls

“Rice Balls”

Citations

Rodriguez-Cancio, Bri. “Rice Balls.” Jump!, Jump! Immersion School, 17 Feb. 2017, www.jumpimmersion.com/blog/chinese-new-year-family-time. Accessed 14 May 2017.
Wikipedia contributors. “Tangyuan (food).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 May. 2017. Web. 15 May. 2017.

 

Panel on STEM Majors Abroad

As a STEM major studying abroad requires a lot of forethought and sometimes even an extra semester in college. It was good to hear the different solutions other engineering majors have found to incorporate a trip or semester abroad. All but one of the engineering students who spoke went to the Arezzo campus, there were two Industrial Engineers, one Mechanical Engineer, and one Computer Science major. The best advice I got from that panel was to talk to your major professors and advisors to find creative ways to get major credit abroad. Once I start my major specific classes this fall I will speak to my professors about opportunities for credit. Although as a Civil Engineering major none of the panelists’ situations were very similar to mine, and I still have to figure out a way to spend the equivalent of a semester abroad even when the CEES curriculum is so strict. At the moment I am considering working with OU Career Services to find an engineering internship in China in Summer 2017 that might count towards elective credit and improve my everyday language skills. Ultimately I know that there is a whole team of faculty and staff waiting to help me achieve my goal of studying abroad, and where there’s a will there’s a way.

Sooners Without Borders

There is a group I am considering joining in the fall called Sooners Without Borders, previously known as Engineers Without Borders. SWB goes on trips to El Salvador to help farming communities by installing solar-powered irrigation systems and other water systems, in 2014 they even planted a fruit garden for a local school. They usually go on these trips over Thanksgiving break and are accompanied by five faculty members. Going on a service trip with an organization like SWB or Global Brigades (a similar organization that also provides medical and dental services in addition to water treatment) has started to make more and more sense to me. As a civil engineer one of the biggest problems I will work on is water quality and management, and getting the chance to serve others while enhancing my engineering skill set is an invaluable experience. Another unique aspect of a trip of this nature is that you don’t see all of the touristy or stereotypical parts of a country, you get the chance to see the way everyday people exist in El Salvador.Their next meetings won’t be until next fall, and the last one of this semester was cancelled due to severe weather, but I am looking forward to attending the first meeting of the year and learning about the impact I can make as an engineer.

 

In conclusion here are the reasons I want to join SWB:

 

  1. Help people gain access to clean water.
  2. Use engineering in a real-world setting.
  3. Experience the culture of another country without the filter of a tourist.
  4. Learn more about CEES(Civil Engineering and Environmental Science).

Also here’s a link to a news story about SWB.

Hosting an International Student

This semester my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Japan for two weeks at our house. Being from Norman I lived at home this year, and it was a very enlightening and fun experience to host a foreign exchange student. His name is Yuto and he is from Kyoto, he is studying to become an elementary teacher and is a fan of all things American or trendy. He told me the word for what his friends call him but I’ve already forgotten it, but it essentially translated to “lover of all things new and trendy” and he was pretty proud of that title. His main goals when he was here were to improve his english, eat lots of American food, and learn American jokes.My sister and I tried to teach him some classic jokes, but we soon realized how much American humor relies on word-play, and that humor is lost on a non-english speaker or when translated into another language. For example, “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9”, this joke is funny because “eight” is a homophone for “ate”. We also tried to tell him the “Why did the chicken cross the road”, but it’s almost impossible to explain why a joke like that is funny when it is only funny because of it’s un-funniness. We ended up just writing the jokes down for him to take home and he promised us someday he would understand them. I liked being able to talk to him about Studio Ghibli movies and learning Chinese, his face would light up when I knew something about his home nation and I think he appreciated that I was learning an asian language. It was fun to compare some Chinese and Japanese characters together and see the similarities and differences in the languages. We couldn’t always have fluent conversations but it was exciting when we could fully understand each other. By the end of his time here in Oklahoma he was much better at speaking and listening to English, and I was sad to see his spunky self go. Yuto is a very funny, smart, and nice kid and I hope to visit him in Japan someday soon.