Monthly Archives: September 2012

C is for Columbian Cookies

Well, I had another baking flop today. Not that the cookies I made were bad, but after I made them I realized just how un-authentic they were. I was attempting to make a dark sugar cookie hailing from western Columbia. But I failed to spend the time researching like I should have, and instead just went with the first recipe I found. I should have known better when I saw that recipe was from Pilsbury. (How much more American can you get?) Here is the recipe I used.

After I made them, I started researching. (I know, shame on me.) First I found out that I should not be using dark brown cane sugar but rather panela, a solid sugar cane substance that is then grated into the recipe. Second, the recipe called the cookies “cucas” but according to the Word Reference Forum and Local Spanish, cuca is a dirty word in Columbia. Eek!

It just goes to show that research is important and the internet is not always correct. But regardless, the cookies were pretty good if you’re looking for something a bit different and on the line of a Columbian cookie.

I don’t think the icing is authentic either but I figured I’d add it any way. Who doesn’t like a little extra icing, right?

Cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C.

 

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All Girls are Princesses

Did you ever see the movie the Little Princess? If not, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. The movie centers on an English girl who is being brought up in India when her single father is called to war. He brings her back to the UK and puts her in a boarding school with no expenses spared. But when the British army believes him dead, everything is taken away from the girl and she is forced to become a maid in the school. Despite all that happens, she believes in her dreams and her father’s words that she is princess.

Every Thursday afternoon I’ve been volunteering with Spero Project and helping with the children in our local refugee community. Thursdays seem to be the day where they don’t have much homework so in general, we just play. Yesterday I put out a stack of paper, crayons, tape, and ribbon and just let the kids create what they wanted. There was everything from t-shirts, to paper finger claws, to purses. But what struck me the most were the crowns. With little girls from Malaysia, Turkey, and Myanmar, every single one of them wanted to make a crown to wear. Every one of them wanted to be a princess. As I watched them play, it reminded me of the movie. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak, all girls are princesses.

Living from a Suitcase

When Hubby and I moved to San Diego last July, we weren’t sure how long we were going to be there. I didn’t have a job and he was completing a one-year fellowship. With so much uncertainty, we put all of our life in a storage unit in Georgia and signed a 13-month lease for a fully furnished apartment. We drove across the country with whatever would fit inside or on top of our car. For the past 15 months we have lived out of 6 suitcases and 12 boxes (most of which are hubby’s medical books). The opportunities for us in San Diego were so great, it was worth putting our lives in a box and living from a suitcase for a while.

Yep, that is all of my life in 10×15 foot box.

As I write this, I think of all the other bloggers who are currently abroad and living from a suitcase. Like Megan from Soulshine Traveler who has jumped around South America, lived in Russia, and explored Europe. Or Ashley and Justin from This Parallel Life who moved from their New York apartment into a storage unit in Denver while they seek adventure traveling the globe for a year. Or my dear friend Mary from Mary in Haifa who has split her furniture between her parents and friends while she takes a year away from her career to complete her Master’s degree in Israel.

For each of these bloggers, they have put away their material possessions to seek something they cannot achieve at home. Whether it is adventure, culture, education, or just a change from the norm, they have prioritized the experience over their belongings. From personal experience, I can honestly say this is not easy to do. But looking back on the last 15 months, I can say it was worth it.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Lauren Livingston

Well, dear readers, I am finally back in OKC after a week in Georgia and happy to bring you another great Abroad Blog of the Week. I found Lauren Livingston’s blog a few weeks ago while searching through the study abroad tags. Amongst the many blogs from Spain and Italy, Lauren stood out. In my six years of working with study abroad students, I personally have never sent anyone to Indonesia so I was fascinated to read about Lauren’s experience. It wasn’t long before I realized that she has a great writing style and quite the adventurous spirit.  I caught up with Lauren via email to find out what brought her to Bali.

How did you decide to study abroad in Indonesia?

Sophomore year I discovered SIT (School for International Training), clicked through their website and optional programs, and thought their hands-on approach, in-depth language concentration, and field study requirement clicked with my idea of how students should learn in an international setting.

SIT’s Indonesia program is centered around art, religion, and culture.   All of which I knew relatively little about.  Religion and its influence on society has always been a huge curiosity of mine, but to be honest, my knowledge of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Christianity was(is) sparse. I  also enjoyed the idea of learning about Southeast Asian art and music and was upset by how ignorant I was of Indonesia’s culture- a society consisting of around 220 million people. As I read the program’s description and researched the country and region, I knew Bali and Indonesia involved a complicated history and culture that I wanted to know and learn more about.  So I applied, and here I am.

 What are you reading right now?

I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom which follows the progression and ups and downs of a fictional, middle class American family.  Within the novel, Franzen highlights “freedom” as a term that has ongoing consequences for humanity and the world as a whole.  It was interesting to read about American family dilemmas while experiencing and adapting to the family structure in Bali.

I read Freedom because of a book exchange a friend and I had started.  Over the summer, we would write reviews on books and mail them to each other.  One of the questions he asked was  what conclusion did Franzen draw on the idea of kids inheriting characteristics from their parents.  Are we in a constant cycle of inheritance, and, if so, what traits are inherited?

I’m starting to believe that our identity is not necessarily formed through characteristics or traits we inherit, but in what we, as individuals, believe we have the capability to do with those inherited characteristics.  Our own perceived capabilities and aspirations as human beings develop out of a cultural context, and our family is just a bi product of that culture.

Currently Reading:

  • Course required readings mostly on religion in Indonesia
  • The Bhagavad-Gita Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation
  • What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr-I’ve seen a few of the author’s talks online, and it was on the summer reading list for my university.

 How is the Balinese language coming along?

For our first week in Bali, we practiced Bahasa Indonesian five hours a day.  We learned everything from the alphabet to the Happy Birthday song.  I acquired more of the language in that one week than I have in the three weeks that have followed.  Now we’ve moved to 2.5 hours of class, four days a week.  I find myself forgetting a lot, and I know if I want to get better I have to start memorizing outside of class.  It’s hard to do when there’s so much more out there to explore.

Speaking with my host family has been fun.  We can talk about daily activities, poke fun at each other, and bond over food, but it’s definitely Indoglish. My goal is to be conversational to the point I can communicate easily with the village kids, my bargaining skills are perfected, and I understand the local bemo drivers.

So far, what do you love and what challenges you about Balinese culture and traditions?

There’s so much to love about studying in Indonesia-the people, the villages, the weather, the religion, my classmates, our adventures, I could go on and on.  In Bali, for the most part, the way of life is deeply rooted in the makeup of the family and Hindu traditions.  Bali has taught me how meaningful family support and love is.  I find I often take for granted my family in the States and fail to make an effort to spend time with them. Being here has shown me how incredibly important they are to me, and I appreciate that.

Of course the language is a huge set back.  It’s hard to talk about ideas and compare thoughts with another culture when you have such a barrier as language.  After being in Bali, I desperately long to study and to know other languages.  Language is the first step in getting to know someone and their feelings.  If you can’t  grasp the emotion in their speech, you cannot connect with them and understand who they are.  I’m not only talking about spoken language, but body language and mannerisms as well.

It can also be difficult to get away from the Western, American stereotype, but that’s an aspect of traveling and living in other cultures one has to understand.  People are welcoming as long as you respect them and their beliefs.  As an international student I can offer them a new perspective while also gaining their insights and beliefs as well.  It’s an amazing collaboration I am so thankful to be a part of.

It seems you don’t know a stranger. How do you like to start up conversations with the people you meet on your travels?

When I think back about past travels, it’s definitely been the people I’ve met who made the trip versus the places I went.

Meeting people, sharing experiences, and life stories is the absolute best reward I’ve gained from traveling.  Being open to having a random conversation with anyone you walk by can lead to so many fun and interesting interactions, and you can talk about anything-food, pop culture, religion, life.

I’ve found, in Indonesia, it’s quite easy to talk to locals if you’re enthusiastic about practicing the language.  They are very excited when you speak their language and they start asking questions.  From there, the conversations can go in any direction.

A Saturday in the South

Hubby and I are back in the south this weekend to celebrate our nephew’s first birthday in my husband’s hometown of Dallas, Georgia. Dallas is a small city of 11,000 about 30 miles from Atlanta and a hub for southern culture. My husband’s family has now lived in Dallas since my in-laws were very young and being a small town, everyone knows everyone, something much different from where I grew up. If you ever visit, you’ll hear plenty of authentic southern accents, you’ll find a church on every street corner, and you should definitely treat yourself to some good barbecue at the local Hickory Hut.

After a busy day of helping prep for the big birthday party yesterday, the family went to the downtown square for the monthly car show. It was fun to walk around and experience my Hubby’s hometown culture while being stopped regularly by his past teachers and family friends. I also really enjoyed seeing the cars. While all of the cars were American, they ranged in age from the 1920s to present and in quality from ugly to incredible.

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Word to the Wise on Cruising

Arrr!  While digging through some old photos, I found this picture of me from a cruise I took with my parents after I graduated from college. I know I’m late for International Talk Like a Pirate Day but the picture did get me thinking about cruising.

Cruising is my parents’ preferred method of travel. They love not worrying about transportation or packing and unpacking as they move from one country to another. They have also been extremely generous to take my brother and I along during our younger years. We have certainly had some fabulous family vacations while sailing the high seas. However, with all vacations come lessons learned. If you’re planning on cruising this winter, here are my words to the wise:

  1. If your 21-year-old brother/son goes missing, assume he has found some girls to hang out with and has not fallen overboard.
  2. Be nice to your cabin steward. He will give you a lot more chocolates on your pillow.
  3. Unless you are with a big group, request your assigned dining table to be with other passengers. It’s a good opportunity to practice talking to strangers in a fairly comfortable environment.
  4. Go to the shows. They are actually pretty good.
  5. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. It will help you keep that weight off from the buffet.
  6. If going with a group, be sure not to do everything together. It’s great for everyone to go do their own excursions while at port and then get back together at dinner to share stories.
  7. Balance eating on board and eating at port. While the food on board is included and usually delicious, you don’t want to miss out on the cultural cuisine of each country.
  8. Margaritas and sea sickness don’t mix.
  9. If you are on a cruise while in your early 20s, expect that most people on board in your age bracket are either on their honeymoon, in an on-board wedding, or are part of the crew. (Excluding spring break week.)
  10. Buy one of those photographs they take of you at dinner with the pirates. Eight years later, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Abroad Blog of the Week: Suitcase on the Sidewalk

As someone who went on the same study abroad program three times, I always love to see students who just can’t study abroad enough. Haley from Suitcase on the Sidewalk fits that description perfectly. Now on her third of four overseas programs, I think Haley is the most “studied abroad” student I’ve come across. With a year in India, a semester in Ghana, currently in Buenos Aires, and now planning her semester in Prague, Haley is definitely experienced and adventurous in her travels. She has now been blogging for over a year and her posts cover everything from Argentine graffiti, to homesickness, to her series, Wanderlust Wednesdays. I was fortunate to catch up with Haley and ask her all about her study abroad adventures. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you choose your study abroad locations?

I can’t really take credit for choosing India; the Rotary program that I was selected for reserves the right to send you whenever they want or need to. They asked me where I wanted to go and I said, “Anywhere, as long as you send me!” My flexibility landed me a spot in the program, and was I eventually given a few choices off the beaten path. I picked India for the culture, for a taste of the exotic, but where I could still speak English.  (That part wasn’t so adventurous.)

As for my college study abroad locations, I still wanted to pick places that were less common, that I knew less about.  All the places I am studying have a campus for my college, so it feels a little like cheating. Language and classes have played a huge part in where I chose to go.  For Ghana, it had a lot of classes I wanted- a fine arts minor, some post-colonial studies classes, and it was a chance to see some of Africa. Argentina was a chance to explore South America, and to work on my Spanish.  I’ll be heading to Prague next semester, and I am actually following a specific teacher there, but there is some language flexibility and the chance of exploring Europe.  I have friends in Germany and Hungary I am hoping to visit!

Now that you’re in your third country, has the adjustment process gotten easier for you?

The adjustment is definitely less stressful, though it’s exhausting and scary every time I get on a place.  I’m luck that my friends and family are used to me traveling, and so I don’t need to email or skype all the time.

The best part of having some experience is knowing how to manage my time and my resources, so I don’t feel as overwhelmed my first few weeks. I have a more clear sense of my priorities- for me, going out to party is less important than traveling and exploring my new home.  I do some research and pre-plan some things I want to do, which I think isn’t as common but helps me feel grounded.

I’ve also seen my fair share of travel disasters- pick-pocketing and getting lost and being lost in translation- and I am still here to tell the tale.  That gives me a lot of confidence, even though sometimes I have no idea what I am doing!

From your post on 5 things to remember when studying abroad, what is the most difficult for you?

Never say no!  A dear friend from Rotary gave me that mantra and it has always served me well.  But I still sometimes find myself not buying a sandwich because I’m nervous to order in Spanish, or something equally squeamish.  The golden rule of study abroad is really “what you give is what you get,” and if all you give is “no,” you’ll find yourself only receiving “no” in return.  Saying ‘yes!” can be scary but I very rarely regret it- instead I end up with better experiences, better memories, and a better education in the cultural exchange.

How do you maintain relationships from home, India, and Ghana?

It’s not easy.  I had to make a resolution that I wouldn’t let the distance ruin my relationships with the people I care about.  My family is great, and at this point they treat my going away to study in another country the way other parents treat going to school a few hours away. I still miss them but the Internet is a life-saver, and now I can text my mom from Argentina with a smart phone.  How lucky am I? I also email my host families in India every few months.   It takes a long time for us to go back and forth, but we manage.

Friendships are harder, and take more work for me.  I have friends not just from my hometown, but from New York City (where I go to school), and also all the places I’ve lived.  Facebook is invaluable, as is email and skype, but what it really comes down to is putting in the work to maintain those relationships. I’ve learned I can’t expect people to chase me. I have to be the one to say, “I’m really interested in what you’ve been up to, can we catch up?”  I spend at a couple hours a week skyping and facebook-ing friends; for me it’s time well spent.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself before all your adventures started?

Don’t be scared!  So many people allow fear to dictate their travel experiences- fear of being embarrassed, fear of failing, fear of the unknown.  I travel specifically because it scares me, and I think its important to face those fears and explore what the world has to offer.  My biggest fear when traveling is always looking stupid, which is the worse reason to not do something that I can think of- I’m still trying to outgrow it.  It would be much more reasonable to fear bodily harm or strangers, but India got rid of both of those fears.  I am constantly grateful that I took a gap year alone somewhere far away- I had so much time to mess up and recover and learn, and it was so different from everything I ever knew, that I can brush off a lot the fears that come with study abroad for the first time in college.   Aside from looking stupid, my greatest fear is not using my time abroad to my best advantage, and the two usually balance out well.

Opa! Guide to the Greek Festival

September is just a month full of festivals…and I love it. This past weekend we were invited by a friend to the Greek Festival in OKC. As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, she knew everything about the food, dances, and traditions. Being escorted by a “local” definitely enhanced the entire experience. She taught me how to pronounce everything correctly, told us what we should try and what to avoid, and introduced us to a number of the people running the festival. I even got a picture with the pastor’s wife in her full costume.

We ate our way through the festival. With each ticket came two al a carte items or the Greek dinner so Hubby and I decided to get one of each. First we did the gyro and loukoumades. We both agreed that the gyro was one of the best we’ve ever had. The tomatoes and onions were diced small making it easier to eat and the flavor was delicious.

The loukoumades were equally good. Similar to a donut hole in appearance but not texture, the fried dough balls are very light, similar to a puff pastry. Covered in honey and cinnamon, we probably ate all of our calories for the day in just that one dessert.

But we were not done yet! Next came the dinner which was a choice of lamb, chicken or pasticcio (the Greek version of lasagna). We went for the pasticcio which was served with Greek-style potatoes, green beans, spanakopita, and pita. I loved the pasticcio but the potatoes were incredibly salty. Since Hubby is not fond of spinach, I ate most of the spanakopita and it was pretty good too.

And finally we were thoroughly entertained by our friend’s daughter and her dance troop, the Opa! Dancers. Ranging from age 4 to 9, these kids put on four performances in one night.

The Beginning of A New Year

Raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, I was never exposed much to other cultures until I went to college. Although my alma mater is also in Atlanta, it draws students from around the U.S. and the world and prides itself on diversity. It wasn’t long before I realized that Emory’s Hillel was a whole lot bigger than the Baptist Student Union. With approximately 1/3 of the student population being Jewish, it was normal to see a guy walking on campus wearing his Yamaka or groups of students walking to Shabbat services on Friday night. There was even a student in my residence hall who had obtained Israeli citizenship and served in their army between high school and college. Judaism was part of the culture I was in.

By the time I graduated, more of my college friends were Jewish than not. And though I am a Christian, thanks to my friends, I had opportunities to celebrate Passover, attended several Jewish weddings, and even had the Hora at our wedding.

Yes, that is me screaming. The hora is scary!

My first Jewish holiday was actually celebrated while I was in Argentina. It was Hanukkah and my best friend was finishing up her culinary school exams when I first arrived in Buenos Aries. While there was a huge electric menorah outside of her apartment, she had nothing inside. So I researched all I could about the holiday while she was at school and made her a paper menorah. We hung it on the fridge and every night we added a lit yellow paper flame to celebrate the oil not running out. When she came home I bought her a real menorah and even keep Hanukkah paper in closet just for her.

Last night at sundown Jewish people around the world began their celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which starts the High Holy Days. While I won’t be joining any friends to celebrate this time around, I want to wish all my dear friends shana tovah umetukah, which is Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year.”

Start the sweetness of this new year with a Rosh Hashanah tradition of apples and honey. Find out about other green ways to celebrate at Greenopolis

Guest Blog: Hosting Your Host Family

When Jennifer, a dear student from San Diego, posted on Facebook that she her host family from Spain would be visiting her in California, I immediately asked her if she would do a guest post. I couldn’t think of a better way to be global from home than welcoming the family that showed her so much care and support in Spain to the U.S. As one of the most entertaining and genuine people I know, I’m so excited to share this guest blog from Jennifer on her experience.

Guest Blog by Jennifer Guerra:

Host: a person who receives or entertains other people as guests
Family: a person or people related and so to be treated with loyalty and intimacy

The sky was dark; there was a table covered with a cherry design tablecloth that had obviously been used for several years filled with food plates I did not recognize; laughter echoed from everyone in attendance and there was the sound of flamenco music in the background. I was immediately greeted with kisses on the cheek and tight hugs and was pointed to my seat. The chatter ceased and a prayer was offered to bless the food and the fellowship. Everyone quickly started back to their conversations while passing the plates of food around. I was completely overwhelmed. This was the first Sunday away from home and I was missing my family, my church, my friends, my comfort. As I smiled around and attempted to make conversation, my host mom would often interrupt saying, “She is our daughter from the States.” My host dad made sure my cup was always filled with lemon flavored Fanta and would often check in with me with his eyes. At the end of the night, once the guests were gone and the music of the crickets was all that could be heard, my host mom held my face in her hands and kissed my forehead. Looking back it was that night that sticks out in my head as my favorite time that I spent with my host family. There was genuine intentionality, love, empathy, care, and understanding.

Landing back into the US leaving that behind was one of the hardest transitions I have had to make, so when I got the news that they had the opportunity to visit, I was thrilled!!!! One of the nights they were home, I made sure to take them to the beach. There was a bonfire prepared along side with worn out beach chairs and all the works for hot dogs and s’mores. The night followed the pattern of that fist night in Seville but the roles were reversed…it was I who had to make sure to make eye contact with my host dad and reassure him that his marshmallow would indeed be ok even if it has been engulfed in flames. It was I who made sure that my host mom’s soda can was replaced, and it was I that reminded her that “host mom” was no longer a proper name for her. She was now “mi madre Española” (my Spanish mom).

You know, if you learn to enjoy the journey, the finish line will be bittersweet. It is a reminder of all the moments and struggles that made that finish line so worth it and valuable. The drop off at the airport was the day we had all been avoiding. There was a huge difference this time. The first goodbye was in a tiny airport in Spain; we truly never knew if we were going to see each other again, if the connection would ever be developed. This time around, we said “see you soon” for we are family now and family will move mountains to see each other and keep in touch. Instead of exchanging tears, we exchanged hugs and laughter as they walked into the crowd of people and disappeared. We will see each other soon and not care how many days, weeks, months and years pass by until we embrace again.

Jennifer (far right) with her American and Spanish family (sitting)