Archive for August, 2014

Goodbye Everyone! Off to Harbin I go!

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014 9:30 PM
** Will date every blog with the time and date because I am 12 hours ahead of everyone in the East Coast!**

Alright. This time around, I am headed to Harbin to continue working to attain an advanced level professional proficiency in Mandarin while simultaneously learning how to navigate the cultural streams of China. This time, it’s gonna be my blood, sweat, and tears, I’m sure. This program, in particular, is very rigorous! That’s why I’m going! I am always up for putting myself through varying degrees of Hell to see if can sink or swim, survive or starve, etc etc. At least, that has been the pattern so might as well admit to having a thing for it, right? Haha.

I need to be beaten into the ground until I start to drag myself back up to my feet, spitting out blood and teeth, while simultaneously cursing in Mandarin – not in English. (With my Dirty Chinese book in hand, I’ll be a pro in no time!) It is only then that I will know that I have finally learned Chinese. Instantly cursing in a different language under the pressure of excruciating amounts of pain will definitely prove to you whether or not you’re getting the hang of a language or not. Haha!

Spitting out blood and teeth aside…

As I mentioned, I will be studying in Harbin until May 2015. Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) is one of the C9 schools in China. Also known as one of the most prestigious universities on Mainland China! I’m honored to be able to attend the CET Harbin program. If you know me well enough, you know that I did a lot of research on this program, the people – everything. Even on the cracks in the Harbin sidewalks.

One of the things that excites me the most is the diversity…Harbin is extremely diverse! Located in the northeastern part of China, heavily influenced by Russian culture. This is evident in the architecture and in the people. There are Russians here, Koreans, Jewish people, and Chinese. Who thinks of China when they hear something like this? Not many. So, that is exciting…to learn to function in an environment that is different.

I’m going to miss everyone! I’m glad to have an opportunity to see just how much I mature from being out here on my own.

This should be an interesting ride for so many reasons.

Below is my goodbye video! This was a nice change of pace! :-)


Paris dans la pluie

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

I arrived in Paris on Monday,  at 11 AM local time (5 AM) after zero sleep.  My luggage is ridiculous unfortunately,  so it was a challenge getting to the hostel. It was raining then,  and still is now. And,  of course, there was my usual leg pain to top it all. On the bright side,  a French man saw me struggling on the metro.  So he insisted on lugging both of my bags through the station, on to the next train,  up the stairs and several blocks to my hostel.  Quelle chance (what luck)!  And he told me “ici,  les gens aident quelqu’un juste pour être gentilles.” That day I explored the neighborhood and the Place de la Concorde area.  Today I walked all around the Rue de Rivoli and the Galleries Lafayette. To eat: un peu de Camembert,  du taboule et du pain. I am confident that despite any trials,  this will be a good semester.


Friday, August 22nd, 2014

I’ve been putting this off for a while now. Exactly why, I can’t tell you. I left Germany only a few days after I left Berlin, so I guess you could say there are a lot of reasons. The most obvious one being, I didn’t have anything else to write about. I had a lovely last few days with Sabine, saw my friends a lot, and just was finally actually… Ecstatic about being in Germany, but that’s all something you’ve heard about before. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s the fact I wanted to be able to sum up all I thought about the experience. It’s because I was too lazy to write anything. It’s because I wanted to have fun for the few days I had of break before I went back to UMW. There’s a lot of reasons, and I don’t think any single one of them explains my reluctance to write this. But taken together, as well as an overabundance of other reasons I can’t even explain consciously, this made me so unwilling to really sit down, and write something. But, I’ll try.

Germany. The land of beer and pretzels, at least, that’s what everyone called it on my Facebook when they were talking to me during the semester abroad. It’s an interesting country, filled to the brim with idiosyncrasies that both fascinate you, and frustrate you to the utmost extent. To closing all stores on Sunday, to the undeniably well run public transportation systems, to a million other things that I find both absolutely abhorrent, and lovable when compared to how things are run in the US, Germany is unique. I will give it that.

I think that I had a rough start. And I’ve been down this road a million times on this blog, but it’s true. I was in a really bad place when I first came here, and it made it difficult to make friends and really find how to orient myself to Germany. I became disillusioned with my ability to master the German language, I felt alienated from even my American compatriots, and unable to leave my room when I knew I should.

But that’s not all of it, and it’s not even close to the most of it. I eventually got out of my rut, and made the best of my situation. Out of everything, and I hope this doesn’t offend any potential Germans that read this, I loved the food the most. The MEAT, is absolutely mindblowing. See, you can make a burger only a few ways. The Germans have somehow perfected the art of cooking sausages and pork a million different, unique, and delicious ways, that makes every culinary adventure a delight. I saw Berlin, one of the most incredibly experiences of my life, and spent it with a wonderful girl, and feel as though even though I don’t “believe” in travel for self-enlightenment, that I had an experience that affected me on a fundamental level. And I made friends that I probably won’t ever talk to much again, that were different than most of the people I’m used to talking to at UMW.

The point being, summing up my experiences abroad is more than difficult. There are conflicting timelines, and emotions. If the beginning of the semester was like the end, it would have been an experience I would have enjoyed more. That being said, the beginning was so heart wrenching, that it’s hard to reconcile it with how great it was in the end. I’m divided.

And I guess that in the end, I never loved being in Germany just because I was there. That much will always be true. I went because I wanted to learn German, and that’s what a young, sophisticated, culturally relevant human of the 21st century is supposed to do: re-examine their own life’s conditions by comparing and contrasting the unique facts of a different culture. So I did. I think that in the end, I hated what I found for so long, because I went for the wrong reasons.

I still believe travel is a fool’s paradise. I’ve said that a million times, and I’ll definitely say it again. But as Hemingway said in “A Moveable Feast”:

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.

And that’s the heart of it, at least I think. I never felt a real connection to anyone, because that’s the nature of relationships you meet when abroad. They’re single-serving friends, for a few months, before you never see them again. Travel may be beneficial to those eager to see the world, but I never had the inclination. And I never felt close enough to anyone to really branch out and experience Germany until the end, and the experiences I had at the end were honestly quite delightful. I had Kloesse, for Christ’s sake, and ate raw meat, and went on incredibly unsafe carnival rides, and saw Berlin, and looked out upon Erfurt under the lights of the city and stars for hours with Sabine, because it was what I wanted to do. And that is because I was with someone I cared about, and felt comfortable experiencing things with.

But I don’t think those experiences are necessary for growth. Any action, advancements, or even setbacks, all lead to changing who we are, for better or for worse. So when you think about the United States, a country that has an overabundance of different cultures within a singular State, I don’t think “travel” in the laymen’s sense is what’s needed for growth. I agree travel changes you, as it definitely will. It forces you to adapt to a set of circumstances outside of your comfort zone, and makes you the better, or worse for it. But you don’t need to leave your own continent to do so.

I digress. This is becoming more of a polemic about the metaphysical necessity of travel than anything else. I think the point I was trying to make by defining that fact is that I don’t regret going to Germany. But I’m not so sure I would go again if I knew how it was going to be before I left. And that’s the heart of it. There’s a distinct tension between the disappointment of the beginning, and the wonderment of the end, and I don’t know if there’s a real right answer about it.

I can’t tell you what I’ve learned. I’m too close to the situation. It’s weird, you always look back at your life when you’re older, and you can always identify what you learned from certain important experiences, even though you don’t truly realize how they shape you when you’re going through it. I can’t tell you right now how this changed me, but it definitely did, and I’m pretty confident it was for the better, even if it wasn’t a walk in the park. So, the end of my Thueringen Travels is rather ambiguous. And I think that’s acceptable, if anything.

So I’ll end with this: travel, if you want to. But do not get caught up in the romanticized notion of travel as a necessity. At the risk of sounding cliche, trite, and all too Emersonian, all life is a voyage, if you treat it like the adventure it truly is.

Five days until takeoff…

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Today is Tuesday, August 19. I’ve been sitting with my laptop most of the day, looking at degree requirements and career sites for a while, then later metro maps and my flight itinerary. This morning my brother caught a flight to Florida to begin his first year of college.  I’ll begin my own odyssey soon as well. In five days, I leave for Paris. I am studying abroad for the first semester of my senior year of college. While I wouldn’t quite describe myself as nervous, I do have a few qualms:

1) Are my French skills adequate, and will I be able to converse with locals?

2) Will I miss the people I love at UMW?

3) Can I balance my academic responsibilities with exploring and having a nightlife?

4) Will my leg problems curtail my adventures?

How will I address these challenges? Only time will tell. For now, I’m off to pack.

‘Tis the Truth!: 16 Reasons You Have More Game When You’re Bilingual

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Especially when you’re not expected to be able to speak a LICK of Chinese! People are always shocked to know that I can understand and even speak some Chinese. Flawed-and-Imperfect-4

There are advantages to this that just help me overlook a lot of the growing pains of learning to adjust to China.



Also… a nice skill set that’ll come in handy too!

继续奋斗。。。”The Struggle Continues…”: Things Chinese People Say to Black People

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

啊呀!!!I recently started to follow a page on Facebook titled “Black in China.” I’ve enjoyed following the posts and experiences of black people in China. I think that this video in particular…REALLY captures the black experience in China. Extremely well. Did I say, “Extremely well?!”

Haha! I’ll admit, in China… a lot of the time I was not amused – at all – when people shouted certain things at me. Can you imagine people calling you “black person!” as you walk by?
It helped to remind myself that I was likely the first black person some Chinese people had seen. In addition, when you factor in the perceptions of beauty, you get some of the other comments that this young man mentions in the video as well. Comments such as “Chinese women don’t like black skin, they like white skin!” is said in the classroom. During the times that I took a step back to really observe the perceptions of black people…it’s been really shocking.

… a struggle is  a struggle and the black experience in China is certainly a struggle that takes some time to adjust to. This video, though, is HILARIOUS for the fact that I have seen, witnessed, and encountered a lot of this myself. Of course, perceptions of black men are different from perceptions of black women.

Maybe I should make my own video? Hmm….

Enjoy! #黑人!! #继续奋斗!!

Back Home!

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

I landed in Baltimore at 9:30am (Eastern Time) Monday after 2.5 hours of scattered sleep. Since then, I have been doing a lot of sleeping and catching up – and procrastinating on this last post (it’s now three days later – sorry!).

I’m still not exactly adjusted to the time difference either. Waking up, I feel like I should be getting four more hours of sleep; but it’s absolutely worth it being home.

I’ve got a ton to do – renting textbooks, organizing moving into my house for the coming year, planning a road trip, nailing down a job  - and it’s been hard to step back and take some time to reflect on my last 5 weeks in Alaska.

There’s no way I can adequately recap everything that happened but it is possible to recap all of the things I learned along the way. I’m going to try to order these from greatest to least influence on my perspective on life…

1. There is no real right way to go about living. There is a necessity to be a decent human being while you’re alive, but other than that, there is no set right way to live your life. As long as you are kind and hardworking there will always be opportunities. It doesn’t all have to be planned out right now. I do still think it’s a good idea to have a plan, but if it doesn’t work out exactly WHO CARES. I met plenty of incredible, inspiring people who have worked so many different jobs and lived in so many different places – there’s no way they would have had the opportunities they did without a little flexibility in their life plans.

2. Hard work feels good. Some of my most rewarding days were the ones where I felt just beat by the end. I could fall asleep no matter how light it was outside. It’s a struggle, normally, for me to get motivated to start a hard project but once I got going I felt like I had a pretty decent work ethic and it felt good to do some hard labor every once and awhile.

3. Being uncomfortable is awesome. While I was gone I slept on a couch, a different couch, a futon, a twin bunk bed, a tent on the beach, a twin bunk bed again, and then a couch again; and there were maybe two times where I thought “hmm, what I wouldn’t do for a real mattress”.

4. Connection to the earth is key – I haven’t spent so much time outside in awhile (maybe ever – since most days I was outside all day). Working out in the rain, getting a little cold every once and awhile, getting a little more sun than I probably should at point, etc. Now that I’m back home I’m realizing how much time outside I took for granted when I was in AK. Walking to breakfast in the morning when they dew was thick enough to get my toes wet, washing my hands after planting starts in the greenhouse, or after getting basil under my nails. I’ve never been so okay with getting sandy at the beach – which is saying a lot because usually that makes me tire of beaches after less than a day. Basing clothing & activities on the weather at the moment, getting tons of fresh air, bed times being enforced by the time it takes the sun to set enough so that I don’t have anymore light to read – those things really made me realize that the earth is in charge and we’re just kind of living here. Back home I don’t get as much of that.

5.  People can be great. As terrible as it sounds, while I was out in Homer I was expecting to meet at least one person who was just mean. In my experience, that seems to be the case most times – a good portion of a group of people can be really cool, but there’s always a handful that surprise you by just being terrible. But, that never happened. I dunno if it had to do with the fact that everyone I met was willingly either working with kids or working with plants (or maybe I just got really lucky) but everyone I spent the last month or so with was totally nice and incredible in their own ways. Getting to know them really made me appreciate good people and restored my faith in the possibility of good in other groups of new people.

Missing the view

Missing the view

I’m sure my perspective on all of these memories will continue to change as I move through the rest of my life but I will always have these posts to remind me of my experiences and what my experiences have taught me. Sometimes writing these posts seemed like a chore – especially when the internet was slow and I was exhausted BUT I’m really glad I did them anyway.

And I’m really really glad – and grateful – that I had as much support as I did these past 5 weeks. Thank you again!



Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Well, I found myself in BERLIN this past weekend. That was… different. Now, when you picture Berlin, think of it as you would imagine New York City, only with less filth and squalor, and the ability to move about without hitting someone, as well as more World War II memorials and exhibits than the entire rest of the world combined.

That being said, it was pretty cool.

Sabine and I got in Friday afternoon. We stayed at her sister’s place with her boyfriend, and once we dropped our stuff off, we went about adventuring. The first night, we saw that TV Tower. My GOD, that thing is huge. And I remember we learned in German once that they make a display at the top of the tower during Christmas. My God, I would die from fear just at the idea of being up a thousand feet in the damn air, let alone having the whole, “Let’s construct a modern marvel, that’s a testament to German will,” thing on my mind as well.

We walked about the city, and went to this international beer festival for a while, too. Now, maybe I’ve just never been to a beer festival, but if my experience was anything like the norm, then 80% of the crowd was populated by high functioning alcoholics. Sabine and I were sitting on a curb at one point, and this man came up to us and said “HEY. What are you doing? You’re supposed to be moving!” When we replied just sitting, he said, “OH. Okay. Where you from?” We answered his question, to which he said, “Oh yes, I from Norway, the capital of Sweden.” We honestly couldn’t tell if he was making a joke, insulting us, or just too drunk to actually know that Sweden and Norway are different countries. And with that, he disappeared, into the night. It was different, to say the least.

The next day was actually pretty amazing, though. Sabine’s sister and her boyfriend accompanied us to see the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the capital building, and the still standing parts of the Berlin Wall. The Brandenburg gate was a bit of a mind f***. I mean, how does something like that even come into existence? And then the carvings between the columns and atop the actual gate. That was pretty fun. We ended the night at the German-American festival. It was laced with carnival rides, that I’m almost sure would have failed almost every standard of safety regulations that they’d need to pass if they were in the US. But Jesus, I’ve never been so terrified, excited, and happy at the same time as when you’re spinning in a cart that’s connected and spinning to a different part of the ride, as you’re made perpendicular to the ground.

So, yeah. Berlin was nice. Berlin was fun. Berlin was different. We’re going to Weimar on Wednesday, I believe. Gotta visit Goethe and Schiller’s house, of course.

Downtown Anchorage

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Today, my last full day in Alaska, I spent my time in downtown Anchorage. After a little digging, I figured out where and when to meet the bus and took it (for only $2!) into downtown. I then walked a few blocks to make it out to the Anchorage market. The flyer said their were 300+ vendors and it definitely seemed that way.


The largest open-air market in Alaska!

I thought the market would be mostly produce with some vendors mixed in but it was completely the opposite – which was kind of nice!

Beautiful wood carvings! There were tons of booths selling ivory, jade, and whale bone (balene) carvings as well! There's also this beautiful kind of animal bone inscription called scrimshaw that I found super intriguing!

Beautiful wood carvings! There were tons of booths selling ivory, jade, and whale bone (balene) carvings as well! There’s also this beautiful kind of animal bone inscription called scrimshaw that I found super intriguing! (check out the link – click on “scrimshaw” to learn more about it)


There were lots of locally made syrups and jellies for sale!

sled dog posing

A tent for people to pose with sled dog props! There was a surprisingly long line for this one – only in Alaska :)


Photographs selling beautiful prints of the mountains, wildlife, and aurora borealis

fossilized trilobites

There were also a few booths selling minerals mined in Alaska (and a few from all over the world). My favorite were the fossilized creatures. I have a geeky geology crush on trilobites (top left, gray coloring). (there’s a link on “trilobites”!)

After the market, I spent a few hours wandering around downtown to shops and cafes.


Part of downtown – outside the visitor center


There were food trucks selling reindeer dogs everywhere!


Another stretch of downtown – there were lots of Alaska tour companies and high-end hotels in this area


A beautiful park I passed walking back to the transit center – there were a few scattered throughout the downtown area

Before I left, I wandered into the visitor center where I found a few museum exhibits and a short film about Denali, which was really cool to be able to see.

By the end of the day I was definitely starting to feel yesterday’s hike, so I made my way back to the transit center where I found that I had about 45 minutes until the next bus #3 rolled around. It turned out to be a nice delay, though, because it allowed me to find a little coffee shop where I got a smoothie, people watched, and read some more of my book (which I’m hoping I can finish on my flights tomorrow).

Sitting here, I’m realizing this is the last time I’m going to see the “sunset” over the mountains and it’s a little bittersweet. Everything is so beautiful out here. I’m excited to get home, but I already know I’m going to have to come back out here at some point – if only to see some of the parts of Alaska that I missed.

I’ll be flying out of Anchorage tomorrow around 4pm and arriving back home the next morning. I’m hoping to get over to Chester Creek Park again tomorrow morning to see some of trails I missed when I was first out here. I’ll be sure to post again if I do! And I will definitely be making a last post reflecting on my trip once I’m home!

Thanks again to everyone who’s been following these last five weeks!



Back in Anchorage (Flattop Hike)

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

I got back to Anchorage yesterday (Thursday) around noon and after leaving at 3am that morning and not sleeping the night before, I promptly lounged and slept the rest of the day.

My last few days at Ageya (Tuesday/Wednesday) were amazing and I was sad to go BUT I’m also excited to be back out here for a few days to have a few more experiences before I leave. I was able to spend some more time with the new friends that I have made this past month and do some more work in the greenhouse – harvesting more lettuce and watering – and help organize and store the gear used across the bay.

My initial plan for today was to head out to Kincaid Park but after realizing that the bus does not run out there and a cab ride would’ve been about $50 round trip I decided it wasn’t worth it. PLUS I read a story about a woman getting trampled by a mama moose there a few weeks ago and so I didn’t feel all that comfortable going out there by myself anyway.

Instead, and I’m super glad it worked out this way, I found a shuttle from downtown that took a group out to Chugach State park to climb Flattop mountain and then drove back for a really reasonable price. I was a little skeptical at first but it turned out to be an amazing afternoon.

I met a few new people on the shuttle over and then spent the next few hours hiking up (1500ft. from the parking lot and 35ooft above sea level), hanging out at the top for about 45 minutes, and hiking back down. The hike was way steeper than I had anticipated but that just made it more fulfilling once I got to the top.

The view from about 10 minutes into the hike.

The view  of Anchorage from about 10 minutes into the hike.

The middle portion of the hike had a few railroad tie steps - thank goodness! It was steep and the ground was made up of loose rock, super slippery

The middle portion of the hike had a few railroad tie steps – thank goodness! It was steep and the ground was made up of loose rock, super slippery

Part of the view from the top!

Part of the view from the top!

From the other side of the summit you could see Anchorage

From the other side of the summit you could see Anchorage

One of many selfies and camera-timer shots

One of many selfies and camera-timer shots

panoramic view at the top (sorry for the scrolling!)

panoramic view at the top


One of my favorite timer shots!

One of my favorite timer shots!


The hike back down was super treacherous for about the first half mile. At points, I felt like I was rock climbing – using both of my feet and hands to scale down certain areas that were a little steeper. It was a little scary! But there were plenty of people around if I were to fall (which, thankfully, I did not). The whole thing – calf/quad pain and all – was totally worth it. It was a perfect last hike before I leave on Sunday.

The shuttle dropped us back off downtown so I spent another couple of hours wandering around shops and listening to “Live (Music) After Five” in a little park.

Tomorrow I plan to take a bus back downtown and spend the day out there. There’s a huge open air market out there with 300+ produce and vendor booths and I am super pumped. There’s a ton of shops/cafes I still haven’t seen too so I’m sure I’ll be down there for a good part of the day!