November, 2008

Warm Welcome in Taiwan

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

michael.jpgHello Everyone! This is my first posting on the Foster Study Abroad Blog. My name is Michael. I’m a senior at the Foster School of Business studying finance. I’m happy to say that I’ve made it to Taiwan safely and have really enjoyed my first few weeks here. It’s been an amazing experience on so many levels. Both National Chengchi University (NCCU) and the people of Taipei have been good to me.

I experienced the hospitality of Taiwan as soon as I landed at the airport. When I arrived, three “buddies” from my new school greeted me with signs reading, “Welcome to NCCU!” They were as excited to meet me, as I was to meet them.

greetingtaipei.jpgNCCU created the “buddy” system to help incoming exchange students. Its purpose is to give us a great introduction to Taipei, and to ease our transition into the “life” here. Three local students are matched up with every foreign student, like myself. And thank God I have three (!!!) local students as my “buddies.” We’ve had a great time together. My new friends have taken me around Taipei. We’ve gone ice-skating, eaten traditional foods, and visited several night markets. They are also willing to put up with me constantly needing their translation help over the phone from the back of taxicabs. I’d be lost without them.

ice.jpgEven outside of the “buddy” network, people have been very friendly to me. I’ve met some interesting people from a variety of ages and walks of life, like business owners, high school students, and even ex-patriots here for the long-term. The Taiwanese I meet usually want to know if the US is like it is portrayed in Hollywood movies. Sometimes there are questions like, “Is Seattle as beautiful as it is in Sleepless in Seattle?” Other times, there are questions about the level of violence like in Die Hard, or if Sex in the City is what dating is like in the US. I’ve had to clarify a few things. Conversations are always as fun as they are informative.

People are also curious about what I think of Taiwan. I am always asked what my favorite food that I’ve eaten has been. I usually spend a few minutes describing a few foods I really like. I don’t know any of the Chinese names of the food, so this can be difficult at times. The food I always describe first is a dessert consisting of fried shrimp and pineapple with a white sauce over the top. I will always order it if I see a picture of it on a menu, regardless of the time of day or how hungry I am.

It’s truly been wonderful getting to know so many Taiwanese. Everyone has been so kind to me. I look forward to keeping in touch with all these people, and possibly showing some of them around Seattle in the future.

Lunchtime Chats in Madrid

Monday, November 24th, 2008

horse-statue.jpgToday, my coworker Elena asked what kind of image Americans have of Spain. “Do they consider it a lesser developed country and lump it with other Spanish-speaking countries?” she said. Personally, I have always lumped Spain with countries like France and Germany. It is hard to imagine that this democratic country was ruled under the Franco dictatorship only 30+ years ago! Spain has emerged from restricting women from opening their own bank account without a husband’s cosign just 30 years ago to becoming the world’s third nation to legalize gay marriage. Developing at a fast rate, Spain takes much pride in the things it does well. The metro system, for example, is extremely efficient, extensive, and well maintained. I saw a poster showing the Statue of Liberty stooping down, peering curiously into a metro entrance. The catchy phrase said, “The Metro the world wishes they had– is right here in Madrid.”

We always have many interesting discussions at my workplace. I get to enjoy a long lunch with my coworkers in the middle of the day, where I have become familiar with everything from Spanish slang to politics to family life. Through many entertaining conversations, I have learned endless Spanish colloquial phrases and words. Harmless words like “monkey” “horse” and “chocolate” can translate to refer to drugs! As far as politics go, Obama is welcomed with great enthusiasm. Spaniards are hopeful that his presidency will help secure a more solid friendship between our nations. My coworkers enjoy talking about American politics; it sometimes surprises me how well informed they are about the US.

spanish-flag.jpgAlso during our lunch, my coworkers love when I recount the tales of my home-stay experience with my “señora”. I am currently living with an older woman, single and retired. She is very kind, and happily cooks my meals and does my laundry. In exchange, I live by the interesting rules of the house. No bare feet on the floor, showers no longer than exactly 10 minutes (complimentary reminders given), and I must never share her hand towel. It seems notions of hygiene are different here. It is also bad form to relax with one’s feet on the furniture, as living rooms tend to be much more formal here. I must also make my bed every day and keep my room tidy, since here it is customary to leave doors to rooms open. My coworkers have explained to me that these tendencies are more specific to her Spanish generation, and that the younger generation lives with a more relaxed style.

Though my señora is from an older generation, she (like every other Madrileño) loves to go out at night! Regular bedtime for her is around 2 or 3 am. I am long asleep by then, as I have to wake up early most mornings. In Madrid, going out is a highlight of the culture. The Spanish do not often invite their friends over to their home, because the home serves more for family and relaxation. To meet up with friends or a date, my señora always goes out for tapas (appetizers with drinks) or for a coffee and a pastry, or to the movies, or even to a dance club (for people her own age, she informs me).

I love soaking up the culture around me, and comparing it to the US. I enjoy many things here, like the tendency of staying up so late and sleeping in, and the abundance of small neighborhood shops serving everything you could need. However, I dislike how so many stores inconveniently close from 2-5pm for the siesta, or how service is continuously slow in restaurants. I think if we could somehow fuse the customs of our nations together, I would have the perfect place to live.

My Time in Taiwan

Monday, November 24th, 2008

My name is Travis Paulson, and I spent a semester at NCCU in Taiwan.  My exchange to NCCU has been a great opportunity for me to enhance my education and experience many of the wonderful things Taiwan has to offer.  One thing that was essential to my success in Taiwan was the buddy system that they have in place incoming student.  The buddies that I was assigned were very helpful, knowledgeable and willing to go the extra length to make my time at NCCU special.  One example of this is that I arrived in Taiwan just a few days before my birthday.  My buddies put together a great birthday party for me; that is just one example of how they have gone the extra length to make my stay in Taiwan as good as possible.  My classes at NCCU have been challenging and rewarding at the same time.  The teachers are very passionate and knowledgeable about their subject.  They are also willing to help you in anyway they can to ensure that I succeed at NCCU.  Since NCCU is a very international school I have had the opportunity to make many international friends and develop contacts that I will be able to use in the future.  School is only part of the experience of living Taiwan; I have the chance to see, smell and taste many aspects of Taiwan culture.   Since Taiwan somewhat is centrally located in Asia, it has made a great spot to travel out on the weekend and see many other parts of Asia.  From Taiwan I have had the opportunity to visit: Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan and mainland China.  Overall I think that I could not have chosen a better place to study then NCCU.  The campus is beautiful, the teachers are very knowledgeable and the students are some of the nice people you will meet in your life.

Singapore

Monday, November 17th, 2008

singapore.JPGSingapore is a small but vibrant city. Perhaps it’s because I’m on exchange but almost every day is filled with something to do, and by contrast Seattle is a very boring place. The national pastime of Singapore is eating. The city is littered with food courts (AKA hawker centers) inside malls and out in the open. Speaking of malls, Singapore has an abundance of them despite its small size, and most of them combine shopping with dining and other activities such as movies and karaoke.

Being an international city, Singapore has many big international banks (pretty much none in Seattle), corporations, and perhaps too many foreigners. This is probably one of the reasons Singapore offers great nightlife. There are many hangout places all over Singapore and it has a big club scene. Many students (mostly exchange) go clubbing every Wednesday as it is the ladies’ night, meaning no cover charge for ladies at clubs and bars. Aside from partying many people also go to late night movie showings and sing karaoke until three in the morning. Singapore is also a very safe city, going home alone at late hours is probably no problem – a stark contrast from the crime infested University District. Entertainment in general is very expensive, especially on weekends or holidays. Singapore also has very high taxes on alcohol and cigarettes.

Food on the other hand is very cheap comparing to the States: a meal at a hawker center will cost around five Singapore dollars (around 3.5 USD). However restaurants are very expensive, a meal would often cost around thirty Singapore dollars. Transportation is also relatively cheap and public transit is very convenient (except during rush hours when they are like sardine packers). The MRT (light rail/subway) system covers almost the entire city and buses come very often and go to just about anywhere. If that’s not enough there are also many taxis, there is no need to call for one, simple walk down to any main street and you can flag one down very easily; they are also cheap compared to the States.

ndp.JPGDue to its small size, Singapore has relatively few tourist attractions; it is mostly a hub for traveling around Southeast Asia. Singapore heavily promotes the few attractions it has, such as the Night Safari, Bird Park, or holiday events such as the National Day Parade (NDP). It’s probably better to see them but don’t get your hopes up too high. For instance, the 2008 NDP was heavily promoted with signs, t-shirts, and all sorts of hype everywhere to make it seem like the biggest event of the year. We sat by the Singapore River next to the symbolic Merlion for three hours on that day and all we saw was a few jets flying by and less than fifteen minutes of fireworks. Getting in and out of the crowd took more time than the event itself.

National University of Singapore

Friday, November 14th, 2008

After about three months in Singapore it’s about time I write about the university I’m studying at. From my experience the student body is comprised of three main groups, the local students, students from Mainland China, and a large number of exchange students. For the most part it appears that students from each group tend to hang out with themselves, although as with every generalization, there are many exceptions. This is evident even within the exchange student body. In the 2008-2009 school year, there are more than a thousand exchange students from all over the world, but as time goes on, they tend to split into smaller groups based on their background: the Swedes, the Germans, the Indians, the Canadians, and even the Californians. That is not surprising since they tend to have similar interests and often travel together outside of Singapore.

outside-central-lib.JPGThe classes are conducted in a similar manner as they were at the UW. Lectures for upper level classes are taught in small classrooms (not as nice as BAEEC but much better than Balmer, they blast the AC and a jacket is necessary) of about 40 people, lower level classes are taught in lecture theatres (LT). The structure of the courses (modules) also resembles those back home: a syllabus on the first day, the grades usually consist of two exams, one project, and participation. I’m not sure about other concentrations, but the upper finance courses meet once a week for three hours straight. It’s recommended to fit your courses into a few days in the middle of the week in order to get extended weekends. The professors are also a diverse bunch; I only had one Singaporean professor out of the four classes.

prince-georges-park-residences.JPGA lot of students live in halls on campus, but many also commute from outside. The morning commute is a nightmare, often you’ll see the bus driving by without stopping because there are people standing on the bottom step of the bus – it simply cannot pack another person in. The food on campus, however, is excellent. There are many cafeterias (called canteens) all around campus, packed with stalls offering a wide varieties of food, they are staffed with friendly (mostly) people who sometimes don’t speak English. The cost of food on campus is also cheap compared to outside, NUS subsidize (more…)

Two Week Break

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Today marked the first day back to classes for me after an awesome two week break from Bocconi.  Here, the school is not as quick-paced as I am used to with UW’s quarter system.  Students at Bocconi are given two weeks off from classes for midterms and most classes offered to international students don’t have midterms.  This means that my finals will be essentially all or nothing, which is something to consider if you’re thinking about studying here.  Fortunately though, this meant I had two weeks to travel around Europe with my friends.

1.JPGMy break began in Greece where I spent two days in Athens and two days on the Greek island of Mykonos.  It was really cool to see the history in Athens, and I’m happy to say that I can now cross the Acropolis off my list of famous world sites to visit.  Mykonos (that place in my picture) was just as great.  I was even able to swim in the Aegean Sea literally two days before Halloween.  Swimming in late October was definitely a new experience for me, as a Seattle native.  After Greece, I spent a couple days in the Swiss cities of Zurich and Bern, which were only about three hours away by train.  One of the great things about studying in Milan is that it’s so central.  With the help of a great train system and budget airlines (EasyJet and RyanAir are the best!), you can be almost anywhere in Europe within a couple of hours, even on a student’s budget.  I also happened to be in Switzerland during the election.  Probably one the coolest and most intriguing things that I have witnessed in my two months in Europe was my train ride back to Milan when almost everyone on train was reading the Swiss newspaper with Obama plastered on the cover.  Everyone seems to love him in Europe.  Following Switzerland, I made one last trip to Berlin, which totally exceeded my expectations.  There was just so much to see there and I can now cross the Berlin Wall off my list as well!

After my jam-packed two weeks of traveling, I am realizing more and more that there’s still so much more that I want to see and experience.  The only thing working against me now is time.  I can’t believe I only have a little over a month left.  Perhaps, another study abroad experience will be the solution…

Universidad de Navarra, Spain

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Hi, my name is Taylor Hoing and I´m from Wenatchee, WA, I will be graduating from the UW Business School with a focus in Finance and Accounting after studying abroad for a semester here in Pamplona, Spain.  Studying at the Universidad de Navarra is much different than being at UW.  Most classes are taught in Spanish, but some business classes and few others are offered in English.  Being a native English speaker like myself and barely studying Spanish in high school, I knew basically no Spanish before I arrived in Spain.  I found it very difficult to get around without knowing Spanish.  Spain is different than most other countries in Europe where a large majority of the population speaks English and doesn’t mind doing so.  Here in Spain, other than students, most people don´t speak English and if they do they speak English most people won´t because they want you to speak Spanish while in Spain.

This made trying to get to the school, finding an apartment to live in, and finding other necessities quite difficult.  Luckily for me, when I arrived here the other student from UW, Jon Geyer, had already been here for a week and was quite fluent in Spanish.  He was able to help me get settled and find the necessities.  I strongly recommend knowing at least a little bit of Spanish if you want to study abroad in Spain or have a strong desire for adventure.

Another large difference here at Universidad de Navarra is trying to get your class schedule figured out.  This can be a very frustrating process.  Here in Spain no information is organized nicely and timely, and there is no MYUW where you can get a class time-schedule.  During orientation you are given a handout that has last year´s schedule for Business classes that are offered in English and Spanish.  Then you are told that the class list this year is only similar to last years, but not all the classes will be the same.  This is only for the business school, if you want to take classes in other departments you have to go to that department and talk to a bunch of different people to try and find someone who knows what classes are being offered.  Most international students are freaked out trying to get their schedules in order before classes begin, but the teachers know how the process works.

So basically it’s not a big deal if you attend classes the first week and sometimes even the second week, this is the time to figure when classes are offered and if you want to take the class.  Much different than at UW.  Business classes seem to be taught similarly to UW, except that there are less group projects here and the final exam is a higher percentage of your grade.

It may seem that Spain is a difficult place for Americans, but it´s also a great chance to enjoy a vastly different lifestyle.  It can be annoying and even frustrating at times, but between all the great friends that you meet and all the new experiences that you have it makes it all worthwhile.  I highly recommend living with other Spanish students while you are in Spain.  I live with three other Spanish guys and the friendships and camaraderie that we’ve already had has been great.  Also it can be easy to miss out on the Spanish culture sometimes because you are hanging out with many international students all the time and not so many Spanish students.  When you live with Spanish guys they make sure you don´t forget.  Spain is great, and I didn’t even tell you about all the great traveling I’ve done throughout Europe and Spain itself.  Ciao.

P.S. Make sure you have an opinion on the most recent political issue in America when you come to Spain.  All I hear over here is ¨Obama vs. McCain¨ and ¨what do you think about the Economic crisis.¨

Sevilla and the Seattleite

Monday, November 10th, 2008

4.JPGIt’s mid-November in Sevilla and I’m still wearing short sleeved t-shirts and catching rays. What a strange feeling for a Seattleite!

I’ve been in Sevilla since the beginning of September and my time here is coming to an end very shortly in December. When I first got here, it felt just like Christmas everyday – discovering new things, eating interesting foods not known to Americans, walking down streets that crisscross in downtown ending up walking in circles and getting lost… All the fun we had! The best part I think was meeting the group of people that I would be spending time with for the next four months and exploring together. There was an aura of hope and excitement in the air!

1.jpgNow that we’re past the mid-point of the study abroad experience, I can reflect and say that those same sentiments that I had when I first stepped off the plane and asked for directions in Spanish still are with me – it’s so incredible to be in a foreign country and actually get by with the language and different customs! The everyday challenges are something that I really like, although I do admit there are times when meanings are lost in translation and you feel ridiculous when trying to describe exactly what it is that you want to say. The customs are different, too. I eat dinner with my family here around 10 pm at night, and I think that’s the hardest to get used to. The eating habits here are very different from ours at home, so for the first few days I was a little frustrated by the long hours in between meals, but then I learned how to manage that.

The classes I take are all in Spanish and while the concepts may not be too difficult, the language barrier is there – although the amount of Spanish that I’ve learned is tremendous – especially the conversational stuff! The program offers “intercambios” for each student, so I have one Spanish friend that I hang out with and talk to who wants to learn English, so we talk in English for a bit and then move to Spanish. It’s definitely way easier to hold a conversation now, and it’s become so much easier to just meet Spaniards and make friends!

The traveling has also been great – I’ve visited places that I never thought I would go and (more…)

My Experience in Japan so Far

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Hi, my name is Evan Eng and I am a senior majoring in marketing and CISB.   Through the business school exchange between UW and Kobe University, I will be studying abroad in Japan for one semester.  Kobe University is located in Kobe, Japan which is in the Kansai region of Japan.  Born and raised in Seattle, the first time I saw Kobe it actually reminded me of Seattle.  The central area of Kobe, called Sannomiya, is a lot like downtown Seattle and is the place that you will be very familiar with if you come to Kobe.  Kobe is also a major port city and plays a vital part in Japan’s trade, much like Seattle.  One thing about Kobe that has not been like Seattle so far is the weather.  Almost every day here has been nice and despite it being Autumn, it has still been pretty warm.

When I first got here I was pretty intimidated since this was all so new to me.  With the help of my tutor and my advisors from the Business School, they showed me what I had to do and helped me tremendously in adjusting to life in Kobe.  The Japanese school system is really different from the American system.  First off, registering was done by hand and we actually had about 2 weeks of classes where we got a chance to “get a feel” for them and see if we actually wanted to take them.  Secondly, every class meets only once a week.  Third, the credit system is a bit different.  Classes here are normally around 2 credits while a normal class at UW is about 4-5 credits.  So here at Kobe University, you can take a lot of different classes in one semester.

The only problem I’ve faced so far was the lack of internet.  Coming to Japan, internet was probably one of the last things I thought that I would have to worry about. Apparently LAN cables are the way to go in Japan and wireless internet is extremely rare.  For the first 2-3 weeks, most of the students living in the dorms that I am staying in were without internet, and we all felt the same way.  The way things are done over here is you have to contact an internet company and sign an agreement.  Once you do that, it takes about 2 weeks for the company to come in and install it in your room.  There is a second option too.  You could also ask people near your room if they already have internet, and if you are one of the lucky ones and your neighbor does have internet already, you can ask if you can share the internet with them and connect a long LAN cable from their router to your room.  This problem isn’t just in the dorms either.  The campus also does not have wireless.  So you can either find a LAN cable connection somewhere on campus or you can use the school computers.  However, it takes about 2 weeks to get your username and password from your advisor, which you need to log onto the school’s computers.  For me and most of the other students living in the dorms, the internet problem is your last real worry and afterwards you can finally focus on enjoying Japan.

Despite the minor internet problem my experience (more…)

Vietnam

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

vietnam2.JPGAfter Cambodia I went to Vietnam. From Siem Reap it took about 12 hours by bus to get Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon. The first thing I did in Ho Chi Minh City was to get a taste of local cuisine. One person from our party had some relatives in Ho Chi Minh, and she took us to a popular local pho house. The pho was good, but I thought Pho Tran Brothers on the Ave back home is better.

vietnam1.JPGThe traffic is Ho Chi Minh is horrendous, once outside you are greeted by thousands of scooter bikes flowing down the street, which is impossible to cross. Good thing we didn’t stay long in Ho Chi Minh, the second morning I went to a charming little town about seven hours north of Ho Chi Minh called Dalat, capital of the Lam Dong province. After months in a tropical climate the coolness of this mountainous town was much appreciated. For the first time since I arrived in Singapore, I had to wear a sweater every time I went out.

Dalat is famous for its scenic waterfalls and beautiful French architecture from the colonial periods. This was a great contrast from the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh, and I enjoyed my stay very much.