“Don’t break our rules,” she said

Samuel Garcia, NUS Exchange, Fall 2014

“Don’t break our rules,” she said, as I walked onto the subway platform holding a fresh cup of Starbucks coffee.

“You can’t drink, or eat, on the subway. You can hold it. Just don’t drink it.”

“Anyway, have a good night with your friends, I hope you aren’t doing anything I wouldn’t approve of.”

“Don’t worry,” I said as I boarded the train. I didn’t mention my friends and I are gay, something this religious Singaporean lady I had just met was quite likely to disapprove of.

That was my first experience with how rigid Singaporean society can be. Before I came, all my friends seemed to know Singapore as “the place where it’s illegal to chew gum.” But I didn’t know just how strict it is.

When I boarded the newest subway line a few days later, I was surprised to find the above sign with one addition:

No durians. Admittedly, durians (a common fruit in Asia) do smell quite terrible, and I am glad I don’t have to smell them while riding the subway. But the fact that they bothered to specify on the sign, NO DURIANS, makes me chuckle.

The rigidness stretches far beyond just the subway, to everyday life. Alcohol is expensive and drinking is frowned upon, students study on Friday and Saturday nights, and no one wants to stand out. In the US, I walk down the street and see all kinds of people, from the traditional business man to the hippie girl. Here no one dares to wear anything too bright, guys don’t dare to dress too feminine and girls don’t dare to dress too masculine. I have yet to see a gay couple holding hands. Everyone conforms to a similar lifestyle. Sure, it’s a comfortable one, since the society is so prosperous, but it lacks originality.

Some people love it here. While I have a very comfortable life, in the cleanest, and possibly richest city I have been in, I would not want to live here for a long period of time. I can feel the rigidness in the air.

You want it? They got it.

Samuel Garcia, NUS Exchange, Fall 2014

A new local friend: “Oh, you’re new in Singapore, have you tried [insert famous local food here]?”

Me: “No, I don’t eat meat so I can’t eat that unfortunately.”

Local friend: “Oh you don’t eat meat? You miss out on some amazing food…”

I have had this conversation many times since coming abroad, whichever country I am visiting. And well sometimes I do wish I could eat Xiao Long Bao or Chicken Rice, I have to disagree, I don’t think I am missing out on anything. Especially in a place like Singapore, where there are so many different types of food to try. That’s the great thing about living in a truly multicultural city, there is authentic food from many different countries in one place. Even just in my school canteen, there is Chinese food, Western food, Indian food, Korean food, Sichuan food, and more.

Before I came to Singapore some friend told me it is a society that loves to eat. Now I understand why. One of the first friends I made here told me that when he can eat something different for every meal, you can bet he will eat at least three meals a day. It’s literally impossible to get bored of food here.

The best part for me is that while l I get to try all these foods from around South East Asia, on my homesick days when I crave Western food, I can always find a brunch place, get some pancakes and taste a little bit of home.

Strikes: The French Way of Life

Audrey Telfer, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2014

The French love their strikes. Last Sunday, I was sitting in my homestay’s living room finishing up some homework, when my host, Sylvie, came running through the back door straight to the TV. She put on the news, which was discussing the Air France pilots’ strike.

The strike was planned to start the following day and last all week. Air France was estimated to lose 10-15 million euros a day due to cancelled and refunded flights. Air France projected that 40% of their flights would be operating during the week.

Oh no.

Sylvie, thinking I had misunderstood the French, immediately tried to reassure me that the strike would not impact me. It wasn’t like the Metro was down and I couldn’t get to class. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about.

I had a flight booked with Air France for that weekend. I was going to England. It had been planned for months.

I was immediately chastised for being upset. “This is how we work in France. There are strikes and life moves on” Sylvie said with an air of superiority and finality. I was absolutely not allowed to be upset or even annoyed that my travel plans were now in the hands of the Air France pilots. The money I had spent on the hotel and activities in England already was at the mercy of the pilots. I was not allowed to be upset, this was France.

So I took a deep breath and decided to appreciate this quintessential aspect of the French culture. I am in France and I will experience the good and the bad.

And any worrying would have been moot, luckily, my flight was operational!

Singapore, 新加坡, Singapura… What do I call you?

Samuel Garcia, NUS Exchange, Fall 2014

I open the door to the dorm common room and am immediately relieved to have finally found what I was searching for: air conditioning. It is my first day in Singapore, and after moving into my dorm room and realizing that I do need things like, you know, sheets, I am exhausted. And hot. Relieved to have found a place close to my room with air conditioning, I lay back on a couch in the common room and hope I might be able to make some friends.

As I tune in to the conversation next to me, I discover that I don’t understand it at all. I thought I was prepared, after studying Chinese for two years and growing up in America, I thought I would be fine in a country where English and Chinese are spoken as the main languages. Feeling shy and out of place, I retreated to my room.

The next day on the subway, I see the usual signs saying “mind the gap,” “don’t lean against the doors,” etc, except that they are translated into four different languages. Not only English and Chinese, but also Malay and Tamil. When announcements are made, I hear the same four languages.


Despite the fact that about 70% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, the country has four national languages, all of which are commonly used and spoken. Nearly everyone speaks English, but they also speak their mother tongue, whether that is Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, or Tamil. Furthermore, both English and Chinese are taught to students from a young age. It is incredibly rare to meet someone from Singapore who does not speak at least two languages. Singapore is truly a melting pot of different Asian cultures, ethnicities, and languages.

America also calls itself a melting pot, but as a country we lag behind in regards to diversity of languages. Why do students not begin learning a foreign language until middle or high school? Why do so many Americans only speak English? It is lucky if a sign in the US is in Spanish as well as English, not to mention French or Chinese. As a place full of people from all over the world, I think we need to take a leaf out of Singapore’s book and improve our language diversity.

Despite some language struggles, being able to speak both English and Chinese has served me well here. And what a beautiful city.

beautifulcity2                               beautifulcity1


You May Say I’m A Dreamer

Samantha Trippy, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2014

But I’m not the only one. You’re reading this blog, aren’t you? Thinking about studying abroad? Well, I’ve been thinking about studying abroad, too. A lot. Perhaps an unhealthy amount. Fantasizing about what my life will be like abroad, watching this BEAUTIFUL video tour of my campus, planning my backpacking adventures with a fellow NU student studying abroad in Southeast Asia… so what if I spent a significant chunk of my summer with my head in the clouds? I’m about to embark on, perhaps, the biggest journey of my life, thus far.

Oh, did I forget to introduce myself? My name is Samantha Trippy and I’m a junior studying Computer Science at Northwestern. In two days, I will be an exchange student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, (HKUST) a popular exchange and study abroad destination for students from all across the world.

Despite all of my visions of what I hope things will be like abroad, (and sometimes, of what I hope things won’t be like abroad) it really just hit me this past week that this is happening. I received my student visa, my housing assignment, and began emailing my “exchange buddies,” two local students who were chosen to help me transition into life at HKUST. I even registered for my courses on a web interface eerily similar to Northwestern’s passionately disliked and soon-to-be-replaced CAESAR program, though using this interface is much less painful and more exciting when you are using it to choose courses abroad.

I expect things will only become more exciting once I arrive. I cannot wait to meet local students from Hong Kong and international and exchange students from all over the world. I will be updating this blog throughout all of my adventures to come, so stick around!

Yes, I have been to Paris before.



International Departures-- DTWAudrey Telfer, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2014

Every time I start telling someone about my upcoming semester abroad, I am invariably asked the question: “Have you been to Paris before?” For some reason, people sort of deflate as soon as I answer, truthfully, with “Yes, twice.” I quickly amend, of course, that the first time I was 3 years old (the second time I was 14).

I am rather frustrated when this happens. This trip is going to be so different. I have previously vacationed in Paris, but never lived in Paris. And the most important difference, for me at least, is that I have a much greater command of the mother tongue this time around. I’ve always had a passion for the French language and I can’t wait to immerse myself in it.

In the last few weeks before I leave for Europe (I’m starting off in the UK for some sightseeing in London, Bath, and Cardiff), the reality of my extended stay is hitting hard. Sorting out a cellular plan has been agonizing. Finding a place to live in Paris was equally concerning. On the bright side, these weeks have also included selecting my classes and planning a few excursions (yoga workshop in Manchester, UK!!).

Registering for classes was slightly intimidating but very exciting. Sciences Po does not stagger registration times, instead, all exchange students (however many hundreds of us there are) signed up at 4pm Paris time at the beginning of July. Nevertheless, I was able to get all of my first choices. Classes at Sciences Po meet only once a week for two hours.  he cours magistrals (lectures) have an additional two hours of discussion section. Consequently, I have 6 hours of class on Monday (including a language class), 4 hours on Tuesday, and 2 hours on Wednesday.  And then I’m done for the rest of the week!! It will definitely take some time getting used to a four day weekend.

Alors, au revoir les Etats-Unis, au revoir le Michigan, au revoir le Northwestern! Je prends ce voyage avec un esprit d’aventure!

Shanghai to Singapore

Samuel Garcia, NUS Exchange, Fall 2014

My entire summer has been one rapid adventure. After a hard Spring Quarter at Northwestern, I was greatly looking forward to coming to Asia for almost six months. In a new continent, with new people, I could conquer new challenges and discover different parts of myself. My time in America ended quickly, as I watched my boyfriend graduate,  spent four days at home celebrating my birthday, and hopped on a plane to Shanghai.

Here I am after nearly six weeks in Shanghai packing my things and preparing to go to Singapore. When I came to Shanghai I planned to take more time for myself, but I was quickly immersed in the fast-paced life of one of the most developed cities in the world.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.11.06 PMI was fascinated by the blend of Western and Chinese culture in Shanghai. Every corner I turned there was another shopping mall, but hidden in parts of the city I found beautiful, traditional Chinese architecture. I will never forget the skyline from the rooftop bar on the Bund, nor will I forget the small water village on the edge of the city.
Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.11.33 PMWhat I was most surprised by in Shanghai was the openness of the gay scene. I expected a conservative, traditional society, but found I was able to discuss gay issues with my Chinese teacher. The gay bars were packed, and I made some great friends there. The best friend I made even dared to hold my hand while we walked, despite the stares of many people. I found that the younger generation in China accepts homosexuality without a problem, but for their parents it is still taboo. While they have a strong community, they are still not immersed in society as equals.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.11.42 PM

As I prepare to leave for Singapore, I wonder if the city I find will be as Western as Shanghai or hold on to more traditional values. It seems like the cities have much in common; they are both international hubs, have prospering economies, and begin with S. I am curious if I will find a similarly strong gay community and whether gay couples there dare to hold hands on the street.

One thing I truly fear is the sweltering heat when I step off the plane.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.11.57 PM

How was Paris?

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

Paris was amazing. Doesn’t that sound bland? Doesn’t that poorly reflect the energizing, overwhelming, and confusing quarter I spent abroad in Paris? I know that it does, but when people ask me conversationally “how was Paris?” I don’t know how else to respond.

Last weekend, I participated in sorority recruitment as an active member of my chapter at Northwestern. I had been back in the United States for about three weeks by this point, and was feeling pretty well acclimated. I missed Paris, but I was still reuniting with many of the American traditions I missed so much: Mexican food, athletic centers/gyms, running outdoors, large cups of black coffee. I loved speaking English again and feeling my personality shine through. And, most importantly, I loved spending time with family and friends again. But during that weekend, where I met dozens of people for short conversations, and reconnecting with the 100 other sisters in my chapter, I started missing France. Everyone, in my chapter or going through recruitment, asked “how was Paris?” when I brought up my quarter. Which, of course, I did frequently. When I struggled to answer “how was Paris?” in a quick, summary statement, I wanted to go back so that I could live my quarter all over again. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to accept that the quarter had ended.

It was difficult for me to give an honest answer during that weekend. I repeated “Paris was amazing!” hundreds of times. But during late nights with my roommates and best friends, I explained that being abroad challenged me as well. Although I did truly spend a good amount of my time last quarter eating baguettes, croissants, and macaroons, and exploring Paris and foreign countries, I also missed my activities at Northwestern greatly. I missed my life that was so essentially American. I felt isolated at times alone in my room, living with a family that no matter how kind and helpful, was not my own. I felt guilty about poorly keeping in contact with some friends and selfish for leaving my work-study job working with Head Start preschoolers in Chicago. There is a lot of reflection that I still need to do in the next few months to understand how my fall quarter abroad influenced me. Already, though, I feel like a more honest and genuine person, at least in that I am willing to admit to my close friends, and at times strangers as well, the struggles I faced in Paris. It was truly amazing– but every minute was not perfect, of course.

Now, just like during my stressful weekend of winter recruitment, I would love to relive my experience, but with my friends and family, who could also experience what I grew to love. For now, I’m enjoying the communities and patterns from Northwestern that I missed so much. And while I readjust, I’ll Skype my friends from Sciences Po, print and frame photographs of my arrondissement, and feel grateful for my amazing– honestly– quarter at Sciences Po.

French rudeness and Artisanal Pride

Romain Sinclair, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

The service industry in France, or at least Paris, seems to have fundamentally different goals than that of the comparable industry in the United States.  By service industry I am referring to mostly artisan jobs- think of bakeries, butchers, cheese producers, fishermen- but also restaurant servers and other clerk positions. These posts in France exist in seemingly parallel forms, but they are actually quite different. In this brief blog entry I will try to point out some of these differences, all in the aim of clarifying what are some common misconceptions about French people, French culture.

The main way that the French differentiate themselves from American counterparts in the service industry is via their relations with their product, or service. The critical difference in my view is that French people who are in the service industry consider themselves experts in their field. The bakers that work at the street side bakeries are all creating their products based on their own recipes, independent of the way other people do it. This creates a tight connection between the baker and his or her bakery. This is far more rare in the United States, as bakeries are usually chains and therefore the creations that the workers make are just things they’ve learned from some blueprint recipes. There’s no connection between employee and product. This brings us to the next point.

Americans will not get upset if clients ask for modifications or specific whims, but the French absolutely will. French bakers, called boulangers, will get downright livid if you ask them to heat something up, or even remove the chocolate of an item. This is the kind of reaction that often sticks in the mind of tourists if they encounter it. Perhaps it’s why French are perceived as rude. Spoiler alert: it’s not pleasant. It’s only with extended stay and perspective that one may begin to understand what’s happening. The anger that the artisan unleashes when a customer ask for a modification comes mostly from his pride in his product and passion for his artistic living. When you walk out of the boulangerie with your croissant in hand, what you don’t know is that he or she has been trained for three or more years in making that croissant (and all the other products that boulangeries make). Therefore when you, the client, ask for changes in the baker’s product, you are putting into question his or her three years of training. From his point of view, his expertise is being doubted or critiqued by someone who doesn’t know the slightest about the craft. Some might call it stubborn to put the integrity of one’s product over the customer’s preferences, but perhaps there is reason to do so if the bond between producer and product is so tight.

The service industry in France may please some and deter others, but at the end of it all the grass will always be greener and people will always want what they cannot have. For those who haven’t traveled much outside of home and college, there may come a shock when going abroad. The hospitality levels in France and in Europe will likely not match those of the United States. On the other hand, the quality of product or service, especially when it comes to food, will probably be far superior to anything made in the land of the free, home of the brave.

A Home Here and a Home There

Hagar Gomaa, Koç University Exchange, Fall 2013

My last few days in Istanbul were a mix of last minute to do items, cramming for exams, and a perpetual feeling of denial that I was leaving what had become a home to me. I convinced myself mentally that I was ready to go back, ready to see my family, and ready for the cold.

I had 10 short days of break at home before I came back to Northwestern to begin winter quarter. It was wonderful to be reunited with my family and relatives. The new year has already brought new experiences for me since it is my first time living off campus and I am starting to understand and love the apartment life. Although the cold front left me trapped in my apartment, it was nice to have a few extra days to readjust to Evanston and Northwestern.

It wasn’t until my first few days in Evanston that this feeling of homesickness for Istanbul came. It’s been difficult readjusting to Northwestern and the American way of doing everything. Ever since I’ve come to campus I have felt the return of a feeling that I hadn’t experienced in a while, urgency. The hustle and bustle that comes with being a Northwestern student stands in stark contrast to the atmosphere in Turkey. After only one week of classes, I am aware of the amount of responsibilities I have and the strict timeline by which I must complete them.

My experience abroad was defined by the people I met. It’s odd to me that the people I once saw regularly every day, now live on a different side of the planet. We all came from different universities, countries, and cultures; yet we managed to make each other family. I have walked away from my experience with a better understanding of my relationships with other people. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people with open minds who were eager for new experiences and I have to remind myself to keep this attitude as I continue my time at Northwestern.

There is something charming about being surrounded by familiar faces, catching coffee at Norris, and walking into tech. My days have fallen into a similar rhythm; not the myriad of crazy adventures that I had in Istanbul, but certainly a return to my reality.

“So do you feel like anything has changed?”, my friend asked me upon my return.

I smiled and said “Nope, just me”.