Going out in style

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

This is my last week in Paris and I want to make it one of my best. My classes ended on December 2nd, and after traveling with friends for a week on a whirlwind adventure from Istanbul to Frankfurt to London, I am back in Paris and ready to enjoy the city as much as possible before I depart. One of my best friends from Northwestern is visiting me this week, and she has never been to Paris before. To combine the two interests- seeing my favorite sites and giving a tour to a newcomer- I have made an itinerary for five days in this wonderful city that anyone can follow.

Day 1: Get oriented. Walk the city end to end starting at the Nation métro stop (on the far east end of the city on the right bank) to the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way, one passes Bastille (a lively area with restaurants and bars), the Marais (home of the best falafel I’ve ever had), the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, Concorde (possibly the worst traffic circle in Paris, but that’s not what it’s famous for), the Champs-Elysées and its Christmas markets, and finally the Arc de Triomphe itself. The walk itself takes several hours, especially with snack breaks and photo opportunities. Take the métro for the first time to the Latin Quarter for delicious fixed price meals and a visit to the famous English bookstores Shakespeare and Company and The Abbey.

Day 2: Head North to the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, a gigantic flea market with antiques and relics from all continents. After perusing for a couple hours, head back to the main area to Notre Dame for a free visit. The beautiful stained glass church of Saint Chapelle is close by, as is the Deportation Memorial to the victims of WWII. The Louvre is close enough for a visit to one of the wings, and across the street is the famous Angelina’s hot chocolate (for a hefty price tag of 8 euros a cup!) Dinner at Rue Mouffatrd– another fun street in the Latin Quarter.

Day 3: Crossing over to the left bank is the Orsay museum, the Grande Epicerie (a HUGE grocery store), and the original Le Bon Marché. All three sites will be plein de tout le monde (full of everyone) so close to Christmas and should be done with patience. For most all of the semester, I have been eating on a student’s budget, but for one night I’d like to go to a nice restaurant and see the best of Parisian cuisine. Beautiful restaurants are to Paris as Starbucks locations are to Seattle: there will be no shortage of options.

Day 4: Montmartre needs a full morning dedicated to it, where I can visit Sacré-Coeur as well as the artists’ village behind the Church on the top of the hill. All of the side streets in Montmartre are quirky and beautiful, and it’ll take a while to say goodbye to them. Another splurge that I’ve been waiting all semester for is having tea and macaroons at Ladurée. Paris can hold its own to London with delicious tea! As a last adventure of the day, I have always been wanting to visit the Bois de Boulogne park on the far West side of Paris, known for hosting the French Open!

Day 5: As a final hoorah, I’d like to climb the steps of the Eiffel Tower. Doing such is the more economical option, as it only costs 3 euro to a regular trip’s 10. Close by is the Trocadéro métro stop and location with the best view of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris. It now also includes an ice rink, which I plan to visit! Hidden in Paris is also the Canal St. Martin, which I have been struggling to find.

This is my way of distracting myself, of insisting that this semester is not coming to an end. I have never left a city without concrete plans on returning. This is also my way of starting to say my goodbyes.

Hosting and Being Hosted

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

I always knew that I wanted a home stay to be a key piece of my semester abroad, because in high school my family had amazing experiences hosting international students through a program with my high school. In total, we hosted three exchange students– from France, Colombia, and Germany– for periods ranging from 2 weeks to 4 months. In my junior year, I became very good friends with an international student from Turkey, and she spent considerable time at my house as if she were my family’s student as well. I eagerly signed up for a home stay during my time in Paris, not only because I had such wonderful experiences hosting, but also obviously because I considered it the best way to practice the language and become immersed in the local culture.

For this past semester, I have been placed with a family that is both very similar and very different to my own. I live in a town house in the 11th arrondissement (a very diverse area on the right bank) with a mom, her two children (a boy age 11 and a girl age 14), and the children’s cousin (a girl age 20) who is staying with them to attend art school in Paris. First with the similarities, both my family and their family have divorced parents. Once my host mom learned this, I think it made her more relaxed with me, since I understood the unique dynamic and the reason why the kids wouldn’t be present every night. Everyone in the family is also very active and busy with sports, music, studies of course, and additional activities. This leads right in to the differences between our families: when all the kids are home, the house is loud. In Seattle, I primarily live with my mom in an apartment that stays pretty quite most of the time, with only the two of us staying there. I have a very small family and it has taken a while for me to get used to the energy here when everyone is present. The first time the two siblings fought at the table, during my first couple of weeks here, I felt incredibly uncomfortable. I could understand the majority of the argument, but a few things were lost in translation, which made everything seem much more disorienting. They still fight. Frequently. But now I understand almost everything that is said, and can laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, knowing that it never relates to me. Identifying with the family on some levels has made me feel like I fit in better here, but as an exchange student rather than a host I now understand the feeling of being an outsider looking in, feeling like something doesn’t quite fit even when everyone tries to make you feel comfortable. That feeling does not necessarily reflect on the family match: there is something uniquely odd about living in another person’s home as their child, but not really.

I would often wonder with our exchange students in high school why they would sometimes get very quiet, as if withdrawing into themselves. In response I would often reach out more to get a reaction from them. Now, being on the other end, I do this often just so that I can listen and absorb my surroundings.

I don’t know what staying in touch looks like after I leave my host family very soon. International friendships often take on a different, more limited, appearance than domestic ones. I prefer to say goodbye without really saying goodbye. Next year, the older girl, the 14-year-old, will be spending 6 months in Canada to practice her English. With hopes of reuniting then, when I leave I will say “see you later” instead of “goodbye!”

On breaking stereotypes: grumpy Parisians?

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

During my travels beyond Paris this semester, many foreigners have asked me leading questions about how I find Paris. “Do you hate it?” “Aren’t the people cold there?” they ask. I understand the truth behind the stereotype: many Parisians are less outwardly warm than people from other big cities, especially Chicago. Among my French friends and host family members there are few people who feel comfortable talking openly about themselves and asking about you, beyond the initial “ça va?” (how’s it going?) to which you respond most often “ça va” (it’s going.) So people aren’t cuddly by any means, but when it comes to the rudeness stereotype I have found little basis for its validity. From time to time I’ve encountered the grumpy waiter who wants his tab paid the second I lay it down, or the security officer at the Musée d’Orsay who freaks out when the edge of my shoe touches the couch on which I am sitting, but harshness, especially in staff, can be easily found in every country.

When people ask me whether all Parisians are rude and cold, I want to shut down the stereotype with stories of how energetic and engaging people have been around and with me. For example, yesterday, I entered the Saint Michel métro stop to find an amazing surprise. A two-person band, using only guitars, a tambourine, and their voices, was performing for a crowd of around 50 people who otherwise thought they’d just be taking the métro! When people came into the station, most would abandon their plans to listen to the band play popular songs and dance to the music with complete strangers. A man in the crowd had his harmonica on him, and asked if he could jump in for an impromptu solo once in a while. The spontaneity of the performance and energy of the crowd amongst strangers was so attractive that I stayed with friends for 45 minutes!

When I arrived in Paris, I feared offending anyone with my less than perfect French. I assumed people would dislike me for having English as my first language. I knew that wait staff frequently switch into English for English speaking customers, even if they address them in French, and I took that as a sign of rudeness, as if my French were inadequate to continue in that language. This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I expected. Even though my French has improved significantly, I believe this to be because people often aren’t trying to be rude when they switch to English- they are trying to accommodate. If you speak confidently and demonstrate that you want to speak French, most people will let you continue. In Paris, French is the first language, and English is the second; don’t assume the second language is rudeness, otherwise you’ll get it.

Birthdays, Palaces, and Hilltops

Hagar Gomaa, Koç University Exchange, Fall 2013

It’s hard to believe that my time in Istanbul is almost coming to an end.  This past November, I celebrated my twentieth birthday in Istanbul. It was fun to be with my Turkish and exchange friends and to be sung happy birthday in many languages including Turkish. It seems very odd to me that I have only known my friends for a few months because they are already starting to feel like family.

Since my time in Turkey is coming to a close, I decided to do some more sight seeing. I visited two palaces, one on the European side and the other on the Asian side. The first was Dolmabahçe Palace which is built in the European style with some Ottoman characteristics. The other palace was  Beylerbeyi and is a similar style to Dolmabahçe. Both palaces stand in sharp contrast to the older and more traditional Ottoman style palace, Topkapi.

I mentioned in my previous posts that I really wanted to further explore the Asian side of Istanbul. I have since visited the Asian side several times although it is a long trip. The advantage to being on the Asian side is that it is less touristy since it is more residential which also means it is a lot cheaper! Kadıköy is one district on the Asian side of Istanbul which has many nice restaurants and little shops. The other day, I went to Kadıköy with a friend and watched her get a tattoo. Many of the exchange students are interested in getting tattoos to remember their time in Turkey (also because it is cheaper here).

I was very lucky to experience genuine Turkish hospitality. I have a family friend living in Istanbul who invited me to her home on the Asian side. She introduced me to her family and made me a traditional Turkish breakfast. We also watched Turkish soap operas and had Turkish coffee. It is tradition to read the coffee leaves after someone has drank their coffee and predict their future. My friend did this for me and we laughed about her predictions. It was very different from being on campus or eating in a restaurant and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to experience a Turkish household. I feel very blessed to have met such friendly people who welcomed me into their home.

During my trip to the Asian side,  I discovered my favorite place in Istanbul. My friends and I heard that there is a huge hilltop from which you can see all of Istanbul. We took a chance and hopped on a bus hoping that we would make it there. After asking many people, getting lost, and walking uphill for ages, we finally made it. It was definitely worth it and the view was incredible. I want to return to that hill again before I leave Istanbul. My next blog post will detail something I have been neglecting thus far and which deserves its own post, Turkish food!

Revelations from Travel

Romain Sinclair, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

Traveling as an adult is very different than doing so as a child. During our weeklong break at Sciences Po, we went to The United Kingdom. It seemed like a whole new place to me. This was weird because I had lived in the U.K as a kid, in the small town of Oxford. Now as a 19-year-old, I had very different experiences. The idea that a child and a young adult would have vastly different experiences is obvious, but it’s something I couldn’t help but think about. My basic theory is as follows: Children and kids aren’t aware of their surroundings. Therefore, the world they live in depends less upon the outside world, but more on their “immediate” surroundings. These surroundings would be places like the home, where there is TV and Xbox; the classroom, where schoolmates are playing; and maybe also the local soccer field, where one recognizes fellow players (or other sports facility). So, a kid would be very aware of any change in these areas, but not really be aware of anything beyond that scope. At least, that’s how I’d say I was.

When I returned to the U.K. last week, I confirmed my theory. I didn’t have a few “comfort” zones that I really familiarized myself with. Yet, what I did have was a more general sense of the British vibe. Through interactions with lots of different groups, I began to understand how people behaved, how they “were”. This wouldn’t have been possible as an 8 year old because, I was always supervised and confined to these few zones.

What’s interesting about the contrast between young me versus adult me is that it also elicits many parallels between my study abroad experience and my Northwestern life (this does not reflect anything beyond my personal experience). My time at NU is in any ways centered on a few central things. There is a set of midterms that I must complete and there are a few social events that I should try to attend. There are things that need to be done, and there is a very standardized way of life.

Study abroad has been eye opening in a few senses, but mostly because it gives one time to reflect. In a linear path, like at NU, one learns how to work. On a more open path, there is a lot of room to think about things that might otherwise not have gotten attention, though they are deserving of it. I’m not saying that I trap myself in my room and mediate for hours. It’s all about the interactions with others. It’s been really nice to “feel” the Parisian vibe via speaking to many of the young people that live in Paris. In that sense, one learns a lot about others. But, more importantly, one also learns about what one wants. This is especially interesting because I think that for most individuals their wants and needs are only those they’ve accidentally adopted from others. This is something I definitely would not have realized if I were by myself.

Why Hong Kong is the best city for study abroad

Audrey Zong, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2013

As Northwestern students, we are lucky enough to have such a vast selection of study abroad partner institutions that we can apply for. (For the European students, they have an extremely competitive process. Popular exchange programs can sometimes have one spot with 300 students applying). I am so grateful to have chosen Hong Kong because I really believe it’s the perfect location for me, and here’s why:

1. Hong Kong is glitzy, glam, and has an unbeatable skyline..

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.27.34 PM       2. But also has the COOLEST outdoor activities. After a beautiful hike with an ocean view, you can find a white sandy beach and go kayaking!

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And if you find, and follow and obscure trail from the beach, you can reach cliff jumping!

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Where you get chased by line of cows on your walk back

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For even MORE adventure, make your way through vines, branches, bushes, and scale a few rocks or two to find an infinity pool

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Or hike up one of the top urban hikes in all of Asia- the Dragon’s back, and at the end, be rewarded with SURFING in mid-november!

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.28.31 PM Hong Kong has many outlying islands. Lamma island is a very cool one that’s only 20 minutes away by a $3 ferry. You can find this view on the island after a gruesome but exciting hike:

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3. While campus food isn’t the best, Hong Kong is overloaded with restaurants serving dishes from all over the world.

4. Accessibility to other Southeast Asian countries

Traveling from Hong Kong to any of the Southeast Asian countries is so quick and simple. Most places are within a 3 hour flight! Last week, I went to Thailand and visited Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Phuket! Below is a temple we visited in Ayutthaya since we didn’t make it to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia in the same trip. In these countries, it’s pretty easy to go off the beaten path and challenge yourself by diving into farms or villages, or anywhere that is not as advanced as what we’re used to.

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5. Cost

Compared to Europe, Hong Kong is going to save you a bit of money, for food, transportation, and accommodation! Meals on c range from $3 to $5. Once you leave campus, it can range anywhere from $15 to $30 for a meal with friends. The subway and bus systems are efficient and cheap. For example, a 45 minute commute by bus then subway into the city center from campus costs only about $1.50 each way! Taxis can be quite cheap split among friends. On campus housing is very, very cheap compared to dorm and rent prices in Evanston. The entire semester will cost between $800 to $1000 (that’s 4 months worth!!!) Off-campus rent prices are through the roof, though.

6. The People

The people who come to Hong Kong to study and work are what makes Hong Kong so interesting. I’m glad to have chosen Hong Kong instead a European exchange program because I feel more of a challenge to meet new people from all over the globe here. In other exchange programs, it can be easy to get stuck hanging out with a handful of other Northwestern students in the same program and fall into a comfort zone. Also, when you leave campus, you discover that people are here for many different things, whether it’s work or travel, it’s so common to meet cool people with amazing stories and backgrounds.

7. Language

After traveling to many southeast asian countries, I realize that Hong Kong as an English speaking city makes the experience much less stressful. While learning a new language is rewarding, it was mostly frustrating when trying to get around in, for example, Hanoi or Phuket.

But it goes without saying that YOU make your study abroad experience!

How Rain changed my life

Romain Sinclair, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

In one’s time in Paris, one cannot go without noticing the incessant rain that, in my opinion, plagues the city. This blog entry is dedicated to this exquisite phenomenon.

Having constant rain truly changes the experience of living in Paris. When looking at what is to be a new home, college bound students must consider the weather when choosing colleges. The same applies for a four-month trip abroad. This is because the weather patterns strongly shape the activities that one takes part in. For instance, at Northwestern, it is terribly cold so people stay indoors at the library and study. At Sciences Po and in Paris, when it rains it’s just not as motivating to go out and sightsee what Paris has to offer. Still, the biggest letdown for me is related long boarding. I am an avid long boarder. I’m always riding at Northwestern. In Paris though, I can’t long board. The rain messes up the metal bits inside the wheel and this causes one to lose control.

On the other hand, rain can be good. The cup always has the potential to be half full. Having rain gives one time to sit back and have a coffee, or three (3 is the magic number today). On the positive side, staying in due to rain has greatly helped me with my planning abilities. In my rain-time, I’ve searched cool French movies, TV shows, and bars. Finding movies is good because then I have something to do for my other rainy days, which are inevitably right around the corner. The highlight has got to be the cool bars that rainy days allow me to research. I’ve discovered dozens of  ethnic food bars, tapas bars, cocktail bars, the list is endless. It’s great because this is something I definitely could not have access to back home.

In one way then, one could say that the rain has replaced one hobby of mine with another. Instead of longboarding, I go to bars. Yet, that wouldn’t do it justice. The rain in Paris is more symbolic than that. It’s taught me some things. I mean, it’s not pleasant, but it’s not going away. When it’s cold and rainy outside you plan for when it’s not. When it’s sunny and bright, you do the things that you wanted to do before. In sum, the rain has taught me patience.

Ici C’est Paris

Romain Sinclair, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

Having been in Paris for 3 months, it becomes apparent that France is a soccer country.  It’s called football or “foot” (pronounced F-ooot) for short.  Everyone’s a fan of foot. This is both surprising and welcoming for a soccer fan like myself. Back home there would be very few people enthusiastic enough to talk about football with.  In the remainder of this post, I will describe the advantages that living in a soccer-centric culture presents

1)   Everyone plays soccer well here. The average person from The States isn’t very comfortable playing soccer. This doesn’t mean there’s a lack of skill. There are many people both back home and at Northwestern who have worked hard to become great players. Many of these players blow me out of the water. However, the average person has trouble. If I randomly selected someone out of my friend group (most of whom did play sports in high school), chances are that person cannot even do basic movements that are essential to the game. Not in France. The average person here has played a lot of soccer in his or her childhood. This happens mostly through informal games of soccer. In a singly walk in Paris, one is bound to see at least five groups of kids playing some kind of soccer game. It’s such that even the kids who may seem nerdy are actually really good (read: better than you).

2)   The increased skill makes it easier to schedule pick-up sessions. I’ve not actually played that many pick-up games in my time here (refer to my post about how often it rains here). However, I’ve definitely had the opportunity to do so a number of times. Think of basketball in the U.S. Consider the amount of people who play basketball and the frequency of pick-up games there are. Then, you have soccer in Paris.

3)   People want to go see soccer games! This is by far the best highlight of living in a soccer nation. Most of the European friends that I’ve made since coming here have a team they support. They can also discuss in some depth their home country’s soccer league. This is really cool because when it comes time to go to a game, there is no issue in finding people to go with. An added bonus is that Paris has a really strong team. It’s called Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and it plays in the north-western part of Paris. The stadium is very easy to get to, and the atmosphere in Games is phenomenal!

Studying at Sciences Po

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

Normally, course registration is an exciting time for me at Northwestern. I love browsing through the course catalogue, imagining myself the courses that I systematically add to my shopping court. After finalizing my schedule, I take a screenshot of the first week and post it on my Facebook page, along with a nerdy comment about how excited I am for Special Topics in SESP: Race and Ethnicity next quarter (to any students reading: this class was amazing!) When I registered for Sciences Po classes, I got more of a rush of anxiety than joy.

Course registration was pretty scary. Unlike Northwestern’s tiered registration times, Sciences Po undergraduates register all at once, exchange students and native French speakers alike. I didn’t know about the need to register exactly at the minute registration opened, so when I tried to register, every English speaking class was closed. Since Sciences Po is officially bilingual, I had been hoping to take at least one English class. I registered for classes that looked very interesting– Punishment in the 20th Century, Introduction to Ethics, The Fifth Republic- Constitutional Law, a French language class, and the History of European Construction– but I was more than a little nervous about them all being in French.

Luckily, the welcome program calmed most of my nervous. I hope every future Sciences Po international student given the opportunity takes it to participate in the welcome program. During that week, my group “Daumesnil” (not the easiest French word to pronounce on your first day in France if you’re a timid French speaker like me) learned about the unique methodology of Sciences Po, becoming familiar with assignment terms like “exposé,” “etude de cas,” and “dissertation.” We all shared the same fear of understanding nothing, and thanks to such a realization we supported one another’s French and helped each other progress. I met plenty of other native English speakers taking on all French classes, and knew that I was up for the challenge of studying in another language.

Now that I am nearing the end of my academic semester, I can safely say that my classes went just fine. One class was completely wrong for me: I was the only international student among 120 French law majors in a class where the professor did not know that I existed. Luckily, you don’t leave Northwestern completely when you study abroad, and my IPD advisor was very helpful in finding a solution. My other classes challenged me in new ways. I’ve given oral presentations on the history of the legal term “Crime Against Humanity” and its implications in the trial of the Nazi Klaus Barbie, practiced understanding a French-Canadian accent, and figured out how to focus for back-to-back two-hour lectures. Classes run in a very different manner here and are more grounded in 2-4 big assignments, such as oral presentations, than any weekly homework or readings. My classes have been at the core of my experience in Paris, as they have exposed me to both native and non-native French speakers, unique morsels of history in very specific domains, and given me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new environment. Although I love being a Sciences Po student, I’m looking forward to being a full-time Northwestern student again.

Yesterday, I registered for classes at Northwestern, and it was an exciting time, just like I remembered it. Having struggled with expressing myself in my native language this semester, I’m thrilled to be returning to an intellectual environment where I am confident in my contributions to the class. I even miss the usual twice-weekly readings. When I posted my schedule to Facebook this time, I commented that the screenshot proved that I would be returning in just a few weeks. It is such a bittersweet feeling to return to my NU home by leaving Paris. I have to admit, I mostly posted the comment to believe it myself.

The bad, the ugly

Audrey Zong, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2013

I hope that the title got your attention! There are expectedly struggles that we face when going on a study abroad/exchange program, and below are some of mine.

1) Food

Sounds crazy right? The school canteen food has been a common complaint among many exchange students. The meats (duck, chicken) usually come in tiny portions, compensated by a too-large-serving of white rice, and the killer is that the duck and chicken comes with all the skin and little bones that make your eating experience slightly unpleasant, never knowing when – crackle – you bite into a piece of bone. Much of the food is fried/stir fried with a lot of oil, or too much butter. There are no kitchens in the common rooms or anywhere in the halls. If you want to cook, you need to buy your own electronic, portable stove and pots, pans, and cooking supplies. As someone who loves to cook healthier dishes for myself, this has been a struggle. Also, ordering can be challenging because it’s been discovered you never know what you will get, but we’ve learned that all the “italian pastas” are noodles with sauce. The other thing about ordering is the language barrier, which brings me to the second struggle.

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2.) I get mistaken for a native speaker every time.

One of the most frustrating things for me is not speaking Cantonese. For one, it would definitely make taxi rides, asking for directions, asking for food, asking for anything, a whole lot easier. But furthermore, I get mistaken as a native speaker all the time. Even when I ask in English, I receive responses in Cantonese, and although I try to explain I don’t speak Cantonese, only English, they continue to speak to me in Cantonese. Without being rude, sometimes I need to wait for the person to finish their sentences in Cantonese before repeating in English I don’t understand nor speak Cantonese. From friends, I have heard that it can be taken offensively for local-looking people to rub Hong Kong people the wrong way if I am not careful about the way I tell people I don’t speak Cantonese. To some, as I’ve been told, it can come off pompous and pretentious to “only speak English”. This is a main part of the reason that looking like a local-HKer is so frustrating. However, I have had unpleasant experiences where I get laughed at when I try to ask something in English. For example, I walked into a restaurant and asked if they had almond cookies as a dessert item. The two ladies looked at me in skepticism and looked at each other. “Almond cookies?”, no they didn’t understand what I had said. After I repeated myself a few times, they more or less understood I was trying to ask for cookies, and they gave me an abrasive response “no” and waved me off, and then snorting at me. But the abrasive responses can get categorized in the language barrier section. Or perhaps it is a Hong Kong cultural barrier that I haven’t been able to completely understand yet.

3.) Classes

3a.) Lack of respect in classrooms

The lack of respect for professors in classes comes very shocking. It seems completely normal for a classroom full of students to be talking over the professor while he or she is standing in front of the class lecturing. Sitting towards the back, I can hardly hear my professor for one class sometimes. Really, an entire class of 80+ students, all having side conversations, is too distracting, and also makes me question a professor’s credibility.

Turning this around, I have been very disappointed to hear one of my professors threaten the class that the material will be on exams, whether he gets through teaching it or not, and that if we fail, it’s our own fault because the class was too loud for him to finish lecturing. In a way, he dangled a letter grade carrot in front of our faces, and tainted the idea of learning for interest.

3b.) Grading

The classes are almost all on a bell curve. Students on the lower end of the curve can ride the curve slightly, but those at the top are immensely competing for the top percentile. This creates disunity and much competition, not the constructive kind.

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 4.) Forgetting alone-time

Exchange is a lot of fun; in my exchange group are over 300 people from all over the world, and there’s always something going on, whether it’s going on a monkey trail hike or infinity pool hike, or traveling to another country, or going out to explore new restaurants, or water sports on Hong Kong’s many islands. Amid the action, it’s so easy to lose sight of yourself when there is a constant stream of events to go to, things to see, and people to talk to, that you forget to give time to yourself to reflect. And maybe at some point we can get so accustomed to having company 24/7 that being alone becomes scary. I know this happened to me, and to overcome it, I decided to check out a novel (11/22/63- Stephen King) and stay in on a Saturday night to catch up on reading (and writing blogs of course).

5.) Status: lost

These last two posts are getting into fuzzier territories and slightly off-topic, which fits right into my state of mind. The “exchange” of an “exchange program” encompasses the exchange between you and local students as well as other exchange students. In this regard, I have been exposed to a novel outlook for further education and career paths. As many Northwestern students can relate, we have been conditioned to believe the “right” way is to do well in high school, get into a prestigious four-year university, and either pursue a higher degree of education or begin your career. In the European countries especially, there is much more freedom in choosing your own path, and university is more like “part of your life”, rather than college = “your life”. The low to free tuition definitely influences their path selection, and our very very high tuition is also the reason there is so much pressure to do well in school, get a good job, and pay off our loans. However, the students I have spoken to have much more practical, working experience than us. It is common for them to start an apprenticeship or internship towards the end of their high school years for one or two years, or do it after high school. It also seems common to take semesters off to do internships or exchange programs — at least much more casually than it is for us in the States. We argue that the U.S. has a very great education system, which is why we pay such exorbitant amounts for universities, but personally, I feel sub-par in comparison to many of the European engineering students who have had practical, hands-on experience already, both in technical skill and in terms of career confidence. There are many alternatives and possibilities, and I am young, so it’s a scary and exciting feeling to know that I am in control of my path.