The return

Coming back the U.S was not exactly the parade of glory a self-proclaimed traveler such as myself would have expected. Despite receiving the red carpet warm welcome of the O’Hare terminal 5 McDonald’s, and a long in-depth interview with a Homeland Security Officer, I felt a bit off coming back.

I went straight from Istanbul to Evanston to be back for the first week of classes. I initially decided to do this so that I could spend as much time as I possibly could in Turkey without it conflicting with NU’s schedule. And while I certainly don’t regret it, it certainly wasn’t a walk in the Gezi Park. Having no time to rewind is quite taxing, going directly from one overwhelming environment to another. And especially having to readjust to NU’s demanding curriculum wasn’t easy. Long gone are the days where I would have two hour çay breaks everyday while discussing the etymology of çay with fellow çay historians.

Call it “reverse culture shock” or whatever, but being away for so long changed many things in the once familiar bubble of Northwestern.  Contact with certain acquaintances tapered off a bit, while at the same time I found myself more in tune with some new faces. At first you feel a little out of place, like you went back to high school and started taking classes again. But over time, these feelings fade, and a bit of normalcy is reestablished, albeit in a slightly different context.

Exchange was great in so many different ways. But exchange is a two way street, a street that runs in two directions. There are two exchange students currently at NU from Koç for winter and spring quarter who I’ve met. I feel oddly obliged to help them out, considering the amount of help I received from Koç students when I was in Istanbul. Helping them is also for me, I can kind of live the exchange experience vicariously through them.


IMG_1420 IMG_1406

Chile Exchange Reflection

I was abroad in Chile for about 6 months.

My life in Chile was different. I lived an hour and 30 minutes away from the university via public transportation. I was an hour away from the more popular hangout spots in the center of Santiago. I knew absolutely zero people in the country. Still, it was all fine. I was able to meet strangers and make them my friends. I learned to enjoy long commutes that became time for meditation and self-reflection. I grew used to being out of my comfort zone.

In Chile, I took all non-engineering classes for the first time in college. I surfed in the ocean for the first time in my life. I took salsa classes that simultaneously taught me to enjoy dancing anything. I explored a variety of beautiful natural landscapes by hitchhiking and backpacking. I became really comfortable speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish. I learned to appreciate little moments like reading in the park, or calling my mom and dad, or having the strangers around me speaking my native language.

The six months eventually ended, but coming back home was not as difficult as I thought it would be. It is nice to be back with friends and family. I still push myself to meet new people every week. I still sign up for the occasional dance classes. I am still excited about future travel opportunities, future classes, and jobs. I work a little harder back home, but now more than ever, I know the rewards of the hard work, the opportunities that studying and working have and will continue to open for me to see the world.

Thank you Northwestern University IPD for organizing this exchange. Thank you PUC for hosting me abroad. Thank you Chilean and exchange friends for teaching me so much. Thank you for reading my blog.


One of my last days in Chile: biking in Atacama

One of my last days in Chile: biking in Atacama

What a Semester in Asia has Taught Me

Hi everyone,

Before I write a lengthy essay about my time abroad, I would like to caption a couple of photos which brings back memories to me every time I look at it.



This photo is when me and a group of friends camped overnight at a beach and went cliff jumping. The water was cold, but it was tons of fun and I had to hike very far to get here, something I am very proud of doing because I was exhausted by the time we arrived.


This photo is of me and my German friend Jan at the National Museum in Taiwan. We got bored of wandering inside the museum, so we decided to be tourists and take some selfie pictures for memories sake.












My friend John took this picture of me at Kata Beach in Phuket, Thailand. I have never been to a more awesome beach in my life. The water is crystal clear, and the sand was very white and clean.



We went here two days in a row for lunch in the Philippines. I am a huge fan of Korean BBQ, and if I were to tell you that this all-you-can-eat pork belly and side dishes, with a pitcher of ice cold sweet tea only cost $6 USD, you would not believe it. It was delicious.

We went here two days in a row for lunch in the Philippines. I am a huge fan of Korean BBQ, and if I were to tell you that this all-you-can-eat pork belly and side dishes, with a pitcher of ice cold sweet tea only cost $6 USD, you would not believe it. It was delicious.










I don't think I have ever been so close to so many bulls that could probably knock me off the ground if they charged at me. It was great to be so in touch with nature, and the other side of the world. I will miss Sapa very much. My couple of days here has humbled me and has made me realize how much better Americans have it than in many parts of the world with the higher standard of living.

I don’t think I have ever been so close to so many bulls that could probably knock me off the ground if they charged at me. It was great to be so in touch with nature, and the other side of the world. I will miss Sapa very much. My couple of days here has humbled me and has made me realize how much better Americans have it than in many parts of the world with the higher standard of living.


As my Polish-born British friend Martin had never had Chinese dim sum in his life, I thought it was my job to show him the delicious food that could be found in the Chinese tea cafes. This was at Hang Hau, one of the closest stops off of the bus from our campus.



















It saddens me to be writing this final reflection blog because it means my semester abroad has finally ended. However, with that said, I am able to cherish a lifetime of memories, a global network of friends, and a plethora of new perspectives to understand the world. Being abroad in Hong Kong has truly opened up my eyes to the world. It’s very interesting to think of the world as more than just the United States. And frankly, it can be hard to visualize that without physically experiencing the bustling metropolises that Asia has to offer. So it is important for one to actually be there because that is when he or she will really start to understand other people and places. After living, eating, and immersing myself in numerous other countries during my weekends and breaks from Hong Kong, the possibility of living abroad has also become real to me, and this has never existed prior to my exchange program.

Moreover, living in America, one does not get the same level of travel accessibility to other countries as compared to Europe and Asia. Whereas someone living in Asia has the whole continent almost all within a couple hours of flight time, someone in the U.S. does not have the same options. There’s only Canada to the north, Mexico to the south, and all other options within a short flight are pretty much limited to domestic travel.

On an off note, as an Asian-American living in the United States, sometimes I have had trouble understanding my racial identity. But going to Asia transformed that in a largely positive way. I now feel that the title of being Asian-American is very distinct and provides me with a best-of-both-worlds uniqueness.

In any event, being away from the home I have known for so long has made me very independent, open-minded, and understanding of different cultures. Through the times I had been solo backpacking in China, to solving the problem of my foreign friends’ language barrier in communicating with local Hong Kong people by actor as a translator, and diving headfirst into completely foreign cultures, all these experiences have been life-changing. And it would have never been possible had I not considered spending a semester studying in the heart of Asia’s financial center.

And to anyone questioning whether he or she should study abroad, my advice is: don’t hesitate and do it. The chance to be living for a semester to a year in a different country may never come up again. The benefits greatly outweigh the potential cons. It seems that everyone comes back as a much better rounded person, even different. And in my case, I have learned more in four months here (including academic courses, travel experience, other people, etc.) than I have in the last couple of years. Without sugarcoating my four months, I would still say it was the best time of my life, and I am so thankful for Northwestern University and the faculty who helped me along the way, the Gilman Scholarship, and my friends and family into making this dream of being abroad a reality and a stepping-stone into a professional career.

And as a Chinese proverb states, “It is better to have traveled ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books.”

Thank you everyone.

Yours truly,

Victor J. Liu

Çay, the beautiful tea

Note to reader: Details in the story may or may not be exaggerated. Read at your own discretion

In Turkey, I drink çay tea everyday. Usually like 3-4 glasses a day. A çay a day keeps the doctor away, right?! Anyways, the history of çay in Turkey dates back very long and has a sophisticated relationship with the nation’s important historical events. An old man explained to me its origins at a tea house near Taksim Square.


As many of you know, Turkey was located on the silk road, a crucial trade path between Europe and the far East. Because of this, Turkey was exposed to a lot of merchants transporting various goods across the nation. One of the merchants who traversed this perilous terrain was Farco Yolo, the younger sibling of his more well-known brother. Because of his brother’s success, Yolo always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. At home, he would overcompensate by wearing expensive robes and driving around fancy carriages, courting women who were only interested in his family’s wealth, not his insecure personality. Yolo hired artists to paint him with these women, and he would post these paintings on the town square, despite absolutely no one caring.


So in a vain effort to usurp his brother as the most successful man in the family, Yolo embarked for the far East with an ill-conceived plan to establish improved relations with China. He was always a rather spontaneous man, one with a tendency to make rash and immature decisions justified by the blatantly foolish logic that he only has one life to experience.


However, in Turkey, the cracks in his plan began to show. Because of the Anatolian heat, his horses all died. Yolo was forced to trek along the road, dragging along the goods he was planning to bring to China. At one point, he had to lighten his bag, and so he stupidly threw out a light bag of red tea leaves.


Yolo would not make it to China. Shortly after, his parents picked him up in a private camel.


Anyways, the red tea leaves were picked up by the local Turkish villagers, perplexed by this foreign substance. Being Turkish, they tried to smoke it at first, but its effects were not soothing or pleasant. However, the leaves would make a “chhaii”sound when they burned, which led to the origin of its name. Later, they found that boiling it and drinking the hot soup delivered a tasty beverage. It was then that çay in Turkey was officially conceived. Here, centuries later, people like myself come from all over the world to Turkey and enjoy a refreshing glass of this delicacy.

Back Home

When I was leaving HKUST, I was unsure how I would “go back to normal” as it were, and re-adjust to being in the US again. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turned out to be easier than I thought. That is one of the things I think I gained from studying abroad and travelling around, I feel like I gained some ability to adjust to new situations a bit quicker. I honestly haven’t reflected on my time at HKUST too much yet, since I’ve been busy getting ready for the quarter, seeing family, and figuring out my plans for after I graduate. I know for sure that I really enjoyed my time in Hong Kong and travelling around Japan, Thailand, and China, and that I met some really cool people, had some great food, and took an absurd number of pictures that I need to sort through. However, perhaps because I want to assign some meaning to my time there, I feel like I also gained some kind of perspective during my time abroad.

Outside of the obvious perspective-broadening one can get from talking to people from different countries about their views on various topics from pizza to gun rights to the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, I feel like I learned a little bit about myself, to be super cliche. I certainly wasn’t going to HKUST to do any soul-searching or anything, but when I got there and experienced living in another country, meeting new people, and having a lot of the things I take for granted being completely different (you can’t get pizza delivery in Hong Kong after 11 PM as far as I could tell, I know, an earth-shattering paradigm shift). I had to re-examine some of my thoughts and opinions. I’m not sure I really changed my mind on anything too substantial, but the process of examining things was valuable in itself, or so I’m telling myself (literally, I’m not convinced that this blog is being read by enough people to qualify it as anything other than a diary).

I’m not sure if being abroad was necessary for this process, though it definitely made it more fun and interesting, and I now want to travel much more. I think that it’s easy for me to kind of feel like I’m on a track, like, gotta get through midterm week, finals week, this quarter, my time at Northwestern, my education as a whole, and then I can kind of be off this track. I know it’s not really true, and I really enjoy my time at Northwestern (though I can’t say the same for some finals weeks), and I’m incredibly privileged to have that kind of track obviously, but at the same time I kind of wanted a break from that, and studying abroad let me do that. As a result, I feel like I’m ready to embrace life at Northwestern again for the few months I have left. It has also helped me to deal with the anxiety/sadness that come with knowing that I’m going to graduate from Northwestern this year. I’m incredibly grateful that I got the chance to study abroad at HKUST, even though I realize I haven’t actually talked much about Hong Kong or HKUST in this post, but I highly recommend studying abroad for whatever reason to those with the opportunity to do it.

Me deeply contemplating life  after being up for 24 hours in Japan.

Me deeply contemplating life after being up for 24 hours in Japan.

Me thinking about the philosophy of Bruce Lee outside of the Hong Kong Heritage museum

Me thinking about the philosophy of Bruce Lee outside of the Hong Kong Heritage museum

Grazie mille, Milano

Milano, Munich, Paris, Florence, Cinque Terre, Expo, Modena, Brescia, Parma, Torino, Siena, Bordeaux, Cremona, Budapest, Naples, Sorrento, Positano, Rome.

Ever since my return to America (for a grand total of a week, if not less), I’ve been asked the same question, repeatedly: “How was your time abroad?” And amidst all the mumblings of, “Oh, it was good” and, “I had a lot of fun,” I have crafted an answer that realistically describes my experience without overwhelming the audience. Here goes nothing.

I would argue that my time abroad is similar to most peoples’. Traveling, eating and studying with international friends seem to be common denominators. However, my experience was defined by a much-welcomed onslaught of my just a few of favorite things (cue Julie Andrews). First, Milan Fashion Week: getting a front-row (just kidding, second-row) seat in the heart of one of the world’s fashion capitals gave me a good perspective on where I wanted to be in the industry of corporate fashion. This week of presentations, showrooms, premiers, runways and most importantly, networking easily defined my September.

Second, discovering my old soul: I mentally checked out of the whole stereotypical exchange experience pretty early on. As in, I couldn’t rationalize with myself partying at university-organized clubs until 4 in the morning. Instead, I met a group of like-minded individuals who enjoyed a similar lifestyle to mine. We would gather together often to combine our specialties. I would bring two or three types of wine according to each person’s flavor profile while others would cook their country’s food, provide specialty nightcaps, and choose the documentary for the night. These people would quickly become some of the main anchors of my oh-how-much-I-miss-exchange withdrawal period.

Lastly, the culture: as the only one in my friend group that spoke Italian, my experience at Bocconi was quite different. I had a group of Italian friends that were unabashed in berating me for my crass American habits, quickly helping me assimilate comfortably into the Milano lifestyle. I was friends with everybody on my block from my barber to my pastry chef (who sent me home with sacks of sweets and added me on Facebook). My last few days told me exactly what I was going to miss about this experience. Not so much the food, the culture or the traveling; those I can experience time and time again in the future. No, it was coming to terms with the fact that even if I return to Milano in the future, I will never again find the same conglomeration of individuals in one place, at one time. Which, needless to say, was inevitable and just gives way to even more fantastical experiences. However, I will admit that the past few days in America have been difficult in accepting the stark differences in my tastes towards certain quotidian matters. My roommates can comment on my subtle wailing.

I had found my rhythm in a world composed of people and experiences that catered to a world I’ve always imagined myself in. Today, I keep in mind my exchange experience as a goal for the future; perhaps I’ll do a master’s abroad, perhaps I’ll work abroad. Who knows, but I’m still on a travel-high and can’t wait to get back in the jetset lifestyle to see where it takes me.


Arrivaderci, Milano. Grazie mille e ti amo tantissimo.


Three and a Half Months Later…

by Ann Ku


I reminisced on all my good memories, sorrowfully said my goodbyes, packed my bags, and headed back to the US. Though I was happy to see my family, life back home has honestly consisted of a lot of ruminating…

On My Way Home…

On My Way Home…


One of the main reasons I studied abroad this semester is because I had been thinking about moving to Asia in the future. I wanted to take the chance to experience what it’s like to live abroad for a longer period of time. Thus, I spent the summer and fall abroad in Taiwan and Hong Kong, respectively. Coming back to the US honestly was really hard for me, and I felt a lot of homesickness for Asia.


Hong Kong Nighttime Skyline

Hong Kong Nighttime Skyline


Asia and the US are very different.

For one, life in the US is more spread out geographically. Most people have their own home or apartment complex and drive to their destinations and back. In Hong Kong, a large majority of people travel through the MTR – Mass Transit Railway. While I was there, I really enjoyed going on the MTR surrounded by people and sounds. Moreover, wherever I walked on the streets, crowds of people filled the areas. Many of my friends found this to feel claustrophobic, but I actually found it really nice to be like a community.


Crowd at The Peak

Crowd at The Peak


Another big part of my experience was being able to embrace the other half of my identity. Born and raised in the US, I’ve been used to the American lifestyle, culture, values, and even surroundings. The culture in Hong Kong is very different. Interacting with local Hong Kong students really widened my perspectives. For example, in Hong Kong, all high school seniors must take the public exam to enter university. The exam consists of many parts with a threshold for each part that all students must pass. As a result, a large number of students each year do not pass the public exam and have to wait one year to study and retake the exam. Understanding this part of their life really led me to realize how differently we grew up. Many say that Hong Kong students study a lot, but it’s important to understand how hard it is to even get into university. With that in mind, having hardworking students makes sense!

Beyond everything I mentioned, there were so many other things that I experienced and learned! But, if I were to sum it up, I’d say that it’s definitely important to travel or even to make friends from different cultures and hear their story and culture. It changes your life!

Those Were The Days…

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la…

Those were the lyrics from my a capella performance during my Singing on Stage course. As someone with little to no singing experience, I was surprised to have been able to put together such a performance by the end of the course.

A Capella Performance

A Capella Performance

Throughout the course, the instructor brought in experts to teach us how to sing with the right muscles, breathe through our stomach, and move with our whole bodies to the music we sing. I still remember reading the course syllabus on the first week of school:

Students, please prepare a song to sing solo in front of the class for the first class.

I had quite the nerves for that first day. Throughout the whole week, I’d sing alllll of me loves alll of you, desperately trying to memorize all the lyrics and sing all the notes in the right pitch. When the day came to perform, I was shaking all over and nervously attempted to produce the right words out of my mouth. Instead, alllll of you loves alll of me were the actual words that ended up slipping out… Nerves definitely got the best of me.

Since that week, I can say that I slowly developed the syndrome of no shame. Our class grew extremely close and comfortable with each other.  At one point in the class, the professor asked us to run across the room shouting at the top of our lungs – what once would’ve been an embarrassing task was no longer something we even had to hesitate to do.

I loved this course a lot – I’ve learned so much and the course has impacted me in many ways that go beyond singing. This course challenged me to take more risks and try new things when I go back to Northwestern. I’ve always thought about taking an art or video production course! The course also challenged me to rethink my perspectives on how much of an impact vulnerability can make on closeness between individuals. It was honestly being vulnerable and being there for each others’ mistakes and embarrassing moments that really brought our class together.

This class is definitely one I’ll never forget!


by Ann Ku


by Annalie Jiang


Closing up on my last week of study abroad, I decided to reward myself with a post-exam journey to Strasbourg, just for a day. Most everyone I knew was either taking exams or leaving for the holidays so I decided to set off solo, armed only with a Google Maps printout of the city, a scarf, and some snacks.

Located on France’s eastern border with Germany, the Alsatian capital is most well-known for its choucroute and its Christmas markets, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit, even if it would mean some long hours cramped on the night bus. Although it was eight in the morning when I arrived, I was still struck by the peaceful streets of Strasbourg lined along the Ill River, an atmosphere so different from the one in Paris despite the high season for tourism. As I spent the day sightseeing and eating across town, I marveled not only at the Christmas lights and the cathedral (complete with astronomical clock), but also the merging of French and German influences in the city. I saw it everywhere-in the architecture of the covered bridges, the food and street names.


The Covered Bridges, with Notre Dame of Strasbourg in the background.

The Covered Bridges, with Notre Dame of Strasbourg in the background.

Street illuminated with holiday lighting.

Street illuminated with holiday lighting.


Choucroute in a skillet.

Choucroute in a skillet.


This hybrid is not limited to only Strasbourg; my trip opened my eyes to the immense diversity of France, from Corsica and the Basque country in the south to Bretagne in the west and all the places in between. Upon my return I discussed with my host father the variety to be found in France and the United States; of course they have the incredible world cities of Paris and New York, but it’s important to wander a bit and see what lies beyond. Additionally, I realized that all of this diversity exists on such a small land, complete with different dialects and contrasting landscapes compacted into an area a little smaller than the size of Texas. Indeed, France has good reason to hold the honor of the most visited country in the world.

My Last Days in Europe

As I write these words, I’m sitting in the airport in Dublin (where I’ve had to go through security twice since stepping off the plane!), awaiting my return plane to Chicago (and then onto Columbus, Ohio). I’ve left Paris for the last time—or at least until I return again, which is at a yet unknown point in the future. For my penultimate blog post, I thought I’d share with you all my last few weeks in Europe.

Enjoying my last week in Europe, with the skyline of Prague behind me

Enjoying my last week in Europe, with the skyline of Prague behind me

After the extremely stressful first week of December, in which I had a ten-page paper, a quiz, a book presentation, and two finals, I was done with all but one of my classes. At Sciences Po, there are 12 weeks of regular classes and then a week of “make-up” classes—if one of your classes is canceled, you are required to make it up (perhaps because their semester is so much shorter than a normal one), and this week is intended for those make-up classes. Somehow, every single one of my classes had been canceled at least once, and some twice, and so I actually had an extra class that week. The only Sciences Po classes that finish after this week are their lecture classes, which meet twice a week instead of once a week. Lecture classes have finals for a week and a half before the semester ends, and you don’t find out when your finals are until about halfway through the semester (it is very different from Northwestern in this respect). My last final was on Friday, December 11, relatively early in Sciences Po’s finals week, so I had an entire week to relax and study before finishing up my stint as a French student.

I had decided that the weekend of December 5-6, my last weekend in Paris, would consist of me enjoying the city to the fullest. Unfortunately, my plans were derailed when I came down with my first illness in several years on Saturday, and could do nothing but lie in bed and rest. On Sunday, I managed to visit the Musée de Cluny, which is Paris’ medieval museum, and go on a mini shopping spree, which I finished by eating at Café Med, an absolutely delicious crepe restaurant on Ile-Saint-Louis which is usually completely full. In what could only be a sign, there was one table open when I stepped inside—and I snapped it up immediately. Culture, shopping, food—it was a perfectly Parisian day.

The moment my final ended on Friday, I bolted out of the classroom. Sitting downstairs, I watched as the various members of my class trickled out to join us.  Over the semester, I had grown to become friends with many of them, including three who became my closest friends in Paris—Kelsey, Jason and Pedro. Over dinner and drinks in a nearby restaurant popular with Sciences Po students, we toasted our success (or lack thereof) during the semester. One by one, everyone sadly said their goodbyes and left, until finally only a few of us remained. The goodbyes I had to say at the end of studying abroad were some of the saddest of my life, because I didn’t know when I would next see many of my new friends.

The next day, I headed to Prague, and later Vienna, with Jason, Pedro and Jason’s friend Ryan. I tearfully bid farewell to my roommate, who would be traveling with her boyfriend and his parents. Over the four short months we had lived together, we had gone from slightly awkward co-habitants to best friends who saw each other literally every day (not only were we in a class together, we also had many of the same friends.


My roommate and I at the cathedral in Chartres, one of the most famous churches in France

My roommate and I at the cathedral in Chartres, one of the most famous churches in France

The Spanish Synagogue in Prague, which is gorgeous and highly recommended if you ever go there

The Spanish Synagogue in Prague, which is gorgeous and highly recommended if you ever go there















I took full advantage of my last week in Europe, enjoying the endless Christmas markets, visiting the Castle of Prague and palaces of Vienna, exploring the classical music scene in Vienna, and buying lots of presents for my family and friends. In Prague, I slipped on the sidewalk on an extremely slipperly plastic bag (if you’ve ever experienced Evanston’s black ice, it was just as bad), and received a cut on the chin for my troubles—my last of the many bruises and cuts I got while abroad (I’m pretty clumsy). I even got to see my Northwestern friend Tiffany, who had been in Vienna all semester, for the fourth time since coming to France—that’s practically more than we saw each other spring quarter in Evanston! On Friday the 18th, I flew back to Paris, taking a detour to Rome’s airport along the way. Since I had been to both Vienna and Rome’s airports before, it was with an eerie sense of déjà vu that I awaited my planes (both delayed, of course). I spent that night packing my bags, with only a three hour break for sleep, and checked out of my apartment the next morning.


St. Charles Bridge in Prague

St. Charles Bridge in Prague.



I spent my very last day in Paris with my Floridian friend Angelique, who is half French and lives in Versailles. After lunch with her, I walked to the Gardens of the Palace, visiting the parts that I hadn’t yet been to. If you ever go to Versailles, don’t miss the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, the peasant village she built to amuse herself away from the pressures of the French court, and which is tucked away in the northern corners of the garden, far away from the palace. My last meal in France consisted of a savory crepe for dinner, and a sweet one for dessert, as I knew that America had a serious lack of good crepe places. Finally, I walked around Versailles, the town, which is a beautiful example of small-town France, and had a nice long think about all my favorite parts of studying abroad, and what I would change if I could go back in time and do it again. The next morning, I arose at 6 AM, ready for a very long day of traveling. After three planes, four security checks, and 25 hours, I finally arrived in my house in small-town Ohio, a far cry from the busy streets of Paris, and yet comforting nonetheless, and sat down to finish this blog post and enjoy the holidays with my family.