A New Adventure

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After months of packing and bumbling excitement, I’m finally 19 hours away from landing in the beautiful country of Singapore. Next to me, my mom sits with her Fodor’s Travel Guidebook for the 25 best places to visit in Singapore, amongst them the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Marina Bay Sands and the little islands around Singapore such as Sentosa! I leaf through the book and started my own bucket list- to take a night safari in the world’s first nocturnal zoo, to wander through the streets of Little India and Arab Street, and to learn Singlish- a local combination of English and Singaporean language.

The National University of Singapore does a good job of making resources available to exchange students who want to connect with the locals. Already, I feel like I already know people in Singapore- my exchange pal Glennys, my residential house the Dragons (every third floor of my residential college is named after a winged mythical creature), and activities planned for when I arrive (a welcome tea, an Exchange Student Party), and consistent emails have ensured that I already feel like I’m at home even though I’m thousands of miles away!

Although I’m nervous for the journey ahead, I’m also excited. I’m excited to try new foods (such as baked stingray and durian fruits), meet new people, and grow as a person (I’ve never traveled abroad independently for so long). With my passport in one hand and a luggage in the other, I know I’m ready for the adventure ahead.

8,434 Miles from Home

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Well, this is it. After so many weeks of going to travel doctors, submitting forms, applying for housing, buying new clothes suitable for hot weather, and booking flights, I’m finally ready to leave for Singapore, my new home for the next 4 months. It still seems completely surreal that I’ll be experiencing such a different culture and environment for so many weeks. I’m not sure whether I feel more excited or nervous — probably an equal mixture of both.

Between all the preparations I’ve been tackling this summer, I’ve also created a bucket list for my semester in Singapore. Although 4 months sounds like a long time, I know it will fly by without me even realizing it, and I want to make sure that I take advantage of every opportunity I have. Besides exploring all the food, architecture, shopping, and culture that Singapore has to offer, I also want to visit other nearby Southeast Asian countries. Even if it’s just for a couple of days, I’d love to visit Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and any other places I can manage to fit in.

Leaving the comforts of my home and Northwestern makes me nervous, but also incredibly eager for something so unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. I know living in Singapore won’t always be easy or secure. Yet it’s this unknowingness that will make the semester a life-changing one, as cliche as that sounds. I know I’ll return to Northwestern with a broader cultural viewpoint than I could have ever imagined.

Small country, big changes

Anytime I tell someone that I’m studying abroad in Singapore, I get the usual comments about how one cannot chew gum or spit without a hefty fine, or some even claim that there are jail sentences for such a seemingly minuscule act. When I think of Singapore, I too hold these stereotypes, and I’m excited to see which actually hold up to be true and which are just over-exaggerated rumors.

For a small island, Singapore has a diverse group of cultures, which was also a primary reason for choosing Singapore as my exchange institution. I’m excited to explore the various cultures that are part of Singapore, try out local foods in hawker center ranging from Indian to Malaysian cuisines, and become friends with the local students of Singapore.

Academically, I have not gotten all the modules (courses) that I would have liked to take, but there is a module add/drop period when school starts so I’m very much hoping that there will be some classes open during that period. I’m not sure how much different the academic environment is going to be in Singapore, but I think it will be just as academically stimulating as in Northwestern, and I’m hoping to learn a lot and experience a different academic setting.

The past month has been hectic, as I had to apply for housing, modules, visa, and foreign bank accounts. I’m constantly worried that I may have forgotten something important, but the advisers from both NUS and Northwestern has helped tremendously to relieve my worries and the only step left now is to arrive on their campus. Singapore maybe a small country, but it will be a big leap of difference from Northwestern, and I can’t wait for it.

 

 

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Reflection after a Long Quarter

It’s taken me forever to get around to writing this post, and for that, I am sorry. From the very beginning of the quarter, I was crazy busy, and it never really got better. From sorority and internship recruitment to my independent study and extracurricular work, every second of this quarter seemed to be full of work.

I had a much harder time adjusting back to Evanston than I had anticipated, despite knowing what was to come. In Paris, I had no responsibilities, other than classwork, and I spent nearly every weekend traveling abroad or exploring Paris and its surrounding cities. Coming back, I was suddenly expected to return to the insanely stressful life of a Northwestern student, with hardly an adjustment period in between. I also had to deal with some personal issues that cropped up a week before I left Paris, and continued to plague me all quarter, so it was not easy. Luckily for me, this was the warmest winter Chicago’s had in years and years, and so the weather didn’t lower my mood as much as it usually does during winter.

Despite the difficult parts, I still find myself remembering Paris just about every day. I’ve taped a map of Paris up above my bed, so I can look at it every night as I fall asleep. This sounds very cheesy, but I adore looking at all the places I’ve visited and enjoyed.

Embracing life abroad. Thank you Paris.

Embracing life abroad. Thank you Paris.

Before I left for Paris, everyone told me how much fun I would have. I’d had lots of experience with things in college that everyone said were amazing but turned out to be totally overrated, and truthfully, I expected Paris to be similar. But against my own expectations, and despite the horrible bureaucracy, occasionally frustrating attempts at communication, and inflated prices, I fell in love with Paris and everyone I met. I loved speaking French most of the time, I loved eating delicious food, I loved meeting interesting people from all over the world, and I loved the opportunities afforded to me by NU and Sciences Po. Despite the difficult parts of returning, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, and, in fact, hope to work and live in Europe one day. I still keep in contact with most of my friends from abroad, and I hope that we’ll remain friends for a long time, held together by the amazing memories we made. After all, we’ll always have Paris.

 

Carefree lyfe man

During exchange, reality is suspended for four months. Being away from the pressures of student life at Northwestern along with significant distance from the responsibilities of reality produces a relaxed environment. This gives you opportunity to explore a new environment, experience a different part of the world, and meet new people. The çay breaks are long, the lunch breaks longer, and the three day weekends spoiled me.

For the first time in awhile, school was not an overwhelming burden and I finally had the time to introduce some more variety into my life. I read for enjoyment, something I haven’t done in years, finishing off a few biographies of comedians. I exercised more and played quite a bit of soccer and Frisbee.  I also got the chance to sightsee places that I’ve dreamed of visiting.

But above all of that, I just enjoyed hanging out with new faces that I’ve grown to cherish as friends. Although exchange is short, there is a desire to hang out and do as much as you can due to the fact that it is temporary with a quickly approaching finale. This shared urgency is really what allowed me to get close to a lot of people in such a short period time. During the last month and a half in Istanbul, I feel like I really lived, rarely saying no to a new or unfamiliar experience. In some ways, I hope this carries over to life in America.

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Ortaköy Mosque

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Brain Salad, yum

Pausing

You’re not always on high alert while abroad; while you’re obliviously eating your croissants and adding stuff to your snapchat story. Events like the 13th of November are something no one ever imagines, but the horrific truth is that they happen, and this happened. I have at this point been all too close to too many of these big events. I was six and confused being taken out of school on 9/11, and 21 and crying watching the news in Paris, waking up in London to a text about stabbings in the tube, and blithely wandering around Istanbul right between two separate attacks in Turkey. I’ve dodged too much at this point, I’m too close to all of it, and I feel as though that’s all I can say. There’s no blog post that I can write that will say anything more profound or more profoundly offensive than all the journalists and over-excited Twitter users have already covered. For me, it’s simple silence in the wake of shock that, devastatingly, just isn’t as shocking as it should be.

I think in terms of this blog entry and how this all relates to the exchange experience, it’s important to remember that going abroad is not a fantasy, it’s a fantastic opportunity to gain practical and meaningful life experience. Europe is not an amusement park, it’s not just fashion and food and dancing. If you come here, if you study abroad anywhere, and particularly if you choose exchange, it should be in answer to an express desire to grow up.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.