Friday, October 17, 2014

Sawaddee kha!

Mahidol University International College Overview

Mahidol University International College, often referred to as "the IC" around campus, is merely a cluster of buildings within Mahidol University in Salaya. The university itself is quite large, with several canteens in different faculty buildings and an almost infinite number of spots to eat, study, or relax. There is a restaurant in the IC called the Herb Garden and small cafes where hotel management and business students can work and receive training. I have heard estimates of about 20% international students and 80% local students, and it certainly looks like it, but don't quote me on that. The campus is beautiful! Mahidol actually has other campuses: Bangkok Noi and Phayathai, which house medicine (and hospitals) and other sciences including dentistry and pharmacy. It's a huge university that seems to only be making more strides this year. My roommate, who is Thai, says Mahidol is ranked #1 in the country this year. I'll take her word for it!
On the edge of Mahidol University's campus
I'm taking mostly elective classes considered to be lower-division at HPU, but as a senior, I believe you can still challenge yourself in any class to keep up your academic momentum. MUIC's extracurricular life is actually quite active. I stopped by the Writer's Club, Photo Club, Muay Thai Club, Volunteer Club, and Art Club. There's definitely something for everyone, and it's possible to create a new club or group. Several guys in my dorm have even organized informal football (soccer) games.

Daily Life

I had a surprisingly easy time adjusting to the local culture, though it took a while longer to get accustomed to things like transportation and the language barrier. Personally, I found the culture to be familiar in many ways because I have lived in Hawaii and the Philippines. Lots of rice and noodles, and I was not too surprised by the amount of spiciness in the food. However, it's easy to ask for no spice, or just "nitnoy"--"a little"!
Because Salaya is not a huge city like Bangkok, you might notice here how incredibly kind and accommodating the locals are to non-locals needing help. The only downside is that outside of cities, it can be difficult to communicate as not as many people speak English. Fortunately, signs and menus do have English and photos; in a pinch, you can simply point, nod, and hold up numbers on your fingers, but it feels better to practice speaking Thai when ordering, asking for directions, or telling the taxi driver where to go.
A tuktuk in Bangkok's Chinatown
Transportation is a bit tricky at first. The taxis start at 35 baht (~$1). It's easy to compare taxi prices to the U.S. and think it's a great deal, which it is, but buses and minivans are cheaper; the caveat is they require some time to get used to. Mahidol actually has shuttle vans that can take students to various malls and into Bangkok for free. Be wary of tuktuks in cities like Bangkok and Pattaya; in the latter city, you could be charged upwards of 100 baht for just a few minutes.
The Green Park neighborhood's spirit houses
Everywhere you go, you'll be reminded of two things: the royal family, and Thai Buddhist practices (including animism). In shops, outside of establishments, and even along the roads, there are photos of he King and Queen with ornate frames, sometimes with flowers or other decorations. There are also small areas in each shop or restaurant, sometimes on a shelf or a small platform on the floor, where the owners will place offerings in Buddhist fashion. Finally, in every house--even my dorm's neighborhood--you'll find small spirit houses with similar offerings of food, drinks, and flowers to the spirits of the land. Thais believe that each part of the land, from homes to large, empty fields, is home to a local spirit/guardian. (Learn more about spirit houses on

Green Park Home

In front of Green Park Home
I may be biased, but Green Park Home has to be the best Mahidol dorm! It is small but very cozy, with a central common room where it is easy to meet and simply hang out with international and Thai students alike. I felt a great sense of tightly-knit community from my very first day here, even though I moved in later than everyone else. We (try to) have daily workout sessions, occasionally go out to eat together, or just have a chill movie night in. We consider our housekeeper as more of a "house mom"; she's very sweet and funny, knows us all by name, and even cooks for us. Just a minute's walk out of the Green Park neighborhood are several restaurants, cafes, street food vendors, and a 7-Eleven (there has to be at least one 7-Eleven per block in Thailand...). A five-minute walk brings you to Image Mall, which has not only shops and restaurants, but also an open market on the weekends where you can buy produce, clothing, and other goodies. While the dorm is a 10-15 minute drive to the university, there is a regular shuttle van every weekday. It is also near the main road, making it easy to catch a taxi, bus, or minivan to Bangkok. Because my roommate is a local Thai, she has been extremely helpful when it comes to finding out the best places to find groceries, shop more cheaply, and overall just getting around daily. I think I chose the right dorm!

Even More Traveling Plans

Phrayanakhon Cave in Hua Hin
It seems as if the Green Park community is in a perpetual state of planning the next trip. My next adventure will take me and a few others to Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong (Lantern Festival) in November. I'm very excited, as not only will we experience this beautiful once-a-year festival, but we've also booked a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, a famous elephant sanctuary which allows visitors and volunteers to feed and bathe elephants that were formerly exploited for elephant rides. I know it's very popular for visitors to ride elephants in Thailand, but knowing that I can hang out with and learn more about elephants in a responsible way is more than good enough for me! After the elephant sanctuary, we're heading 2-3 hours north to Chiang Rai to  visit perhaps the Mae Kok River and the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) before heading back to Bangkok.
This weekend is actually the very first weekend I've spent at home in Salaya. I've already taken many weekend trips with my fellow Green Park residents. Our previous destinations included: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Koh Larn, Ko Chang, and Hua Hin. Each location is quite unique, rich in history, and has an adventure of its own; Salaya itself has a couple of historical sites. I'll share more about these places  in the next blog! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hello/Aloha/안녕하세요 from South Korea

여러분, 안녕하세요!저는 얼재이 가윌리 입니다. 지금 대한민국에서 공부하고 있어요. 반갑습니다!
Translation: Hello, everyone! I am Earl Jay Caoile. I am now studying in South Korea. Nice to meet you!

My language classmates and I (graduation of SKKU SLI 3-week language program)

It has been a little over a month since the fall semester began in South Korea. For whatever reason, the fall semester starts at the same time as HPU, but the spring semester doesn't start until March. Oh well, that's a problem I will worry about later.

Samsung Library at SKKU Suwon Campus

Anyway, I have actually been in South Korea since August 1st of this year. I am studying at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) Natural Sciences Campus (성균관대학교자연과학캠퍼스) in Suwon. In order to more smoothly integrate myself into this country, I decided to take a 3-week language class in addition to the one semester of Korean language I took at HPU. This was done through the same school except I attended their Seoul campus. My language proficiency is definitely not enough yet, but I do have a certain edge over the majority of exchange students. If anyone else is considering studying abroad, I would recommend learning as much of the host country's language as possible.

Banpo Bridge (failed attempt at a water show - too much wind)

I noticed there is a recent post of South Korea before me so I will try not to be redundant. I think a more personal perspective will help keep things unique. I remember during the exchange student orientation a warning about culture shock. I somewhat knew what to expect coming to Korea so I was not too surprised by what I saw after arriving. The one frustrating thing about living in Korea is my lack of language proficiency. Unfortunately, that means a lot if you want to communicate with people.

Exchange Students and HI-Club Members at SKKU Orientation Party

There seem to be plenty of exchange students who are perfectly content with not learning the language here, and that totally blows my mind. The old folks in particular open up to you if you're at least making an effort to speak in their language. I was totally expecting elders to dislike foreigners, but there have been a few occasions where elders helped me out when I was lost. They did so without me even asking!

녹차 빙수탑 [nokcha bingsutap] - green tea ice cream dessert of sorts

오묵 [omuk] - fish cake

There is a lot that I could talk about, but one of the most important subjects to me is food. While Korea as a whole doesn't have tons of high-class food, they do have a lot of food, in my opinion, that is at least good. I think the real downside is that the imported foods tend to cost considerably more. As a result, it is easy to get burnt out on Korean food if you are used to the variety that Americans have. Fortunately for me, I receive a monthly housing allowance through the GI Bill, and I am not afraid to spend it on food. Nom nom nom!

Dynamic Duo (Korean hip hop group) at SKKU Fall 2014 Student Festival

I really have mixed feelings about living here, but I think at this point I would rather be in South Korea than back in Hawaii. I hate to admit it, but despite some shortcomings that SKKU may have, they put so much more effort into both their campus and the school activities for both locals and foreigners. I understand that there are budget/land restrictions that prevent HPU from doing more, but the college environment can do a lot for a student's morale.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Aloha from Gulu, Uganda (SIT Post-Conflict Transformation)

On our drive to Rwanda:

My name is Leissan and I am studying abroad in Gulu, Uganda this semester with the School of International Training (SIT) focusing on post-conflict transformation.  We have spent time in Gulu, Kitgum (rural north, near South Sudan), Kampala and now we are in Kigali, Rwanda. 

While in Gulu we went to the king’s palace in Gulu.  It was very interesting meeting with the rwot (king) and talking to him about some of the roles that the king plays in the community.  It is very traditional.  The king is hereditary and a lot of trust is placed in him.  One example he was giving us deals with immunization initiatives.  The people would look to the rwot to decide whether or not they should have their children be immunized.  Some other roles that the king has involve cultural preservation and development.  We also had a chance to walk around the compound and see some artifacts.  At the end, we enjoyed a ceremony of dancing and singing at the palace.  The dancers also invited us to dance with them, and while we were making our way up to the “stage” you could hear people saying “munu dance, munu dance.”  Definitely was a good time!

We also spent time at the Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G) site.  It was very humbling to hear about their work.  They are involved in women’s rights issues including health, peace building and peace conflict resolution, and economic empowerment, to name a few.  Unfortunately, it rained too much for us to actually go out to a site and see some of the work that they do first-hand, but hopefully we can come back another time.  These are just a couple of the sites we visited.

While in Kitgum, we stayed with local families in traditional grass huts.  Unfortunately, my rural home-stay was cut short because I fell sick my first night.  I spent two days and one night at the hospital.  Not only was this my first time in the hospital, it was in rural Uganda.  The facility was very nice and I was able to recover within a week. 

Before leaving for Kigali, Rwanda, we had a chance to visit Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) in Kampala, Uganda.  We had a chance to talk with some of the refugees and hear their stories.  The way that the refugees were able to come together and organize themselves to help each other out is no less than amazing.  They are completely independent of the government, and are supported by outside donations and also by portions of some of the income the members are able to generate.  The women’s group, that partners up with YARID, makes different types of bags and such, they then sell it which allows them to generate income for the group.  Seeing the organization and talking with the refugees was absolutely incredible and very humbling.  It really provides perspective and makes you think twice about the problems that you are facing.  Your problems become so small compared to some of the issues that they are facing.

Following our interaction with urban refugees, we visited the Nakivale Refugee Settlement.  We also had a chance to talk with the refugee population.  It’s also very humbling to hear about their stories and how they have come together.  One of the groups that we talked to was able to generate funding to build an adult school.  The school would employ the refugee population allowing them to make money in a trade other than farming.

While in Rwanda, we will be visiting a lot of memorials.  I am taking time to prepare for the week ahead, as I am anticipating it to be very emotional.  
-Leissan S.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Aloha from Korea!

Changdeokgung Palace
Annyeonghaseyo! ("hello" in Korean)

It's been about a month since I first arrived in Korea and it's been a blast so far! Within the weeks I've been here, I've made a lot of friends from both Korea and around the world; I'm grateful for that. My adventure so far has been filled with traveling to different cities, trying new foods, experiencing authentic Korean culture, and of course having fun!

When I first seen how visually different this place was, I was even more excited to explore this it's beauty. Studying and living in the countryside of Korea (Sinchang), I feel that I can grasp more of the authenticity of Korean culture.

Being here in Korea really opened my eyes to a whole new world. Studying here at Soon Chun Hyang University and staying in their 'Global Village' dormitory, I'm learning a lot of new things everyday about Korean culture. In my suite, I live with a large number of Korean students. Not only they were welcoming, but they really had an interest in learning more about my culture as much as I wanted to learn about theirs. I often learn a lot of useful Korean words and phrases from my suite mates a.k.a. my suite brothers. With that, I also try to understand their customs and traditions. This usually means the customs of eating, drinking, and also addressing elders. Significantly, these customs focus around the idea of 'respect'.

Changdeokgung Palace
In addition to developing friendships with a lot of Korean and international students, I've been traveling around learning about Korean history, food, pop culture (fashion, music, art), and business. During my trips to Seoul, I would usually try to visit few historical places such as Changdeokgung Palace. This palace is one of five "Grand Palaces" built by kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Another place I visited was Bongeunsa Temple which allowed me to see some religious practices take place. I've also visited Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower) which gave me an awesome 360 degree view of Seoul.

Namsan Tower
When it comes to food, I can't complain. Not only the food here is cheap, but you'll definitely get a lot more than what you pay for. For example, a bi bim bap (mixed rice dish) in Hawaii would cost around $8-$9. Here in Korea, it will cost about half the price, so about $4. I'm always open to trying new foods and with my experience so far, I enjoyed everything I tasted. From street food (tteokbokki, mandoo, kimbap, fried squid), raw beef, bi bim bap, spicy chicken, and kampitang (just to name a few), I'm satisfied with not just the price of each dish, but how delicious the food is here. To be honest, I might've gained a pound or two in first week I arrived. There's a lot more things I do want to try while I'm here.

Samgyeopsal dinner with my suite brothers in Sinchang
Here's a few things about the eating culture in Korea: 
  • Sharing food is common (eating from the same pot)
  • Table is always filled with Banchan (unlimited side dishes)
  • Oldest usually eats first
  • Rice, Soup, Chopsticks & Spoon, Main Dish
  • Sometimes drinking (soju, beer, makgeolli) while eating
  • Slurping is okay (noodles)
 It's really interesting to see how different their culture is when it comes to eating with others.

Alongside this unique characteristic of Korean culture, pop culture is something that makes Korea come alive. If you're walking down the streets of Seoul, you
"Selfie" in the streets of Myeongdong
can definitely here k-pop songs on every street block or corner. Whether it was shopping in Dongdaemun or Myeongdong, I would often hear these kinds of songs and at times sing along to them. They're pretty catchy once you hear them a bunch of times. I also noticed how everyone here is fashionable. It's really interesting to see how similar everyone dresses. Reflecting on my sense of style, I feel that I do dress a little different from the Koreans. One significant thing to keep in mind would be the clothing size. I wear mediums in America, but here, I'm more of a large. Clothing sizes run pretty small in Korea. I learned my lesson after buying a medium shirt that almost fit like a rash guard.

When I first went shopping in Seoul, I was introduced to the concept of bargaining. Similar to it's already fast-paced lifestyle, street vendors try to sell their products as quickly as possible. Bargaining usually refers to getting something for a cheaper price. I've experienced this situation about 5-7 times now and I always find it so unique. There were some cases when some of the ahjummas (older ladies) would stare at me for a while, trying to convince me to buy a shirt or backpack. One good bargaining experience I had was getting back pack for half the price. Instead of a $40 bag, I got the bag for $20. It was an interesting, funny, and lucky experience. I'm sure that I will encounter a lot more bargaining in the near future.

As I write about my first month here in Korea, I really have a lot more to say and a lot more to show. I often wake up in the morning and realize that I'm thousands of miles away from home and yet, I'm making the best of my time abroad. So far, I'm really grateful to have the opportunity to experience something so unique. I still have a lot more things to explore and experience before traveling back home. This is only the beginning of my wonderful adventure!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So far in Spain... (Picture story)

My camera did not turn on once I got here so at the pictures I've taken with my phone Have Been!
Our first meal!


Relaxing at Retiro Park

My roomates and I! More sightseeing

The famous Paella (homemade)! Truly amazing!

Our stay in Granada!


My first soccer game! Real Madrid


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Picture post

I'm back sooner than I thought! Spent my lunch hour trying to upload some pictures for you, it's not a lot, but it is some of what we have done, and it's all I had time for because it took a while..

The first picture is from Prison 4, which was interesting, but also terrible to see how the prisoners were kept in this awful place. It was overcrowded to an extent that was not humane and they lived in terrible conditions.

This picture is from inside the Constitutional Court, I don't remember exactly what the guide said, but it is a kind of logo to represent the new South Africa.

This is also from inside the Constitutional Court and it is a quote by Mandela.

The Voortrekker Monument.
Climbing the Voortrekker Monument.
Statue of Mandela outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
I didn't mention this in my last post, but we went to Giraffe House which is a wildlife awareness center, and this is my new friend.
The Giraffe House obviously has giraffes.
Just before we moved in with our host families, we did a hike up Lions Head, and this is the view from about half way up.
As we climbed higher the view got worse and worse, and eventually we couldn't see anything.
We made it to the top!
The view of Table Mountain when we walk from the classroom to where the gym and all the shops are.
My house in Langa.
My street in Langa.
Outside of my little side street in Langa.
Another thing that I didn't really talk about yesterday is the amazing food my mama cooks. Everyday we have an amazing dinner and I eat way too much. Apparently my mama also cooks a lot more vegetables than many of my classmates mamas do, which is really nice. But yesterday I probably had the most interesting food experience, on the menu for the day was Chicken Heart Stew. I was kind of hesitant when she told me what it was, but I have to say, I was positively surprised, it was not too different from any other part of a chicken. And with the sauce from the stew and the steamed bread, it was actually really good!
That's it for today!

Monday, September 15, 2014


New blogger! Since this is my first post on this blog, let me take a few sentences to introduce myself. My name is Sanna Strand, and I’m an International Studies major at HPU. I’m a junior or senior, depending on how you see it. I’m technically two credits away from being a senior, but since I will graduate next semester, let’s just say I’m a senior. I am also an international student, originally from Sweden. But this semester, however, I am neither in Hawaii nor in Sweden, I’m in South Africa. Right now I am in my classroom in Rondebosch in Cape Town.

So, a little more about my study abroad experience. I am abroad with an organization called SIT Study Abroad. The program I’m at is called Multiculturalism and Human Rights, and it is based here in Cape Town, but we have, and will, visit other places too. The reason I chose to go abroad with SIT is that all their programs are field based, which means that I didn’t just come to Cape Town to attend classes at a university just like I do in Hawaii, I wanted an experience that was more different. This includes living in four different homestays, learning to speak one of South Africa’s official languages, isiXhosa, and going on excursions in the country. 

I got to South Africa a little over two weeks ago. I won’t go into detail of what we have done since then because this post would be way too long if I did that. Anyway, I flew into Johannesburg where we were supposed to spend the first few days. I managed to meet up two people from my group and after a while we got picked up by some guy. We were taken to the hostel where we were going to live while we were in Johannesburg. The rest of the day our group was just getting to know each other, which was a fun experience because there are not a lot of shy people in this group. After about two days together it felt like we had known each other for months rather than days. There are 23 people in this group, 6 guys, which is apparently a record for this program. We were in Johannesburg for four days, and each day was packed with activities. We went to the Apartheid Museum, Pretoria, Constitution Hill, the Voortrekker Monument, Soweto, Mandela’s house, and a bunch of other places, and we also did a lot of “bonding”-activities.

After the first four days in Johannesburg we flew to Cape Town where we will spend most of the semester. The first four days we lived in a hostel. Our days were still filled with activities and classes, but on the evenings we had some free-time to have dinner on our own, and we also went out for a few beers and drinks most nights.

On Saturday last week, eight days after we got to South Africa, the adventure really started. We moved in with our first homestay family in Langa, which is a township here in Cape Town. Our group is divided into two groups, each group in one mini-bus that takes us to and from school. On the way to the homestays we were all starting to freak out. We were supposed to just move in with a family that we had never met, and live there, like a family-member, for three weeks. As I got off the bus I got really nervous, but luckily Tabisa, our program assistant, was with me and walked me over to the door. But when my Mama open the door, Tabisa left immediately, she had other students to introduce to their new moms. So there I was, alone in a house with my mom for the next few weeks. I knew that I would live with my mom, her daughter, and her granddaughter, but at the moment she was the only one there. We sat down in front of the TV and talked a little. She is not the most talkative and I didn’t really know what to ask her or talk about after a while so it was kind of nice that the TV was there.

So for the last nine days I’ve been living with this family and gotten to know them better. The granddaughter, Liyema, my sister, was really shy in the beginning but after a while she warmed up to me, and now she won’t really leave me alone for more than a few minutes. But I don’t mind, she is really cute and nice. My other sister is a few years older than me, and she doesn’t really spend that much time at home, so I don’t really know her that well yet. I do, however, spend more time with the neighbor kids, which are Liyema’s closest friends. There’s Lindokuhle who is 10, Afika who is 8, and then there’s Acwenga who is 3, and he is the cutest kid I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t speak any English yet, only Xhosa, but he is so happy and just smiles all the time.

Usually my days looks kind of like this: wake up at 6.30AM, breakfast, bus to school at about 7.10, arrive at about 8, free time until 9.30, we usually go to the gym, or work on stuff we have to do, then we have school until 5PM. Usually we get back to Langa at around 6PM, and then I just hang out with mama, have dinner at 7PM, then we watch TV until we go to bed at about 8.30-9.30PM. It’s been a long time since I slept this much, but it is almost making me more tired. The weekends look a bit different. We spend a lot more time with our families, and it’s during the weekends I play a lot with my sister and our neighbors. I also take walks with my mama, or walk over to some of my classmate’s houses, or they come over to my place, we’re pretty much free to do what we want, and so far we’ve been lucky and not had any big homework that needs to be done.
Don’t expect too much from me this semester when it comes to updating this blog. I only have internet when I’m in the classroom, and it is very limited, but I will do my best. Most posts will probably look like this, a lot of information but not too many details. Pictures will probably also be limited, but I’ll try to post some pictures later this week. Feel free to comment if there is anything you would like me to write more about.
So long,