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,

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Some things I've noticed about Madrid, Spain

One.   Everyone smokes. I Knew  many Europeans smoked but I never guessed there would be smoke everywhere.  Especially the students at my school. There's a break in a class longer than one hour, and without hesitation they 'take that chance to go smoke outside. I can not remember a day when I 'm not walking behind someone and get hit by a cloud of smoke unexpectedly. It's the norm.
Two. They  sure say ' Vale '  a lot.  It's their word for 'ok' and it's pretty amusing. I'm almost sure I will say it at Least Once before I leave. 
Three. DOGS! They're everywhere! It's so awesome! It's nice 15 dogs passing by on my way home. What a treat seeing furry friends Have the freedom to walk everywhere, and dine by Their owners in an outdoor restaurant.
. 4  There is literally a bar / coffee / club every other door.  It's neat. I am not much of a bar person but I do love how every one of them has a unique style and all of them look so homey! The ones by my host home make me want to go in them and read a book every time I pass by them. I have yet to do that.
. 5  These people  love  to party.  obviously it's Something I expected- Madrid! But it is amazing to me how you can leave your house at 1:00 a.m. and go get ice cream, walk around the city, go clubbing or bar hopping, and there are still plenty of people out around 6:00 a.m.. 
. 6  You learn to say 'NO'.  Being from Miami and living in Hawaii, I have not experienced many beggars or Promoters (ironically). Coming here was a hit in the face with people asking for stuff. I got so overwhelmed the first few times I went around the city there are Un Certain Because you reach spots where there is a flock of vultures That all you eat Towards rushing to Promote Their club or bar. When you say no the first time it's not good enough. They persist and persist until you almost Have to push them out of your way or yell at them. In the daytime, if you are enjoying your meal outside a restaurant, get prepared Because They will come for you. Promoters Not this time, but many gypsies and romans asking for change or money. Again, if you say no, they '' '' will stay there and ask you 5 more times. I'm learning not to smile politely and say not, but to simply say NO. That Normally works. I hate being mean, but: sometimes that's the only thing That Works. It is understandable the amount of People that do this, since the unemployment is about 35%, but again, it is something to get used to.
7. Ham is a staple.  If I still ate meat I would be a happy person. But after a year of not eating meat (only on very rare occasions), it's not the most pleasant smell when I 'pass by a meat market. Not sure if it's the freshly cut raw pork legs hanging by the window, or the pictures of cute little pigs on the glass door but I do not like it.  
8.  So many smells!   From the sweet smell of fresh baked bread in the morning to two minutes later smelling the garbage in the streets for only a second later to be hit by cigarette smoke and then sweetly fresh fruits Nose creeping into you, you never rich flavor can expect what you're going to smell.

9. Transportation. It's all about walking or riding trains / m here! Which is great for two reasons- you always stay fit (Relatively), and you get to see everything around you! All the cute little boutiques and stores, restaurants and cafes that you 'Would certainly miss if in a car. On the other hand for that second part, it Could Be really dangerous for your wallet to walk by all those cute places.
There are others That I can not think of now, things are expensive That except (other than Vuelos to other countries), But This trip is exciting and culture-shocking and perspective-changing and everything else! I'm glad I'm here but I know it's going to take a great deal of getting used to.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My first day in Madrid!

I can not believe I'm in Spain!
Left Hawaii at 8pm on Sunday night to Newark, New Jersey, Which was nine hours (!!!!) and had to stay in the airport for a whole 8 hours, just to catch a 7 hour flight all the way to gruesome Madrid, getting me here at 9:30 am on Tuesday. Needless to say I Only had six total hours of sleep in 24 hours (Which May be plenty for some of you but this girl loves her sleep!) I met a girl in the airport in Newark who was studying abroad Also, though in Granada, and we hit it along! (? Is that how you say that) When we got to Madrid, I met up with her and we tried to find our way around; Which cab or bus we needed to take, finding an ATM, etc. Once we got all that we Exchanged contact information, said our goodbyes and parted ways. Having someone that's going through the same process as you by your side makes the stress level decrease a ton. Speaking acerca stress! I had a freakout moment on the flight Because I had just realized That I am not going To have data, or wifi When I arrive at the airport and I did not even save my host mother's address in my phone! It was in my email, so all I Could acerca think was "how am I going to get there!" Luckily I had my visa papers Which Contained That information! So travlers future, plan ahead so You have to undergo Currently That stress.
Besides That, I caught a cab to my host home because i did not want to be traveling on trains and buses With All the baggage I had, and risk getting lost. The cab driver was very accommodating, pointing out That Were remarkable places in the That city and historical sites I should visit. We finally got to the street of where I'm staying but We had passed the apartment, so we HAD to do a couple more circles Because He kept taking the wrong turn (do not worry it did not cost me extra) and it was actually worth it Because by the time we finally arrived at the place, my host mother was just getting home! So she and her daughter in law Greeted me very joyfully and helped me carry my two heavy bags up four flights of stairs! The only thing on my mind then was "wow I am going to lose weight while I'm here." Immediately after she Showed me my room She Told me to sit on the dining table and served me breakfast, imagining That I was hungry (more like starving) and we chatted while I ate. She has this really funny That parrot will repeat anything it hears, and honestly it scared me Because it makes incredible: sometimes human voices. Anyway, right after I ate I went straight to my bed and collapsed. Could not I go to sleep right away because i have a balcony and I was just staring out and hearing the chatter outside. I wanted to meet my mates house but They Were in orientation, the way I was supposed to be, and I guessed they '' '' 'Because They Were not exploring went back after two hours after orientation ended. After falling asleep finally, I woke up a couple times thinking I slept till the next day and panicking thinking I missed the second day of orientation, but when I '' '' Realized I was good I fell right back asleep. I ended up sleeping for 6 hours, waking up, showering (my house mates Were still not here) and hanging out in my room. I was planning to take in my street to walk around 8PM, but by the time I was ready, my host mother HAD Announced That She was making dinner. Shortly after, my house mates arrived! They are super cool girls and all about me Told Their Day, and to little bit about themselves. One is Colombian and one is American, but they '' '' 'Both eating from Connecticut. 
Soon after they '' '' 'arrived, the food was on the table in September, looking amazing! Our host mother cooked us HAD pumpkin soup, grilled chicken (grilled chicken), croquettes (!!!), tomatoes and bread. The food was so amazing, but I was having trouble finishing Because first off, there was so much food! And second, I have been a pescatarian for a year now and I gave in to eating a piece of chicken and ham croquettes Which the HAD in them. When we were done, we Talked a bunch! I brought them a little gift from Hawaii, some necklaces and they '' '' loved it! They felt bad they did not get me anything.
After dinner, we made some plans for tomorrow since we have a campus tour. Now I am just in my room at 1:46 a.m., acerca to go to sleep after a long fun day! Can not wait to see the city tomorrow!

My apologies if there are many grammatical errors, it is Difficult writing straight on the blog since I'm using and it keeps translating Between Ingl├ęs and Spanish Constantly and deleting some of my words without me noticing. From now on I will write my entry elsewhere and then copy and paste!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Study Abroad Experience

I flew back into JFK about 5 weeks ago, ending roughly a year and half abroad. It was an amazing experience that went by way too quickly. At the time, I tried to live entirely in the moment and try to appreciate every minute of my experience. However, over the last month of being back in my home town of Meriden, Connecticut, I have had plenty of time to think over what I've been lucky enough to do. Some of the high lights include:

Exploring the temples from the movie Tomb Raider in Cambodia. 
Taking a short-cut to work by biking through an island with a castle on it in Schwerin, Germany.
Being part of 35,000 strangers who act like brothers in support of their local football team in London, England.
Parting with the locals in Oviedo, Spain.
Spending my birthday weekend in the "Miami" of South America, the city of Ponte Del Este, Uruguay.

Renting a car with a couple of Europeans I met in a hostel and exploring northern Patagonia.

Memories I will have forever.

A Quick Synopsis of The Last 18 Months

It all started in Fall 2012 when I agreed to go to Cambodia as part of Dr. Primm's international relations class. We left for Penom Pehn on New Years Eve, and spent 3 weeks moving around the country. I arrived back in Honolulu the day before the spring semester started, and finished up my last semester on campus at HPU. From there, I flew to my summer job in northern Germany. I spent spent two months teaching English and bouncing around between, Schwerin, Berlin and Hamburg. After leaving Germany, I ended up going to another part of Europe to study for a semester at Richmond The American University in London. I had a blast becoming immersed  in the football (soccer) culture of central London. I was also lucky enough to take a weekend to visit one of my best friends and explore his home town of Oviedo, Spain. After finishing up my finals in London, I returned to the USA for Christmas before flying into Buenos Aires, Argentina, to finish my Spanish minor. I spent the semester completely enveloped in the culture of Argentina, as I made tons of new friends and watched my Spanish competency reach new levels. I made a few trips in Argentina to explore Patagonia, as well as a few of the major cities throughout Argentina and Uruguay. I finished school on June 18th and flew back to the USA on the 20th. I am now a college graduate and already missing it. 

The Benefits of Study Abroad

Obviously, study abroad lets you go to awesome new places and see incredible new things. But you gain so much more than that:

The Value of Time
Studying abroad makes you value time differently. For the last 18 months, I always knew exactly how much time I had in each place. Before I arrived everywhere, I already had my flight to the next place booked. When you look at the calendar and see that you have only 20 days left somewhere, you make sure to make the most out of all 20 of those days. After my first couple of experiences abroad flew by, I started to think about the whole semester in the same light. "I only have 120 days in this country, I better make the most of every minute." After living this way for the last year and a half, this ideal has turned into the way I live my life on a daily basis. I learned to go out, and try to make the most out of every day that I have.

New language
This is something that I'm sure everyone thinks about before studying abroad, but one they won't fully appreciate until after they have been in a new country for a week or so. It is true that I loved my time studying in London. I also have plenty friends that live in Ireland, Australia, Canada, and South Africa who make these destinations seem like incredible places to visit. However, if you ask me, studying abroad in an English speaking country is kind of like the junior varsity version of study abroad. Yeah, you are in a different country, but the experience is not the same as if there is a different language to learn. The study abroad experience I got the most out of was definitely Argentina. This is because I wanted to learn Spanish, and in most parts of Argentina, there was no one around that could speak any English. You are left with no other option but to practice and get better at your second language. The first week can be scary or frustrating, as you'll almost certainly get the wrong food at a restaurant once or twice, but after a few months, when you're having full conversations with locals in your second language, you'll realize it was all worth it.

All of my experiences abroad were through AIFS, which partners with HPU except for my summer job in Germany. The reason I was able to get this job is because my boss was looking for people who had experience abroad (which I had through Cambodia) or were eager to get more experience abroad (which I could show her through my plans to live in London and Buenos Aires). Studying abroad helps you get jobs abroad. Also, even if you want to live in the USA, it shows employers that you are capable to interacting with different people and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. 

No More Comfort Zone
New countries mean new experiences. A lot of times, these new experiences can stress you out, or push you to the limit, but they also show you what you are capable of and help you see what you are interested in. The first big event I remember that took me way out of my comfort zone was when I landed in Berlin, Germany for the first time. I got out of the airport with just vague instructions on how to get to my housing which was another 100 miles or so away. I had to take bus to the train station, take a train to the main train station, then take that train 45 stops or so to the city of Schwerin. When I got there, I realized that Schwerin is a huge city with 4 different train stops, and had no idea which one. I spent the whole day traveling, getting lost, trying to figure out how to use pay phones, and exchanging money, while having absolutely no idea what any of the signs meant in German. Obviously it was frustrating at the time, but making it through experiences like those help you gain confidence. Because I made it through that trip, I know I can get to pretty much anywhere in the world without too much of a problem. At the same time, I can't look back at that experience without smiling and it was definitely something I will always remember. 

New Food
You get to try completely new food abroad. Studying abroad opened my eyes to tons of amazing kinds of food I have no idea how I ever lived without. It'll be tough to find comfort foods like peanut butter and jelly abroad, and although there undoubtedly will be a McDonalds, the menu will be a lot different. So you have to live and die with the local cuisine, and you will learn to love it. After a year and a half abroad, I no longer want to watch a soccer game without fish and chips, make a sandwich without chimichurri or have a night out that does not end in a Schwarma. Some of the best food in the world is out there waiting for you.

The last thing I have to mention is dating abroad. It's a lot different. If you thought a first date in the USA could be awkward, try it while relying totally on your second language. Definitely an experience worth having. 

I know this post is a little long but these are some of the most important things I learned will studying abroad. I could go on for hours and if you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email. I want to thank Melissa and Kri for helping me every step of the way with this crazy last year and a half.

The last thing I want to say is this: If you graduate without study abroad, you did something wrong. It's a must have experience. 

I'll leave you with a few pictures of my favorite places from the last year.

Good luck and travel safe-
Sam Cooke

The group in Cambodia.
Statue in Seoul, South Korea
Los Dedos, en Punta Del Este, Uruguay
The Berlin Gate, Berlin, Germany
View from the London Eye, London, England
When I was teaching English in Germany, my friend Alejandro was teaching Spanish. He invited me to hang out in Spain with him while I was studying in London, so I flew over. This is the group of us that went out on a Friday night in Spain.

A section of the Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany.

El Obelisco, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Looking over the city of Oviedo, Espana.

Perfect seats for penalty kicks at the Tottenham Hotspur game in London, England.

The widest waterfall in the world, Iguazu Falls, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina.

A castle on its own island, Schwerin, Germany.

Big Ben, London, England

Jumping into the water in Patagonia. San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina