If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

We all learned how to communicate at an early age, expanding and refining our vocabularies as we mature. That refinement allows us to gain confidence in our original language. Nonetheless, while studying abroad most people lose that selfassurance as they try to relay their needs in another language.

I, on the other hand, grew up with Spanish as my first language and thus I have experienced a completely different sensation of misplacement studying abroad and living in Madrid. Communicating with Madrileños (or “people from Madrid” in Spanish) in Spanish is first nature, although asking for directions is just as awkward as it is in English. The toughest part isn’t the language barrier, but the fact that I speak Spanish differently than everyone else.

Parque Retiro in Madrid

Parque Retiro in Madrid

Spain Spanish is filled with it’s own colloquial sayings and emphasizes on specific syllables. Even travelling outside of Madrid north or south the accent changes. Spaniards often pronounce their “z” and “c” like the “th” sound we make in English. Meanwhile, I, along with most Latin Americans, was taught to pronounce those letters with as “s” sound. The Spanish “j” is also quite pronounced, with a noise coming from the throat rather than a soft elocution like in Latin America. There is even a whole new grammatical person in Spain: the “vosotros” or “you all” (second person plural) that is just the “ellos” or “they” (third person plural) form in most of Latin America. Let’s not forget the copious amounts of words in Spain that mean something very different in Latin America and vice versa.

These few, yet noticeable, changes in articulation have a great impact on the everyday conversations I have. I may not be stuttering my every word or talking at too slow of a pace, but the moment I speak I can see them trying to place me. Usually they can’t, as I have basically neutralized my accent. People will usually ask me where I’m from right off the bat, guessing my ethnicity from a range of Venezuelan to Chilean (both of which are wrong, as I am of Colombian and Ecuadorian descent). At this point, I have noticed, many Spaniards try to emphasize their way of speaking even more than they did in the beginning of a conversation. It’s almost as if they feel the need to dominate the conversation, or present their form of speaking in a greater light. Personally, I think that it makes them seem silly and pompous; however, it is a well-known stereotype that Spaniards, indeed, are a proud people.

This is where it gets tricky. The old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join them” comes to mind. I’ve been wracking my mind deciding if I should embrace the Spanish style of speaking. I know how to change from “s” sounds to “th” sounds, but is that rude? Will the people that I talk to think that I’m mimicking them? Yes, it would help in the process of communication, and it would be part of the whole “full immersion” concept, but is it worth it? My parents repeatedly joked that they would “disown” me if I came back “lisping and spitting” when I speak. Now that it is a reality though, it is has become an actual concern. It may be ridiculous to worry about something so slight, but to someone that cares so much about language, it is. I don’t plan on changing my accent completely, but also think that maybe a little change won’t hurt.

Story by Steven Venegas and photo by Allison Everett 

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The Paris of the Dead

Since the first burial occurred there in 1804, over one million souls have been laid to rest in Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery. When the cemetery was first created the demand for plots was so low that the administration considered launching an advertising campaign to encourage prospective “customers.”  However, in 1817, when the supposed remains of Molière, La Fontaine, Héloïse, and Abélard were moved to the site, interest in the cemetery dramatically increased. Today, plots in this cemetery are hard to come by. There is a lengthy waiting list that continues to grow longer every year. There are also strict policies regarding who is allowed to be buried there.

A cobblestone pathway through Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery

A cobblestone pathway through Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery

For the living, a trip to Père Lachaise can be just as rewarding. Shady paths, quiet chapels, and somber memorials await visitors who come to witness a piece of Parisian history. Among the architectural interests of the city’s largest graveyard include the neoclassical entrance and chapel designed by Etienne-Hippolyte Godde in the 1920s, a columbarium (a room for funerary urns), and a crematorium in the neo-byzantine style of Jean Camille Fourmigè.

Pere Lachaise is home to the graves of many literary icons, famous musicians, and esteemed artists, including Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Frederic Chopin, and Edith Piaf. Oscar Wilde’s tomb has been a popular attraction for many admirers. Mourners often to plant lipstick kisses across his tombstone. As a result, cemetery officials have erected a glass barrier around the grave to prevent further damage to the stone.

There is no denying that this cemetery is steeped in a fascinating history. You could spend hours getting lost among the graves, attempting to find the tombstone of a favorite French poet. However, the historical significance is not its only appeal. It is also a great place for a quiet walk. While tourists often cluster around the more well-known graves, many of the paths remain deserted, almost eerily so. It is an ideal place for an afternoon stroll, either alone or with a friend. Although picnics are not allowed in the park, a warm cup of tea or coffee will be the perfect companion for your walk among the dead.

Take metro lines 2 to the Pierre August or Père Lachaise station, or line 3 to Gambetta for the easiest access to Oscar Wilde’s tomb. If you won’t be in Paris anytime soon, visit the website for a free virtual tour.

Story and Photos by Margaret Eby

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San Francisco

I once took a picture as my plane was landing in San Francisco. In this picture you can see the mountains, the city, and the coast. This is why I love San Francisco. You can hike in the mountains, wander through the city and relax on the beach–all in one city.

Mountains: You can visit Twin Peaks, which is in the very center of the city of San Francisco. There is a beautiful view at the top and is a great place to relax and take pictures. If you are lucky, you will also be able to observe artists painting the scenery at the top as well.

Golden Gate Bridge at night in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge at night in San Francisco

City: There are many different districts in the city of San Francisco, all of which have a unique personality. For example, the Mission District is full of amazing murals and taquerias that make New York’s Mexican restaurants pale in comparison. Embarcadero provides restaurants and shops that are right on the water, with the Giants baseball stadium nearby. West Portal District has great vintage shops and movie theaters, while North Beach District has plenty of Italian restaurants and cafes. The Sunset District is primarily residential, but very close to Ocean Beach. Let’s not forget Chinatown in San Francisco, dubbed to be the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Dine of authentic Chinese grub or sip an all-too-popular bubble tea.

When I was younger, I used to love feeding the ducks at the Golden Gate Park, and even still today enjoy wandering around there. The San Francisco zoo, although not as spectacular and famous as the San Diego zoo offers a wide variety of wildlife and entertainment as well. When I go home in the summer, I often go to the Stern Grove Festival concerts. Stern Grove is park in San Francisco that holds open-air concerts and is great for spending a warm summer evening. Admission is free and shows range from jazz classics to cool, new-age Indian British singers.

Coast: Ocean Beach is nothing like the beaches of Southern California. It is not always warm and it is not always sunny, but it is still one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco. It is easy to bike to, and, once you get there, the smell of burning wood from the multiple campfires will overwhelm your senses–in a good way. This beach is a great place for a bonfire and BBQ. Summer nights are full of families and friends alike, bonding over s’mores. It’s also close to the Sutro Baths, San Francisco’s equivalent to Ancient Rome, which is a great place to walk around and look at the view.

Story by Andrea Muffareh and photo by Alexandra Williams 

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Exploring Shanghai’s Creative Culture

I’ve heard from many that Shanghai was just like New York City – crowded, irreverent attitudes, pretentious, crowded, decadent, and, above all, alive. For me, having lived here my entire life, what define NYC is its art, music, and overall creative culture. So, naturally, what I wondered most about Shanghai was – What was its arts/music scene like?

Now, Shanghai isn’t considered a creative mecca by any means, especially given all the counterfeit items that China as a country produces and its logic oriented education. However, If the arts and culture are what interests you, or if you want a reprieve from overly crowded areas, or if you just want something offbeat, check out these following noteworthy places:

French Concession Street

French Concession Street

The French Concession area is the perfect place to wander and get lost in on a sunny afternoon. From its history of French rule, the area has a distinct European feel with its architecture and sycamore tree lined streets. As a quaint community that is comprised of both artisans and locals, the French Concession gives you a refuge from the cacophony of urban Shanghai. A favorite of the French Concession is trendy Taikang Lu. Taikang Road is filled with fashion boutiques and coffee aromas from the many cafes there. Tianzifang is the highlight of Taikang road, and is best described as an arts commune and also the hipster little sister of tourist mecca Xintiandi. With its labyrinth streets featuring art galleries, quirky shops, and quaint cafés/restaurants, Tianzifang is an essential offbeat destination for finding unique souvenirs.

As the counterpart to Beijing’s famous 798 Arts District, Moganshan is the place to see up and coming contemporary artists in Shanghai. As a commune of warehouses, this is home to the studios and galleries of the city’s top artists, photographers, and filmmakers. The amount of galleries located here is an art lover’s dream, sufficient to keep you busy for a whole day. Galleries that cannot be missed are ShanghART and Eastlink.

Drinks shop in Tianzifang

Drinks shop in Tianzifang

For those interested in music, check out concerts at Yuyintang and Mao Live House. Yuyintang is a staple of Shanghai’s underground music scene, attracting both locals and expats alike. Shows that they feature are a mix of up and coming indie Chinese bands, national rock heroes like Carsick Cars and New Pants, as well as other international acts.

Located in the French Concession, Mao Livehouse’s offers a more diverse music offering such as pop, rock, raves, and electronic events. Mao’s larger, multi-tiered venue design also allows them to host larger name artists, such as Andrew Bird and Yuksek in the past year. The venue also has what is considered to be the “best live music sound system” in Shanghai.

For me, the arts are an essential part of getting an authentic cultural experience. Shanghai’s architectural and commercial feats are often what get boasted, but as an underrated part of must sees in Shanghai, I argue that its burgeoning art scene is what underscores Shanghai as a representation of modern China.

Story and photos by Melissa Chien

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Argentine Heladerías

Argentine Ice Cream

Argentine Ice Cream

The ice cream (helado) of Buenos Aires gets its own category in the food culture of Argentina. It’s an art form of a dessert that’s insanely popular, with heladerías on practically every block. I hail from America’s Dairyland, the good ole state of Wisconsin, yet I can honestly say that Buenos Aires is the home of the best ice cream in the world.

Argentina’s delectable ice cream comes from the country’s sour and curdled-tasting milk, and the Italian immigrants’ art of gelato. Ice cream in Argentina is not ice cream, per se, but the perfect blend of ice cream and gelato for a type of helado unique to this country–and the best in the world.

When I say that ice cream is a culture, I mean it. Argentines are serious about getting their fill of ice cream, particularly of the caramel-like flavor dulce de leche, another dessert of national pride. In many parlors, dulce de leche is the base ice cream to which brownie, nuts, or chocolate chips are heavenly added.

Right off the bat when I arrived, my homestay sister recommended an heladería at the end of our block which conveniently turned out to be the best in the city. Tufic: Espacio de Sabores in the barrio of Palermo SoHo is an artisan ice cream shoppe with a set of fixed flavors and a list of new ones every day. Tufic is a neighborhood hangout spot that’s ideal for family outings, dates, and business discussions over coffee. Open until 2 a.m., it stays packed late into the night on weekends.

One of Tufic’s most popular flavors is alfachaz, or dulce de leche ice cream with alfajor cookie (a soft cookie made with pieces of, you guessed it, dulce de leche.) Every time I went I tried something different, and each flavor dazzled me even more than the last. It’s all so thick and creamy, and conveniently doesn’t melt in the hot sunshine–but let’s not forget that Argentines continue their ice cream habit through the winter.

Without heladerías on every corner, Buenos Aires just wouldn’t be the same. One piece of advice: savor it.

Story and photo by Mary Margaret Kilkenny

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A Warm Cup of Tea

Berlin is one of my favorite cities in Europe. It is a divided city full of history. It is old yet fresh. It gives you the feeling of a cup of warm tea with half cup of milk and two cubes of brown sugar added in offered to you on a cool autumn afternoon. It is warm but not hot.

Berlin Street Art

Berlin Street Art

Berlin has so much to offer. If you want to get to know about it in one day, sign up for a free tour at any hostel. The amount of history and stories will amaze you.

The police station for spying civilians still exists as a museum. The little camera hidden in a wooden bird, the recorder decorated as a matchbox, the diary that a wife wrote about spying on her husband, are all fascinating to get to know of as a bystander while terrifying as the one being spied on at that time of war.

The Check-point Charlie also stands there as a touristy site. Compare to its old-day functions, the checkpoint nowadays looks like a postcard photo for tourists though it may still represent certain painful memory for some people. There is even a German who bought a custom and dressed up as an American soldier, stood in front of the station and made a living on the money he earned from taking photos with people like us, who have no fearful but exciting experience with the US checkpoint.

Pariser Platz

Pariser Platz

Most famous of all, is the Berlin Wall. Part of the wall is still standing as a memoir of history. However, it no longer stand for the same reason, which should be a delightful thing. Yet, it exists in another form, invisibly. If you look at the West Berlin and East Berlin today, huge distinctions are still quite obvious. There are shabby and slow tram trains, half “chopped” buildings, random artifacts made of scrap iron, and worn-out houses with colorful window frames in the east while the west, according to the tour guide, is “wealthy, clean, and classy”. I do not know if that is a good thing to be “civilized” in that way. I have always thought that erasing everything that is old and “outdated” will make you regret someday. They stand there for a reason, for a meaning, even though they are not used anymore, they are still living to show the culture and history of the city.

One interesting way to explore Berlin is to look beneath your feet. You may not just be stepping on a empty “parking lot”, you may actually be standing right above Hitler’s secret bunker during the Second World War! How nervous would that be when you try to go back to that time and recapture the moment! Imagine there are hundreds of people secretly work right under the ground you are standing on and what they are doing may decide thousands and thousands people’s lives.

A city is always more fascinating and appealing when it is built within and upon its own history. Then you have to take time to feel it, to search for it, and to see the real aspects.

Story by Tianjiao Chen, photos by Claire Schmidt

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An Intermingling

You know you’re truly in a foreign place when the country smells different—when it swelters with layers unidentifiable to the virgin nose. It takes time to pick these layers apart. You must sit in them, let them seep into the fibers of your clothes, and explore the corners from which they’re drifting. The air in Chiang Mai smells like coconut rice, tamarind trees, diesel, sweat, fried pork, chili paste, cigarettes, and impending rain. But it took me the entire month I was there to put my finger on them and experience each one in their individual roundness.

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand, nestled in the lush mountains of the tropical jungle. If you leave the city walls, travel several miles away from the bustling traffic, it is easy to get lost in the sea of vegetation which attempts to swallow everything in its path. Even within the urban city, vines creep up on every surface and slurp the rainy season’s downpour. Some days it rained so hard, it sounded like machine guns plummeting the roof. When it wasn’t raining, the air was so thick I wanted to swim in it. It made the temples shimmer with mirage-like regality. Each was intricately unique, and even in the sobriety of sunshine, their bedazzled Buddha statues were intoxicating. Chiang Mai is a melting pot of spirituality, nature, authentic Thai culture, and tourist activities. Such creates a dynamic environment, where locals, ex-pats, and tourists intermingle and bridge divergent worlds.

Must Do’s:

Songtaus—Literally translating to “two rows,” songtaus are Chiang Mai’s public transportation that many locals take to get around. Though the drivers didn’t usually speak English and fellow passengers stared unabashedly at my foreignness, they’re a facet of daily life in Chiang Mai that made me feel connected to the community and forced me to learn my way around.

Thai Massage—About $5 for an hour-long massage, I writhed in agony as Thai women mercilessly worked various pressure points. But I felt amazing afterwards.

The North Gate Jazz Bar—Located on Chiang Mai’s moat, this cozy bar hosts a different jazz band every night of the week. Europeans, Americans, and local Thai people comingle and listen to hodgepodge bands shred on the saxophone and drums. This is a great place to chill, sip Chang and Singha (popular Thai beers), and meet a cultural milieu of people.

Gad Loang—This indoor/outdoor marketplace is three stories high and extremely confusing. I was happily lost amongst the vendors, though, who sell everything from fresh lychee fruit to silk. Gad Loang is also a great place to practice bargaining in Thai and see the things locals buy.

Monks lead an overnight meditation retreat at Wat Suan Dok, one of Chang Mai's most famous temples

Monks lead an overnight meditation retreat at Wat Suan Dok, one of Chang Mai’s most famous temples

Meditation Retreat—Wat Suan Dok (one of Chiang Mai’s most famous temples) offers an overnight meditation retreat lead by resident monks. Though clearly a tourist activity, the retreat offers an immersion into Buddhist culture and ideology. We got the chance to speak with the monks about their lives and experience the techniques, frustrations, and sweet rewards of meditation.

Riding an Elephant—This truly humbling and indescribable experience is still hard for me to wrap my head around. Elephant preservations in Thailand can be controversial, so it’s really important to go through a humane organization that doesn’t overwork or saddle its elephants. We rode them bareback, bathed with them in the river, and fed them local sugarcane as we trekked through the trees.

A humanely treated elephant quenches his thirst

A humanely treated elephant quenches his thirst

Visiting Pai—Known as the ‘hippie town of Thailand,’ Pai is nestled in the heart of the jungle about three hours north of Chiang Mai. Scattered with Rasta art, dreadlocked locals, and wheatgrass juice bars, Pai is unlike anywhere else in Thailand. I met a man whose life dream was to go to Burning Man. Pai is surrounded by enormous waterfalls, so it’s very easy to rent a motorbike and ride up to them. We traveled through rural roads and watched the cascading waterfalls from vine-braided bridges.

Munchie Musts:

Before arriving in Thailand, I considered myself a spicy food champ (I always put jalapeños in my eggs). This confidence was quickly drowned, however, in the blazing inferno of Thai cooking. I can honestly say that I shed tears during 2/3 of the meals I ate there and felt my intestines on a constant slow sear. Strangely, though, I began to crave the paralyzing spice and was sad when I returned to the mild monotony of American food.

Kao Soi, an authentic Thai noodle dish

Kao Soi, an authentic Thai noodle dish

Kao Soi—A distinctly northern Thai dish consisting of egg noodles and meat in a coconut curry broth, topped with crispy fried noodles.

Street Noodles—Sketched out by dirty street cars piled high with raw meat? Tuck those wimpy inhibitions in your tourist moneybag and experienced the glory of Thai street food. One of the most common is basic noodle soup. Served with your choice of meat and cooked in scalding broth, this simple dish became one of my staple meals in Chiang Mai.

A Thai street vendor

A Thai street vendor

Mango Sticky Rice—The most delicious thing you will ever eat. Sticky rice cooked in coconut water, then covered in coconut milk, sprinkled with cashews, and served under fresh mango. It sounds simple (and maybe a little weird?), but it will make your soul rain coconut bliss.

Story and photos by Cleo Margaret Abramian

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