Old cities are like old paint splatters on your favorite jeans.

A new home every 4 or less months… for 4 years? It definitely gets interesting.

As I move through the world, habits and behaviors and strategies and patterns that develop in one place follow me to the next.

Some of these turn into cultivated skills, like my slowly refining budgeting abilities. I give myself a mental high five when I noticed these popping up.

Others are like permanent paint splatters on your favorite jeans, not really noticeable and artsy enough that even if somebody did notice them they’d think it was intentional. These are the ones that I blink at when they come seemingly from nowhere.

Since August 2016, there have been a lot of moves, and each place has given me something new.

From San Francisco, California (8 months), I keep

  • a reluctance to even look into a restaurant unless I was mentally prepared to drop at least $20. (I never was. I went out to eat 0 times on my own in San Francisco.)
  • the normalization of homeless people on the streets, a mindset I dislike.
  • the assumption that anybody in a grey hoodie is probably working for Twitter, Uber, any other fancy start-up, or owns a million dollars.

From Atlin, British Colombia (1 month), I keep

  • a love for ferries. And lakes. And mountains. And Germans!
  • surprise that night falls elsewhere in the world, and darkly. (I’ve only been in Atlin, which is far north, in the summer––it never gets near full dark.)
  • a sense that no matter what happens, even if everything goes wrong, I can always find a place of belonging and peace. (this is really, really helpful, especially around finals time.)

From Seoul, South Korea (3 months), I keep

  • the habit of bobbing my head respectfully to those doing me a favor and handing my credit card over with my hand on my elbow.
  • an image of public swimming places that makes me surprised to find bathers outside Korea going in swimming suits instead of being naked.
  • a gentle disgust for wearing my shoes past the entry way.
  • a love for heated floors.

From Hyderabad, India (4 months), I keep

  • a reluctance to pay more than $3 for an Uber anywhere and more than $12 for a 10 hour bus ride.
  • a belief in the high potential (in the areas of cheapness, tastiness, and accessibility) for street food.
  • faith that the goodness of humanity can always be found, even if it doesn’t always appear that way on the immediate surface.
  • knowledge that clothing could always be more interesting and colorful.
  • EDIT: a new null hypothesis: people can like me. Before they know me, their impression is neutral, not negative. This is embodied in The Best Hyderabad House 2k18….

From Tucson, Arizona (1+2+2), I keep

  • ….. I’m still figuring out what my upbringing in Tucson left me with. Right now, it still feels like the baseline, and therefore hard to detect.

 

Now I’m in Birmingham, Alabama (2 months). What will I keep from here? Will these old habits ever fade fully away? Will I ever stop feeling homesick for 4 places at once? Will I stop accidentally pulling up mental maps of cities several spots down the list of moves when I’m planning what I want to do in the city that day or go to the library? Moving with Minerva is amazing, don’t get me wrong. If I could live 7 lifetimes and spend each in each city we live in, though… I’d choose that option instead of only 4 months in each home.


Featured image from Minerva’s website, https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/global-experience/

First two weeks in HITEC City!

I made it to India! It’s way better than I thought it would be, honestly. Multiple people told me that everybody either loves India, or hates it, but I think I’m solidly over the line on the “liking” side, but not quite to “love” yet. Enjoying the heck out of while I’m here, yes, but I’m not sure I’d move here permanently.

Here are some highlights!

My first meal in India was thali, I think South Indian. Basically, a huge dish of samples of curry, breads, yogurt, rices, desserts… not pictured are a basket of roti (puffed bread) and a small metal pitcher of hot (and hella delicious) ghee. We use ghee at my house, but I’ve never heard other people talk about it… until now.

Some school friends and I went to Golconda Fort, a historical marvel that spiked my creativity, fascination with the area, and dislike for people who carve their names carelessly into their surroundings. (Note: I don’t mind beautiful, well-thought out and well-placed tagging and graffiti. Just the stuff so unaesthetic as to besiege your senses.)

Part of the fort, newly re-plastered. One of the coolest things was thanks to the same low standards for protection of the site that led to the vandalism I shook my head over in just the previous photo: we could go anywhere in the site. No nook or cranny or hallway was off limits. Through that black portal to the right was an internal site where pigeons now reigned, so far from the bustle of the main grounds that I could imagine going there on a hot day when I wanted to escape the rest of the inhabitants of the fort hundreds of years ago.

Olaf and Mayzie, on one of the only walkways in the place. One thing I can’t say about India: it’s universally accessible.

Alondra.

The pigeon decided not to hold still for a photo. I decided I didn’t mind.

LOOK AT THOSE EDGES. HOW. INTENSE. Can you imagine building that by hand?!?

The view from the top. Hazy. Yum yum pollution! I’m going to start looking into anti-pollution measures here in Hyderabad; with all the of bright minds in this country, I’d be surprised if there weren’t several startup solutions in the works already. The only question is, how do I best support the effort?

Suraj snapped this photo. It’s got to be my favorite photo of myself, ever.

Dare I call this the obligatory, “cows-in-the-road-I’m-in-India” pic?

South Korea, where we spent the last semester, has left its mark on us. 애교!

Another delicious meal. I’ve only eaten something gross here once––a sort of shredded coconut curry thing with balls of something lemony in it. A Mistake. Shredded coconut is my kryptonite. The rest is delicious. This plate came from a resturant down the street and cost about $2. I am spoiled. Best of all, I’ve started eating street vendor’s all-you-can-eat-rice-and-curry dishes for $1. So. gooooooood.

Isn’t this over-way in construction fascinating! I don’t know what it is about it, but it feels so… futuristic. Urban.

And it just ends…

Amazing.

Waiting for the plane to Hyderabad

A staff member at my school sent out this video, a collection of experiences from a friend of hers who lives in the same area of India I’m going to.

Watching it brought back so many memories of my year in Panama. One part near the end showed him doing chores and other basic activities while “memories” of a time before were projected onto him and the background. I remember doing the same thing. You’d be brushing your teeth, sweeping the house, walking to the bus, and these memories, random and seemingly unprompted, would begin to play. If you let them, they swallowed you. Dwelling on the past too much leads to utter abandonment of the pursuit of enjoyment in the present. And living abroad on your own, when you’re struggling with the language and day to day life… it requires a lot of intentional enjoyment seeking.

I write this in Colorado, waiting for my flight to Munich, to wait for a flight to Mumbai, then to Hyderabad, where I’ll meet the rest of my class and stay the rest of the semester.

I’m a little nervous. Whenever I mentioned I was going to India, people get this far away, impressed look in their eye. I’m not sure if they’re impressed I’m going there, or if it’s just India that impresses them. They talk about the mix––they take two contrasting variables and explain how India is the only place where you see so much mixing of these two things you’d never expect to see, in extremes. Wealth and poverty. Joy and suffering. Good food and––well, no, nobody has ever mentioned there’s anything but good food.

I feel like I’m going on a study abroad trip, in a way that I didn’t when I went to South Korea last September for the fall semester.

I feel the way I did when I went to Panama: a little nervous about the amount of unknown variables and situations that are coming up, a little nervous about catching my flights and getting to the place I’m staying, a little nervous about presenting the best image of a foreigner, especially a foreigner from the U.S.A. A lot of excitement about seeing another way humans developed life, about seeing myself and my values in the context of that other culture, about the opportunity to meet strangers and maybe bring some joy to where I go.

The main three differences from getting ready for India this semester and going to Panama four and a half years ago are my level of preparedness for living in a different culture, my expected day to day, and the fact that I’ll be living with classmates instead of a host family.

When I moved to Panama, I barely knew that people lived different lifestyles than I did in the U.S. I had some vague understanding of what it meant for a country to speak another language, of what poverty was, of different styles of body language, but… they were vague. I was 16, and had only been to Canada before then, but for a short trip to Costa Rica on a ecotour that was not at all representative of local life in Central America.

I was also going to go to school in Panama. I ended up at a trade school, in the agriculture-zoology track, something that ended up being extremely lucky. That track of the school had less students, so I knew my classmates better than the other two exchange students who were in the Business and Science tracks. We had longer work days and summer school spent doing practical work in the plantain and banana fields and working with the animals, which meant I could participate in class before my Spanish was any good. In India, I’ll be continuing taking classes at my university, Minerva. (If you’re unfamiliar with Minerva, you’ll probably want to check out my short explanation of the ways in which Minerva drastically deviates from a normal university.)

In India, ~250 fellow and known classmates await my arrival. Our school has rented out an entire apartment building for us. It’s not ideal for cultural exchange; sometimes I hesitate to say I’m going on exchange or studying abroad because Minerva’s model barely allows for what we typically think of when we say “study abroad”. Minerva does try hard to make sure our staff are local, and that all students have the option to do an internship or project with local businesses and organizations. Every class has an assignment that requires engagement in the city we’re in. But… living with your friends, with other foreigners, instead of a host family, gives you a completely different experience. If I had time for everything, I’d like to live with a host family again. Maybe once I graduate.

So here I go, again. India, I can’t wait to meet you. See you soon.

Casually in Korea

What with all we’re hearing in the news about North Korea and Donald Trump, I figure it’s good to post about the other 99.99% of things going on here in South Korea. 

We just finished celebrating Chuseok, which is like Korean Thanksgiving. All my favorite coffee shops were closed over the weekend so families could reunite across the country. Luckily the woman at the register let me into my favorite grocery store as they were closing up on Thursday so I could grab some veggies. 

Today was Hangul day. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, 한글, has its roots in education equality: King Sejong had it created as a simpler version of Chinese, which was so complicated it made literacy for non-elites hard to achieve. Hangul is really easy to learn (it took me under an hour), you can find lots of resources online!

We have off school tomorrow, which is nice as the Minerva version of midterms is right around the corner. I expect the rest of Seoul start getting busy again tomorrow and the next day, as everybody returns from spending the weekend with their family. 

To celebrate, two friends and I went to a cake shop, Dore Dore, in a hip part of Gangnam. Sugar is not my thing, but they enjoyed guessing which flavors belonged to which layer of the rainbow cake they got!

Life keeps on here in Seoul. I’m so glad to be a part of it. 🙂

The $6 Coffee

[Day 11 in Seoul. Status: Haven’t heard much about North Korea in the last couple of days.]

Today I purposefully sought out a $6 coffee.

(I would have titled this post “The Most Expensive Coffee I’ve Ever Consumed”, but on my way here I ordered coffee in the Shanghai airport and it cost $9, so that title is out. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

Some universities have their Greek Life culture, others their football pride culture. Here at Minerva, there’s quite the coffee-shop-studying culture, in that you can regularly see students going out to study at cafes and regularly hear discussions about which coffee shops are the best/unusual/cheapest/have blocked us due to extreme quantities of internet consumption and regularly happen upon other Minervans at coffee shops around the city. My point is that, while I’m sure there are lots of students who don’t go out to cafes every day, you don’t often see them for obvious reasons. (#attentionperceptionbias.) It makes you want to go out as well, especially as we don’t have any common spaces in our residence this semester, as our residence is a hotel. (And we have no campus. New reader? Confused? I go to Minerva.)

And so today found me venturing out from our hotel after class and lunch to find a quiet place to camp out for a few hours and get work done.

Seoul is full of cafes. Unfortunately, they all are pretty expensive. While you can get a cheap ($2-3) latte at take-away open faced or two table places, any larger area will charge easily $5 for a simple drink, and ice and milk will raise you another dollar.

The reasoning I’ve heard for this is that in this city, you pay for the privilege of parking your laptop for hours in their space. In the 24 cafes, I’ve even heard of people sleeping at the tables.

It makes sense, although I have to wonder how San Francisco, Tucson, and the rest of the United States keeps coffee shops open and running considering they charge half the price. However, the priciness of coffee shops doesn’t mesh well with Minerva, as there’s simultaneously pressure to go out to coffee shops both as a social and academic thing to do, and a lot of students under economic strain.

More than 75% of our students come from outside the U.S., and all admissions are need-blind. This means that something like 80% of our student body is on financial aid. A push to spend $5 regularly on coffee is not really what we need––or what we can afford.

I come at this situation with a (long) problem statement:

Where else in Seoul can I find free / reduced price wifi, or even just places to be without wifi, as I can pull up class readings ahead of time? And how can we make this a sustainable alternative for those students who would rather not spend so much just to do their classwork and socialize outside of their rooms? 

So let the quest for answers begin!


Elsewhere in time and space…. 

Two days ago was Exploration Day, where small groups of students are sent out across the city for a day of fun and exploration. Here’s the snapstory I created along the way!

10 things you do after getting accepted to an international traveling school…

…when you’re an American. I mean, United State-n. From the United States? You know what I mean. 

  1. Try to stalk your future classmates from the facebook groups, only to be cut short by your inability to read their posts, which are all in a language not English.
  2. Tell your parents they should have taught you several foreign languages as a kid. Promptly ignore your parents reminding you that you were the one who hated language classes and wouldn’t attend any more.
  3. Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.17.48 AM
  4. Look up the costs of getting visas in the 7 countries you’re going to, and realize you’ll reap the rewards and bear the burden of effective/ineffective foreign diplomacy soon enough.
  5. “[I] looked up timezones of the people I started chatting with so I didn’t text them at 3 am for some weird reason… Which, still didn’t stop me when I found something funny.” -Mayzie 
  6. “On Pinterest I found this really cool series of posters… which had customs, common phrases, hand signs, culturally relevant stuff etc. so I got all the ones to where we’re going.” -Vesi
  7. I recall googling drinking ages in the countries we were going to pretty early on…” -Kristin
  8. Cringe cringe cringe at every word that comes out of the Republican primary, election, and presidency of Donald Trump, because you have to look your future classmates in the eyes, 75% of whom are international and don’t understand what’s gotten into the U.S.
  9. “[I remember] trying to pry open the closed minds of my parents (especially in terms of international travel– why its worthwhile, why I’m not going to die, the benefit of moving outside of the US, etc.etc.etc.).” -Natalie 
  10. Google the locations of the seven cities you’re going to be living in. And maybe the countries too. 😅