Travelling in Europe… Christmas Market

Lille (France)

Grand-Place

Eating hot marrons (chestnuts), almost burning your fingers although it’s freezing cold and drinking Gluwein (hot wine) is a must when visiting any Christmas market (MARCHE DE NOEL). It was funny to see 3 Canadian (2 of which from Quebec) huts, one was selling clothes, the other 2 Canadian specialities. Below: “Salut les Cousins, bienvenue au Québec”, translation: “Hello cousins, welcome to Quebec”.

Walking in the streets, below and first picture on the left is the P’tit Quinquin Statue in Square Foch.

Below Bibliothèque Universitaire (University Library). I think the entrance, the door and the statue are amazing.

Town Hall and its Bellfry which is 104m high.

Beautiful Christmas tunnel on rue Faidherbe, I just wished there were more Christmas decorations everywhere in the city and not only on Grand-Place and this street.

Luxembourg city (Luxembourg)

Luxembourg unlike Belgium is not a flat country, and there are a lot of mountains and hills. It is a small country yet it is really beautiful and it’s worth it to visit it even for one day, especially the casemates, the palace… Below is Gelle fra (Golden Lady) and is dedicated to all the soldiers of WWI.

There are 2 Christmas market in Luxembourg, one is near Gelle Fra and the other one is on Place d’Armes. Below you can see the Christmas tree and the Christmas crib.

Luxembourgish food speciality is Gromperekichelcher (fried potato patties) which are eaten with apple sauce. And at most markets you will find churros, these are long deep fried Spanish doughnuts (sooo good!!) which are served with chocolate sauce if you wish. It seems that Canadians are very much loved in European Christmas markets (below selling Canadians winter hats).

Brussels (Belgium)

I love all the Christmas decorations that are everywhere on the streets and in the city, I think Brussels wins for having the most decorated city. The Christmas market downtown is called Plaisiers d’Hiver (Pleasures of Winter). Just like in Lille and in Luxembourg, Brussels also has a Ferris Wheel,

Let’s talk about the Christmas tree at Grand-Place… Huge controversy about this topic in Brussels. This year they decided to remove the traditional tree with an abstract version. Why? well they wanted to make it less “Christian” ( I am putting “” here because what they are saying is antithetic considering the fact that they kept the Christmas crib, which is definitely more Christian than a Christmas tree). You can read about the controversy here: BBC article.

Innovation can go two ways: it can be a huge success or a total failure. For me the abstract construction is mostly a miss; I believe that a true tree is irreplaceable, the smell and the view are just mesmerizing. In this case the pieces of blocks are ugly especially during the day when they are white, it’s too abstract and you have to pay to climb to “tree”. However, during the night there are lots of colours, it changes colours, there is music and it matches perfectly this year’s theme of “light”. Yet the best part for me at Grand-Place was not the Christmas tree, but the light show on the church; there were different images, colours, pictures such as Santa Claus and snowflakes that were projected. You can spend a lot of time watching the show and you don’t get bored.

 Light show on a churchBourse

So this was my holiday adventure, happy holidays everybody, I hope you will have an awesome time with family and friends.

until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin

 

Tschüss Graz!

I am writing my final post from the Graz airport, about to embark on the twelve hour journey home for the holidays.The last week here has been quite hectic, what with packing, school assignments and saying goodbye to everyone. Waiting in the airport is first time this week that I have had a chance to take the time to reflect on my experience in Austria and on my exchange experience in general. When I first arrived, I had no idea what to expect with my new city and new school. The key to a successful exchange experience in my opinion, is staying open to the newness of everything, and managing and adapting your expectations as you adjust to your new environment.

A few comments about the academic dimension of my exchange

From my experience at the University of Graz (and I imagine this to be the case in other universities), I found the academic standards to be lower than at the University of Toronto. This was especially with regards to the other students, not so much the professors and assignments. This was most likely a function of the high proportion of exchange students and undergraduates in my classes, in contrast to the graduate classes I have taken at UofT that have been mostly a mix of Master’s and PhD students. Other academic adjustments included dealing with a university library with a small proportion of English language books, that in no way match the UofT libraries. Finally, while I thoroughly enjoyed my three classes at UniGraz, there was definitely not an abundance of English-language seminars for me to choose from. In spite of all this, I still feel as though I got a lot out of my exchange. My words of wisdom for other students (undergraduate or graduate), is to not have the same expectations as you have at UofT with your exchange institutions, and to manage your expectations as your exchange progresses.

One of my main motivations for going on exchange in Austria was to improve my German. By far my biggest disappointment was the German language course I took, offered by the language school at UniGraz. The course only met once a week for two hours, and did not match the quality of the German courses I have taken at UofT. Where my German most improved was with my oral comprehension, which has always been my weakest point, and my speaking, through the tandem partner program I participated in. It takes quite a dedication to learn and improve a new language, and in the hectic-ness of my life in Austria, my commitment to improving my German was not as strong as it could have been. Nonetheless, I still feel as though it was a worthwhile experience from the language dimension, and even more so for the cultural experience and friends that I have made in Graz from around the world.

Final Thoughts

I absolutely loved my time in Austria, for so many different reasons; the new friends, chance to experience a new culture, and the many opportunities to travel are among the top reasons. Academically, my exchange was also satisfying, although it did require some adjustments in comparison to the first year of my Master’s at UofT. If anything, I wish I was here for longer than a semester, since the time passed so quickly. I encourage anyone reading this blog who is considering going on exchange to do so! It is such an enriching and amazing experience, both academically and non-academically.

time flies when you’re having fun

wow, can you believe it?

I don’t even want to say it, but this is the last blog post.
where does the time even go?

I think the university knew this would happen…maybe that’s why on the orientation guides we were given at the start of the year the cover page had a clock with wings on it and the phrase ‘time flies when you’re having fun’.

it does fly. it absolutely flew by.

but before I tell you that you absolutely have to go on exchange, let me tell you about two things I found out are going on next semester which I thought sounded like a lot of fun (and both of which are happening through the charities campaign):

race2prague and jailbreak!

the premise for race2prague is this: in teams of 2 or 3, students have to race to reach prague first.

yes, like in the amazing race.

except…
they can spend NO money on transport getting there.

since the start of the year people have been actively raising money…and getting ready to win!

jailbreak: I dont know who started the idea or how long its been around, but basically, students have 36 hours to get as far from st. andrews as possible…and last year the winner got to austria.

oh hold on, you thought it was just how far someone can go in that many hours? no no. its how far someone can go in that many hours without spending a cent.

ah. things just got a lot more interesting…

its just another way of showing you that st. andrew’s is like nowhere else. there are so many great things going on all the time, and you can get involved in so much!

but its not about one place over another, because I hope you have taken my posts as fun examples of the types of things you can see and experience if you decide to make the leap to go abroad too.

see the thing is, when you go abroad, you open yourself up to a million new experiences and adventures, and everything becomes a learning opportunity.

so let me say this: the way you grow when you’re abroad, the way you learn, and open up to new perspectives, and the amount of new experiences you expose yourself to is just amazing. I truly don’t know of any other place/or programme/or experience where
you are just pushed head-first into so many wonderful and different things–and they are all formative and important and wonderful and great.

I think you’d be at a loss for not even trying to see what you could do.

so go ahead, and start on your adventures. and make sure you blog and tell us all about them!

and I think you too will be amazed at how fast the time will fly.

Times up! Time to go back home

 

These slippers featuring anatomy are an item that I passed every day on my walk home from school. Something I know that would not be part of my world in Toronto.

Goodbye salacious slippers. Goodbye canals and cookies with coffee. Goodbye Amsterdam and Utrecht. 

The last day I spent in Holland it snowed and the place I have grown to love became even more beautiful. A swan’s song to end my exchange. It was pathetic fallacy to the max, an internal and external changing of the seasons. Rather than go into details of goodbyes, I think a valuable and understated part of exchange are the realizations one receives upon the completion of an exchange. Re-adjustment or re-entry as some would call it.

Re-adjusting to life back home is like stepping into the ocean. You can feel the tension between where you want to step and where the movement of the water forces you to step. But, this tension only exists because your body isn’t immersed yet. Yet, soon enough, it will be.

Words can’t always capture this feeling of changing waters, so I made a small painting that might!

One of the difficulties of coming home is that you look exactly the same, even though you don’t always feel the same. I wish there was a way of taking a before and after picture of one’s emotional state. Would my exercised of social adaptability have whipped my emotions into shape? Have I lost pounds of routine and flattened my belly with cultural acuity?

Unfortunately, there is no magic camera that will help illustrate the difference between pre-exchange Julienne and post-exchange Julienne—- there are only words. Words, I might add, that have some very heavy lifting to do! Post-exchange involves taking trying to stuff the content of four months, a multitude of experiences and the magnification of self into words that feel like pocket sized suitcases.

So if I were to sum up my exchange like a movie trailer this would be it:

A graduate student moves in with a sailor, spark detective and ornithologist only to find that the she is allergic to the room she lives in. After struggles to understand the philosophy homework assigned to her she has a breakthrough. Her academic epiphanies are portrayed by a long montage of an air balloon adventure in Turkey and a night spent in the desert with a nomad in Morocco. She comes home  to realize the importance of sharing whimsy, joy and time with the people in her life.

Maybe she comes home and that is not all she realizes. Every day realizations are popping up. My head feels like Mary Poppins, continually pulling more emotions and thoughts out from what seems like a bottomless purse.

Love how political Toronto is! In Holland, even with the national elections, there were no signs of an election taking place. Amsterdam may be political, but it wasn’t out into the open like it is in Toronto. Just an interesting difference.

Sensory Experience back in Toronto:  I totally feel like I became a country mouse in Utrecht. I’ve never really lived in a small town and after getting used to it my sensory experience in Toronto was altered. First, I couldn’t believe how LOUD the city was! Second, how many strangers faces I was exposed to— that’s a weird way of saying it. I mean, how many people you can visible see in a day and how many different demographics there are here. Also, it stunned me that even in cold weather you could see people wearing shorts, t-shirts or sandals.

Other things I learned on my exchange?

  • My favourite  Dutch word is the word for a dustpan is  “kruimeltjes dief”, which literally translates to crumb thief. Amazing!
  • For many years I have been plagued by the crisis of art that was identified by Danto (my academic hero). I admired him so much that I did not question his writing and developed a lot of disciplinary baggage by his ‘end of art.’ The philosophers introduced to me by the course I took in Amsterdam, Jacques Ranciere and Jean-Luc Nancy have renewed my sense for the future of art, pertinent to me as an artist and art historian.
  • Although I had an amazing adventure in the Netherlands I am also amazed by the life I have in Toronto. First the first time I feel like I can live in Toronto with conviction. I’ve lived abroad in Italy and France and I always thought the best version of myself was there. Now for the first time, I realize that my best-self is also in Toronto.
This time abroad has been outstanding and challenging. Exchange holds a magnifying glass to life and exposes details that would otherwise unnoticed.

 

 

Christmas in South Korea

A Christmas tree in the Shinsaegae department store in Busan.

For a great number of you readers in Toronto the Yule tide is nearly upon you and I’m sure a lot of you are looking for various gifts and trinkets to satisfy your friends and family. Perhaps some of you may also have a traditional Christmas dinner to look forward to. Well sadly, this year I won’t be home for Christmas as my budget cannot facilitate a two way ticket to Toronto. This marks my first missed Christmas which is going to be a bit sad as my family usually goes all traditional with all the trimmings. Tree, turkey, gifts and all! But this year it looks like I’ll be spending my holiday in good ol’ South Korea.

Some of you may be wondering, do Koreans even celebrate Christmas? Well listen well my friends for I shall impart to you the knowledge given to me by my Korean peers. The way the average Korean person celebrates Christmas is somewhat dependant on their family religion. Korean Christians of which there are many and largely come from the ‘sects’ of Catholic and Protestant (often simply referred to as ‘Christian’) tend to do the old-school family thing but this is also dependant on how ‘into’ their religion they are. For everyone else and the less devout more casual Christians, Christmas in South Korea is kind of like another Valentine’s Day.

My friend Alice in with a tree in Lotte World theme park in Seoul.

On this day you celebrate the birthday of good ol’ J.C. by chilling out with your girlfriend or boyfriend, do cute datey stuff and of course exchange gifts. Don’t have a lucky girl or guy? Then you get together with your other single buddies and party on! Seems fairly casual no?

 

 

 

Xmas tree festival in Busan.

Despite the predominantly casual nature of Xmas here I was surprised to see tonnes of decorations lining shops and street corners as well as Xmas music blaring out of store speakers since the end of November. It’s practically the same scene as back in Toronto! This is kind of comforting in a way though because when I was thinking of coming here I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the absence of Xmas which is one of my favourite times of the year! Thanks South Korea! Also to sweeten the deal the winter break in South Korea is actually two months which is totally awesome! Sadly I’m probably going to have to spend most of it prepping for the next level of Korean class coming next semester! Yikes! Anyway, Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! And to the rest of you Happy (and possibly belated) Hanukah, Ramadan, Tet, Guru Gobind Singh Gurpurab, Lohri, Kwanza and whatever other solstice related festivals I may have missed! My apologies if your respective holiday was not included, but whatever it is, have a good one!

Two Canadian Bloggers

Two Canadian Bloggers

Simon and I mugging for the camera.

These days blogs about South Korea are popping up all over the place and many deal with food, travel and especially K-pop (Korean pop music). Among these blogs, one which covers all previously mentioned facets of the Korean experience stands above all others and is produced by Torontonians! The blog I am referring to is of course Eat Your Kimchi which some of you may know already and some of you may even be avid fans of. The brains behind Eat Your Kimchi are a Torontonian couple named Simon and Martina who are also U of T alumni, and they blog about all sorts of interesting South Korean things. Since they started blogging a few years back as English teachers in South Korea they have since become significant ‘weblebraties’ and fans of their videos can be counted among famous Korean celebs.

Here’s me enjoying some burritos with Eat Your Kimchi’s Simon and Martina, they were pretty darn delicious! …the burritos I mean.

Inspired by their story I once went to a Q&A they held at the University of Toronto to find out the secret to their success, turned out the secrets was blogging consistently… who knew!? Anyway, in a wonderful turn of events, while drinking with a few friends in Itaewon, a part of Seoul which is well known as a hub for foreigners, I ran into Simon and then Martina by pure chance! They were looking for a place to grab dinner with another English-teaching friend of theirs and upon seeing them I began chatting them up. I asked them if we could join them in their search for food and they happily agreed. In the end, we – my two Korean friends, one Taiwanese friend, Simon, Martina, their buddy and I all ate burritos together and talked about what we missed about Toronto.

Suffice it to say, they were super nice and it was a very pleasant experience. I was worried that their recently acquired fame may have rendered them conceited but in actuality they were super cool. It was also really fun to witness scores of foreigners, presumably fans of their blogs and videos, walking up to them and giving them praise, I felt like I was hanging out with genuine celebs. . . which I pretty much was.

Bloggers assemble!

The most wonderful time of the year

One of the main benefits of an exchange is the cultural experience, and there has been no shortage of cultural experiences over the past few weeks as the Christmas season has entered into full swing. As a history student, I am very interested in cultural traditions and in observing the nuances and differences between cultures. I can say that there is nothing quite like Austria/Germany at Christmas time. While the general gist of the holidays is the same, there are several traditions that are different to me and took me a little while to get used to. Overall though, the Christmas traditions here seem to be much more rooted in history and culture, and less commercialized than in North America. It is wonderful to experience the festive atmosphere in Graz and I am really looking forward to being home for the holidays.

Weinachtsmarkt

Without a doubt my favourite part of Christmas in Austria. There are Christmas markets in pretty much every square in Graz. The stalls sell various Christmas-related gifts, food, and glühwein–the most delicious mulled wine! I have been lucky enough to also experience Christmas markets in Vienna, Prague and Cologne. They are all quite similar, but also unique in their own way.

Christmas market display in Vienna

Cologne Christmas market

Saint Nicholas vs. Christkindl

This took a little while for me to understand, but there are two Christmas figures similar to Santa Claus in the Austrian/German tradition. On the evening of December 5th, children leave their shoes outside their house, and Saint Nicholas puts candy and gifts in the shoes if they have been good. Christkindl (translation: the Christ child) is the figure who brings presents on Christmas. However, he does not arrive in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, or come through the chimney. To add to my initial confusion (two gift giving figures?), Saint Nicholas and Christkindl are depicted pretty much identically: red suit with white trim, long white beard, bag full of toys, etc.

Advent

While I was familiar with the advent calendar tradition, the practice of lighting four candles (one for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas) was entirely new.

Lighting the Advent candles and eating Christmas cookies in Cologne

Krampus

The Krampus is, to my knowledge, unique to Austria, although there is a similar-but-differently-named character in Germany. The Krampus is essentially Saint Nicholas’ sidekick. If you haven’t been good, the Krampus comes and punishes you. Graz has a Krampuslauf (Krampus parade) at the beginning of December, which involves dozens of individuals dressing up as a Krampus and marching through the city center. It is quite a sight to behold…

One of the most informative parts of an exchange is learning about a new culture, but also how that makes you reflect on your own culture and identity. Throughout my experience here I have reflected many times my own traditions and culture, and as a result have developed a greater awareness of my “Canadian-ness.”

Places to Study In South Korea

Adding to the attractiveness of studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea, are the myriad places where students are able to study other than local public libraries, which, unlike Toronto, Seoul lacks in abundance. In the area around Yonsei University, known as Sinchon (신촌), there are numerous cafés and restaurants where students may study in rather comfortable and hassle-free settings. I’ve had a chance to experience quite a few.

It may be said that trendy cafés are to South Korea what fast-food providers are to the U.S., in that there are many options just about anywhere you go in most large cities. In most areas of Seoul you can’t walk more than a minute without seeing one of the many local coffee chains; many of them are open 24 hours and provide comfy and often unique environments. The average price of a coffee at one of these places is anywhere from about three to six dollars, which is fairly expensive if you’re used to Tim Hortons or even Starbucks or Second Cup prices in general.

One of the many cafe chains in seoul, Holly’s Coffee provides a comfy and well heated place to relax or study.

Around exam time you can easily find coffee shops full of young Korean students cramming for tests or meeting about projects, but perhaps more interesting is that one can see the same sight at Korean McDonald’s and Lotteria (a local fast-food burger chain) locations. That’s right, friends, no 20-minute seating limit in Korean Macdonald’s, and you don’t need to buy things either! You can just sit around and study, hassle-free. It’s quite convenient, especially if you live off-campus and can’t make it to the university library.

My Taiwanese friend Alice and I at, Dragon Spa, a jimjilbang in Seoul.

Perhaps the most comfortable place to study is a spa/sauna known as a jimjjilbang (짐찔방). Though not a popular location, probably because the price of admission ranges from 8,000 to 15,000 won (about $7–14), it’s quite a nice place to study—in comfortable clothing provided by the spa while sitting on a bed mat or at a desk in one of their study rooms. Just make sure you don’t fall asleep after the hot bath and steam room! There are jimjjilbangs all over Seoul, and a few of them are within walking distance of Yonsei.

 

There are many areas and vistas in Seoul, so I’m always finding new places to spend my reading time. It certainly makes studying a bit more interesting, at least!

The Rigors of Cultural Immersion and Language Study in South Korea

I imagine that for many students going abroad to study, language learning makes up a large portion of their goals for foreign education. Sure enough, it does for me too. Speaking as someone who has continually struggled with this necessarily rigorous subject, even at home in Toronto, I feel I must impart my experience to you, just in case you happen to be thinking of pursuing language or cultural immersion abroad. I realize that this may be old hat for a lot of you, and it deals solely with my experience in South Korea, but nevertheless, heed my words!

 

The main drag of Yonsei after a big snow fall.

Before going abroad I had a rather romantic view of what would constitute my language study here in South Korea. I would go to a language class where, at a comfortable pace, a passionate and attentive professor would teach me the various nuances of Korean for a few hours in a class full of like-minded students, eager to learn yet striving to overcome their own unique struggles with the language. After a detailed lesson in which the teacher would ensure that the students were on the same page by answering myriad questions, we would then go out into the surrounding area (Sinchon, in the case of Yonsei University) and go shopping or have dinner or just stroll around with local friends we had made, giving us excited and enthusiastic students ample opportunity to use our newly acquired grammar forms and vocabulary. Based on this pattern, my language skills would evolve naturally at a gradual pace, and I would experience both improvement and heightened cultural awareness at a previously unimaginable rate. I mean, how could I not, right?

Having a clean study area would probably help to some degree!

Well, big surprise—life’s not that simple. Speaking to peers about language learning in a foreign environment showed me that many shared sentiments similar to mine: It’s super easy to learn a language if you’re in the country of its origin. The reality, of course, is that it’s never “super easy” to learn a language, unless you’re some sort of prodigy. A more accurate representation of the reality of foreign-language learning is this: It’s easier to learn a language if you’re immersed in it. The trick is, of course, to ensure that you’re immersed, which is easier said than done.

Perhaps the biggest misconception when it comes to studying abroad is that you will be instantly surrounded by the culture of the land you choose to study in. You may have romantic visions of living in a dorm or attending classes among native students from that country, who will be open-minded and cannot wait to converse with an intrepid North American exchange student. You may expect that you will easily befriend locals who will be eager to assist you in your language studies and make lifelong bonds with you. These idealistic notions may be the reality of studying abroad in countries where English is spoken by a large percentage of the population, but in South Korea—and, I would imagine, in many other non-primarily English-speaking countries—if you are lacking in linguistic prowess, you may find it more difficult to immerse yourself than you initially expected.

Here at Yonsei I, like most other international students, live in an international dormitory, surrounded by other international students, mostly from Europe and the United States, who primarily speak English. I was not able to register for a Korean dorm (and I’m not sure if I would have anyway, but even so, the option was not available). Moreover, my classes cater especially to exchange students and my classmates consist of nothing but. This naturally has its advantages—it is easy for us to touch base and to share helpful survival tips about things like banking or going to the pharmacy—but from an immersion perspective this has been somewhat debilitating.

The global lounge at Yonsei where international students can get info and chill.

During our orientation I was surprised when one of the speakers told us that we exchange students might be more comfortable hanging out in the Global Lounge—a space designed for but not limited to international students on the Yonsei campus—as there were “fewer Korean students there.” Certainly I can understand classes that cater to English-speakers in a country that does not primarily speak English, but I find the lengths the university seems to be going to keep us separated from the Korean students rather discouraging, despite the fact that the administration seems to feel it is within our best interest. For example, the international dorms are located on the other side of the campus from the Korean dorms, and a relatively large number of student clubs seem to be exclusively for Korean students (I applied for four clubs and got contacted by only one, although that could simply have been the result of lack of organization).

Thus the reality of my cultural immersion and language study has so far been more like this:

Every day we learn Korean for two hours in the evening, after a day of classes that are entirely in English (no surprises there) with classmates who are almost entirely non-Koreans, with few exceptions. By the end of our language class we are really tired, and the teacher takes off right afterwards, leaving little time or motivation to ask questions. I go off with friends from the U.S. whom I met in my dorm and my Korean class, and later I study with another friend, from Taiwan, and my roommate, from Indonesia. I speak English to all of them except for the rare times when we try to speak Korean together. Occasionally, when we both have time, I hang out with my language-exchange partner, but I haven’t spoken Korean to her yet. This also seems to be the reality for most of my classmates.

Befriending locals is always a good way to get immersed. Here’s me with my South Korean friend, Yumin.

I’m lucky in that I have quite a few Korean friends whom I met in Toronto, and if it wasn’t for them I would find it very difficult indeed to find an opportunity to speak Korean. Despite this, most of the time I don’t speak too much Korean beyond ordering food in restaurants.

 

So why am I telling you this discouraging tale? I’m simply offering a warning. Though you will inevitably have many wonderful experiences with other foreign students while studying abroad, if you want to be culturally and linguistically immersed in the country you’re visiting, it won’t happen if you sit around and wait for the culture to come to you. You must be proactive and insert yourself in situations where you are able to experience the culture and use the language you have been studying; otherwise you’ll end up being more of an academic tourist. If that’s all you want from your exchange experience (and there is nothing wrong with that, mind you), then sit back and relax. But if you’re hoping to increase language proficiency or mingle with the locals, you’ve got to get out there. I still have more than eight months of study left here, and I’m certainly planning to get out there a lot more.

Some people search for alternate solutions!