Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Best hidden spot in South Africa

Sunrise over the Indian Ocean in St. Lucia, South Africa
A few hours south of Swaziland and Mozambique on the eastern shore of South Africa is a tiny little beach town called St. Lucia. 

It’s a relaxed and safe spot with a ton of options to keep you busy: walk to the beach and take a surf lesson, hang out on the little boardwalk and watch the wild hippos and crocs, or take a Big 5 Safari at nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, one of the oldest in Africa.

You can also take part in guided walks along the estuary, go whale-watching, snorkeling, kayaking, ride horses on the beach, or take a night “turtle tour” to see huge turtles up close. 

It was my favourite place to get away, and it’s also a celebrity hot spot: Sandra Bullock was in town at the same time.

There is a little souvenir market and great artwork to bring home as gifts (remember to bargain for prices). The BazBus stops there, so you get door-to-door transportation and don’t need to worry. Just remember to drink bottled water and bring your sunscreen.

Food as culture

When I think of my time abroad, I think about food. Delectable, mouthwatering, and scrumptious food. Through travelling and living in Sweden, transcending boundaries by making friends with people from many different parts of the world, I had the opportunity to explore culture through food.

As I have matured, my taste buds have also, and along with this has come a longing to always try different tastes. This longing was answered in Sweden, of all places.

While studying abroad, within my core group of friends, we cooked for each other, introducing different ingredients, tastes, and ways of preparing our dishes. As our group of friends got larger and acquaintances became closer, we started holding potluck dinners. Everyone was to prepare something, be it a main course, dessert, or drink. The result was an amazing array of different flavours, textures, and aromas. Think Dutch-made pancakes, Italian-made gnocchi, German-made wurst, Romanian-made soup, and Korean-made rice dishes.

Not only did I ingest a form of culture during these potluck dinners, but often these dishes were the starting point of some very interesting conversation and ‘googling’ sessions. I’ve come away from my exploration of culture through food in Sweden with a deeper understand of the friends I made there, where they come from, what they value, how they approach life, and not to mention some pretty awesome recipes.

- Sarah Matheson studied abroad from January - June 2010 at Linneaus University in Sweden

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Simeon in Europe

Last year was the best year of my life because when I came back from Mexico I flew off to London for a summer of "work-vacation" in Europe. 

I stayed for a couple weeks in "Soufeast London" with family, which has a lot of British-Jamaicans. I then took the train to Paris and then the TGV to the middle of nowhere in the southeast where I worked a kibbutz-style collective in the kitchen (there was also a Montessori school and a very environmentally friendly construction project). I showered with "watery environmentally friendly soap" and used which was pretty much "mud" for toothpaste; it was lovely, a very earthy tone and flavour! 

We cooked pure vegetarian food every day and I enjoyed my 10-hour days as a dishwasher and prep cook. I had to pay around 3 Euros a day because everybody pools money to support the initiative, but for me my involvement was all about French practice. 

I enjoyed philosophizing with the French hippies; I felt soo good when they thought I was from Paris, apparently I can put on a good French accent! I ended up losing my passport there though and had to go to the Paris Embassy to get a new one. This was kind of stressful but I ended up staying for 3 days at a friends apartment who was finishing up her exchange there; she showed me all the sights and I had a good low-cost vacation so it ended up working out. 

I then took the train to Villars-sur-Ollons, Switzerland for my official summer camp job, which I was late for but didn't matter. I spent a month there, had the time of my life with people from all over the world, using all my languages (even the Portuguese that my Angolan and Brazilian "brothers of colour" taught me in Mexico) and can't wait to go back this next summer. 

After I took the train to Paris and then a LONG overnight train ride down to Spain to work at my old summer camp that I worked the year before outside of Burgos. I had a great two weeks there, lots of crazy Spanish-style unorganization, parties, and long hikes to little villages. After two Brits and an American colleague and I went back to Madrid, another two-day vacation (walking around the hot city, picnics and hostel laziness). 

I then flew up to Amsterdam to stay with a buddy of mine for a week. It was my first time in the Netherlands and the highlight was a floating concert on one of the canals. At the end of the concert, they sang a traditional patriotic Dutch song and everybody sang together in streetlight-lit night, it was touching. Afterwards, I went back to London, spent some more time with the family and then back to Waterloo in time for school starting. 
Throughout my travels, I was surprised at the kindness of strangers where people gave me money, rides and even free hats and other blessings. Canadians have a great reputation abroad; therefore being personable and friendly, not judging certain people who may seem poor or "sketchy" by Canadian standards has great rewards for those who travel.

Simeon Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico

Last winter semester, I received the NAFTA Mobility Grant (through the International Office), which was approximately $4,200, to study in another North American country. I chose Mexico because I study French/Spanish and I lived for five months in Hermosillo, which is in the northern Sonoran desert. 

These northern parts of Mexico have been recently deemed by the Mexican and foreign media as the centre of a numerous drug wars and since Pres. Calderon has invested large amounts of money into destroying the cartels, we've all heard the stories. However, I wasn't too worried because my friend had studied there before and she told me that Hermosillo isn't one of the particularly violent parts. 

I lived with a Senora Lopez in a homestay which was a pricier option at approximately $300 CAN a month. The cost included all meals and a nice little apartment that I shared with another student named Esteban from Santa Ana two hours north. I studied French, Spanish, Portuguese and Spanish composition and linguistics classes; they were a lot of fun. I made great friends that I still keep in touch with today. 

The other exchange students were from Argentina, Spain, Brazil and other parts of Mexico; there was a student group called Punto Enlace that picked me up from the bus station, partied with us, went on trips, etc. I was really impressed with the BBQs that we would have; in Canada we get together and maybe some hot dogs. In Hermosillo, we would have a "carne asada" because Sonora is known all around Mexico for its high quality beef. We would go to the grocery store to buy tomatoes, avocados, beef, tortillas, peppers, onions, Mexican beer called Tecate and we then would go home, start a fire and roast our beef and green onions (the men, because its a macho thing to do). 

Las senoritas would be in the kitchen making fresh salsa and guacamole and then we would have a guitar and sing beautiful canciones tradicionales and eat. We would pool money and each paid around $3 CAN. Good times, I miss them so much. 

I'd like to add my experience in Mexico was different because I have Jamaican background; no Mexican ever thought I was Canadian or "gringo" thank God but always thought I was either Brazilian or Cuban which was really funny. I would walk down the street and people would stare and even some little girls from la prepa (high school) would follow me around.

People were amazingly friendly and everybody is interested in talking to extranjeros (foreigners) because Mexicans have this incredible curiosity of foreign people. The money was worth around 50,000 pesos, which was a lot and was more than enough to last me for a year I would say. I even went to the Cayman Islands for spring break to visit more extended family there. 

Everybody, especially if you are a minority, GO ON AN EXCHANGE! Do not be scared of any media rubbish, Mexico will always have a special place in my heart. I also volunteered with a government after-school program after I finished my studies; it was a different experience and I got to meet children who had previously worked on the streets I still keep in touch with some of them as well. All in all, I got to really experience Mexico, spoke Spanish all the time and learned so much about myself.

Simeon Young is a 4th year French/Spanish major at WLU.

Teaching in South Korea

I began teaching English at an elementary school in South Korea in November of 2008. What struck me immediately was just how foreign and intriguing I really was to such young students. 

I taught in a city of 400,000. However, it was a little outside Seoul and so the locals were not used to having many foreign English teachers around. Students were amazed to have a foreigner in their school every day and dozens flocked to the English office every recess just to catch a glimpse of me and my two fellow foreign co-workers. It was staggering how many students ran at me at full speed just to scream ‘HELLO’ as loud as possible. 

But I felt an appreciation from parents as much as I did an interest from students. After having taught for about a month, I had an eleven-year-old student ask me if she was allowed to bring her six-year-old cousin into class one day. I was caught off guard by the request but it was then that I began to understand just how much Korean parents valued ESL teachers. 

So the next day this six-year-old boy, Seok Hyun, comes to my class — his parents had obviously made him ‘dress up,’ as he sported a white-collared shirt underneath a rather dapper sweater vest. As soon as he nervously entered the room he silently bowed to me and offered me a can of green apple flavoured pop as a gift — it was nothing short of the cutest thing I’d ever seen. This little guy spoke absolutely zero English but he sat intently through my entire lesson.

By ‘break time’ (ninety minutes in), Seok Hyun had become much more comfortable and saw that I was not going to punish him for playing around. Within thirty seconds of the uproarious commencement of break time, he was laughing while chasing me around the room and stopping every so often to throw punches into the air and show off his Taekwondo


The way he became so comfortable so quickly, coupled with his intent willingness to listen and learn, was a truncated version of the kind of teacher-student relationship I developed with so many kids over the course of my year in Korea. Students like Seok Hyun are why I will always remember my time there.

Top five list of places I visited in Asia:
1. Siem Reap, Cambodia
2. Busan, Korea
3. Phuket, Thailand
4. Vang Vieng, Laos
5. Tokyo, Japan

Wade Fleming is a Laurier student who taught ESL in South Korea