Shanti: Food, food, food! And my homestay experience.

It is Monday of our third week of classes and it feels like time is flying by so quickly, only two weeks to go before I head off home. It feels too soon. More and more, I am feeling at home here in Tainan, I wish I could stay a little longer. I’m still unsure if I’ve gotten used to doing oral reports twice a week, the amount of homework, or waking up at 6:05 AM to go to my 8 AM class every day. But overall, I feel like I am no longer treading my way through the day, after the next week I might just be able to swim.

Many things have happened since my last blog, but this one will be focused mainly on food and my (un-met) goal of trying a different kind of food every day. As mentioned earlier, I’m beginning to feel at home here, which means that I’ve got my own little routine going. This also means that I’ve been lazy and stuck mostly to what I know or tried initially. Thankfully, my homestay parents helped me in my mission and took me to eat as much 傳統 (traditional) Tainan foods as we could in my short time with them. 

My host family and I at Jingzijiao Wapan Salt Fields

I guess I will start with boring you with an in-depth look into my not-so-exciting routine: 

Breakfast: 豬排吐司加蛋 (Pork on toast with egg).
Inside they put grated cucumber, corn and barbeque (?) sauce. The bread is lightly toasted with the crust taken off. It takes about ten minutes to make (if I get there before all the kids from the neighbouring school take their orders). I also get an iced coffee which is ready-made and surprisingly good. All in all, it is $85NT ($4.25 NZD).
If I decide to skip breakfast or feel especially tired I will buy a mochaccino from a coffee chain called Louisa (similar to Starbucks or Gloria Jeans). Though they remind me of coffee in Auckland, espresso coffee here is an expensive treat as a large cup is $90NT ($4.5) which is more than the price of my usual breakfast. 
Lunch & Dinner: It really depends…
Recently I’ve been going to a small canteen where you can choose one type of meat and four (or more) vegetable dishes. This meal goes from $65NT ($3.25) and goes higher for additional meat or veggies.
But there are lots of different food places close to uni, even a vegan place, so I can always try something new. Another go-to is 牛肉麵 (beef noodle soup) which I mentioned in the last blog, which is around $100NT ($5). There are two places I go to, one by uni and one close to our dorm. Near to our dorm is also a Japanese curry place that has really good chips and tonkatsu.

What I have noticed here is that most food vendors have rotating shifts. One row of shops will have many different stalls operating at different times. First are the breakfast vendors which are usually small stalls along the roadside. There was one breakfast store near our dormitory that opened at 4.30AM! Next are the lunch stores, that are usually indoor and have some seating. Then in the evening, the dinner places will open, which can be a mix of roadside stalls and seated eateries. Obviously, times will cross over, and places will serve both dinner and lunch, but it is not unusual to see many shops with closed doors for most of the day, only to open for a few hours.

Tainan is known as the food capital of Taiwan, with most of the famous dishes originating from its ancient capital. And most of them are Street food. While in Tainan I have been able to try quite a few things. Our dorm was quite close to the Da Dong Night Market (大东夜市) which is open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Arriving at any night market can be very overwhelming with all the smells, sights, sounds and PEOPLE. Luckily, the first time I went there weren’t that many people so it wasn’t unbearably overwhelming. It was also closed. But, there still were few stalls opened in the usual area and I was able to get my hands on my first traditional Taiwanese snack – Stinky Tofu! I must say, after this first try I wasn’t that convinced but I have since tried it again and I must say, it is kind of growing on me…

Dumplings, egg pancakes and turnip cakes near Cheng Kung University

This week we had an optional homestay experience. This experience was set up with by the NCKU Chinese Language Center, who also helped us UoA students to receive a group scholarship from the Taiwan Ministry of Education to help pay for our tuition fees. I am super glad I went on the homestay experience. My homestay family live in Tainan, and they have two young sons, both under 10, who had their favourite thing to say “不行!No, no, no!” Which they always said cheekily whenever they were asked to do something. My host family could speak English but only used it when really needed. This definitely helped improve my Chinese listening skills as well as my vocab. Since the stay was over the weekend, we had two days together and my host family took me to see some of the historical sights in Tainan, as well as try some local food. The first place we went to was 安平 (Anping) and Fort Zeelandia. This area was once occupied by the Dutch who built a fort on top of a hill by the coast. Eventually the Dutch were driven out by a man named Kongxia who claimed the fort for himself. Presently, Fort Zeelandia is now surrounded by reclaimed land, so the sea that it once looked out on is nowhere in sight.

At Fort Zeelandia with my homestay younger brothers.

During the day the area around Fort Zeelandia has a day market that sells food, products, and also has some games you can play. Here I tried a fried fish cake as well as a very traditional oyster fritter. I am not the biggest fan of oysters but found the fritters really nice. I later tried a pork and vegetable bun and 豆花 (sweet tofu). The tofu was not as sweet as I expected and it came with some red beans and small tapioca balls.

Later we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields. Salt is produced here by pouring saltwater over the tiled ground. The sun eventually evaporates all the water and salt is left behind. Here, I tried a salt ice cream, a very delicious tea egg and some skewered fish balls.

One of the highlights of my homestay was going to the Ten Drum Rende Creative Park. This is place is an old sugar factory that was initially bought by a drumming group as a place to practice. But now, it is a cultural park with all sorts of cool installations and activities. There are multiple cafes, a small train, climbing wall, flying fox and a swing that looks over the whole park. The drumming group still practices and performs at the park. They have a special stage built within the factory, on top of the old production line. The drum performance was amazing, I didn’t know that drums could make such a wide the range of sounds. As the musicians played, the still working machinery also began to turn and move.

Before the drum performance.
Within the old factory that has art installations, cafes and even an area where you can play laser tag.

Lastly we went to a restaurant to have some hotpot. This hotpot broth was one I’ve never tried before, usually eaten during winter, the broth was made from ginger, duck meat and alcohol. Both the ginger and alcohol are meant to warm up your body during the winter. Additional ingredients include cabbage, mushrooms, fishballs and jelly made from pigs blood. The overall flavour of the broth was quite strong and bitter.

A hot pot for a Winter night.

Overall, I really had a great time with my homestay family. I was nervous at first as to how it would be, but they were very welcoming and nice. It was good to be in a family situation after spending most of time by myself or with friends. My two homestay younger brothers reminded me of my cousins back at home, especially how they also watched Youtube videos of games and toys, something I found really interesting. I also really enjoyed seeing some sights around Tainan, which I hadn’t really been able to do without a car, and I am really thankful to my homestay family for taking me to such cool places. I definitely improved my Chinese skills and also learnt a lot more about Taiwanese culture.

That is all for this blog post, thank you for reading!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

Happiness that spreads

As someone who spent more than half of their life in Brazil, I thought I was prepared for what was to come. I was wrong. Even flying over Mexico, you can start to feel how different this country is from anywhere else in the World.

And it’s not just the view. Sure; one minute there is cactuses ‘till the horizon, the next there are colorful villages, and all of a sudden there are office blocs and huge motorways. It is all very impressive. But it’s not just that. It’s the vibe: everyone is happy, everyone is relaxed, everyone is full of spirit, independent of the situation. Even when something bad or stressful is happening, Mexicans find a way to turn it around; they stick together and they never let their spirits down.

What I found amazing is that this love and affection spreads to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you go into a shop and don’t buy anything; people will still tell you (and truly hope) that you have a great day. It doesn’t matter if it is exam season- if someone sees you are lost, they will go out of their way to show you where to go. It doesn’t matter if you speak some or no Spanish, they will find a way for the communication to work; because they want you to have a great time in their country.

However, these are all things that can you can see in pictures or be told in stories. There is one thing about Mexico that words cannot explain: how contagious all the energy is.

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Bree, Anneliese, Rebecca and I. Mexico has brought us together in a way that no one would guess we’ve only been friends for about two weeks.

It was easy during my first few days here, as I arrived before my course started and got to enjoy a bit of a holiday. I was a bit concerned it would all die down once classes started. But again, I was wrong. The whole atmosphere in the campus, the in-class discussions, the content and even the study was all more than exciting.

It’s like you get the whole benefits of being on holiday- sight seeing, meeting new people, trying new foods… but you also get to learn valuable things in a country completely different from anywhere else. Even the day of my exam, there was no stress. Why? Because learning here is fun. It is enjoyable. Everyone is helpful, and you immerse yourself in the learning- it’s not just reading and understanding, it’s feeling, it’s being and it’s loving.

I’d like to thank Education New Zealand and the PMSLA, for aiding the opportunity for me to truly get amongst Mexican culture in a way that personal travel would have never allowed me to. It is through their aid that students like me grow into the future New Zealand professionals, assisting with the ever growing interconnectedness of Kiwis and Latin Nations.  

Rebecca: The Heart of Mexico!

Built on top of an ancient lake bed, Mexico City has centuries of history beneath and among it. With precisely four days before our studies started, we set to work on getting to know the heart of Mexico!

Our first look was in the downtown Zocalo district which plays host to numerous historical sites including the magnificent Catedral Metropolitana, the ruins of Templo Mayor and the Palacio des Bellas Artes. Despite being surrounded by so many incredible sights, one of my highlights was when we discovered a clowder of cats in the government house, complete with their own cat-shaped houses and beds! Now that’s a good way to run a country!

Catedral Metropolitana
The National Palace (government house)
Palacio des Bellas Artes
Cute cats!!!
The streets of Mexico City
Cute cat houses!!!

We spent sunset up the Mirador Torre which is the CDMX equivalent of the SkyTower. With amazing 360 degree views, it really sunk in just how vast and expansive this city was. Even at 10pm on a Wednesday night, the streets were packed with people shopping, eating and dancing – it didn’t take long before we decided to join them.

Views from the Mirador Torre

Our studies started in Santa Fe where we were put up in the Novotel Hotel (!!!) which was only a two-minute ride away from the Tec de Mont campus. With plenty of classrooms, conference halls and even a NFL field, there was plenty to explore on campus alone. Our lecture content for the week was focused on globalisation and the part Mexico has played, is playing and can potentially play in it. They were all very interactive and gave us a chance to really discuss our own ideas and form our own opinions.

Technologico de Monterrey Santa Fe Campus

In between classes, we had a company visit to PepsiCo and a conference with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, both of which were full of knowledge of the cultural practices and the unique market position Mexico has from people with first-hand experience.

PepsiCo Headquarters CMDX
PepsiCo Conference

Having left New Zealand with only a (very, very) basic grasp of Spanish, the language barrier has not been as difficult as I expected. Most of this has come down to the helpfulness and loveliness of all the people we’ve come across who seemed pleased that we were making an effort and tried their best to translate for us. I feel it is so important to say that despite all the negative news, I have felt safe in Mexico. I know that we have been lucky enough to stay in wealthier areas but I still feel that the image that has been portrayed of Mexico as an unsafe travel environment is inaccurate – the helpfulness of all those I have encountered so far is a testament to that.

The Tec de Mont NZ Cohort

It’s been a great start to the trip and I’m so looking forward to seeing what the rest of it has to offer! Thank you so much to 360 International and Education NZ for this incredible PMSLA experience!

Rebecca McCulloch

Julia: Leaving UGA – “Once a dawg, always a dawg”

Earlier this morning I packed up and said my final goodbyes to UGA. I’m going to be honest here, I’m really struggling to write this; to find the words to do justice to the last 6 months. I don’t want to over-state it, as I am fully aware that this might not be everyone’s exchange experience, but this has truly been the best 6 months of my life; it was everything I’d hoped for and so much more. Athens has become home. The friends I have made here have become family.

Having known people who had been on exchange before me I thought I knew what to expect, but I really didn’t anticipate how tough it would be to leave. However, I have begun to realize that how I’m feeling is an indication of the importance of what I am leaving behind, the significance of the time I have had here. To avoid this blog turning into a soppy mess I’ve decided to use this final entry to debunk some myths I once thought about exchange, now that I am at the end of this experience. Hopefully it’s helpful to you!

Some of my exchange family on game day!

1.“Going on Exchange Changes you”

I don’t think exchange changes you so much as brings out the best in you. It brought to light things that I’d taken for granted in NZ, habits I hadn’t realized existed, complacency that had developed in relationships and the monotony of my study life and encouraged me to alter these things. Taking yourself out of your usual context for a period of time is so healthy in the way it opens your mind and encourages you to reflect

2. “I’ll be lonely/I’ll struggle to make friends”

Again, everyone has a slightly different exchange experience, but I honestly think that making friends on exchange is about going in with the right attitude. From my experience, If you make the effort to invest in people, step outside of your comfort zone, involve yourself in student life and say yes to the opportunities that come your way (especially in the first few weeks of exchange!) then you shouldn’t have problems building a community around you.

My intermural volleyball team- we made it to semi-finals!

3. So you leave, and then it’s all over?

 I was struggling with the thought of returning to NZ for honestly the last 2 months of my exchange, not wanting my time at UGA to end. While it’s now over, what I am absolutely certain of is that this experience doesn’t end here. Yes, the actual exchange is just for a period of time, but as cliché as it may sound, I know that the experiences I’ve have, the friends I’ve make and the memories I’ve formed will last a lifetime. Once a dawg, always a dawg!

A friend of mine insisted that we take senior pictures, as I am graduating on return to UoA!

Thanks for following my journey, friends. I am deeply grateful to 360 International for the opportunity to go on exchange and genuinely could not recommend it more highly! As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions at all!


Dinah: It's Not Over Yet

My Autumn semester has finished and guess what?

I was supposed to be winging my way back to New Zealand but I am STAYING ANOTHER SEMESTER. My family have supported me staying and I am very happy. I have chosen two more modules that sound fascinating.

One is a British-based Art History module in art from 1850 to 1900. It includes architecture, photography design as well as pure art (whatever that is!) and the second module is an English one where I will be studying the American short story. I have deliberately chosen modules not available at University of Auckland .

The other great thing about staying longer is I will have more opportunities to explore the surrounding countryside and cities. There are so many more places I want to visit. I feel like I have only scratched the surface and there is so much more to see. Bath, Bristol, and Tintagel to name a few. Also, the National Trust has many amazing parks and buildings I want to visit. Rather than having exams, the modules here at Exeter are often marked on course work only which means predominantly projects and essays. These will spill over the end of the teaching semester. My semester finished on the 13th December but my 4,000 word essay for one of my English modules is due on the 9th January. However, essays can be completed and submitted from home if you return before the submission date. It is different for exams. You have to be at the university for the exams so that is worth checking before you choose your modules.

Other news. The shopping is so good. Far too good! I have spent money on clothes and shoes because there is such a huge choice and everything is reasonably priced, especially when there are sales which are happening now. However, there seem to be reductions all year round. It is a tough time for retailers so I feel it is my duty to help finance their continued existence! Food is also very reasonable. Cheaper than in New Zealand and a lot of choice.

I discovered the excellent Exeter Picture House the other day. It shows excellent films, both main-stream and more independent foreign films etc. It also has an excellent bar and café where you can have a drink and a delicious pizza before a film. Here in England, movies are called films and movie theatres are called cinemas.

Since catching buses and trains everywhere, I have had some fascinating conversations with people. Don’t take any notice of people who say that the English are reserved. They are rather shy but if you smile and comment about the weather then you are away! I have talked to old ladies, young guys, bus drivers and guards on trains. I traveled on a bus once where there was just the bus driver and me. We had a chat about what it was like to be a bus driver (he said he loved it) and the fact that I was getting a taxi service at a budget rate AND plenty of leg room. When you tell people you are from New Zealand they love it! Often they will tell me about a friend or relative that lives in New Zealand and many have traveled to New Zealand on holiday. It really is such a small world.

Well, that is it from me. I have enjoyed writing this blog and if it has inspired some of you to apply to Exeter for your exchange, then my job here is done!!

Meg: How to Survive a Canadian Winter

It might still be fall but we’ve had more snowy days already than I’ve experienced in my life before Canada! So here’s what I’ve learnt about preparing for, surviving and making the most of Canadian winter.

A winter’s afternoon inToronto – as we get closer to the shortest day the sun sets before 5pm!

Quick disclaimer, all of my information comes from southern Ontario, so while it’s colder here than Vancouver, if you’re headed to Edmonton all I can say is good luck! Try asking locals for help and international students too as they often have a more accurate gauge of how cold winter really gets. Learn from their mistakes!

McMaster as the snow begins.

Shopping Tips

Make sure to budget for winter clothes as while a raincoat and hoody will get you through any Auckland winter they won’t do much during entire months of subzero weather. If, like me, you would rather spend money on travel, then try borrowing from Canadian friends or buying secondhand online.

My Canadian housemates were winter shopping godsends!

What You’ll Need

Winter Coat (winter semester)

  • You’ll be wearing this almost every day for months so it needs to be thick enough to keep you warm and water resistant to keep the snow from soaking you.
  • A larger size is good so you can add layers underneath, it’ll keep you warmer if it reaches down to the tops of your thighs and a fur trimmed hood is great for keeping your face from freezing in gusts of snow.

Snow Boots (winter semester)

  • These look ridiculous but they’re very important for when you’re wading through heavy snow mid-winter.
  • They should be waterproof, have a good temperature rating (check what’s needed near you), good tread for grip on ice, be a size too big for thicker socks and lightweight to make wading through snow easier.
My borrowed winter coat and new snow boots!

Beanie, mittens or gloves and a scarf (both semesters)

  • Unlike in Auckland these will get a lot of use.
  • Waterproof Ankle Boots (both semesters)
  • Very useful for days when it’s raining, lightly snowing or icy to keep your feet dry and warm and help you grip on ice.
  • Most types of waterproof boots are suitable, they have great options here but many people use Doc Martins or Timberlands from home (though they’re not much help on ice).

Fall Coat (fall semester)

  • Less heavily lined than a winter coat but useful for light snow and cold fall days.
  • I’m still using mine in late December as most days are still warmer than -10.
My everyday fall coat, waterproof boots and the little winter essentials I own but never need to use back home.

Beat the Winter Blues!

With short days and cold weather it’s easy to feel trapped inside so to survive winter you need to make the most of it! Ice skating, skiing, snow shoeing and more are all at you fingertips in Canada so it’s easy to get out of the house with friends. Most importantly, make lots of visits to Tim Hortons to keep warm the Canadian way!

If you have any questions for me about Canada, McMaster, winter survival or even what to order at Timmies then feel free to talk to the 360 office about how to contact me!

If you don’t know what Tim Hortons is before you leave don’t worry, it’s impossible to be in Canada and not find out quickly!