Shanti: Culture and Trip Reflection

Hi all, it has been a little while since I have gotten back to New Zealand, but I still want to post my third instalment of my adventures. One of my favourite things about studying in Taiwan was being able to immerse myself in the Culture and Language. Being back in New Zealand, I have really been able to appreciate the improvement I have made in both my confidence and ability in speaking Mandarin. I definitely recommend doing a 360 exchange program or language exchange if you enjoy travelling.

Apart from just daily life, the Chinese Language Centre at NCKU also organised some cultural trips especially for the University of Auckland students. These trips are definitely in my top list of memories of my time in Taiwan. In addition to the cultural excursions, we also had different cultural classes and electives that we could choose from.

Full Day Trip:

As part of the program organised by the University of Auckland and the National Cheng Kung University Chinese Language Center, we were taken on a full day trip to Kaohsiung (高雄), a city one hour North of Tainan. First, we were taken to Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum, a massive complex that houses multiple shrines, pagodas, and even a Starbucks. I often go to the Auckland branch of Fo Guang Shan Temple, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was on the itinerary. At the museum we were also taught the traditional ceremonial way of serving and drinking tea.

Photo from the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum

Next on the list was lunch at a themed restaurant. This restaurant had a massive model train going through it, with tables and seating inside. The rest of the restaurant had a strong Japanese influence, something I had found to be common throughout my travels in Taiwan. This is something that initially surprised me, as I did not know too much about the relationship and current sentiment between Taiwan and Japan. However, with Japan ruling over Taiwan for 51 years after the Treaty of Shimonoseki, much of the development of Taiwan is attributed to this time.

After lunch, we went on a ferry ride to the 红毛港文化园区 (Hongmaogang Cultural Park). This cultural park preserves remnants of a small fishing and shrimp farm village. Called “Hong Mao” or ‘red hair’, in reference to the Dutch, the park features old buildings and photos of what life was like before the development of the area into an international port. The people who once lived there were relocated, but the cultural park keeps the history alive.

 

Half Day Trip:

The half day trip was an optional tour available to all students at the Chinese Language Centre. On this trip, we went to some historical sites around Tainan, including the first school in Taiwan, and the Old District Court. The first school in Taiwan was a Confucian temple and though the main structure is currently under restoration, we were still able to see the outside courtyard. The half day trip was actually the second time I had been there. The first time I went, we also explored the surrounding streets, one of which has a cute market that has lots of stalls selling homemade items, a few hidden restaurants and a palm reader.

One of the outer buildings of the first school in Taiwan.

The Old District Court was built during Japanese rule and is now a Judicial museum. It also features an interesting sculpture which is an inverse clock tower, reflected on the shiny tiled ground. It’s a bit hard to describe but I will put a photo below. Lastly, we went to the Grand Mazu Temple that was constructed in 1664. This temple definitely felt like it had a lot of history surrounding it and I took the time to wish for a good year while I was there.

Cultural Classes:

As part of the University of Auckland language program, our group had several cultural classes and experiences. One of the most interesting experiences was the Taiwanese foot massage. To say it was relaxing would be a bit of a lie. My feet definitely felt different after, but the actual process was a bit painful to be totally honest. As well as the actual massage, our overall health was assessed from how our feet were looking. I was told that I should sleep more and earlier, something I already knew but still need to work on.

One of my favourite cultural classes (maybe because it involved food) was our cooking class. As a group we went to a nearby high school to cook some Taiwanese food, Sweet and Sour pork, crispy fried mushrooms and some classic 真祖奶茶 (pearl milk tea). This was a fun hands-on activity and it was good practice listening to the instructions in Mandarin with minimal translation. Another more hands-on activity was stamp engraving. In this class we carved our names onto slabs of stone, which could be coated in ink and stamped on to paper as a signature. Stamps were widely used, mainly for high class as an official signature or to show one’s rank (such as in the army). Later on, stamps were also used by everyday people who were illiterate, in order to sign documents.

In addition to the organised cultural activities, we were also given the opportunity to choose an extracurricular class with the other Chinese Language Center students. I chose 书法 (calligraphy). I found the classes really relaxing and my characters improved somewhat over the lessons.

 

Studying Abroad: A Reflection

I am so happy that I took the opportunity to study abroad. The experience not only improved my Mandarin speaking skills, but it also gave me more insight into Taiwanese culture. Because the program was part of a University of Auckland Summer school paper, I was able to gain 15 points towards my Chinese degree as well as explore another country for a month.

C1班, my class of three weeks.

One thing that really helped me in terms of funding my study abroad was the Prime Minister’s Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to students and others who are going to Asia (or Latin America) so that Kiwis like me can learn more about the cultures of their destination country. The scholarship also aims to strengthen the ties between New Zealand and these two regions, as well as promote New Zealand’s education system. So if you are interested in going on exchange, or one of the many overseas opportunities that the University of Auckland provides, I fully recommend applying for a Prime Minister’s Scholarship. There are both individual and group scholarships available. If you have any questions, the 360 International office team are always there to help.

I think that studying abroad was such a great opportunity, not just to learn, but also to make new friends and to travel. In Taiwan I made new friends, not only with those from our University of Auckland group but also with our language buddies and fellow Chinese Language Center students. It was great to hang out with people around the similar ages as us and to get some inside scoops of the modern Taiwanese youth culture, as opposed to just historical and traditional culture. It was a bit of a sad departure, but I’m super keen to go back to Taiwan to visit. After I finished my course, took the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing in Taiwan, and I also visited Singapore. This was my first time travelling alone, so it was a great opportunity to use my Mandarin skills with no one else around to help me. Because New Zealand is quite far from many countries, it was also good to travel while I was already in the area. Solo travel, though initially quite daunting, was both a challenging and enjoyable learning experience. I definitely recommend doing some sightseeing if you study abroad.

Over the my few years at university, so many people have told me to make the most of my time at university, because once you graduate and start working, you will most likely be stuck in a full-time job with little opportunities to travel. So I am giving whoever is reading this the same advice, take up the opportunities while you are still studying and go on 360 exchange and/or study abroad!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

Alofa: Fight the good fight

E mame le tava’e i ona fulu. This is a Samoan proverb which talks of a bird, the Tava’e, that is proud of her feathers. It’s commonly used in context when describing one who speaks or displays their culture in a prideful manner. After spending a couple of weeks in Brasil, I can confidently say that this is the perfect phrase to use.

This trip to Brasil continues to leave me in awe. There is an underlying passion that can melt even the coldest of hearts – and I’m not just talking about the couples making out in the middle of the streets. Activism for the rights of indigenous people to be recognised and the fight for freedom is prevalent in every street corner. Yes Brasil may be the best country to be in for parties – especially during carnaval – but beyond that limelight, there’s a heartfelt plea that has been begging to be heard since the colonisation of the 1500’s.

In our lectures the idea of slavery was explored as well as the complexity of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988. Let’s face it – no governmental system is perfect, just look at Herodotus’ debate on the three government types! And slavery? I learnt a long time ago in Ancient History that slavery was key to the rise of many empires and even up until the 1900’s it still was.

I love architecture and the Monumento o Bandeirantes definitely rates near the top, but the meaning behind it breaks my heart.

The artist Katu Mirim informed us of the fight that the indigenous continue to fight. Indigenous is not a costume that you wear for a Carnaval party but unfortunately this is something that the indigenous people have to tolerate. Katu showed us worksheets that are often handed out in class to students where indigenous are stereotyped as a naked person who wears headdresses and because of this, the indigenous continued to be discriminated against when they are seen adapting to the Western way of life.

A video produced by ISA to highlight the fight against stereotypes

The problem that we noticed about Brazil is that they have memory issues and many do not remember the past when the dictatorship proved to be one of the hardest period for the indigenous nor do they have a vast knowledge about the indigenous pre-colonisation besides the fact that they were ‘savages’. Indigenous people are talked about as if they were only in the past and that they no longer exist. In short, I am so glad that I live in NZ because we aren’t as bad as Brasil is cut out to be.

Growing up I’ve constantly had my grandparents pass on tala mai le vavau (stories of the past) and stories of them growing up in the islands. Even though I don’t live in Samoa, I know the customs and traditions well enough to keep my culture alive and functional in a Western society, and fortunately it informs people outside my culture about who we are. Quite frankly, this is currently not the case in Brasil – and it’s not because the indigenous haven’t tried. Their voices aren’t being heard as they are being spoken over but they continue to fight. Many of the indigenous tribes that we visited told us that they will continue to fight as they have since the beginning.

A video produced by a NGO ISA to signal the continual fight for the land

One of my favourite visits would have to be to the Quilombaque community who, amongst the discrimination and disparity, have managed to draft an urban plan to educate the population about the history of Brazil from the underdog’s POV. Although the plan has yet to be submitted for approval, the activism behind the movement and their fellowship with the indigenous community is astounding.

You would assume with how the world is going that it is everyone for themselves but in Brasil, those who aren’t against you are actually for you. There are a lot of things that we can learn between the relationship of the Quilombaque and the Indigenous tribe of Jaragua and the world would be a better place with this knowledge. The only problem is, the lesson to be learnt can only be felt with the heart by spending time with these people and listening to their stories rather than me telling you.

So if you ever get the chance to come to Brasil and talk to these amazing people, I high advise that you listen closely because you might learn a thing or two. The fight is continuous – it doesn’t stop. If only we had the determination that these indigenous do, then maybe democracy could actually work.

Iven: Chapter 1 of My Journey to Singapore

Kia ora! *:・゚✧(ꈍᴗꈍ)✧・゚:*

It is currently the last day of January as I am writing this post in my dorm, but how was my first month being on exchange in Singapore? What is it like living in Singapore? Are there certain things I should be aware of if I’m going to Singapore? What are the classes like at The National University of Singapore (NUS)? Don’t worry I will cover all these questions along with some of my key tips I’ve learnt along the way!

WEEK 1: Settling in and Exploring Singapore

After celebrating New Years with a bang in Auckland, I flew over 8,000kms to Singapore where I stayed at a hotel on my first night and then an Airbnb for the rest of the week. For me, I really wanted to come to Singapore earlier to be able to adjust and have time to settle in. Taking my first step into Singapore honestly felt like entering a sauna, the hot and humid air was super overwhelming.

Tip: Buy a travel adapter from Auckland Airport and bring your Student Pass documents on paper to show immigration when you arrive 🙂

The MRT in Singapore (very efficient but be prepared to stand)

During my first week, I tried to adapt to the humid weather, explore different parts of Singapore, familiarize myself with the public transport and the way of life in Singapore. Some interesting differences compared to New Zealand, which I noticed during this time were that most traffic crossings don’t make the ‘beeping’ sound and Uber is not used here, instead Grab is which essentially is Uber and Uber Eats in one ( I really love Grab).

Tip: Don’t buy your SIM card at the airport, get it at 7-Eleven because it’s cheaper. I recommend Singtel as a phone provider because they have the best data deals (bring your passport with you).

Shops and stalls at Chinatown

WEEK 2: Moving into NUS, Meeting other Exchange Students

For this exchange, I will be staying at University Town (UTown) which is the main part of campus. UTown has food courts, Starbucks, convenience stores… etc, however, it is not the only accommodation which NUS offers. Personally, I chose UTown as my first option for accommodation as I had researched and found that it’s where most exchange students stay, it is very close to the amenities I mentioned earlier and you get to share an apartment with 3 other people.

Tip: Pack your own home-ware, bedding.. etc if you don’t want to buy them here. Also learn from my mistake and don’t buy your bedding stuff from IKEA, I recommend getting it from local markets or malls, for example, Clementi Mall.

The NUS sign at UTown

The check-in date for my dorm was on January 6th, it was a long process waiting but it was worth it in the end after I got my key and found out I was staying on the 25th floor which is the highest floor! The first thing I did after dropping off my luggage was head to IKEA to buy some essentials for my room. In short, the days after I moved into my dorm consisted of meeting my roommates (who are all Australian!!), attending NUS orientations, meeting other exchange students from New Zealand and all over the world through NUS events and more exploring of Singapore.

Tip: Put yourself out there and try to attend as much events as possible! That’s where you get to meet so many new people and create bonds that will last a lifetime~

Me and other exchange students at Gardens By The Bay for the Light Show

WEEK 3: First Week of Class!- Eeekk

Before the semester began, we were able to change courses (they call it modules here) on a specific day so I submitted a list of 5 modules in order of which I wanted the most. I ended up getting a film module along with my original modules; a design module and a digital storytelling module. Before coming on exchange, I was quite nervous about the difficulty of the courses and if I would find it hard to adjust to the academic side of things. After my first week of class, my worries went away immediately, and it reassured me on why I wanted to go on exchange. The courses I’m doing are up my alley, super interesting and practical, not to mention the great lecturers. I also liked that my classes weren’t in big lecture theatres, they were more intimate and felt like tutorials back at UoA which I prefer.

Tip: Most classes are really cold because of the air-con so bring a jacket also NUS is such a huge campus that they have their own free internal bus system, but they don’t come often and there is always competition to get onto the bus! So get to the bus stop early because NUS does not tolerate lateness.

Since I’m only doing 3 modules and tutorials didn’t start until week 3, my timetable was pretty chill so while I had class, I still had plenty time to explore more of Singapore and hangout with my new exchange friends. One of my favorite places we visited (other than all the amazing food we ate)was definitely the Jewel Changi Airport, when I arrived in Singapore like my other exchange friends, we didn’t get to see the pretty waterfall that everyone knows of when they think of Singapore so we went back and wow!!

Tip: Almost all food places, especially at NUS, don’t give you straws! Oh and they give you LOTS of ice! for drinks so be prepared.

WEEK 4: Chinese New Year + Trip to Malaysia!

At this time, on the news and basically everywhere, people are talking about the Coronavirus. Everyone is starting to wear masks and people are paranoid, the university is also taking a lot of administrative matters to keep students safe. It has been quite scary but with that said, it didn’t stop the Chinese New Year’s festivities. CNY is a big holiday here in Singapore and Asia, everything is shut down essentially. For Chinese New Years, me and a few of my exchange friends went to Tioman Island in Malaysia which marks my first trip to another country whilst on exchange! It was so serene and unreal, there’s something about being on an island away from city life, away from work, away from the humid weather that is so tranquil.

WEEK 5: First week of Tutorials

The start of this week marked the start of tutorials, although class had begun 2 weeks prior, the tutorials were the first time I was able to interact with other local students. As an exchange student I did have a fear of being ostracized but that was far from reality. As the semester rolls on, I’m looking forward to more fun times with all the beautiful people I have met here on exchange. It’s only been a month and I already know I have made lifelong bonds and I’m already dreading the day I will have to say goodbye…..Well that’s it from me now! Don’t worry, there will be more chapters, memories and more fun stories to come. This is just the start of what will be one of the best times of my lifeヽ(^◇^*)/

P.S Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more exchange content coming soon I promise!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥  https://www.youtube.com/iventhepanda ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ 

Iven aka IvenThePanda Signing Out…..

Alofa: The toilet paper goes where!?

Brazil:- The land of the futebol, graffiti and Caipirinhas; where the weather rises to a high of 32°C, the subway surpasses that of Auckland Transport and toilet paper is thrown into rubbish bins, not flushed down the toilet.

The first week here in Brazil was hectic – 8am lectures that run for 2 hours, horrible traffic, strong coffee… it felt like I never left home! But hey, different country, different me – or that’s the goal at least. My intention for this trip was clear – learn more about myself by learning about others and the struggle that they face.

If you know me personally, you know that I’ve never been a hearty advocate for LGBTQ+, feminism, climate change, or cultural rights. Although I wasn’t entirely against these concepts, being a female Christian growing up in a Samoan house meant I was instinctively ‘programmed’ to remain passive on topics that I had no direct input in because I was meant to be seen and not heard. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a problem with this, but my first week in Brasil has already forced me to reconsider my position on some of these topics.

By the end of our first week we had visited an indigenous community, Boa Vista; we conversed with a representative of the tribe, watched the kids of the community perform a song and dance for us, and we managed to indulge the indigenous tradition of body paint. They told us of the struggles that they had faced since the arrival of the Portuguese and the battle that they continue to fight for their land to remain just as that – theirs. It’s actually a bit heartbreaking to see people having to fight for something that they never had to previously just because the ‘white’ person standards say so. Getting to experience a culture that is so closely connected to the land reminds me of my own cultural homeland of Samoa. The stories of the struggles my grandparents had to endure are forever engraved in my heart and experiencing a portion of that whenever I visit Samoa allows me to empathise with the indigenous peoples of Brasil despite the geographical distance of our homelands. A fellow student said it better: No matter where we go or who we are, the battle remains the same.

No matter where we go or who we are, the battle remains the same.

The way that the Brazilians and the Indigenous identify themselves is something that is commonly debated in today’s society and it’s a highlight from the first week in Brasil. As an Ancient Historian I’ve always been interested in conquest and the assimilation of peoples into the Roman or Greek identity but it begs the question – what makes one Roman or Greek? And the question echoes through the forests of South America – what defines one as Indigenous, Portuguese or Brazilian? As one of my favourite lecturers from the University of Sao Paulo had stated in her first lecture, ‘it’s not the colour of their skin, but it’s how they live and their beliefs’.

It’s not the colour of their skin, but it’s how they live and their beliefs.

Beatriz Perrone

I am grateful to have this opportunity to experience Brasil in all its natural beauty but the fact remains that I love living in New Zealand and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! (And no this isn’t just because I get to flush toilet paper in the toilet!). There is just no place like home!

Até logo,

Alofa So’olefai

Exploring beautiful Mexico

It is nearly the second week of my time here at the Technologico De Monterrey, and I’ve settled in well and having the best time! I have met people from different universities from around the world, and also met amazing Mexican people on a daily basis.

Initially, I did plenty of research before visiting Mexico. I was worried about how the media portrayed Mexico. However, my thoughts were wrong. People here were super friendly, kind and helpful. I felt very safe walking around the city and there was nothing to worry about.   

When I first arrived in Mexico, around 4 days before the program started, I realised English wasn’t commonly used, and I struggled to communicate. However, over my time here, my Spanish vocabulary has improved, and I am able to communicate somewhat more than before. People in Mexico are so helpful and understanding and can guide you through a conversation. This has benefitted me as I have been able to break through a language barrier, and learned to adapt myself in a new environment; a very important life skill! At Monterrey Technology, most people knew English but trying to have conversations in Spanish seemed to be more beneficial.

Everyday is busy here at the university. With classes, assignments, weekly tests, company visits and sight-seeing, days goes by so quickly. I am really enjoying the company visits such as Pepsi Co, and the Wine Vineyards. This is because I love seeing the practical side of International business! The knowledge and experience that I received through these company visits are so valuable because I can view the theory right in front of my eyes, but also see what companies are doing differently from the theory. It is also interesting to see how business varies nation to nation, and how one has to adapt to do business in Mexico, but also the many advantages of doing business in this emerging nation. I would say cultural adaptation is a very crucial feature in doing business in Mexico. 

In terms of the sight-seeing and other activities, we climbed the most beautiful pyramids in Teotihuacan, went to museums such as Frida Kahlo, saw the amazing buildings in Mexico city such as Metropolitan Cathedral, Torre Latinoamericana and Palacio de Bellas Artes, and tasted a wide range of delicious food among so much more! We also did Salsa dancing which was slightly difficult but with practice got so much easier. It was a super fun life activity that I would’ve never got to experience back at home.

It’s been an amazing two weeks and I’m looking forward the weeks to come to see what more Mexico has in store! I would also like to acknowledge and say a huge thank you to 360 International, Education NZ, and the PMSLA for this amazing experience that I’ll remember for a lifetime. Muchas Gracias!

Shanaya

Jenna: Initial India Impressions

When I first told my friends and colleagues that I was coming to India, I was surprised to have a number of them say “oh that’s not on my bucket list or one of the places I would want to go, why on earth would you go there?” I was asked if I was actually excited to be going. My answer was of course yes. 

I knew that India would be so much more than what we have seen or been told through photos, news, books and movies, however I didn’t expect to fall in love with this place so quickly. India is rich in so many ways. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there is such a sense of calm that can be felt amongst the colourful chaos that envelops this most diverse country. It’s crazy to think that more than 90% of tourism in India is domestic tourists, as there is so much that our Western society can learn from India. There’s a saying here that everything you think or say about India is true, but so is the opposite.

Everywhere you look in India there are juxtapositions. An example of this that really stood out to me was when we drove from Delhi to Agra where we visited the beautiful Taj Mahal. It’s perhaps the most breathtaking sight I have seen, a perfect example of beauty on the outside. The history behind the construction is a sad love story, with Mughal emperor Shah Jahan having it built in memory of his favourite wife who died giving birth to their 14th child. 20,000 people worked on the construction of the Taj for 22 years from 1632 to create the masterpiece that so many have visited today.

Taj Mahal, December 2019
The Taj is constructed of white marble
Blown away by the beautiful architecture

                

Not more than 10 minutes from the magnificent Taj sits the Sheroes cafe in Agra. This is a story that brings up a lot of emotions. Sheroes hangout space is an initiative which was started in New Delhi in 2013, and is run by acid attack survivors. During our visit to Sheroes we learnt about these many women who were victims of acid attacks. They may be badly scarred on the outside, but they are so beautiful and courageous. We heard their stories and experiences, and saw just how much this opportunity to earn a living and learn new skills through Sheroes has given them their lives back. They shared with us what it was like to finally be happy again and to have a feeling of pride and purpose after years of pain and suffering.

Sheroes cafe, Agra
They hand-make beautiful crafts to sell
Hearing about their stories of the attack and the aftermath

   

Everyday we learn more about India and see more examples of juxtapositions. However, no matter the context or situation, community seems to be at the centre of everything. The majority of people here appear to be happy, and it is a constant reminder to be grateful for everything we have, and how it is possible to be happy even with very little. All that is needed is an open mind and a willingness to see the beauty that is all around us.

Jenna Aalbers