20 Mar Mendoza and Maipu Valley: Riding out the Winter

[caption id="attachment_2349" align="alignnone" width="660"] Moon over Mendoza.[/caption] With spring quickly approaching, it’s difficult to contain the excitement that warm weather brings. Even the staunchest snow-lovers have to admit that shedding those extra layers and letting the skin breathe feels great. No longer relegated to the library, students head outdoors to study in the sun, or ditch the books for an hour (give or take the afternoon) of stress relief. Instead of slogging through the slush to class, walking becomes a pleasant respite from the hours spent sitting. That insane speed luge of ice and peril resumes being a short bike-ride to class. While we’ve been freezing and forced to walk between classes, the Argentinians have been chuckling atop their ten-speeds (or fixed-gears, if they’re as hipster as some Americans). Our winter was their summer, and they’ll still get to enjoy the benefits of a bike during their cold season (hint: even cities further south, like Buenos Aires, remain safe enough to cycle because it rarely snows, though it's chilly). And if you’re headed further north, say, to the Mendoza area of Argentina, the “cold season” makes the weather even nicer, since the oppressive heat and humidity subside, leaving sun and a comfortable breeze. These can be appreciated more atop a bicycle. And even more so with a few glasses of Malbec. It seems an unlikely marriage, but bicycle and winery adventures have been a staple in the Mendoza wine region for years. The villages,...

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16 Feb Motorbikes, Buddha’s belly, and so much more: The human connection in adventure travel

Originally written and submitted for publication in NAFSA's story competition on why one is in the field of international education (December, 2011). “Back when I was in ‘Nam” is a phrase my father never said, still doesn’t say. He never spoke of it while I was growing up. I’m surprised my father isn’t a bit “off” as some of his friends are. High school buddies died there, back in 1967. His mother—my grandmother—would send letters to Blackhorse Base Camp outside Saigon, informing him that so and so came back to Hudsonville, Michigan that week in a body bag. My father’s entrance to the war was similar to most other’s at the time. He sold his ’67 Corvette, drained his bank account, and never expected to come home alive. He didn’t want to come home. Resigned that this was the end, he spent every dime he had. He did return home, however, after a year in Xuan Loc, Vietnam. And not in a body bag. He had to be slightly “off,” I thought, when he asked me to join him on a trip to Vietnam in 2011. There had to be a few screws loose in his mind to return to a country he rarely spoke of, one that once wanted him dead. Whereas his friends wanted to return for “healing” measures—to build churches and care for children born with Agent Orange defects—my father wanted to explore and enjoy a people he’s come to...

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19 Jan Passing through Social Faux Pas in London

[caption id="attachment_2343" align="alignnone" width="660"] Tip #1: Don't wear these masks.[/caption] While England and the US share a de facto official language (English, although legally the US has no official language), it’s clear that cultures and customs remain distinct, and occasionally incompatible. Navigating social situations can become tricky, particularly when addressing international politics (Ireland anyone?). Keeping that in mind, I present a few guidelines when speaking with London locals, superiors, or even (if blind chance intercedes) the Queen. First, be aware of small talk. Britons are more reserved than Americans. Idle discussion with a new coworker can prove uncomfortable. Don’t take it personally if they shrug you off and bury their face in a newspaper or computer. Likely, your positive demeanor and openness for discussion took the individual off-guard. Throw in a couple self-deprecating statements about yourself and you might just open them up as well. Recognizing the function of humor, sarcasm and wit in British discourse will be your most important tool. And don’t get unnerved if your statements elicits sarcasm; this is a defense mechanism employed when conversation has struck a tender spot for the individual. Don’t take sarcasm or irony personally; offer a bit of your own (without making a fool of yourself) and this impasse may be crossed. If you’ve struck up a light conversation, it’s best to stick to open questions as opposed to loaded ones (“what do you think about the Queen?”) or personal assertions. Comment on the weather and...

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06 Oct Rubbing Buddha’s belly for a long life in the trees

[caption id="attachment_2277" align="alignnone" width="660"] So happy! So enlightened![/caption] Every few months, while growing up, my family and I would make a pilgrimage after 11 a.m. church service to Shanghai Gardens. It was a local Chinese restaurant in front of the parking lot of a grocery store—or rather in the parking lot, the building an oasis surrounded by cement. Sunday lunches at Shanghai Gardens became something to look forward to. I daydreamed of my impending plate of cashews, chicken and broccoli during church. What I daydreamed about most, however, was rubbing Buddha’s belly. An eight-foot bronze statue of a cross-legged naked, large Chinese man sat in front of the goldfish pond in the lobby of the restaurant. My younger sister and I would run up to Buddha, rubbing his belly for good luck. “Don’t take all his good blessing, kids,” my dad would say. “You have a fortune cookie to enjoy after your meal.” What I failed to grasp but realize now was just how important Buddha is in Chinese culture. Coming in a close second are temples and trees associated with the portly fellow. Enter TanZhe Temple outside Beijing and you hardly know it is a 1700 year-old building. You can’t order a plate of sesame chicken nor receive a fortune cookie, but you immediately sense calm and peace. And that’s what Chinese temples were built for. Buddha, a real man born in 580 B.C., was a soul-searching youth full of pain, suffering and self-loathing....

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15 Sep Ego is good. But keep it in check

[caption id="attachment_2244" align="alignnone" width="660"] I think I'll name this mountain after myself.[/caption] We all have an ego. Ego is good. Ego makes us boast and do things we may not have done otherwise. It’s a thing, some growth on the side of our stomach we didn’t invite. But we all have it. And like it, actually. When considering going abroad, be it for the first time or again, let ego help you make that leap. But don’t let it get the best of you. World travelers over the past millennia had egos. Ferdinand Magellan in the early 1500s said in his exploration to Patagonia (Argentina) he ran into, “Naked men of giant stature, where I only came up to their waist.” He also said they were, “dancing, singing and throwing dust on our heads.” Magellan probably did find tall people in Patagonia, and they were likely the Tehuelche tribe, standing tall at five feet eleven. Back then to a European that was tall. Magellan’s goal was to circumnavigate the entire world. He sort of did, and during his voyage decided to name straits and even penguins after himself. That’s ego. Are these half-truths and animal naming done wrongly? Ego is the motivator. And had it not been for ego such explorations would never had occurred. Marco Polo was a 13/14th Century explorer from Italy who supposedly went to China and stayed for 24 years. In Polo’s time, China was the most advanced society on earth. Meticulous...

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25 Aug Study abroad: On host families, buses and boliches in Argentina

[caption id="attachment_2230" align="alignnone" width="660"] So many colors![/caption] Similarly to my routine with my new internship, I would definitely say it took time to adapt to and develop a routine when in a new culture and living with a host family. Since I have lived alone in the states for the past two years, it was difficult at first to adapt to living with others. My host family and I (5 people) are all busy and we share one bathroom, so we need to time our showers right in the mornings. We use the same kitchen but usually everyone eats at very different times, so that’s not a problem. My host mother Marta (who’s so sweet and patient) usually makes my dinner during the week around 7 or 8 (when we both have time to speak to each other in Spanish); but an average Argentinean won’t actually have dinner until after 9. And going out, restaurants don’t start filling up until around 10pm, and are really busy around 11pm and midnight; and Portenos (people form Buenos Aires) have late nights in general. Even during the week, they will eat their late dinner, go out to drink and dance at boliches, get home around 4 or 5am, and still go to work at 9. I don’t know how they do it! On the language front, I have had many frustrating days. Examples range from having difficulties communicating with workers at the laundromat to not understanding a...

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10 Aug Lasting Impressions of Studying Abroad

[caption id="attachment_2209" align="alignnone" width="660"] This isn't me, but I do look this cool when I wear shades.[/caption] While planning your trip abroad, or even during your trip, all you may be able to focus on are the exciting experiences that lay ahead of you. What you do not see is how your trip will not only leave lasting memories, but a lasting impression on yourself and those around you. As a personal testimony, I noticed changes in myself almost instantly when I returned from my trip abroad with Panrimo. Two years later I still find benefits! My trip allowed me to mature in a different way than most of my friends. I gained a greater perspective of the world in general, and grew a new respect for cultures outside my own allowing me to be even more open-minded and adventurous than before. Recently graduated from the university I was attending, I needed to find a more professional job while going after my master’s degree. During my interviews the managers were highly impressed that I traveled abroad to further my education which I believe set me above the rest of the applicants. Two short days later I was hired. So, what should you take from this? If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, especially for your first time, take that chance and just do so! Seize an opportunity like this while you can, it will really help develop yourself personally and prepare you for...

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03 Aug Studying abroad: Professors make the difference

[caption id="attachment_2200" align="alignnone" width="660"] The building is impressive. The people inside it are amazing.[/caption] During my second semester freshman year in college I befriended a geography professor. Or maybe it was he who befriended me. We got along great. He was gearing up for his annual abroad program in the Mexican Yucatan where, each summer, he took a group of students. He asked me to assist him in research, and went so far as to write letters of recommendation getting me into my university’s honors program to apply for travel scholarships. It was my first time going overseas. I wasn’t a geography major. And my interest in science came to an explosive halt back in elementary school when I added too much baking soda to my Mount Vesuvius volcano. I blew off ceiling tiles. But Dr. Biles sold me on the abroad experience first, the work second. After two months overseas, however, it was both the experiences in a different country and my research work that made my time abroad memorable. A reputable international studies survey is released each November. Last year’s report shows that the top two majors of US college students studying abroad are social sciences and business/management. Foreign language is seventh. What does this mean? Many things, but to my point it shows business majors studying abroad are likely enrolling in business classes abroad, not a foreign language. Students study abroad what they’re studying back home. In my case I was the...

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20 Jun Florence: Open your mouth and your mind

[caption id="attachment_2182" align="alignnone" width="660"] Helloooooo paradise![/caption] I have several initial, unfettered, pure thoughts on being in Florence for 4 days: The clean streets are completely walkable giving off an "old Europe" charm. So much cheap wine and natural, fresh, local, great-tasting food! Have you ever ordered macaroni and cheese? Pasta and meat sauce? I'm sure you have. Order it in Florence, Italy and a party explodes in your mouth. Taste buds dance all day long here. Tourists abound, sure. But take a side street and it's all Italian language. Order a coffee in broken Italian (or no Italian at all, just using your hands!) and you're transported to real-life Italy. Art is EVERYWHERE. Yesterday I went to an art and ceramic restoration business. 4th generation family. After walking the aisles of impressive 13/14/15/16th century paintings and works getting touched up, I accidently hit a gold-colored pointed dome-like structure needing some fixing (it rests atop a church usually, but is only 8 feet tall). I apologized to Tomasso, the owner's son, for knocking it. "Oh, no harm done," he said casually. "But it is a work by Michelangelo."  When Florentines speak, they sing. Hands gyrate and sway and cut the air like a butcher's knife to a slab of beef on Via della Cernaia. Be ready to speak with your hands. Conclusion: Florence is a travelers paradise. And for a Panroamers perspective of Florence, be sure to follow Kelly's blog here. Tony Amante Schepers...

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09 Jun What I’ve seen from a bar stoop on Stepanska

[caption id="attachment_2172" align="alignnone" width="660"] Musings of a traveler.[/caption] Bar Nota serves only drinks, and that’s OK with me. There is no Czech food (Czechs aren’t known for their cuisine, unless you consider dry dumplings and fried cheese a staple diet). There also are few tourists here, which is a pleasant surprise since Prague in summertime is flooded with them. Nope. Just Bernard beer, Jamiroquai and jazz music and St. Stephen’s Church across the street at which to stare. It caught my attention because of the black musical note hanging from its door. Outdoor seating sealed the deal, so I took to a table and chair. I don’t speak Czech, but raising my hand flat from table to ceiling, saying “Bernard,” the bartender and I soon spoke the same language. A moment must be taken to explain the Czech Republic’s fascination with beer. Unlike in the States and Canada, drinking beer is second to breathing air in Czech land, and done for fellowship. It began a thousand years ago or more in this area then called Bohemia. Later, in 1838 in Plzen, Czech Republic, brewmasters mixed just the right amount of mineral water (the best in Europe, arguably), barley and wheat to a fermented state. Pilsner Urquell was born. I see Czechs—men and women—drinking a beer for breakfast. It is a social function, something that brings Czechs together, and happily so. It’s comparably in the States to Friday night dinner with the neighbor couple and a...

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