Next Stop: San Diego, California: Day 1 Sunset Cliffs & Gaslamp Quarter


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Hello All!

I am trying to update while I have more free time and I find myself with quite a bit during my spring break. Currently for the holiday, I am in San Diego, California “enduring” pleasant days of weather around 24 degrees celsius (72F) and blue, potently clear skies. This being our first full day in the city, we got situated at our hotel next to the San Diego Bay which had a view of downtown San Diego and some of the boat docks. There are many options in hotel accommodations in San Diego whether it be downtown or a few miles outside in nearby areas. However we chose to stay close to the Gaslamp Quarter which has great food, night life, and shops while also having a view of the water. Transportation in the downtown area of the city is easily accessible with bicycles, buses, or the light rail system. However for us, we wanted to explore areas a little farther out and thus opted for a rental car.

Our destinations for the first day of exploring was parts of downtown San Diego in the Historic Gaslamp Quarter and then heading out to the Sunset Cliffs to catch the sunset and some great local food for dinner. Information about our destination and restaurant are below.

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Day Information:

Sunset Cliff: An area that is along the Pacific Ocean with dynamic cliffs and is a great place to bring family or a significant other to watch the sunset or have a picnic. It is also a popular area for people to get in a workout with a nice breeze to keep you cool. In the nearby area there are restaurants that are local to the Point Loma area. For the evening we came across Bo+Beau Kitchen + Bar, which is a french inspired restaurant that offers a plethora of options that include specials of the evening, sponsored weekly mealsmeals, and vegetarian/vegan options. With it being our first full day in San Diego we could not have ended on a better note; the ambiance, mixture of local and tourist people in the restaurant, and of course the food made the night a special one.

Gaslamp Historic Quarter:

A district located only a few blocks over from the city’s convention center, it displays during the day a variety of local shops, restaurants, and bars that show the true character and history of the San Diego area. As for aesthetics, several of the buildings have been preserved to maintain the older design and look that people from San Diego love. This area has also become the place to be for the nightlife featuring a multitude of night club, music bars, and entertainment options. I found this area to be a great way to enjoy the night and get to know the vibe of the city. I have included hyperlinks that details more information.

Thanks for Reading!

BG

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Next Stop: Austin, Texas & St. Louis, Missouri

Austin, Texas

As I have arrived back state side, I am now looking to continue my blog with new experiences that I will embark on and new journeys. This blog has been an outlet to share my study abroad experience but as I continue to explore, learn, and grow I will continue to recount my memories. I know it has been awhile since I have written a post but I could not be away for too long. This post in particular will recap my last adventure during the holiday season when I spent 3 days in Austin, Texas and 2 days in St. Louis, Missouri. Both of these places might not be your top destination if you surveyed a group of 100 people, however my time spent in both cities were truly memorable. Upon arriving late Christmas Eve in Austin, Texas I began a wonderful three days in the city coined by the phrase, “Keep Austin Weird”. On Christmas I enjoyed a day of family movies, cooking, tremendous food, and random dance offs. This is my favorite time of the year for the simplicity that is family with no real pressing obligations.

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Giving a brief overview of Austin and what makes it so unique:

  • It is the 11th largest city in the United states and fourth largest in Texas.
  • Annually holds a Keep Austin Weird Fest & 5k to let people embrace their true self.
  • A variety of food options from Food Trucks, Trailer Park Eatery offering gourmet food options, to live music & bars along 6th street.
  • A great atmosphere for growth and development with the location of University of Texas: Austin, company headquarters such as Whole Foods and all of this wrapped in with one-of-a-kind southern hospitality.

Starting early morning the day after Christmas my Aunt who lives in the Austin area took us around the city to some local gems and hidden spots. The day was full of friendly faces and and lots of pictures! Our first destination of the day was a local house that is known throughout Austin as the Cathedral of Junk. This man has been collecting random pieces of “junk” for over 15+ years and has created this dynamically eclectic wonder that people come to visit on a daily basis. The property in which he houses his junk is colossal in size and words cannot give justice to the detail and time he has put into his craft. Therefore, I will let my pictures do the talking.

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Entrance into the grounds

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Our next destination was to the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills. This area solidified to me the true spirit and openness that is Austin. This park was full of spray paint designs that artist from all over had made, and is alway open to everyone to tag over if desired. While there were some great designs to look at, what I will remember the most was climbing to the top of the grounds and looking out to downtown Austin. It was time well spent eating ice cream and conversing about our day. Now for the pictures…

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My trip to Austin, Texas was abruptly short but I still managed to explore more than enough areas to get my pallet watering for more adventures and moments in the capital city of Texas. In having a plethora of photos to choose from these are the ones I feel best showcase my time in Texas. A city that is diverse, quirky, and bursting with pride for all who call Austin home.


St. Louis, Missouri

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After spending a few days with immediate family for the holidays, my sister and I headed back to St. Louis, Missouri to spend a couple days together. Some fast facts about St. Louis:

  • The heart of St. Louis was originally centered around great baseball and manufacturing and is located along the Mississippi River.
  • The Gateway Arch is 630 Feet (192meters) and was built in honor of Thomas Jefferson and the part he played in the expansion west.
  • The area has a dynamic cluster of major universities in a close proximity of each other with: Washington University of St. Louis, St. Louis University, Missouri University, Webster University, and many more.
  • Hit up the Delmar Loop for some yummy food options of all types, late night entertainment, and shops that are distinctive to the St. Louis area.
  • Forest Park is a great place to explore for its free museums, walking trails, and amphitheater.

While only spending three days in this area, I will for sure be coming back to explore more hidden gems and caveats that make St. Louis the Gateway to the West.

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A view along the Mississippi River looking back across to the historic Capitol building.
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An aerial view of parts of downtown St. Louis
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A sunset view of the arch
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You have to take a tiny capsule for four minutes to the top of the arch. A very neat experience so get comfortable with your neighbor because it is tight in there.

Thanks for Reading!!

BG

How to Study while Abroad

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In traveling over 7,000 miles away from home to study abroad, there are indubitably going to be an array of obstacles and challenges throughout the course of the trip. In honor of finishing my last final a few days ago at SUFE (Shanghai University of Finance and Economics), I wanted to reflect and share what important lessons were learned and gained for the future. While my tips are geared towards study abroad, they can be applied to basic studying techniques and things I have found to help me in a variety of scenarios. Furthermore, I am aware that there are many differences between exchange programs with universities and study abroad programs.

Managing distractions are important

While you are studying abroad there will be places you want to see, new friends and faces you will want to get to know and meet and this can cause for some serious dilemmas. Finding time to study and to stay on top of your course work will be important in order to make the most of your experience, because after all it is a study abroad trip. Therefore, for me, I learned quickly  that I had to dedicate “me” time when I needed to get work done. I did this because it was too easy for me to find a new place to explore or activities to do with friends. Therefore “me” time allowed me to allot a given amount of time to get work done.

Prioritization 

While this falls very close to managing distractions, I also found this to be a challenge for me while abroad. As course work and grades are still crucial, you came abroad to see as much as possible. In being in an exchange program at my university, I had courses Monday through Friday. Therefore during the week, I would rank what I needed to get done and then try to accomplish all my work before the weekend so I could explore and do as much as possible during my time off. It is important to know your deadlines and gauge how many hours or days you would need to complete certain assignments.

Language barrier and miscommunication

When traveling to a new country that has a different language than your own, of course there will be a learning curve to finding your groove. For me, while a majority of my classes were in English it was hard initially to understand and communicate with my professors as English was not their first language. Eventually I learned that emailing my professors was more productive than maybe talking to them after class therefore, it is important to find the best and most effective way to communicate with your professors.

Adjusting to different teaching styles

When starting college initially I had to learn how to adjust to a college setting and teaching style from a high school one. For study abroad it has to do with the city and country you choose to study in as well as the university or program you select. For me, I found that this was the most challenging for me. I had to learn what ways to study and prepare for my courses which would help me do my best on the exams. This strategy turned out to be important with my multiple final exams ranging from 60-70% of my overall grade.

Be relentless and accept the challenge

Traveling abroad is a challenge in itself, however finding your groove might take some time. Staying relentless to the concept of being flexible, open, and positive is what will make your time abroad a more enjoyable journey and in the long-run a great experience to look back on. While I struggled, made mistakes, and questioned my judgment, what helped me was to keep pushing forward and trying to get better each day.

Thanks

BG

Top 9 Lessons Learned in Shanghai

As I reflect on all the myriad of stories, chance encounters, awkward  moments, and experiences during my time abroad, I have decided that compiling a list of top lessons learned would help to give a concise and more helpful recap. These are things I have noticed during my time here and have experienced.

1. Shanghai is quite safe for a big city.

For a city that has over 24 million people and is approximately 2,448 sq miles (which is more than 5 times the size of New York) safety in Shanghai is better than most major cities. While crime happens everywhere, I have never felt more safe walking alone or at night than I have in Shanghai.

2. Traffic is chaotic, but somehow it just works.

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During my first weeks here I never imagined myself riding a motor scooter or bike around the city because I thought traffic was just too unsafe. I have seen people on bikes ride straight into oncoming traffic (not waiting for the green light) and young children standing or sitting on the back of motor scooters as their parents would weave through cars, buses, and traffic. However after my first few weeks in Shanghai, I realized it was a controlled chaos and I ended up purchasing my own bike. I also ride with many of my friends on their motor scooters all over Shanghai.

3. SmartShanghai has become one of my dearest friends.

When I first got here I was a little slow to catch on to the website that is Smart Shanghai. However several of my friends told me about it and thus I finally started using this website to stay in the know of places to go, food to try, and performances and festivals to attend. This website has helped me explore Shanghai more than I can say and I would recommend it for those who are looking to learn more about the hidden gems in the city. I also use the Time out Shanghai website.

4. My favorite phrase to use while shopping, Tai gui le 太贵了.

From all the shopping markets I’ve been to whether in People’s Square, bargaining at the Hongqiao pearl market, fake market, etc. I have definitely learned to use this phrase which means, too expensive. I used to feel bad about bargaining (still kind of do) but I soon realized it is just part of the culture and have embraced the bargain for the price you want attitude.

5. Food is very important and people take time to enjoy it.

The family prepared so much food for us!

Coming from an environment back in the States where I take maybe 20 minutes for lunch and would constantly eat on the go, it has been refreshing to experience an environment where good, fresh food and sitting down to eat is important. Here on campus, while classes are all day from 8am until 9pm, lunch is an hour from noon until 1pm. In addition I now find myself making more of an effort to enjoy my meals and always to eat more healthier and fresher options if I can.

6. Speaking Mandarin gets better with time and practice.

In being here for over 4 months, I have learned not to worry too much about embarrassing myself and that giving it my best attempt is better than being afraid to say a word wrong. With coming here only knowing 2 words, I have definitely upgraded to a new level of competency and have enjoyed the opportunity to be pushed out of my comfort zone. Now I have the ability and vocabulary to order food, take a taxi, go shopping in a store or grocery store, ask for directions, and have very basic levels of conversation (Where are you? Are you hungry? etc). And I look forward to continuing my progression when I return to the States with my Chinese courses.

7. The Expat community in Shanghai is growing.

Shanghai is a big city with a plethora of people, that includes foreigners that are visiting for holiday and those that are living in Shanghai full-time. In having family friends that have just recently moved to Shanghai, I had to opportunity to experience what life is like here from an ex-pat point of view. Every year the number of foreigners moving to Shanghai for work is increasing and areas such as Pudong in Shanghai have helped to grow the expat community.

8. Getting lost and exploring, within reason, is quite exciting.

While I would not encourage purposely getting lost and not planning out your explorations before heading out, getting lost definitely instills some valuable lessons and experiences. In the few times that I have gotten lost in Shanghai, I have either discovered a new area, a new restaurant, or most importantly learned what way not to go.

9.  Everyone has a story.

Everyone comes from somewhere and everyone has a past. In meeting people from all around the world, I have heard some incredible stories from people who are working hard to achieve their goals and dreams. My experiences this semester have taught me to keep reaching for excellence in all that I do and to keep working toward who I want to be. I am incredibly grateful and thankful for all the experiences I have been afforded and I am excited to continue on my journey and next chapter. Shanghai has been more than I could have ever expected and as my time winds down in one of the largest cities in the world, I look back on a semester well spent.

Thanks for reading,

BG

Hangzhou: A Two-Day Getaway

Hangzhou: Paradise on Earth

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As my time in China comes to an end, I finally had the chance to take a weekend trip to Hangzhou. My roommate and I had been planning this trip for over two months and every week some “conflict” prevented us from going, whether is was too much work, weather, prior commitments, etc. However this weekend we made a decisive decision and booked our train and hotel all within one day [hotel information at end of post]. And while the temperature has significantly decreased the past few weeks from around 60F(15C) to 45F(7C), we had around 55F(13C) weather during our weekend in Hangzhou with plenty of sun and blue skies.

Hangzhou a city located about 180km south-west of Shanghai has been deemed the “Paradise on Earth” for its lustrous views, picturesque mountain tops, and distinctly unique environment. As with many Chinese cities, Hangzhou has a long history that dates back over 2,200 years and was one of the seven ancient capitals of China. Now with emerging cities developing left and right, Hangzhou has grown to become the capital to the Zhejiang Province and deemed a city to watch with its economy growing around 8%-10% annually.  In addition Hangzhou is apart of the Sister-Cities Program and is a sister city with Indianapolis in the state of Indiana, USA. And with such a dynamically rich history in silk making, tea, agriculture, in addition to highly popular tourist destinations, we knew it would be impossible to see all our top choices and experience all that we wanted in two days. Therefore we chose to visit the Lingyin Temple, attend the Impression West Lake Show, take a boat ride around West Lake, explore the neighboring islands, and go shopping around the Wulin Center. My most memorable moment of the trip was catching sunset on West Lake and then having to call an Uber (for the first time in China) because we couldn’t get a taxi and I happened to get my Uber app to work.

As for transportation to Hangzhou we took the high-speed train from the Shanghai Hongqiao station to Hangzhou East Railway Station(Hangzhou has two train stations the other is Hangzhou Railway Station). Once we arrived we took the metro from the station to our hotel in the Wulin Center, which was perfectly located between both train stations and only two stops on the metro from West Lake. As for getting from one tourist destination to the other, taxis are available but when peak hours hit it is extremely hard to get one (we tried for over an hour to get a taxi from West Lake). Therefore renting bikes is an extremely popular and ideal option for people who wish to get around more conveniently. And the metro runs throughout Hangzhou but does not get you close enough to many of the popular tourist attractions.

Overall my experience in Hangzhou was another truly memorable weekend. There is nothing better than a beautiful city, savory food, and great people. Below are pictures from my trip and below that are links to information on Hangzhou.

*And there were so many photos I have added more to my gallery for extra viewing!

Until Next Time

BG

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Shanghai to Hangzhou: 1hr 12 minutes via High Speed Train. Source: google maps
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First night in Hangzhou attended the Impression West Lake Show, which was an hour long light show and performance on the lake. It was definitely a cold night and the tickets were a little bit expensive. I enjoyed the show but for those trying to save, it is not a must-see. Photocred: LiEr
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Another shot from the show. Photocred: LiEr
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A view entering the initial entrance of Lingyin Temple
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photocred: LiEr

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A view of Hangzhou from atop the mountains surrounding the Lingyin Temple.
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We had lunch at one of the famous restaurants in Hangzhou that is known for their West Lake fish, restaurant called Louwailou.
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The picture on the 1 yuan is resembled after the island called Three Pools Mirroring the Moon which was here in Hangzhou. In being the nerd that I am I had to recreate the image which is the picture below.
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A little hard to see with the sun setting but this is the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon.

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Great time with great friends!

Hotel Accommodations:

Sources/Links for information used in blog:


Shanghai Chronicles Entry 4

December 1st

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In approaching the end of my wonderful experience in Shanghai, I have begun to feel a variety of mixed emotions on how to ensure my memories and experiences live on, once I return home to the United States. I have met some phenomenal people and while everything has not been pure bliss, the challenges I have faced have made me that much more determined to continue pushing myself and reaching for excellence in all that I do. For this update I want to focus more on my academic experience and what things I have observed and learned while being here for almost 4 months. In coming here I had my expectations, who doesn’t? Nonetheless, I quickly began to realize that the ability to absorb all that I was learning and wanted to learn in a mere five months, was a challenging task. And just like a blank journal waiting to be filled with stories, I have tried to savor and store all my experiences.

To begin, all my classes are in English except for my Chinese language courses held late in the evening for two and a half hours twice a week. In my English classes there are a combination of exchange students and Chinese students. Here at SUFE the Chinese students are required to take a certain amount of courses in English. In addition, they take in total around 8-9 courses a semester which is 24-27 credits. I have even met some students that take 13-14 courses! I was shocked that they are allowed to take so many, and it made me reflect on how I view my 18 credit semester. As for the classes, most of the work has been group oriented with presentations, group projects, and group papers. The amount of group work has definitely been more than I have ever done before and occasionally it has been a challenge with the language barrier.

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We all try to leave at the same time! What it typically looks like when classes are dismissed.

As for extracurriculars, when classes have finished for the day or evening students run on the track, play basketball, (which is by far the most popular sport), play ping pong, and many other sports. Also, the club events on campus are a big deal as well. While I have been here, I joined a club called the English Corner, which focuses on helping SUFE students improve their English and foreign students improve their Chinese. From this club I have enjoyed learning more about similarities and differences between my life and my SUFE friends as well as other cultural customs in China. Just this past week I learned the difference between Chinese black and red tea and how to properly make tea.

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English corner activities in which we had to make some tea

Lastly, in regards to living arrangements while at SUFE, I currently live in one of the international student dorms on campus and have a wonderful roommate. My dorm has A Yi(s), who are women that are in charge of the building. They are very motherly toward us and make sure we don’t have any problems such as the time when I could not figure out how to close my window! As for transportation around campus, I mostly take the bus or walk. However a month into living here I wanted to be able to travel around my campus and surrounding area quicker and thus I bought a bike for 250 RMB (around 40 USD). This ended up being the best decision ever and I quickly embraced the chaotic yet natural flow of transportation here. If I’m not on or around campus and located more in the central downtown area of Shanghai, I take the metro or a taxi. Overall exploring Shanghai as well as surrounding cities has been a blast and as I approach my last month in China I look forward to the new adventures ahead.

BG

China Roadtrips: A brief weekend in Zhoushan

Zhoushan: The Archipelago of 1,000+ islands

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Another week has passed and time still has not halted in order for me to live in each minute for just a little bit longer. This post is about my weekend during the 8th of November when I had the pleasure of traveling with my family friends to Zhoushan. This beautiful archipelago is about 4 and half hours (by car) south of Shanghai and just about 1 hour east of Hangzhou located in the Zhejiang province. Currently the archipelago is comprised of over 1,000 islands with 100+ that are actually inhabited.  And because of its prime location on the edge of the East China Sea, it has become one of the largest seaports for all of China. It is also rumored to have some of the clearest and cleanest air in all of China. Unfortunately the days we were there we didn’t get to experience Zhoushan at its best, but still a much enjoyed trip irregardless.

This trip was spur of the moment, and graciously my family friends invited me to embark on their car-trip to the archipelago for two days. In always being up for an adventure, I packed my things and the next day left for what turned out to be a time filled with memorable family stories, car ride games, and as always picture worthy food.

Now to speak on what we did in Zhoushan, I must first mention that it rained for the entire first day and the following day was a mixture of overcast with the occasional appearance of sunshine. Nonetheless this was somewhat expected when traveling later in the fall season. If you choose to go to Zhoushan it is a popular destination during the spring and summer with its famous beaches and sand building competitions as well as beautiful mountains for hiking and famous Buddhist temples. During our time there we had the pleasure of taking a boat ride over to Mount Putuo which is one of the four holy Buddhist mountains in all of China. In having only one full day to explore, more time is definitely needed and I hope to visit again. Below are pictures from our adventures and another fun filled weekend!

BG

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Zhoushan known for its fishery and has the largest fishing port in all of China, we of course had to eat some seafood!
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An assortment of snails
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A quite popular and tasty dish of steamed egg custard mixed with clams and scallions.

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Some grilled tiger prawns
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We were too hungry to wait for my picture, but this stream fish was delicious.
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This was the boat we took over to Mt. Putuo, it was quite an luxurious experience with drinks and snacks passed out during the 30 minute ride over.
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Exiting the boat heading to the top of Mt. Putuo
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A great view across from Putuo to the other surrounding islands. Near the beach there are many Bed and Breakfast spots that people can stay in while visiting.

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Until Next Time!