Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Halftime Reflection

As fun as my time has been here so far, I am halfway through it and now it seems like a good time to reflect on thoughts I’ve had up to this point and some thoughts about what I could do with the rest of my time here. I’ve had quite the time in these past four weeks and I still have lots to try and do in the four I have left. I’ve learned how to buy groceries in what feels like an adult manner, so there is that.
Working in Wellington has been a starkly different experience than being a student at Maryville College. Heck, it’s a stark difference from being in the United States. I’m not just talking about the use of the metric system, calling cookies “biscuits”, chips vs crisps, or driving on the left-hand side of the road – though it’s not something I’m entirely used to – rather, the way that life seems to roll on around here. A lot of it I was expecting thanks to my incredibly thorough Study Abroad preparation class, but it was nonetheless interesting to see in person.

In general, people don’t seem to have a “gung-ho” way of doing things which seemed semi-normal back in the States, though I’m not sure that I would call this normal. New Zealanders aren’t lazy by any means, but there is a less rigid attitude toward establishing and maintaining a system of running like a machine at maximum effort. Rather, their approach is more “I’ll get to it when I get to it” and this is sort of confirmed by the number of native Wellington citizens I’ve talked to that haven’t embarked on a lot of the tourist outings available. The only things that they don’t seem to be nonplussed about are rugby, the finest weather Wellington has to offer, and road rules. Unlike what I’m used to, pedestrians usually do not have the right of way and you probably shouldn’t try to claim it. I may or may not have gotten honked at by a bus for thinking I could cross. Sometimes I think that I’ve finally gotten the hang of confidently crossing a street without waiting, but a honking vehicle that creeps up on the crosswalk will kindly remind me that I’m not a native or indestructible. Another thing that you don’t want to mess around with is Wellington weather. On the day that it came for me, I decided to test it and walk to work. It wasn’t raining too horribly, but I swear that the wind had it out for me. I had heard it the night before, howling and whistling like it wanted in my building. So that morning, some 72-km/h (44ish mph) winds decided to not-so-gently guide me to work and help me unofficially set a record for commuting. I later took the bus home and had no regrets whatsoever. However, I don’t really think that a bit of aggressive weather is going to keep me from coming back.

This entire experience has far exceeded my expectations which I think is also due to not having many rigid ones in place in the first place. Helping with a research project like this has been incredibly valuable not only in terms of practical experience gleaned from it but in a way that has made me feel less anxious about my not-so-distant future at Maryville College and beyond. I’m not quite at the level of “raring to go” on my senior thesis, but now I have begun building a less blind and scared-sh*tless approach to it. Being here has also made me even more thankful for the educational experiences MC has provided me with up to this point and I find myself often thinking of how I can use my learned experiences here to make the rest of my time at MC even better. Being away from something for so long makes it easier to see it differently and enable you to learn more about it.

For example, in one of the seminars organized by the department I’m in, I’ve learned about a few tools and programs that can be used in the name of making a research project and thesis less daunting, more organized, and much more accessible to a general audience. The speaker’s presentation was mostly about how to collect data more efficiently, but he took the time to provide overviews of programs that would be helpful for research Authorea and RStudio are ones that I found interesting, but have slightly different uses. Authorea is an online collaborative tool for documents and can be reformatted automatically for journal publication while RStudio is a collection of many programs that are used to present data and the accompanying analysis in a more “friendly” way. RStudio requires being able to code, but I was told that Coursera is an excellent online learning platform for learning this. It’s probably about time that I learned how to code anyway.

Another important conclusion that I am making from my internship is the kind of environment I want to work and thrive in. One of the SMART goals I set for this internship (and my SPE form) was to have a better idea of what kind of career I want to pursue in medicine. The day that I got to spend shadowing one of the surgeons is easily going to go down as my favorite day of my time here. Then my second favorite was the first Grand Round lecture I could attend because it was a presentation on conversion disorder (disorders with psychologicalàsomatic symptoms). These are both my favorites because they were places that I could see myself being in and want to see myself be in. I can’t wait to be one of the students observing (or even assisting with!!) a surgery and learning or a bit farther down the road, be the person who is presenting clinical cases to students and faculty. Honestly, I’ve been starting to fall into a bit of a rut as my college years are ending faster than I am prepared to deal with. I’ve been telling myself for over ten years now that I was going to become a doctor, but it feels much easier to climb to the top of that mountain now that I can see myself there.

For those who are considering an experience like this, just know that you get from it what you put into it. I firmly believe that the reason that I am enjoying my internship so much is that I always try to find something to be excited about each day and to find something that I can take away from each day. Getting to this internship was kind of a painful uphill battle but now that I’m here, I know that it is one that I would have no hesitation in doing again. I can't to tell everyone I know (who's interested, anyway) about my time here and hopefully inspire some people to go out into the world as well. 

Until next time,
Ginny

P.S.

I’m planning to go do some more scenic activities over the next few weekends, so look out for that 😊

Cultural Programming at CIE

There is no doubt that you will be kept busy while attending Maryville College. Through the cultural ambassador programming and possibly joining GCO, you will have a lot of exposure to activities. Sometimes you will want to do fun activities with friends without the complications of planning those activities yourself. And that’s where CIE comes in!
A group of MC international students at the Blue plate concert in Knoxville
A group of students at the Blue Plate Concert in Knoxville. 

Every month, CIE plans fun activities for all students – ESL students, international students and U.S. students.  We offer many events to learn about the USA.   In the past, we have celebrated U.S. American Cultural Holidays as a group at I-House. For example, last year we had a Christmas party for all students, but have done Halloween activities as well. One of our biggest events of the year is our annual Thanksgiving Dinner.  We celebrate with international students and our local social host families to learn about and celebrate this popular U.S. American holiday.  Students have set up international dance parties on campus and coordinated fashion shows. These events are fun and allow you to teach friends about your culture.

The stairs at international house decorated with Red Christmas Stockings
The stairwell decorated for
Christmas.
Other times, we offer the opportunity to learn about local Tennessee culture!  We explore the Great Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. I-House has adventured out to rivers for white water rafting or tubing and gone hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Some years there have also been weekend trips to Nashville, Atlanta or other cities. These events are organized by I-House and students can sign up for a reasonable fee.

If there are any activities that you and your friends are interested in, you can tell the staff at I-House. Whether the idea is for an on campus program or off campus excursion, we can work together to see if the activity is a good fit for I-House programming. If it is a good fit, we can work together to plan the event for students to enjoy.

A group of students white water rafting
White Water Rafting

Monday, July 10, 2017

Global Citizenship Organization

By Kristen Rolston

5smiling individuals are posing and their clothes are covered in colorful powder.
Kristen (center) and friends after the Holi
celebration. 
Global Citizenship Organization, or GCO, personally has felt like a family to me. I've met students from all over and each of them has very different personalities, but every single one of them is accepting and friendly. When I first came to Maryville our previous president invited me to join the leadership and he became one of my good friends – I still talk to him even though he has returned to Cyprus. One of my funniest memories is when I came to help make signs for our "world directory" post that stands outside of I-House, and all of the students kept asking me if I was the girl coming from Ireland because of my red hair. From then on, I met more friends than I thought I would and now have connections all over the world. I also have a language buddy to practice my Chinese with!


students are standing on a the steps in front of bartlett, wearing traditional clothing from many countries
Students at the International Fashion Show.
GCO is a Maryville College organization intent on helping MC students connect with other students from all over the world through visual presentations (dances, PowerPoint, panels, etc.). Any student is welcome to join and sign up for emails regarding organization events. Typically every Friday at 3:30 in Bartlett Hall, students put together a presentation on their home country or some cultural aspect of a country. When there isn't a presentation there
are lots of parties, dances, and activities to be had!
a large group of students are standing in front of a presentation screen. one is holding the armenian flag
Students attending a country
presentation.

Some of our most popular events are Holi, the Love, Sex and Marriage Panel, Fashion Show and our themed dance parties. ​

Currently there is a leadership position open for any international student interested in being directly involved in organizing events. Below I have attached some pictures from some of our events and a link to our page: https://www.facebook.com/MaryvilleGCO/​.

Please like us and share our page!​

a group of students are outside throwing colorful powder up into the air. they are celebrating holi

Culture Shock: Japan

Hello, friends! In this blog post, I'm going to talk about some aspects about Japanese culture that will probably shock people who have not visited Japan before! Some of these I knew beforehand, but some of these I had come to learn about.  I hope you will be intrigued by them as well!
  • Fruit is expensive.
    It's the worst. A watermelon for $20? How about the tiniest pack of blueberries for $8? Pass. The only fruit I purchase on a regular basis here are bananas - which are about $2 (for four or five of them). What's even more surprising, Japan even sells fruit that sells for thousands of dollars! There's a market in Japan for giving fruit as a high-end gift, which is why farmers go to extreme lengths to cultivate such fruit.
  • Handkerchiefs are essential.
    In most of the bathrooms in Japan, you will probably not come to find paper towels or a hand dryer after you've washed your hands. Why? You're expected to have a handkerchief on you. Its main purpose is to dry your hands after washing them, but you can use it for other situations such as wiping your face. The summer heat has gradually been growing with each day, so I've been seeing both men and women alike using handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat off of their face. Handkerchiefs can literally be bought anywhere, and you can easily find decorated ones in stores.
  • Job-Hunting Season & Company CultureAlthough college seniors will not graduate until March of next year, job-hunting season is taking place now. This means that the students are continuously filling out entry forms and completing interviews until they have been accepted into a company. Once you start working for a company, it's expected you stay with that company for the rest of your career. Although certain circumstances may arise, it's unusual for an employee to move to another company to work. Companies like to hire new college graduates in bulk. If you're about to graduate and aren't participating in job-hunting season, it's going to be quite difficult for you to find ideal work.

The Japanese Job Hunting Suit.


  • Restaurants
    Once you're seated, a server will bring you packaged wet wipes or wet towels to wipe your hands with before your meal.
    Tipping is non-existent in Japan, thankfully!
    Sometimes, you order from a vending machine and it spits out a ticket with your order on it, and then you give it to one of the workers.
    Rather than a server coming by to collect your money, you go up to a cashier at the end of your visit. Surprisingly enough, depending on the place you go to, you may or may not be able to split your check - which means everyone in your party is going to have to have exact change, or someone is going to have to pay for everyone and then you pay them back later.
  • Customer Service
    Japanese customer service is awesome, plain and simple. Employees are very polite - maybe even so polite that it might annoy you a bit.
  • Walking
    It's considered rude to eat or drink while you are walking in Japan. You might see a student or two doing it on a college campus, but it's generally considered indecent. If you buy ice-cream or some kind of other snack, you are expected to eat it where you bought it, or wait until you arrive at your destination.
I hope to post again in a few days as I'm a bit behind schedule, but that's it for now! See you guys later! 👋

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Things to Do in Wellington (Weekend or Otherwise)

One of the first details I got about my internship is that it would be from 9 to 5 on Monday through Thursday which leaves ample time for exploring during the weekend. By the end of my first week, I had already begun making plans for the weekend. I’m still not sure whether I’m planning to travel too far outside of Wellington just yet just because there is so much to see and do here, but I will be sure to share with those of you reading if I do along with details of what I do locally. Here is my list of recommended activities to do (weekend or otherwise) so far. Expect to read more as I see more. 

Visit the Museum of Tongarewa Te Papa.


If you ever get a chance to see this, please do. This is a place for people of all ages with interactive exhibits along with exhibits that always remain culturally relevant to New Zealand. I like to think of it as a beautiful mega crash course in New Zealand history and the indigenous Māori history. I easily spent half a day to explore each level of exhibits and there are still things I want to go back and see. 

The first exhibit level (Floor 2) comprised mostly of natural history as well as recent phenomena in nature.
My favorites were the kiwi displays, the exhibit about the giant squid, and pretty much any time I thought that animals looked like they were up to something funny.



There was even a section of exhibits about natural disasters. One was about Papatūānuku (earth) and her relation to the cause of earthquakes in New Zealand.
According to the exhibit, R
ūaumoko was the unborn child of the earth and the sky and is considered the god of earthquakes.  


The second level (Floor 3), otherwise known as “people’s impact on the land” had a stunning display called Blood Earth Fire and was a walkthrough of the history of how New Zealand came to be the land that it was.
I mean, doesn't that just look intriguing???

The third level (Floor 4), housed displays about the social history of New Zealand with exhibits about the Māori and the stories of immigrants who had made it to New Zealand. I wasn't able to photograph all of them due to their being some museum restrictions out of respect for the Māori community's contribution. 

Fun fact: Aotearoa (meaning long white cloud) is the Māori name for New Zealand.

The Mixing Room is an exhibit dedicated to telling the stories of refugees that have made New Zealand their new home. 

Unfortunately, the next level was being renovated for an upcoming exhibit (IN SEPTEMBER WHEN I’LL BE GONE) so the last level I visited was what was nothing more than a viewing terrace. Despite the windiness (that Wellington is known for but I had not seen at this point) on the rooftop, there was no denying the breathtaking view of the harbor I got.

*I didn’t want to make this part too long especially because there are so many parts of Te Papa I didn’t even get around to, here is a link to those pictures on Facebook.

Explore Cuba Street.

A disclaimer I’d like to make about just touring Cuba Street is that I was fortunate enough to be placed near here as my “home” for the next two months. Someone at the hospital called it the place “where all of the youth are” which I suppose is fitting. There are so many places to eat (mostly reasonably priced), cute little shops to browse, and you can guarantee that something will be happening there during the weekend.

Browse the Underground Market.

This wasn’t something that I initially set out to visit on Saturday and was intending to spend my entire day at the library. However, as I was preparing to leave, one of the other interns brought it to my attention in a group message and mentioned that it was near the harbor (aka in my intended direction). I wasn’t there for very long, but I definitely picked up a few souvenirs before I left and with plans to come back.

Get caught up in the rugby madness.

This is a bit more specific to the time that I arrived in Wellington…in the heart of rugby season when the Lions tour had stops in Wellington. If you come at the right time, it is next to impossible to avoid rugby happenings. SERIOUSLY. Rugby is a nationwide craze. On my way to Te Papa, I got distracted by the rugby fans diving into the harbor for the sake (what seemed to be) their rugby teams.
Go All-Blacks!

On Saturday night, I even went out with a few of the other interns to find a place to watch the game. Something that I learned is to leave at least 4 hours before the game actually starts to claim a seat at any bar in the heart of the city or at the giant Fanzone erected near the harbor. 

Find the local library (or at least something familiar.


No matter where I am in the world, a library is where I feel most comfortable and has always been like a second home for me. As great as it is to be in a place that’s so new and different, I think it’s important for anyone that will be away from their first home for a while is to find another place that makes where they’re going feel a little bit more at home. 

Don't forget to enjoy it.

As exciting as it is to be in the adventure capital of the world, sometimes I just like to find places with great views or a quiet atmosphere and just take a moment to enjoy how lucky I am to be here doing these things in the first place.  
Here's me on one of the better weather days last weekend. 


Plans for the Future

  • Go back to the Underground Market for souvenirs
  • Visit the Night Market on Cuba Street
  • Spend more time at the library
  • Take in NZ's version of American food and go to the Adrenalin Forest (later this week, actually!!!!)
  • Buy fresh produce from the local market
  • Figure out how I'm going to fit all of my stuff in my suitcase in a month or so

Until later this week,
Ginny


Monday, July 3, 2017

Maryville College Cultural Ambassadors

At Maryville College, we want to help all students become active leaders in their community. To help International and Exchange students achieve this goal, the Center for International Education has the Cultural
a group of students with a lot of colorful powder on their clothes at the holi celebration
Holi Celebration 
Ambassadors program. Cultural Ambassadors are meant to get involved and have fun while sharing their culture with students, faculty and staff. Cultural Ambassadors will in turn learn about U.S. culture through active participation in at least one organization on campus. Through these activities, we hope that campus will have a strong presence of international leaders. Every international and exchange student at MC is a Cultural Ambassador and shares her culture throughout her time at the college.

Each term, Cultural Ambassadors strive to share their culture on and off campus and to actively participate in an organization!

A group of international students at homecoming
Group of students at Homecoming
Many students share their culture on campus through the Global Citizenship Organization’s (GCO) cultural presentation times, in your resident halls or during international education week. There is a lot of flexibility in sharing your culture on campus, so students can also plan their own event or way of sharing. For example, perhaps you love to cook traditional food from your culture and want to host a small event teaching others how to cook a dish. If you have traditional clothes or items from your country that you want to share, remember to bring them with you to Tennessee. Staff at CIE are always here to help you brainstorm ideas and help put plans into action. We will ask you to present your culture AT LEAST ONCE formally on campus, so be prepared!

Sharing your culture off campus can be done in similar ways. CIE organizes at least one off campus visit or fair per semester and you can plan to join in on those events. In past years, we have set up events with the Boys and Girls ClubRotary Association, Alcoa Elementary School, William Blount High School, Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy or local churches.  You’re always encouraged to reach out to other organizations though and set up other small events or activities.
students sharing traditional chinese new year activities at isaac's
Chinese New Year Celebration at Isaac's Cafe

The last requirement is a fun one that will help you find your place on campus. You can join any organization you want and participate fully to fulfill this requirement. Participating fully means that you will go to meetings and be involved with at least one event each semester in your chosen organization. Being a member of GCO or the International Education Week Planning Committee may be a good option, but you could also join the Student Government Association or one of the many groups on campus (we’ll talk more about these groups in a later post!).  One of the best things about a small college is that there are many leadership opportunities within organizations right from Day 1.  Attend the Opportunities of a Lifetime Fair the 2nd week of class to get to know all the clubs.


The CIE is looking forward to seeing how each of you embrace your ambassadorship this coming year!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

First Week in Wellington


x

Despite what my past pictures and post have
appeared to show, my time in New Zealand is not exactly a vacation. For the next two months, I’ll be working as an intern in the Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia at the University of Otago, Wellington under Dr. Kirsty Danielson. The work I’ll be doing will be part of establishing a biobank of feasible biomarkers for the early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC). In the United States, CRC is the third most occurring cancer whereas, in New Zealand, it is the most occurring cancer. As with any cancer, early detection is key for a positive prognosis. Regarding CRC, the lack of a standard early detection method means that most of the CRC diagnoses are not made until Stage IV which has a very low rate of survival in the next five years.
While I’m not going to be doing any of the big stuff like personally collecting blood samples from patients or removing any of the surgeries (at least in the first week), I am still happy to do the grunt work for the sake of saying that I got to be involved in something like this.

First Day:
Lydia (the other intern) and I were told not to expect anything big within the first week, but boy was that wrong. Although initially, it really did seem that way. We met our supervisor, Dr. Kirsty Danielson (after a few months of emails), and talked about the work we would be helping with a final message to drop by anytime and ask her questions.
Kirsty took on us a tour of the department to say hi to everybody and to try and help us first navigate the maze-like layout. Aside from Kirsty, two people that will most likely be mentioned frequently in the future are Ashok and Phillipa because they are the ones that we will also be working with/for.

Ashok is a physician from the UK as well as the senior registrar. He’s the one that primarily interacts with patients (when they’re conscious) to collect their blood samples and then register their patient information into Redcap, the patient database. With Ashok, we will be helping him process the blood samples for serum and plasma via centrifuge and liquid nitrogen freezer and working on updating Redcap. In fact, he came by about an hour after meeting us to show us how to process the samples and even let us do our first one.

Phillipa, on the other hand, is the lab technician that collects tissue samples from the surgeons Liz or Ali and processes the samples from tumor tissue and normal tissue. She also showed us where we’ll occasionally be collecting liquid nitrogen in a slightly precarious manner for sample use.
At the end of the tour, Kirsty left us to our office – which we are sharing with a medical student – to lots of reading including (but not limited to): lab protocols for our various duties, related scientific articles, and copies of the research grant Kirsty wrote that had a summary of her project.
At the end of the day, some excitement came up! Phillipa came up to the office and rushed us down to an operating theater to try and catch the surgery for collecting tissue samples. Unfortunately, we missed it because of some communication issues but I was still excited to wear scrubs and (albeit briefly) be in an operating theater. Phillipa even demonstrated how we would process tissue samples in the future.

The day wound down nicely after that and the other interns and I had a nice walk home in the dark. I’m not quite used to this whole “being winter when I’m used to it being summer” thing yet but I’m working on it.

Second Day:
So, the second day wasn’t nearly as eventful other than continued reading, so I’m just going to fast forward past this.

Third Day:
Initially, I thought that today was going to be even more reading which I had tried to drag out just in case. However, there were some breaks in this routine. We met Gisela who is a medical student taking the time to get an Honor’s degree and possibly her Ph.D. 

Speaking of Ph.D.’s, I also attended a presentation by one of the Ph.D. students (Kathryn) as part of the Post-Graduate Seminar Series. She’s in the third year of her program and was showing us what research she had completed for her thesis up that point. In layman’s terms, her research is about Toll-like receptors and their relation to alternate pathways of platelet activation and preventing subsequent heart problems.

Isn't the logo cute??
Later that day, Ashok gave Lydia and me his access to Redcap to start updating it with patient information. Diane, the receptionist, gave us paperwork to start the process of getting our own IDs along with security clearance. According to other people in the department, this should take around two weeks which is remarkably quick in comparison to the usual pace around the university. Or New Zealand, for that matter. 

At the end of my day, I hit up the Wellington City Library and picked up a veggie burger/chips combo on the way home as a reward for not spending as much money as I thought I had.

And it was quite good even if the whole thing was nearly twenty (NZ) dollars. 

Fourth Day:
My last day of the week as an intern was mostly spent entering patient information into Redcap and then double-checking it. I did get a chance to meet with Kirsty as part of my internship requirements to discuss my professional and personal objectives for the internship. 

Aside from the usual intern work, Kirsty has agreed to help me by registering me for upcoming courses on Māori healthcare as well as assigning me to do "mini lab reports" for her to assess and provide constructive criticism about my scientific writing skills. 

On another positive note, Gisela finally got her computer after five weeks of waiting! And I made plans for the weekend to go to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - Te Papa for short - and find a place to catch the upcoming rugby match of the All-Black versus the Lions. 

I'm a bit biased, but I was rooting for the All-Blacks this past Saturday.


I'll write up more about that later this week, so bye for now!

Ginny

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Settled In

As my first month in Prague is coming to a close, I have found that I feel more at home in this wonderful city. I have fallen into a routine between work and school. I can easily find my way around the city and I have a better idea of where to find the items or services I may need. Also, the language barrier has not been an issue. I am happily very busy between my internship, school, and trying to get to know other international students. This routine that I have found myself in is actually helping me deal with some of the things that I, at first, found irritating: lack of air conditioning, not having access to a dryer, and one of the smallest kitchens in the world.
I did get ill during my first month in Prague. It was comforting to know that I was able to pick up cold medicine (which worked wonderfully) and I had access to an English-speaking doctor if I felt I needed one. I was allowed a long weekend to rest and get well. This helped me get off to a good start in my new class the following Monday. This experience has given me a lot more confidence in being able to exist in unfamiliar environments. I hope traveling, living, and working in different countries is a part of my future career.

Monday, June 26, 2017

New Zealand, ISA Bridging Cultures Program.

Before you read: This is the best condensed version I could do of my first partial week in New Zealand. It might be a bit much to read for one post, but if you do you won't regret. If reading this is too much, the pictures can be found on my Facebook profile! Ginny's photos


First Day in Auckland
Upon landing in Auckland (and taking about 30-ish minutes to get off the plane) around 8 in the morning, the other interns and I made our way to the hotel to drop off our bags and begin our day. I wanted to fall asleep as soon as we got on our transit bus, but I also didn’t want to miss a moment of being in the land of the long white cloud (Aotorea). Just the drive from the airport to the hotel was like no other. Being from East Tennessee, I thought that I was used to seeing a lot of green. But this…this was something I’d never imagined. The only way I could think of to describe it was like a jungle had asserted itself into the city. But as I came to see on my walks through the city, I noticed that the way that Auckland was built was the opposite of my assumption. Auckland had somehow managed to establish its urban network without disturbing the natural life that’s been present for hundreds of years and there was no way to not be in awe at every turn. I also saw a Target on the way in.

While the first day was mostly uneventful (the ISA mentors thankfully taking pity on our post-international flight state), there were still many memorable points. With one of the other interns (Charlsie), I visited a convenience store in lieu of a lunch and perused the snacks that had been recommended to us by one of the locals like Tim-Tams, Pineapple Lumps, and Chicken Chips. It was the first time I got to spend the gorgeous currency that is the NZD even if it was a bit confusing.
The walk-through Auckland was also the beginning of the pleasant realization that Asian culture is a prevalent component of the culture here. At one point, I went down a street that contained at least 5 Asian restaurants in a row. Additionally, the convenience store had more than a few of my favorite Asian snacks that are such a rarity back home.

This day came to an end with a brief learning session about what to expect with our respective internships and some preparation for our hongi for the visit to the Aut Marae the following day. Per tradition, this consisted of denoting a male chief of our group along with the song that we would present to them. After deciding and practicing for a bit, we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at the Fortuna Buffet in the Sky City Hotel.


Y’ALL. If you think you’ve been to a good buffet, think again. This is the BUFFET OF BUFFETS (in my humble opinion). The Fortuna Buffet was housed in an opulent building of which during our ascent, we passed by a casino and several niceish bars. Eating at this place has begun a questioning of the way that Americans do food. Upon eating to my heart’s content, I returned to the hotel and immediately fell asleep. 

Walk to Aut Marae and Then on to Rotorua
In the heart of Auckland, there is a marae which is a communal sacred place for the Māori. According to Jason King, a Māori lecturer with the Auckland University of Technology, this is a rarity for a marae because they are usually in the more rural parts of New Zealand.
To enter the marae, guests must first be called by the “grandmother” of the house which is done with a Māori song. But this is only where the welcome into the Māori house begins. As the grandmother sang, we (the other interns and I) removed our shoes to enter the communal part of the marae with the women entering first and the men at the back as the protectors of our tribe. The men of our group then took the front row of our side as the spiritual protectors while the women sat behind them. Jason later elaborated on why we sat on our respective sides as being related to the location of the statues of the ancestors. Because we were outsiders to this marae, we sat on the side with the ancestors of the outside tribes watching us from behind.

Jason then spoke to us briefly in Te Reo to welcome us further and then our elected male “Chief” gave a speech in return that spoke of our background and our gratitude for being welcomed into their house – which quite frankly it was. Even with my limited knowledge of the Māori culture of this point, I was still excited and honored to be a part of a cultural event properly. The grandmother and Jason then sang a Māori song to us after which we sang our chosen song in return: “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker. Not the entire song, but enough for Jason to recognize which I found surprising. Luckily, this means that he’ll at least remember our group for years to come. After this exchange, we partook in the part of the ceremony referred to as hongi (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite aspects of Māori culture). The act itself is quite up close and personal, but the meaning of it is something I find beautiful. The physical part is the touching of nose to nose then forehead to forehead, and then a kiss on the cheek but this seemed to be specific to this marae. The nose to nose represents the sharing of the breath of life – like the first Māori woman created from which all Māori descent – while the touching of foreheads represents a sharing of minds.


Following the hongi, we shared some snacks as the ceremonial “breaking bread together” part. This was the part where Jason told us that we were now part of the house FOREVER but I didn’t really mind. Becoming a part of something bigger seems to be an important part of the Māori culture and this goes way beyond just the elaborate welcoming ceremony. In fact, the house itself is designed to reflect this. At the entrance outside into the communal space of the marae, there are arms that beckon out to guests to come into her embrace, or rather, into the house which represents her womb. On the inside of the roof, there are rafters in the colors of the rainbow that represent the different international communities.

The mainstay of the marae. 
Women in Māori culture play a very important role in that there are some ceremonies that cannot be done without them – like the welcoming into the marae. Jason aptly put it this way: “Men teach their sons, but women teach nations.” In fact, the mainstay of the house (aka the part of the house that the ENTIRE house leans on) is a wooden carving a woman holding a baby. This isn’t as common for marae, but I think it was a good choice.  

The remainder of our time before the hangi (sharing of a meal) in the marae was spent in a fast-paced, condensed version of lessons that Jason teaches about Māori culture to his university students or members of the Māori community. We learned how to say various Māori phrases like our name, colors, and sing a love song. We even practiced a game that Māori children use to hone their hand-eye coordination which involved simultaneous singing and perilous throwing of wooden sticks. At the end of the learning sessions, we explored the marae and took pictures with the various murals of the demigod Maui as Jason explained what they meant and why Maui is so important in Māori culture. In short, Maui messed with the wrong goddess (Goddess of Death) in a bid for immortality is, failed, and is now the reason that mankind is not immortal. 
Me with the statue of Maui transforming into a lizard to try and kill the goddess of death.
Fun fact: Maui's fish hook is believed to be his grandmother's magical jaw bone. 
To my disappointment, our time at the AUT Marae came to an end and it was time for us to head out to Rotorua.

To Rotorua (Hobbiton)
 So….our ISA chaperones/mentors thought it necessary that we spend the bus ride to Matamata in Rotorua watching Fellowship of the Ring. Following my newfound appreciation for the Lord of the Rings, I’m glad we did because it makes the films even more enjoyable. My conclusion at the end of the tour: Peter Jackson’s unheard-of level of attention-to-detail is undoubtedly what made Lord of the Rings so memorable and one of the few book-to-screen adaptations to be regarded as better than the book.
I still may not know as much a LoTR fan, but here are some pictures with some reasons why and for your enjoyment.
This cat is a long-time resident of the Green Dragon. 

The fake oak tree with 20,00 fakes leaves wired in and individually spray-painted different shades of green and gold.
The hobbit hole of the Baggins'.



Learning the Ka Mate Haka
In Māori culture, a haka is typically a war cry or dance of honor. The modern concept of this has developed into a pre-rugby match ritual of the Māori All-Blacks as a proclamation of their strength and prowess to let the enemy (the opposing team) that they’re out for blood (metaphorically, mostly).  But learning a haka is more than just learning the words and learning the moves and doing them all together as loudly as possible. As we committed the words to memory, our teacher Tiki explained what each line meant and who the haka was honoring. The haka “Ka Mate” was written by Te Rauparaha when he was hiding from an enemy tribe. He was in what seemed like a hopeless situation and was saved by the power of a hairy woman who caused the sun to rise again which allowed him to step out of the darkness to live another day. The movements that accompanied each phrase made it rather easy to remember. For example, at the line “Whakawhiti te ra”, you raise your arms and look to the sky to symbolize that the sun is rising.

After we had practiced many many times, one of Tiki’s coworkers (aka Bros) informed us that we were going to perform for a small crowd visiting the Tima Tangata exhibit. Then they geared us up in traditional Māori costume (halter top, apron skirt, and headband for the ladies and fur pelts for the dudes) and painted our faces with ta moko (chin for the ladies and full-face for the dudes). Before going out for the big performance, Tiki gathered us all in a circle in something akin to a prayer. But this wasn’t so much a prayer so much as it was a moment of remembrance. Before you can even think to perform, you must think of who you are honoring and channel their spirit. According to Tiki, what makes a haka good is when “you are so filled with the spirit of your ancestors that you can’t be contained.”


Our audience for the haka was a local special needs school who enjoyed our performance enough to perform a song for us in return and engage in hongi. After our performance, our ISA chaperones gave us enough time to change out of our haka-wear and properly explore the Tima Tangata exhibit. Tima Tangata is an ongoing exhibition that is in honor of the Māori history of rugby. While looking around, I took a chance to speak with Tiki’s colleague (whose never I, unfortunately, cannot clearly recall) who had a partial moko on his face that seemed to extend over his chest and arms. I had the assumption that ta moko is something that a person must earn but to him, it is ultimately up to each person to decide when they are ready and how to they want to show theirs. He told me that he came from a bad life and made a lot of bad choices that he had to keep working past to become better, or worthy of his moko. Related to this, the steps refer to stepping up (like haka) and realizing that things are bigger than just yourself and our responsibility to be better for not just ourselves. His example of this was that rugby had changed him for the bitter and he wanted to give back by helping with the exhibit. This belief of wanting to give back to something bigger is something that comes up in Māori culture a lot and just goes to show how immersive and united their culture is. 
The Tima Tangata exhibit sign. 
Keep an eye out for my link to the video of my group's haka!!!

Going to Wai-O-Tapu 
So fun fact: there are natural geothermal mud pools that are basically giant boiling pots on the route to Wai-O-Tapu. It was really dark and didn’t smell very pleasant, but still, a fascinating sight as you can see. 

Coming up next: sad Ginny in a heavy downpour as an explanation for why she doesn't have many pictures of Wai-O-Tapu with her fancy camera. 


And lastly...my last day that part of NZ at the Hamilton Gardens can be seen in one of the albums the link above!!

Thanks for reading and stop by later this week to hear about my first week as an intern in Wellington!!!







Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nagoya Meshi: Misokatsu

Hi, friends! It's time for another blog post from yours truly!

I'll be talking about Nagoya meshi today - local cuisine in Nagoya, Japan that is unique to this region. Many of these dishes are variations of typical Japanese foods. The flavor of Nagoya meshi tend to be on the strong side. Mamemiso, hatcho miso, and red miso are often used in these dishes. Mamemiso is made with soy beans, salt, and water. Compared to other varieties of miso, it is darker (a brown closer to black) and not as sweet. Nagoya's miso soup uses this miso. When it comes to the prices of these dishes, they can range from inexpensive to expensive.

Misokatsu from Yabaton - a famous misokatsu restaurant in the region (from what I've heard). We waited in a line that went around the restaurant! It went by much more quickly than I expected though. I ordered this misokatsu with rice and miso soup as a set for $11.

One of the most popular dishes (and so far my favorite one) is misokatsu. Misokatsu is thick, salty-sweet red miso sauce poured over tonkatsu (deep fried breaded pork cutlet). The sauce is made from miso, bonito fish stock, and sugar. Misokatsu is also delicious with toppings such as Japanese mustard, mayonnaise, and sesame seeds. It's honestly worth trying misokatsu several times, as the flavor and consistency of the miso sauce, toppings, and the thickness of the katsu varies from place to place.

Misokatsu from one of my university's cafeterias! You can very clearly see the difference in the miso sauce compared to the one from Yabaton. This misokatsu was topped on a bed of rice and it cost just $4.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Nagoya, please take the time to try Nagoya meshi!

Other Nagoya meshi:

  • Tebasaki (Japanese-style fried chicken)
  • Ogura Toast (red bean paste on toast)
  • Ankake Spaghetti (spaghetti with a spicy and sticky sauce)
  • Miso Nikomi Udon (noodles in miso broth)
  • (and so much more!)

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