Asian adventures

Whew. The past year has been a whirlwind of travel craziness, even moreso if you stretch it a bit further and count summer 2014. I’ve headed from the US to Norway, to England, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and back to Norway before flying back to the US, whereupon I took a detour to Puerto Rico over the winter, returned to Miami for spring break, and went to New York for the first time. Then, after moving three times since returning from Europe to the US and finishing my Bachelor’s in Computer Science in spring 2015 – along with meeting a whole lot of fun and interesting new people along the way – I sold or gave away most of my possessions, said “Bye” to the country I’ve lived in for ~22 years, and purchased a one-way ticket to Norway, but not before popping over to Colombia to see South America at least once before leaving the western hemisphere.

After spending only a week in Norway, I hopped over to the Netherlands where I had an absolute blast with old and new friends for about a month before going for my first time to Belgium. From Belgium, I bought a ticket to South Korea and commenced my teaching job here, learning a lot of Korean and about the country’s culture from one of its very own, small cities.

And now, in approximately one-and-a-half months, I’ll be on the move again. Where to this time? Well, first I will go around Korea to the places I haven’t seen yet but want to before I leave, such as Jeju Island, Daejeon, more of Seoul, the Demilitarized Zone (between North and South Korea), Gangwon province, Daegu, and more of Busan. After that, I will close out my apartment here in Gochang, say “See ya later!” to the friends I’ve made here, and head to…

Japan!

And I can say I’m quite excited! The destination is not so much of a surprise if you’re somewhat familiar with Asia’s geography, but it will be the first time I’ve set foot in a place where so much of the media I’ve watched and played over the years originates from, and I have to say I’m pretty happy. Both to see Japan, and to leave Korea as Korea has been kind of a drag. More on that in another article, but to sum it up, the job and benefits are great, but the country, people, and largely the food do not suit me. But I’m satisfied: I’ve met plenty of great people here and learned a lot about myself. I’m just happy to be getting to the relative beauty and politeness of Japan, and see some friends that I’ve had there for awhile.

The rest of my plans thus far are pretty tentative, but the current plan goes somewhat like this: I’ll spend three or so months in Japan, going to at least Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo (if not more), then head to Taiwan, Hong Kong, maybe Vietnam (if I bother to get a visa for it, which is a somewhat annoying requirement), maybe Laos or Cambodia, but then definitely Thailand and down to Singapore.

After that, the current plan is to head back to the place where I’ve decided I want to get a residence permit and branch off from there in the future. I’ll espouse more on which country that is in another article! For now, I wonder: can you guess?

Stereotypes of countries around the world

Keep in mind these are tidbits and/or very generalizing and playful stereotypes I’ve come up with by going to these countries and meeting people from them.

Americans:
– Blunt as a knife.
– Describe distances in driving time.
– Describe time in numbers (5:50 is most times “five fifty”, not “ten to six” or “five after quarter to six”).
– Devout (comparatively to other [especially European] countries).
– Friendly.
– Loud.
– Main exports are obesity and friendliness.
– Mediocre drivers due to medium-priced driver’s tests and licenses.
– Notable music genres include rock and jazz.
– Out of shape.
– Patriotic.
– Slogan: Add sugar to everything!
– Tip most everyone.
– Use big adjectives generously (“Wow!” “That’s great!” “That sounds awesome!”).
– Use the imperial measuring system, often leading to confusion with the metric system.

The British:
– Clever.
– Crazy about gardens, just like the Dutch.
– Cynical.
– Pessimistic.
– Sarcastic.
– Sardonic.
– Tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

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Exploring England

England is a funny country. Between using the metric and imperial systems simultaneously (miles, anyone?), speaking like, well, Brits, not being able to decide if they’re a country (The UK is a country! No, England is a country! No, one is a constituent country and the other is a country! Oh, bollocks.), and driving on the left side (ha-ha), they’re quite charming. I jest, of course (but not about the charming bit).

My first experience in the country was a silly one: when my friend came to pick me up from the Stansted airport, I walked around his car, much to his confusion: I had forgotten England drives on the left side! This seemed so ridiculous to me considering I had known this fact nearly all of my teen-and-beyond years, and of course my friend just had to make fun of me for it. So I pouted and stalked to the left side of the car – the passenger’s side – and got in. From the airport, he took me on the not-too-long ride back to his place in a London suburb where I would spend the next eight or so days.

The place in the outer London.
The place in outer London.

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My Norwegian resources

Here’s the Norwegian equivalent for my Swedish resources and my Korean resources:

  • Sons of Norway – Norwegian in 5 Minutes a Month: Used from the very beginning. It teaches you useful vocabulary and starting phrases, as well as covers the Norwegian alphabet. Give it a go! =)
  • LingQ: Used to start learning words. This can be used from the very beginning! LingQ is a fantastic site that allows you to hover your cursor over words in their different language lessons and stories and see the meaning. When you feel comfortable with a word, you mark it as known and move on. This is also the tool that gives me those nifty, auto-updated language badges on the right sidebar.
  • Google translate: Used all-the-freaking-time to define single words. Here’s how it normally works for me: I see a word in LingQ or hear a word in a podcast (also coming up), and then look it up via Google translate if I know how it’s spelled. I hardly ever use Google translate for translating phrases, because if you give it more than one word, it often messes up. For best results, translate FROM your target language INTO English, as Google translate tends to have a better grasp on English than some of the other languages. It’s also decent enough to use vice-versa, but I don’t trust its English-to-Norwegian, etc. translations as much as the reverse. Remember, in the beginning, when translating something in Google translate, don’t use ambiguous sentences that can be translated in multiple different ways; try to stick to simple sentences until you can tell when Google translate is wrong, at which point you can feed it more complex things.

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Roadtrip across southwest Norway

My incredible Norwegian family was kind enough to take me on a roadtrip across some notable areas in southwestern Norway one sunny Sunday. We took quite a few ferries to visit Odda (where my Norwegian family used to live) and saw tons of waterfalls along the way (because they’re my favorite and the people here know this by now, hehe). Here are some pictures (by the way, slow Internet users, there are a decent number of them) of the gorgeous scenery we came across (you can find many more in the gallery folder); really, it speaks for itself, so I didn’t really bother with captions:

2013-05-19 10.23.10

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How I’m legally able to keep going to Europe – The Schengen Agreement

I’ve been to and lived in Europe for a total of six months now (three total in the Netherlands, three in Norway) and am about to do so again for another three. At the beginning, though, I had no idea how I’d go about doing this, or if it was even possible without painstakingly acquiring several visas. The answer for going to the majority of European countries is “yes”…depending on which country you’re from!

The Schengen Agreement (named after the town in Luxembourg in which it was signed) is a treaty signed in 1985 that abolishes the internal border controls of as well as gives a common visa policy to the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area is like a single state for international travel purposes: it has external border controls for travelers entering and exiting the area, but lacks internal border controls, allowing free and painless passage between its member countries.

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Reverse culture shock

Atop Stoltzekleiven in Bergen

Hello everyone! I’d like to take this post to discuss a phenomenon I’ve always wished to experience (and now finally have): reverse culture shock.

It’s easy to find stories of culture shock; people go to new places and see new things and meet new people and start new activities and it’s completely understandable given that they’re not used to these new ways of doing things. While it’s indeed an interesting phenomenon in and of itself, I feel it pales in comparison to the psychology behind reverse culture shock; that is, coming back to your country of birth and feeling as if it’s a foreign country.

Coming back from the mountains of Norway, I experienced this. I set foot in the Orlando, Florida airport and was immediately struck by the large amount of Disney advertising everywhere. Yeah, sure, Disney and theme parks, a common thing to advertise and see in Orlando. But it went much further than that: I stepped outside, and it was hot. In actuality, it was only about 23 C (74 F), but the air was wet and heavy, something some people call “muggy”, the kind of weather that makes warm weather feel hot and cool weather feel cold. I felt damp to my core, dunked underwater by some unseen force – this was a marked difference from Norway! Norway doesn’t have nearly as much humidity as Florida, despite it having ample water surrounding it all the same. Norway’s winter was relatively dry compared to those of Florida (if Florida can even be considered to have a true “winter” :P). As I went on through the week following that initial airport landing, I noticed more things, like a thick loaf of bread half my height that cost a mere $1.59. After being away for three months, I couldn’t help but think upon my return: is this really the country I’ve been living in all these years? Here are some of my observations:

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Pros and cons of different countries I’ve been to so far

I’ve found a lot of differences between England, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the US in my travels, and I’d like to espouse on those here. Every place has its advantages and disadvantages, some more obvious than the others:

England

England walk

Default grocery stores: Sainsbury’s, Tesco.
Payment:
Visa, MasterCard, and other major debit and credit cards; cash.

Pros

  • Good food selection: There’s a huge selection of food here, much like in the US, and especially when you go to Sainsbury’s.
  • Fair number of places to find cheap things: England has a lot of different shops, but even though they can be quite expensive, you can usually find another shop with a cheaper version of exactly what you were looking for.

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My Swedish resources

It’d be silly for me to continue for too long about learning Swedish without mentioning the resources I use, so here’s a list of what I’m currently using, as well as an explanation of when I use it; it’s the Swedish equivalent for my Norwegian resources and my Korean resources:

  • Penn State University Swedish lessons: Used from the very beginning for basic vocabulary and grammar. I happened upon a really nifty bunch of Swedish lessons from a professor. They have been extremely helpful from the get-go, and I advise this to be one of the first things you look at if learning Swedish. There’s a great rundown of not only vocabulary, but also bits of grammar, but never enough to overwhelm you. Definitely one of my favorite finds.
  • LingQ: Used to start learning words. This can be used from the very beginning! LingQ is a fantastic site that allows you to hover your cursor over words in their different language lessons and stories and see the meaning. When you feel comfortable with a word, you mark it as known and move on. This is also the tool that gives me those nifty, auto-updated language badges on the right sidebar.
  • Google translate: Used all-the-freaking-time to define single words. Here’s how it normally works for me: I see a word in LingQ or hear a word in a podcast (also coming up), and then look it up via Google translate if I know how it’s spelled. I hardly ever use Google translate for translating phrases, because if you give it more than one word, it often messes up. For best results, translate FROM your target language INTO English, as Google translate tends to have a better grasp on English than some of the other languages. It’s also decent enough to use vice-versa, but I don’t trust its English-to-Swedish, etc. translations as much as the reverse. Remember, in the beginning, when translating something in Google translate, don’t use ambiguous sentences that can be translated in multiple different ways; try to stick to simple sentences until you can tell when Google translate is wrong, at which point you can feed it more complex things.

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