Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Journey Home

Time is slowly counting down until my flight tomorrow that will take me back to the States. While the final hours of my stay in Denmark have been somewhat frantic to finalize packing and cleaning the room I stayed in, I have been able to think a bit about the past four months.

I can still remember how nervous yet excited I felt leaving the States back in August. I envisioned that I would be able to see so many different cities while I was here, learn enough of the Danish language that I could communicate with the Danes, and so much more. I knew that I would make many new friends and would also come back a different person, but things didn't turn out the way that I thought.

The one thing that really bogged down the ability to travel was college work. Despite the amount of work for my classes, I still managed to travel to several places in Denmark with my international friends. So in a sense, I was able to travel, but didn't go to the places that I imagined. Instead of going to Prague, Berlin, Florence, and other cities, I got to see various sites that make Denmark, well, Denmark.

I have truly enjoyed my time here. I have become friends with people from all over the world, got to see beautiful sites, and even got to experience several Danish traditions. If I was given the chance to come back or even go someplace new, I would gladly accept, for the experience would continually shape who I am. This has really been one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far.

So, as a final parting, I will just say a word of advice to those who also want to go on an exchange or who want to travel in general: in your travels, no matter where you go, don't expect that things will happen a certain way. Chances are, the unexpected will most likely happen.

See you back in the States!


Monday, November 25, 2013

A Scandinavian Christmas

While finals are slowly drawing closer, there is always time for a party. This past weekend I was able to experience a real Danish Christmas lunch/dinner with my kitchen mates. In Danish, this event is known as Julefrokost. I had such a great time. It was quite exciting to try new foods as well as the traditional beverage known as snaps. This alcoholic drink is normally served at both Christmas and Easter. In all honesty, it tastes pretty disgusting, yet since it's tradition, it is always served and normally is completely consumed by the end of the evening.

Christmas lunch is normally a cold meal consisting of slices of rye bread (called rugbrød) with various "toppings" added to the bread. At our meal, these "toppings" consisted of breaded fish fillets, pickled herring, hard boiled eggs, bacon, liver paste with browned mushrooms, and various mustard and curry sauces.

Some of the food at lunch. Clara (the girl in the picture) was the exchange student from last year and came back for a visit
Dinner is a hot meal, often with a roast of some sort (normally pork), meatballs (also made from pork), potatoes, and gravy.

Some of my kitchen mates working on dinner
The dinner selection
For dessert, we had the traditional rice pudding. Of course, at this point everyone was completely stuffed with food (the whole day was literally just eating and drinking), yet we still ate it in search of the whole almond. As part of tradition, in the rice pudding, there is a single whole almond, and whoever finds it gets and extra gift for christmas (in our case, it was a prize).

The rice pudding
 Of course, in between meals there was time to hang out with everyone and more drinking. Here are some pictures of some of the fun we had.

Trying to use a camera as a phone
A look at the other table
Surprise picture!!! 
Rolf tried to steal the Christmas tree 
A great time
This was a great day for me, and it was even better that I spent it with my kitchen mates. Probably one of the best highlights that I've experienced while I've been here.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Academics: East vs. West

                Study Abroad, although sometimes us exchange students forget, is just that: “studying”. Here in Singapore and specifically at NUS, academics are no joke. NUS is one of the top universities in the world and is comparable to an American Ivy League school. These students had the highest grades and highest test scores from their secondary schools to gain admission. Speaking with locals, and specifically discussing education in my Sociology class, I’ve seen the nature of this academic environment.

                In primary and secondary school,   students study long hours for standardized tests, especially those that separate students early on into different “streams”. These streams stratify students based on ability in a particular subject. The students take different classes and often are treated differently. My classmates also noted a very strong emphasis on math and science fields. They are encouraged to go into these fields regardless of if they enjoy it. Everyone seemed to agree that the academic system put a huge pressure on them and is not uncommon for families to hire private tutors to help their children get ahead. The intensity continues into University where students graduate together based on grades (The A’s graduate together, the B’s together, etc.). The bottom-line is that these results-driven academics take priority over everything else. 

                Currently, the U.S. is working on reforming our K-12 education system because we are falling behind Asian countries such as Singapore. We are introducing more standardized curricula and testing. There are merits to the Singapore system, as it does produce high test scores; however it is held in place by the culture which makes it unfeasible to adopt directly.

In the U.S. the goal is not always to get the highest marks, but rather to be well-rounded, to learn not how to spend excessive hours studying but how to balance studying with various other roles and responsibilities. While these results cannot be directly measured, I believe it is the advantage of the American education system of education. After all, a job will require balancing and delegating time rather than focusing on one subject.

As a disclaimer, this does not reflect the view of all the students here. It is merely my perspective on two different academic systems. In the end, the subject material back home and here are similar with differences marked by study habits and the rigor of grading. 

Wish me luck during the finals that are quickly approaching!


Sunday, October 27, 2013


I now believe my kitchen mates about autumn in Denmark after experiencing several weeks of it. Once it reaches mid to late October, it becomes pretty dull and miserable outside. While it's not very cold (it's still about 50 degrees F), it is often windy, cloudy, and normally raining. When it's cloudy and rainy, it never becomes very bright outside, so I'm finding it quite normal to have my desk lamp on any time that I'm awake. But autumn here is still similar to home; the leaves change color and fall off, the nights start becoming colder, etc. With all these changes with the weather, I've actually started to notice some changes with myself.
Probably the most noticeable change is I feel much more confident in myself. Back home, I know that was somewhat shy and quiet, especially around new people. While I've been here, I've noticed that I've been almost eager to meet new people and get to know them better. I've also noticed some smaller changes as well. I noticed that I'm trying to use the metric system more in conversations or just general use, such as saying how many kilometers I walked or the temperature in Celsius. I've also noticed some changes with my speech as well. One big change is I've stopped asking people "How are you?" This phrase is actually very uncommon in Denmark, since Danes find it very superficial to have a conversation such as:
Person 1:"Hi, how are you?"
Person 2: "Good, how are you?"
Person 1: "Good."
Overall, I feel that I've become much more used to a European lifestyle. I've gotten used to shopping for food on a nearly daily basis and purchasing only the food that I'll eat that day. I'm used to using buses and trains to get where I need to go (even though the transit system is much different from any other city that I've been to and is potentially confusing to any newcomer). In general, I am having a fantastic time here, and I honestly cannot believe that I have less than two months left here.


P.S. Here are some pictures of my recent fall holiday near Jægerspris (all pictures courtesy of my friend Vincent).
The nearby castle we visited
Walking around the gardens
I do believe this is a view of the Roskilde Fjord
Playing football in the gardens

View of the nearby coast
Our attempt at light painting myself in a lightsaber battle with Loes, my friend from Holland

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

G'day from Melbourne

Brighton Beach

Hello Friends

It's been a crazy last few weeks of classes, but I have now officially attended my last class in Australia... For now. Final exams begin next week so I am in "study" mode this week. By study I mean get out and soak in as much of Australia as I can hold as I near my departure date, just weeks away.

It is crazy to think that in just over a month I will be back home in the cold giving thanks and stuffing my face with turkey and pumpkin pie. And don't get me wrong, I love pumpkin pie. But I am going to miss this place. Melbourne is one of those cities that's charm doesn't fully hit you until about the second month of living here. When you start to venture out of your comfort zone and wander around a corner and down a seemingly vacant alley only to find another small cluster of vibrant and unique shops and restaurants to explore.

I am also just fully grasping the usefulness of public transport. For those of you planning to study here on exchange you should be able to get a student concession card which saves you 50% on all public transport! I can get just about anywhere in the state via PT and for very reasonable prices. That being said, it is also useful to have friends with cars. I've attached some pictures of my recent trip down the Great Ocean Road. That would have been a tough trip to do via PT but because I was able to jump on with one of my car-owning mates and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip so far. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Hope you all are enjoying classes!

I'll see good old green and gold soon.



Some abandoned beach just down the Great Ocean Road

Australia's iconic Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road

More of the stunning sights along the Great Ocean Road

Atop the Shrine of Remembrance, Looking back at the city of Melbourne, my home.

Shanghai Dumpling House, one of the cheapest and most delicious places to eat in Melbs

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Visit from Home!

Over my recess week, my parents came and visited me in Singapore! It was great seeing familiar faces and getting to share my study abroad experience with them. Here is a recap of our week as told by my mom:

Tom and I arrived in Singapore in the wee hours of Saturday morning (12:30ish) in a pretty good state considering it felt like the middle of the day for us.   Kelly was there waiting just outside the last check point of our journey of 26 hours.   Went back to Kelly's dorm and crashed till the sun came up at 7:00am (as it does year-round).   Kelly led us on a tour of the campus complete with a stop to get fresh juice smoothies.    NUS is a huge and beautiful campus full of steps, open air buildings, plants, art, and people because even though it was the school's break week many students stay and study (really!).   That night we walked along the river downtown and went to the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant for Singapore's signature dish: Chili Crab.   It is a whole crab doused in chili, a very messy experience especially when combined with the absence of napkins in most Singapore restaurants.  
Chili Crab

Sunday we went to the Botanic Gardens which are Singapore's version of Central Park.   It was a great day to stroll through and then take a nap on the grass.  By the way, it is close to 100 with the humidity every day.  Monday we went to Sentosa Island to relax.   It is the city's beach just south of the mainland and easy to get to whenever the sandy shores are calling you.   Sentosa Island also boasts the Southern Most Point of Continental Asia.

Walking Bridge to the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia                                                             

Tuesday we jetted off the Langkawi Island, Malaysia for 3 days to pamper ourselves at a 5 star resort, a first time for all of us.   After checking in and having lunch we went on a cable car ride up the mountain behind the resort.    It was one of my favorite things even though I was so scared.   At the top there were lookout decks where you could see the whole island.    The next day was an even greater challenge to my threshold of risk taking.    We went on a 5 hour kayak tour of the mangroves where there was the possibility of seeing viper snakes, lizards, and monkeys.    It was awesome and I am so glad we took the plunge!   Our tour guide, Mandy, was very knowledgeable and passionate about the rich ecosystem of the area - just a great person! 

Langkawi, Malaysia

Tom in his own kayak

Kayaking through the Mangroves
  Thursday was back-to-basics vacationing with a buffet brunch then beaching and hanging poolside all day.

Pool at our resort

Friday we flew back to Singapore and in the evening went to the famous Marina Bay, which is what a lot of the postcards of Singapore feature.   We ate at a Hawker Center, which is a giant feeding frenzy and not my favorite thing, but Kelly said it is very big there and we must partake.     Marina Bay at night is just amazing with the light show, an outdoor concert, crazy architecture, all the spectacular views, the water and all the people, so many people.  

In front of the Marina Bay Sands hotel
  The last day, Saturday, we walked to Chinatown to do some shopping.   This was one of my favorite places of the city with its quaint streets and relaxed feel.    That evening we got to hang out with Kelly and her two Korean roommates and they make me feel the best about Kelly being so far away.   They are so sweet and smart and fun!

Hanging out with Kelly's roommates

Thanks for being a great tour guide and enjoy 2 more months of summer in Singapore. See you this winter in NY!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

TIme Passing

It's actually very odd to think that I've been in Denmark for over a month now. It seems like I've been here for much shorter, but at the same time much longer. One thing that I'm actually finding is that there are so many places that I'd like to travel to, but I know I'm not going to have enough time to visit all of them, so I'm trying to sight-see as often as I can. Last week, I was able to visit two places that were absolutely stunning and experienced a new "activity" that the Danes normally do. First, my visits.
On one of my days off from classes last week, I decided to visit the Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød, about a 20 minute train ride North-west of Lyngby. One of my kitchen mates suggested that I visit the castle if I wanted to learn more about Danish history, since the castle interior was converted into a museum.

The Frederiksborg Castle

My first thought was just, "Wow." I was completely stunned as to the size and beauty of the castle. History lesson!: The oldest parts of the castle go all the way back to 1560. The rest was added on between 1602 to 1620 when it was the royal residence of King Christian IV. The royal family would live in the castle until a fire in 1859 destroyed most of the interior. Afterwards, the castle was repaired, but converted into a museum to help teach the people the history of Denmark.

The Bell tower. Each hour, the clock not only rang the hour, but also played a small tune specific to the hour.

The exterior of the Church
The main "plaza" area after the drawbridge.

I did manage to visit the museum inside (it cost 60 kroners to enter, converts to about $11), but didn't get any pictures since I wanted to learn all that I could. I'll probably go back again, and get pictures then. Anyways, it was amazing on the inside. The church was the most decorated. The walls are covered in all the coats-of-arms of the recipients of the Order of the Elephant and of the Dannebrog (both Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston Churchill were in the Order of the Elephant. I did find both coat-of-arms), and there is an organ there that contains wooden pipes and hasn't been altered since its creation in the late 1600's. The church still holds services on the weekends. 
I also made sure to visit the gardens that were located behind the castle. They were just as beautiful as the castle itself (I thought so anyways). I didn't even have time to see all of the grounds.

The Hedges in the Baroque Garden

The water way running down the middle of the Baroque Garden
Another view of the Baroque Garden

View of the castle from the gardens

The next trip I went on last week was to Møns Klint, a very famous landmark in Denmark. I went with a couple of my international friends and had such a great time. If you ever visit Denmark, I highly recommend visiting the white cliffs. Also, as a travel tip, the best view is from the beach, but in order to get to the beach, there is a staircase that consists of nearly 1,000 stairs, and going down isn't the difficult part. Also, going to the beach will get your shoes and pants very white since the entire area is made up of white chalk.
One of the stairways to the beach
The Cliffs of Møn (the island that they are located on)

This section actually came from a landslide in 2007

Probably my favorite photo
Some of us tried to skip rocks, but it didn't work well

A look from the top with the Baltic sea in the background

Now the "activity" that I participated in is called border shopping and it is literally just that. Since the taxes are very high in Denmark, the Danes will actually drive to either Sweden or Germany (mainly Germany) in order to purchase items at a lower cost. I went with two of my kitchen mates and it was an interesting experience. It was about a 3 hour car ride that ended with a trip on the ferry (that was probably the coolest part. The ferry was pretty much a floating mall. I even saw a train boarding the ferry). Right after the ferry, there was a large store where everyone goes to get anything they need. We went in order to purchase beverages for the entire kitchen, buying about 92 packages (each package contains 24 cans. This amount normally lasts the in the kitchen for about half a year). Like I said, it was an interesting experience, but I did have a good time. 

I really am having a great time here. This, so far, has been a very worthwhile experience, and will probably continue to astound me further.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "Study" in "Study Abroad"

Pictured below: Me bringing Gary Clark Jr to the streets of Melbourne.

I was out with some mates last Friday night and we came across a street performer playing some depressing old tunes. I asked him if I could give it a go and he, as any friendly Aussie would, said yes. As he handed me the guitar I realized that this was no ordinary street performer grade instrument... it was a Fender Strat - the most holy of all electric guitars. Now, I am slightly ashamed to admit this, but I had never before held this holy a guitar in my hands, so it was a bit of a spiritual moment. I eagerly threw the strap over my shoulder and let an E7 ring out with a few of the sloppy licks I've picked up. This guitar was made for playing the blues. Next thing I remember, me and a bunch of random passerby's were grooving right along to Gary Clark Jr's "If You Love Me Like You Say" on the street corner outside Hungry Jack's in the middle of Melbourne, Australia.

Aside from Friday nights, school is definitely picking up here. It seems like all of the class projects worked together to make sure that they were due at the same time. Along with such pleasantries is the fact that they are all group projects, which, lets be honest, is just the worst. It is stretching me but I think that one of these days in the very near future I will break my addiction to perfectionism, therein curing my hatred towards group projects :)

On a relevant and hopefully helpful note, for those of you preparing to study abroad I recommend doing your research and being prepared in terms of cellular phonage. Personally, I am off the grid and it is working ok for me. I suspended my US contract with Verizon and am now using my iPhone as an iTouch while over here. It works quite well, especially since the device functions almost completely as an iPhone when in a wireless network. Obviously, this can be inconvenient at times when I am out and about. For such situations I decided to buy a prepaid phone. Theoretically, this is a good solution and can be used in the rare case that I need to establish contact with someone while outside a wireless network. However, there are a few problems that I've had with this setup - first, I never use the prepaid phone. I don't even carry it around. The usage costs are pretty expensive and I'd honestly rather not be contacted in the case of an emergency than pay to use my minutes. Second, it doesn't help that the prepaid phone is repulsive to use. If I'd have been smart, I would have found a way to unlock my iPhone so that it could accept the Australian prepaid simcard. I think there are sketchy, underground ways of doing this, but I didn't. Like I said, do your research.
Any questions, ask!

Cheers guys


A Day to Relax

This past weekend, some of my international friends and I explored Eremitagesletten, a large park/open area that is about a 15 minute walk from the campus. Not only is this park very massive and one can get lost in it very easily, it is also extremely beautiful. In one of the large fields that we passed, there was a large group of deer grazing and we once passed a male deer at a close distance (I'm unsure as to the type of deer). People often come here to walk, run, bike, and even have picnics or parties. There is a palace in the park, but we didn't have time to explore it. There is also a free amusement park, but it closed at the end of August, so it was actually somewhat creepy walking through it. From here, we were able to walk straight to the coast, which is about 5km (3.1 miles) from campus. It was absolutely stunning! Even though the water was freezing, there were still people there who were swimming. I was actually able to see some offshore windmills from the beach, but didn't manage to get pictures. After walking around the area for several hours, we decided to leave, but had a difficult time trying to find the bus or train station (we had seen some going toward the beach). Eventually we made it back to campus, but at the rate it took us to find a bus to a specific station then a train back to Lyngby, etc., we could have just walked home. Moral of the story, always have a specific plan on how to get home from trips. Anyways, here are some pictures of the area:

The woods of the park. We actually saw some people collecting mushrooms here.

The Palace. History note: This used to be where the king would come to hunt.
A large field we passed (this is where we saw all the deer).

There we also many ponds in the area.

The male deer we saw (sorry that it's so dark)

The Amusement Park 
All the rides are closed

Arrival at the coast

The View from Bellevue Strand

Looking back inland

Sailboats were a common sight. We even saw a cruise ship off the coast.

A Beautiful day to just relax

Not many people were there

The way back to the park
Me taking pictures (courtesy of my friend Vincent)

Later today I'm making dinner for my kitchen mates. I'll be sure to say how that goes!