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!