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A Year Later

Hey, one year ago I was in Morocco!!!! So much and yet so little seemed to have passed. My camera is probably deemed un-fixable, my major and minors haven’t changed, and I am still planning on going to Norway next spring. But enough about me. The king of Morocco proposed some constitutional changes that would relinquish some of his powers just two days ago, it would be really interesting to see how these changes would affect Moroccan people’s lives, and how Moroccan people would react to these proposed changes.

As a closing note and to officially say that I won’t be updating this blog anymore, I have to say that compared to last summer, my summer this year is considerably less exotic, as I will be working in a plant biology lab for the rest of the summer starting tomorrow, investigating reproductive isolation and speciation in a genus of flowering plants found in western North America. Not that it doesn’t sound interesting as I actually think it is an interesting topic, but it just doesn’t quite compare to being in a foreign country where nobody understands me. Maybe this summer my mind will be changed yet again, as I am actually quite excited to start going into lab tomorrow.

.المغرب، سوف نلتقي مرة أخرى ، إن شاء الله


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Four Months Later

It is currently 6:24 am in Minnesota, and I am writing because I can’t sleep because I keep thinking back to the amazing times I had this past summer.

Okay that’s a lie, kind of. I haven’t really had a normal sleep schedule (did I ever?) since the beginning of this semester. I am taking a full 20 credits worth of classes, including organic chemistry lab (H) that basically requires spending 20 hours a week in lab doing experiments, biochemistry, physics that is so far the single most disorganized class I have taken three semesters into college, Norwegian III, and band. But I did had an amazing time this past summer and the experiences are very much on my mind, or deep down somewhere being covered by all the science I am learning about. It is usually time like these (when I describe my study abroad experience and how my semester is going) that people start to ask what my major is, and, upon receiving an answer, look at me as if I am joking or losing my mind (which could be true).

By the way, I AM a Plant Biology major with minors in Norwegian and Chemistry (as of now I am anyway).

My roommate who is still in Morocco with the little host-brother in the medina.

Just think, half a year has past when I boarded the plane heading for Amsterdam and later Rome, and four months ago I was at Casablanca boarding another plane heading first to Rome then back to the US. Looking at my life now and my life then, it really is a big contrast. Back home in Taiwan, a lot of people thought that I basically spent a lot of money for pure enjoyment in foreign countries, even though I did try to explain that I was in Italy and Morocco for study (and some traveling). I still miss the times I spent walking around Florence with a cup of gelato in hand; I miss going throughout Tuscany to taste and learn about the local cuisine made from the fresh ingredients readily available; I miss going to the markets in Florence to try to spend minimal amount of money to buy the freshest fruits, vegetable, and other food items there are; I miss my host-family in Morocco very much, especially my little host-brother; I miss the food, in general (I sure could use some chicken tajine with couscous right now); I miss wandering in the old medina and trying to bargain with vendors in Arabic that I just learned in class. I could have a list of things that I miss about Italy and Morocco, and that still won’t be enough to describe why the experience was so awesome.

Right now, as the semester is coming to an end, I am busy preparing for finals, doing experiments, writing papers, while trying to have a life (well, this one pretty much is failing). I am very much looking forward to winter break, when I will be going home to Taiwan and escape the freezing Minnesota weather for a little bit. But until then, I guess I will just have to store all my wonderful memories deep and safe in my mind before I have more time to soak in them again.

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Welcome!! Benvenuti!! !!مرحبا

Welcome to Firenze and Fès / A Tale of Two Cities, my blog that recorded my summer adventures studying abroad in Florence, Italy and Fez, Morocco for a total of 10 wonderful and eye-opening weeks. To help you navigate the blog, all the entries have been compiled chronologically by the date they were written in The Journey page.

Fun Fact: The cities of Florence and Fez have been bonded as sister cities/twin towns since 1961.

As this blog is part of my follow-on project that I have to complete as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which funded a significant portion of my study abroad, I am also using it to promote studying abroad and the Gilman Scholarship. Please take a look at the Gilman Int’l Scholarship page. If you have any questions regarding applying to the scholarship, my experience abroad, or just studying abroad in general, feel free to leave a message, I will respond most likely within 24 hours.

A little about meأنا إريك

Me in a café in Fès wearing a t-shirt bought in Firenze.

Originally from Taiwan, I am currently a sophomore in college in MN majoring in Plant Biology with Norwegian and Chemistry minors (unusual combination, I know). I speak fluent Mandarin Chinese and English, have some ability to communicate in Norwegian, and I started learning Arabic this summer in Morocco. I love cooking and I am passionate about food (you probably guess this from all the food pictures I take). This study abroad marked the longest period of time that I did not play a piano ever since I started learning it when I was 6.

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Scholarship for Study Abroad

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies abroad. Such international study is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world. It is funded through the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000 and is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  It is administered by the Institute of International Education through its Southern Regional Center in Houston, TX.

Over 1,700 scholarships of up to $5,000 will be awarded this academic year for U.S. citizen undergraduates to study abroad. Award amounts will vary depending on the length of study and student need with the average award being approximately $4,000. If you are studying a Critical Need Language, you are also eligible to receive an additional $3,000 Critical Need Language Supplement.

To be eligible for a Gilman Scholarship, you have to be a US citizen who is an undergraduate student receiving the Federal Pell Grant. You also have to apply and be accepted into a study abroad program eligible for academic credit at your home institution and is at least 4 weeks long in one single country. You also can’t study abroad in Cuba or any other country on the U.S. Department of State’s current Travel Warning list.

The program aims to broaden the student population that studies abroad by supporting undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints. Thus, students with high financial need, diverse ethnic backgrounds, disabilities,  studying in non-traditional countries, studying underrepresented fields (i.e.: any of the sciences, engineering, technology, or math), and/or have not studied abroad before are strongly encouraged to apply.

The application of the Gilman Scholarship includes the following: personal information, program information, statement of purpose, follow-on project proposal, online certifications from study abroad and financial aid advisor, and three paper copies of transcript/s. The follow-on project should help to promote international education and the Gilman International Scholarship. Examples

If you are thinking about studying abroad, this scholarship could be for you! If you have any question regarding the process of applying for the Gilman Scholarship or studying abroad, feel free to leave a message :)

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I also uploaded a lot of pictures to my Picasa Web Album. I mean sure there are pictures in the blog, but they really offer only a glimpse of my journey. Not that I uploaded every single pictures I have taken online, since the amount of space online doesn’t allow me to do that, but hopefully those in the web albums will provide more details as to my daily lives, excursions, trips, and other stuff.

On a side note, when I was setting up Picasa and it was scanning the pictures in my computer, I realized that even though I was in Italy for only 3 weeks, I have taken a whooping 2400+ pictures. On the other hand, I was in Morocco for 6 weeks, yet I have only taken about 650+ pictures. I guess I must have taken more precaution on taking pictures in Morocco than I thought I did. Well, better safe than sorry. Thanks again for every one of you who has been reading the blog!

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Thank You & Some Feelings

So, I am pretty much back to my normal life. I am sleeping in pretty much every single day (not the best habit to get into before school starts), I am cooking stuff that I am used to eat, and most of all, I am living with people who can understand what I am speaking (and also thankful for the working shower). I have so many people to thank for supporting me throughout my 10 weeks of studying abroad. Without them, I don’t think I would have made it.

First and foremost, I want to thank my family, particularly my parents. You really have to give them credits: what kind of parents would pay money to let their son go off on his own to Europe and Africa learning something that has practically nothing to do with what he is studying in college? (To Mom and Dad: I love you.) I am thankful to have them support me financially and mentally while I was abroad. Most of the financial resources that paid for my program fees, tuition, and other related costs came from the university financial aid (federal, state, and school) and scholarships, in particular the Gilman Scholarship. Thanks to them, my family doesn’t have to go bankrupt sending me abroad. I also would like to thank all my friends, in Taiwan, in Minnesota and other states of the US, and all over the world. Thank you guys for giving me mental support and listening to me complaining when I obviously shouldn’t be. I am so lucky and I love you guys all. I want to thank the Ben Yassin Family in Fès who welcomed me to the city when I couldn’t even effectively communicate with them. They have done so much for me and I am truly grateful. I also want to thank the U of M Learning Abroad Center for setting up wonderful programs for students to attend. I want to thank Dr. M. E. White for making the Florence program the best class I have ever attended. I want to thank Dr. Ianeva-Lockney (who was my first Norwegian instructor) for writing me that recommendation letter that allowed to me be accepted to the Morocco program. I want to thank all the people who participated in my Weekly Photo Project (in particular Michelle H. and Citty C.). Last but not least, I want to thank whoever has been, was, is, or will be reading my blog.

Now we are done with the touchy feelings, I just have some comments and advices. Regarding the Cordoba House to be built in New York City… I am usually not a very political person and I am not a supporter of any political parties. But having just returned from a Muslim country, I have to say that Americans aren’t showing as much tolerance as they should, not to mention that it’s not even a mosque they are building. I walked on the streets of Fès and was never ever harassed because I am not a Muslim. There are Christian churches in the Kingdom of Morocco and you don’t see anyone having a problem with them. Yes, 9/11 happened and yes, those who attacked America were Muslims, that doesn’t mean people should generalize the entire Muslim population as terrorists and hate on them. If we can’t even tolerate a Muslim community center, how can we expect people of other countries to understand that the US is a country proud of its “freedoms” and tolerant of all people regardless of their religions? We always fear what we don’t understand, so why not use this opportunity to show that the US actually opens her arms to all religions and melt the hatred and fear that led to 9/11 in the first place?

With regard to people who are still wondering whether they should studying abroad, I say, stop wondering and go apply for a program already. It really will be a life-changing experience.

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Back in Minnesota

After waiting at Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport for 5 hours, 3 hours of flying from Casablanca to Rome, waited for almost 4 hours at Leonardo Da Vinci – Fiumicino Airport, 11 hours of flying from Rome to Detroit, went through security and all that and waited for another 1 hour, and 1.5 hour of flying from Detroit to the Twin Cities, I finally arrived at Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport yesterday at around 6:30 pm.

I took the light rail and a city bus to get to my friend’s house before actually moving into the place I am staying until school starts and moving into the place I am living for fall. Everything now just feels so surreal. I can’t believe that a day ago I was still in Morocco, and now I am back in the place that I thought was going to be so familiar to me. As of now, I am still adjusting back to the “American way”. I am not used to seeing the traffic in order, with no small taxi squeezing through every little gap possible, or no pedestrian walking while the light is red. I am not used to the humid/semi-warm weather that doesn’t make me sweat every single minute of the day. I am not used to having a shower with a bathtub and running water (I am really thankful for this one though). I am not used to going back to the place I live and not have someone greet me in Arabic, or even come hug me and give me a kiss on the face (my little host-brother does this sometimes). I am not used to the quietness in general. I am not used to speaking English and be understood immediately. The past 10 weeks have been such an intense experience that I am just having a hard time believing I am back home (sort of). I really need some time to digest this…

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