Need a book? We can probably help you.
09 Nov 2009
The Oxford University Press. What else could you ask for? How about Blackwell’s, a four-story bookshop with over three miles of shelves? Or the Bodleian Library, with nearly every manuscript that’s ever been printed in the English language? If you can name it, Oxford’s probably got it. For books about Oxford, look for "The Cheeky Guide to Oxford." For books not about Oxford, the OUP’s "Very Short Introduction" series is excellent. It’s a 250-volume collection of short treatises on pretty much everything – Anglicanism, Logic, Molecules, the Normans, The Russian Revolution, Zoology, to name a few – written by top scholars in each field. Guaranteed to make you smarter!
Brush up on your Frogger
26 Sep 2009
Traffic in Ulaanbaatar can be unfathomable. In recent years, nearly 300 cars are imported to Mongolia a day and some 80% of those go to UB. At times, traffic lights and lanes will seem more like guidelines than law. Unsurprisingly, gridlocks are frequent and rather complex. There are crosswalks painted in some places, but that doesn’t mean pedestrians have the right of way. Be cautious when you step off a curb, when you weave through stopped traffic, or even when you’re walking on what looks like a pedestrian friendly shoulder (determined taxi drivers will drive on anything). Jay-walking isn’t illegal so if you need to cross the road, it’s best to cross wherever there’s a lull in traffic. And don’t be surprised if you have to run.
Festivals & Events
Apple Day keeps the doctor away
06 Feb 2009
On the day they switch to daylight savings, the Brits celebrate autumn with Apple Day. I went to Borough Market on the Thames River where there were apples in every edible form--mulled, baked, juiced, peeled, raw. I had a cup of hot cider and watched several Chaucer performances and a group of little kids bobbing for apples. Very fun day, and worth checking out.
You can't always buy what you want when you want it
26 Aug 2009
France shuts down Sundays, Mondays, and sometimes Wednesdays. Try buying groceries during lunch hours and the locals will laugh at you. When the market is closed, it is most likely going to stay that way for some time. The easiest way to get over not being able to buy what you want when you want it is to take a coffee break, as the French do. Keep a book on you at all times and use any "fermé" sign as an excuse to catch up on some reading.
Get to gabbing with the boys in orange
25 Sep 2009
Luang Prabang is well known for its more than 30 temples and hundreds of monks. One of the best things to do in town is totally free, but terribly rewarding: stop in one of these temples for a chat with a novice monk. These young men are between the ages of 7 and 19, and many are studying English. They will be eager to practice, but make sure to speak slowly so you can be understood. If you are woman, never touch a monk, or even hand them anything. When you part, be sure to exchange emails, as he'll likely want a pen pal. Be advised that a request for sponsorship may follow.
The London Monopoly Challenge and the Circle Line challenge
16 Mar 2010
One of London’s most popular weekend activities for the competitive at heart is the London Monopoly Challenge. You have twelve hours. Get a group of friends, a Monopoly board, and a spare liver. Stop at a pub on each of the 26 streets on the board, have a pint, and get the bartender to sign the square you’re on. Again, I really wouldn’t recommend it. But if that’s not enough for you, then also don’t try the Circle Line pub crawl. The Circle Line is a fantastically unreliable London Tube line running in a closed circuit around the center of town. Take 12 hours, get off at each of the 27 stops and have a pint nearby. Last one standing wins.
(Disclaimer: Don’t do it. If you must, try it first with half-pints, or orange juice, or water)
Don't expect to keep to yourself in a cafe
03 Feb 2009
The iconic French cafe evokes certain images: tiny espressos, chain smoking, and rambling, but intelligent, conversations. Whereas we get an enormous coffee and plug in to our lab tops, the French cafe is a social place. It is tiny and smoky, and sharing tables and conversations with strangers is part of the experience. You can't go to a French cafe and expect no one to talk to you.
My international circle quietly discovered a cafe in the old part of Lille, looking for a place with internet access and enough table space to write our papers. But one day we noticed that everyone on the cafe's top floor was English speaking. We'd stumbled upon an international oasis in our small French town, looking for a cafe that reminded us of home.
Avoid the Kipper, Stick with the Meatballs
03 Feb 2009
For some reason, Swedish people really like eating fish out of a can. While this might increase your tolerance for canned foods once you return to the States, it's generally not a good idea. So heed this advice: avoid the kipper, the herring, and the anchovies, and stick with good old fashioned Swedish meatballs. There's a reason they're famous, and the canned fish is not.
Films to check out
06 Feb 2009
'Machuca' tells the story of two boys from different socioeconomic backgrounds in Santiago who befriend each other during Pinochet's 1973 coup d'etat. The movie gives a good impression of life during that turbulent area, especially regarding the impact of the dictatorship on the education system.
As a primer to Latin America as a whole, I love 'The Motorcycle Diaries', about the life of Che Guevara. Some sections of the movie take place in Chile.
Make sure you're ready to see in the dark
19 Oct 2009
Power cuts can occur daily in Malawi, and much of the country isn’t even on the grid. Unless you’ve got remarkable night vision, toss a headlamp into your suitcase. Flashlights work, too, but headlamps will free up your hands during those inevitable blackouts. Plus, reading by headlamp underneath your mosquito net (that romantic, ethereal canopy) is delightfully cozy — and makes you feel a bit like a stealthy kid hiding under the covers.
This stranger wants to know if you believe in God
10 Feb 2010
Most Malawians are Christian, and many will ask about your religious convictions. I tend to answer honestly, explaining that I don’t belong to any congregation (though I try not to explain how my German Catholic mother and my American Jewish father patched together a mix of secular traditions). But to keep it brief, I sometimes pick a random denomination or pretend I’ve forgotten the name of my church. Be ready for more probing questions as well—strangers have asked me if I believe in God. Committed atheists would probably do well to mute this belief, but adherents to other faiths need not disguise themselves. I've found Malawians tolerant of other religions, and a Muslim friend of mine was even asked by her organization to lead a prayer.
A complicated legacy
05 Feb 2010
Malawi gained independence from Britain in 1964, and the country was led by Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda until 1994. Newcomers to Malawian political history will likely view Banda as a repressive dictator — he made himself Life President, jailed political opponents, and imposed widespread censorship. He even banned the Simon & Garfunkel song “Cecilia,” the name of his mistress. But Banda’s legacy proves a complicated one. As the first leader of a post-colonial Malawi, many Malawians credit him with independence. The country also achieved relative stability and safety under Banda (though these gains were no doubt due to his repressive rule), and a current of nostalgia still runs through modern Malawi.
Take to the street for music
05 Mar 2009
In Cuba, it's not necessary to go to a club or concert to find great music -- every restaurant and coffee shop is full of high-quality artists and musicians. And if you don't feel like paying to hear music, just hang out on the street.
Hone your basketball skills
11 May 2009
Tibetans love their basketball, and they’re good too. How well you play proves your social status. One day, my Tibetan teacher decided to have a fun class outside and teach us basketball words. We went through the words for dribble, pass, shoot, ball, etc. “All right, let’s play,” he said. Unfortunately, we were awful. After about 15 minutes of watching us dribble awkwardly and miss shots, he dropped the ball and said, “That’s enough. See you in class tomorrow.” After that, he seemed to lose his enthusiasm for teaching us. The class was never the same again.
TV time capsule
10 Feb 2009
Outdated English shows are common in Norway, and there is no silly Iron Chef style dubbing here. That means you can enjoy back episodes of the Survivor season you missed—or Friends, a favorite—in English! Every show is subtitled in Norwegian, which is helpful for practicing your language skills as long as you can take your eyes off of swarthy Doctor House from years ago.
Pack some class
10 Feb 2009
Jordanians tend to dress more formal than the average Westerner, so it’s good to pack some nice attire if you don’t want to feel un-classy when you go out. Fashion trends don’t differ much from the West, except for traditional dress: long galabeyas for men and full black burkas for women. One gem that you’ll find in the downtown markets are loads of warm sweaters—optimal for when the weather gets chilly.
Lost in flirtation
01 Feb 2010
I recently tried explaining to a cute Indian boy on the bus to Jaipur that he had to do more than just say “hello” before I would give him my phone number. “First, you have to convince me that you’re someone I’d like to know better,” I said, offering some constructive advice on the art of Western flirtation, “Maybe then I will think about giving you my number.” But the essence of my advice was lost. He looked at me blankly and asked, “But how will I get ahold of you?” In India, it’s common to encounter young men who are over-eager to connect with Western females. I suspect they’re mostly harmless, but I’m always cautious in these situations, both for my sake and theirs, since misunderstandings so quickly morph into hurt feelings.
Watch the cheese
07 Jan 2010
Cyprus is famous for halloumi cheese: It's white, slightly salty with a hint of mint, and firm enough to grill without melting. And it's served at every meal. Cypriots will eat halloumi for breakfast plain, grilled like a kebab in a pita for lunch, and grilled with some lemon juice for dinner. If you're not used to eating a lot (I mean, A LOT) of cheese, go easy, at least at first. Your digestive system will thank you for it.
Shame or sharp
17 Jun 2009
Although one of Swaziland’s official languages is English, Swaziland version of English is sometimes hard to follow but when in doubt one of these two words will always work: “shame” and “sharp.” "Shame" can be used anytime to express sadness. It is used in many circumstances, from missing a shot in a soccer game, to stubbing your toe, to offering condolence for the loss of a loved one. "Sharp" (pronounced Shaap) is used for every positive exclamation. It is often accompanied by a double thumbs-up. These two phrases can get you around Swaziland pretty well, even in places were siSwati is more common than English.
Know how to turn them down before you go out
12 Jan 2010
When out clubbing in Italy, it's a good idea to learn a key few phrases. My friend and I were out clubbing and it was very difficult to convey that we did not want to go home with our Italian escorts. This one phrase could have saved those boys from a lot of confusion.
Being an American
Be less confrontational
05 Oct 2009
I'm an Asian American, and compared to many other Americans, I'm reserved. But during the summer of 2008, I had a chance to go to Ghana with InterVarsity to do some volunteer work and evangelism with Ghanaian college students. One of the big things that I had to get used to was the fact that Ghanaians are not as confrontational and forward about things as we are. In fact, when we were forward with them, they were often offended. This is probably true in most countries out of the US, and is something to be aware of.