More travel than school

14 Oct

Thanks to Singapore’s paranoia of a pandemic, I spent twice as many days in September traveling than I did in class. NUS has an annual e-learning week to practice watching lectures online and having tutorials on a discussion forum in case of something happening like a disease outbreak that would keep us from coming  to campus. Without having to be physically present, most of the exchange students took that as an opportunity to travel! I spent the week (plus the weekends around it) in Bali with four friends I traveled with to Tioman Island in Malaysia two weeks earlier.

Bali was beautiful, filled with terraced rice fields, volcanoes, forests, and Hindu temples. Ubud is the cultural capital and from there we discovered gorgeous rice paddies, saw dozens of the ubiquitous temples, and had some fantastic Indonesian food. Two temples we visited were water temples, which contain pools people can cleanse themselves in. We also stopped by a small small plantation where they produce kopi luwak, or civet coffee, which is made from coffee beans eaten, digested, and excreted by a civet cat. The cup I tried was delicious, and much cheaper than abroad, though I’m not versed enough in coffee to really tell a difference. In Amed on Bali’s northeast coast, two of us took the exciting opportunity to learn how to scuba dive. We did five dives over two days and also did readings and watched videos. After focusing on skills the first day, the second day we dove at the shipwreck of the USAT Liberty. It was very exciting to swim around the remains of a WWII ship now covered in coral. I saw clownfish in anemones, trumpetfish, a garden of eels sticking out of the sand, a stingray, an enormous pufferfish, and countless other fish and reeflife. Our last couple days were spent in Kuta; it’s the awful developed part of Bali overrun by Australian vacationers and touts, but the beach was nice and I got to try out surfing. It was tough at first and I swallowed a bunch of seawater, but I was able to get up a few times and ride the waves.

After getting back early Monday morning I had to face the reality that I was behind in a couple classes, with readings and a paper due for my Middle East Politics class, homework problems for chemical engineering, and some practice for Chinese, plus I had to prepare for my next trip!

For that I was going with two friends from Denmark to Borneo, the world’s third largest island. On the way out Changi proved once again that it’s the best airport in the world as I used one of the free leg and foot massagers throughout the terminal. When we arrived in Brunei, a small wealthy country ruled by a hereditary sultan, the first thing I noticed was the flags everywhere. They are very patriotic, though a lot of it also seemed to be government-encouraged nationalism. The capital city Bandar Seri Begawan is quite small, but its two main mosques are stunning, and there’s a fascinating water village on stilts with over 20,000 residents. The Royal Regalia Museum shows the cult of personality around the sultan, as well as his incredible wealth, exhibiting his early life and education, coronation, silver jubilee, and gifts given by foreign leaders.

Sunday we took a ferry to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, and along the way I saw Pulau Tiga, the site of the first season of Survivor. KK is a small city that mostly serves as the gateway to the rest of the state, but we enjoyed our three days there. We made friends with some of the other backpackers in the hostel and went with them to Mount Kinabalu Park around Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain to hike in the surrounding forest. One of my highlights of the trip was scuba diving at the marine park near the city. I was so excited to see two cuttlefish on the second and third dives. Despite never having seen one in person before cuttlefish have been my favorite animal for several years, and these two did not let me down. They were about two feet long, a bigger species than I expected, and had amazing coloration. When I came near one of them, he immediately changed from camouflaged white to black before changing back again. I loved how they just floated there in the water watching me with their arms raised. During the dive and snorkeling later I also saw pufferfish, triggerfish, barracuda, a small blacktip reef shark, a sting ray, and plenty of other fish.

In Kuching, Sarawak,

Now I need to get back to the study part of study abroad


Academic Lingo

14 Oct

At least the lecture halls looks familiar.

So I’ve been at St Andrews now for a little more than 5 weeks and I’m finally getting the hang of the academic vocabulary here! While it’s not too different from how we talk about school and classes at Purdue, it can be quite confusing until you understand what you are talking about! So I present to you my quick guide to Academic Lingo at St Andrews.

First things first, University equals College.  It has been hard for me to make this switch, but it is getting easier to say things like “I go to university in the States.”  This one also gets shortened to “uni” a lot.  You just have to accept it.  Now on to more important words.

Whenever you meet someone new they will probably ask you this, “What subjects are you taking?”  They are asking essential what your major is.  A proper answer would be something like, “Oh I’m in Maths and Divinity.”

If you happen to meet someone in same subjects as you they are very likely to ask what modules you are in.  Modules are best described as a course. It includes both the lecture, the tutorial/seminar, and the labs.  Lectures are just like the are at Purdue. For the 1st and 2nd year modules they are normally a pretty decent size so you don’t have to worry about getting called on.  A tutorial or a seminar (names used interchangeable) is pretty equivalent to our recitation classes.   These tend to be pretty small from 7-15 people. They are lead by your tutor. Tutors can either be a grad student or a professor.  These are the classes  where you are going to get called on to answer questions even if your hand isn’t up. Labs of course are just what you think they are–labs.

Sub-honors and honors are two terms I’ve had the most trouble with.  They can be equivalent to our terms of Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior; but they are also related to upperclassmen and underclassmen.  Sub-honors consist of your first two years at university.  They are the 1000 and 2000 level modules.  Honors then is the 3000 and 4000 level modules.  To make it into your honors modules you have to pass the sub-honors modules, you just can’t take the higher level classes like you can at Purdue.  To be super clear the terms sub-honors and honors do not in any way relate to things like the Honors College at Purdue.

One final term that you run into a lot is JSA or JYA.  These are acronyms that mean you are a Junior studying abroad (or year abroad).  This is probably my least favorite term I’ve learned here just because I get called a JSA a lot, but I’m not a J.  It blows peoples minds that I’m a senior studying abroad.  Studying abroad isn’t just for juniors.  It is for freshman, sophomores, seniors, and super seniors too.  We shouldn’t pigeon hole the study abroad experience.  It can offer you amazing life discoveries no matter what point you are at in your academic career.

I hope this guide can help you if you ever decided to study abroad! I know that I would have loved something like this to help me as I was prepping to come to St Andrews.  As always you can read more about my adventures studying abroad over on my main blog Mly Mllr’s Travels.

Until next time,



Raghadan Palace

14 Oct

It is said that Arabs love the color green because it represents vitality and growth. If this is so, then the lush greenery throughout the Royal Court compound was no mistake. Palm trees and evergreens line the streets leading to the Royal Palace, which is just one of many in the compound.   The palace is, not surprisingly, made of Jordanian limestone and built in the traditional Islamic style. We were greeted on the steps by friendly staff who gave us a tour. Each room was decorated with the complex, geometrical designs typical of Islamic art, the largest being the Throne Hall. It’s ceiling was incredibly high and ornately decorated, it’s floor made of beautiful white marble, and the lone piece of furniture, the king’s throne, sat impressively at the front of the room. Finally, we were shown the royal cemetery where King Hussein, King Abdullah, King Talal and his wife rest. In true Arab style, our hosts gifted us each with a biography of King Hussein before we departed. Though no one resides at Raghadan Palace anymore, it truly lives up to the meaning of its name,  “the very best life”.

The Mid-Autumn Festival

26 Sep

This is one of those “lots-of-pictures'” posts because, well, the title says it all. A little background on the Mid-Autumn Festival (also called the Mooncake Festival), it’s the second biggest festival for both the Chinese and the Vietnamese (the first being the Chinese/Vietnamese New Year). The Mid-Autumn Festival is held in the 8th month on the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar during a full moon. Originally a harvest celebration, now is a bit commercial (like Christmas has become in the US). Don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable, but under the “authenticity”, you could see the plastic sheen.

On a less-jaded note, quite a few families were there with children and by quite a few, I mean what seemed to be half the people in Hong Kong. It was packed! There were figures with traditional Chinese dress and lit-up constructions of food.

There was also lanterns. A lot of lanterns.

There was also a lit dragon at the end of the night, but it was poorly lit and I didn’t get any good pictures of it. Maybe that’s a bit of motivation to come here yourself! Also, I only got to try one kind of mooncake (pastry eaten during the holiday that has some kind of filling, usually raw egg). Maybe I could scrounge some more up this week… Anyway, next time I’ll talk about my trip to the island of Cheung Chau, so stay posted!

Fresher’s Week. St Andrews Edition.

25 Sep

Well, I made it to St Andrews! I got here just in time for the start of Fresher’s Week. It is a strange feeling though being a “fresher” (their term for freshman) again, but I’m embracing it and enjoying getting to experience what it means to go to St Andrews. These were my favorite things about Fresher’s Week.

On Monday morning I went to the Opening Ceremonies for the Arts and Divinity. I imagined it was going to be a few of the heads of the university talking about how important it is to do well in school and balance your social life, a few bad jokes, singing of the school song, ect. It went as I expected with just a few slight changes like the song sang was in Latin and a small 5 piece chamber band came out to play a slow piece of music which I may have nodded off during (I’m going to blame jet lag though), but after the Vice Chancellor spoke we were rewarded with a performance by one of St Andrews’ a cappella groups, The Other Guys. In a spoof of Katy Perry’s California Girls, these guys woke up the crowd. I didn’t understand some of the song (like what exactly does schweffed mean), but it was so clever and funny and worth watching. Here is their official music video for you to judge.

IMG_3943It is not every day that a University celebrates its 600th birthday, but on Friday and Saturday St Andrews did just that. From birthday cake and fireworks to recreating the journey of their Papal Bull, festivities filled this small town. One of the highlighting events was the Graduation Ceremony feature Hillary Clinton, Dr. Jane Goodall, the Right Revd Dr. Rowan Williams, and many others. Tickets were raffled off to the ceremony and I wasn’t lucky enough to get one, but I did stream it online. It was long, but worth watching just to hear the speeches given and see my one of my favorite politicians.  The highlight of the celebration though was the closing fireworks on Saturday night on the beach. By nightfall the sand was packed full of the people of St Andrews and students from the university. The sun was slow to set, but we kept waiting by chatting with those sitting near us, taking pictures with new and old friends, watching kids run around in the sand. As it grew darker all attention turned to the pier where the fireworks were going to be launched from and when the pier let up with the first flames, everyone cheered. Six hundred years they had been waiting for this and it was worth it. The fireworks were beautiful, big and booming in every color imaginable bursting just above the sea. For me as an exchange student, it has been such an honor to be here to celebrate the university’s 600th birthday with everyone.

St Andrews Pier WalkA student tradition at the University of St Andrews is completing a Pier Walk after attending Sunday service at St Salvator’s Chapel. I was told that it was a tradition that came about as a punishment for some student’s who turned up to chapel one Sunday just a little too inhibited from their Saturday night activities; however, some sources on the web say it is to honor a man who swam out to sea to save men from a sinking ship in the bay. Whatever the origin, peer walking has become a student tradition. This past Sunday was what you imagine the weather to be like in Scotland–windy, rainy, and cold. None of these things make for easy pier walking because you take serious risk losing your balance and falling right into the shallow part of the sea. Tons of students gathered outside of St Salvator’s chapel in the quad just past noon, almost all wearing the tradition red student gowns. At about ten past the hour we all exited the quad, quick to jump over the cursed initials on the cobble stone that mark the exact spot where Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake. With the winds coming in off the sea, the weather was even worse when we got to the pier. Luckily, someone had the wise idea that it wasn’t quite safe enough to walk the tallest, narrowest part of the pier and so we only walked the wider, lower part of the pier. No one fell in and everyone lived to go to the first day of classes.

For me Fresher’s Week has been quite the introduction to life at St Andrews and their traditions. While it may not be anything like my life at Purdue, I am happy I am here.

Wish me luck in my first week of classes,


Haze, Rain, and School Days

18 Sep


At the current time, I’ve been in Hong Kong a little more than three weeks and the weather has improved a lot more than I expected. There are a lot more cloudy and windy days than I’d expected. I also had the opportunity to experience rain here. When going to class, it’s recommended that you always carry an umbrella, because, as I’ve learned, it can rain almost anytime (and very hard) and stop minutes later. Then you have to remember the humidity that comes with the rain and makes things pretty near unbearable.

And then there’s the smog. Pollution here is quite a bit worse than back home in Indiana. I first took note of this when my skin became ichy during my first rain here. And the time after that. And the next time.  And not only can you see the humidity in the air here, but you can often see the smog over the skyline mixing with the clouds. New York is probably just as bad, but it’s something I’ve never really experienced in the US.

I have four classes here. Two of them are in Asian/Chinese culture, one is a 400 level Asian politics course, and the last class being intro-level Japanese and I can say for a fact that I stand out quite a bit. It’s a bit odd being the minority again but with the majority being a race that I’m used to seeing as a minority. It’s eye-opening to see how the mentality of a group doesn’t really change much across racial lines when you look at groups and is pretty interesting.

As a final note, the Mid-Autumn Festival is tomorrow and I’ll be writing about that in my next post, so stay tuned!

“I think I wanna stay here forever.”

11 Sep

Those were the first words out of the somewhat large orifice I call a mouth when I saw the sunset over the harbor on my way to my university. Little did I know that I would, at first, regret these words. Later I would un-regret them.

Let me digress a bit. My name is Eric Rowe and I’m entering my sophomore year at Purdue. I’m majoring in both Political Science and Asian Studies and that bit alone is enough reason for me to be here. Well, that and because I’m not versed in any Asian languages yet and Hong Kong’s official language is English (which ,on paper, is good, but is about much of a lie as skim milk actually being milk). English is the official language for things such as government work or education (due to having been a British colony from 1841 to 1997) BUT the majority of people here speak Cantonese (the main spoken language here and in the mainland province of Guangdong). A little note, each of the mainland provinces has its own dialect of Chinese (some may have one or two more), but after the Chinese Communist Revolution, the government standardized Mandarin as the Chinese spoken language and Simplified Chinese as the written language. Since the handover of HK from Britain to the PRC in 1997, things have become more “Chinese”. Mandarin is being spoken a lot more here and there are more and more people coming from the mainland. All in all,  you’re better off knowing Cantonese or Mandarin to get around, although it’s manageable simply knowing English.

The university I’m attending here is the City University of Hong Kong, located in the north on Mainland Hong Kong in Kowloon Tong. It’s a cozy (read: humid) semi-gated campus where the security guards are more for asking directions than for stopping a criminal. It’s a small campus area-wise, but each of the academic buildings (there are three) have up to 13 levels with things like a pool for laps and rooftop gardens!

The residence halls have about 15 floors with the laundry on the rooftop (the washers and dryers are quite limited and small) and you have to scan your ID to get into the building.  A new thing for me is having your visitors swipe in with their IDs and then needing to have them out by midnight. That and the heat. DO NOT COME TO HONG KONG IF YOU CANNOT STAND HEAT!!! The average temp. here is in the 90s, but lately has been feeling like 110 with the 80% humidity. This was the biggest shock to me and my biggest dislike about Hong Kong. Other than that, it’s quite a nice place and stay posted! There are more adventures and lots of pics to come!