Last day in Bangkok

I can’t believe our GAP experience is almost over. The last three weeks have been such a great experience. I have learned a lot about team work and professionalism, as well as Thai people, Thai culture and why they are so much better off than Vietnam economically.

Now heading back to my internship, I hope that the lessons I’ve learned from this trip will help me in my new position. Thank you Fisher for this wonderful opportunity, thank my friend for helping me during the project, and to Thailand: แล้วพบกันใหม่ (see you again).

Some random memories:

Most professional photo

Most professional photo

Thomas was checking out some painting on an ancient house wall.

Thomas was checking out some painting on an ancient house wall.

Free live music in a shopping center

Free live music in a shopping center

 

This city keeps building huge temples every where, something to look forward to for my next visit.

This city keeps building huge temples every where, something to look forward to for my next visit.

 

Last meal in Bangkok, cooked by my girlfriend, taste like home. So delicious.

Last meal in Bangkok, cooked at home. So delicious.

Another side of Thailand

After two weeks in Bangkok, our team decided to expand our experience to some other areas of Thailand during the weekend. However, half of the team wanted the loudness and craziness Pattaya, one wanted the romance of Bali, Indonesia, while I chose Hua Hin, a very quiet and beautiful beach just about 300km (186 miles) from Bangkok.

The place was quite the opposite of noisy Bangkok. We enjoyed some of the most peaceful days since we came to Thailand. The most pleasant experience for me was the people in the town. They were extremely honest and helpful- definitely a great relief from the tuk tuk and taxi drivers in Bangkok. If you enjoy peaceful beaches, nice weather, great street foods and elephants, this is the place to go.

This was the place where we lived in Hua Hin, very nice little hotel we found on Airbnb

This was the place where we lived in Hua Hin, very nice little hotel we found on Airbnb

The elephant was coming to pick us up. 400 baht each ($13) for 20' riding. The name of the elephant was Tuk Tuk, which was really funny as the experience we had with tuk tuk (a kind of motobike taxi) in Bangkok was aweful.

The elephant was coming to pick us up. 400 baht each ($13) for 20′ riding. The name of the elephant was Tuk Tuk, which was really funny as the experience we had with tuk tuk (a kind of motobike taxi) in Bangkok was awful.

 

Tuk Tuk meeting his gang

Tuk Tuk meeting his gang

Camels, ugly animals with beautiful eyes. And they were almost as tall as  the elephants.

Camels, ugly animals with beautiful eyes. And they were almost as tall as the elephants.

Found a nice bar with live music (Jazz and Saxophone) with 5 stars on Tripadvisor. Obviously we didnt understand anything about Jazz, but the place was really cool.

Found a nice bar with live music (Jazz and Saxophone) with 5 stars on Tripadvisor. Obviously we didnt understand anything about Jazz, but the place was really cool.

Colorful Bangkok

After several days of hard work with the team, at last I had sometime to go around and explore the city of Bangkok on a sunny day. What I wanted to see was not the typical temples and touristy attractions, but the normal life of Bangkok. And, I was not disappointed. This city is so vibrant, literally. There were so many beautiful things to see and bright colors were everywhere. I truly felt thankful to the GAP program for this opportunity. Without it, I would probably have come to Thailand on a standard tour (which is very very popular in Vietnam) and missed the real attractions of this wonderful city.

Enough for the lengthy introductions, here are the pictures:

The statue outside of the Central World, biggest shopping center in Bangkok

The statue outside of the Central World, biggest shopping center in Bangkok

Thai people love Aston Mini, I love them too

Thai people love Aston Mini, I love them too

Cute elephants.

Cute elephants.

Outdoor shopping area

Outdoor shopping area

IMG_0396

What I hate the most in Bangkok is the traffic. It is even worse than that in Vietnam. However, this traffic jam looks really good in the picture. :)

What I hate the most in Bangkok is the traffic. It is even worse than that in Vietnam. However, this traffic jam looks really good in the picture. :)

People queing to wait for the bus. This is not something you will ever see in Vietnam.

People queing to wait for the bus. This is not something you will ever see in Vietnam.

Adding some colors to the street of Bangkok

Adding some colors to the street of Bangkok

Random photo of my  team mates going to a client interview. Just to keep this post work-related. :))

Random photo of my team mates going to a client interview. Just to keep this post work-related. :))

To be honest, before I came here, I expected the city to be the same as Sai Gon, Vietnam, but I was totally wrong. Bangkok is like Sai Gon on steroids. It has been a wonderful experience, and I will definitely come back here someday in the future.

Trip to Downtown Nairobi

Last Monday May 18th Akshay and I went on a trip to Downtown Nairobi. The purpose of the trip was to explore the textile retail market and assess the availability of several components required to assemble the PackH2O in Kenya. We were also interested in obtaining information about industrial sewing machine retail prices.

Google Maps™ told us that it would take approximately 21 minutes to get there. Ha! The Mountain View giant had it all wrong. It took us about one and a half hours just to get to River Road, the major textile retailing zone in Downtown Nairobi. The traffic is extremely heavy, and it is advisable to plan trips adding approximately one hour or more to the standard itinerary.

Map

What Google thinks does not matter!

 

George from Partners for Care drove us with his characteristic “defensive” driving style, zigzagging through thousands of cars, SUVs and most of all, “Matatus”, the Kenyan colloquial name for their public buses. Matatus are really peculiar, colorful, highly decorated and personalized vehicles. Most of them include paintings of American pop culture stars or famous local slogans and sayings.

Traffic is 98,37% matatus

Traffic is 98,37% matatus, or at least that’s what I think!

Typical traffic in Nairobi

Typical traffic in Nairobi

During the trip, I challenged myself to find at least one single running vehicle without any scratches, dents or other damage. I lost the challenge. According to the short sample I took during the duration of the trip, I can say with a 99% confidence level that the mean proportion of running vehicles in perfect shape on the streets of Nairobi at any time is 0%.

"Come on!! There's still an inch available!!"

“Come on George!! There’s still an inch available!!”

When we arrived to River Street, parking was a different story. George found a tiny spot between two cars. I thought that he was joking when he started to park there. When we realized he was serious about it, Akshay and I went out of the car to try to help by giving him distance alerts to each car’s bumper. I took us another ten minutes to get the car to a decent distance to the sidewalk.

We engaged in conversations with several textile retailers in the area. People was really friendly and helpful. At the end of the day, we were able to obtain good information for our project and Nairobi’s frantic traffic made our return to the house feel like it was quite an accomplishment!

 

First day in Marsabit

Thursday May 14

After a relaxing rest at St. Stephens Church guest house, we woke up to an early breakfast before heading out into Marsabit County to treat children infected with chigoe fleas, more commonly referred to as “jiggers”.  The fleas live in the ground and burrow into their host’s feet (and sometimes hands) to nest and lay eggs.  Besides being incredibly painful, the parasites can cut off the blood supply in toes and cause gangrene. To combat this menace, we split into four teams comprised of OSU students, faculty and students from Mount Kenyan University, Partners for Care (PFC) staff members, and members of St. Stephens Church.  The PFC staff members led each group and explained how to treat jiggers.  First, you wash the infected child’s feet and hands before soaking them in a potassium based solution to kill the fleas.  After soaking the hands and feet, they have to be dried and covered by petroleum jelly or Vaseline.  PFC also had BOBS provided by Sketchers for us to distribute afterwards. These shoes will protect the children from reinfection.

The entire group ready for day 1.

The entire group ready for day 1.

I teamed up with Andrew, Molly, and Santiago to travel to the remote village of Parkishon. We hit the ground running and our group leader, George Okell, got everyone into place. Twenty-three children and one adult from the village came out for treatment.  After finishing in the village, we moved on to the Parkishon primary school and treated another twenty-one kids.  The school used to be 90% infected until Pastor John Hirbo from St. Stephens began working tirelessly in Marsabit County to eliminate the jigger infestation.  Senior PFC staff and faculty from Mount Kenyan University visited the County hospital in the afternoon and were told that the government is almost prepared to declare Marsabit County jigger free.

John checks hands in Parkishon.

John checks hands in Parkishon.

Santiago and Molly treat kids from Parkishon Primary.

Santiago and Molly treat kids from Parkishon Primary.

It was a long and tiring day, but this was a truly amazing experience to see different groups come together to combat a serious public health issue with a methodical and sustainable plan.

Molly outside of Parkishon Primary.

Molly outside of Parkishon Primary.

Church in Nairobi, Kenya, May 10

The trip so far has been a whirlwind. We’ve been moving nonstop since we landed, starting with our first meetings at 8 or 9am, followed by dinner meetings at the house with local NGO and business contacts, and wrapped up by daily debriefings and planning sessions that last until at least 10pm. Things may wind down a bit as the trip progresses, though, based on our calendar.

Traffic in Nairobi makes it incredibly difficult and time-consuming to move from meeting to meeting

Traffic in Nairobi makes it incredibly difficult and time-consuming to move from meeting to meeting

We’ve front-ended most of our local meetings so that Connie, the PFC founder, could attend these before leaving for the US at the end of this week. One of the biggest time sinks is how long it takes to get anywhere. Traffic is crazy in Nairobi! Imagine when people are jostling to get to the front of the crowd at a concert, but here everyone is in a car. Miraculously, no one seems to actually hit anyone else.

On our first Sunday morning in Kenya, five of us walked with Justus (one of the PFC staff living in the house with us) to his church in the village a half-mile away from the house to do some cultural exploration. Church was what I expected- very lively with lots of singing, dancing and excited praise. This was a combined service, holding both members who usually attend the Swahili service and those that come for the English service because the pastor was announcing his 5-year plan for the church. This service was held in English with a Swahili translator, and the choir sang both English and Swahili songs. The corrugated tin building held around 350 people, and about 80 children.

"Hibari!" - Andrew, Team Leader for Greif Kenya Go-to-Market introducing our team to the Church congregation

“Hibari!” Andrew, Team Leader for Greif Kenya Go-to-Market team, introduced our team to the church congregation

The kids were very excited about seeing foreigners. Our seats were perpendicular to the kids’ rows, and just two feet away, so the kids were all clambering to high-five us and shake our hands when everyone was instructed to greet and welcome their neighbors. I winked at one little boy during a quieter part of the service, and from that point on, every time he caught my eye he’d close his right eye and smile at me, holding his right eye shut. It was so cute.

Alison from Greif Kenya Team Go-To-Market, was invited on stage to dance by a visiting singer at the Nairobi church

Alison from Greif Kenya Go-to-Market team, was invited on stage to dance by a visiting singer at the Nairobi church

 

The pastor had invited a singer from his old church to come sing for the congregation at this service. At one point, she pulled three people from the crowd to come dance on stage to “break the barriers” between her and the crowd, and then she walked over and pulled me up on stage! I felt like Kenyan “Idol”, because at least a dozen Kenyans jumped up from their seats to take a smart phone picture of the white American girl dancing on their church’s stage. It was a really neat experience.

Social Life and Traveling in Nantes and Europe

Hello everyone!

In this post, I will discuss the social life living in Nantes, as well as the travel I have been able to do living in Europe. Before departing for Nantes for the Student Exchange Program, one of my main concerns was leaving my friends back in the US and having to meet all new people from different countries when I arrived here. I am a very social person and looked forward to being around all new people, but it was definitely nerve racking.

However, the social life I have had here in Nantes has been absolutely incredible. I have met and become close friends with people from over 30 countries, and I will have these relationships for the rest of my life. Just on my floor in the residence, I have friends from Ireland, England, Belgium, US, Spain, Finland, Mexico, and Argentina. This group, along with about 50 other international students and 10 friends from the basketball team I joined at Audencia, travel, hang out, and pretty much do everything together. This was a big adjustment, as at Ohio State you only see 5-10 people every day, and the rest maybe once or twice a week. It really allows you to become close very quickly, and everyone has truly become a family. It is so cool how everyone has a different background and culture, but are all here for the same reasons and connect right away.

Outside of the social life, traveling has been another great thing about being in Nantes. Nantes has both a main airport and main train station, making it very easy to get anywhere around Europe for a low cost. So far, I have traveled to Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and roughly 6 cities around France. I still have plans to be in Portugal, Spain, and 6 more cities in France before returning home, and I cannot wait! There are several websites and travel methods that can be used to get around Europe, and through searching all the options it can be done at a very low cost! The trips I have been on have shown me many different cultures and ways of life, and have truly allowed me to have a better view on life. I will never forget the people I have met here and the travel I have done, and am so thankful to have had the opportunity.

Nantes Culture and Lifestyle

Hello from Nantes!

In this blog, I will talk about the culture and lifestyle living in Nantes, France while on the Student Exchange Program. The culture is so much different than what we are used to experiencing living in the United States, from the architecture to the food eaten every day to the clothing worn.

To begin, everything in Nantes looks fancy compared to what I am used to seeing in Columbus. All of the stone buildings, miraculous churches, and weaving roads along the river truly are part of the French culture. It provides a sense of happiness, as even on the grey and rainy days the city still looks pretty. The food eaten in France is not overly different from that in America, but the stereotype about the bakeries and baguettes is definitely true. Being able to wake up in the morning and have breakfast from one of several fresh bakeries is definitely something I will miss back in the US. It is a part of the culture here, as people take the time each day to go and buy fresh products, opposed to buying things from the grocery store for a week. The clothing worn in France is definitely more stylish than the common clothes seen walking around a college campus in the US, as no sweatpants or sweatshirts are worn unless sports are being played. However, I did expect it to be a little more fancy than it is. A pair of jeans and a sweater is okay to wear to any night venues, and the majority of restaurants do not require professional dress as well.As far as the lifestyle goes in Nantes, things are a lot slower. Through the hour and a half lunch breaks, everything being closed on Sundays, and long processes to complete normal day tasks, time is stressed much less here. It is clear to see the citizens of France value building relationships and taking time each day to relax and enjoy life, opposed to the constant upbeat living style in the United States.

Overall, I have truly enjoyed being in a new culture and adapting to the lifestyle here in Nantes. There have definitely been a few times that things get frustrating, but I have grown tremendously as a person and will treasure my experience here forever.

Double the New Year, Double the Fun

After 2 months of being in Singapore, I have come to realize what a truly multicultural country it is. Everything from the people to the food to the holidays embody that. This year I was fortunate enough to experience two New Year’s celebrations.

I started off my New Year in Singapore at Marina Bay and it was absolutely spectacular. The view of the city and Marina Bay Sands were picture perfect. New Year's 2015 in Singapore

 

I thought I would have to settle for an average New Year’s Eve because I knew that Chinese New Year’s was also big in Singapore but the celebrations were anything but average. I got to ring in the New Year with some local Singaporeans and my roommates who are fellow exchange students at SMU. As you can see, the city at night is full of lights.

New Year's with locals and exchange students

I can’t think of any other country where the Gregorian New Year (January 1st) celebrations are just as big as the celebrations for Chinese New Year (February 19th)! Chinese New Year in Singapore was just as fun and colorful with a cultural twist.

Chinese New Year Singapore

 

Even after I leave Singapore, I think my new tradition will be to celebrate two New Year’s, every year.

 

Traveling Smart with Your Smartphone

I have publicly rebelled against having a smartphone since high school, when all of my friends made the transition. I did not believe they were worth the expense, but when I decided to spend a semester abroad, I realized there could be some advantages. Most notably, having a smartphone gives you access to a GPS which is extremely helpful when you’re lost. Additionally, there are many moments when you’ll need to look up things you wouldn’t have expected, such as the opening hours of a restaurant or store. Internet isn’t as widespread in Europe as I was used to it being in the States, so having a data plan was essential for me to manage my time effectively. I found my data plan to be cheaper than the one in the States, however I did have less data, which required me to be selective with my access. I recommend getting the proper simcard and plan in your host country as soon as possible. This will also be good when you meet new friends at orientation and in your classes, as you can swap numbers right away!

There are also a lot of very helpful apps. Here are a few that I used while abroad:

Word Lens
Worried about getting to a restaurant and not knowing how to order in another language? This app translates the words of any picture you provide, offline. It’s extremely effective when you want to translate a whole paragraph instead of having to type each word individually, and also a lifesaver when you don’t have internet access. I would also recommend getting another translator app with audio, if your phone doesn’t already come with one.

Google Voice/Whatsapp
By now, most people know about Whatsapp. It is a free messaging app for anyone with a smartphone to connect. There is also an app called Google Voice, which works a bit differently. Google Voice actually gives you a vacant US number (if you set it up while you’re still in the States) and then allows you to call and text via this number to US and Canada numbers for free. Neither of my parents have smart phones, and a lot of my friends in the US didn’t have Whatsapp, so I used Google voice to text them. Once you set up the number, you can download the app and text them like you would normally, as long as you have access to internet. Then, you can call them via Hangouts which is directly connected to Google Voice. (Technically, you can call them via Google Voice as well, however if it is connected to your US # it will not work when you get a new simcard)

Duolingo
Instead of dropping hundreds of dollars on Rosetta Stone or an extra language class, Duolingo is a free website and app that allows you to practice a language in an easy and fun way. The app focuses on language you would actually use (for the most part, one exception was when it taught me how to say “I am a butterfly” in French), and goes at whatever pace you are comfortable. I would argue it’s not necessarily sufficient to learn the language totally, but as a beginner or someone trying to refresh their memory, it is a great tool.

CityMaps 2 Go
This app downloads maps of major cities (you get 4 free!) that you can access offline. It is perfect for traveling, and easily highlights tourist hotspots to visit. It’s much easier than carrying a map everywhere, and you can put a thumbnail on key locations (such as your hostel) on it as well, incase you get lost.

Kitestring
At the risk of sounding motherly, I strongly advice you to get this app for safety reasons. If you are going to a hostel by yourself, or on a date with someone you just met, or any other situation you are wary about, you can sign up for this app to check in on you at a designated time. If you don’t respond, it will alert your friends or other emergency contacts. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can sign up for this free service online.

Lastly, if there is some sort of Kill Switch you can download on your phone (Android and iPhone both have it), I recommend getting it. Europe is notorious for pickpockets, and I had the unfortunate experience of having my phone stolen. I called my parents immediately, and my phone provider got me a new phone within 6 days, making the process as painless as possible. Another friend of mine was not as lucky, and had to buy a basic phone to use for the rest of the trip. In the beginning of the trip, I found I was very vigilant over my belongings, but as time passed, I became more relaxed. My phone was taken when there was only a month left in my program. On a positive note, as I had personal information on my phone (from Venmo to Amazon), I was extremely thankful I could delete all of this information after my phone was taken.

Remember, the most important thing when you’re traveling is to be smart and safe. With the right Apps, your smartphone can make your travel experience that much easier and more enjoyable!