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…stars, canyons, water, grass, sun…

Sit back.  Relax.  Enjoy!

The second video brings back my memories of my incredible trip to Moab, Utah.  The beautiful sceneries of canyons, arches, deserts and cactus were all surreal.  I remember being in awe of the incredible formations of the landscape, in particular arches and large rocks towering above the ground.  Seeing these scenes made me realize that not only humans can create beautiful things but also nature can create stunning things.




November 6th, 2011 by | Country: Other | No Comments »

Like the father in the YouTube video, I’ve had people tell me the wildest reasons about why I’m nuts to be traveling abroad.  Here are some examples:

Muslims are taking over France and attacking people.

ATMs can’t be found in Peru.

I wouldn’t feel safe about going to China where polio is found in a region.

You’ll get mugged in Peru.

You’ll get killed by bomb attacks in Israel.

You’ll be attacked in Europe for being a Jew.

We can choose to only read about the negatives views of other countries in the media and never travel there or be open minded by traveling afar, discovering the real beauties of the destinations, and even helping to improve the lives of people in various places.  Every part of the world including my own country, the US, has its own share of problems and dangers.  Every cultural groups and religious groups have its own sets of extremists while they also have a great number of good-hearted people.  To say that Muslims are dangerous people is very prejudicial and incredulous because it is only a small group of Muslims who do crazy things just like there is a small group of white Americans who do dangerous things too such as for example, a white Christian man who killed Dr. George Tiller and Jared Loughner who shot Gabrielle Giffords and other people at a political event.

No place is 100 percent safe.  We are already putting ourselves in risks everyday when we are a passenger in a car or a pedestrian walking across a street where we could be hit by a car, a neighbor shopping a food store where a murderer could shoot us, or a shopper browsing in the stores at a mall could get mugged.  In fact, the US is placed in 98th out of 197 countries and territories for the highest murder rate – 5.9 for every 100,000 person.  This is to say that we, Americans, are not living in a danger proof place.

And here is a food for thought: More people die from health related causes than from accidents.  Here are some tidbits from an article in Time magazine on risks:

Terrified of bees, snakes and swimming pools? ACCIDENTS 109,277 Maybe you should worry more about your heart DISEASES 2.3 million Other diseases 681,150 Diabetes 74,219 Chronic lower-respiratory disease 126,382 Stroke 157,689 Cancer 556,902 Heart disease 685,089 All other deaths 8,364 Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Transportation Safety Board.

Perhaps we should be more concerned about our health?

The writer of the article on risks also points out that while a few hundred people die in U.S. commercial airline accidents per year, about 44,000 people are killed in car accidents.

Instead of complaining and avoiding every possible risk, let’s travel afar to learn to appreciate other cultures and even strive to help improve the quality of life in every parts of the world.  If we continue to worry about dangers by not going anywhere, we’ll not be able to save the world.

November 5th, 2011 by | Country: Other | No Comments »


November 4th, 2011 by | Country: Other | 2 Comments »

AFS-Hosting, a student exchange organization, asks on Facebook, Did you watch Glee this week? What was your favorite part involving Rory, the new exchange student, and did it seem realistic?

I’m not going to deny that I that love Glee to death.  Rory is a great new addition and is indeed magical as his voice couldn’t be anymore stunning!  But being green?  I’m sorry, but Irish people don’t wear green every day, and Rory wearing a green shirt was a rather stereotypical view of Irish people.  However, it was a fun way to show on a TV show that he was being represented as an exchange student from Ireland and was someone who was thought to be a leprechaun.


As someone who has been an exchange student, the experience of arriving in a new country and learning to live in a new culture can be both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Locals either get excited about meeting a foreigner and want to become fast friends, or they can be as ignorant as they can be when meeting a foreigner.  Fortunately, I had nothing but positive experiences as an exchange student as I would meet too many people wanting to become friends with me, and I would become overwhelmed by having to keep up with them all!  On the other hand, I have heard stories from friends who were exchange students who had bad experiences where they were treated horribly by their host families and other people in their communities.

Rory seems to be experiencing both of the worlds.  While some students at William McKinely High School were bullying him, he was fortunate not only to have a hot blonde chick adore him, but also to have a man with a good heart, Finn, lend him a hand.

When one foreign student comes to a strange land and is overwhelmed by the unfamiliar environment, which includes the home of the host family, school, and the whole community, and not knowing anyone, the first thing a foreign student needs is a person who is not only a friend, but also a mentor who can help the foreign student learn the ropes of living in a new place.  I couldn’t be any more proud of Finn because he was the first one to stand up for Rory and brought him to a place where he could not only meet more new friends, but also show off his talents and enjoy doing something he loves, which is singing.  So, I hope that as a result of Finn assisting Rory, new doors will open for him and bring in positive experiences.



November 2nd, 2011 by | Country: Other | No Comments »

I recently learned of the need to take action to support funding for exchange programs by writing letters to Congress.  According to reports from both the US Global Leadership Coalition and Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange, two key appropriations activities, which effects the international exchange programs, are being discussed in Washington DC.  What international exchange organizations are asking is to urge Congress to support the highest possible level of funding for international exchange programs by contacting our Congress.

While I understand the economy is in such a bad shape and budgets need to be cut, providing at least some financial support for international exchange programs is still crucially important for our country.  When studying abroad and/or living with host families, we are not there to relax on the beach or in the countryside, have fun drinking at bars, go parasailing or skiing, and do all the things that vacationers do.  We do not only study the culture and lifestyle of the country, but also the political issues and current events.  As someone who has been an exchange student and stayed with several different host families around the world in the past five years, my knowledge of the world has broadened greatly.

After having experienced many different political situations and discussed current issues with host families in different countries in the past five years, I have become a more educated voter.  This is because I have been able to see which systems work or don’t work well.  For instance, I learned about different health cares in various countries and which systems worked effectively and which ones didn’t.  Living in countries such as France where environmental laws were stricter gave me a better understanding of  how stricter environmental laws could impact my country.  By having gained exposures to strikes, I became more educated about why they are necessary for the union workers and also how it could impact the community when strikes occurred.

While having become a more educated voter, I also educated my host families and the locals about my country and culture while they taught me about their culture and country.  As a result, we created a positive relationship and learned to appreciate and respect each others’ different cultures.

Because many of the exchanges students could become future diplomats, politicians, consultants or any kind of leaders with intentions to help make the US a better place to live and travel, their experiences in studying and living abroad can greatly and positively influence the environment of the US.

If you feel that exchange programs are important, I urge you to contact your Congress by clicking here.

Rachel with her host family in Avignon, France.