The GoGlobal Blog

Month: October 2012

Abundant Hospitality

Abundant Hospitality

I am now an expert at peeling and chopping vegetables.  I was at mere amateur status before Sunday.  One of the humorous recollections I have from Sunday is, several Vietnamese women grabbing my hand to adjust my knife.  I was even given a new task from time to time because I was doing it “wrong.”  Cooking mass quantities of food is specific and no joke here people!

Perfecting my chopping skills

Sunday I attended an event for the TAM THIEN BUI DOI charity in Ho Chi Minh.  Once a month, a group of about 50, gather and cook a meal to deliver to disabled, homeless, and random wanders throughout the districts.  I met the founder, Danh, through our Loyola coordinator, Chris.  On our first night in Ho Chi Minh, we ate at Danh’s restaurant, Quan Bui, and were told all about the service he does for the people in Ho Chi Minh.  At first glance Danh is an intimidating guy.  He is tall and buff and looks like he can throw a punch.  In reality, Danh is kind and compassionate in a way that is inspiring.  “It is all about the people,” he says.

At the beginning of October I emailed Danh and asked to join the October event to supplement the English teaching the Loyola students do each week.  I also held interest from my experience with Hunger Week at Loyola and global hunger issues in general.  I wanted to learn more about food culture in Vietnam and interact in person as opposed to reading an article or listening to a lecture.  Due to busy schedules, I ended up going alone.  I was honestly nervous and somewhat scared.  A hard fact to admit but it turns out I had an incredible day at Tam Thien Bui.

Tomato Tofu preparation

The day was divided into three parts.  One, the group would prepare the food.  To prepare food we sat on the ground and chopped and peeled and cleaned for several hours. (My hips still hurt by the way) The older men and women cooked the soup and tofu outside.  We shared a meal together and had the best conversations we could with the language barrier.  Two, the group packaged the food.  The assembly line was comprised of rice stuffers, soup and tofu packagers, as well as meal kit baggers.

The biggest bag of green beans I have ever seen, and there were two! This job took two hours.
Cooking the soup
Sharing a meal

Three: By five o’clock I was hot and exhausted.  I thought my day would have ended by noon, but it was five and I hadn’t even handed out a meal.  This thought excited me.  I didn’t want people to resist my meal gift on the street.  So, when Danh said he’d drive me home I felt relived.  But soon I realized that he had prepared the motorbike with several meal kits to hand out on the way to the guest house.  We turned a corner and he would say, “Get off and give that man the food.”  So, with my large umbrella in hand and my oversized moto helmet I gave that man the food, as well as many others.  I will never forget the smiles.

What an assembly line!

Later I learned that this month was small in comparison to others.  I didn’t understand this because we had almost enough food to feed 3,000 people.  The charity itself depends on monetary and food donations each month to create each event.  The previous month the charity traveled to three central provinces and fed over 10,000 people and gave away 90 bicycles.  This month a small meal of rice, soup, and tofu was given.  Danh said it wasn’t much but the people appreciate it.  This is the only organization of its kind in the city.  The group may be small and the donations may vary, but the hospitality is abundant and I had a lovely time.

Now I am off to study for my Vietnamese midterm! Da Lat this weekend for hiking and relaxation!

Xin Chao,


P.S. In 12th grade my Psychology teacher asked if I had ever been on tv.  I said no.  But, Sunday I did a television interview.  So, now I say yes and I am famous (but not really).

Oktoberfest, Andrea Bocelli, Scuba Diving, and more!

Oktoberfest, Andrea Bocelli, Scuba Diving, and more!

I’ve had an unbelievable past couple of weeks to share with you- so lets get straight to it!

Oktoberfest- Probably the most fun weekend I have had yet here in Rome. I took a 12 hour bus with a few friends leaving on a Thursday night and arrived in Munich early Friday morning. After a quick change at our hostel, we were ready and lined up outside the Hofbrauhaus house at 9:00 AM. As we were ushered inside by the nicest waitress, we were seated next to a roaring group of young Australians. We started to chat and get to know each other, with our first steins arriving promptly at 10 AM! It was amazing to see so many people dressed in lederhosen and dirndls (I really wanted to wear one, but they’re so expensive to buy in Munich!) We stayed chatting for quite a few hours, and left around 2pm to go on some rides at the festival–I’m one of those people deathly afraid of roller coasters, but my two best friends convinced me to go on one that day! Really glad I conquered  that fear, but let me tell you, I felt the effects of some major whiplash the next morning! On Saturday we explored Munich and did some shopping. I absolutely loved the downtown area near the Glockenspiel; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city so pretty! I loved being spoken to in German by storeowners. Finally my blonde hair fit in somewhere! On Sunday, one of my friends and I woke up super early and went again to the Hofbrauhaus house at about 8:00 AM, waited outside for an hour or so, and found a table amongst more Australians! We made some new friends and left around 12:00 to rush back to our hostel and get back on our bus! On the ride home, we saw the most beautiful scenery- we traveled all through the Swiss Alps, and it was breathtakingly gorgeous.

The next Thursday, I got the opportunity to see the Premio America award ceremony, hosted in the Chamber of Deputies at the Parliament building in downtown Rome. This small but prestigious ceremony commended select Italians for facilitating dissemination of Italian culture into American and vice versa. Among those being awarded were Franca Sozzani (editor in Chief of Vogue Italia), a few actresses and TV personalities, the president of Ferragamo USA (think fine Italian shoes), major economic thinkers and politicians, and Andrea Bocelli. When hearing about the ceremony through Loyola, I envisioned sitting a hundred rows back in a huge room, squinting to catch of glimpse of such phenomenal people. However, the conference room sat little more than 100 people, and I couldn’t believe my eyes to see Andrea Bocelli up close! Each awardee said a little speech and responded to questions by the Premio America team. I was flabbergasted by the amount of intellectual integrity in the room. It was lovely to hear such passionate people speak of their work to facilitate mixing of American and Italian culture. There were no cameras allowed in the building, so I was disappointing not to sneak a shot of Andrea Bocelli! However, get this: As we were exiting (Andrea + bodyguard left early), I see him and his bodyguard standing out in the street through a different exit door, so I grab my friend and we head out that way. I just couldn’t believe to see him standing in the middle of Rome, chatting with his bodyguard like everybody else! I looked over at my friend and we had the same idea: window of opportunity moment! We quickly ask his bodyguard to take a picture with Andrea, and he agrees! As we move over, Andrea pleasantly asks me where I am from, and I am so starstruck to be standing on his arm that I can barely formulate a response- I tell him I am a student from Chicago and he smiles, about to respond. More people start to recognize Andrea and people are milling about, taking pictures and waiting in line! But as soon as our picture is snapped, his bodyguard whisks him away and they jump into a private car that barrels down the small cobblestone street. I never been so awestruck in my life! As a major Andrea Bocelli fan (definitely one of the most played artists on my ipod) I was so enamored by his calm and kind disposition. Speaking to him was absolutely one of the top moments of my trip so far! Can you imagine, where else in the world than in the heart of Rome, could I say that I spoke with Andrea Bocelli and got a picture with him? Oh, how I love Italy.

After staying out for dinner downtown, I went home to pack and get to bed, because I had a train leaving at 5:00 AM the next morning! I decided to take a trip to Ischia with a bunch of friends from Loyola to scuba dive. Ischia is a little island off of Naples, and I had never scuba dived before, but was definitely excited to try something new. I had the most amazing fresh fish meal of my life there: my friend and I sat at this small restaurant right on the coast and the owner showed us all the fresh fish of the day in a basket- we pointed to the fish we wanted to share, and they prepared basically a gourmet meal for us. It was absolutely amazing. The island was so beautiful and calm- it was such a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of Rome. My first practice with scuba diving was a bit scary, I’ll admit! Getting used to breathing underwater and equalizing my ears for underwater pressure was a bit intimidating at first. Plus, the wetsuits were an experience all on their own! The first time it only took about a good 20 minutes to stretch it over my body! I’ve got some great pictures of us struggling to put them on. On our second day there, we were taken on a boat to do some real diving, and I couldn’t have been happier to stick it through. I was nervous at first, but once I was ready, swimming underwater and searching for coral and seas of fishes was so much fun. I felt like a true adventurer- I only wish I got to do it more! I can’t wait to try again in even deeper waters. After a fun night out on the island, we took a huge ferry home the next day. I made sure we sat outside on the top deck for some amazing views of the island as we sailed away.

This week I have most of my midterms! It’s definitely going to be a busy week of studying here at the Rome campus. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do next weekend, but I’ll let you know more of my adventures as I go along! Here’s to another fantastic and unforgettable week here in Rome.

Photo Journal Week #6

Photo Journal Week #6

Hello Everyone!  Week six is just starting and I wanted to take the time share more photos.  This week I have two presentations and so much reading I think my eyes will fall out.  This weekend I will be helping my friend, Lam, practice English, guiding English practice lessons at SMILE, and cooking and distributing food to the homeless and disabled with TAM THIEN BUI DOI charity.  Looking forward to sharing my service experiences next week!  Enjoy the photos:

Viewing the sunset with new friends in the Mekong Delta.
Busy traffic in Ho Chi Minh.
My roommate Oanh!
Boats in the Mekong. Like these, all were colorfully decorated.
Lanterns sold for the Mid-Autumn Festival. I bought a swan lantern to parade with the kids at Smile.
Traditional Vietnamese Hot Pot. The noodles, vegetables and meat are cooked right in front you over an open flame.
Rice sold at a market in the Mekong, the home of rice production in the country. Vietnam is a leading rice exporter in the world.
Floating home in the Mekong.
Mangrove root systems! Made to survive in tropical wetlands.
The "Green Lung" of the South, Can Gio National Forest.

Be sure to check out all of the Flikr photos from other Loyola students abroad! Lower right corner of the screen. *wink wink*

Xin Chao!

Hẹn Gặp Lại (See you again)

Mt Vesuvius

Mt Vesuvius

These past two weeks have been a tour of Italy that I never thought would or could take place.

On September 21st I embarked on unknown journey.  I had a lot of questions to be answered.

With this journey over now, all of my questions have been answered.  I feel as though I am lost within a movie and dream all at the same time.  On Friday I took the train with about ten other classmates from JFRC.  My ten classmates got off in Cinque Terre, which means five lands.  However, I continued on to Genova to embark on my own adventure for the first time in Italy.  I was on my way to meet the family that I will be living with for around 6 to 8 months from January until August.

I missed a call while on the train.  I happened to be sleeping as the phone rang, additionally my phone was on silent as usual.  The phone call was from Francesca checking to see where my train was and when I would arrive in Genova so that she could take me to where she lived in Acqui Terme.  I was reluctant to call back because I only had communicated with her through email.  Even though we only had communicated through email I was taking a five-hour train from Roma termini to Genova Piazza Principale and visiting her and her family for the entire weekend.

Getting back to the other reason why I was reluctant to call was because with our Italian cellphones from school we only get 15 euro on our sim card and each call outside of a poste mobile phone charges our phone.  Anyways, I waited about an hour and she called once again, this occurred just as my friends stepped off the train and onto the platform at La Spezia to embark on a journey of their own.  The conversation between Francesca and I was very quick and precise.  When will you be arriving? Where should we meet? And that was all she wrote.  The train continued on zipping though tunnels, around and through hills and over bridges and passing through years and years of history. As I got off the train, I tried to get my bearings straight.  Thinking to myself, I tried to find the two of the words I know in Italian.  Uscita – meaning exit and Piazza… which are the public squares that almost everything else in Italy revolves around.  As I brought out my Italian cell phone to call Francesca, I started to get nervous and sweat a little bit.  What would she look like, will she be nice, and does she speak English.  I called her and told her I was in a Piazza “I forgot the name.”  She replies in broken English ahhhhh I see you Steven, I see you.  I looked around and finally found an Italian women speed walking towards me wearing nice sunglasses.  I greeted her with a Ciao and a kiss on both cheeks, as it is customary in Italy.  We waited a little while to exchange any other sort of conversation, both feeling nervous.

She said that Acqui and the Piedmont region in general is known for focaccia, pesto sauce, and of course my favorite Salami, SALAME in Italian.  She is from Acqui Terme, and her husband is from Milano.  Their two boys studied English in London this past year.

I engulfed three Paninos and we were on our way driving through Acqui to the countryside.  I had googled mapped where their home was, and I soon recognized the stoplight (semaforo) from street view feature.  We took a sharp right and where I thought we were going to stop to go to there house was just an apartment complex. Google maps had deceived me, we continued up the hill almost to the top, went through two gates and around a few bends and all of sudden I was sprung upon a complex of two yellow houses and one huge pink house.  This was their home, and I was not expecting this at all.  She said welcome to our home and with that we got out of the car, not before my door almost got taken off by a car passing by to work on the house.  I walked into the entry way and there were three sets of eyes looking at me.  One was a Russian woman who happened to be the maid/chef.  The other two sets were two Italian boys, Giacomo and Niccolo.  I introduced myself and they responded promptly in English; all three of us were shy at first.  I decided to skip the boring stuff and ask if they wanted to play some Ping Pong. They both piped in with a smile and said yes and away we went.

The rest of the weekend continued to be a sports fest. American Football, Soccer CALCIO, Ping Pong, Basketball, Piano, Guitars, and I also introduced the boys to sport called Baseball. I will be going back to visit the end of October to see if the boys are crushin the cover off the ball by now.

During the week I have two Onsite classes and I ran to class at the Pantheon, also had class in the orange grove where the Maltese Knights have the keyhole garden to the Vatican and St. Peters.  Also had class at three of the four major churches in Rome and learned about the mosaics that cover the back wall of every church.

This past weekend on the 27th I went to the Amalfi Coast and went to the island of Capri where the Blue Grotto is located.  Also went to Sorrento, and Positano and did some cliff jumping – I made it off a 40 foot cliff – mom you would be proud! And also hung out on the beach all day.

Sunday was reserved for Pompeii and it happened to be free, as is true at all attractions in Italy on the last Sunday of every month.  Pompeii has to be the most preserved place I have ever laid my eyes on, and you can almost imagine being there when it was a Roman and Greek town. Also the feeling of being next to an active volcano is a strange feeling as it may erupt at anytime.

I keep telling myself that my stay in Italy cannot keep getting better, but everyday it continues to improve and I am living on a lifetime high that keeps flying higher and higher.

Stay safe

And go meet someone new today you never know where that introduction could get you!

Steve O

Life in Vietnam

Life in Vietnam

When I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to study abroad in Vietnam, I really wanted some information on what daily life would be like for me there. Now that I’m here, I think I understand why previous bloggers hadn’t really written about it. It is extremely difficult for me to convey to my friends and family back home what my life is like here, what it is like to live in a city or country where the lifestyle is so different from our own. I cannot put into words or pictures the things I am experiencing and it is frustrating for me and also a little isolating.

However, I will try to give some idea what our daily life is like for prospective students!

  • We live in guesthouse in “the nice part” of Ho Chi Minh City. We each have a Vietnamese roommate which is an invaluable addition to the program. I would be completely lost and hopeless without them. The rooms are nice with two beds a mini fridge and tv.  There is wifi, the maids clean our rooms everyday and there is a private bathroom and shower. It is kind of like living in a hotel. The one thing I was not expecting was the concept of a “wet-bathroom” in which the toilet and shower are just one big room with no divider (trust me, if I can get used to this anyone can).
  • We are surrounded by restaurants and coffee shops. These are not restaurants as we would think of them in America, more like the first floor of someone’s house transformed into a place where food is sold. Or even better, a plastic table and tiny chairs on the sidewalk. The food we’ve had here is the best I’ve ever had, even if I do get a little sick of noodles sometimes. Food is inexpensive, you can easy get a full, filling meal for $1-$2.50 on the street. There are of course nice restaurants within walking distance of the guesthouse. Also some of the best food I’ve had, but at more “American” prices. I worried a lot about what I would eat while I was here but quickly found that I can find anything I want to eat.
  • If you are proactive about it, you can see a lot of Vietnam in your free time. Travel is extremely easy here, you can hop on a plane bus or train and get anywhere in Vietnam. We have visited Nha Trang and have individual side trips planned to many places on the weekends. Because everything is so much cheaper here than at home, extensive travel is totally doable.

Vietnam is AMAZING, I can’t say it enough. Some days it is challenging, loud and difficult to handle but I never would have had an experience that challenged me like this in any other country. I really, really encourage everyone to look at Vietnam when studying abroad!

Can Gio National Park

Can Gio National Park

This weekend we had the opportunity to go to the Can Gio Mangrove Forest as part of our Environmental Studies class. We have been learning about the tremendous environmental pressure Vietnam is facing as the population continues to expand, tourism grows and resources shrink. The Can Gio forest is a perfect example of environmental problems that Vietnam has faced.

During the Viet Nam war, mangroves in the south provided strong resistance bases for Vietnamese people. Consequently, the foreign military used bombs, cannonfire and toxic chemicals (herbicides and defoliants in high concentrations) to destroy the forests. Nearly 40% of the mangrove population was destroyed. In recent years, there has been a large-scale reforestation project underway with help from UNESCO as well as community based natural resource management projects that have widely been considered a success.

We saw the army base where Vietnamese troops were stationed during the war. I am just constantly marveling at how very, very different Vietnam is from anything I have ever experienced. We took a boat 20 minutes into the jungle and arrived at a series of elevated huts built to house that the troops had lived there for over ten years during the war. We were told that more people than they could count died at this base; it was a very eerie and unnerving experience.

The biggest draw to Can Gio is the monkey population in the park. As an aspiring primatologist, I was extremely interested in this! Unfortunately, this turned out to be the most terrifying and least favorite experience of my entire time in Vietnam. When the mangroves were destroyed during the war, the macaque population was decimated.  In an attempt to restore the monkey populations, macaques were transplanted into the park and kept there by feeding them. Now the population has exploded and the monkeys are no longer wild but completely used to human presence and ALWAYS looking for more human food. In our short time there, three of us (myself included) were attacked by the monkeys. One girl in our group had two monkeys leap out of the tree and land on her back in an attempt to get the wrappers out of her backpack. We fared better than the woman who had a monkey scratch her face but it was still an extremely unpleasant and terrifying experience. As I’ve said before, I am so lucky to get to experience first hand the problems we are studying, I hope to be able to come back to Vietnam and work in this field!