Maria Holland

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

“Studying Abroad” in California

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2011 at 1:51 am

While I was in Xiamen, I realized how awesome my life was, but I realized that it was not because I was living abroad.  Studying abroad is all the rage on every campus everywhere, but I sometimes wonder if it’s not the attitude that makes the experience special.  The excitement, the freedom, the new experiences, the openness to everything – maybe that’s where the growth and learning come from. 

But why can’t that happen anywhere?  So here is my list of ideas, ways you can get the “Study Abroad Experience” wherever you happen to be:

  1. Take public transportation.  Get lost on public transportation.  Talk to people on public transportation – especially the crazy ones. 
  2. Talk to everyone!  Cashiers, waitresses, policemen, kids, taxi drivers, old people, priests . . . everyone!
  3. Try new foods.  Point to something on the menu and trust the cook!  Look around for local produce you’re not familiar with and learn how to cook it! 
  4. Cook your favorite foods and share with others.  Invite them to do the same. 
  5. Make a bucket list.  Make sure to include visits to the famous and not-so-famous things in your area.
  6. Try things you normally wouldn’t.  Go to free performances of whatever sort.  Take classes outside your major.  Try a new route.  Learn a new dance. 
  7. Say “yes” when invited.  Pretty much always.  (But if it’s illegal, you can say no . . . )
  8. Get outside to enjoy the seasons.  Or season.  However many of them there are, experience them all!
  9. Look for diversity and similarities in unexpected places.  Reflect on and record these experiences.  Pictures help.

Feel free to steal this list for yourself, whatever walk of life you may be in. 

I’ve been trying to keep these rules in mind as I start life on the West Coast, which sometimes feels as foreign as China!  So far, resounding successes on #2 (pretty much besties with all the Marguerite shuttle drivers), #6 (um, physical fitness class?  Expect a post soon on me learning taiji and Taiwanese), and #7 (which I have to thank for a particularly traumatic choir experience). 

I’m also making progress on #1 (only on campus so far), #5 (bucket list started, but nothing checked off yet), and #8 (Stanford is bike-mandatory but I’ve only been here for two weeks).  Really itching to get started on #4, but the insane availability of free food has made it hard to find time for dinner parties . . .

Choices Have Consequences

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2011 at 11:19 pm

So, in the past week I have started a new phase of my life in a new part of the country at a new institute of education.  It’s going to be an adventure, for sure.

Seems like a good time to look back at what I’ve learned from previous such adventures.  At the end of high school, a teacher had us write down answers to a few questions:

What are two of your collegiate objectives?

One huge goal is to find an area of study that fits me and my life, both present and future. That’s going to be a very big deal for me, way bigger than choosing a college, and also very hard because I feel pulled in so many directions. The second thing I hope to do is to make the most of every opportunity at Tulsa like I have here at CRHS. I came in with so many plans of classes I was going to take and groups I was going to join, but I just took every opportunity presented to me and it came out way better than I ever would have expected. I already know of many opportunities that await me at college, but I hope I have the courage to take advantage of others that arise.

Change “Tulsa” to “Stanford”, “CRHS” to “Tulsa”, and “college” to “grad school”, and you have my feelings now.  Apparently not much has changed in 5 years.  (And apparently I had a little bit of the concept of “adventuring” even then!)

I’ve been thinking recently . . . sometimes it seems like such a ridiculous, out-of-the-blue thing that I just did, going to China for the year.  But that’s not the way life works – there are no big choices, just small ones that seem big in hindsight.  Who knows what little decisions I’m making now that will later be seen to be the first steps of a big journey?  That’s a scary thought as you register for classes, arbitrarily selecting courses to fill up your 8-credit course load.  Joining the China project of Engineers Without Borders, instead of the Sierra Leone project – that seemed like an insignificant choice at the time!  Yet look where it took me . . .

On the Border

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2011 at 10:25 pm

So, last week I spent a few days visiting my grandparents in El Paso, TX.  It’s one of my favorite places in the world, probably because it’s kind of like TWO of my favorite places in the world.  This is because El Paso reminds me A LOT of the farm in Jilin China.  Why?

It is literally ON the border.  El Paso is almost like half of a city, inconveniently located where a national border runs through it.  From many places in the city, you can see the Rio Grande and the enormous flag that sits just across the river. 

Hunchun isn’t quite that close to the border, but you could see the Russian border (a line through the trees and a guard tower) from anywhere on the farm) and the road to town ran along the Tumen river, which formed the border with North Korea. 

The regions are heavily influenced by the culture from across the border.  Immigration (legal, illegal, and refugees) has led to a significant percentage of the population coming from/identifying with the other country.  The other language is widely known, widely used, and widely accepted; it’s almost as easy to get by in the other language as in the official language of the country.  Their food is easily available and pretty authentic – score!

There are mountains.  Lots of them, but not too big.  And they fade into the distance . . . I love it.

Also, I only really know old people in both places. 


So, I was thinking about this as I left El Paso and headed west to Tempe, Los Angeles, and eventually Stanford.  And as I crossed the border into California, I again had the sense that I was back in China.  Probably part of the reason was that going through a “customs” of sort at the border made me feel like I was entering a foreign country. 

Also, there are the stricter laws.  My Oklahoma friends complain about how you can’t carry a gun with a clip containing more than 10 rounds; in China you can’t have guns at all.  There just seems to be a lot more government control here, which reminds me of China.

And there are a ton of Asians here.  I overheard at least 4 conversations in Chinese while at IKEA, and the congregation at Mass on Sunday was strikingly Chinese. 

The palm trees, proximity of both ocean and mountains, and the availability of fresh and local fruit reminds me specifically of China.  Stanford even has a Palm Drive like XiaDa’s West Gate!


I really appreciate the similarities.  It’s good to be someplace familiar : )

National Day of Mourning

In Uncategorized on September 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm

The last few days, I’ve been wondering how to observe the ten-year anniversary of September 11th.  I’m on the road to Stanford and had about 5 hours of driving to do, so the options were somewhat limited.  It’s Sunday, so I went to Mass this morning, but then I hit the road, arriving in Dallas to have dinner with family. 

Actually, though, I ushered the day in at Caravan, two-stepping and line dancing with friends.  It felt a little bit weird, and I was torn between the desire to observe the day with solemnity and to appreciate the simple pleasures in life, in honor of those who died. 

It made me remember, very vividly, the day of mourning after the 2010 Qinghai earthquake in China.  A 6.9 earthquake struck Yushu, Qinghai (western China) on April 14th, killing nearly 3,000 people.  7 days later, a national day of mourning was declared, with a sort of enforced sobriety over the entire country. 

Today, the 7th day after 青海玉树地震 (the earthquake in YuShu, QingHai), was a 全国哀悼日 (national day of mourning).  The Chinese seem to take this very seriously – in addition to a moment of silence and all flags 降半旗 (at half-staff), there was basically no public entertainment in the entire country – no music downloads, no QQ games, no karaoke, no dancing.  Some Chinese websites went gray; others shut down.  I kind of like how they do this, making it nearly impossible to go through the day without pausing a few times to think of the victims, survivors, and rescue workers.

I remember it mainly because the social dancing group, about the most regular activity that I ever encountered in China, didn’t meet because there was essentially no dancing that day.

Obviously there are differences here – terrorist attack versus natural disaster; 7 days later versus 10 years.  Also a total difference between governments; could you imagine the US government mandating such an observance?

A small part of me wishes that we had no choice today but to remember.  But I suppose, America is all about choice.  We can choose to remember – or not – and how.

Repaying Hospitality

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm

The last few weeks have been busy (relative to the rest of the summer of extreme uneventfulness).  We received several visitors, including another one from China! 

Denise was a friend of mine at XiaDa.  Thinking back, we met because my Polish friends’ Korean roommate was in her classes and invited her to play Catan with us once.  When I mentioned that we were going to her hometown, Guangzhou, a few weeks later, she arranged for her cousin June to show us around the city (including the restaurant of the infamous blood soup). 


A month or so ago, June found me on facebook, which led to me looking Denise up on 人人 (Chinese facebook).  Turns out she is starting a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Minnesota this fall!  It is a small but very interesting world . . .

She got here on the 18th, and we had her over for dinner a week later.  It was her first time in an American home, eating a typical American meal.  It was good to catch up with her and welcome her to the US!  A chance to repay her family for the kindness they showed us when we visited their hometown!

I met up with her again a few days later on the U of M campus, because (in another example of how small the world is) one of my high school classmates was starting the same program as her and I wanted to introduce them.  I’m excited to see them again over Christmas and share how our first semesters went!

We were also visited by my grandfather and aunt, but I prefer to dwell on happy memories . . . (Just kidding.  Kinda.)

Immediately after they left, I began packing.  I don’t even know how many times I’ve loaded up various cars and driven them across the country, but I’m pretty awesome at it by now.  My new car is like a jigsaw puzzle, with every cubic inch of space utilized perfectly.  I’m fairly proud of myself.

I leave tomorrow, adventuring towards Stanford via Sioux City, Kansas City, Tulsa, Dallas, El Paso, Tempe, and LA! 


Please pray for minimal adventures, or at least only fun ones : )