Category Archives: Ahlers Girls Useful Tips for Going Abroad

Overcoming Brazilian Stereotypes and Language Barriers

Alex Henley completed her practicum experience abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was able to overcome her fear of the city’s stereotype as being unsafe, as well as her frustration with the local language, in order to enjoy Rio for the bright and vivacious city that it really is.

Before I left for Rio, everyone told me to be incredibly careful. I was very nervous about being mugged. I was told not to wear much jewelry, as people would come up and grab a necklace off of you. While I wore a watch to work during the day, I would only wear earrings out at night. I always kept my purse on me, with my hand holding the bag as well. That being said, I had no negative experiences in Rio and I was very cautious even when there were a lot of people around. I took the advice of not going anywhere alone and to take cabs instead of walk at night. During the day, I would go places alone, like to the store, pharmacy, shop, café, or an ATM. However, I also wish I did know more Portuguese. The language barrier was probably my biggest frustration. I know Spanish and English, but when I tried to explain this to the locals, they would just keep speaking in Portuguese. Fortunately, most restaurants have an English menu, so you kind of know what you are ordering.

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During the city tour, we saw Sugar Loaf, the Christ statue, the Cathedral, and the Santa Marta Favela. Taking a guided tour through the favela was life changing. Just like with Argentina, where I also partook in my practicum, the disparity between the rich and the poor in Rio is apparent. While walking through the favela, we were able to purchase art made by the locals in order to benefit the community. I would not recommend trying to navigate a favela alone. The Sugar Loaf was my favorite, as the views were absolutely incredible. We went on a rainy/cloudy day, but I still enjoyed every moment. We also went inside the Cathedral and the stained glass windows were absolutely beautiful, a site worth seeing for those that appreciate the timelessness of artwork.

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I probably had acai or a fresh juice once a day. The produce in Rio is so fresh, so I highly recommend that you take advantage of it while you are there. Rio is known for its steakhouses, known in Portuguese as churrascarias. I recommend you go to Churrascaria Palace. Although pretty expensive, the restaurant has exceptional service and side dishes. We also went to Pavao Azul and I ordered the bean stew, or feijoada, and was incredibly satisfied. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall type of place where the locals go, but it’s totally worth a try, even if there is a wait.image014

I also loved the beach in Rio, although it rained most of the time we were there. However, when you go to the beach, make sure you have cash, as everything you could possibly need you can find for sale at the beach. There are people carting around everything, from drinks to sunscreen, snacks to swim suits. Also, trying the street food is a must, even if you are not the biggest fan of fried foods!

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During the practicum, my patience was tested on many levels. Brazil, along with many other countries, is much slower paced than the United States. Nothing happens quickly, even in business. We spent a lot of time waiting for our client because they were behind schedule. I would say just be prepared to wait and don’t expect business transactions to happen overnight. I would also suggest checking in with your client and teammates regularly. I would say this is very important in order to stay on track and make sure that everyone understands what is expected of him or her. Also, because of the language barrier, we would sometimes misconstrue some of the things that the Brazilians said, because it wouldn’t translate into English in the intended way they wanted. Be comfortable with asking questions in order to clarify what is really meant.

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

10 Must-Do’s in Tokyo

Acerney Yu studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan during spring break and gave her knowledgable suggestions on the best places to both visit and see! Enjoy!

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1. Meiji Jingu (Shrine)
Located in Shibuya, Tokyo, Meiji Jingu is the Shindo Shrine, a symbol of the Japanese spirit. The Japanese go to Meiji Jingu in January in order to give a blessing for the following year. If you are lucky, you may see the traditional wedding holding in Meiji Jingu. Surrounded by many trees, Meiji Jingu is a forest in the middle of the busy concrete jungle that is Tokyo. You will be able to enjoy a sense of tranquility and peacefulness in Meiji Jingu.

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2. Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Japan. Just built in 2012, it has become the new symbol of Tokyo. There are 360 degree views of Tokyo from the top of the building, providing great opportunities for pictures both during the daytime  and nighttime.3a3

3. Tsukiji Market and Sushi
Tsukiji Market is a fish market with many sushi restaurants serving really yummy and fresh fish. There is also a fish auction that occurs around 3am most mornings. You definitely must try the sushi and sashimi, as it is some of the best in Tokyo!

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4. Akihabara
Akihabara is famous for its animation-related products and themed restaurants, such as maid-cafés. This sub-culture plays an important role in current Japanese life.

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5. Sensō-ji (Temple)
Sensō-ji is located in Asakusa. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo. The Nakamise-dōri, a street on the walk to the temple, contains many shops that sell traditional Japanese food and souvenirs. The length of the street is approximately 250 meters and contains around 89 shops. Sensō-ji is also famous for Tokyo’s largest and most popular festival, Sanja Matsuri.

 

66. Shibuya
The most famous district in Tokyo. The crossing is one of the busiest in the world. There are many department stores that carry the latest fashionable goods, as well as delicate Japanese products.
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7. Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a railway station in the Marunouchi business district of Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is one of the busiest stations in Japan. It serves 14 lines, including several Shinkansen (Japanese high-speed rail lines). Tokyo Station is very beautiful, and there many good restaurants and shops (Ekinaka) in the station.

 

image0158. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. It was originally a residence of the Naitō family during the Edo period. There are traditional Japanese tea houses throughout the gardens and the park itself is very famous for its cherry blossoms that bloom in the springtime.

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9. Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran Ramen is a Japanese ramen chain from Fukuoka. What makes Ichiran Ramen so special is that you can customize your own ramen by choosing the flavor strength, richness of the soup, the noodle texture, etc.

 

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10. Kaiseki ryōri
Kaiseki ryōri is the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. It contains many different dishes which allows you to enjoy several different tastes of Japanese food, all at the same time!

 

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Explore The Best of Brazil

Brazil is not only one of the most colorful, happy, and spirited countries in the planet, it is also the place I am blessed to call my home (just as much as the United States). As a native Brazilian who left Brazil shortly after graduating from high school, and has never forgotten about the amazing food, the warm people, the wonderful music, and the beautiful landscape that this country has to offer, I am enthusiastic to share with you some tips to help you make the most out of your experience in Brazil.

First and foremost, if you are going to Brazil during intersession, you are in it for a trip of a lifetime! January is possibly THE BEST time to be in Brazil. It is summer time, most people are on vacation, many are relaxing at the beach, and sipping on a ‘caipirinha’ while listening to the numerous street players who walk around the beach playing samba from right to left. In fact, if you are going to Brazil this coming intersession I would GREATLY suggest that you arrive in Brazil before New Year’s Eve, and that you spend the last day of 2014 in Copacabana Beach with thousands (if not millions) of people who will be there, eager to celebrate.

New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest and most popular events, along with Carnival, in Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, the event gets even better. Here you will find millions of people (last year there were 2 million people at the beach on New Year’s Eve) wearing white clothes for good luck and for world peace in the coming year. Some in the crowd may wear a splash of color – red is for romance, yellow for success, green for health, etc. Whether you are wearing white or not, whether you believe in the color superstitions that Brazilian people believe in or not, you are in it for a celebration you will never forget. Fireworks at the beach, champagne, live music, ocean breeze, good energy from the crowd… it is bound to be a party you will remember for years to come.

New Year's Eve in Brazil - the beach was just starting to fill up

New Year’s Eve in Brazil – the beach was just starting to fill up.

So, what do you do when you wake up in Rio the next day? Well… here are some important things you will NOT want to miss:

  1. Beaches: Brazilians LOVE to hang out at the beach! In fact, most Brazilians like to go to the beach in the early morning and stay until the sun sets. You can buy food, drinks, accessories, and even clothes at the beach in Brazil. It is also a great place for people watching! Here, people gather to play beach volleyball, footvolley, surf, play music, dance… in Brazil, everything happens at the beach. This is where you are going to want to go while in Rio:
Copacabana Beach in Rio

Copacabana Beach in Rio, picture by Sure Mithas Travel

  1. Ipanema Beach: Where most locals hangout
  2. Copacabana Beach: More crowded and touristy but a lot of fun
  3. Barra da Tijuca: This is where you go if you want to surf (or watch people surfing 😉 )
  4. Buzios: Elected one of the 10 most beautiful areas in the world, Buzios is just about 2 hours from Rio by bus/car. Take a weekend to go there!

2. Sightseeing: even though these are the most “touristy” places in Rio, they are still well worth exploring.

Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro

Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro

  1. Cristo (aka Corcovado): voted one of the seven wonders of the world, this site offers beautiful views of the city. Take the train to go up there.
  2. Sugar Loaf: also wonderful view of the city. Perfect place to take pictures.
  3. Arpoador: This is where you want to be for the sunset.
  4. Santa Teresa: Charming old neighborhood in Rio. Go to small bars or restaurants here and walk around the beautiful streets.

3. Nightlife: Brazilians really know how to party! If you are just looking for a bar to have a “gelada” (ice cold beer) you are going to want to go out at 8 pm, if you are looking to have dinner, probably 9 pm… now if you want to go to a nightclub, don’t arrive before 1 am.

  1. Bars at Lapa – A former run-down collection of 19th century mansions has now been rehabilitated. Here you will find many restaurants,  and cute bars with live music. Great place to go eat, dance and have a blast!
  2. Samba Practices happen from November until carnival (Feb or March) and they are extremely fun to watch!  I recommend watching the schools Beija Flor or Mangueira. Here you will find a schedule of their rehearsals.
  3. Nightclubs: parties start at 1 am and go until sunrise. There are plenty of nightlclubs to explore in Rio! Click here to know where to go.

4. The food!! Don’t come back to the States without trying:

The snack I miss the most!! Pão de queijo. Receipe here.

The snack I miss the most!! Pão de queijo. Recipe here.

  1. Açaí
  2. Pão de queijo
  3. Coxinha
  4. Pastel
  5. Rodízio de pizza
  6. Churrasco
  7. Feijoada
  8. Fresh juices

To finish off, let me just warn you that we Brazilians are extremely warm. We do not know what “personal space” is, we touch people when we are chatting with them, we hug, we greet people with multiple kisses… so be ready to hug and kiss back! Also, do not try speaking Spanish to Brazilians… they are unbelievably proud of their Portuguese!

I hope you have a wonderful time in Brazil! Please let me know what you enjoyed the most about my country by posting a comment below.

Boa viagem!!

~ Renata Berto, International Programs Associate

Erin’s Travel Tips for Shanghai

Shanghai

Overview:

Shanghai is a financial hub in Asia and widely considered to be China’s most European city, with its distinctive, futuristic architecture, historical French Concession neighborhood, and myriad of high-end fashion houses with elaborate, glittering window displays beckoning well-heeled tourists and locals alike.

If you plan on travelling to China, make sure to obtain a tourist visa, as this is required for stays that extend past 48 hours.

Shanghai holds an important place in the international financial market, and is home to the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) in the Pudong District.  Rising to a height of 492 meters, the SWFC is the world’s tallest mixed-use urban development center.

View from the observation deck on the 97th floor of the SWFC

View from the observation deck on the 97th floor of the SWFC

 Business Etiquette

1)   When meeting business partners, acknowledge seniority for introductions, seating arrangements and general interactions.

2)   When exchanging business cards, present your card so that it is facing your recipient.  When accepting a business card, take the card with both hands and take a few moments to read the card carefully.  Do not fold or write on business cards.

3)   Respect the concept of “saving face” – avoid insulting, criticizing, or drawing negative attention to someone in front of others

Don’t Miss:

1)   The Bund: stroll along the river and enjoy the sight of barge “rush hour”.  Across the river, gaze at the massive high-rises in the Pudong District.  Right off The Bund on East Nanjing Road, you’ll find the Fairmont Peace Hotel.  This is a historic landmark that was constructed between 1926 and 1929, and now contains an updated art-deco lobby, jazz club, upscale café and tea room.

View of along the Bund, looking towards the Pudong District across the river.

View across the Bund, looking towards the Pudong District across the river.

2)   Old Town: to feel as if you have transported back in time, visit Shanghai’s Old Town (known as Nánshi) where you’ll find traditional architecture, a bazaar with numerous shopping stalls and the Yù Yuán Gardens, which was the former residence of Ming-dynasty officials and is now available to tour.

3)   French Concession: two distinct shopping areas are contained within the Shanghainese neighborhood known as the French Concession – Xintiandi and Tianzifang.  Xintiandi houses dozens of upscale shops and boutiques, restaurants and nightspots, and is partitioned into two sections.  The south block holds an indoor mall with fine-dining and shopping options, while the north block has more of an outdoor market feel, with boutiques and numerous restaurants offering a wide assortment of cuisines.

Another shopping district, Tianzifang, has less of a 5th Avenue in NYC feel and more of an artsy, old-Shanghai feel.  There are dozens of trendy boutiques, tourist shops, cafes and local fashion houses to explore along the traditional alleyways.  I recommend stopping here to find your souvenirs and fun gifts for friends and family at home.

4)   Temples: two interesting temples to visit are the Jing’an Temple and the Jade Buddha Temple, both located in the Jing’an district.  The Jade Buddha Temple is an active place of worship for Buddhists, and has a number of gold, jade and marble Buddha statues, with colorful flags, lanterns and candles adorning them.

Inside the Jade Buddha Temple

Inside the Jade Buddha Temple

Foods to Try:

1)   Noodles: with a multitude of small noodle shops throughout the city, you are sure to find something to appeal to your palate.  I found the udon at Kung Fu Noodles to be the perfect lunch on a cold winter day!

Udon noodles from Kung Fu Noodles, located in the French Concession

Udon noodles from Kung Fu Noodles, located in the French Concession

2) Dumplings: they come filled with many different ingeredients, but a Shanghainese specialty is the “little steamer buns” and the “scallion -and sesame-seed-coated dumplings”.

3) Hotpot:  commonly served in the winter, hotpot offers sizzling broth to dip vegetables and meat into, finishing them with a variety of sauces.

Shanghainese Cuisine: for Westerners unaccustomed to generous amounts of oils and spices in their food, it is advised to ask for an English menu and sample the various dishes in small quantities, to learn which dishes appeal most to your taste buds and dietary preferences

Shanghainese Cuisine: for Westerners unaccustomed to generous amounts of oils and spices in their food, it is advised to ask for an English menu and sample the various dishes in small quantities, to learn which dishes appeal most to your taste buds and dietary preferences

What about you? What are your go to food items when traveling through China? Share your tips below.

~Erin Kellaway, External Programs Manager

Road Less Traveled in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is complete eye candy.  Everywhere you turn there are vibrant colors, exotic smells and a hum of activity.  Besides being a shopping mecca and home to the world’s most inexpensive Michelin starred restaurant (Tim Ho Wan), Hong Kong also boasts a lively night life, exceptionally efficient public transportation system, and plenty of stunning parks to keep even the greenest of thumbs well entertained.

Personally, I am a gardenoholic.  In a city of 7.2 million people, nearly all of which are living vertically in high rises, the quite repose and sound of running water emanating from many of Hong Kong’s public parks offers a reticent opportunity to reflect and observe.  Most often I’m reflecting on what local taste treat sensation I will dine on next, but who’s counting?…

Hands down my two favorite green spaces in Hong Kong are Kowloon Walled City Park and the Nan Lian Gardens at Chi Lin Nunnery.  Both are free to enter and if you make a point to visit Kowloon Walled City Park early enough, you will catch groups of locals practicing Tai Chi by the waterfalls.  Close to the Chinese New Year celebrations, flag throwing groups also use Kowloon Walled City Park as their rehearsal grounds for the festive parades in which they perform.  Nan Lian Gardens houses a pagoda, waterfalls, koi pond, and more manicured trees than a Dr. Seuss book.  It also pipes in soft music throughout the 3.5 hectares to optimize your relaxation and is home to a vegetarian restaurant with unique dishes focusing on local ingredients.

Kowloon Walled City Park in Hong Kong

Kowloon Walled City Park in Hong Kong

Visitors to Hong Kong often like to spend some time exploring at least one of the 234 outlying islands which also constitute part of special administrative region of Hong Kong.  Generally, western tourists flock to Lantau Island to see the giant seated Buddha and catch the marvelous views from the cable car ride up to the top of the mountain.  But if I have free time to go island hopping, my go to is Cheung Chau.  Just an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong island, Cheung Chau is where the locals go for some of the best seafood around and fantastic people watching.  The whole island can be explored on foot but its also fun to rent bicycles to venture out past the main drag.  Hiking trails on the island also offer spectacular seaside views without having to climb too much elevation.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGS5ACisi6E[/youtube]

Looking to take some pretty spectacular photos in Hong Kong?  You can’t beat the view from Victoria Peak or the colors offered at the Flower Market.  The Yuen Po Street Bird Market is also pretty unique where you can see sacks of live grasshoppers on sale alongside ornate birdcages of all makes and models.  The added bonus of being serenaded by hundreds of birds while floating through this market make it a place I return to on each visit to Hong Kong.  Of course it also helps that the Bird Market is literally situated on top of the Flower Market so its easy to visit both on the same day.

The Flower Market in Hong Kong

The Flower Market in Hong Kong

One of my favorite past times in Hong Kong is heading to the horse track.  Situated in central Hong Kong Island, the race track at Happy Valley turns into Hong Kong’s largest bar every Wednesday evening during the winter months.  Overpriced beer and chain smokers aside, the races at Happy Valley are truly stunning as the Hong Kong city skyline serves as the backdrop for the race track and the convivial atmosphere of locals and expats cheering together rarely disappoints.

Happy Valley Races

Happy Valley Races

Those participating in our MSRE or GSBA courses in Hong Kong will be happy to know that visits to the Nan Lian Gardens and Victoria Peak are part of the city tour itinerary which is included in your program fee.  Additionally, I coordinate a night at the races for each student group where dinner at the Hong Kong Jockey Club and entrance into the Happy Valley Racetrack are both part of the fun included in your program fee.

USD business students at Victoria Peak

USD business students at Victoria Peak

Have you been to Hong Kong? Share your tips below!

~ Allison Howitt, Academic Programs Manager

 

 

Surviving as a Vegetarian While Traveling Internationally

In California, we are spoiled with freshly picked produce year-round, an abundance of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and an ability to read menus in our native language. However, it’s a completely different story when going abroad! In many other cultures, meat plays a larger role in the diet than it does in the US, and the word “vegetarian” doesn’t always translate very well.  As a long-time vegetarian, I would like to offer some tips that I’ve found useful through my international travels and also share some of my favorite vegetarian-friendly restaurants throughout the world!

Tips:

  • If you are traveling on an Ahlers Center study abroad program, please remember to indicate your dietary restrictions on your application. We typically have several group dinners throughout our programs, and work very hard to accommodate whatever dietary restrictions we have.
  • Pack protein bars or protein powder along with plenty of vitamins! It’s oftentimes a bit more difficult to find quality sources of protein while abroad so I always keep extra protein bars/powder on hand. Also, days can get very long with city tours, company visits and classroom sessions so even non-vegetarians may want to pack some protein bars to keep your body and brain fueled. Along those same lines, your immune system can be compromised while traveling, and you may not always have access to as many fruits and vegetables as you are used to, so bring vitamins while you’re at it too!
  • If you do not speak the native language, translate and carry a card that says  “I am a vegetarian. I do not eat any meat, chicken or fish”. It is important to outline exactly what you do not eat since vegetarianism can mean different things in other parts of the globe.
  • Research vegetarian-friendly restaurants prior to departure. A quick search on happycow.net, Tripadvisor or Yelp should give you plenty of restaurants to explore throughout your journey! You may even want to add the restaurants you find to a Google map to keep organized and make sure you hit up all the best spots!
  • If you rent an apartment or have a kitchenette in your hotel room, be sure to visit the local farmers’ market and cook for yourself! Some of the best produce I’ve ever had came from local markets while traveling abroad, like these asparagus from Aix-en-Provence, which were bigger than my hand!
Cooking up asparagus with olive oil, garlic and herbes de provence….so simple yet so tasty!

Cooking up asparagus with olive oil, garlic and herbes de provence….so simple yet so tasty!

Favorite Restaurants:

While it’s usually easy enough to find cheese pizzas and sandwiches, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be craving more creative plant-based dishes in no time. Here are my favorite vegetarian (or vegetarian-friendly) restaurants in various parts of the world.

  • Istanbul-Istanbul has excellent food, with many vegetarian-friendly options. I stumbled upon Karakoy Lokantasi while exploring the city and knew I had to check it out since it was packed with locals and very cute inside. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will find something to eat on the menu, but my suggestion is to simply make your meal out of a bunch of their mezes, or appetizers!  Everything I ordered was fresh and delicious. Be sure to try their muhammara!
  • Paris (Yes, you can survive as a vegetarian even in Paris!) – Le Potager du Marais is a cute and cozy vegan restaurant in a great part of town. They replicate several classic French dishes like soupe a l’oignon and boeuf bourguignon using plant-based substitutes. Great people watching too if you sit on the patio!
Enjoying people watching and plant-based cuisine on the streets of Paris!

Enjoying people watching and plant-based cuisine on the streets of Paris

  • Rome – If ever in Rome, be sure to sample the city’s famous pasta dish, cacio and pepe, a pasta with a cheese and pepper sauce. Anthony Bourdain and I both highly recommend trying it at Roma Sparita in particular, as they serve their pasta dish in a crispy parmesan cheese bowl and it is delicious! Make a reservation or get there early as this place fills up fast!
  • Rio – It seems as though Rio has a juice bar on every corner, so it’s possible to get almost any type of fruit juice and an acai bowl at any hour! However, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to find fresh vegetables in restaurants, as meat is a huge part of the Brazilian culture. Never fear though! There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in Rio including two of my favorites: Universo Organico in Leblon and Biocarioca in Copacabana.
  • Madrid – Spaniards love their pork and patatas bravas. If you would like something a bit healthier, go no further than Yerba Buena. I recommend stopping by for their three course lunch special…but be warned, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day…they serve insanely large dishes and all for a great price!
Course number two at Yerba Buena. You’ll definitely leave there stuffed!

Course number two at Yerba Buena. You’ll definitely leave there stuffed!

Overall, with a little forethought and a bit of research, it is absolutely possible to travel abroad while sticking to your normal dietary choices. Now, tell us about your favorite restaurants below. If you have dietary restrictions, what do you do differently while traveling?

Bon voyage et bon appétit!

– Danielle