Holly Nord '17

Someone asked me, “What advice would you give others considering studying abroad?”

I say, “Do it anyway.”

You do not want to miss out on things that might happen when you are away.  You are worried about your GPA.  You have a hard enough time rooming with someone from a similar background, and cannot imagine living with someone from the other side of the world.  You are addicted to Chipotle.  Your language level is not up to par.  You already have other plans.

You are looking for excuses.

Life is filled with ups and downs, whether you are at home or in a new place.  No, junior year abroad was not the best year of my life.  I had class at 8 a.m. five days a week, checked the air quality index five times a day, and asked “Are you still there? Did the connection drop?” at least five times every Skype call.

This year I studied countless Chinese characters, learned things about the economy that I probably should have already known, and was forced to question many things that I did not previously realize were cultural constructs because they are so ingrained in American society.

And I learned to truly feel things.  Maybe it was because I was an expat and everyone already expected Americans to be dramatic and do strange things, but I felt less ashamed to admit it when I felt anxious, confused, exasperated, stupid, naive, lonely.  By talking about all of those things with my friends, roommates, teachers, and old people in the park I realized they had been there before, too.  Similarly, we all celebrated everything more wholeheartedly.  We were less self conscious and did things without worrying how they might seem to others.  We sang on the subway, talked freely with strangers, ate dumplings too much and did laundry too little.  We drank tea and tequila, made brownies in a toaster oven, video chatted with friends at 4 a.m. local time, and said prayers together before takeoff and landing.  We skipped class to recover from traveling or just to cry.  We carried each other.

Yes, you can have all that without ever leaving.  But there is something about going away that makes coming home better.

My friend was right to ask about advice for students considering studying abroad, instead of just asking “How was abroad?!” like most people.  Unfortunately, there is no universal advice…  The best response I can give is to reply as if I am giving advice to my past self.  And that is this:  Do it anyway.

You will feel incredibly out of place on some days, and indescribably invincible on others.  The server might (will) crash during enrollment, you might get food poisoning, you might have to sleep on the floor, and your pictures will never do the ice festival or the Great Wall justice.  I hope you* do it anyway.  In the end, you will be glad you did.


*Please tell me you already know and love this song:  “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack


My roommate Yingnan and me in Suzhou


Fellow interns at JUCCCE




“Venice of the East”


Fun fact: There is a roller coaster inside the Oriental Pearl Tower.


I have wanted to go to Thailand for years now, and last week I finally got to spend the week there with two classmates!  Knowing we were going to be traveling to Bangkok, Phuket, and several nearby islands definitely was my motivation to get through midterm exams.  Although we all ended up with food poisoning at the beginning of the trip, we had a really great time overall.

In Bangkok, we went to most of the famous landmarks including the Grand Palace, temples, and floating markets.  When we got to Phuket, it was 100 degrees so we joined in Songkran traditions and celebrated the Thai New Year.  It was great to spend the majority of our time outside swimming, snorkeling, and exploring.

It is always hard to return from vacation, but I realized I really do like my life here in Shanghai.  While we were away, we all realized how much we loved Chinese food, learning Chinese, and living with our roommates.  When I leave in six weeks, I definitely will have a lot to miss.  At the same time though, I am looking forward to interning at Worcester Community Housing Resources, Inc this summer.

In other Worcester-related news, I enrolled in classes last week. (Or more accurately, my amazing roommate actually registered for me because I could not connect to the server.)  Next semester I will be taking two classes in the Chinese department, two in the political science one, and a religion course in the Classics department.  I am also pleased to announce I will be a program director at the SPUD site Let’s Get Ready.  Next week, we will know where we will be living next year… which I cannot believe because it does not seem like we are already rising seniors.*

Until then, enjoy the photos below, all taken by my friend Katherine.  And even though this was written in 2011, I recommend reading this brief by Joshua Kurlantzick at Council of Foreign Relations: Thailand: A Democratic Failure and Its Lessons for the Middle East.


*Check out this song: “On Our Way” by The Royal Concept

Khao Phing Kan

Khao Phing Kan

Canal tour featuring Wat Arun

Canal tour featuring Wat Arun

Bangla Walking Road, Phuket

Bangla Walking Road, Phuket

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok


Thai ice cream rolls

Thai ice cream rolls

Pineapple fried rice

Pineapple fried rice

Patong Beach, Phuket

Patong Beach, Phuket


Since the reform and opening up, the number of college students coming to China to study has increased every year.  And so has the number of lists Americans make to give advice to others traveling to China for the first time.

I do not have any advice to give that has not been said before, but the following are small, day-to-day lessons I have learned this year.*  Hopefully, at least some of them are things that take you by surprise and make you say, “Hm, interesting, you learn something new everyday!”

• There are rarely trash cans / recycling bins on the streets

• The first thing your waiter asks when you enter the restaurant is how many people are in your party

• After you order, he promptly asks if you want the spicy or the normal version

• Chinese girls wear what they want to wear when they want to wear it.  Ex. flower sprouts to a karaoke bar, high heels to the Great Wall, leather pants to the gym

• 下车 is basically like saying “open sesame”

• It is perfectly acceptable to ask your waiter to bring the food faster if you are running late

• People take the plastic bag ban seriously and do always charge you extra if you ask

• There is no open-container law

• Wechat is amazing, and not just because of the stickers

• There are huge gaps between this generation and the last, men and women, the city and the countryside, and the south and the north

• If a student is sick, the teacher will make a visit.  And then he or she will advise the student to wear warmer clothes and drinks more water.

• Choose Skype or VPN, you cannot have them both at once

• People are quite willing to talk about politics and religion

• They also have no qualms about staring

• The cars will not hit you, but the motorcycles might

• You can buy anything on taobao… and if you can’t read characters, there’s baopal to help you make your purchase

• Even if they act like they cannot understand English, they probably can.  In particular, the young people have a very impressive vocabulary.  I have found they usually know what is being said, even if they do not join the conversation.

• I have yet to meet a person who actually asks 吃包了吗? as a greeting.  Actually, every young person I know first says “hello” or “hey” instead.

• If you are trying to access a password-protected wifi network, try the name of the restaurant or 88888888

*Check out this song:  “This Year” by Cooper


Why have normal raisins when you can have nuclear raisins?


l have been in Shanghai for a month now, still with CET and a Chinese roommate.  However, I am no longer in an intensive language program.  Instead of observing a language pledge and only taking Mandarin classes, I am interning and enrolled in three different courses.  I work three days a week at Joint United States – China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit organization downtown.  Watch these TED Talks to learn about JUCCCE and the China Dream:  TEDx and TEDxOccidental.

The other important component of the program is studying Mandarin – although this semester I only have class for two hours each day.  Every other Monday night, I take a seminar called Issues in the Chinese Workplace.  We are assigned readings on different topics (so far those have included religion, gender inequality, guanxi and corruption in China) and our program director arranges for different businesspeople in the city to give lectures to us about their understandings of the aforementioned topics.  Finally, all students take an economics course.  While it focuses mainly on the Chinese economy, we also learn about Asian and international affairs.

Shanghai is an amazing city – gorgeous, fast-paced, easy to get around, filled with all different types of people, foods, and sights.  The university where we live, Donghua, is in a good location, not too far from downtown and close to a good gym. (Thank goodness, because it is also close to tons of great eateries.)

As great as Shanghai is, I also am taking the opportunity to travel as much as I can.  So far, I have spent weekends in a watertown and in a village.  The first place, Wuzhen,was beautiful, and it made me look forward to spring in southern China.  Last weekend, my program took everyone on a hike through rice paddies.  We stayed overnight in Yugong Village, and despite the lack of water and heating, I had a great time.

This weekend, I stayed in the area and spent quality time with my roommate Yingnan.  She is really sweet, and she introduced me to her boyfriend and friends.  I initially was worried because that was my first time hanging out with a group of Chinese college students without any other Americans, but it turns out my fears were ungrounded.  I had a really great time and ended up staying for dinner as well.

During the next few weeks, I will be studying and interning more.  Then, for spring break, I am heading south* to Thailand with two kids from CET!  Look for pictures of the beach and pineapple fried rice in about a month.


*Check out this song: “South” by Hippocampus


Obligatory trip to the Bund

Obligatory trip to the Bund

Wuzhen Watertown

Wuzhen Watertown

On our way to the village

On our way to the village



Considering I eat rice every day, I thought it was about time I saw some rice fields

Considering I eat rice every day, I thought it was about time I saw some rice fields.

My roommate and me after we introduced the Chinese roommates to American s'mores

My roommate and me after we introduced the Chinese roommates to American s’mores



Unsurprisingly, winter break passed by really quickly.  I returned to Beijing for the month of January, studying Chinese with the same program as last semester.  Again, I only took language classes, except this month we had more class hours and less free time.  I met some nice people, but I really miss my friends from last semester.

Fortunately, I had an awesome roommate.  She is a graduate student at 首都师范大学, majoring in translation.  I spent a lot of time with her, and another Chinese roommate and her friend.  Last semester, I spent the majority of my time with other Americans, so it is nice that I got to learn more about Chinese students.

Because I was already used to studying Mandarin with CET, I made a conscious effort to do some new things.  Most notably, my friend and I took a weekend to go to Harbin.  We initially chose to visit Harbin after hearing about the spectacular annual ice festival, but upon arrival discovered how beautiful Harbin itself is as a city.  Even though it was 22 degrees below freezing, we still enjoyed walking around the Russian Quarter and visited St. Sophia’s Cathedral.

Also in the spirit of trying new things, I did the following:  went ice skating at Houhai, learned to make dumplings with classmates, made a reservation at a restaurant using Chinese, got a massage, ate hotpot with new friends, and went to the National Museum and Olympic Park.

After January Term concludes, students have a break before the next semester begins on February 17.  I am really lucky* to be spending mine in Europe, traveling to amazing cities and visiting friends studying abroad this spring.  Following my two weeks away from China, I will be flying back to Beijing and then taking a fast train to Shanghai, where I will begin the new semester.

I recently found out I will be interning at JUCCCE, a nonprofit organization working to create a livable China.  The other interns and I will be helping with outreach, research, and development.  We will be focusing on their New Way to Eat campaign, which also includes running workshops at local schools.  I was originally very unsure as to whether I was going to stay abroad the full year or return to campus.  However, now that I know more about the internship, I am glad I decided to stay in China both semesters and am already looking forward to starting the new semester mid-February.

*Check out this song:  “Lucky Day” by Hunter Hunted



C 班做的饭

Image 6


Image 4

Is this even China?


Six months plus in 中国 skate



Fall semester came to a close last Friday, and I flew home the following evening at 5:00.  14 hours after, I arrived in New Jersey, where it was still 5:50 on Saturday.   It is 4:00 in the morning right now, and I am wide awake due to jet lag, but I do not even care because I love being back here.  I am so grateful I can spend the holidays with my family and friends.

I have not blogged in a while, so I have a lot to recap.  Here are the main events of the past few weeks:

Thanksgiving:  CET hosted an American Thanksgiving lunch, complete turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and… moon cakes.

China Night:  Students classes ended, and every class put on skits and performances, using recently learned material from class.  I volunteered to be one of the hosts, and even though there were some rough moments, it was altogether a really good show.  Class performances included a skit about problems foreigners faced upon arriving in Beijing, a wedding ceremony, and a play on a Chinese dating game show.

Exams:  We had to present our ICIP projects, take two exams, and write a paper, all of which went pretty well.  The next day, we had our graduation ceremony.

Losing my phone:  I do not know where or when exactly I lost it.  Consequently, I do not have any of my own photos to post.  Photo credit to Suji.*

Tiananmen and Forbidden City:  Kyle and I had been living in Beijing since August, and had somehow missed going to these iconic sights.  On my last morning, we finally visited them both.  Even though it was freezing, seeing the flag rising and walking around the Forbidden City was completely worth it.

Flying home:  I flew home by myself for the first time, and quite proudly made it home without any difficulties.  Other than the woman seated to the right of me on the plane telling me my English was “almost perfect,” I could not have asked for a more smooth flight.

Visiting Holy Cross:  I got to see where I would have lived if I stayed on campus this year, go to midnight breakfast, and most importantly, catch up with my friends.  I video chat on Skype with my best friend weekly, but it is so much better to be able to talk in person.

*Check out Suji’s blog:  http://sujiinbeijing.blogspot.com/

Holy Cross students (minus one) at graduation banquet

Holy Cross students (minus one) at graduation banquet

Finally got to see the flag rise on my last day

Finally got to see the flag rise on my last day.



Every Friday, we have a written test, an oral report, and then lunch with our professors and classmates.  Usually, by that point in the week, I am so exhausted I simply go back to the dorm and rest or read.  However, yesterday I was not allowed that option.  Although I was pretty tired and would have enjoyed the time to relax, I am really glad CET arranged for us to visit a local school instead.

We each prepared a slideshow about an American topic of our choosing.  For instance, mine was about applying to college in the United States, someone else in my group talked about New York City, and another person reported on American football.  Afterwards, we were allotted 30 minutes to break the language pledge and help students with pronunciation and other things they were working on in their English language courses.  Students also performed a skit featuring words and grammar structures they had recently studied in English language class.

Next, we talked with them about their experiences as high school students in China.  They spoke a lot about preparing for the national exam, 高考 gaokao, which determines not only which college in China the student will attend, but also his or her academic major and future career.  Students also talked about their hometowns*, activities they enjoyed outside of school, and how they imagined the United States to be.  Finally, people played charades, 毽子 jianzi and musical chairs.

There are only three weeks remaining in the semester, and our schedules seem to be pretty full.  CET celebrates American Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Then, on the following Tuesday, we present our Holy Cross ICIP projects.  Three days after that is China Night, in which each class puts on performances to showcase what has been studied these past few months.  And then only one week of classes and final exams stand between China Night and the end of the program.


*Check out this song:  “Hometown” by Twenty One Pilots


Our dorm 中国房子 zhongguo fangzi

My favorite dumpling place on campus. Admittedly, it looks a little sketchy, but the food is amazing and you can’t beat $0.80 per meal.

Friday lunch with the teachers

The market I go to almost every morning to buy fruit


Today Beijing had its first snowfall of the season.  Other than that, nothing eventful has really happened since I last wrote.  My old roommate left (on her own accord), and they assigned me a new roommate already.  My new roommate’s name is Xuechao; she is very friendly and so far we are getting along very well.   Since I do not have any exciting stories to tell, I am going to share two stories about recent struggles I have had with the language barrier.

Last week, when I was doing laundry, I ran out of detergent.  I went to the neighborhood market to look for another box, and found what I thought was laundry detergent on the first try.  I brought the bottle to the clerk, who told me it was actually dish soap.  Then I asked her to show me where the laundry detergent was located.  She promptly brought me hand soap.  I had forgotten that most Chinese people use their hands to wash their clothes.  I tried to explain to her that I used a machine, but my meaning was lost and she ended up trying to direct me to a store which sold machines.  After I explained that I was not interested in purchasing a laundry machine, she brought me back to the hand soap.

My second story involves a similar miscommunication, because all the words used were interpreted correctly, but the meaning was not fully conveyed.  Xuechao took a nap before her afternoon exam, and when she woke up, she told me she did not want to take her test.  I tried to joke with her, so I said it could be our secret if she did not go to class.  However, she thought I was serious and had gave me a lecture on the importance of attending exams in China, followed by a few sentences warning against keeping secrets from roommates.  After her talk, I tried to tell her I was trying to make a joke, but she did not seem entirely convinced.

Sometimes I let these kinds of scenarios frustrate me, but lately I have been able to take them in stride and not let them bother me.  We now have fewer than five weeks remaining, and although I have had a great semester thus far, I still hope the best is yet to come.*  I was sick last weekend and early this week, but now I feel well-rested and ready for the final stretch.  Studying abroad definitely has had its ups and downs, and I hope to finish the semester on a good note.


*Check out this song:  “The Best Is Yet To Come” by Sheppard



Temple of Heaven

IMG_2670 IMG_2566 IMG_2641



I was Skyping with my parents the other day, and we realized I am more than halfway through with the fall semester.  The past few weeks seem like they have gone by fairly quickly.  I definitely miss autumn in New England, but I am happy with how things are going here as well.

Here is the boring part:  As if I were back in the States, I have going to class during the week, doing work and studying, eating lots of food, and hanging out with friends.

Here is the heartwarming part: Instead of going to the fields to see the fall foliage at its finest, I went to the park with my language class to interview old people.  Our lesson the day prior focused on the breaking of the iron-rice bowl in China and the effect it had on retirees.  It was really interesting to talk with people, and the park we went to was beautiful.  I think it is great that so many retirees go to the park daily.  They can fish, practice martial arts, and even take flamenco classes.

Here is the fun part: While going apple picking and eating cider donuts is not something you can do in Beijing, but I did sing at karaoke* with a lot of students from CET two weekends ago.  Until just then, I did not realize how much I miss the stage.  I have been dancing since I was three years old and still dance with Holy Cross Dance Ensemble (Did you go to their show last weekend?  If not, and even if you did, you should certainly go to their two performances in the spring.)  As a tribute to spring concert our first year on the Hill, all the Holy Cross students sang Nelly’s Hot In Herre together.

Here is the most typical study abroad part:  Rather than return home to Connecticut after midterms, I took a 16-hour train ride south to Hangzhou.  We were only there for a couple days, but we visited a Buddhist temple, tea fields and West Lake.  I also ate hot pot and tried the region’s famous Beggar’s chicken, Dongpo pork and green tea.  Even though I lost both the address to the hotel and my room key, I made it back to the hotel and still really loved my time in Hangzhou.

Here is the uplifting and entirely cliché part:  I am envious of everyone at home now.  I miss being with my family and friends, seeing the leaves change, drinking chai lattes, sitting by the fire.  But I also am looking forward to whatever the last half of the semester will bring.  We realized there are many places in Beijing we have yet to visit, so we decided that for the remaining Mondays, we will go somewhere in the city.  Today we went to the Temple of Heaven; next week is the Forbidden City.  Until next time,


*Check out this song:  “Karaoke” by Smallpools





Lin Yin Temple


Purple Bamboo Park


二百六十班 My Chinese language class with our teachers.
















Thanks to the Chinese holidays, we did not have classes last week.  My friends and I were lucky enough to be able to travel during this time, and after much back-and-forth, we booked an airbnb, train tickets, and packed our bags for Shanghai.

Our study abroad program this semester is based in Beijing.  It is a relatively safe and inexpensive city, filled with tons of history and culture.  Moreover, it is probably the best place for foreigners to learn standard Mandarin.  However, Beijing does not really inspire me like other cities I have been fortunate enough to visit, including New York, Rome, and Stockholm.

Shanghai, on the other hand, is absolutely breathtaking and gives the aforementioned cities serious competition.  Someone in the CET program advised us to stay in the French Concession, and it certainly did not disappoint.  If you did not read the characters on the street signs, you could trick yourself into thinking you were walking around downtown Georgetown in D.C., or even strolling through Back Bay in Boston.  The people were friendly, the cuisine was familiar, and the views were spectacular.

We had a really relaxing vacation overall.  Walking around and trying good food at different restaurants is always all right with me.  We also went shopping, bargaining for discounts on everything.  My favorite part of the trip, aside from not having too much homework to do, was looking at the harbor lights* on the nighttime boat cruise of the Putong River.  Even though we did not do too many other things, relaxing was nice and I think we all bonded on the trip.  We saw a different part of China, satisfied our American-style brunch cravings, and stayed up way too late making fun of each other every night.

Although we did not have class, I did learn a few things:

• To avoid having the driver drive away with one person still in the cab, everyone should exit the vehicle at the same time.

• If the price seems too high, start to walk away, and more often than not, the storekeeper will lower it.

• The Wu dialect is sometimes impossible to understand.

• We really missed organic food.

• You should probably do your homework before you leave for vacation.

• Eating fruit from the street will not kill you.

• But a 15-hour overnight train ride just might.

Wednesday marked our fifth week of the semester; we are more than one third of the way through the program.  With fewer than 10 weeks remaining, I still have tons of things to do, including exploring Beijing and going to Hangzhou with CET.  Until then,


*Check out this song: “Harbour Lights” by A Silent Film



The Bund by day

The Bund by night

The Bund by night


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