ACES/ ENG Cultural Immersion and Research: Part II

July 16, 2016

Hangzhou, China

(Presently in Chicago, Illinois)

It feels surreal to think that just two months ago I was preparing to set out on my study abroad trip to China. Having returned, it feels like I just woke up from a dream but all of the remnants of it are scattered throughout each day. I find myself trying to listen for the Chinese language in passing conversations or trying to replicate flavors in my kitchen. This constant longing for pieces of Chinese culture to reappear in my life is proof of this trip’s impact on my life.

This experience allowed me to learn another language, meet new friends, try my hand at research and see another part of the world. It was everything I could have asked for in my first trip outside of the country! To be honest, one of my biggest take-aways from the trip was that China is not as different from America as I thought and ended up being quite different from the image others had painted in my head. This realization has prompted me to reconsider my current view of other country’s cultures. I don’t think I can make a full judgement about another country or culture without experiencing it for myself. To top it off, Chinese culture was not a homogeneous as I once thought it to be but it is a culture with so many regional flavors that it will take a second trip to grasp the entirety of it.

In regards to the research portion of the trip, I conducted research in the area of biogas upgrading in Zhejiang University’s Bio-Energy and Bio-Materials Lab. I was able to experience the work ethics and experiment procedures of an engineering lab and a cellular biology lab at the same time which helped broaden my lab experience. Additionally. my PhD mentor was from Egypt and was able to give me a completely different perspective n Chinese and American culture than I would have received otherwise. He introduced me to Muslim-Chinese cuisine, Egyptian culture and he even gave me a better understanding of Islam!

Overall, it was a great experience that I already miss. I miss the language, the friends I made, the food,the mountains and rivers…..for now I suppose the Chinese music I downloaded will help out. Until next time China and friends!

In the words of my friend Quan Quan, “see you in…years”.


Allen Bell

(The image is the peak of Yellow Mountain (Huangshan). The skies cleared once we got to he peak. We were 1.2 miles above sea level.)



Europe, Italy, Rome, Uncategorized

Rome, Italy – Food and Culture Program (post 2)

After a month in which quickly became my favorite city, I completely fell in love with Rome. I instantly loved the culture, customs, and norms that the city has.

February was a fun month. It was the first month of traveling we got to do. I went to class and explored Rome Monday through Friday, then when the weekends came I took full advantage of it. We even had some Fridays off which made for longer getaway weekends.

My first trip outside of Italy was to Prague, Czech Republic. It was a strange feeling at first, even getting on the plane and traveling to another country (especially since I’ve never left the U.S. before). We got settled in and started exploring right away. We hit the main tourist stuff like Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, and Prague’s Astronomical Clock. It was such a cute and friendly town.

Other weekend trips in February included Paris, France, Interlaken, Switzerland, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Being exposed to these different countries was truly an incredible experience. I found myself comparing them to the U.S., as well as Italy. Each country is so uniquely different that I’m glad I could see firsthand.

Even with all of my weekend trips I was lucky to do this month, I was always happy to come back home to Rome.

-Madelynne Murphy

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

France, Uncategorized

LaSalle, France: Cooking for health (1)

We missed our flight to Charles de Gaulle airport when we were transferring in London, so we flew to Orly airport instead. My friend Cheryl lost her luggage. It was a bad start of the week.

On Tuesday (May 17th), our cooking for health program officially started. Week 1 was French class. We had 4-5 hours French each day.

On weekend, we went to Paris. I love millefeuille. I brought one from Pierre Herme and one from Sadaharu Aoki (a Japanese patisserie). Both of them were awesome.

I’m not a huge fan of macaron, but I have to admit they are good.


Week 2: we had cooking class!

We learned how to bake croissant and pain au chocolate. They were the best I’ve ever had. There were so fresh and crispy.

We cooked “Angry”, “Love”, “order”, and “joy”. 2 sweet dishes and 2 salty dishes.


The dining hall is based on a point system. The main dish worths about 8 points. The entree and sides are around 2-3 points. Basically, we can get a hot plate and 3 sides.

Friday visiting Ducasse was a blast. It was definitely the best day. We visited the chocolate shop and tasted some awesome chocolate. Tried some olive oil. a looot of meat. We even went to the restaurant at the top of Eiffel tower. It was so beautiful.


#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad

Costa Rica, VIDA

Pura Vida: ANSC 398 in Costa Rica Part 2

For the VIDA: Pre-Vet tour, we had 6 clinic days and 3 recreation days. I want to talk more about what we did on our recreation days for my 2nd blog post. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, and we visited at the perfect time of year. Our VIDA guide, Pablo, told us that Costa Rica really only has 2 seasons: A wet season and a dry season. We arrived in early January, which is right in between. Some days could get hot if we were standing in the sun for too long, but the breeze was always cool and in the shade the temperature was perfect.

Our first recreation day we went to La Playa Hermosa, which is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beaches. We arrived early in the day, around 10AM. We immediately found some guides that would take us out on a small boat to a good snorkeling area. The water was unbelievably clear, and it actually wasn’t cold. There were tons of fish, and some students even saw sea turtles. This was the day that every single person got sunburned! We all applied sunscreen, but most of us forgot about reapplying after a few hours. We didn’t leave the beach until 5PM!


La Playa Hermosa


Our second recreation day was spent horseback riding and tubing down a river. The horseback riding adventure was short but fun. Many of us hadn’t ever been on a horse, so it was definitely a learning experience. They gave us helmets just in case! We rode the horses down to a school bus that would take us to the start of the tubing area. The guides said it was a Level 2 whitewater river (I had no idea what that meant at the time) but it ended up being really fun. The water was cold, but the sun was out and we were all enjoying ourselves so much that we didn’t even notice. We all slept on the bus back to our hotel that day.


On the bus on the way to Liberia

Our third recreation day was spent at Santa Rosa National Park. We visited a very old estate that had been renovated to be a museum. We were able to learn about the history of Costa Rica, and they had some interesting artifacts on display. After we walked through the display areas, we walked up some outdoor stairs to a lookout point. The climb was long and sweaty, but the view was worth it! We all took turns posing and taking pictures. We even got to see some Capuchin monkeys up close. Our last recreation day was bittersweet because we went straight from the park to the airport hotel. I think we were all grateful for the experience, but we were also ready to go home.


The viewpoint at Santa Rosa National Park

I loved going on this study abroad trip. It was the perfect length of trip for me, and it went to a country that I would not have visited on my own. I would go on this trip again in a heartbeat if I had another year left in school.

Leanne Hahn

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad


Costa Rica, Uncategorized, VIDA

Pura Vida: ANSC 398 in Costa Rica Part 1

I went to Costa Rica for 10 days during Winter Break ’15-’16 for the VIDA Pre-Vet program. For my first blog post about my amazing experience, I would like to share some of the things I learned while working at the pop-up clinics. From Day 1, the VIDA veterinarians trusted us with every tasks. They would show us how to do it the first time, then they would trust us to do it ourselves. We were able to place IV catheters, intubate animals (with supervision) and administer medications. The vets were very kind and helpful. They were always watching and ready to help if we needed it, and they didn’t mind if we asked tons of silly questions. They never made us feel bad for our mistakes, and they always gave us useful feedback. We would hold small meetings at the end of every clinic day to review what we learned that day, and to share helpful tips with other students on the trip. The vets even asked for constructive criticism on both their language and their attitudes.


A view of a school from our first clinic location in Hojancha.

We had 6 clinic days in total in which we helped 167 small animals and 107 large animals. The majority of the small animals were brought to clinics for spay/neuter. We were put into pairs and given a cat or dog, and we stayed with our animal from start to finish. We learned how to take vitals and do proper physical exams, then we were able to assist in surgery. One person acted as the surgeon’s assistant (Sterile gloves, mask, and cap!) and the other was the anesthetist to make sure the animal was stable. The vets let us do sutures and clamping, and they made sure we all saw at least one of each kind of surgery. It was an amazing experience, and every person I met was friendly and welcoming.


The hotel we stayed for our clinics in La Cruz.

I gained so much from this 10 day trip. I was able to fine-tune skills that I already knew, and I learned some new things along the way. There were many techniques that the vets taught us to do in Costa Rica that I wouldn’t be able to learn without special certification in the US. I also learned a lot about the culture and the people of Costa Rica. Our guide from VIDA was amazing, and he made sure to show us a good time. I would recommend this program to anybody who wants to travel someplace new while gaining experience in the veterinary field.

Leanne Hahn

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad


#guatemala, Freshmen Discovery Program, Uncategorized

ACES 298 Discovery Course to Guatemala

Caoba Farms Volunteer Work Day

Today started off with a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns, toast, a variety of breads, and yummy fresh fruit. We then headed to a Caoba Farm for a fun day of work.

Once we arrived, we had a quick tour of the land, split into our teams (so cleverly named strawberry, mango, and kale), and went off to do different tasks. I was on team Mango. Each team had a separate last to do. Kale helped plant new crops, Strawberry learned how to pluck weeds, and Mangos made a fence and seeded wheat grain. Mangos also picked the berries that were given eaten as treats as the end of the work day. Surprise, raspberry bushes have thorns!

After hard work at the farms, we took a trip to Paraiso Azul (Blue Paradise) where we were treated to a relaxing afternoon at the pool. The pool was really cool because it was constantly filled by the natural springs from the mountains. According to our friend Emilio, a dip in the pool will have you coming out ten years younger (which would make most of us 9)!

Afterwards, we returned to the hotel and changed from our sweaty clothes, in order to prepare for the walking tour around Antigua. Unfortunately I had to sit out of this activity due to a sprained ankle. Instead, I practiced a little Spanish by trying to talk to some of the hotel staff. They were very nice.

We closed out our day with the usual free time/dinner. Some of the group enjoyed barbecue with a twist from Pappy’s while I and a few others ventured off to a wonderful meal at Mr. Sushi’s. After the meal we walked around and even made our way into a cute little bread shop. They had amazing banana bread. All in all it was a wonderful day, and now it is time to pack for the bright and early journey to Panjachel tomorrow.


Alexis Davidson

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

New Zealand, Uncategorized

Kia Ora from Christchurch, New Zealand

February 2016

Arriving weeks before school started, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel the South Island with some friends. It absolutely dumbfounded me that a country small enough to be able to drive across in 7 hours could hold so many different views. We saw jungles and rainforests, dry flat land, rolling hills, and snow covered mountains. Coming from the Chicago suburbs, I had never seen anything like it in my entire life. And the sheep- there were sheep everywhere. Just out of curiosity, we Googled it… and the ratio of sheep to people in New Zealand is 10:1. During our trip we hit just about every touristy spot available, but not even the huge busses and shuffling cameras could stop New Zealand from taking my breath away every time. Before I knew it, we were back in Christchurch and it was time for me to go back to reality and start school.

Roys Peak Jump

Roy’s Peak, Wanaka, New Zealand


Humboldt Falls, New Zealand


Hokitika Beach, New Zealand








Reality never really hit. Traveling to a country that speaks English I expected communication to be easy, but everywhere I turned I was hit with a culture shock. I started school on February 22nd, and before it even started I was already confused. I went from having three to four classes a day at UIUC to having one (or less) class a day at the University of Canterbury. In New Zealand the culture seems to be that teachers trust the students to value learning, and to me that trust basically means no homework the entire semester. All of my classes consist of attending lectures (which are optional because every class is recorded), a large project, and a final exam. Everything in New Zealand is intriguing me, and I can’t wait to see what else it has to offer.

Christina Katano