Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

Yesterday was the first day of the Chinese New Year, marking the Year of the Dog. The Chinese New Year begins on the second New Moon after the winter solstice and ends on the full moon fifteen days later. The Chinese calendar has been in continuous use for centuries, predating the International Calendar we use, which goes back only about 425 years. On the Chinese calendar, it is the Year 4703…pretty cool, huh?

The system of naming years after animals is extremely practical when you think about it. The animal system of the Chinese calendar rotates every twelve years. Knowing how old you are based on the Chinese calendar makes it really easy to remember how old you are, which is helpful for anyone; people born during the Year of the Dog are now either 0, 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 years old…and so on…

Chinese New Year celebrations include spectacular parades (the photo above shows the parade held in San Francisco) and fireworks, which are shot off at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve to send out the old year and welcome the new one.

Here are some links for more information about Chinese New Year:
SouthWest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade
University of Victoria Faculty Page
A great site for kids

Where To Study Spanish Abroad

By Anne-Marie Dingemans

I get this question a lot from prospective participants. They want to learn and/or improve their Spanish and ask which is the best place to go, in terms of accent and vocabulary. The reasons for this question are varied. Some of you use your Spanish mostly in contact with a specific population (for example: social workers working with a predominantly Mexican-descendant population, or someone who lives in a community with many Ecuadorian immigrants), others want to learn the "clearest" Spanish (easiest to understand by other Spanish speakers), and then there is the whole issue regarding Latin American Spanish versus Spanish from Spain. And I don't even want to get into the "Spanish or Castilian" dilemma! You know what I mean by Spanish language, right?

The truth of the matter is that the very vast majority of you will always speak with your own accent (American, German, Arabic, etc.), which will pretty much mask any local accent you may pick up. So you don't have to worry too much about which Spanish accent is "better" as there isn't an answer to that question anyway. Of course, studying in Spain will teach you to lissssp and use vosotros from the get-go, and studying in Argentina will give you vos and the unmistakable sing-songy accent. But this will not limit the amount and type of Spanish speakers who will understand you. Everyone in the Spanish speaking world understands each other. Every country has a vast amount of colloquialisms and expressions that other Spanish speakers don't know or don't use, or -very dangerous- have a completely different meaning! What I usually see is that Spanish speaker switch to a more "standard Spanish" when speaking to someone who is not from their home region, and that includes you.

So, unless it's really of great importance to you that you learn a specific accent, colloquialisms and expressions used in a particular region, I would just pick the location that suits your needs, interests and budget best. If you are a beach person, you'll be much happier in Samara Beach than in Cusco. You'll learn much more in an environment you enjoy! Exceptions to this rule could be people that will have to communicate on an advanced level with a limited group of Spanish speakers from the same background, and in that case not only the accent is important, but also the habits of that group. And in that situation the argument for taking a total immersion course that will not only teach you the language, but also the culture, cuisine and customs of that region, is only stronger!

Tips to Learning a Language

By Connie Marianacci

Trying to learn a language once you arrive to a new city, meet new people, with a lot of new things to do, a lot of excursions and cultural activities and night life, it gets quite hard to sit down and study everyday, or even do your homework.

But, most likely you are going to have homework and to get most out of this experience you probably want to request homework!

This is why setting up your mind before arriving to the location that you really want to be consistent and study every day at least one hour a day is important. I know now you are thinking "you are crazy" but having been there myself I can honestly tell you that I learned a lot more when I did my homework and studied every day after school than when I didn't.

Once you arrive, make a rule for yourself that you will not speak in your own language at any time, unless you have an emergency of course. At the school, at the host family and even after school you should try to speak in the local language even with those that keep on switching to their native tongue. Everything you read should be local, the TV and even the radio if you listen to one.

You will notice that little by little you will start thinking in the language, you will be thinking in your mind how would I say this, and I am now going here, what would I say? And you would be having all these thoughts in the local language!

Comic books are a great piece of literature if you are starting. They are easy to read and you will learn a lot! If you are more advanced, then you definitely want to get to the newspapers.

If you want to watch a movie, make sure it is in the local language.

And last but not least, when going to the store, speak in the local language! Even if it takes you a while to make yourself understood!

Review: Anchee Min

By Beth Klemick

In the spring of 1997 I had the opportunity to visit China, at that time Hong Kong was still independent from mainland China and the control of Beijing. In fact I can recall standing in Tiananmen Square looking at a gigantic sign along the one side of the square that was counting down the days until Hong Kong was "to be returned" to the control of mainland China. Although dazzled by metropolitan Hong Kong, Beijing and the political history of China absolutely fascinated me. A friend took a picture of me next to the statue of Mao Zedong, Chairman and leader of the Chinese Communist Party, the ruling government of Mainland China. Mao's legacy has produced a large amount of controversy. Some Chinese mainlanders continue to regard Mao Zedong as a great revolutionary leader, but he is most known for the diastorous Cultural Revolution which purged, tortured, and publicly humiliated millions. That visit sparked my interest to read and learn more about Mao Zedong's life and China, while in my searches for reading material I came across the novel Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min. Although this novel is listed as fiction it provides strong, factual background. The great appeal of this book to me was the focus on Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing. Madame Mao Zedong is universally known as the "white-boned demon", and some believe she was the driving force behind the Cultural Revolution. The book was rich in detail and character building while providing intimate details of the myth of Madame Mao Zedong and the history of China and this dynamic, controversial couple.

Reduce Jet Lag when Traveling Abroad

By Elizabeth Gregory

Just about everyone who has flown across at least 3 time zones has experienced jet lag. Supposedly it takes one full day per time zone for your body to fully adjust. This means that if you're flying from New York to Paris, you will need about 6 days to be adjusted. Not a good thing if you're on a quick 3-4 day trip. Although jet lag is different for everyone, the symptoms of jet lag can be physical and mental.

Here are some tips on how to reduce the jet lag you experience:

  • Set your watch to the new time in advance.
  • Try to eat and sleep on the new schedule a day or two in advance if possible.
  • Only sleep on the plane if it's night at the new destination.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • There are differing opinions about sleeping or staying up when you get to your destination. If you are really tired, a short power nap might help. Don't nap too long or you may feel worse.

Flyana had some interesting facts. I was stunned to find out that airplane cabin air is dryer than a desert and that meals are served at times that will increase your jetlag.

We'd love to hear any tips that you have…

Coming Soon – Audio Phrase Books

I just learned from the guys at CyraKnow that they're going to be adding some new languages to their Rambler iPod phrase books. They currently offer audio phrase books in Spanish, French, Italian and German, and come March, they will be offering them in Arabic, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin. I'll be checking them out once they're available, and I can't wait.

You all know how crazy I am about my iPod, and I really can't say enough about the Rambler phrase books. I'm learning German slowly but surely, and the German Rambler has been a great way to keep me going without having to carry the book that accompanies my German audio lessons in my already much too heavy schoolbag.

Venezuela Cooking: Arepas Recipe

By Connie Marianacci

If there is one thing I miss about Venezuela it is the Arepas! Arepas for breakfast, arepas for lunch and arepas for dinner.

They are very simple to make and great!



  • 1 cup of precooked corn flour masarepa/masarica/masaharina(precooked fine granulated white or yellow cornmeal found at ethnic section of supermarket or ethnic grocers)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 half teaspoon of salt
  • 1 half teaspoon of butter


  • Add the salt to the water
  • Then add the flour little by little and knead until it turns to a dough. Add the half teaspoon of butter.
  • Start making small balls of dough about 4 inches wide and flatten them until they get about half an inch thick.
  • To cook you can either put them in the oven or toast them. Serve them warm.

My favorite is to cut them in the middle and put cheese so it melts! You can also put ham and cheese, butter, meat and anything else you want.

Arabic Cooking: Our Moroccan Meal

By Sue Lavene

Perhaps we cannot just leave our desks and take a trip to Morocco spur of the moment. However, right in our city of Philadelphia, with fabulous multi-ethnic restaurants the norm, the staff at AmeriSpan enjoyed an evening "away" at a Moroccan restaurant, sharing a traditonal Moroccan feast in celebration of the 2005 holidays.

Exotically decorated in authentic décor, this casual and cozy restaurant was furnished with low sofas, large comfy pillows, dim lighting and the best part – no utensils! It's the perfect excuse to eat family style with your hands (hopefully scrubbed clean beforehand!), well, except for the soup.

A waiter carrying a large metal pitcher greeted us and passed out white hand towels to everyone. We were all instructed to gather our hands together over a pail, rubbing them together as he poured out the water, an impressive and fun (though not effective) display of ritual hand washing. We dried our hands with the towels provided that doubled as our napkins.

For the first course out of seven, Harira – a Moroccan soup traditionally eaten to break the fast during Ramadan – we used long wooden sticks with one end pointy, the other a small triangular shaped spoon.

The second course one of my favorites, a plate of 3 types of salads, one a creamy garlicky eggplant dip, another similar to the Mexican pico de gallo with tomatoes and onions and lastly, chopped carrots. Served with pita wedges, it was fun to watch my colleagues to see who dug in without hesitation – regardless of the fact that when the pita was gone, we had to use our fingers – and who was more reserved and stopped after they had no more bread.

Our eager palates were then introduced to the savory and sweet part of the meal, Bastilla, a traditional pigeon pie made from crushed almonds, eggs, warka or a phyllo-type dough and lots of powdered sugar on top. Of course, they wouldn't dare use Philadelphian pigeons because they wouldn't work well (so I hoped!) but used chicken instead. A vegetarian version was also served for me though I enjoyed the chicken better.

The next two courses were the tender and tasty whole roasted chicken with harisa cumin sauce and olives that we ripped apart with our hands and a huge plate of vegetable couscous.

As if we hadn't yet had enough food, for dessert, we were served a bowl of whole fruit, yummy pastries that tasted like baklava and hot mint tea to top off the dinner.

Of course, my blog would be incomplete if I didn't mention the hookahs for two being smoked by couples around us throughout the night.

Honestly, I had not had Moroccan food before this meal so I cannot vouch for its authenticity; however, it was delicious and I would definitely encourage people to experience it – for the ambiance and the food – at least once!

Elections in Chile

By Beth Klemick

My original blog entry today was to cover the structure of the European Union; instead I wanted to write about a more current event that occurred this past Sunday in Chile. Michelle Bachelet became the first elected female chief executive officer in Latin America. Her political rise and election as Chile's first female President is unique. President-elect Michelle Bachelet is the fifth female President in Latin America, but she is the first female in Latin American political history whose rise to power was not linked to a powerful husband. Latin America has seen four female leaders: Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua, Janet Jagan in Guyana, and Mireya Moscoso in Panama; all three of these women obtained political influence and power via the deaths of their husbands and the political positions they held. Lastly in history, who could forget Maria Estela Isabel Peron, who served a disastrous stint as chief executive after the death of her husband, Argentine President Juan Peron, in 1974.

Michelle Bachelet is a physician and single mother of three, and she has endured much strife. Her father, who was a general in the Air Force and sympathized with Salvador Allende's democratically elected leftist government, was arrested and tortured during the Pinochet-led coup in September 1973. He died in custody then Michelle and her mother were subsequently arrested. While in exile both she and her mother were active in the Chilean opposition movement.

Michelle Bachelet will be sworn in for her four-year term on March 11. She won nearly 54% of the vote, based on a tally from more than 97% of polling stations, as quoted by the government Electoral Service.

Communicating Abroad

By Elizabeth Gregory

Although I typically travel to foreign countries where I speak the language (or know that there are many English speakers nearby), on occasion I have found myself in places where it has proven difficult to communicate. Here are some helpful hints to getting by in a place where you don't speak the language but still need to communicate:

Know before you go:

  • Simple phrases like "hello", "excuse me", "please", "thank you", "how much", etc. make a huge difference and usually people are nicer to you if they see you're not understanding but are making an effort to try a few words.
  • How the money system works (in other words denominations of coins, etc). Not all countries have a number printed on the coin (hello, US). You'll be better off figuring it out in advance than having someone try to explain something you won't understand anyway.
  • Where you will be staying. If possible have the address printed out on a piece of paper so you can show it to any taxi driver and politely smile.

Other suggestions:

  • Picture cards – I've seen this in travel stores. Basically it's a laminated piece of plastic about the size of a placemat. There are all kinds of pictures on it (fruits, vegetables, types of meat, etc.). Although I don't know anyone who has tried this, it seems like a good idea.
  • Small phrase book – these are very useful and if you don't want to embarrass yourself trying to speak the language you can always point to the particular phrase in the book.
  • When in doubt act it out. I've heard and experienced so many cases of this overseas. You'd be amazed at how much quicker you can get your point across with some mime skills included.