Tag Archives: international activities

Practicing Meditation

Lydia Seiter

Lydia Seiter,
Junior, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Athens, OH 14 February 2019

This semester, I returned from a year away from Ohio University which I spent interning and studying abroad. During that year away, I learned so many things about myself and the world around me, and I have been attempting to incorporate some of those learnings into my daily life here in Athens.

One of these learnings is meditation. While studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I had the remarkable opportunity to participate in a 4-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat at Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a 700-year old Buddhist temple.

Vipassana, or insight meditation, is the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of existence. It is believed to be the form of meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself.

The daily schedule was as follows:


  • 5 am: Wake up

  • 5:30 am: Dharma Talk, which was an inspirational speech from our teacher monk

  • 7 am: breakfast

  • 8 am: morning meditation

  • 11 am: lunch

  • 12 pm: afternoon meditation

  • 1:30 pm: meditation report to teacher. I would report on my progress to the teacher monk, and he gave me new challenges and assignments, such as increasing the duration of each meditation session

  • 2 pm: more afternoon meditation

  • 6 pm: evening chanting. This practice involved reading devotions to Buddha in the ancient language of Pali

  • 7 pm: evening meditation

  • 9 pm: bedtime


Along with the strict schedule, there were many rules: wear all white, no speaking, no eating after 12 pm, no use of electronic devices, no reading, no writing, and no yoga or exercise. These rules were in place to limit our distractions and external stimuli, so that we could maximize our mindfulness. The hardest rule to follow was not eating dinner—I got extremely hungry fasting for 19 hours!

Though undertaking this experience seemed daunting to me at first, it was an incredible 4 days. It was surprisingly easy for me to remain silent at all times, because I enjoyed the chance to look inwards in a way I’m not able to in daily life. I enjoyed the practice of walking meditation more than sitting meditation—I found it easier to be mindful and not become distracted in this position.

The silent meditations were absolutely an exercise in self-discipline and endurance of suffering, such as when my legs would get tired or sore from sitting still. But our teacher monk advised us to focus on the suffering or distraction for 3 seconds, and then come back to meditation. I loved this tactic; I wasn’t ignoring the distraction or dwelling on it, I was simply acknowledging it and then letting it drift away.

The best thing about meditation is that it can be done anywhere. I don’t have to be with monks in a temple to focus on my breathing and calm my mind. It can be done in moments between classes, as a study break, a way to start my day in the morning, or a way to relax before I fall asleep. It’s important to make time for the things that make you feel good!

Customs of the Netherlands

Illona Hartman

Illona Hartman,
Junior, Civil Engineering

Athens, OH 27 January 2019

Over winter break, my boyfriend—born and raised in Ohio—and I traveled down to The Netherlands, my home country. During this busy, but fun trip I realized once more that two Western countries can still have a lot of differences.

When I first traveled to America about 3.5 years ago, my first experience was based on a 7-hour layover in a “fish bowl” a-like airport in Newark. Then a quick stop at MacDonald’s in Athens for my “late dinner” before passing out on a couch at my former teammates’ apartment while my body clock told me it was past 4 am. Ever since that day, I have experienced many other, foreign situations and differences in the Dutch and American culture:


  1. The Dutch love their cheese and eat it with a flat cheese slicer.

  2. The Dutch can eat bread for every meal, especially with “Calve Pindakaas” (peanut butter) and “Hagelslag” (chocolate sprinkles).

  3. In The Netherlands everyone bikes to school or work, even in winter when it is freezing outside and/or snowing.

  4. The Dutch LOVE black licorice candy, especially the salty kinds and in the shape of a Dutch herring.

  5. A typical dinner in a Dutch restaurant takes at least 2 hours and it is normal for the waitress/waiter to not introduce oneself and the customers may see at least 3 different faces to serve them over the span of the evening.

  6. Ohio is five times the size of my country, while The Netherlands houses twice the population of Ohio.

  7. It takes you 5 hours to drive from Athens to Michigan, while in The Netherlands you would have crossed Belgium to reach Paris, France, in the same amount of time.

  8. Americans normally get a driver’s license around 16 or 17, in The Netherlands the average age to start driving a car is 22.

  9. In America it is not common to go to graduate school (right) after an undergraduate degree, in The Netherlands it is basically required to get a master’s degree after a bachelor’s due to a leveled education system.

  10. The Dutch McDonald’s is much better and more modern even though it was first established in America. Especially the Dutch milkshakes are yum!


Even after this trip with my boyfriend and pointing out those differences once again, I still equally love my 2 home countries and I am excited to get the best of both cultures while studying at Ohio University.

Visiting Angkor Wat

Lydia Seiter

Lydia Seiter,
Junior, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Athens, OH 16 November 2018

Since I completed a 6-month co-op at DuPont earlier this year, I decided to spend fall semester studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. During fall break, I embarked on a 17-day solo trip through Vietnam and Cambodia. My favorite destination of my itinerary was Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat is an ancient temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which was built during the Khmer empire’s reign a thousand years ago. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, but it gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

Angkor Wat

It took 37 years for one million people to build! The workers used elephants for labor, and floated the giant stone slabs down a river on rafts. As an engineer, it was truly incredible to appreciate such a feat of architecture, especially before the days of CAD, Excel, and fancy calculators.

Angkor Wat

Walking throughout the grounds of the temple, visitors can see the peaceful, majestic ancient ruins reclaimed by trees and roots. The best part of my visit was meeting three Buddhist monks! They had come to Angkor Wat on their day off to practice English with foreigners, which was auspicious because I could also practice my Thai with them.

Angkor Wat

It was such a special experience to wander with these personal tour guides and hear their insight into Cambodian culture, history, and monkhood.

Visiting Kuala Lumpur

Lydia Seiter

Lydia Seiter,
Junior, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Athens, OH 26 September 2019

The stars aligned beautifully to allow me to spend fall semester 2018 studying abroad in Thailand! Because I completed a 6-month chemical engineering co-op at DuPont from January to July and didn’t take the necessary spring semester prerequisites, I wasn’t able to jump back into the fall semester courses. Additionally, as a Cutler Scholar, I am required to participate in an abroad enrichment experience, so this was the perfect window of time to do that.

I am taking 4 courses at Chiang Mai University: reading & writing Thai, speaking Thai, gender & sexuality studies, and an ethnic studies course about the hill tribes of Northern Thailand. It’s extremely fun and challenging to switch up my usual routine of studying math and science with some humanities courses.

I enrolled through a nonprofit program, University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), and I strongly encourage anyone reading this to check out their offerings: they’re extremely affordable, offer courses in fall, spring, and summer, and have locations on 6 continents! (Maybe one day, Antarctica…)

For my first trip out of the country of Thailand, I decided to visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the weekend with my friend Rabia from Humboldt State University in California.

We left on Friday after our morning classes, and arrived in Kuala Lumpur around 8 pm. After exchanging some Thai baht currency into Malaysian ringgit, we headed for the train station inside the airport. Kuala Lumpur’s infrastructure is amazing: they have a nonstop train (allegedly, the fastest in Southeast Asia) that takes you from the airport to the city center in less than half an hour—way faster than a car ride! It’s a true feat of civil engineering.

Kuala Lumpur

After taking the train and a cab to our hostel, which was an apartment in a luxury complex converted to hold 10 bunk beds, we fell asleep quickly, as we had lots planned for Saturday.

On Saturday, we woke up early and headed for a morning market. We indulged in “nasi lemak,” a traditional Malaysian dish with rice, pork skins, peanuts, and a fried egg. We also had Hainan coffee, a bitter Chinese coffee drink.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

After wandering through the market, seeing many Asian fruits such as rambutan and mangosteen, as well as seeing culture-shock inducing customs such as people smoking indoors, we headed for the KL Eco Park.

Kuala Lumpur

The KL Eco Park is a canopy walk, located right in the center of the city. It’s bizarre to walk on it and be completely enveloped by the jungle, just to look through the trees and see skyscrapers! Kuala Lumpur has so much lush, green space, forests, and plants – America, take note.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

After the Eco Park, we travelled to the aquarium, which notably had a moving sidewalk through a tunnel surrounded by giant marine exhibit! There were sharks, stingrays, and a wide array of fish species swimming next to us and above us. Definitely a sight to behold, and there were plenty of my personal favorite aquarium creatures: jellyfish!

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Remember when I said our hostel was an apartment in a luxury complex converted to hold 10 bunk beds? One of the benefits of this accommodation was the most amazing rooftop pool I have ever seen. The view completely took my breath away – all the most iconic Kuala Lumpur landmarks, like the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower, were unobstructed and panoramic in our field of vision. It was the perfect location to relax after a long day of walking and sightseeing.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

After resting up at the pool, we hailed a cab to what we thought was the night food market. Our driver, however, had a better recommendation, and we trusted his local wisdom. It was the best decision! We headed instead to Jalan Alor Night Food Market, and joined throngs of people in the pursuit of tasty, authentic, Malaysian cuisine.

Kuala Lumpur

We settled on a vendor peddling black pepper crab, hokkien mee (a Malaysian dish of egg noodles and rice noodles stir-fried with egg, slices of pork, prawns and squid, and served and garnished with vegetables, small pieces of lard, sambal sauce and lime), and satay. While we were elbow deep into tearing apart juicy crab meat with our bare hands, a server offered us plastic gloves, but it was too late! We resigned ourselves to getting messy as part of the meal.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

After all the excitement of trying delicious new foods, we headed back to our hostel, and fell asleep, anticipating another long day of exploring.

On Sunday morning, Rabia and I ate mango lassis, roti (a round, doughy flatbread native to India), and mutton at a local Indian-Malaysian restaurant.

Kuala Lumpur

There is a strong Indian influence on Malaysia, stemming from a history of Indian migration to Malaysia. Indian influence in Malaysia can be traced all the way back to AD 110, continuing through the colonial period, when Indians were brought to Malaysia as indentured servants under British rule. The migration continues today, in industries from tech to food. After our tasty breakfast, we then headed to one of Kuala Lumpur’s most famous landmarks, Batu Caves!

Batu Caves is one of the most popular Tamil shrines outside India, and is dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. This festival draws over a million people during January & February. This temple has 272 stairs leading to the cave, and it is a colorful, joyous, remarkable place. Not to mention: monkeys roam freely all over the site.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

We recovered at the rooftop pool again, then headed to our next hostel, which was right next to Chinatown! For dinner, I drank a coconut, and we shared dishes cooked in clay pots! We opted for stingray meat, which tasted very similarly to crab, and had a very tender flavor. However, I couldn’t quite shake the memory of looking at stingrays in the aquarium just the day before.

Kuala Lumpur

For dessert, we drank cane sugar juice, and watched the street vendor extract the juice from the plant right in front of us! The liquid tasted so naturally sweet in a way that the artificially sweetened foods do not. Lastly, we stopped at a Chinese bakery, where I munched on a lotus cake, filled with lotus seed paste. I’ve had so many interesting culinary experiences on this trip, biting into foods with no inkling or expectation as to what the taste will be! The lotus cake was dense, rich, and doughy.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Tired after a long day of exploring, we retired to our hostel, in order to catch the train back to the airport on Monday morning. All in all, Kuala Lumpur was a beautiful, diverse, modern city, and I’m very pleased that I chose to travel there for my first Asian trip out of Thailand!

How Underprivileged Communities Open up Jobs for Engineers

Illona Hartman

Illona Hartman,
Junior, Civil Engineering

Athens, OH 16 September 2018

In the summer of 2014, the year prior to transferring to Ohio University, I traveled to Swaziland for a mission trip.

Swaziland

Swaziland is a small kingdom in Southern Africa. This country is surrounded by the ocean and shares a border with both South-Africa and Mozambique.

Swaziland

Swaziland is a defined as a third world country. Similar to South-Africa, the kingdom of Swaziland itself and the government is not poor. However, the division between the poor and the rich communities is tremendous. For example, both countries have big Western shopping malls and massive tourism. On the other hand, those nations also know many underprivileged communities with water supply shortages and one of the highest HIV rates in the world.

Swaziland

Swaziland has the geographical benefit of mountains which is the biggest supplier for water in the cities. This water is drinkable without much treatment because of the natural sand and gravel layers in this mountainous area that filter the water. Nevertheless, access to water and the availability are becoming more scarce. Furthermore, water supply is often only accessible to those that are considered elite.

Swaziland

Swaziland is heavily dependent on its groundwater. Roughly 90% of the population, mainly in rural areas, use groundwater as their main water source. Currently only 10% of the 3,000 existing boreholes provide clear water. Most of the boreholes were drilled in this kingdom since 1980.

The main reason for the low percentages is the failure to fix existing water pumps when they break down. About 28% of water systems in rural areas broke down over the past 40 years and have not been fixed due to the lack of education and knowledge of the SiSwati population. In addition, during 2014 and 2016 Swaziland experienced a decrease in rainfall resulting in food scarcity.

It is clear that Swaziland, just like many other African countries, is dealing with drought and water scarcity issues. For this reason, a lot of foreign investors decide to do businesses elsewhere which has an enormous effect on the country’s economics too. Less access to clean water also has an immense health impact on the already high rates of HIV.

A solution could be a change in education system to start educating SiSwati citizens on how to properly reinstall and fix the water pumps that broke down in the past. Investing in exchange programs with Western universities to send civil engineers and environmentalists could also help rebuild those water systems. Those decisions will be up to the king Mswati III who is currently ruling the country.

Another environmental issue in Swaziland is the process of breaking down trash and treating wastewater. Currently there are no or limited regulations on trash logistics. Most trash of poor communities is collected in piles and burned on the hills. This has a tremendous effect on the environment. Simultaneously, it serves for job opportunities for civil engineers to come up with applicable solutions for the societal, health, economic, and environmental issues that Swaziland is facing today.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Illona Hartman

Illona Hartman,
Junior, Civil Engineering

Athens, OH 4 April 2018

For my second blog post of Spring semester, I decided to write about the differences in education system between my home country (the Netherlands) and the United States of America. It will be hard to emphasize those differences because some of the names and levels of education are not translatable. However, I hope this post will serve as a resource for High School students as well as OU students who are looking into a semester abroad.

Studying abroad has been the best decision in my life so far, which I hope everyone could experience! It widens your horizon. Studying abroad opened my eyes to several cultures and made it easier to communicate with people having different backgrounds. In school as well as in the work field, you will encounter people who have distinct believes and were raised in various parts of the world. In globalized times like this, I believe it is very important to understand those differences and respect one another.

That being said, I will try my best to explain the differences in education system that I experienced thus far. For example, at home we start off with kindergarten at the age of two up till four. When a child turns four, he or she goes to primary school (“basisschool”) up till twelve (grade 1-grade 8). At home, private schools are uncommon so most kids go to a local, public primary school at a walking distance of 5-10 minutes (yes my country is small, haha). 90% Of the Dutch elementary schools are part of the government and use the same teaching style around the same level of education.

When a primary school student reaches the age of 11 (grade 7), he or she is required to take a standardized test similar to the American SATs: “The Central End Test for Primary Education” (“CITO”). The results of this test in combination with another standardized test the following year (grade 8), determine what level of high school the student should do. Levels are directly related to above average, average, or below average test scores and the years one will be enrolled in high school (4, 5, or 6 years).

This test is also an important part of the decision to what high school one
would like to go since not all schools offer all different levels. The levels of high school are split up in three main levels:


  • 6 years of VWO (pre-university and
    research focused)

  • 5 years of HAVO (general second education, still provides entrance to university)

  • 4 years of VMBO (more technical, highest VMBO can continue to HAVO after graduation)


These first and third levels can be further divided into VWO-TTO (education in English), VWO-Gymnasium (focused on Greek, Latin and classical antiquity), VWO-Atheneum (basic), VMBO-T (entrance to HAVO), VMBO-basis, and VMBO-kader. The last two are focused on practical and technical education known as “technical schools” in the USA.

ALT

ALT

In our last year of high scool (“senior year”) we do a trip abroad with our class. I graduated high school with a VWO-Gymnasium degree, so we got to travel to Rome and experience all the ancient structures and art pieces we were taught about during our 6 years of high school!

ALT

ALT

ALT

ALT

Because of my Dutch high school degree and experience, the transition to a(n American) university was made a little easier than expected. Thus, use your opportunities to explore the world and become a sophisticated student creating for good!

Spring Break Trip to Slovenia

Veronica Ammer

Veronica Ammer,
Junior, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Athens, OH 21 March 2018

In early January, my Spring break plans were the same as every year preceding: I was going home to see my cat. By the third week of the semester, I had a plane ticket to go on a cultural exchange to Ljubljana, Slovenia (the first j is silent and the second j reads like a y).

Slovenia

I’m not sure if it was the beautiful architecture, the fresh, flaky croissants or the unbelievably blue Adriatic Sea, but in just one week I fell whole-heartedly in love with Slovenia.

There were students from both Cru at OU and RealLife at OSU on the cultural exchange. We partnered with an organization called Speak Out Slovenia, which works with high school students to practice English speaking through meaningful, relevant conversation with Americans. A lot of our time was spent in classrooms, giving a short presentation and quiz about school in the US, answering any questions, and learning about Slovene culture.

The quiz tested the Slovene high school students’ knowledge of American high school jargon like senioritis, dance chaperone and senior superlative. The Slovene students taught us (the Americans) about their college entrance exam, the Matura, and flaunted that detention does not exist in Slovenia, among many other things.

During that week, we (the Americans) were divided into groups and met at three different high schools. The school I went to was called Gimnazija Šentvid. One of the major differences between American and Slovene high schools is when it comes to sports. Unlike in America, Slovene sports clubs are not affiliated with a high school or district. However, there are schools like Gimnazija Šentvid that offer classes for student athletes where they can train and condition during their school day.

Another big difference is that in Slovene high school a student stays with the same group of people throughout their day class to class with few exceptions except during senior year. This is very different from how American high schools operate where we have our own individualized schedules.

In addition to speaking with English class students in the schools, we also had after-school activities. On Wednesday, all the teachers in Ljubljana went on strike, so we took a day trip with at least thirty Slovene students to Piran, a coast town on the Adriatic Sea. We were split into groups with both Slovenes and Americans and sent on a photo scavenger hunt to see all the sights the lovely town had to offer.

Slovenia

Piran was my personal favorite. Looking out across the sea, in one direction I saw Italy and in the other Croatia. We climbed to the highest point in the town, where we could look out at the point and snap a picture of the terracotta rooftops and breathtaking horizon.

Our last day in Slovenia was spent at Lake Bled. The lake was nestled majestically in the frosted mountains. From a castle that loomed over the lake to the small island church located in the middle of the lake, it was like something out of a fairy tale.

Slovenia

We hiked higher and higher to take the best pictures and to try to capture the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Lake Bled was also a prized destination thanks to its authentic dessert shop that supposedly has the best kremsnita (cream cake) in Slovenia.

Slovenia

Overall, there was a lot to love about Slovenia. I hope I have the opportunity to go back and visit this beautiful country and the friends I made through Speak Out. This trip had a tremendous impact on me through immersive learning about another culture. Even though it was a break from class, it definitely was not a break from learning. However, when you are gazing across the Adriatic or enjoying a delectable croissant, it’s not so bad.