Monthly Archives: September 2009

¡Que Chivo!

One of the programs I worked on this summer was the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL). The cultural exchange started in 1966 to increase global understanding in an increasingly divisive world. Top American leaders between the ages of 25 and 40 travel overseas to learn about foreign political systems while key foreign political leaders between the ages of 25 and 40 visit the U.S. to learn about our political process. The CEO of El Pomar Foundation is an alumnus of the program. To show his gratitude, he hosts three delegations to visit Colorado every year. This summer, we hosted a delegation for El Salvador. Due to my immense cultural knowledge and Spanish language abilities, I was the first intern to ever work on ACYPL.

We divided our time between Denver and Colorado Springs, meeting with top state officials and participating in cultural activities. I arranged for the delegates to meet with Attorney General John Suthers, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and Climate Change Manager (and CC alumna) Ginny Brannon. They also met with top Colorado Springs officials, such as Mayor Lionel Rivera and IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) President Richard Soudriette. We also fit in plenty of cultural activities, such as National Cheesecake Day at The Cheesecake Factory, a tour of the US Olympic Training Center, and a hike around Garden of the Gods.

The Salvadorans were awesome. They remained engaged throughout the day and continuously asked thoughtful questions. El Salvador is a war-torn country, achieving peace a mere 17 years ago. At the end of the Civil War, Salvadorans restructured their political system, and are eager to improve it. It was such a rich experience to be able to get to teach such prominent leaders about the U.S. and our politics, while also getting to learn more about them and their country’s history. I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet with all of the speakers. I would normally not have access to political officials, such as the Attorney General, or meet with them in such intimate settings. It was interesting getting to see their take on the Colorado and American political system.

Overall, it was exciting to practice my Spanish and learn some Salvadoran slang (like chivo means “cool”). The bonds the Salvadorans and I formed will be long lasting, and who knows…one of them might very well become the President of El Salvador within the next ten years.

El Salvador

Me with some of the delegates at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs

El Salvador 2

All seven delegates with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper

Last stop…

Harry on the sleeper bus out of Deqin - a bit of a tight squeeze

Harry on the sleeper bus out of Deqin - a bit of a tight squeeze

My last post covered what turned out to be one of the highlights of my almost four months in China. After an incredibly unique experience hiking to Yubeng, Harry and I split from the rest of our small group. At this point, I truly faced the reality that I would leave China in only a few days. My feelings were varied. I felt excited to see my family, friends, and enjoy some of the foods I so strongly missed. I also felt sad knowing that this was the last time, hopefully not for too long, that I would be with some of these people I had experienced so much with. I had already said goodbye to those friends in my program who hadn’t continued to Yubeng with us, but now I had to say goodbye to everyone but Harry. I had plenty of time to contemplate this on the 20+ hour sleeper bus ride we had to take out of Deqin to Kunming. Once in Kunming , Harry and I would board a plane to Guilin.

While on that sleeper bus, in the midst of trying to dodge the smelly feet of my fellow passengers, somehow making my little “bunk” as comfortable as possible, and keeping my body alert for flying spit from the top bunks, I had plenty of time to reflect on my time with the people that I had become so close to. It surprised me initially how strong the friendships were between all of us. How did we become life-long friends in four months? I attribute the closeness to many things. Of course, there was the obvious: we spent four months in a completely foreign land trying to feel our ways together. I still believe though, that we had sought each other out among the 60 or so people in the program for a reason. We were a diverse group, but one that seemed to understand each other and where we were coming from. At the same time, it was clear that our time abroad meant similar things for all of us. We were there to expand our understanding of how large the world really was, meet new people, and step outside of our comfort zones. We have stayed in touch since returning home and have already planned a little reunion in Washington D.C. this October. More on that when it happens…

My final days in China were perhaps the most fun and relaxed of any. Harry and I arrived in Guilin where we stayed the night before heading out to

Scenery leaving on a bamboo boat from Xingping to Yangshuo on the Li River

Scenery leaving on a bamboo boat from Xingping to Yangshuo on the Li River

Yangshuo the following day. Our hostel in Yangshuo was about as entertaining as they come. The staff was playful and excited the entire time. The hostel was filled with travelers from all corners of the globe. We spent out nights on the roof-top bar of the hostel socializing and sharing traveling stories. During the days, we roamed the overly tourist streets of Yangshuo and picking different far off adventures to take. The karst scenery along the Li River in Yangshuo was the most dream-like scenery we had seen in China.

Our best adventures came from renting bicycles to roam the surrounding areas. Harry and I spent one day biking out into the middle of rural villages and fields. Drudging through muddy paths and fields, we reached a bridge (I believe it was the Dragon Bridge). This was one of those final moments in China where I was able to see things I could only imagine being a part of. Standing on the bridge, looking over bamboo rafts in the river below the shadowy peaks, my mind wandered to my return home. In all honesty my mind had been wandering frequently to that. Again, mixes of emotions were present. I think I was most enamored by the fact that in only a day or two I would be thousands of miles away. I was quick to realize the amazing privilege I had been given in being able to see this part of the world. From the support I received from friends and family to the availability of resources I had to do this trip. I still am thankful to so many people for the chance I had. I think I reached a place where I realized I had given so much to every moment in China, and these last few could not be any different.

View from the Dragon Bridge

View from the Dragon Bridge

I spent the last days in Yangshuo completely satisfied. Satisfied with the time I had spent, the place I was, and with my return home. Harry and I made a few good friends in Yangshuo, who thanks to the Internet we can still keep in touch with via facebook.

Harry and I finally boarded our last train in Guilin only a few days after arriving. We spent about 19 hours together before arriving back in Beijing. When we got back, we found a few friends still in Beijing and ate our final meal at our favorite restaurant near Beida – West Gate. I spent that night in a hotel before boarding my plane back to Chicago.

I left China with so much more than I had come with. It all may sound cliche, but going abroad naturally will teach you things. Among many things, I think I came away with an excitement for new things and an appreciation for the familiar. I have been lucky enough to share my stories and times here on this blog, but I look forward to hearing the stories from others. Whether they are stories from abroad, here at home, or the same old stories I’ve heard hundreds of times.

Thank you to everyone who has read these and commented. Thank you to everyone here at Colorado College who made this possible. I look forward to all the great stories that will get shared here this year!

A site from one of our bike rides

A view from one of our bike rides

I’m not a freshman anymore?

Hello Sophomore year!

I am now in my second week of Probability and Statistics with David Brown.  I haven’t taken a math course in a few years, and David (who is hilarious) is incredible. He teaches his lessons so that even I can understand.  Even if I’ve forgotten basic math skills, he doesn’t tease or make fun of me.  He’s honestly there to help the students.  Regardless, it’s been difficult getting adjusted to the Block Plan.

Wait.  Let me backtrack some and talk about being a New Student Orientation (NSO) leader.  Each year, CC has an orientation for the incoming freshmen and transfers.  What makes this school’s orientation so special is the fact that all the incoming students go on service trips all over the Southwest.  I co-led (with my friend Eleanor) a trip to Santa Fe at a non-profit that works with families who are victims of domestic violence.  The group of 10 freshmen that were on this trip was so hardworking.  I really believe they wanted their work to make a positive in these families’ lives.

group photo

Every night during their NSO trip, my co-leader and I would lead discussions about their fears, their expectations, and the reality of college.  What was so heart-warming for me was when the freshmen were able to open up and admit that they all had similar fears.  For example, many of the freshmen had fears of the rigor of the Block Plan.  They asked, “Will I be able to catch my breath if I’m behind in class work?”  “Will I be able to do extracurricular activities, meet friends, and have a social life?”  I sat there with chills running up and down my spine, because these were my exact fears last year.  They sat there and I told them how it is possible; however, it’s hard to find your niche and rhythm first semester.  I mean, my first year was a roller coaster!  I wanted to do every club on campus (I joined 10).  I wanted to major in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences (I don’t even think this is plausible).  I wanted to be friends with everyone (now, I have a handful of marvelous and brilliant friends).

circle fun

Fortunately my second semester, I came to the realization that Colorado College (or any college for that matter) is meant to be the best four years of my life.  I don’t need to do everything  and rush.  I can just be Melissa Tran.  Who is a girl from Oklahoma and attends one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.

snow

So ecstatic for the year to come!

Melissa

Hey Everyone,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted so I thought I’d get back in the swing of things after a long and much deserved break.  Summer was a relief from the fast pace of 8th block.  I coached for the second year in-a-row the Under 13/15 Colorado Select Boys Lacrosse Team.  I had the pleasure (with a hint of sarcasm) of traveling with them to Ohio, which made it visit lucky number 3 to Ohio this year.  I also worked in the Colorado Office of Economic Development doing policy research directed towards business retention and biotechnology.  Otherwise, you could find me fly fishing in the mountains, groovin’ at Red Rocks, or enjoying the mellow Colorado summer.

I had to pack in a whole summer’s worth of activities into two months because my abroad program started almost 6 weeks ago from today.  I’ve been in Argentina since July 19th and it’s been a whirlwind since I’ve gotten here.  The first month or so, we had an extended orientation because of the Swine Flu Outbreak and subsequent extension of winter vacation.  I am happy to report that I am Swine free and classes finally picked up in the last few weeks.  I had the horrible realization that I’m not on vacation anymore with a frenzy of reading; over 400 pages this week for just one class!

Although school is becoming more of a primary focus, I have done a bit of traveling, most notably to Bariloche to go skiing.  Yes, I have already started counting my 2009/2010 ski days.  Spring is rapidly approaching and I am ready for more adventures outside of Buenos Aires after exhausting this city and myself!  Some nights don’t end until 9 AM the next morning.  Anyway, just a brief account of my whereabouts the last few months, and much more to come from the Southern hemisphere and the wonderful city of Buenos Aires.

-Max