El terremoto (my host niece, not the 8.4)

Antonia, el terremoto. That’s what they call her because she runs around the house leaving the apartment looking like an earthquake hit with all of her toys. She loves Frozen and can probably sing along most Disney songs better than I can (which is saying something since she is 3 and doesn’t speak English).

Mi familia Chilena and I had just finished eating lunch, so I went to my room to study. I can hear Antonia running around and playing in the living room. A little while later she comes running in screaming, “¡Apúrate! ¡Apúrate, Emma! ¡Está lloviendo mucho!” gesturing for me to follow her. I follow her out of my bedroom and see my entire host family. Standing under an umbrella. In the living room. After she decides it stops raining, everyone goes back to what they were doing chuckling to themselves. Then a few minutes later, it’s raining again. We all rush back to the living room to stand under the umbrella for a bit longer while she rescues one of my host sisters and the stuffed animals. Then rain stops and I go back to my room to work on more homework.

Then Doctor Antonia runs into my room with a flashlight telling me to open my mouth so she can look inside and make sure everything is alright. She runs out the door and back in, next checking my eyes.

What an adorable little earthquake. Antonia, el terremoto.

Location: Providencia, Santiago, Chile

Bonding with la madre anfitriona

This feels like I’m writing a public diary post, but I’m just going to go for it because this is my blog and I do what I want! Just kidding, it’s kinda Penn State’s blog. But still! Ok here goes…

Dear Diary,

I had the most wonderful day with my host mom today. Some serious bonding went on. First I woke up around noon and we ate lunch together, just the two of us. We spoke about my tummy issues from the day before. She offered to fix me something else for lunch, but I insisted that the pork and mashed potatoes that she fixed were more than palatable for me. She asked if the military band marching by the window or the 6.1 “tremor” (let me emphasize that 6.1 on the Richter scale is not an earthquake here in Chile) woke me up this morning. I said they did but I had no trouble falling right back to sleep. We sat at the lunch table just talking for nearly 3 hours about everything from her taste in men to poverty in Chile. My host mom is quite the talker once you get her going on a subject, but I really enjoy just listening to her speak Spanish (especially when I can understand her).

Next, we were off to a military parade. She asked if any of my friends were joining us and when I told her no she wanted to make sure I wasn’t blowing off more fun plans with my peers to spend time with her. I almost declined her invitation because my tummy was acting up again, but I forced myself to go knowing that this was a bonding opportunity I couldn’t pass up. We watched a group of students dancing la Cueca (Chile’s national dance) followed by the various military branches marching by while my host mom gawked at how beautiful the men looked in uniform. Probably one of my favorite interactions I’ve had with her. Did I mention we also took selfies together? Unfortunately, they are on her tablet and not my phone.

After the parade we shared some popcorn (not salty like in the U.S., but rather sweet like kettle or even caramel corn), and took the metro back to the apartment. We ate once (a lighter, version of dinner) and started talking about Penn State. I showed her pictures of the football stadium and told her that we were playing a game against another university (Rutgers) tonight. She was in absolute awe of how large the stadium is. Somehow the conversation evolved into talking about family relations when she was a girl (I think she is getting a little nervous because her mom is coming to visit on Monday – that’s right…I get to meet my abuela!) and then into dating. She asked me if machismo was a common problem in the U.S. between men and women. I explained to her that we don’t call it machismo but that it is an issue. I explained to her the stereotypes of students in fraternities and how I have unfortunately found most of these stereotypes to be true. She went on to explain how she has taught her two daughters to never tolerate violence in a partner and how she has taught her son to respect women.

She then sent me on my way to celebrate more of independence week at a fonda (festivals set up around the city at parks and plaza to celebrate Chile’s independence day…and by day I mean week) with some friends. I came back just a few hours ago and she came to my room to ask if I got her text, which I didn’t. She was craving some chocolate and wanted me to pick up some chocolate covered strawberries from the fonda for her. Luckily, I had some chocolate stashed away (no duh…my name is Emma Tierney…of course I have chocolate) which I gave to her (did I mention, it’s also period week?). It might not sound like a super exciting day, but I was pretty pumped to have my host mom to myself for a whole day.



Location: Las Condes, Santiago, Chile

Chiloé Day 3

Our last day in Chiloé! :( Definitely a sad day. Partially because I felt kind of sick to my stomach in the morning (maybe all that food caught up with me) and partially because I didn’t want to leave. We went trekking in the morning in Parque Nacional Chiloé and then near the beach. Then we stopped in Dalcahue for some shopping and lunch before heading back to Puerto Montt for dinner and to catch our plane ride home to Santiago. It was nice to escape for the weekend, but now I just want to stay on the island forever. Chiloé was not on my list of places to see when I came to Chile, but I’m so glad I got to experience it. I was pleasantly surprise how much I enjoyed the island, and I definitely want to return.

National park entrance

National park entrance

View from the lookout on our trekking adventure

View from the lookout on our trekking adventure

Look! We spotted an owl!

Look! We spotted an owl!

Selfie with one of many free-roaming cows on the way to the beach

Selfie with one of many free-roaming cows on the way to the beach

View in Dalcahue

View in Dalcahue

Ferry ride back to Puerto Montt - goodbye Chiloé! Miss you already!!

Ferry ride back to Puerto Montt – goodbye Chiloé! Miss you already!!

Two volcanoes spotted on the bus ride to dinner (L, Osorno, less active; R, Calbuco, more active)

Two volcanoes spotted on the bus ride to dinner (L, Osorno, less active; R, Calbuco, more active)

Got a whole row to myself on the plane ride back to Santiago

Got a whole row to myself on the plane ride back to Santiago

Location: Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Chiloé Day 2

After a delicious breakfast in the hostel, we headed towards Pufolil in Chonchi. There we met with a group of women running artisan shop. They used dead tree limbs from the nearby forest to make beautiful new wooden pieces, everything from cutting boards accompanied by ceramic plates to benches to wall hangings. The women prepared us (another) delicious breakfast where everything was homemade, even the butter.

Our yummy breakfast - all homemade

Our yummy breakfast – all homemade

Some of the pieces made by the artisans

Some of the pieces made by the artisans

Then we headed off for a nature walk in the forest. We learned about the different types of plants, some which can be used for hand moisturizer and others which can help with diabetes.

The trees grow tall very quickly in order to reach the sunlight to survive

The trees grow tall very quickly in this forest in order to reach the sunlight to survive

The view at the end of our walk

The view at the end of our walk

Plant that we rubbed on our skin as moisturizer

Plant that we rubbed on our hands as moisturizer

We headed back to the workshop to make keychains out of little pieces of wood. Seeing a room full of power tools run by a group of women really warmed my feminist heart.

In the zone

In the zone

Halfway through our keychain making adventures, our lunch was ready. Let’s just say we certainly didn’t go hungry.  We finished up our keychains and off to a sheep farm we went! The farm was in nearby Romazal, also in Chonchi. The farm sold sweaters, slippers, hats and more made from sheep wool. It was hard not to buy all of it because it all looked so cozy. We headed out for a walk down the road where I discovered I speak sheep. Yeah. That’s right. I’m trilingual and I didn’t even know it. Then the farmer shows us how his dogs heard the sheep, and he let us hold the little sheepies. I got pooped on and my pants ripped while putting it down (I told you I got fed well), but I can honestly say that this was an absolutely incredible experience. And the day wasn’t even over yet!

Pre-poop. Don't worry. I was just as excited post-poop. Photo credits to the amazing photographer, Marley Crank.

Pre-poop. Don’t worry. I was just as excited post-poop. Photo credits to the amazing photographer, Marley Crank.

After bidding farewell to the farmer, we headed to Cucao to explore the beach, check in to Hostal Palafito Cucao, and have an asado (barbeque). We did some yoga and an ab circuit before the asado to try to free up some space in our stomachs after all we had eaten today. It didn’t really work, but we still managed to stuff our faces some more. Now preparing for trekking tomorrow, and by “preparing” I mean sleeping.

View from the hostal

View from the hostal

Location: Chonchi, Chiloé, Chile

Chiloé Day 1

We flew out of Santiago headed towards Puerto Montt and took a ferry from Puerto Montt to the beautiful island of Chiloé. We drove to Puñihuil to eat lunch, see some penguins, and learn about sustainable tourism, but not before stopping to snap some photos of the view.  From Puñihuil we headed off to Castro, the largest city on the island. We are staying in a gorgeous “palafito” (house on stilts) hostel and had an amazing dinner at the restaurant next door before learning about Chiloé’s history and mythology from a local historian. Now it’s time to zzzzzzz…

Spotted some otters while riding on the ferry

Spotted some otters while riding on the ferry

Almost on the island! Keep chuggin' along, ferry!!

Almost on the island! Keep chuggin’ along, ferry!!

Stopped to enjoy the view of a volcanic rock island...

Stopped to enjoy the view…


…and take a selfie with the cows on our way to Puñihuil

Stopped to snap some photos of gorgeous Puñihuil before lunch

Stopped to snap some photos of gorgeous Puñihuil before lunch

Am I Chilean yet?

Am I Chilean yet?




Location: Puñihuil, Chiloé, Chile

Returning to my Granada

Going back to a place that you love in my opinion is even more exciting than going to a place for the first time. In Spring of 2014, I studied abroad in Granada, Spain with IES and fell in love with the enchanting city. When I first decided to study in Spain I thought it would just add a nice international experience to my degree. I really had no intention of learning too much Spanish ( I don’t really know what I was thinking) . I arrived in January and was greeted by the staff of IES, day one speaking Spanish. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Those two days of orientation were a blur to me. We finally were able to connect with our host families. That is when I met my host mom , she greeted me with 2 kisses and then we were off to her house. My first couple weeks were really hard, because It was difficult to communicate with her. However with the support of both my host mom and my program I learned a tremendous amount of Spanish and felll in love with my Granada.

From the day I got home I was “Granada-sick” and needing to go back. I was determined to find a away. So after A LOT of planning, and taking with advisors and emailing and calling the consulate it was official I would be going back to Spain for the summer and for the Fall semester of 2015 with IES Abroad.

 My blog is going to be a bit of my adventure this summer and also my experience this semester studying. I am absolutely loving life here and enjoying every tinto de verano *wine with lemon fanta*, every pallea, torilla and siesta. I’m falling in love with my Granada again , with the people and with the atomosphere.

I thought it would be fitting to show pictures of the place where my love for Spain and Granada all started:


Iglesia de Santa Ana- Church arches from the IES Center


IES Granda Building


 Plaza Nueva- Where IES is located

Cant wait to keep you all updated on my journey,

Un besito,


Location: Plaza Nueva Granada

Lesson Nine: all the things that happen when you come back from study abroad in North Africa

Location: University Park, PA, USA

It’s my first week back at classes. After traveling for about another month after leaving Morocco, I was finally home for a grand total of 3 days before moving back up for another year here at Penn State. In walking around campus and getting used to normal student life again, I’ve noticed some things that have changed in my perceptions of things. These are somewhat silly, but it already goes without saying that I’m experiencing the typical “my world is changed forever I long for more travel and culture” that study abroad programs flaunt and such. I’d prefer to write about the little, mundane things that have stuck out to me and my experience specifically instead.

You will never be able to accurately encompass your experience when describing it.  The number of times I’ve just had to say “yeah it was incredible” when people tell me my summer looked great judging by Facebook pictures….incredible doesn’t even begin to cut it, but unless you’ve got 3 or 4 hours, “incredible” will have to do. How are you expected to describe living in a manner most will never experience, in a different culture so unlike our own that things that have become normal for you, like walking through fish blood on the streets and getting out of the way of donkeys and carts on your way home from school? Like the relief you feel when the muezzin finally calls time for iftar? Or the view of the desert dunes all around you and the stars above you in the desert? It almost hurts to just let “incredible” suffice to describe such an experience.

You never loose the feeling of haram. I still can’t get used to wearing tank tops and shorts again without feeling slightly exposed and rebellious. I have to check myself and remember that shoulders are okay in this country, and I instinctively think of cardigans or scarves I can wear with things without even noticing it. Similarly, I’ll still walk to class and gasp at the shortness of clothing on girls, even though that is perfectly normal for Penn State.

You get really annoyed when people complain that it’s hot. Please people, try North Africa. Sweat takes on a whole new meaning afterwards. Similarly, the concept of AC unless it’s above 85 seems ridiculous. I’m actually cold most of the time now it’s bizarre.

Introductions. So Moroccans don’t really do introductions. They wouldn’t bother to introduce you if there was someone you didn’t recognize in the house, or when with a Moroccan friend you met someone you didn’t know. I thought this was really strange, but now I’ve notice that here at college we do the same thing. It’s just a given that you only know a tiny sliver or people that mutual friends don’t introduce you at all. So not such a strange concept after all I guess…

No, I know my room is full of Moroccan and Arabic/Islamic decoration, but I don’t speak Arabic. Sorry.

But also those times when a word only in Moroccan Arabic will do. Trying to come up with an English word for a situation where I would normally use darija is very difficult. But more difficult is explaining the meaning of the darija word I want to use. There’s just no better way to convey “I will catch the bus, inshallah.” Then watch people’s faces when I try to explain “if God wills it”.

Internet patience. Reliable internet and existent 3G are wonderful things. So when they’re lagging and taking a while, I don’t mind so much. At least they’re there, and you don’t have to call Maroc Telecom a few times to ask why your router isn’t working randomly. Just knowing “yes I will have internet tonight to do my homework with” is a wonderful thing.

Food Cravings. I’m sure this happens to everyone coming back from abroad. You get random cravings for food from your study abroad country, and there’s just no way of getting that type of food here short of physically making it yourself. I woke up the other night really fancying some harira, the vegetable chickpea soup eaten at the start of iftar. It’ll be shebkia and honeycomb pancakes next.

Only those who went with you will understand some things and feelings. The other students on my program became my family for seven weeks, and it’s still very strange to be without them sometimes. Already I’ve been in a situation where I know the only person who could understand my feelings would be someone from my trip. I’m so used to relying on them for support in strange situations that I still would rather go to them than some of my oldest friends at home or my best friends at college. I suppose that goes for anyone you travel with. Either way, I met some truly excellent people and I’m proud to still be able to go to them. I’m ready for the next adventure whenever they are.

Location: University Park, PA

Living at IES Beijing – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

After arriving here at the IES center at Beijing Foreign Languages University, I have the great pleasure of living in yet another new type of environment I have yet to experience: dorm life.  As a transfer student into Penn State I have the luxury of not having to live in a dorm, and my previous university experience I had the luxury or living at home while attending classes.  So when I arrived at IES, I was….to say the least not excited. Mostly about the size and the lack of privacy.


Welcome to my dorm at IES Beijing


My roommates bed lacks proper support and cusioning

I will be living with a Chinese roommate that does not arrive until next week.  But after sharing a room for several days with a homestay student, I am worried about how cramped it is.  I have not shared a room with someone since I was about 6 years old and the lack of having my own private space is worrisome, but this is a problem that plagues the entire country of 1.4 billion people.

The Goods:

There’s WiFi (Sometimes.) and ethernet.  There’s also a nice sized kitchen with 3 refrigerators and drinking water is provided since we obviously cannot drink the tap water.  The downside to this is that people don’t remember they put food in there and it spoils very quickly leading to the refrigerator smelling quite funky.  But hey! That’s negative! We don’t think about that for this part.  There’s also a nice community room with ping-pong and some other types of small games which we can enjoy.  Honestly I have never been to the dorms in Penn State so I have no idea how they compare to this, but I have seen many Chinese dorms and I know that I am living a life of luxury.  Many Chinese dorms have 4 to 8 people in a room, have to hand wash everything, no hot water, have to pay for showers outside, no kitchen, and usually have to share a bathroom with more than 50 people, and sometimes there’s no bathroom at all and they have to use a community bathroom outside that’s shared with 2 buildings.  Depends on the quality of the school.  So keeping this in mind, i’m quite lucky to be living in a co-ed dorm building with only one roommate.  My roommate will also be Chinese, so that gives me a great chance to practice my Chinese.


I haven’t had the chance to cook yet, but can’t wait to fire these bad boys up.


Western microwave and toaster oven, living the life at IES Beijing


Ping Pong table which unfortunately has been used more for a studying table than actually playing ping pong

The Bads:

Honestly we are quite segregated and isolated from the other international students and students in general.  This building is all international students, but on our floor there are signs everywhere telling people that the amenities on our floor are only for IES students (people in my program which is all American).  The problem with this is it doesn’t allow us to branch out and meet people from other countries.  Instead it keeps us isolated and segregated from the general Chinese and international population.  There are many diverse countries represented in the building, but it’s a shame that only the American students have signs like this which if I were to see signs like this on another floor saying you are not welcome here, I would have nothing to do with them.  Really hurts our immersion attempts.


Unfortunately these signs only further encourage our segregation from the Chinese and international student population


Lounge for IES students only


Again, if you’re not an IES student you CANNOT use these facilities.

Having to share a bathroom with a floor of strangers is also worrisome.  There’s only 3 toilets and while we voted to not make it co-ed, the females bathroom and shower room had their shower curtains taken away for some reason and they have not appeared again for several days, so like it or not, I am now sharing a small bathroom (3 toilets, 4 showers) with 50 people.  Obviously it could be worse, but this is not a situation i’m accustomed to dealing with, so the only culture shock i’m going to have is from living so close to people in situations where I feel I am being forced to make friends, which is not always the best tactic.


Our 3 toilets. Note: You CANNOT put toilet paper into the toilets.


At least we have a washer at IES….dryers not included, we need to air dry our clothes.

 The Ugly:

Well, there’s no too much ugly about living here.  The building behind us has been under construction since we got here, which means loud hammering starting at 6am, but honestly it’s not too bad.  I’m also getting yet another cold which is quite ugly, but aside from that, I think I will be able to make the most of living here for the next year and signs be damned, I look forward to branching out on my own to make friends with different people from different backgrounds.

Location: Beijing Foreign Languages University

Coming to China: What Do You Need?

What Do I Need?

Departing for another country is always a very nerve-wrecking time.  The added stress of study abroad in China comes from the culture being so completely different from that of American culture.  People often get caught up in the trip that they forget about essentials that are necessary for getting around in a developing country.


Bags are Packed and ready to go!

What NOT to Bring:

It’s important to know where you’re going and what will be available in said areas.  Despite many misconceptions about China, it is easy to find western amenities in any big city that you may be going to.  Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, all have a large international community and thus any Wal-Mart (Yes they even have Wal-Mart in China), Metro, or Carrefour will have the basic necessities you will need.  If you’re just traveling for a semester, you do not need to bog yourself down with a bunch of stuff you can easily get in China.  Clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, hairdryers are readily available in China so pack light!  Although I brought two bags, I am staying for a year and although I do not bring many clothes (even though I have to pack for 4 seasons), things add up quickly, so if you’re not positive you’ll need something, don’t bring it.

What TO Bring:


Bring lots of medicine!

MEDICINE! Lots and lots of medicine.  When traveling to developing countries like China, you WILL get sick.  The food is different, the sanitation regulations are different (if they even exist), and the cooking preparation and storage methods are different.  Most importantly: The bugs are different.  Bugs as in virus’.  Being prepared for the sudden strike of 拉肚子 (diarrhea) is important, and trusting Chinese made medicines can be sketchy.  I make sure to bring plenty of aspirin, laxatives, anti-laxatives, stomach medicine, and cold medicine.  Bring it and do not be afraid to use it so you can be up and running as soon as possible.

Deodorant is also a great idea, but only as long as it isn’t in spray form.  Cans of compressed air can be taken from you at any transportation hub for being potentially dangerous (I found this out the hard way), so bring at least two sticks of deodorant instead.  It’s hard to find and it’ll keep you smelling fresh! Shaving cream and good razor blades are also a must.  You can find razors and shaving cream in China, but it is expensive because most Chinese do not need to shave, and most Chinese ladies do not shave their legs.  So be prepared and bring your own.  Ladies also may consider bringing a significant amount of feminine hygiene products.  You can buy them here, but they may not be as good or as comfortable as ones you can get in America.  This isn’t from experience……..I heard it………from a friend…….yeah that’s it.

Socks and underwear are a necessity as well.  Chinese made socks are cheap and do not provide enough support as western made, and the same goes for underwear.  Stock up! There’s a reason Chinese come to America and bring them back to China, so learn from them. Prepare for the worst



Small Eyes

It’s hot. So extremely hot and sticky outside. I can feel my hair follicles sticking to my scalp. As I’m walking in the streets around my campus in search of food, all I can think about is my makeup melting away.

I’m standing next to my friend. She has fair skin, a quirky smile, and a slight accent from where she’s from.

IMG_0845We look at each restaurant and see what tickles our fancy. They’re all pretty small, and lacking air conditioning, but we just stop at the busiest looking one.

As we reach an empty table, right away they look at me for some sort of response. I hear a bombardment of Chinese words. In my head I’m thinking once again they are assuming and mistaking me for someone else… 

And it is true. Each person that speaks to me in Chinese is thinking of me as someone that I am not. Just because of my appearance. Just because of my hair. My face. My little Chinese eyes. But as you probably guessed, I’m an American born Chinese. Raised in New Jersey. I took a couple classes to learn Chinese, but to be honest I took Spanish for 5 years instead. Yet for me, going to China was my chance to jumpstart my language growth, and to be more at one with my roots.


But it is a challenge at times having people already have an impression of you even before you speak. It’s even worst when they realize their impression of you was wrong and they get disappointed.

I look up at the server speaking to me. I just wave my hands and say “Duibuqi, wo bu shou zhongwen”, which translates to “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese”. Sigh, once again I use the only sentence I know in Chinese. But with time I hope to see things change. I hope to grow from this and take the shame I feel and use it to my advantage. To be stronger than I am now.

Stay tuned,