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Dante Gonsalves-Reyes

China, you were amazing sweetie…

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Spring 2019

Before getting to the sad teary-eyed stuff, this past month has been full of surprises.

I first went to Zhangjiajie in the Hunan Province with one of the other study abroad students and it blew my mind. We stayed there for 4 days, full of non-stop hiking and sight-seeing. We went to their national forest park (the inspiration for Pandora in the movie Avatar – also I did feel one with the Na’vi), the Grand Canyon (yes, this one blows the one in Arizona outta the park and has a glass bridge), Tianmen Mountain (they have the longest cable-cart ride in the WORLD and a 999 step-staircase to heaven), and the Yellow Dragon Cave (quite lit)! Not to be a drag, but if I got cremated, I would want my ashes to be spread in Zhangjiajie lol. If you’re planning on exploring China, I highly recommend you make a pit stop here to witness the natural wonders that lie within this city (:

Coming back from paradise, I also started my job as a writing tutor for the Chinese freshmen and sophomores at TUC. Not only was it a great work opportunity, but it was a cool experience to interact with Chinese students 1-on-1 and learn more about them. Even though I was with them for only a month, they made amazing improvements in their writing and gave me the perfect “professor” name: Mr. D (my name was too difficult to say haha)!

Also, our study abroad group finally got to climb the Great Wall in Tianjin. It was epic ngl, even though half of us died climbing it (not me)! Plus, I got to celebrate my 21st birthday on the same week… having hotpot is the best birthday present anyone could get.

Onto a more serious note, finals, shminals. Bleh. So glad that’s done with. Never had so many group papers, presentations, and exams all due in one week. There was one positive that did come out of this suffering, I had the actual last week of school off since all of my finals were completed beforehand!!! What did this call for? Last minute traveling to a new area in China.

Ni hao, Chengdu! Chengdu is located in the Sichuan Province, popularly known for having some of the SPICIEST FOOD in all of China. Not my cup of tea if you ask me… but, Chengdu was calling my name for one reason. Pandas. I spent a full day at the Dujiangyan Panda Base volunteering (cleaning up panda poop is one thing to cross off my bucket list), feeding pandas, and learning more about their significance to the Chinese culture and their people. I also did a food tour to explore the local cuisine, and man was it delicious. The spiciness actually wasn’t too bad, it acted more as a numbing agent haha. Since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I would pay a visit to the Lashen Buddha statue, which is the largest Buddha engraved on a mountain in the world. I’m so glad that I got to explore another area in China right before I leave. I guess finals were on my side this time, huh?

Man, these last 4 months sure did go by fast… Studying and living in Tianjin has honestly been one of the best experiences in my life that I was initially unsure of doing in the first place. I’ve made amazing friends (American and Chinese) and they made this stay even more memorable. Specifically, I want to thank the Golden Panthers for making the study abroad students feel like we were back home and introducing us to their Chinese culture. Ya’ll have a special place in my heart. With this experience, I feel better prepared to have a career abroad and embrace new cultures without the added shock value. Also, these trips outside of Tianjin made me even think more about taking an interest in environmentalism and sustainability, seeing more evidence of how precious the natural landscape of this world really is. I can call Tianjin another home away from home now. I’ll miss the street food, fake markets, and the amazing public transportation systems. Until we meet again. As Fall Out Boy once said: “Thnks fr th Mmrs”.

Zai jian (bye bye)!
Miami, estoy yendo a casa

Beijing Takeover

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Spring 2019

Ni hao (again, again)!

This is my third month here in China and wow, it has been amazing so far. I’m finally getting the hang of life down here, and it’s hard to think that in less than two months I’ll be back in Miami getting back to my usual routine. Throughout the past month, our study abroad group has been making sporadic trips to Beijing on the weekends since it’s only a 30-minute bullet-train ride from Tianjin.

Our first trip to Beijing, we made a pit stop to the Temple of Heaven Park. This park was massive and bigger than we had all anticipated with separate sections containing different sights to see. Fun fact, the actual temple was used by Chinese emperors to make sacrifices to the heavens by using calves.  We also stumbled upon Tienanmen Square later that day and it felt so trippy being in the middle of that space knowing its historical significance. At the end of the day, we went to a popular street food area where you were literally stuck shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone. I ate one of the best lambs I’ve ever had and even tried scorpion for the first time with my roommate! Very crunchy and salty, 10/10 would recommend, just to say you’ve eaten one. Just be careful with its stinger (;

Back again in Beijing the next weekend, the roomie and I went to the Forbidden City and que freaking grande. It felt like a never-ending maze of ancient architecture but (surprise!) we made it out alive. After that, we ventured to the Beijing Olympic Park and took a tour of the actual Olympic stadium and its surrounding space. We didn’t get to, but you can actually tour and walk on the very top of the actual stadium… I would totally recommend to if you have a fear of heights.  

Tianjin also has so many cool areas to visit. The best site to visit is the China Ceramic House, a house entirely made from broken-down porcelain pieces. The pictures alone don’t do it justice, it’s something to see for yourself. It’s even listed as one of the top 15 most unique places to visit in the ENTIRE WORLD!

Inspired by the sight-seeing highs I’ve gotten exploring the areas around me, I’m planning a trip to visit the Zhangjiajie National Park (super south and far from Tianjin). This park was the inspiration for Pandora in the Avatar movie, and I’m dying to see it in person. This is what the bad boy looks like and the picture alone puts the Grand Canyon Park to shame (and I’m from Arizona :/): 

Aside from the fun of traveling, classes are going great, and I’m meeting a lot more of the Chinese students. I’m enjoying my Global Food and Culture class the most, so far. I find it interesting how almost everything in our everyday life impacts what and how we eat. Our professor took the class out to dinner one night to experience the typical Tianjin cuisine and it was delicious. The oddest, yet most delicious thing, was fried shrimp covered in wasabi and SPRINKLES. Yes, sprinkles, like the ones on cookies or ice cream. I’ve learned not to question the food here, and just embrace it lol. Aside from that, the food was amazing and it was a great cultural experience to engage with the other Chinese students and eat. Also, midterm season is finally over, and I can finally take a mini-breather before finals. Our study abroad group is even now taking Mandarin-language lessons on the weekends with the assistant dean, and it’s getting a little bit easier to communicate while ordering food or even driving around in the taxis. The Spanish accent comes out sometimes and it makes it a bit difficult to speak Mandarin’s 4 tones. I guess it’s a more “latinized” form of Mandarin that I’ll eventually come up with haha. 

Until again (for the last time) 🙁


Shanghai Chillin’

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Spring 2019

Ni hao again!

Spring break hit pretty quick on this side of the world in a matter of 3 weeks after school started. The two-week vacation is centered around the Chinese Spring Festival or the New Year. The Chinese New Year was celebrated on February 5th, and it’s finally the year of the pig (aka it’s gucci to pig out and eat all you want this year)! Since the entire school was out, this was the perfect opportunity to explore a different part of China. Our study abroad group decided to venture off to Shanghai traveling in a bullet train from Tianjin.

All 7 of us got to know each really well and shared a 2-bedroom and 1-bathroom apartment in Pudong, which is about a 15-minute train ride from the inner city of Shanghai. Our visit to this wondrous city consisted of numerous visits to the city’s well-known and ancient Buddhist temples and pigging out on street food. Having to walk a crazy amount of miles every day didn’t make us feel bad eating the greasy street food that we had. Even if we didn’t walk as much, it would still have been ALL worth it.

A couple of us crazy adventurers embarked on food tours throughout two different parts of Shanghai for dinner and breakfast. Located in the French Quarter, the dinner tour introduced us to soup dumplings (I can’t put to words how delicious these were) and pork belly that melted the moment you put it into your mouth. Our food guide took us to amazing street food spots that night, like a pork pancake baked in a barrel-like structure. For the breakfast tour, our guide introduced us to numerous street food located in the historic Japanese area and we shoved our faces with fried pork dumplings (a unique dish to Shanghai), scallion fried pancakes with egg, and even trying a snake-infused and fermented wine (straight-up tasted like heavy spiced rum haha). Our food guide even took us through my first wet market, where they sell crazy amounts of seafood, produce, and meats! We saw this lady easily de-bone an eel in a manner of 3 seconds…



Next big stop, Disneyland Shanghai! This was our main motivation to journey out to Shanghai to see what Disneyland would be like in China. Our group finally knew what it meant to be a foreigner at a theme park since we had no idea what was going on in any of the rides since they were all spoken in Mandarin. It’s fascinating to see Jack Sparrow on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride not sound like Johnny Depp at all. Disney Shanghai even had their own Toy Story area and the 5-year old me in freaked out for a bit. Tron had the best ride, with an outdoor/indoor roller-coaster that placed you on a motorbike vehicle (think of the Mummy ride at Universal Orlando times 10!).

My last memorable highlight of this trip may sound insane, but I finally tried K-Pro. K-pro is a brand-new restaurant branch of KFC that serves healthier and fresher foods that is currently only available in China. With my fascination already peaked at how delicious KFC’s food is in China, I needed to get my hands-on K-Pro’s food. Low and behold, KFC recently opened one in Shanghai 2 months before. Having already watched a Buzzfeed video on K-Pro’s delicious food, I knew what to order (yes, I pigged out): sweet potato fries, a shrimp cobb salad with dragon fruit, a guacamole chicken sandwich, and matcha ice cream. This was easily one of the best fast food experiences that I’ve had and would 10/10 recommend going to if you’re in Shanghai.

Shanghai was a beautiful city to visit and definitely a nice breath of fresh air from Tianjin. I realized there’s so much to do here in China, and so little time left until we return back to good ol’ Florida.

Until we chat again 😛

China Check-In!

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Spring 2019

Ni hao Miami!

I finally hit the two-week mark here in Tianjin and must say that everything here from the people, food, and environment have been amazing! Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely a period of not knowing how to get by on a day-to-day basis for the first couple of days here, but the Chinese students have been so helpful and welcoming towards our group.

After the first week, the Chinese students held a dumpling making workshop for us, and wow, are they hard. In my mind, it looked like folding empanadas but it’s even harder since it’s much smaller. My dumpling making group won the “Strangest Dumpling” award and I was so proud of that honor. (:

After getting a hang of the taxi system here, I’ve slowly been exploring Tianjin just to see what’s in my surroundings. The malls here are GINORMOUS with most of them having 6 floors of shops and restaurants. I recently went with my roommate to the Ancient Culture Street in Tianjin flooded with shops, vendors, temples, and food; and wow was it a sight to see!  Pictures can’t justify how magnificent the place was, but it was so exciting to partake in my first Chinese marketplace outing (Also, the blog isn’t able to upload any of my pics from there since they’re THAT breathtaking). At the Ancient Culture Street, we also visited the Queen of Heaven Palace, a Hindu temple, and it was fascinating to see the place was still actively used for prayer.

The biggest culture shock for me has been the Chinese fascination for name-brand fast-food restaurants. When I think of McDonald’s or KFC, I think of the mediocre food and broken-down ice cream machines back in the U.S. It’s a different case here, on multiple levels.

  •  KFC is literal gold here and is considered somewhat of a food delicacy. They’re the #1 fast food destination here in China, AHEAD of McDonald’s. There are no words to explain how fresh and crispy the fried chicken is here and how the seasonings differ from the U.S. They take their chicken pretty serious here.
  •  KFC has their own dessert shop, where they have amazing sweets, especially their ice cream. My favorite is their matcha ice-cream on a cone, and it honestly was one of the best ice creams I’ve had. YES, I’M TALKING ABOUT KFC.
  • McDonald’s is super fresh here and you can taste it in their Big Macs. I’m not a huge fan of their food back in the U.S., but I was impressed with the quality of their food.

In a week, the adventure continues on to Shanghai for our two-week Spring Festival break for the Chinese New Year, and I can’t wait to explore more of this country.

See ya’ll later!

Farewell Miami, Hello China!

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Spring 2019

Greetings! My name is Dante Gonsalves and I’m currently in my last year at FIU and majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management. Well, tomorrow is departure day, can’t WAIT for the 14 hour plane ride! So many feelings are going through my head… I’m excited, nervous, and I honestly have no idea what to expect from this study abroad trip. This will be my first time in China, and the fact that I get to live there for my first-time visiting there is so surreal to me.

I will be taking 4 classes at TUC and they will consist of Global Food and Culture, Introduction to Food and Wine Pairing, Wines of the New World, and Hospitality Facilities Management. This will also be my first time living in a dorm with a roommate, so that’s an experience in itself. I’m excited to try all the yummy food and realize that American-Chinese food has nothing on the OG-food from China (yes, this was an intentional subtweet).

Follow along with me on this crazy adventure and stay tuned in all that China has to offer.

Until we chat again (:

Estevan y Andy: Los Chicos de Pueblo Nuevo

By Costa Rica

When I think of the term “human experience,” I think of the documentary The Human Experience. The film follows two brothers who travel to three various parts of the world and live with three different groups, living with New York City homeless people in the middle of winter, disabled and abused orphans in Peru, and Leper African villagers. The whole focus of the film is the self-exploration for happiness even in the midst of unfortunate conditions, and that there is always a beauty that can be found between the conversations humans can have with one another.

When I found out about this study abroad, I was immediately sold on the white-water rafting the program initially marketed and I didn’t even bother researching the extra activities on the trip’s itinerary. I also needed an extra 3-credits for the fall semester, and with the adventure that I had pictured with this trip, I thought, “Why not?” (Update: 10/10 would recommend white-water rafting)

While reviewing the trip’s itinerary a week before arrival, I was surprised to see that we would be engaging and living with a local family. In all honesty, I initially thought of the visit as a waste of time. This was my first time visiting Costa Rica and I wanted all the available time to do even more sight-seeing. In addition to the local family stay, we would also be volunteering our time for the community we would be staying at.

Arriving in Pueblo Nuevo, our class immediately separated into teams that would either paint the community church’s floor or digging soil nearby. I wanted to put my painting skills to test.

While painitng, I noticed a group of 3 boys running around the church and peaking their heads behind the gates. They seemed very interested to meet our class and they wanted to make sure that their presence would be known in our work space. Out of the 3 boys, 2 of them, which were brothers, stood out to me as they playfully interrupted our class’ work space.

Estevan and his younger brother Andy were members of the community that both lived with their single mother and were even neighbors with their grandparents. After getting to know their names in the middle of painting, I asked them simple questions in order to get to know them a little bit better.

“What’s your favorite color? Do you like soccer? Who’s your favorite soccer team?”

I eventually found out that my roommates and I would be staying with their grandparents that night and the boys were thrilled to hear that. Estevan and Andy saw this as an opportunity to have older brothers to play around with for the rest of the day.

 Already exhausted from volunteering, I knew, having younger brothers myself, that these boys would wipe the floor with me by the end of the night. After volunteering, our class played kickball with some of the local kids and later cooled down in a nearby creek (my face says it all). 

Heading back to the houses we would be staying at, Estevan and Andy’s mom took me and my roommates to her parents’ house and introduced us to them. By that time, I had figured out that our hosts for the night did not know a word of English and my Spanish speaking ability isn’t the best. One goal I had in mind for this trip was to speak as much Spanish as I could and improve on my speaking ability. I saw this as a challenge to help reach my goal by simply engaging in conversation with this family.

I learned about the family’s history in Pueblo Nuevo, their views on the community, what they liked about Costa Rica, and their culture. Becoming more comfortable with our hosts, the boys were super excited to show us their backyard and the farm that their grandparents had. After having a delicious dinner that the grandmother prepared, the boys started jumping all over us, requesting piggy back rides and more, and even played with the various Snapchat filters on my phone. They even gave me and my roommates the greatest nicknames of “Dante Elephante,” “Michael Jordan,” and “Jorge de La Selva”. Keep in my mind that our names our Dante, Michael, and Josh. At that moment, they reminded me so much of my own brothers and their playful innocence. These boys were so happy to be with a group of people that they’ve never met before that they looked up to as older brothers. They were so sad to leave to their mom’s house later that night, knowing that they couldn’t spend the night with us. I couldn’t believe how close these boys got to us in a matter of hours with little conversation.

In The Human Experience, the two brothers end their journey by reconciling their severed relationship with their father. Realizing the conversations they had with these three groups, they learned that pain will always be there, but they learn to forgive their father to proceed in having a healthier relationship. I had a similar experience with Estevan and Andy.

Seeing the joy and innocence in their eyes playing with us reminded me a lot of my relationship with my younger brothers. I’m an out of state student and I normally see my siblings twice a year at most. This winter break, I couldn’t make the time to fly down and see them and I know they’re sad to hear that I won’t be seeing them this holiday season. I realized that the same joy these boys saw in us is the same joy my brothers have when they see me, yet I pay so little attention to that. Knowing that I brought some happiness to these boys’ lives lets me know I can do the same with my own brothers.


Leaving Pueblo Nuevo the following day, I could see that the community was grateful for our work and I knew a small part of me would be left behind there with Estevan and Andy. Before leaving, I managed to give Estevan my FIU hat to keep as a reminder of the short time we had. After saying our goodbyes to the community members, Andy managed to run alongside our tour bus as we drove off to our next destination. It was a picture-perfect moment, symbolizing how much happiness we were able to bring with the bonding experiences our class had there.

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