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Marriott Tianjin China Program at FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management

Golden Week!

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019
What a week!
I stayed in Tianjin for the Golden Week as there was so much I didn’t do since I have been here.
The first thing I did was the Tianjin Eye. It was beautiful, simple and relaxing. If you have ever been on the London Eye, it is exactly the same as the Tianjin Eye. The best time to go is when the sun is setting, it is such a scenic view.
I also went to the Porcelain House (China House). The outside is absolutely gorgeous and unique. It has millions of ancient porcelain pieces from porcelain wares, over 300 pieces of stone lions from the dynasties, and 20 tons of natural crystals. It’s worth a visit!
The next day, I went to a very popular restaurant called Haidilao for dinner. It’s China’s famous hot pot. This is where you basically cook your own food and the service is one of the best I have ever experienced. I highly recommend going to Haidilao when you come to China. It is an experience you must have because it is too good. For example, every single time (no exaggeration) I reached for the iPad to order food on the menu, I felt the waitress’s hand over mine also getting the iPad. I couldn’t even believe it myself. That is only one service experience that may seem unbelievable, but there is so much more, so you have to go!
With my island behavior, I just had to go to a spa. There is nothing more an island person likes to do than relax and be pampered. There were so many new things I tried at this spa like hot ginger knee wrap, fire cupping under my feet, and a man using a scapula to remove the dead skin under my feet. Interesting right? I also got a back massage and foot massage which were divine.
Even though my Golden Week was simple, it was new cultural experiences for me; and you don’t always need to go far for new adventures. Sometimes the best adventures are the ones close to home.ImageImageImageImageImageImage

Take it all in!

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

If it is one thing I’ve learned in my life- it is to keep things simple; just enjoy every moment and embrace what is in front of you.

Golden Week was very different for me. Instead of traveling outside of Tianjin, my friend and I stayed and explored what the municipality had to offer. We visited the famous Porcelain House also known as the China House which is a house made up of millions of ancient porcelain pieces from porcelain wares. We did the Tianjin Eye, also known as the Tientsin Eye, which is a giant Ferris wheel built over the Hai River with a height of 394 ft, and at the end of the week, we visited the tallest mountain in Tianjin (Jiu Shan Ding).

All of these places were very interesting, but in the midst of being constantly active, I was reminded of how important it is to also be still. While it is good to explore, remember to be present, mindful, and aware of the “now.” Too many times we lose focus of the real meaning behind the things we do, especially as young people with the influence of social media. We are always searching for the best picture to post and the most unique places to put on our stories, when in reality, as global citizens, our stories should be the ones that we can tell people about based on real, genuine experiences we have had. In other words, do more than just the ordinary, truly immerse yourself with the culture, and aim for growth so you can have much more to say than to show.

With that said keep in mind, if you embark on this study abroad journey, and want to visit these places, remember when you step into the China House to pass your fingers on the walls and feel the art; at the Tianjin Eye instead of looking at the camera lens, look outside – a sunset may be passing you by; and at the Jiu Shan Ding Mountain, remember to just breathe… Inhale the untouched air, hold in the pure joy, and take time to exhale.

         

First Steps Into Art & Culture

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

From meeting the Chinese students and teachers, to taking pictures with random strangers because I look different; studying abroad in China has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The Golden Panthers have really made it easy to feel welcomed and at home. All the classes assign group projects on the first day, and I truly believe it is to get us all talking and friendly. After all, I’m sure the nerves and excitement to meet each other is mutual.

Once everyone was settled in, it was time to go exploring, traveling, and of course, getting lost. Tianjin is a very beautiful city, full of different architectural styles with inspirations from Europe, Seattle, and New York. The Tianjin Eye is a great way to see the entire city at almost a bird’s eye view. Another great spot in Tianjin is Ancient Culture City, full of special architectural styles, classic cultural features, various folk crafts shops, and delicious local snacks.

The Tianjin Eye
Entrance to Ancient Culture Street
Inside Ancient Culture Street
My scroll, purchased at Ancient Culture Street

Our next stop was Beijing and the incredible Forbidden City, as well as the Temple of Heaven. Beijing has a wide range of architectural styles, but standing out the most is a combination of traditional imperial style and modern corporate style. One of my favorite things I did was visit Shichachai Park, a place where locals gather for recreational activities like renting boats on the lake or visiting bars/restaurants with live music. I only spent two days in this incredible city, and I wasn’t able to do everything it has to offer; but rest assured, I will go back.

The last stop was Dalian, one of the biggest seaports located in the south of China. It’s a beautiful city full of its own character, with ocean-themed architecture and sometimes called the “Russian City” for its dome architecture. I got to stay in a castle, yes that’s right a castle, with a view that overlooks the city and the sea. A one night adventure was enough to soak up the city and leave me wanting more.

This was the beginning of more adventures to come – full of art, music, and great people. I am so glad I get to call this country home for the next 3 months.

First adventures in China

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

The-View Red-Dress-Gang In-hat Food

Trying to be a local in a country where you do not understand the language and you are starting to learn the culture, is not an easy task. Hotpot, metro, VPN, local parks, getting lost, didi, taxi drivers, bullet trains, 13 hrs of sun, pictures with strangers ,and much more can truly sum up what I have experienced my first month in China. Let me explain…

Food: It has been amazing. Like any other country, even though they have different mixtures of plates, its all the same food and has the same taste to it. It is really good, just hard to order since they do not understand me and all the foods and condiments are the same therefor they taste THE SAME. This is not a bad thing, it is very delicious; it just gets a little tiring. I have found local restaurants specially in the cities we have visited (Beijing, Dalian & Panjin) that have their own city spin to the food.

Transportation: We started using didi’s (China’s version of Uber or Lyft) since it is simple to order a car; just plug in both addresses and you don’t have to try and explain to the driver where to go. But we quickly realized distances are not short, and even though each rides are $3-$8 max it adds up pretty fast. Additionally, when trying to get a didi before 7am or after 11pm, since the side gates are closed, the drivers do not understand that they must go to the main gate and that has also been an issue.

We started asking our new classmates how to use the metro and it was not as hard as we thought it would be. Now we are all set to use the metro ALL around China and have all the maps downloaded to our phones.  This way we will no longer spend on unnecessary didi’s or waste time with confused drivers. It is truly a win-win situation even though, some drivers have really tried to communicate with us.

One of our weekend trips was to Dalian, a small city on the coast. This is not a very touristy city, meaning that when the driver picked us up she was excited to meet us and started talking to us with an amazing app. We were told prior to our trip to download google translate, but it does not work unless we have wifi, so we can not always use it. BUT, this driver showed us this amazing app that has alleviated the communication with locals that do not speak English!

Travel:  Traveling like a local in China is a very easy task actually. We have stated to do our research, and every time we are looking for a place to go or even eat, we first look at Chinese webpages not only travel pages. In Dalian, as we were talking to the didi driver, she recommended this amazing ranch which we visited and spent the day like locals. It was an amazing experience; it was amazing sceneries and beautiful people all around.

We saw more than just the ranch in the middle of nowhere. As we were leaving there was no way of going back to the city, for we were in the middle of the woods; only public transportation was available. Without really knowing what we were doing, we hopped on the bus and tried talking to the driver to explain where we were going. He actually understood us and told us what stop would be closest to our hotel. We were truly living in a local’s shoes. Not only was this mini adventure in Dalian, but a week later we visited Panjin to go to one of Chinas local attractions, The Red Beach.

We bought a same day ticket on a regular train, giving us 6 hours of fun on a train bed. We slept Saturday night on the train bed, which was truly an experience. We arrived Sunday to the best tour guide ever.

We spent the day in Panjin, thinking we would only visit the Red Beach and go back home that same night. Little did we know that we would fall in love with the best hot spring in China. Our tour guide took us to a hot spring that gives you 24-hour access for only 140 RMB (just over $20) — it even offered a room to sleep and a movie theater. It was truly a place we are looking forward to going back to.

All these places were local recommendations and ended up being the best places we have ever been. Tourist locations are overrated, BUT, still fun! I can not deny that the temples and palaces we have visited so far in these 4 cities have not been extremely amazing and breath taking. Just a little too main stream for my taste. Street food and crazy adventures are more my forte.

Dalian, Beijing, Tianjin, and Panjin have been the cities we have visited so far, where we have experienced local custom and local food. We have been in China less than a month and already understand so much about them. I’m truly looking forward to visiting more of China in the upcoming weeks and knowing everything there is to know about the culture, for each thing we learn is more amazing than the previous.

#FIUHospitality #studyabroad #lovingit

For Daily recaps or live stories please visit my IG blog to get a closer view of our daily adventures and fun the oriental way: @travelingwithAngelica.

Arrival / Start of Classes

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

Tianjin-Drum-Tower-1 Initial-Bed-Cushion-3 Walking-Around-Dalian-China Tianjin-Drum-Tower Super-cushioned-bed-for-back-support..-HEAVEN-SENT Roommate-Ana-Julia-and-I-at-the-Tianjin-Eye-1 Initial-Bed-Cushion-2 Initial-Bed-Cushion-1 Castle-Hotel-In-Dalian-1 Roommate-Ana-Julia-and-I-at-the-Tianjin-Eye Initial-Bed-Cushion Castle-Hotel-In-Dalian

Hello again from Tianjin!! It is hard to believe that we are close to a month in already! I am absolutely loving my new home and have been truly enjoying all the things I have been able to do and accomplish!

I am only taking two classes this semester as those are the only classes I need to graduate; therefore, I have a good amount of time on my hands to not only focus on school but on myself.

In both of my classes we have groups, so it has been a lot of fun getting to know all of the students here. Even with the language barrier we make it work. Thanks to a Didi driver I has I was able to purchase an application for my phone which allows anyone to speak in whichever language they prefer, and it translates it to any other language. This app has been a GAME CHANGER and has genuinely made all of my interactions here with others smooth, regardless if they know English or not!

Thus far I have seen a few Tianjin attractions, from riding The Eye to visiting Culture Street and the Drum Tower.  I’m not quite done finding a lot of Tianjin’s hidden gems, but I am definitely excited to see all the other places as well.

Roommate Ana Julia and I at the Tianjin Eye

Aside from Beijing, I have had the opportunity to visit Dalian, China and stayed in an actual castle! Dalian, a former Russian city, was so full of history…. and pollution. Everywhere you looked the buildings had the dome roofs which is what is seen commonly from Russian architecture.

Castle Hotel in Dalian

Coming to China I was prepared for a lot of changes… but BOY I was not ready for the mattress that we were going to be getting… or should I say LACK of a mattress. This was a big struggle for me arriving here due to having medical issues. After three trips to stores such as Walmart and Ikea, I was finally able to make myself some 5-star comfort FIU-TUC style. It has definitely been an interesting but HUGE victory on my end.

Initial bed cushion
Super cushioned bed for back support.. HEAVEN SENT

With Golden week quickly approaching, stay tuned to my next adventure in China, it’s going to be a big one!

Walking Around Dalian, China

In With The New and Out With The Old!

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

The-Ancient-Cultural-Street Taking-pictures-with-the-locals Meet-Sunny-and-Tessa.-We-were-off-to-the-welcome-dinner. Eating-soups-with-the-chopsticks Image-1-small.jpeg

Meet Sunny (L) and Tessa (M). We were off to the welcome dinner. I’m on the right.

I am not just a tourist visiting China; I am actually living in China until December. From the moment I stepped on China’s ground, it was officially time to kiss my old life goodbye.  Everything that anyone told me, whether good or bad, no longer influenced my thoughts or expectations about China as I knew it was finally time for me to create my own experiences and stories. Even with all the preparations and research I did to ready myself, it only became real when I arrived.

The first thing that struck my curiosity about China was the people. It’s their eagerness, boldness, kindness, and contentment that immediately made me feel welcomed and strangely safe. It stems all the way from the little children, the students, the teachers, the canteen staff to the elderly. Can you imagine yourself hosting a group that speaks a totally different language? This is not a task anyone is easily willing to do but the Chinese students fully accepted us and made it their duty to assist us in whatever way we needed; no matter how little or how big, trust and believe me when I say they got it done for us. It reminds me of the show Paw Patrols when the pups say “No job is too big or no pup is too small.” Also, keep in mind I am speaking about students; they do not have to do this, but this just goes to show their drive to make you feel welcomed.

Where do I even begin with the other citizens of China I mentioned such as the little children, the canteen staff, and the elderly? It is fascinating to see them look at you like you are odd. It’s like a ‘WOW’ moment for them. So get ready because here they come!

Taking pictures with the locals

They will either take out their phones and start recording or take pictures of you, or they are brave enough to walk up to you and touch your hair. I have long braids in my hair so it’s even more interesting to them. They want to touch my braids and take a closer look. Hearing about this was pretty weird, and I thought it was something I would not like; but to tell you the truth, I am honestly enjoying it and having so much fun.

As soon as I see the phones, I am ready to pose for a picture, no hesitation. I am famous in China; I am taking advantage while I have the opportunity. However, I can appreciate it because you can see the genuine amusement on their faces when they see us. It brings happiness to my heart knowing I can share this knowledge with them that there are other types of people in the world.

The Ancient Cultural Street

The teachers and students also made it their duty to learn another language, which is English, and they have this admirable desire to learn more of it. I must say I thought interacting with any Chinese citizen was going to be frustrating, but it is actually an enjoyable experience. Two different cultures are speaking to each other, they both hope each other can understand what they are saying but no one understands each other — isn’t that amazing? What a perfect opportunity to share, learn and help each other.

My friend and I always have a good laugh with the canteen staff when we are trying to order food. We cannot understand each other but a friendly relationship is forming. I am also trying to learn Mandarin. So far I can count from one to ten in Chinese, greet someone, and say I would like to have rice and chicken. Soon I will be participating in tutoring English to the freshman Chinese students, and I am filled with glee to begin.

It is only 3 weeks in, but I would encourage any student to grab this study abroad opportunity to study in China. It is only 3 weeks in, and I absolutely love China. It is only 3 weeks in, and I already put China as number 1 on my list of my favorite places I visited. It is only 3 weeks in, and I can say this is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Cultural experiences have a very funny way of scaring us, but it also has a very beautiful way of making us cherish the memories and friends.

Fun Fact: I cannot eat with chopsticks, but I only eat my meals with chopsticks.

Eating soup with chopsticks

A Foodtastic Time

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

Korean-Barbecue Hot-Pot Hong-Kong-style-noodle-restaurant

It seems almost absurd that nearly a month has gone by since arriving to China… The experiences, the emotions, the people we’ve met! What an indescribable reality!

Hot Pot

Not only have I found a restaurant that fulfills my Costa Rican need for beans (a true delicacy if you ask me) thanks to my friend and FIU-TUC veteran, Mario, but I have also delved into the world of flavor offered to me by Hot Pots and Korean Barbecues (true life changers and definitely my personal favorites).

Hong Kong Style Noodle Restaurant

I have been mesmerized by the aromas, sounds and flavors I have been surrounded by, and my curious mind has been satisfied to no end in the myriad of conversations I have been able to have with my two amazing professors. The four classes I’m taking allow me to delve into the culinary world like no other classes have ever done. Introduction to Food Production, International Baking Confectionaries and Desserts, Wine and Food Paring, and Food Service Trends and Challenges are the four classes I’m taking at Tianjin, and I couldn’t be happier. Learning and discussing about foods, and flavors, and combinations has been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what the upcoming weeks have in store for me inside and outside of class.

Korean Barbeque

I have always admired and loved the communal nature of Asian cuisines and meals, and being able to experience it with such amazing people as I have the last couple of weeks has definitely reinforced that love. To Angie, Celine, Mario, Li, Barbara, Tessa, Jamin, Miranda, and everyone else who has helped me deepen my fascination for food and culinary arts these last couple of weeks while also sharing delicious food and tea with me:  I appreciate you greatly and I am excited for what’s to come!!!!

Campus Insight (Part 1)

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

Arriving back campus was an extraordinary experience. TUC students starting to flood the campus streets, warm weather, and excitement in the air as freshmen arrive for their first year. But before the beginning of classes, you can see the military training of Chinese students all around campus in full swing. (Picture below)

Classes started and I got to meet my professors and fellow classmates for the second semester! Each class I chose has different professors than last time, so I was extra enthusiastic. I found the materials very interesting and also that a lot of the seniors graduated and I’m in classes with more juniors this semester. Slowly but surely they’re warming up to me *Wink*, and if not, I approach them and ask for their WeChat (Juniors especially are more shy, because they believe that they have poor English). Once we add each other and I speak to them, the ice is broken for the most part. I look forward to working with many of them in group projects or asking them for suggestions of restaurants.

Walking down the campus streets you can easily get amazed by the amount of students in their own world but subsequently intertwined to one purpose. A sole purpose to obtain knowledge and gain experience of living away from home to better themselves — from physical exercises such as soccer, basketball, ping pong, riding bikes, or simply walking around the track course; or buying fruits at the local produce store, to printing at the corner shop, picking up or sending packages from the postal service station, and lastly buying snacks and essentials from the numerous corner stores. It’s a campus full of life, curiosity and potential!

One of my favorite places is the humongous library placed in the heart of the campus. You can find me, for the most part, at the 5th floor in a private room (Newspaper room) in the evening on weekdays and early afternoon on weekends. (Pictures below)

GPT (Golden Panthers Tianjin) host several events during the semester and their first one was held recently. It was a lovely tea party with international students, freshmen, sophomores (getting involved), and juniors that have entered the FIU program. The topic was garbage certification (reduce, reuse and recycle), an emphasis on the importance of keeping the earth safe from improper use of rubbish.

Interacting with the Chinese students is always very fun for me. Their efforts to understand and speak English is admirable. Our curiosity for each others’ culture keeps the environment spicy, I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve experienced incredible bonding moments, and I even played games where International students (me) had to speak Chinese, translate ecosystem, recycle, etc. in Chinese. My group was very helpful, and surprisingly, I did well as a matter of fact. Hmmm… we ranked 4th of 4 groups (hey! don’t judge). I made like 10 new friends that day, tasted black tea and green tea with fruits — definitely a day to remember! I look forward for the upcoming events!

Stay tuned for an insight to campus life in my upcoming post!

First Weeks

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

The first weeks of any trip are fulled with mixed emotions. You are anxious, sad, happy, stressed, and everything, just because you are completely out of your comfort zone. This is a hard decision for everyone, and the first weeks are the trial to see if you will be able to fight or flight. During this time, I learned many things about China’s luxury hotels. I had the opportunity to stay at a Marriott Luxury Collection Hotel, and to visit a Ritz-Carlton property here in Tianjin. The expectation was very high since the design of the hotels were nicer than in America.

The Castle Hotel Dalian is one of the prettiest hotels I’ve ever seen. Located in Dalian, an oceanside city in Northern China was built in a mountain facing the ocean, and it was just like a Disney castle. In the hotel, the rooms where very big and the bathroom was very unique. It had a speaker so you can listen to whatever you were watching on the TV while showering, the toilet had an automated system where you sit and it automatically warms the seat; it flushes automatically; and it has a drying system to make you feel clean and fresh.

Moreover, this hotel is part of the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio which means there are certain standards and procedures that have to be followed to give the same experience to their guests worldwide. Things like the 15-5 rule where the associates have to greet or smile to the guests, wasn’t a thing at this property. To be a castle, the hotel has a lot to improve but the location and amenities can make a balance between the service and experience provided.

I also wanted to explore the Ritz-Carlton. A famous worldwide brand where Ladies and Gentlemen are serving Ladies and Gentlemen. The Ritz is one of the brands that can maintain a high quality of service no matter the location.

At this property, my expectations weren’t the best. We went to have lunch at the restaurant, and because it was after 2 PM, the variety was very limited due to local traditions of having lunch between 12-2 PM. I ordered a regular pork sandwich and a pomegranate sparkling juice. The food took a while to arrive, and the service was very unpleasant. First of all, only one server spoke decent English, so it was very hard to communicate. In addition, they never showed interest in our satisfaction. They never followed up and the worst part was my fork was dirty. I was shocked when I saw that I was experiencing that kind of hospitality at a luxury hotel. Days after, I understood that it is not in their tradition to keep checking on our table to make sure everything was ok. Also, I understood how hard it is for employees and companies overall to deliver the same experience at all properties worldwide. Moreover, this has to be improved because the success of a hotel company is based on the loyalty of a guest and the experience they can share with others.

Find Motivation in the Simple Things

By Marriott Tianjin China Program – Fall 2019

Sasha Learning to Ride a Bike bike-blog-2-pic.jpg

It took me twenty-two years and a semester abroad in China to finally do something I never thought I would ever be able to do in my life; I learned to ride a bike!

Day 1. I was highly motivated, nothing could have stopped me at this point, or so I thought until I realized that I couldn’t even get my feet onto the pedal. In life, we get into things thinking that it will all fall into place, that everything will work out but life never goes to plan! It is in times like these, we must be able to adapt to change and keep pushing forward especially when doing something like a semester abroad. It’s a new country and a different environment; the best thing to do is to let go of all expectations and just enjoy each moment as it comes.

Day 2. I’m back again, my feet made it onto the pedal, but now, I cannot find my balance. No matter how I try, I’m either leaning too much to the left, or to the right and when I try to move, I’m wobbling. You see, I was too afraid to fall. Many times when we start something new, a new journey, a project, job whatever it may be, we doubt ourselves, we hold back and that’s why we wobble. We can’t see straight, so we lean on others, on our past, on our own understanding of things but what we really ought to do, is look at the road ahead of us! Get that balance and don’t look back.

Day 3. I can feel it, I’m nearly there, my feet are up, I have balance, now all I need to do is just push off! There I was trying over and over to get moving, my friend Aaliyah who has been by my side from the beginning motivating me, Jamin, one of the FIU faculty members giving me advice on what to do and out of nowhere, this old Chinese man came up to me and starts trying to help. We could not understand each other because of the language barrier, but we knew we had a common desire and that was for me to push off! It was at that moment I knew that I had to learn to ride this bike today! Because this man who had never seen me before, who could not even communicate with me wanted to see me succeed! This is what life is about… pushing off!, doing things we never thought we could, believing in ourselves, and believing in others!

I took a deep breath, I looked straight ahead and before I knew it, I was riding!

The joy I felt at that moment was unlike any joy I had ever felt in my entire life! That joy represented hard work, determination, consistency, and support; the key things we need to achieve.

Without the will to change, we can’t move; without the courage to continue, we can’t move; without the support of others, we can’t move; but with these things we can, and I did!

Now, from this day forward anytime I’m asked the question “What would you say is your biggest accomplishment in life?” The answer would be, the day I learned to ride a bike.

I encourage you to learn from the simple things as you embark on your own study abroad journey. Mental wellness is not always about meditation, it’s about appreciating the little things and recognizing the lessons in them. Being in China, I was forced to get out of my comfort zone because everyone here rides bikes to get around, but whether it’s learning to ride, or learning a new language, just do it! Because as the saying goes, “If not now, when?”

Learning to ride with a little help from my friend, Aaliyah.
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