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December 11, 2008

MINNE -SNOW- TA

As the winter is finally here and finals are almost over, some international students are planning about going back to their home countries for the holiday. But if you decide to have a white Christmas in Minne -snow- ta (I usually say Minne -snow- ta instead of Minnesota as a joke since we get lots of snow ^o^), no need to worry about how you could spend your holiday here.

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Minneapolis - St. Paul (also known as the Twin Cities) area is considered as one of the capitals for the arts. Therefore, I personally think I am in the right place because I enjoy both, performing and visual arts.

1. Downtown St. Paul
In the winter, St. Paul is active with the St. Paul Winter Carnival which showcases ice sculpting, winter food, and an ice palace. St. Paul is also the birthplace of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts). Schulz' Snoopy cartoon inspired decorated giant Peanuts sculptures around the city. The picture that appeared on my introduction of this blog is me with Charlie and Sally Brown (two of many characters from Peanuts). Here is the link to the museum’s collection of Peanuts books if you want to know more about it: http://www.schulzmuseum.org/collection-about.html

If you do not really enjoy arts but love sports, the Landmark Center that is also located in downtown St. Paul usually has an ice rink free to public. I went there during the day but some of my friends who went there on New Year's eve mentioned that it was very beautiful because they put up a lot of lights. If you like more extreme sports, you could definitely try to go skiing or snowboarding. Minnesota is the perfect place to ski or snowboard and there are a couple good resorts for those sports here. Don't forget about ice hockey too!!! I would suggest you to at least come to one ice hockey game while you are here.

Ohh, just for your information, my friends and I were interviewed by a reporter from Kare 11 (a local TV station) when we were skating. It was interesting because they wanted to know how international students like us handled the winter in Minne-snow-ta and we were being very honest in answering that ^o^ http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=493148

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2. Downtown Minneapolis
As St. Paul is famous for its Winter Carnival, Minneapolis annually hosts The Holidazzle Parades which includes hundreds of costumed characters, thousands of tiny lights on the costumes, and the animated floats. The parades are held from the day after Thanksgiving until a couple days before Christmas on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

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http://tcstreetsforpeople.org/node/573

I am sure there are more interesting places and events that could be visited during the winter break or all year round. Each person usually has their own ways in finding information about where it is and how to get there. I usually keep my eyes open when I walk around campus and ask friends if there is anything fun we could do for that weekend. So come and join us here in the fun to explore and experience Minne-snow-ta!!!

Salam,
-asa-

December 4, 2008

Getting Ready for Departure: Logistical Matters

As my departure for Minneapolis got nearer, I started to think more about logistical matters. How should I bring my money? Am I going to get a bank account after arrival, or should I open one at a worldwide network like CITI Bank? How do I purchase my student insurance? How am I going to register for classes? For those of you who are going over the same questions, I hope this will be of some help.

Bank account: I opened an account at one of the most popular local banks called TCF Bank. The procedure was quite simple. I filled out the registration form at the same office where I got my student ID card. (I guess the bank registration table was there because it was the beginning of the semester. If opening an account later during the semester, you can go to the bank on campus instead.)

I like TCF Bank because I have easy access to their ATMs and branch offices situated on campus. My friends have other bank accounts, such as US Bank or Wells Fargo etc., and their ATMs are also accessible on campus. (Fewer than TCF's, though.) Keep in mind that a small fee is incurred for each transaction if withdrawing money from an ATM other than your own bank's. That said, accessibility is one of the key points in choosing your bank. I haven't seen any CITI Bank around, so this may not be a good option for those of you who are coming for a long-term stay.

When I came here, I brought a relatively big amount of money by traveler's checks. As soon as I opened my bank account, I deposited the travelers checks. Later on, I gave my account information to my family and asked them to wire transfer the rest of my money between banks. The fee is not really reasonable, so I don't recommend to do this frequently. Money order is another way to receive money from home, and probably, more economical than money transfer.

Insurance: I purchased my student insurance when I registered for my classes. All the bills (insurance, tuition, and other fees) came in later, and I paid them in a lump-sum by the first due date. (The first due date is about a month after the semester began. You can pay by installments, too.) Everything (course registration, bills, payments) is handled online. One Stop is the web site that we often visit for these purposes. If you have any questions, there are One Stop offices that will help you in person, too.

Umm, I really had to refresh my memories to write this up. Life has become so natural, and my initial concerns over these things have gone in the past. I hope you will settle in soon!

Misa

December 2, 2008

What would you do if...

What would you do if you get stuck at the airport? What would you do if there is nobody you could talk to? What would you do if all you could do is waiting? What would you do if...

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http://www.ezdiyelectricity.com/images/icons/question-mark1a.jpg

Last week I went to Vermont to spend the Thanksgiving break with my host family. It was super awesome that I did not want to go back to school ;p We had a delicious traditional Thanksgiving meal which included turkey (my host niece - she is 4 years old - called it Mr. Turkey), smashed and sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, cranberries, and ginger cheesecake!!! I did not take any single pictures because I was too busy enjoying every second of my stay in Vermont (I love being pictured instead of taking a picture anyway ^^) but I know some other people did. Once they upload the pictures in facebook.com (a social networking website), I will upload some of them in this blog ^o^

Of course life is not always about good times, sometimes we have to deal with the worst possible scenario as well. It was Sunday (November 30) and I was checking in for my flight back to Minneapolis when the airlines assistant informed me that my flight was canceled due to weather. She was trying to get me to a different flight and apparently the earliest one I could get was the next morning (December 1). I asked her if she could get me to a different airline that would be able to fly that day because I could not miss any of my Monday classes. I was trying to call my host mother when she suddenly said, "I managed to reserve you a seat for a flight from Burlington to Chicago. Now, to get from Chicago to Minneapolis, there's one flight at 10:19 PM. It's ,however, currently full. I could put you on the stand-by list if that's what you want. If you're lucky, you'll arrive in Minneapolis tonight. Another option is tomorrow morning at 6:25 AM. There are still some seats left for that flight." I thought about the options for a minute and let her know that I would take the chance of being a stand-by passenger.

It was already 9:10 PM when I arrived in Chicago O'Hare International Airport. I ran to the closest monitor to see where I had to go for United Airlines flight from Chicago to Minneapolis. Gate B4!!! I rushed myself to gate B4. Some people were already waiting in the boarding room but no airlines assistant was there. I kept my eyes on the screen to make sure there was no gate change. I waited and waited and waited again until I decided to count how many people were in the boarding room. There was and old lady wearing a purple coat with a set of pink hat, scarf, and gloves. Very cute. Not far from my seat, an Asian family was having pizza. It was interesting to listen to their conversation because I never heard that language before. From a tag in their luggage, I found out that they are from Laos. I finished counting. There were thirty two people in the boarding room. I did not know how many seats they had for that particular flight but I was crossing my finger hoping I could go home that night.

Finally, an airlines assistant showed up. She made an announcement that she would start calling stand-by passengers' names to assign them seats. One..two..three..ten people already got called. I was about to jump out of my chair when the eleventh name she called was mine. I arrived in my apartment at 3 o'clock in the morning and went straight to bed without bothering myself to take a shower.

I am not mad at God, not at the weather, not at everyone either. I am glad that I was in that situation because I had a great time realizing how diverse this world is, how those differences among us should make our bond stronger. Would would happen if everyman looked like Brad Pitt and every woman looked like Angelina Jolie? Not fun definitely. I am glad that I was in that situation because it helped me to grow as a wiser and stronger woman. I am glad that I was in that situation because now I have a story that I can share with everyone else, including YOU ^^

Salam,
-asa-

December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving! (+ a video for winter clothing :)

We just came out of the long Thanksgiving weekend, and besides the extra sleep, the shopping on Black Friday and the "loading on food", it was also a great opportunity for people and family to get together, and share a homemade dinner together :). I didn't do anything special that Thursday besides catching up on my sleep and baking a little, but I went shopping Friday around 11am at the Mall of America! A lot of people, but no crazy shoppers as the stories you may have heard about this year Black Friday, i.e. a Wal-Mart (just a store) employee got killed :/ that day, because of shoppers whose enthusiasm was a "little too much".

The Saturday before, the international student organization IFGP

(I am one of their officers as well as Asa :) held a Thanksgiving dinner (mostly for international freshmen), and we got to cook a LOT of food for all the guests, i.e. Mash Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Turkey, Pies, Green Beans,...etc... The event was excellent, lots of people,....of course great cooking, we got a lot of compliment on how the event was set up and the students and officers were really happy to be part of all of it.

We also had an funny activity called the "Winter Strip" to which made fun of the necessity of wearing lots of layers of clothing for the winter! The person with the best presentation of their layers won a prize. I took a short video of our officers "Winter Strip" :) Enjoy!


Winter Clothing Video
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Viviane

My Second Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Last semester, I was with my mom during the holiday since she came to the US for some business reasons while this semester, I was here alone, literally. But actually I had great fun in different cliques.
- Wednesday
Let me introduce you an amazing place for seafood – Mystic Lake’s Casino Buffet! It is a place for gambling actually but they do offer buffet. But they only provide seafood buffet on Wednesday and that’s why we went there. I promise you it was the longest time for me to wait for food – 2 hours! The price for seafood buffet is $22.95. Besides the oyster and crab, the dessert tasted good as well.
- Thursday
On the afternoon I went to a friend’s apartment. We had hot pot and then the most exciting thing was that he has the karaoke system at home!! He connects the laptop with TV so that the songs are updating. I just couldn’t believe he even downloaded the most recent songs. We were having hot pot and singing for more than 4 hours. It reminded me of my hometown. Nowadays, Chinese young people’s most popular way to spend leisure time is karaoke. It is very cheap to stay there for a whole afternoon. In addition, my friend is from Taiwan and he is good at cooking. He asked friends to eat at his apartment and we can order the dishes online beforehand (he posts the pictures of his dishes online). After that, we decided to go shopping because it was nearly midnight which means Black Friday was coming. We went to Albertville Outlet and there were already too many people that we were not able to park closely. I felt like Chinese people all have the join-in-the-fun nature because I didn’t buy much stuff but I would rather go even it was cold and crowded.
- Saturday
Four of my friends drove to Akita Sushi and Hibachi to have sushi buffet for dinner. As I am taking Japanese course, I felt excited to have Japanese food. However, as I entered the restaurant, I saw white people wearing kimono and Chinese waitress speaking Chinese instead of English or Japanese. Err…literally I don’t know how to describe my feeling. Anyways, the food was good but a little bit expensive. After that, we went to AMC to watch the new movie Twilight. I was so into it even when I got back home. I downloaded the OST of the movie. I love this one although I saw many critiques online.
- Sunday
OMG… it is the end of my thanksgiving holiday. I felt stressed today because I played too much and final is coming. I am a sophomore right now but on one hand, I am still developing the ability to balance, on the other hand, I am learning the social skills such as being an ice-breaker which is definetely necessary in the future.

STUDY TIME!!

Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative (Great Place to Live on Campus)

If you're admitted students of U of M, and
If you're in graduate programs,
Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative (CTC) is one of the nicest places to live on Campus.

CTC is a University dormitory for U of M students who have family. However, umarried graduate students can also apply for 1, 2, or 3 bed apartment in CTC.

Nice points of CTC:
Great location: Very Next to St. Paul Campus
Spacious Facility: kitchen & living, second-story building for 2 and 3 bed apartment.
Inexpensive Rent Fee: $335 per each for 2 bedroom apartment (garbage, electricity, water, and parking lot included)

If you want more information, please follow this link! http://www.umnctc.org/