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The Northwood University Study Abroad Blog

 

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Belize 2013

The study abroad group visiting Lamanai  Mayan ruins.

The study abroad group visiting Lamanai Mayan ruins.

On December 14, 2013, Northwood University sent a group of five students to study abroad in Belize with Professor Robert Harris.

Posing on the mask temple.

Posing on the mask temple.

During this six-day long trip, the group did various activities from viewing the Mayan ruins, to snorkeling, to hiking the country’s rain forests.

Steve and Nate stopping for a quick photo while hiking in the rain forest.

Steve and Nate stopping for a quick photo while hiking in the rain forest.

Cristin and Carrie on the Caribbean Sea.

Cristin and Carrie on the Caribbean Sea.

Through this, the business students were taught the importance of Eco-Tourism, that is, the importance of being friendly to our Earth in our business and tourism endeavors.

(From Left) Will, Cristin, Steven, Carrie, and Nate hiking in the rain forrest.

(From Left) Will, Cristin, Steven, Carrie, and Nate hiking in the rain forest.

Semester in Asia 2013 – Elephant Riding

When we went elephant riding it was such a fun and different experience! The elephants were so friendly and if you tapped twice on their head that would be a signal for the elephants to bring their trunks up and let you pet them. My experience was a bit different from everyone because once in the water the elephant thought it would be fun to spray me a few times. According to the one of the workers, that is a sign that the elephant likes you. It’s like the elephant knew I was excited about riding it and showed some love with a shower.

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Semester in Asia 2013 – Cambodia

We have just come from Cambodia, one of the less developed countries of Southeast Asia. We came into a beautiful airport with traditional style architecture and were off on our first adventure to see the Floating Village.

Later on, we got to visit the Artisan d’Angkor. There were many magnificent pieces all around their store, but it was more fascinating to think of how each of those pieces was made by personal hand.

The next day was exciting as well, although it started on a sad note. We got to start at the Killing Field of Siem Reap. Our guide explained to us how the tragedy had come around because of the merciless Pol Pot in a time of great turmoil. We then continued to the world-famous Angkor Wat (pronounced Vhat). Walking around the temples, palace, and between the walls could give one the chills thinking of all the man-power and struggle that was put into building such a colossal city! We finished at a famous local restaurant where we had the chance to enjoy lovely dances depicting ancient and more recent stories.

Semester in Asia- 2013 Malaysia

 

Today is our second day in Malaysia.  WOW! What a pleasant surprise Kuala Lampur is! As soon as we got off the flight from Bangkok we ventured onto a KL city tour.  Deanna, our tour guide, took us to the National Museum, the King’s Palace, the Twin Towers, and the Kuala Lampur Tower.  Malaysia is an extremely diverse country.  There is a prime minister, and nine royal families which run on a five year rotation.  Malaysia gained independence in 1957.  The country experiences warm weather year round, and considers its winter as monsoon season, very rainy.  It is a muslim country, and as we found out very few are truly native malay.  Many people from India, China and other parts of Asia have settled here over the years.  We found that english is spoken almost everywhere due to the British colonization in the late 1700s.  Here are some photos from the city tour:

Twin Towers

 

The King’s New Palace

 

After a great day touring the city of KL, we headed to another business partner meeting, this time with a Northwood alum.  Jonathan Seevaratnam graduated from Northwood Michigan in 2001 with an International Business and Management degree.  During his time in Michigan some jobs held by Jon included a student assistant, a door-to-door salesman in Detroit, and a professional clown.  Yes! A clown.  In May of 2000, with the inspiration of Will Smith, Jon established his brand Jiggee Entertainment. After living the “American Dream” and maxing out his credit cards, Jiggee Jon took his talents back to Malaysia.  Here is where his company became truly successful.  In 2012 Jiggee Entertainment Agency generated about four million in revenue.  So far, 2013 sales have already doubled this amount.  Jon welcomed us into his creative office atmosphere and gave us true entrepreneurial advice.  He credits a lot of his success to Northwood, and what his experiences in the states.  Currently his team consists of about ten creative employees at his headquarters in KL, and 60 special operations event day employees.  New this summer he has hired his first American intern, Tyler a student from the Michigan campus.  His business is growing rapidly, and he hopes to expand outside of southeast Asia.  Jiggee Jon’s story was inspirational and shows the importance of a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

 

 

 

 

Check out some of his teams work here:

 

This morning we attended an American Independence celebration at a local International University in KL.  Here I was reminded of what the American dream truly is.  The understanding of the global market is more important than ever.  As Americans we often plan our career paths within the boundaries of our own country.  I am learning that there are so many opportunities outside American territory.  When choosing a career path it is important to keep an open mind, an 18 month plan, and a positive attitude.  Being focused on these things will provide for a successful career. So far, Malaysia has been a great experience.  This afternoon we will attend a lecture on Islamic Banking.

Semester in Asia 2013- Rubber Plantation

After three flights, 2 layovers, 8,818 miles, and 30 hours of flight time, we are in BANGKOK, THAILAND! I can’t say that it was an easy journey but I am so happy to be on the ground, even if it is only for five days until our next flight.  After arriving to JHL Golf Villas and Homes, just outside of Bangkok, we hurried to bed in preparation for a 6am wake up call for our first business partner program the next day.

Today we visited the Haddyai Rubber Plantation about an hour outside of Bangkok.  The 1,000 acre plantation is owned by Kuhn Pat.  His family owned business produces sheets of rubber which are sold domestically throughout Thailand.  Thailand is the biggest rubber producer and exporter of the world.  The process to make the rubber was surprisingly fascinating.

 

Each worker is assigned 1,500 trees.  At midnight he goes out and “cuts” half of his trees.  The next night the other half is cut.  A metal cup is attached to each tree to catch the dripping latex.  The process is similar to maple syrup tapping.  In the morning the worker collects the latex and brings it into the factory. These workers are paid based on production and receive 35% of profits they assisted in producing.

Here the latex is combined with 1 part acid to 1 part latex in metal bins and mixed until the substance thickens.

Metal sheets are then inserted into the bins to harden the sheets into slices. The slices of hardened rubber are sent through a press machine to thin the sheets out.

The rubber sheets are then lined on bamboo sticks to dry.  Next they are sent into a large barn known as the smoke room.  They are smoked for 3-4 days.  The smoking process gives the rubber a longer shelf life of 1-2 years in the warehouse.

             

Imperfections that occur during the smoking process are cut out of the rubber.  The women in the above pictures work about 12 hours a day and are paid 300/baht a day.  This is equivalent to 10 US dollars.

From start to finish the rubber takes about 5-6 days to make.  After a long morning at the rubber plantation, Kuhn Pat took us to lunch…

  

YUM! Pad thai, tom yum, fish cakes, sea bass, catfish, fresh coconut drinks, morning glory, seaweed salad, the list goes on.  Overall it was a great morning and afternoon with Kuhn Pat.  We met his son and nephew who live in Bangkok, and plan to meet up with them in a couple weeks.  Kuhn Pat is a perfect example of what it is like to be a successful business leader in Thailand.  He is very humble, and was very welcoming.  He loved the fact that some of us were from Texas, where his very successful cousin Charlie lives (his cousin owns the popular jewelry chain Charming Charlie!).

Our next stop on our jet-lagged day was Buddha Mountain:

Buddha Mountain is located in Pattaya.  The 130 meter high mountain is one of the areas most noticeable landmarks.  The Buddha was created in 1996 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s position at the throne.  The image was carved out of the mountain using laser technology.  The gold leaf paint was then applied.  This Buddha image is one of the worlds largest.  Around the mountain was plenty of gorgeous landscaping and shrines where many Buddhist believers come and pay their respects.

trip to belize

Trip members

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Trip to Belize

The Sun God's temple

Semester in Asia 2012

Sitting atop the roof of the Bong Sen Hotel in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam I could not help to look out over the city I never thought I would see and contemplate over everything I had seen in the previous 4 weeks. People, places, foods, and lifestyles that I had only heard about, but had now seen. At our first stop at the 7 Eleven on our way to JHL from the airport after arriving in Thailand I remember thinking wow I dont know what I have gotten myself into, only to wake up the next morning and see an amazing Buddhist temple and Buddah Mountain. I have been blown away every single day of the past 4 weeks, we have not had a dull moment yet! I cannot pick out a favorite day, or place, or event because they have all been once in a lifetime. We have traveled by every means possible, by big plane, little plane, big boat, little boat, fast boat, slow boat, bus, tuk tuk, elephant, taxi, train, cable car, cyclotour, golf cart, but most of all by FOOT! It has been an experience I will never forget! Just to name a few, we have seen Hellfire Pass, Phi Phi Island, The Emerald Buddah, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City. We have seen ancient history with our own eyes as well as seen the saddness of war history here in Vietnam. Most of all, for me, I have been surprised and captivated by the kindness and the smiles of the Asian people, they have been by far the most welcoming and open-hearted people I have ever witnessed.  To top it all off, I have been blessed with being on this trip with 6 other amazing students whom I will remain friends with for a lifetime, and one genius of a professor that has made seeing the once thought impossible, possible!

 

Next stop…HAWAII!

Cobra

Coming to Vietnam I had heard that eating other different types of animals were an option. This was something that caught my attention, after listening to the options of what we were opened too, cobra was the more exotic yet subtle choice. Five of us students went to the restaurant not really knowing what to expect. We were sat in more of a VIP section, upstairs in a private room. The hospitality of the restaurant was very nice, the waiters and waitresses worked with us very well on what we were wanting. We then picked out what we wanted to try and how we wanted it cooked, thinking that was all we had to do the next thing we know the waiter brings in the cobra itself . I started to think maybe he was just showing us the size or making sure that’s what we were wanting. Soon after, another waiter walks in with a stool, it then hit me that they were going to kill this snake in front of us, and sure enough that’s what he did. But the show was still not over, we we’re debating on who was going to eat the heart and liver of the cobra, that personally wasn’t in my agenda to do but two of the other students were happy to do so. We were able to watch him cut out the heart and liver and drop then into a glass to drink. Then, he let the blood poor into bottle which was offered for us to try and drink. After the show they took the snake down to cook for us and we were left with this bottle of cobra blood for all of us to try. We all went there with the goal to not back out and this was a once in a life time experience so we all tried the cobra blood, and it isn’t too far from what you would expect it to taste like. Some of us enjoyed it, but for me, I can say I could tolerate it.  They brought out the cobra once it was ready and we got it cooked two different ways, it was surprisingly good, and we did finish it. Even though the cobra was enjoyed by me and my fellow classmates, I will probably not ever try cobra blood again, but I am glad that I did do it. Like I said before, this was a once in a life time experience.

Rubber Plantation

The Rubber Plantation was an unexpected experience for me. Before the trip I had no clue where rubber came from and where to get it from. After visiting a plantation you realize this process of making rubber isn’t as easy as you think. My first surprise was that rubber came from trees! I didn’t have a preexisting thought of where rubber came from, but I did not think it was from trees. My second surprise was that extracting the rubber was very labor intensive. Workers had to cut hundreds of trees a day, set up cups to collect the rubber, and then come back two hours later to collect the cups and bring the cups to the next step of the process. Another challenge for the workings in the step is that they have to collect the rubber during the night because the rubber flows better in cooler temperatures. This makes the workers change up their sleep schedule and become night owls. The next step of the process includes a little bit of waiting for the rubber to change its Ph levels in a special container. After resting for a few hours it is then ran through a roller which flattens out and is then hung to dry. The rolling and the hanging of the rubber are also done by hand. After hanging to dry it is then put into a heating system to help make the rubber more durable. The last process includes the separating of the good and bad rubber so they can sell them to different people. Scraps are sold for a much smaller amount than the good rubber but they still use it wisely. That is the process of making rubber in order to ship it out to buyers. My favorite part of this experience was the ability to network with the owner of the Rubber Plantation. He really was a very generous and humble person. He made the experience so much better for me and I feel that he will be an friends for a long time.