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Flag of the Week Greece

Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in Southern Europe on the Mediterranean Coast. According to the 2011 census, Greece's population is around 11 million. Athens is the nation's capital and largest city.
Geographically, Greece is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. It also shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the northeast. The country consists of nine geographic regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands (including the Dodecanese and Cyclades), Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has an enormous coastline in length, featuring a vast number of islands. Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains, of which Mount Olympus is the highest.

Modern Greece traces its roots to the civilization of Ancient Greece, which began with the Aegean Civilizations of the Bronze Age. Considered the cradle of all Western civilization, Greece is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature and historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy.  Ancient Greece was home to the growth of mythology, city-states, and modern thought, as well. The cultural and technological achievements of Greece greatly influenced the world, with many aspects of Greek civilization being imparted to the East through Alexander the Great's campaigns, and to the West through its incorporation into the Roman Empire. This rich legacy is partly reflected by the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Greece. The modern Greek state, which comprises most of the historical core of Greek civilization, was established in 1830 following the war of independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Today, Greece is a democratic developed country with an advanced high-income economy, a high quality of life and a very high Human Development Index. Greece is a founding member of the United Nations, is a prominent member of the EU, and is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, NATO, and the World Trade Organization. Greece's economy is also the largest in the Balkans, where Greece is an important regional investor. Despite recent economic difficulties that have hit the country, Greece is projected to make economic gains in 2014.

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Introduction to US Taxes - CLG workshop at IHouse

“We are from Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, UK, Vietnam and many other countries. We are students, scholars, postdocs and spouses. What unites us all is Taxes.” This is not a Tom Lehrer song, but about the last workshop of the Fall 2014 CLG Series, presented by Dr. Li-Chen Chin of IHouse.

Taxes are ubiquitous. So, the workshop began with a discussion among participants about taxation in their home country. Dr. Chin started the presentation by explaining about the taxes that we pay – sales tax, property tax, income tax and the governing structures. Then we plunged headlong into the main topic of discussion for the evening, Income tax.


The first step is to understand the difference between immigration status (F, J or H) and residency status (Resident or Non-Resident) for tax purposes. In the US, the Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number determines your identity. Therefore, it is very important not to share it with anyone unless it is deemed necessary. Sources of income that are taxable are wages, scholarship/fellowship that covers your living expenses, awards & prizes, while tuition scholarship that does not cover local expenses and bank interest are not taxable.

We have to file separate tax returns for federal and state taxes. The forms for federal returns for Non-residents are:

  • Form 8843 - If you had no taxable income
  • Forms 1040 NR / 1040 NR-EZ & 8843 – If you had taxable income

Confident that we had understood the basics, we bravely tackled some word problems about federal tax forms. If you are from one of those countries with which US has signed a tax treaty, you may get some tax benefits or exemptions. But it is important to file the paperwork in order to get these benefits. If you are not sure about this, you can get information from Duke Corporate Payroll Service.

Now, let’s look at to the state tax forms. In North Carolina, you have to file a tax return if your federal gross income exceeds $5,500 or if you believe, you are eligible for a tax refund from the state.

If you feel that income tax is the hardest thing in the world to understand, don’t worry, Einstein is said to have felt the same way☺. But, you have enough time to figure this out. For income earned in 2014, the due date for filing tax returns is April 15, 2015. You can get all this information and more at IHouse.

And finally, kudos to IHouse for their grand efforts in stimulating us to Connect, Learn, Grow.
 

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Flag of the Week - Greece

Greece  is a country in Southeast Europe. According to the 2011 census, Greece's population is around 11 million with Athens as the nation's capital and largest city. Greece is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the northeast. The country consists of nine geographic regions and the Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world, featuring a vast number of islands (approximately 1,400, of which 227 are inhabited). Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains, of which Mount Olympus is the highest, at 2,917 m.

Modern Greece traces its roots to the civilization of Ancient Greece, considered the cradle of Western civilization. As such it is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature and historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy. This legacy is partly reflected in the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Greece, ranking it 7th in Europe and 13th in the world. The modern Greek state, which encompasses much of the historical core of Greek civilization, was established in 1830, following the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Greece is a democratic, developed country with an advanced, high-income economy, a high standard of living and a very high Human Development Index. Greece is a founding member of the United Nations, has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1981 (and the eurozone since 2001), and has been a member of NATO since 1952. Greece's economy is also the largest in the Balkans, where Greece is an important regional investor.

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Flag of the Week - South Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is a country located at the southern tip of Africa. It has 1,739 mi of coastline that stretches along the South Atlantic and Indian oceans.

South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, which is among the highest number of any country in the world.[11] Two of these languages are of European origin: English and Afrikaans, the latter originating from Dutch and serving as the first language of most white and coloured South Africans. Though English is commonly used in public and commercial life, it is only the fourth most-spoken first language.

About 80 percent of South Africans are of black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (white), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (coloured) ancestry. All ethnic and linguistic groups have political representation in the country's constitutional democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the "Rainbow Nation," as a metaphor to describe the country's newly developing multicultural diversity in the wake of segregationist apartheid ideology.

South Africa is considered to be a newly industrialised country. Its economy is the second largest in Africa, and the 28th-largest in the world.. South Africa has been identified as a middle power in international affairs, and maintains significant regional influence.

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Eating Healthy on a Budget - CLG at IHouse

Do you enjoy grocery shopping - getting lost in the maze of various aisles, trying to decide what to buy - fresh or frozen produce, generic or name brand, organic or not, wondering if healthy means expensive? No? I thought so. At this week’s CLG, hosted by Seun Bello Olamosu of IHouse, Duke Student Health Dietitian Toni Ann Apadula answered all these questions and also gave us the perfect recipe for a healthy, delicious meal on a budget.

Balancing your Plate
It is always good to start with a plan. Establish a budget, plan your meals and snacks for the week, and remember:  
½ of your plate should be fruits & vegetables – for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber & carbohydrates
¼ of your plate should be grains – for fiber, B vitamins and carbohydrates
¼ of your plate should be protein – for protein, fats and iron
Healthy Fats – for essential fats to enable the body to work properly.

Then make a grocery list. Be sure to check out the store’s ‘Weekly ad’ for what’s on sale, look for digital / printable coupons and at the store, ask about a loyalty card. Seems quite simple, doesn’t it? Let’s go grocery shopping!
Shopping Strategies – What are your options?

Fruits and Vegetables: Try to make your selection as colorful as possible – it is not just for looks but to get the full spectrum of health benefits. You could choose between Fresh produce which is most expensive vs Frozen which is not so pricey, nutrition content is intact and has longer shelf/freezer life vs Canned which is least expensive, but may contain more salt that can be reduced by rinsing. If you are not able to decide whether to buy Organic, the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” gives you some help. Fruits & vegetables are freshest and taste best when they are bought in season (www.ncagr.gov/markets/availabilitychart.pdf).

Grains: Try to choose whole grains. You could pick Name brand which is more expensive vs Store brand which costs less, but usually tastes the same and may have the same ingredients as name brand.

Protein Foods: Try to choose a leaner option. You could buy Animal protein which are most expensive, provide “complete protein” but contain more fat vs Dairy / Nut based protein, which are not so expensive vs Plant based protein / eggs which are least expensive and contain low fat & more fiber.

Is your shopping cart almost full? Before rushing to the billing counter, let me add a few more tips from Toni, as garnish.

Unit price – Compare unit price per lb/oz of various sizes. Larger sizes are often a better buy.
Nutrition facts – This label tells you the % Daily Value of various nutrients in each serving.
Ingredients – The ingredients are listed from most to least. So, if the first ingredient is salt, then you may be in a pickle.

Psst! – Stores stock most expensive items at eye level; so look at higher and lower shelves.

There was never a dull moment. It was amazing to see the active involvement of the participants, asking the most perceptive and interesting questions, and Toni’s patient and informative responses. If you have an appetite for more, try chewing on this.


 

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Trip to Historic Hillsborough - CLG serise at IHouse

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” – St. Augustine

When we make travel plans, we often look at the most popular destinations while missing the hidden gems close by. One such destination is nearby Hillsborough, just 20 minutes away. As part of the CLG series, SangHee Jeong of IHouse, organized a trip to this quaint little town, rich in history, culture and beauty. It was a grey, cloudy morning so we trooped into the vans armed with umbrellas, rain jackets, cameras and the itinerary for the day.



Guided Walking Tour
Our trip began with a guided walking tour of Historic Hillsborough. The town was founded in 1754 as the Orange County seat. It is located where the Great Indian Trading Path crossed the Eno river. The tour started at the Alexander Dickson House (1790), known as the “Last Headquarters of Confederacy”, which also serves as the Orange County Visitors Center.

After trying to assimilate more than two and a half centuries of history through maps and exhibits, we headed to the Regulator Marker, the hanging site of colonial protestors. Then, we visited the Hughes Academy (mid – late 1800s), a small private school whose graduates were accepted at UNC without examination. We walked past William Reed’s Ordinary (1754) that was a tavern, the old County Courthouse (1844) that has a clock tower and the old Town Cemetery (1757), where William Hooper, who signed the Declaration of Independence was buried.

Our final stop was the Orange County Historical Museum. On entering, one can see the Orange County Timeline of important events from 1650 to 2000. Then, a quick stop at the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, owned and operated by artists. After 1½ hours of sightseeing, legs and stomachs started complaining. So, we split into groups and headed in different directions to try out Hillsborough’s unique dining and shopping. I lunched at Weaver Street Market (their Vegan chocolate cake is delicious), which is a “community owned cooperative grocery store”.

Tour of Ayr Mount Historic Site
After lunch and a little rest, we headed straight to Ayr Mount Historic Site that includes a 19th century house museum and almost 300 acres of woodlands. Some of us took a guided tour of the house, while others enjoyed the Poet’s Walk, which is a one-mile trail that runs along the bank of the Eno river.


Ayr Mount is a federal-era plantation house built in 1815 by William Kirkland, and later purchased, restored and donated for public benefit by Richard Jenrette. Our guide, Bill told us about the ancestry of the owners and the archaeology of that site. In the house, the brick construction, high ceilings, transverse hallway, ornate fireplaces, huge mahogany tables, walnut shelves, grand piano, old time wavy glass windows, the various portraits and artwork (etchings of North Carolina architecture including Duke Chapel) all vie for attention.


We left Hillsborough with the satisfaction of having seen new places and made new friends.

Thanks, SangHee and Annette for making this trip so enjoyable.
   

        
 

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HOW TO MAKE AMERICAN-STYLE SMALL TALK - IHouse CLG workshop

“I like your boy’s haircut”, said the Duke bus driver to me, and thus began a very delightful conversation about school, teens, peer pressure and before I knew it my stop had come. I am sure all of us have been in similar situations, but we may become tongue-tied because we are shy. At this week’s CLG Workshop, the host Paige Vinson of IHouse helped us to become “conversant” with how to recognize attempts at small talk, start a conversation, maintain and end it politely.

Paige broke the ice by introducing herself and then gave the participants a chance to practice among themselves. Like many people, I used to think that small talk is just that – talking. Now I know that it could be the start of some meaningful conversations and wonderful friendships. Even people who enjoy talking, may be at a loss for words when they want to start a conversation with someone. Through the presentation, we learned some interesting opening lines. Some of my favorites are:

  • Hello/Hi/Hey, I’m Paige – Nobody can go wrong with this.
  • Nice weather, isn’t it? – This one is evergreen.
  • I really like your scarf/necklace – Makes me feel good about my choice.
  • I haven’t seen you for ages – Wow! She still remembers me.

Once you have picked up courage and started a conversation, how to keep it going beyond the initial exchange?

  • Find a meaningful topic
  • Give extra information
  • Pay close attention to what is said and how it is said
  • Use active listening, Trial and Error

Before you start making small talk, prepare yourself by identifying some “hot” topics like books, movies, restaurants, hobbies and travel. And, some topics to be avoided are: Personal, health, money or family problems, death, crimes, moral values, or any social, economic, political issues.

While it is important to make a good beginning, it is equally important to end the conversation on a positive note. During the course of the workshop Paige explained the difference between Ritual Interactions and Literal Invitations. In her inimitable way, she also gave us some useful tips and tricks on what to do when you don’t remember somebody’s name or if someone doesn’t respond to your attempts at making small talk. By the end of the workshop, I saw the participants eagerly practicing their conversation skills with each other and ending it on the right note too, with invitations to meet again.

Good-bye, or shall I say “Let’s keep in touch”.
 

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Flag of the Week - Republic of Liberia

Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country in West Africa bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast to its east. It covers an area of 43,000 sq mi and is home to about 4 million people. English is the official language and over thirty indigenous languages are also spoken within the country.

Beginning in 1820, the region was colonized by African Americans, most of whom were freed slaves. The colonizers (who later become known as Americo-Liberians) established a new country with the help of the American Colonization Society, a private organization whose leaders thought former slaves would have greater opportunity in Africa. African captives freed from slave ships by the British and Americans were sent there instead of being repatriated to their countries of origin.

In 1847, this new country became the Republic of Liberia, establishing a government modeled on that of the United States. The colonists and their descendants, known as Americo-Liberians, led the political, social, cultural and economic sectors of the country and ruled the nation for over 130 years as a dominant minority.

Liberia was a founding member of the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity. In 1980 a military coup overthrew the Americo-Liberian leadership, marking the beginning of political and economic instability and two successive civil wars. A peace agreement in 2003 led to democratic elections in 2005. Today, Liberia is recovering from the lingering effects of the civil wars and their consequent economic upheaval, but about 85% of the population continue to live below the international poverty line, and the country's economic and political stability has recently been threatened by a deadly Ebola virus epidemic.[5]

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MEET YOUR FUTURE SELF: CREATING A VISION FOR YOUR WELL-BEING - IHouse CLG Workshop

“How are you doing?” - “I am doing well”. We go through this exchange so often that we don’t even stop to think what we mean by “well”. For that matter, how many of us know the difference between wellness and well-being? Last evening, Maralis Mercado, Program Coordinator from Duke Student Wellness Center (DUWELL) guided us along the path to achieving individual and community wellness during the workshop hosted by Lisa Giragosian, IHouse.

DUWELL’s Model of Wellness
First, we were introduced to the Wellness Tree. Haven’t seen the tree anywhere? Sure you have, it is you. Just as a tree has roots, people’s roots are their individual identity, values and choices. Then comes the trunk of the tree, which represents self-care i.e. how we take care of ourselves and meet our needs. The branches of the tree are the different dimensions that lead to over-all wellness. The various dimensions are:

  • Intellectual Wellness: Integration of academic and personal pursuits with an internal drive to learn about and explore the world.
  • Social Wellness: Focus on importance of relationships in life and the social skills like active listening, ability to cope with conflict and involvement on campus and in the community.
  • Mind-body Wellness: Caring for the body’s physical and emotional health and reducing stress through exercise, nutrition, rest, meditation, breathing techniques and muscle relaxation.
  • Environmental Wellness: Impact of campus and community environment (noise, safety, social culture and cleanliness) on how safe, comfortable and healthy we feel.
  • Spiritual Wellness: Developing a sense of purpose and meaning in life which is a source of strength and can be beneficial to health and well-being.
  • Financial Wellness: Incorporates financial security, access to resources and perceptions of needs vs wants.

I was reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with two differences: (1) The dimensions are not necessarily in any order of hierarchy, all are equally important. (2) The pursuit of wellness is not only for the individual, but the community as a whole.

Maralis kept us on the move (literally) as we went to different marked parts of the room identifying our strongest and weakest dimensions. Through guided imagery, she helped us create our own space and meet our future self (I didn’t know time travel was so easy). It was quite intriguing!

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Flag of the Week - Mauritania

Mauritania, officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in the Maghreb region of western North Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, by Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara,  Algeria, Mali, and Senegal. It is named after the ancient Berber Kingdom of Mauretania, which existed long ago in the far north of modern-day Morocco. 90% of Mauritania's land is within the Saharan Desert. Therefore, the population is concentrated in the south where precipitation is slightly higher than the rest of the country. The capital and largest city of Mauritania is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast.

The government of Mauritania was overthrown in August of 2008, in a military coup d'état led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. In April 2009, General Aziz resigned from the military to run for president in the July elections, which he won. In 2011, the Arab Spring movement spread to Mauritania, leading to street protests calling for more human rights aid and a more transparent government.

Poverty and human rights issues are the primary sources of Mauritania's domestic issues and international contention. In Mauritania about 20% of the population live on less than US$1.25 per day. Slavery in Mauritania has been called a major human rights issue, with over 150,000 people – proportionally, the highest for any country – being enslaved against their will. Higher estimates suggest 10% to 20% of the population (340,000 to 680,000 people) is enslaved. Additional human rights concerns in Mauritania include female genital mutilation and child labor.

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