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Flag of the Week - Argentina

Argentina is a federal republic located in southeastern South America. Sharing the Southern Cone with its smaller neighbor Chile, it is bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north; Brazil to the northeast; Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east; Chile to the west and the Drake Passage to the south.

With a mainland area of 1,073,500 square miles, Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the second largest in Latin America, and the largest Spanish-speaking one. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

A historical and current middle power and a prominent Latin American and Southern Cone regional power, Argentina is one of the G-15 and G-20 major economies and Latin America's third-largest. It is also a founding member of the United Nations, WBG, WTO, Mercosur, UNASUR, CELAC and OEI. Because of its stability, market size and increasing share of the high-tech sector, Argentina is classed by investors as a middle emerging economy with a "very high" rating on the Human Development Index.

The earliest recorded human presence in the area now known as Argentina is dated from the Paleolithic period. The Spanish colonization began in 1512. Argentina rose as the successor state of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, a Spanish overseas colony founded in 1776. The declaration and fight for independence (1810–1818) was followed by an extended civil war that lasted until 1861, which ended with the country's reorganization as a federation of provinces with Buenos Aires as its capital city. From then on—while massive European immigration waves radically reshaped its cultural and demographic outlook—Argentina enjoyed an historically almost-unparalleled increase in prosperity: by the early 20th century it already ranked as the seventh wealthiest developed nation in the world. After 1930, however, and despite remaining among the fifteen richest countries until mid-century, it descended into political instability and suffered periodic economic crisis that sank it back into underdevelopment.​

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Flag of the Week - Thailand

Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam is a country at the center of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Burma. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.

Thailand is a monarchy headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX and governed by a military junta that took power in May 2014. The king is the ninth of the House of Chakri, and has reigned since 1946 as the world's longest-serving current head of state and the country's longest-reigning monarch. The King of Thailand's titles include Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Adherent of Buddhism, and Upholder of religions. Although a constitutional system was established in 1932, the monarchy and military have continued to intervene periodically in politics.

With a total area of approximately 198,000 sq mi, Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country. It is the 20th-most-populous country in the world, with around 66 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is Thailand's political, commercial, industrial, and cultural hub. About 75–95% of the population is ethnically Tai, which includes four major regional groups: central Thai, northeastern Thai, northern Thai, and southern Thai. Thai Chinese, those of significant Chinese heritage, are 14% of the population, while Thais with partial Chinese ancestry comprise up to 40% of the population. Thai Malays represent 3% of the population, with the remainder consisting of Mons, Khmers and various "hill tribes". The country's official language is Thai and the primary religion is Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of the population.

Thailand experienced rapid economic growth between 1985 and 1996, becoming a newly industrialized country and a major exporter. Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are leading sectors of the economy. Among the ten ASEAN countries, Thailand ranks second in quality of life. The country's HDI had been rated as "high". Its large population and growing economic influence have made it a middle power in the region and around the world.

 

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American Common Courtesy - CLG workshop at IHouse

When I am introduced to someone in the US, often I do not know what to do – Say Namaste with my hands pressed together in the traditional Indian way or Say Hi with a tentative wave of my hand or just go forward and shake hands with them. SangHee Jeong at IHouse hosted a workshop on American Common Courtesy, and Duke student Ashley Gibbs, with some help from Ilana Weisman, shared with us the appropriate manners and levels of courtesy in the US.

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. When someone greets you, ”Hi, how are you?” , just say “Good” (don’t start explaining about your stiff back, unless it is your doctor).  When you are introduced to someone, you could give a firm handshake or a hug (I like the sideways hug demonstrated by Ashley and Ilana), depending on the setting and how well you know the person. If you are in a group, remember to introduce them too.

Around Americans, you better watch your mouth – yawning, chewing with your mouth wide open, coughing / sneezing without covering your mouth, talking loudly on the phone, are all considered rude.  When you are talking to someone, respect their personal space and maintain a few feet distance and also, maintain eye contact. During a conversation, do not ask people their weight or salary and definitely don’t ask a woman her age. It is considered impolite if you don’t hold the door when there is someone a few feet behind you.

While punctuality is important, do not show up early to a party. Men do not wear hats indoors but women can wear church hats or fashionable hats. Cutting in line, laughing loudly and staring at strangers are considered inappropriate. While walking, if someone wants to walk past you, please make way for them. With Professors / superiors, play it safe by using Professor / Doctor / Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. / Sir / Ma’am. If they want to be on first name basis, they will tell you.

People in the South like to be friendly. So while passing strangers, if they smile, be polite and return their smile. Do not interrupt them while speaking and when you want something to be done, ask questions (ending with ‘please’) rather than giving orders. But in the North, life is more fast-paced. People do not commonly smile or make eye contact with strangers. They tend to speak fast and do not mind being interrupted.

One thing common to all Americans is they prefer to be direct. So if they offer you something and you want it, then go for it. If you are trying to be polite and say no, you may not get another chance. Now, about eating out, if someone says, “Let’s get a meal together”, it means you are going to split the bill. But if someone says, “I’ll treat you to lunch”, it means they will pay for you too.

As the Berenstain Bears say “Please and Thank you can make your day; they are as nice to hear as they are to say”.

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Black Popular Music - CLG workshop at IHouse

February is Black History Month. It was created to understand the history of African-Americans from the time they were displaced from their homeland, the hardships they faced and their ongoing struggle to make this land their home. Their resilience and rebellion found expression in the form of music. In celebration of Black History Month, IHouse offered a workshop last Thursday about “Black Popular Music from Spirituals to Hip-Hop”, hosted by Lisa Giragosian, with a presentation by Alec Greenwald, Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

The origins of Black music can be traced from the historical context. When people were brought as slaves, they lost their identity and tried to keep their culture alive through music. Their musical traditions began as a form of communication - call and response and their artistic creativity came to the fore when they made musical instruments like the banjos and drums from gourds and hollow tree trunks/ animal skin. The theme of early Black music was mostly coded messages seeking freedom from slavery, conveyed through simple lyrics (“Follow the Drinking Gourd”).

Alec took us on a historical journey through various genres that evolved under the secular traditions of Black music – from the melancholy notes of the blues to the vibrant and energetic beats of hip-hop.

  • Game Song / Play Song: Created by children, involving distinctive imagery and complex dance steps
  • Work Song / Field Call: Lifted spirits, offered encouragement, coordinated the movements of workers
  • Rural Blues: Three phrases performed in simple harmonic foundation, expressing feelings of sadness
  • Boogie Woogie: Evolved in barrelhouses, railroad camps inspired by rhythmic clacking of steam locomotives
  • Urban Blues (Electric Blues): Amplified form of Rural blues that evolved in urban areas
  • Rock ‘N’ Roll: Filled with teenage sense of rebellion, independence, and an aggressive beat
  • Soul: Gospel influenced music with passionate vocalizing, powerful rhythms and honest lyrics appealing to the younger generation
  • Disco: Dance music (soul, Latin-soul, funk) played by mobile DJs in discotheques; recordings exceeded the standard three minute length to keep the dancers moving
  • Funk: Instrumental, vocal dance music based on jazz, blues, R&B, soul; the rhythm helped them dance
  • R&B: Dance music incorporating various styles like jazz, blues; encompassing all types of popular Black music other than hip-hop
  • Hip-hop: Original poetry based on range of experiences and world views sung in rhythm and rhyme; four essential elements are – DJ, rapper, dancer and graffiti artist

Just reading or talking about music may not be that interesting. But Alec kept it lively by playing some music (on the laptop), humming tunes and dancing a few steps. In order to fully appreciate and enjoy Black music, it is important to understand their history and culture. As Lisa nicely summed up, the presentation was not only about music but a combination of history, geography, anthropology, sociology, culture, dance etc.
 

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Amercian Football 101 with Former Duke Football Players - Connect.Learn.Grow workshop series at IHouse

In Basketball, you shoot a ball through a hoop or basket to score; In Baseball, you hit the ball with a bat and score runs by moving around a series of bases; In Football, you score by kicking the ball into the opposing goal; In American Football, you score points by um… uh… well, let’s just say it is a different ball game altogether.

With the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday, I did not want sit through another experience of trying to figure out why they were playing in fits and starts and what kept the scoreboard ticking. So, I headed to the CLG Workshop, American Football 101 hosted by SangHee Jeong, IHouse, where former Duke Football players, Lex Butler, Patrick Kurunwune and Quan Stevenson made a presentation, with Byron Turner, CMA acting as Moderator. While the participants were chatting with the players and admiring their ACC Coastal Division title rings, Byron got the presentation started with the kickoff (not literally).

<Former Duke Football Players explaining the rules of American Football>

Football is played between two teams. Each team has three units – offense, defense and special teams.

Offense
The team in possession of the ball is the offense. They advance the ball to the other team’s end zone by running, passing or kicking and score a field goal or touchdown. They get four downs (chances) to advance the ball by 10 yards. Various positions of the offense are:
Offensive Line (Center, Guard, Tackle) – Snap ball to Quarterback, block and make way for Running back
Quarterback - Leads offense by receiving the ball, handing it to Running back or passing it to Receiver
Fullback – Runs, blocks to make way for Running back
Wide Receiver – Catches the ball, runs towards the end zone
Tight End – Hybrid position that requires blocking or being the Wide Receiver

Defense
The defense tries to prevent the other team from advancing the ball towards end zone by tackling. They score points by intercepting the ball or by blocking field goals. Defensive positions are:
Defensive Line (Defensive End, Nose Tackle, Defensive Tackle) – Tackle the ball carrier
Linebackers (Outside, Middle) – Tackle Running backs, Tight Ends or any ball carrier
Defensive Backs (Cornerbacks, Safeties) - Intercept the pass, tackle Wide Receivers

Special Teams come on the field during kick-off / return, punt / return, Field Goal / Block.

And, there is a whole set of rules about penalties against the offense and defense.

<From left: Bryon, Quan, Patrick, Lex with the blogger Triveni>

Initially, none of this made any sense to us.  Then, we huddled (again, not literally) and came up with a strategy to tackle the situation. The participants kept tossing questions at the presenters and they patiently explained, sometimes even giving us a demo with the ball. It was nice to see players who are tough on the field, being friendly and unassuming off the field. Finally, words like kickoff, down, snap, pass, punt, block, tackle, touchdown and field goal took on new meanings. I guess, now I am ready for Super Bowl Sunday!

 

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Flag of the Week - Switzerland

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities, the so-called Bundesstadt. The country is situated in Western and Central Europe, where it is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura. While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found; among them are the two global and economic centers of Zürich and Geneva.
The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as Swiss National Day. The country has a long history of armed neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless, it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. In addition to being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to numerous international organizations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Area – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area.

Straddling the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Therefore the Swiss, although predominantly German-speaking, do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnicity or language; rather, Switzerland's strong sense of identity and community is founded on a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism.

Switzerland ranks high in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, civil liberties, economic competitiveness, and human development. It has the highest nominal wealth per adult in the world and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product on the IMF list. Swiss citizens have the second-highest life expectancy in the world. Zürich and Geneva each have been ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world. 

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Transition to Duke

We spoke to Gerald Tan, a Trinity freshman from Singapore, about his transition to Duke and the United States. The Economics student has a great sense of humor and loves all things food.

1. Where have you lived or traveled?
I have only lived in Singapore. But my Mum was born in Malaysia, so I would often head there to visit my relatives.  It’s a 3-hour drive away.

2. Why did you come to Duke?
Many reasons: the liberal arts education, the community of friends, the weather, the over-aggressive squirrels. But most important of all - to explore. My mum left her hometown, alone, when she was barely 16, to seek a new life in a foreign country. Coming to Duke is, in some way, my lesser emulation of that immense courage and entrepreneurship she had.

3. What are you planning on studying while you are at Duke?
I want to study Economics. I am also interested in Philosophy – Philosophy 101 is an excellent course to take!

4. What are you involved in outside of the classroom?
I am on the Duke Debate team. Over weekends, I would travel out with the team to other schools, like Yale [University] and [University of] Vermont, to compete in inter-varsity tournaments. I am also in Duke Consulting Club: I write for the Duke Consulting Review and work closely with a Durham start-up, Ripcog, under the community-consulting program. Ripcog is a platform that helps local businesses generate more referrals at a lowest cost. I have also most recently been preparing for the regional Federal Reserve Challenge.
During my free time (if there is even such a thing), I cook.  Pork Belly stews; caramelized chicken wings in Chinese cooking wine; Tangyuan – colored rice balls in sweetened ginger broth. I also play the viola.

5. How did you feel when you first came to United States? Were you surprised or were things similar to life in your home country?
It was almost dreamlike; partly because it was after a 24-hour flight, but mostly because the moment I had waited for 2 years finally arrived (I deferred my matriculation to Duke by 2 years to complete Singapore’s mandatory military service). I was most surprised to find strangers greeting me whenever they saw me, and blessing me whenever I sneezed.

6. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to get immersed into the American culture?
To speak in an accent-neutral way that could be understood. People used to ask me what language I was conversing in, even when I was speaking in English.

7. Are there some parts of the American culture you haven’t gotten used to? If so, what are they?
The food. The food here is fantastic, but every so often, I miss authentic Chinese food (no offense to Panda Express).

8. How did your thoughts about the USA change after coming here?
As an international student, I was initially afraid that I would not be able to integrate into the Duke community. But the folks here are friendlier than I expected. Everywhere I go I bump into affection. 

9. Is there something you wish you had known about America before coming here?
How hot it really was in the first few weeks of Fall.

10. What do you miss the most about your home country?
My family, my old friends and food, glorious food.

11. What do you like the most about Duke?
The faculty. I am always amazed by how approachable (and humorous) many of the faculty members are. They really make learning more enjoyable. Earlier today, during my Economics lecture, Professor Zelder put on a woman’s scarf and began to shout in Italian. It was to demonstrate the effects of negative externalities.

12. What are your plans for this summer?
I haven’t really decided what I will do for this summer. But as of now, I am inclined to use that time to explore the States and to volunteer.

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Flag of the Week - Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea, officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. 848 languages are listed for the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers. Most of the population of over 7 million people live in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. It is also one of the most rural, as only 18 per cent of its people live in urban centres. The country is one of the world's least explored, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior.

Strong growth in Papua New Guinea's mining and resource sector has led to the country's becoming the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world as of 2011. Many people in the country live in extreme poverty when measured in terms of money, with about one-third of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day.

At the local level, the majority of the population still live in strong customary societies and - while social life is overlaid with traditional religious cosmologies and modern practices, including conventional primary education - customary subsistence-based agriculture remains fundamental. These societies and clans are explicitly acknowledged within the nation's constitutional framework. The Papua New Guinea Constitution expresses the wish for "traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society" and for active steps to be taken in their continuing importance to local and national community life.

At the national level, after being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975 following 70 years of Australian administration. It became a separate Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.

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Internationals Celebrating An American Tradition: Thanksgiving

Let me start by sharing two things that comes up to my mind when I think about Thanksgiving. Firstly, as an international student whose home is approximately 5,430 miles away from Duke, I am always nervous about being left alone during short breaks like Thanksgiving when none of the on-campus eateries, stores, libraries are open for their regular hours and almost all of my friends leave campus to go back to their homes. This year, fortunately, International House organized an amazing Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday, Nov 26th, for a group of internationals that included undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty. I thought the event was a great success!

There were many delicious traditional American Thanksgiving foods such as turkey with gravy, green beans with garlic and parmesan, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pecans, macaroni & cheese and a variety of pies for dessert. The best part was that lovely IHouse staff cooked all of this food in their homes and brought them in, just like a real Thanksgiving meal in someone’s house. We met with people from all around the world, had interesting and enjoyable conversations while eating delicious food.

The second thing I remember every Thanksgiving is related to the main dish of this day: the turkey. As a Turkish myself, Thanksgivings are always in a sense stressful for me since whenever someone talks about the turkey they ate, I immediately attend to the conversation because it could be something related to my country, Turkey. Last year, I decided to research why this traditional Thanksgiving food is named with my country and whether it is named after Turkey (the country). This is really intriguing for me because in Turkish, a turkey is called “Hindi” which refers to India. I found that New York Times’ Mark Forsyth wrote a beautiful and informative op-ed to answer these questions. It turns out that this exotic bird is imported all the way from Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa to Europe by merchants from Turkey, so the name of this bird stayed as Turkey. Ironically, French and Turkish people thought that turkeys came from India so they call it dinde and hindi respectively.

All in all, we had a great time in International House to celebrate Thanksgiving together as internationals. I would like to thank all IHouse staff for this nice event! I wish a Happy Thanksgiving for everyone with amazing people and delicious food. ☺

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