Learning to Cook

Last year I developed a fascination for cooking and baking. After scrolling through many foodie Instagram accounts that made me drool (literally) and watching YouTube chefs, I thought it would be cool to replicate their delicious meals.

Full disclaimer: I am a beginner chef whose very average at best.

My family lives off take out and restaurant dining. Don’t get me wrong, eating out is yummy and we are fortunate to have my grandpa cook dinner for us on some days. But when I eat out of a plastic container more frequently than from a piping hot plate of homemade goodness, there’s a small void in my stomach. Appreciating a meal that is made with love tastes better psychologically than any instant Chinese takeout could accomplish.

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As a result, I started a personal Instagram account (Alli Cooks) to document all my cooking adventures! It’s fun learning to cook different dishes and my family has been 100% supportive of this (I think they’re getting sick of take out, finally!). This Instagram is a great way to track my progress. If you would like to check it out, here’s the link:

https://www.instagram.com/allicooks/

The Good vs. The Bad

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Whoops!

My favourite repeat dishes so far are the oyako don, Thai curry and sushi. Any suggestions as to what I should make next? 

 

 

It’s Been a While!

Hello world!

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted anything. Now that I’m back home in my cozy bed one year later, I think this blog can metamorphsize into something more than just a documentation of my travels. I’ve always been that person who seeks to try new activities and learn something from it. Two summers ago I wanted to learn how to longboard, so I did. Last year I thought it would be fun to learn how to grow vegetables and it turned out semi-successful (enjoyable nether the less!). I’m currently taking a commerce class on design thinking to expand my knowledge outside of my Psychology & Sociology degree. I find it so exciting to step out of my comfort zone and embrace the ambiguity of what I am going to learn. Even though most of my new activity pursuits are often recreational, that sense of trying to better myself for my own personal development is satisfying. It’s so easy to be stagnant and content with a routine lifestyle. But I think it’s important for everyone to focus on making yourself a better person than the previous day (much cliche) and become more self-aware!

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Throwback to when I thought I was so cool for riding a longboard. In reality, I didn’t go very far in this picture!

One thing I noticed about myself is that my self-awareness has grow significantly. I would say I was always conscientious with strong values growing up, but I have a much better understanding of my own needs, threshold, habits, desires, flaws and emotions now. I do a lot of self-reflection and I think that’s why I am able to quickly capture my behavioural patterns, such as my tendency to learn a new hobby every year, and improve on it!

Ps. This blog post’s content is highly influenced by my 3AM feels and too much bubble milk tea. Milk tea is delicious but maybe I shouldn’t have had it at 11PM. Oops. No regrets.😛

 

 

 

Why YOU Should Go on Exchange

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Sorry for the lack of posts everyone! I spent the first two weeks of January writing papers for my classes in England and spent last week catching up on my UBC courses. I plan to continue writing on this blog despite not being on exchange anymore. Since I’ve caught the travel bug and can’t travel extensively due to school and work commitments, I’m thinking of going on mini day trips to pretend to be a tourist in my own city! I often neglect the amazing tourist sights and hidden gems Vancouver has to offer since I live here. But after travelling around Europe, I realized that I haven’t seen a lot of the Lower Mainland. So my New Year’s resolution is to make time to explore B.C. and fully experience the Vancouver culture. That is doable, don’t you think?

As you can see from the title, today I will be talking about why YOU should go on exchange. I know UBC’s Go Global exchange deadline was last Friday, but I think people who are thinking of going on exchange during the summer or next year will benefit from this post. If you’ve been reading my blog from the start, I’m sure you have an impression of how worthwhile going on exchange is. Let me fine tune some details that I hope will encourage you to go on a foreign exchange!

1) You get to travel to new countries
If you are participating in the Go Global program, the grades you receive from your study abroad classes do not affect your GPA. You simply have to pass your classes to get credit (but do note that your letter grade will show on your official transcript). With this in mind, you can travel to different areas around your exchange country without having to worry excessively about your grades. If you play your time management cards right, you can enjoy your travel experiences to different cities while keeping up with school work. One of the big advantages of travelling while on exchange is that you will always have a home base to return to. After travelling for a few days and hopping around to different hostels, the exhaustion from travelling hit me hard. Knowing that I have a home waiting for me at the end of the trip made me appreciate how important it is for people to have a permanent place to stay. Being a nomad can take a negative emotional toll on yourself, so going on exchange relieves you from this stress of having many temporary homes.

2) You will learn more about yourself than formal schooling can teach you
It sounds extremely cliche, but it’s true that going on exchange will change you. Some people will will experience change more drastically than others, but I assure you, if you put yourself into uncomfortable and challenging situations and overcome it, you will see self-growth. You will learn how to live alone in a new country, how to interact with roommates and people of a different culture, and how other countries operate differently than your home country. You will learn practical skills that you can take with you into the future and find your strengths and weaknesses. You will learn that doing things that scare you can be highly rewarding, and that you’re capable of a lot of things that you could only discover by doing. If you want to continuously learn academically, socially and personally, going on exchange is the perfect balance between familiarity (ie. Going to school) and new experiences.

3) You will build long-lasting friendships and peer networks all around the world
As long as you don’t hibernate in your room and choose to actively throw yourself into social environments instead, you will gain a great network of friends from different parts of the world. You will meet people from different cultural backgrounds and learn from their different perspectives. You will share lots of laughs and confused faces when your friends say or act in ways that aren’t “normal” for you. Whenever my Australian friend would incorporate her Aussie slang into her speech, I would give her a weird look and we would both laugh at how different Australia and Canada is. I assure you that you WILL make friends on exchange!

4) You will either realize how amazing your home country is (or not)
Living in England made me appreciate living in Vancouver a lot more. Don’t get me wrong – living in England was great and I would live there if an opportunity arises again. But there are some aspects about Vancouver that I absolutely love. I love the mild weather (the rain doesn’t bother me), the scenic views, the access to any ethnic food within drivable distance, and the honesty Canadians are known for. Little things that I took for granted added up to a larger appreciation for the Vancouver lifestyle. You don’t know what’s better or worse until you’ve travelled and lived in different countries.

If you have any questions  or share similar feelings after going on exchange, feel free to leave a comment! I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Can you spot me in Birmingham?

What I’ve Learned From Going on Exchange

Merry belated Christmas everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying their winter holidays.

My friend Rachel sent me this graph after I posted my last blog entry, and I think it accurately depicts how it feels to return to your home country after going on exchange. After being home for 1.5 weeks, I’ve hit the “Balanced Re-adaption” phase. When I walk through public spaces, I’m still not used to the large Asian enclave in Vancouver. I’ve generally assimilated back into the Canadian lifestyle, but I have many moments where I want to return back to England.

Going on a 3 month exchange to England has taught me a lot about myself and how the rest of the world works. Since I’ve lived in B.C. my entire life, I was closed off in my own little bubble of naiveness. Having the opportunity to live on my own, adapt to a new culture (even though the UK is similar to Canada in some ways), and travel, I’ve gained more real, truthful perspectives that I wouldn’t have learned back at home. I believe I’ve learned more from experiencing things in a practical, real-world setting than what I learned in class in England. I’m not saying that I didn’t learn anything in my classes (I did!), but going on exchange helped me learn beyond just the books and added another dimension to my learning. For example, seeing and touching the Berlin Wall after doing tons of research on it for fun really helped me grasp the hardships people endured in the former East Germany. You can say seeing is understanding.

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The Berlin Wall

Some things I learned while studying abroad in England:

1) I like living on my own
Even though I love living and being surrounded by my family, living on my own for the first time was refreshing. I loved cooking for myself, leaving and coming home whenever I wanted without letting anyone know, and being forced to be independent. I found out that I’m very capable of taking care of myself and I feel like I’ve grown up to be a responsible adult (but I will always have that childish side to me!).

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How my dorm room looked when I first moved in!

2) Doing things that scare you a bit can be a good thing
And I don’t mean doing something outrageously dangerous, of course. I went into my exchange with a “you have nothing to lose” mentality and challenged myself to do things I normally wouldn’t do. It gave me some anxiety, but fully committing to a decision and following through with it successfully felt amazing. I hate public speaking, so when I presented my journal article presentation in front of my tutorial class, I was proud of myself for keeping composed while my insides were a bundle of nerves. Joining cheerleading was probably one of my best decisions I made on exchange. I had no prior cheerleading experience and I almost chose not to go to tryouts, but forcing myself to overcome the fear of rejection/anxiety resulted in forming great friendships and having the best time doing stunts.

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3) Simple living is better than you think
This was something I wasn’t expecting prior to exchange. In Canada, I live with an excess amount of materialistic goods. My room is flooded with just, stuff, and I didn’t realize how it was suffocating me until I returned home. In England, due to my limited space, temporary living status and the expensive currency exchange, I was forced to live in a minimalistic fashion. My room consisted of my bare necessities, and I wore the same clothes repeatedly. In terms of kitchen supplies, I had 2 bowls, 3 plates, 1 of each utensil, a strainer, tiny cutting board, a pot and a pan. That’s it. And I loved it. I learned to be resourceful with my items and food (rationing off portions of food for the next meal became normal), had more clarity and focus when I managed to sit down and do my schoolwork, felt more creative when brainstorming my crafting goals, had space to practice doing handstands, and cleaning was a breeze. I realized that the constant appeal of material consumerism wasn’t all that great as it was made out to be. I actually felt more refreshed and satisfied with less stuff in my possession. I still abide to consumerism when I travelled and went out to eat, but I was spending money on experiences and memories instead.

4) Appreciating what was taken for granted
During the first week of school, I’ll admit that living on my own in a new country with no friends was hard. I missed seeing my family in person, felt a bit sad seeing my friends post fun photos on social media sites (FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is a thing), and was eating bananas, bread, jam and deli turkey for every meal for a few days. I really appreciated the little things that I took for granted at home, such as coming home to food on the table and doing laundry for free. When I was away from things that added up to my happy life back at home, it helped me put things into perspective. It’s easy to fall back into old habits, so I have to consciously remind myself to appreciate the small things!

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Looking back now, I can’t believe that was all I ate for the first few days at school. There was a supermarket right beside my residence building!!

Culture Shock in my Own City

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I’m home!

It feels a bit strange to be back in Vancouver. I’m definitely happy to see family and friends again, but the way of life that I left behind three months ago requires some time to readjust to. I’m still jet lagged, even though I’ve been home for 5 days already. I was feeling fine when I arrived on Tuesday night, but I started to wake up at 4 or 5AM as nights passed. Last night I woke up at 6AM, so hopefully in a few days I will be progressively waking up at a later time.

Oddly enough, I’m experiencing a mild culture shock in my own city. I finally settled in and got the hang of things in England, and then I had to pack up and leave for Vancouver soon after. It’s interesting to take a step back and observe the similarities and differences in culture and how “normal” is defined depending on where you live. The lifestyles of British and Vancouverites are neither better or worse than the other – they are just different.

A few days after I came home, I encountered various experiences and sensations that threw me off of my routine and way of doing things. Stepping into the shower without flip flops for the first time in 3 months was strange. I kept turning the key right to try to unlock my house door, when I should have turned it left. After having a wholesome diet full of baguettes and healthy home cooked meals in England, I found out my stomach could no longer handle the greasy, chemically-treated restaurant food anymore. I had pho and spring rolls the day after I came back and my stomach would not stop twirling. Maybe this is my chance to establish a permanent healthy diet consisting of whole foods!

Something I absolutely miss is being surrounded by people who speak in a British accent. It feels very, very strange to hear people speak in a Canadian accent in public spaces. I was used to deciphering and inferring what people were saying (the Northern English accent is harder to understand than the South) and being the token “Canadian who sounds American” person that turned heads when I spoke. I also miss using the small amount of the British accent that I acquired. Since most of my friends on exchange are British, my speech would sometimes match theirs and I would say certain words with a British intonation, such as saying “cah-d” instead of emphasizing the “r” in “card”. My friend Valeria loved calling me out when I would say words with a British accent. Speaking with an accent would just seem forced and unnatural now, but I still catch myself extending the ending when I say “oh really”. I hope it stays this way. The British accent is just so lovely to listen to.

Going on exchange has been the best decision I made for myself. My reflections on my exchange as a whole will be saved for a future post!

Food Differences in the UK and Canada

I can’t believe I’m leaving England in 5 days! I’ve already been here for 3 months and I can honestly say November flew by in an instant. I’m trying to hold onto every last experience and memory here and cherish everything that I took for granted throughout the term. All the little things, like being able to walk to my class in three minutes and hanging out at friends’ rooms spontaneously, are going to be missed but I think I’ll save that for a different post in the future.

I thought it would be interesting to comment on my favourite topic: FOOD! My eating habits here haven’t been 100% healthy but that’s alright. Let’s just say that’s what exchange is for. Maybe.

I’m going to briefly talk about random things I observed or experienced while in England that are related to food:

On Grocery Stores

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1) Eggs are not stored in fridges
They are sold on a non-refrigerated shelf beside all the other non-chilled goods. I just don’t get it.

2) Packaged food seem slightly healthier
I find that some packaged foods and canned soups have less preservatives in the ingredients list. The varied canned soups I’ve had tasted less salty and contained more substantial pieces of vegetables in it (unlike Campbell’s soup).

3) Nutrition labels
I like how nutrition labels explicitly display how many calories each portion is. For example, in a package of cookies, it will tell you the nutrition facts for each individual cookie. In Canada, the way they display portions are inconsistent and are difficult to read. Not many people are willing to put in the effort to measure how many pieces of chips equals 100g.

4) No 4L jugs of milk available😦

Restaurants/Shops

1) No need to tip servers
Since servers get paid a decent wage, tips are not mandatory. You only  tip if you think you received excellent service.

2) Sunday Roasts
On Sundays, restaurants offer a discounted price on the classic British roast. This consists of potatoes, vegetables, roast beef, gravy, and Yorkshire pudding (this isn’t the pudding you’re thinking of – it’s bread). Typically it’s about £7-9 ($12-16 CDN) for a plate. Yesterday Michelle, Patrick and I found a place on campus that sold a generous portion of Sunday roast for only £4.40 ($7.90)! Surprisingly, it tasted better than the restaurants we went to previously.

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3) Pasties!
I still don’t know how to pronounce pasties correctly. Is it “pay-stees” or “pah-stees”? A pasty can be found everywhere in the UK and this meaty/vegetable filling enveloped in a buttery flaky pastry is delicious. They’re often no more than £1.30 and are perfect for on the go trips.

Food in General

1) Cadbury chocolate in the UK surpasses Cadbury in Canada in taste
I learned a bunch of cool facts about Cadbury when I went to Cadbury World in Birmingham in November. Since the UK has tight food regulations, chocolate has to have at least 20% cocoa solids, whereas Canada is 10% I believe. Also, Cadbury in Canada isn’t even owned by Cadbury at all! Hershey’s bought the rights to produce products under the Cadbury label for North American consumers while the Cadbury chocolate in the UK is still owned by Cadbury. I dare not tell you how many Cadbury chocolate bars I’m bringing home.

2) Lays chips are called Walkers
Packaging looks extremely similar, but they’re called Walkers in the UK. I haven’t tried Walkers yet but I assume it’s exactly the same as Lays chips.

3) Easy to find non-British food
While classic British food can be found everywhere, the diverse ethnic groups living in England brings food from different cultures. At first I thought it would be difficult to find Asian food in England, but there are a good number of Chinese restaurants in each city. Indian and Thai food is also quite popular too.

4) Afternoon Tea
A lot of British people have afternoon tea. I noticed that I eat a lot more pastries/biscuits and drink more tea for leisure (as opposed to needing the caffeine). The British culture is rubbing off on me, and I love it.

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Time to get working on my paper now. Hope you enjoyed my little blurb about food differences!

Amsterdam & Paris

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A week and a half ago I went to Amsterdam and Paris for a 5-day trip! I was fortunate enough to meet my friend Lindsay during the UBC Go Global exchange orientation earlier this year. If I didn’t meet or get along with her, I wouldn’t have been able to travel to two European cities back to back. Since most of my friends here are British, it’s difficult to find someone who is willing to travel for long periods of time AND who has a similar school schedule with me (or at least willing to skip class). Thankfully, I have both Lindsay and my Aussie friend Michelle to travel with for most of my time here in England.

Lindsay and I’s travel itinerary consisted of flying from Manchester Airport to Amsterdam, then riding the overnight MegaBus to Paris, then flying back out to Manchester. The timing and price for transportation worked out well with round trip flights being around £110 (~$200 CDN) and the Megabus being £20 (~$35 CDN). For those who don’t know, MegaBus is a coach bus company that offers many trips to different cities and countries for a cheap price. The departure times are often a bit odd (we left Amsterdam at 11PM and arrived at 6AM) and it can be uncomfortable but for the price, it’s worth it.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Amsterdam is definitely a city you must visit! At first glance I thought it was similar to Downtown Vancouver’s surroundings, but after exploring and gawking at the beautiful canals, it’s quite different. Amsterdam is known for being a very open and liberal city, and my visit here definitely reconfirmed that. The city is quite artsy and emits a free-spirit kind of attitude. Smoking is extremely common here, and after a while, I got tired of walking through smoke clouds every few blocks. Also, the bike culture here is out of this world! There are bikes EVERYWHERE, and the city’s infrastructure is designed to accommodate bikes as if they were cars. There are designated bike lanes everywhere you go. People bike extremely fast and somehow always avoid a head-on collision with pedestrians. In the summer I bike frequently, so seeing bikes as a dominate form of transportation is great to see.

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Some things in Amsterdam are so bizarre…This elaborate tropical display was underneath a bridge behind a gated fence. What?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got an extra bundle of fries with curry sauce for free! Such a nice cashier!

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I tried a famous Dutch stroopwafel! So delicious!

The one place I was looking the most forward to was the Anne Frank House. I remember learning about Anne in grade 6 and visiting the Jewish Community Centre to listen to a Holocaust survivor speak. I was extremely moved by this survivor’s personal story and it sparked my interest in WWII history. Stepping foot into the Secret Annex where the Frank family and others hide for two years before being betrayed to the Nazis left me breathless. The exact same bookcase that hid the passage way to the annex was still there and I could feel the history, struggles and anxiety being secreted out of the walls.

I think 2 days in Amsterdam was enough to see the main parts of the city. I wouldn’t have minded an extra day to go biking around the city and to visit Zaanse Schans for the windmills!

Paris, France

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Taking the overnight Megabus to Paris wasn’t too bad. The timing worked out perfectly because we saved money by not paying for accommodation and arrived in Paris early in the morning.  We also met a bunch of Canadian guys who were studying in France on the bus and they kindly directed us towards the closest metro station. One of the benefits of travelling in late November was the lack of crowds. We were fortunate enough to have sunny or cloudy weather for the majority of the time, and were able to take our time walking through the parks and between buildings without worrying that our next destination had a long queue. Seeing the Eiffel Tower was incredibly beautiful in person! I found it more beautiful at night when it was all lit up. Another thing I noticed was that there were always men surrounding the tourist areas trying to persuade people into buying Eiffel Tower figures. It was difficult to avoid them because once you steer clear from 4 of them in one area, you’re confronted by another 5 of them the further you walk towards the attraction.

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Had the most amazing cheese baguette ever at this Christmas market. The cheese sit under a heated lamp and the man scrapes each type of melted cheese into the baguette. I didn’t like cheese before I came here and now I am a fan.

Pickpocketing and scams is also a big issue in Paris. We dealt with our fair share of people trying to scam us or beg for money. Thankfully we didn’t fall victim to any thief but 2 backpackers in our hostel lost €150 ($211 CDN) and their new iPhone 6. Some very clever scams we encountered were:

– Women trying to get us to sign a petition for a fake cause. What I heard they do is that once your hands are occupied with the clipboard, they (or someone else) pickpockets you.
– This one’s scary: A man approached us with a string in his hand. Apparently what he does is once you acknowledge him, he ties the string onto your arm so you’re in a lock, and he threatens you until you give him money.
– Short women flashing coins in your face until you give them money. This happened when we were waiting for the train.

So if you’re reading this and planning to go to Paris, be aware of this! Lindsay and I made a conscious effort to not speak on the train so people wouldn’t immediately target us as foreigners. Just exercise common sense, be more cautious with your belongings than back at home, and watch out of each other.

I have a lot more to say about my experience in Paris, so if you want to hear more, we’ll just have to meet up in person over sushi or bubble tea!

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I fought through this crowd to see the Mona Lisa. Not sure if it was worth it.

VIDEO: British, Canadian and Australian Slang Tag

My friends Michelle (Australian), Patrick (British) and I decided to do a “slang tag” video. I saw these on YouTube and I thought it would be fun to do! The purpose of the tag is to guess another country’s slang/words. I didn’t realize Canadian words I use regularly (eg. Poutine, Loonie) were so foreign to people outside of Canada. There was a lot of silence when filming the Canadian section so I had to edit the video significantly (or else you would be watching 3 minutes of just silence).

My favourite parts are when Patrick reacts to the slang version of McDonalds and Michelle describing my reaction to a jumper off-screen (Me: “What is a jumper?”).

Enjoy!

Late Start, But Still a Start!

Hello everyone! So I spontaneously started a blog about my exchange experience today because I’m not in the mood to brainstorm for my paper (ironically, blogs require writing). I feel like I should have started this blog before I left for my exchange to England instead of 15 days before I head back to Canada. It’s a late start to documenting my travel journeys, but there’s nothing wrong with that! Let me give you a basic rundown about my current situation:

I am currently on exchange in England for one school term (3 months). I’ve been here since October 2014 and will be back mid-December. I will have a hard time saying goodbye to England and all the friends I made here. Being on exchange has helped me learn more about myself and my capabilities, experience new things that I wouldn’t normally do, and has allowed me to gain new perspectives of different parts of the world. Up until this point, I’ve only travelled within Canada and the west side of the United States. Being able to experience European countries that operate differently than what I’m used to has been an eye opener to both the good (eg. the efficient metro system) and the bad (eg. overt racism) differences between North America and Europe. My exchange isn’t over yet, but I can confidently say that taking this opportunity to study, live and embed myself into a new culture and country was worth every sweat and tear I had to face to get here.

I will document my trips and other things in new posts. Too many things have happened in the past 2.5 months, so look forward to reading those reflection posts in the future🙂

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Just me chilling at Camden Market in London, England! Aren’t those seats cool?