My internship at SZOIL dominated my stay in China. The shifts were Monday to Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30, with some voluntary extra time and a couple of weekend activities. I had very nice colleagues, not just my fellow CRCC interns, but the whole team working at SZOIL, from the regular Chinese staff members, to three other student interns from China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. While each of us worked on our own projects, we often lent a hand to each other, or had a break from one and did something different for a while (which is how I ended doing the variety of tasks mentioned below). Moreover, one of SZOIL’s regular workers, whom supervised my work for the GHL, taught us how to use some of the machines in the lab. I only used the laser engraver and cutter, as 3D printing required designing and that’s something I’m awful at.
(If you haven’t, check the first part of my latest blog series ‘CRCC Asia Internship in China’ before reading this one: https://findingmyselfinsideme.com/2017/09/25/crcc-asia-internship-in-shenzhen-preparation-arrival-and-induction/)
After a long three-day weekend of being ill and trying to recover, my first day of work as an intern in China came. I had to wake-up early and meet the rest of CRCC Asia interns in the lobby of Apartment One, to take a group picture before heading to our internships. Most, if not all, interns worked for companies which weren’t near our accommodation. Fortunately, for the first day of work, CRCC staff members took us by minivan to our workplaces. I was not the only CRCC intern working in SZOIL, my assigned company, there were three others CRCC participants coming with me: a student from a university in Northern England, a student from an American university, and a fellow Sussex student. I had only spoken briefly to two of them before the start of the internship, so I didn’t know much about any of them, but hoped for the best, as they would be my co-workers for a month.
The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
Palestine is a beautiful region with rich culture and fascinating history. Whether you are interested in food, religion, architecture, literature or others doesn’t matter: there is a bit of everything, a lot to see and learn about! This post will show the places I visited as a part of the work camp, while sharing any significant details about them.
Birzeit University: the institution goes back to 1927, started as secondary school for girls. It has 8 faculties and specialised centres for research and masters. I was marvelled by the stunning architecture and nature on the campus.
Birzeit town: a historical Palestinian village that dates back to even earlier than the Byzantine period. A representative of Rozana Association, an organisation based on the town that works to promote the rural development of the area, gave us a small tour around the place. Apart from walking around the town, we visited the Sa’deh & Technology House, home to a showcase of scientific innovation and education, the Al-Rozana Mosaic Workshop, a workshop where mosaics are made, and the Palestinian Circus School, an institution that uses circus activities to promote social and behaviour change.
We also learnt about the activities the Rozana Association is involved in, including alternative tourism, preserving heritage, Birzeit Heritage Week, engaging women and youth, and the annual Maftoul Festival, where Palestinian women come together to compete to prepare the best maftoul. Maftoul, a Palestinian dish, was chosen for the festival to preserve identity, highlighting something not usually highlighted. It is made differently across Palestine.
An ancient and historical city, home to significant landmarks for the biggest Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We visited the Old City, located in East Jerusalem, to see these landmarks, including the Western Wall (Judaism), the Dome of the Rock (Islam), Al-Aqsa mosque (Islam) and the Holy Sepulchre (Christianity). We also went to the Mount of Olives, which is close to the Old City, known to me (as a Christian) as the place where Jesus went after he was betrayed by Judas. There is also a big Jewish cemetery.
Eastern Jerusalem is also a significant area due to disputes over sovereignty: while the Israeli state controls it, it is internationally regarded as part of Palestine. The construction of a wall by Israel, considered a violation of international law by the International Court of Justice, and other restrictions, separated the area from the West Bank. Now, Palestinians in the West Bank have a very limited access to Eastern Jerusalem. While Israel defends the Wall in the name of “security”, Palestinians regard it as an “Apartheid Wall”.
(This topic will be more explored on another post in the series.)
A busy and vibrant city in the centre of the West Bank. It is the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), the governing body in the West Bank area of Palestine. We walked around the city centre and visited the tomb of Yasser Arafat, the first president of the PNA and a renowned Palestinian leader. During the work, we went to two different bars: Vintage and Snowbar. Both of them had relaxing environments in which you could order food, drinks and shisha. I tried shisha, but I didn’t like it (I’m not a fan of smoking). On our free day, I saw the Mandela statue gifted by South Africa to show solidarity with Palestine, as well as the Ramallah Memorial Wall.
My favourite place I visited in Ramallah was the Dar Zhan Heritage house. It is more than 200 years, considered one of the oldest houses in Ramallah. It comprises three rooms, from three different family houses. There are two levels, in between there is an opening from which heat from animals from the low level came to warm up the high level. The family-run heritage house is fascinating showcase of Palestinian culture. There are painting exhibitions from Palestinians, including two Palestinians refugees and locals, artisanal products for sale, Palestinian items and old tools displayed. The owner of the house was very nice and offered us biscuits with tea/coffee, after giving us a nice presentation of the place.
A very warm city in the North of the West Bank, also one of the oldest cities of the world. We went there to spend the night, and were received by the local authorities, who gave us a lecture about Jericho. 3 years ago, it was the 10,000th anniversary of the city. At first, people lived in mountains and caves, then they moved to the valley and built small houses, starting farming. It is the lowest city in the world, more than 400 metres beneath sea level. Jericho is important because it is the fruit basket of Palestine, providing vegetables and fruits across the region. Because there is a lot of oxygen in Jericho, vegetables and fruits have superbquality and taste. There is no need to use chemicals or greenhouses to make the harvest faster.
There are more than 123 old sites (e.g. monasteries and palaces) in the city. Jericho has seen many empires ruling it. If you dig on the soil you can find many archaeological objects from different eras. In 2012, local authorities tried to make Jericho an international UNESCO historical place, but didn’t work. The state of Israel doesn’t want to leave Jericho to Palestinians, arguing about “security reasons”, but local authorities think it is because of the rich culture and history. There are issues with access to water, Palestinians don’t have a right to take water from Jordan. Water in the Jordan River costs millions of dollars and is used by Israel for chemicals and other matters.
In Jericho, we visited the Hisham palace, a significant site for Islamic heritage. The palace was destroyed due to an earthquake and its ruins were found by an archaeologist. It is part of the Umayyad caliphate architecture legacy in Palestine. In the inside, it had Persian and Byzantine decoration. On the outside, gothic elements and symbols. My favourite piece of art was the Mosaic of the Tree of Life: it was made of a tree, gazelles and a lion, representing good and evil, peace and war. Another place we saw was the Mount of Temptation, to which we travelled by cable car on the evening. The night views of Jericho from it were amazing.
A historical city in the South of the West Bank. We visited a Palestinian refugee camp, one of the 59 across the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. I always struggled to understand why Palestinian refugees existed inside Palestine: the definition of refugee involves being outside of your state. However, later I learnt that those refugees were citizens evicted from villages after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Their villages are currently part of Israel and they aren’t allowed to return. The camp we visited, known as Dheisheh, was created in 1948. For four years, it was composed of tents. Then tents turned into small units created by the UN. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, although the camp now looks like a well-established neighbourhood, even though quality of life in it isn’t great.
We also went to the Church of the Nativity, were Jesus was born. It was beautiful inside, I was in awe with the drawings and decoration. As a Christian, I felt very special being there because I have heard about the place many times through my life time.
The last place we saw in the area was a beautiful village called Battir. Battir means “house of the bird”. Around 5000 people live there. Many of the residents of the village come from registered refugee families, who left in 1948 because they were scared for their safety, but ended up coming back thanks to Hassan Mustafa, a community leader aware of the borders, the situation and their rights. In fact, community work was very important to build the community and the village, and the tradition still lives. Israel tried to build a wall there, but it was fortunately prevented.
Between 2006-2008, the oldest area in Battir was renovated and given the name “7 Widows”, because the only people who were still living there were seven widows. In it, there are ruins from different civilisations. Recently, the 1st chamber of commerce was open, an artisanal shop. The price of the items comes from its makers. 16 families own a tent each inside the shop. Each object has a label with name of the maker and price. The shop doesn’t take commission. There is box in each tent, anyone who takes something from it puts its cost there: it is a way building trust in the community.
Burqin is a village in the municipality of Jenin, 3.5km away from the city of Jenin. It is famous for its agriculture. There are five schools in the village: two for boys, two for girls and one mixed. There is one medical centre. There are 13 voted members in the municipality. The village wants to develop its tourism. It is home to the 4th oldest church in the world. It is a Roman Orthodox Church made of rocks, built in two different periods of time. The first part contains an old Roman well. People with leprosy used to be isolated inside the well and they were given food and water through an opening. It is reported that Jesus stopped around this place when travelling and cured these ill people.
Both the name of a district and the main city in it, Nablus is a notorious area in the North of the West Bank. We visited Sebastia village to see a historical place full of ruins. It had a roman theatre. Kings across empires and ethnic groups liked to build there. Close to the ruins there is an Israeli settlement. It is a strategical place politically, due to the quest for control over water supplies. The day we were visiting the ruins, we saw a destroyed family business, a café. It had been wrecked by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The family wasn’t allowed to take things out, and they relied on the business for their income.
We also went to the city of Nablus. Students from the An-Najah National University in Nablus gave us a tour around the Old City inside. They spoke about how Nablus is home to Samaritans, Muslims and Christians, who live together as Palestinians. In fact, during Christmas, Muslims are invited to the celebration, and in Ramadan, Christians are invited to break the fasts. Nablus has some of the oldest mosques and churches. While walking around the Old City, we saw a parking were 30 families used to live in their homes. During the Second Intifada in 2012, the area was bombed by Israel and the homes were destroyed. 10 people died. On the streets, there were pictures of Palestinian Freedom Fighters, who sacrificed themselves to defend Nablus, its freedom and its dignity. The Old City is very crowded, but most shops are closed: there is not much tourism in the area.
When comes to landmarks and significant places, we saw a more than 800 years old Turkish bath from the Ottoman Empire, a Nabulsi soap factory owned by a family from Nablus and a kanafeh (delicious Palestinian sweet) bakery. We also learnt about the political importance of the city through history. In 1967, Yasser Arafat and others made significant operations against the Israeli army in the Old City. Over 300 Palestinian freedom fighters lived there. Israel bombed the area. Palestinian freedom fighters had to move to Jordan, then had to leave to Syria, and then to Lebanon. When Israel had war with Lebanon, many of them died. Some moved to North Africa. Many leaders of the movement were assassinated by the Israeli army even abroad. We were told that thanks to those fighters, cities like Nablus still exist.
The last place we went to was the Samaritan Museum. We were given a speech by a Samaritan priest. It was about the 5 principles of Samaritanism, traditions such as circumcisions, how women in their period are treated according to their faith, their version on the history of Judaism & Islam… Samaritans consider themselves the true descendants of Israelites, from Adam and Moses. The Samaritan calendar is often regarded as one of the most accurate in the world. During the division of Kingdoms, Jews were set in Jerusalem and Samaritans in Nablus (Judaism and Samaritanism are very closely related). Samaritans believe in peace, and this nature made them victims of killings through history, going from 3 million believers in Palestine to 785. Religiously talking, the Samaritan priest believed that Jesus came for a specific group, Moses for Israelites, & Mohammed for the whole world. The museum was located in Mount Gerizim, an important place for Samaritans.
(More pictures of all the trip will be uploaded in a near future to my Flickr account.)
Months ago I received an email by my university with an unexpected opportunity: applying to participate in a summer school in South East Asia and receiving a full scholarship to cover all the costs (tuition, accommodation, living expenses, flights…). Obviously, I couldn’t refuse the offer: it wouldn’t cost me a penny/much money, I would experience living abroad and I would get additional academic qualifications.
After choosing a university and a course, I applied to be nominated by my university. Days later, I received the confirmation that my application had been successful, but I had to choose another university and course because the one I applied for wasn’t running anymore. That’s when I was directed to the GEM Trailblazer Summer Program by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, applying in the end to their ‘Cultural Intelligence: How to be an Explorer of the World’ course. Weeks later, my admission into the program was confirmed, and it started to sink in I was going to South East Asia for a month to study!
Before going abroad, I had to attend various group meetings to learn more about Singapore and to be aware of health and safety issues. During those meetings, I met other students who were travelling to the same university and for the same/similar period. This was incredible useful since I realised I would not be totally alone and I knew the names/faces of some people with whom I could be. Other preparation for the trip included getting vaccinations, renewing my passport and booking flights. Although at times it was stressful, I was ready and set to fly on the 29th of June with no major worries or concerns.
The day of my departure I woke up early on the morning and took various trains to Gatwick airport. During the journey, I felt calm and motivated, my only regret was packing too much stuff in my suitcases (they were very heavy!). Since this was not the first time I travelled alone, I had no problem reaching the airport, checking in, going through security and getting to my gate on time. The only new thing about this journey was that instead of flying 1-2 hours to a country in the same continent, I would travel 15-17 hours to reach Asia, leaving Europe for the first time in my 20 years of life! I was very excited about this, yet I was a bit concerned about how comfortable the plane would be and about how the connection stop in Dubai would work.
Fortunately, my concerns never materialised: Emirates was a lovely company to flight with and the connection stop in Dubai was hassle-free. The only issue that arose was my phone dying at some point and I couldn’t find my charger, so I couldn’t use it at all (I thought I had left it at home, but later I found it in my checked in luggage!). Nevertheless, the planes had Wi-Fi, and my laptop entertained me.
My arrival to Changi Airport in Singapore was accompanied by a mixture of emotions: uncertainty, fear, excitement and relief. Uncertainty because I didn’t know what to expect of Singaporean culture. Fear because I was scared I would have problems to get a tourist pass. Excitement because a new chapter in my life was about to open. And relief because nothing happened during my flights to get there. However, uncertainty ended up paving the way for a desire to explore the unknown, rather than feel nervous about it. And I had no problems to get a tourist pass, probably because I have a Spanish passport.
Changi Airport was an easy place to move around. After buying a mobile SIM and cash card for transport, I left the airport and took the train (known as MRT in Singapore) to reach Boon Lay station, where I then took a bus to get to my assigned hall in NTU. The journey took nearly 2 hours. I must admit I struggled with my luggage, yet the worst part came when I got off the bus near my hall in NTU and I couldn’t find the office to check in. The hot and humid weather made me sweat a lot: at some point I even felt like if I couldn’t breathe properly, as if there weren’t oxygen in the air. This was my first shock in Singapore: I wasn’t ready for the climate. I was lucky to be caught struggling by one of the workers in the complex. She directed me to the hall office to check in and then helped me to get to my room.
After settling in my chamber, I had a much needed shower and then I went out to top-up the card to use the air conditioner (the heat inside my room was unbearable and I didn’t realise till later that I could use the fan without the air conditioner, I’m a dummy!). While walking, I explored the area surrounding my hall. My first thought about NTU was how green the campus is, full of tropical flora. I was also captivated by some of the buildings I saw, in particular the School of Arts, Design and Media, which is just besides my hall. It is modern and covered by nature. I really like it. My second impression of NTU was how cheap and nice lunch is in its canteens. I paid $2.5 (less than £1.50) for a full plate of chicken fried rice, which was delicious.
Once I topped up my air conditioner card, I went directly to my room and slept. Although it was just 5pm local time when I went to bed, I felt extremely tired, almost certainly because of jetlag and the time difference between Singapore and UK (Singapore is 7 hours ahead). I ended up waking up in the middle of the night hungry and with headache: my body thought I had a nap and I never have naps because I always feel very ill afterwards. After taking some medication and eating some leftovers I had in my bag, I managed to sleep again for a few hours.
The next day I woke up around 12pm. It was Friday the 1st, I had to register for my course and attend a campus tour. After getting dressed, I walked down to Student Services Centre, where the registration took place and I received my welcome pack: a t-shirt, a backpack, a water bottle and an NTU information pack. Then, I went to find somewhere to eat before joining the last group campus tour of the day at 5pm. While we didn’t walk around the whole campus, since it is too big, we visited some of the key spaces where we would study, meet for cultural activities/organised days out and attend the Welcome Party on Monday. Whilst on the tour, I spoke with other summer school students for the first time since I had arrived. This is an aspect of my trip which I was a bit worried about: I’m not great at socialising, I have always struggled to make friends, particularly since I moved to England in 2012. However, the conversation went quite well, we talked about where we came from (they were Korean) and I even exchanged my Facebook details with one of them.
Following the end the campus tour, I went to the canteen in my hall to have dinner alone and was unexpectedly joined by a girl who decided to sit down with me. As the students I met earlier, she was from Korea as well. We had a nice chat while we ate together and we ended up adding each other on Facebook before leaving for our respective rooms. I was quite surprised by how another person decided to approach me out of the blue and talk with me. That rarely happens in my life, I’m not an approachable person at all, I look very serious all the time and my reflective face is perceived as angry often.
Nevertheless, the feeling of surprise developed into joy, which increased minutes later when I went to my chamber and met my roommate for the whole summer program. She greeted me enthusiastically and introduced herself as Jessica from Hong Kong. We were both born in the same year and we are doing the same course here. After a few minutes of talking with her, I knew we would get along very well and I felt extremely pleased about sharing the room during the whole month, something I was wary about because I’m a person who likes intimacy (though I’m used to sharing room and sleeping spaces with others).
The following day the first activity prepared by NTU for summer school students took place: tour around Singapore. I was very excited about this, I couldn’t wait to meet new people and learn about this country. Fortunately, both hopes materialised. I didn’t spend any minute of the tour alone. I was always chatting and laughing with someone, from the people I met the day before to new people I met during tour. I had a great time, it felt so good! I hadn’t had so much fun in ages and I felt like I used to feel in Spain back in 2011 when I hanged out with my friends: confident, careless and happy. For a few hours, my old-self surged from the shadows of my asocial behaviour, talking and socialising without worrying excessively about being embarrassing or judged. I must admit that I was also asocial and reserved in Spain, I’m an introverted person. But it worsened a lot after moving to England: the levels of isolation I reached there were unbearable.
When comes to learning, I got a basic level of knowledge of the country from the tour. Singapore is an island city-state close to Malaysia and Indonesia, with a rich and interesting history which I had never been very aware of. Our tour guide took us to some of the key places in the small country and shared with us history and cultural details, but we didn’t have time to explore any place in depth and I missed some of his explanations. In the following weeks, I will try to visit as many historical and cultural places as possible to learn better, and I will share what I learn here.
From the tour that NTU organised, I learnt that Singapore is a country of migrants, mainly from Chinese, Indian and Malaysian background. Various languages are spoken, and various cultures and religions coexist with each other, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianism. Apart from cultural and ethnic diversity, Singapore also has a mixture of landscapes and architecture styles: here, modernity meets nature and traditionalism in a beautiful way. There are lots of green spaces everywhere, while the heart of the city is full of skyscrapers and modern buildings, and neighbouring areas contain many heritage sites with old-fashioned structures.
The day afterwards I was invited to go out for lunch by one of the summer students I met during the tour: her name is Natasha and she is from Australia. I joined her, another summer student and one of her friends from her university in Australia that lives in Singapore. We went to the Raffles Quay area and ate in a food court. In Singapore, food courts are places in which you can buy cheap meals and drinks from a group of small stands, which serve food from a variety of places, such as China, Japan, Malaysia and India, as well as the signature dishes of the country (which I haven’t tried yet!). I ate Costa Rican, food and I enjoyed it. Food in Singapore is delicious, diverse and cheap, my favourite combination!
On the evening of the same day, I joined other summer students to go to the Night Safari. It was a relaxing and pleasurable outing, yet my feet were hurting a lot from walking so much in the last few days and I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.
Hope you enjoyed my first post for the blog series “GEM Trailblazer Summer in Singapore’s NTU”. It will have 4-5 parts, since the summer program here lasts 4 weeks and I might want to add reflections on the end. I’m sorry if this post was boring and too introductory: I have been very busy and I was running out of time to write it. The next ones will be more interesting and detailed. I promise!
P.S: You can find more pictures of my time in Singapore in my Flickr account => https://flic.kr/s/aHskDGR9BV