YES Abroad: Ghana Finalist

3 weeks ago, I posted information about the YES Abroad process and announced that I was an alternate to spend a year abroad.

Today I am proud to announce that I have been upgraded to be a finalist and have accepted a YES Abroad scholarship to Ghana.

At first I was very disappointed that I was awarded Ghana due to the fact that I had my heart set on learning a language which would help me later on in life. I debated between college and Ghana, talked to Adam Streeter (Ghana YES alumni), and ultimately decided to take a gap year for the following reasons:

Africa It intrigues me. Particularly the sense of community found throughout the continent. I currently live in Naples Florida, and know little about community. In fact, at my dad's house I have neither never seen nor talked to my neighbors, despite living in the house for over 3 years. One alumni from Mozambique said that if he saw his neighbor and merely said "Hello," he would be considered rude. In his culture, when seeing an acquaintance it is expected to ask how their family is doing, how their day is, etc. This isn't the best of examples, but stands nonetheless.

College – Although I got into every college I cared about, I applied for financial aid far too late. I want a second chance for financial aid and to apply for more schools that give merit based aid. I leave for Ghana in September, so I'll be busy this August with applications.

Relaxation – Spending 10 months in Ghana gives me time to relax. As Adam told me over the phone, high school is all about "achieving, achieving, and achieving." Meanwhile, Ghana will teach me what really matters – life experiences. This is entirely true. Education's success is measured in standardized tests. Whether it's the FCAT, SAT, or AP Exams; the goal of education is to make you pass them. If the school has a 100{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} pass ratio, the teachers have "done their job." This says nothing about success in the real world. It could be that the child who fails FCAT Reading turns out to be a famous mathematician or one who gets perfect scores doesn't go to college – it means nothing. In Ghana, I hope to get a real education.

Writing – English is widely spoken in Ghana, so learning Twi (Ghana's main tribal language) will not be my primary goal. My current goal is to either write the first draft of a novel or post in my blog consistently enough that one day it could be turned into a book. Ghana will be a my gap year in-between high school and college, and I fully intend to take advantage of my time off.

All I currently know about my specific Ghanaian program follows:

Location – Students shall be hosted in either Accra (the capitol) or Kumasi.

Host Family – Students will live with host families in order to experience a true immersion into Ghanaian culture. Families are selected based on recommendations from members of the local community, and each is carefully screened by staff and volunteers. Many families hold a position of influence within their community, and all are highly regarded by their relatives and neighbors. Hosting communities exist through the presence of a strong volunteer support network, with a local volunteer, or “liaison,” available to each student hosted in the community.

Cultural Activities – Numerous cultural excursions will be offered to students to give them the opportunity to see the varying geographical and cultural regions of the country. Excursions to northern regions will include trips to Tamale, Dalun, Kumasi and Kintampo. Students will also be offered the chance to explore the southern regions of Ghana outside of Accra with trips to Kakum National Park and the Cape Coast and Emina castles.

School Life – Students hosted in Ghana will attend public secondary schools that can be either single sex or co-educational. The language of instruction is English. In addition to regular schooling, students will be offered introductory language courses in one regional Ghanaian language upon arrival, and will continue classes with a language instructor for two hours per week for the remainder of the program. To supplement the core educational curriculum, students will be offered a variety of extracurricular activities, including lessons in drumming, traditional dance, batik tie-dye and Kente weaving.

Orientation will be June 28 through July 1st. I will be leaving for Ghana this September and will return in June of 2012.

 

YES Abroad Application Process and Semi-Finalism

Basic Facts About YES

YES Abroad is a congressional initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. It provides full scholarships for 50 American high school students to study abroad in countries with significant Muslim populations for a full academic year.

YES exists to let Americans learn more about Muslim communities as they learn more about Americans. The program's mission is to "build bridges of international understanding between Americans and people in countries with significant Muslim populations."

Requirements:

  • Students must be U.S. Citizens
  • High school students when applying
  • Age 15-18.5

Available Countries

  • Egypt**
  • Ghana*
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Mali (semester)
  • Malaysia*
  • Morocco
  • Oman
  • Thailand
  • Turkey*

* – Designates countries available as gap years.
** – Due to the 2011 revolution, Egypt was not available for this year.

The Application Process:

Official Website: http://www.yesprograms.org/yesabroad

I discovered this scholarship just a few days before it was due. Although it was last-minute scramble, it was worth it in the end. The application seemed quite long at first, but is very manageable if you keep your eyes on the prize.

According the the representatives at the semi-finalist event, over 600 people started but did not complete the application due to  its length.

The application for 2012-13 will be available in the fall of 2011. Sample short answer questions asked in the 2011-12 application include:

  • Describe a challenge you experienced in the past two years when you had to be flexible and adjust your expectations. How did you react? Why?
  • Why is living in a country with a significant Muslim population important to you?
  • How will you use your role as an alumnus of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad program to support intercultural learning and cross cultural understanding in your home community upon your return?

Just when I had almost forgotten about my application, I received word that I was one of 75 semi-finalists to be flown to Denver for 3 days of group interviews during mid-March.

TIP: As soon as you discover your semi-finalist status, join Culture Shocked. Through this forum, I had met and chatted with at least 10 other semi-finalists before I arrived in Denver.

Semi-Finalism

In a nutshell, Denver was amazing. The 74 of us (1 person didn't show) quickly bonded, and we have been talking nonstop since then. Although there was a lot at stake, the atmosphere was relaxed enough for everyone to have a great time.

Workshops:

The workshops are not evaluated, and seemed to be intended to give us a sense of who we are as Americans and all that we represent. The information gained from the 3 workshops and speeches are sure to be useful when traveling abroad any time in the future. Role playing exercises given out that I would highly reccomend acting out include the following:

  • Your host family is very generous and each time after you're done eating your meals they keep insisting that you should have even more food even though you're very full. How do you explain to them that the fact is you're full and the food is great – without hurting their feelings?
  • You are watching the news with your host family, and you watch a feature on TV that deals with a topic you feel strongly about. Your host family, however, feels the complete opposite way. Do you express your very different opinion to your host family? How do you do this, and what exactly can you say? Can you agree to disagree?

The Alumni Factor

About 25 alumni of YES were with us in Denver. Semi-finalists were on a rotating schedule for individual interviews, so those not being interviewed got the opportunity to have an open table discussion with alumni from each country. This is a unique aspect to this program; make sure you ask questions while you're there to get the first-person perspective.

The Talent Show

As soon as people heard there was going to be a talent show in Denver, people got nervous. Just relax- take a few deep breaths, and finish this paragraph. The talent show is really nothing to worry about. First of all, it's not part of the evaluation. Secondly, talent shows are just about showing off what you're good at. While this is theoretically the definition of "talent", people sometimes don't realize that this can mean anything from reading poetry to making origami. It's all about having fun, and (sometimes) making a fool of yourself.

Evaluation Process

There were 3 group evaluations in Denver. Each one involved accomplishing a somewhat difficult task by working together with your groups through various obstacles.

There was also a rotating schedule for individual interviews. Alumni conduct these, and each one lasts about 30 minutes. If you search on Google, you can find some potential interview questions from AFS. These probably won't be the exact questions asked, but they will give you a good idea of what to expect.

In Conclusion…

YES Abroad for Americans is an amazing scholarship which has the power to change your life. Even if you don't end up receiving the final scholarship, you will meet friends to keep for years to come. I heavily encourage anyone interested to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I made it out of Denver as an alternate, and am proud to say so. The other contestants and finalists are amazing people who all deserve to study abroad, and I am looking forwards to following their lives during the upcoming year.

If you have any questions/comments, feel free to ask away.

Finalist Blogs:

Adriana in Ghana
Kyla in Ghana

Ana in India
Hannah in India
Harriet in India
Jenny in India

Andrew in Indonesia

Andrea in Mali
Hope in Mali

Peggy in Malaysia

Bailey in Oman
Emma in Oman
Jaira in Oman

Liz in Thailand
Tyler in Thailand

Cesibon Gelateria Review

The phrase “c’est si bon,” roughly translates to “it’s so good” in French. This concise phrase accurately describes the flavor of this local gelateria. Fabrice Morazel, Cesibon’s owner, proudly told me that their sorbetto is made out of only fruit, water, and sugar, while their gelato base is milk, cream, and sugar. The simplicity and freshness of these ingredients unify so that the end result is truly greater than its parts.

Sorbettos from top right clockwise: lemon, mango, pineapple, berry, orange, and strawberry

As I looked through and sampled many of the 14 flavors (they vary daily), I felt as if I was tasting each fruit and flavor for the first time.  Their pineapple, strawberry, and mango tasted as if I had picked each fruit individually off the tree at the peak of its season. Grapefruit isn’t one of my favorite fruits, but by combining it with strawberry, the bitterness was perfectly balanced. The lemon was perfectly tart, and simply refreshing.

“Gelatos from top right clockwise: nougat, mocha, pistachio, dark chocolate with almonds, hazelnut, and stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chunks)

The gelatos and the sorbettos both achieve superb creaminess and texture.  The sorbettos taste as if they are made with dairy they are so smooth and creamy,  while the gelatos offer richer flavors than their counterparts. Caramel, pistachio, and coconut are among our favorites. Fabrice keeps the case at the perfect temperature so that the sorbettos & gelatos are not frozen solid, and all have a soft, smooth consistency.

Coconut gelato sprinkled with toasted coconut

[easyreview title=”Cesibon” cat1title=”Taste” cat1detail=”Each sorbetto somehow tastes better than the fruit itself, and the gelato is absolutely divine. The sorbettos, gelatos, frozen yogurts, milkshakes, and drinks are terrific. The only possible complaint is that Cesibon no longer offer crepes and waffles, despite them still being on their menu (see picture below), but that is easily overlooked after tasting everything which they do offer.” cat1rating=”4″ cat2title=”Atmosphere” cat2detail=”Cesibon is charming and quaint with cute posters of gelato sprinkled throughout the parlor.” cat2rating=”3.5″ cat3title=”Food Presentation” cat3detail=”Each bin of gelato and sorbetto is beautifully presented in the pan with a rippled/wave-like texture. Many flavors have toppings sprinkled on them such as toasted coconut flakes, almonds, and candied walnuts.” cat3rating=”4″ cat4title=”Service” cat4detail=”As customers enter Cesibon, Fabrice happily makes each one feel welcome with an enthusiastic ‘Bonsoir!’ Cesibon does steady business, and there’s usually not much of a wait.” cat4rating=”3.5″ cat5title=”Overall” cat5detail=”Cesibon serves top quality sorbetto and gelato which tastes as if it comes directly from Italy. As you leave this gelateria you’ll definitely be saying, ‘C’est si bon!'” cat5rating=”4″]

Cesibon

8807 Tamiami Trail North; (239) 566-8363

PRICE RANGE: $3.50 to $5.50 per cup/cone; $7.50 per pint
CREDIT CARDS: Cash only
HOURS: Monday through Thursday 12:30 pm to 9 pm, Friday & Saturday 12:30 pm to 10 pm, Sunday 1 pm to 8 pm

MORE PICS: (click to see full-size)

Shakespearean Idol

Last month, Barron Collier had its annual Shakespeare competition in which students had to memorize a 20 line monologue and a sonnet. Here's a trailer made in TV Production advertising this event.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=359i_TR04uI

Credits:

Producer: Avery Segal
Editor: J. Sventek
Cameraman: F. Vitiello
Auditioner: C. Mansour
Paula Abdul: K. Marconi
Simon Cowell: F. Vitiello
Randy Jackson: Mr. Bolden
Ryan Seacrest: Mr. Partello



	

Cafe Normandie Restaurant Review

As I headed to Cafe Normandie, I didn’t know what to expect. My first taste of French food had not gone over well; I had the misimpression that all French food is drowned in  butter and cream and is essentially an excuse for Americans to go off their diets.

Cafe Normandie defied my expectations. When I opened the cafe’s door, the smell of freshly baked bread filled the air. This smell immediately lured me to the “sandwich” part of the menu, and I inevitably decided to order the salmon sandwich. My partner chose the “friand to order.”

The salmon sandwich was absolutely everything that a sandwich should be. The baguette was right out of the oven – crispy on the outside, while light on the inside. According to our waitress, the dough was imported directly from France. The baguette was filled with smoked salmon, fresh spinach, and tomato slices. The smoked salmon was top of the line quality – the best I’ve ever had- and was layered generously on the baguette.  The sandwich and spinach salad came with a very light balsamic vinaigrette that didn’t overpower the smokiness of the salmon.

The friand included a choice of 3 stuffings (meats, cheeses, and/or vegetables). My partner chose chicken, brie, and fresh spinach. The pastry was light, flaky, and “melt in your mouth” delicious. The amount of brie was perfect – enough , yet not so much as to overpower the chicken and the fresh spinach.

Chef and owner Benoit Legris, from Normandie, runs this cafe wonderfully. He greeted us, chatted with us, and, at the same time, completed multiple orders. He serves simple, delicious, yet not pretentious, French cuisine.

Both dishes were large enough to take half home. The only problem was they tasted so amazing that we didn’t have the self control to do so.

[easyreview title=”Cafe Normandie” cat1title=”Taste” cat1detail=”The ingredients were distinctly fresh, the bread hand-baked, and contained perfect amounts of brie and/or vinaigrette.” cat1rating=”3.5″ cat2title=”Atmosphere” cat2detail=”Cafe Normandie is a quaint little French eatery, with charming paintings and the smell of bread baking as you enter.” cat2rating=”4″ cat3title=”Food Presentation” cat3detail=” A crisp spinach salad accompanied each of the well put-together sandwiches. ” cat3rating=”3″ cat4title=”Service” cat4detail=”Our waitress was friendly, hospitable, and the food service was fast and efficient.” cat4rating=”3.5″ cat5title=”Overall” cat5detail=”Cafe Normandie represents French food at its best with the absolute freshest and best ingredients available. I look forward to many meals here in the future. ” cat5rating=”3.5″]

Cafe Normandie

3756 Tamiami Trail North; (239) 261-0977

About Us

PRICE RANGE: Lunch $9 to $13, Appetizers $6 to $13, Dinners $17 to $23
CREDIT CARDS: All major ones are accepted
HOURS: Lunch 11 am to 3 pm, Dinner 5 pm to 8:30 pm

Lithuanian Vindaloo/Galangal Stew

One of my dad's housemates is Lithuanian. He is a renowned naturopath and physician, and knows about the beneficial health properties of many exotic foods and drinks known to man.

Yesterday, my dad told me that dinner had been prepared by his housemate for some friends from Lithuania and me. Actually, that's not what he said. He told me that he "felt awkward being the only English-speaker at the table", and requested my presence. The guilt trip worked, and I soon walked to the dinner table to see what meal awaited me. I stumbled upon this:

This self-named "vindaloo stew" incorporated a medley of fresh picked organic vegetables from the garden with an almost curry-like sauce. From far away, it actually looked pretty decent. We blessed our meal for 5 minutes, and began to eat.

From the first bite, all I could taste was a bitter, wasabi-like horseradish taste. The combination of spicy dried vindaloo and heaps of fresh ginger-like and peppery galangal stopped me dead in my tracks. My body begged me not to take another bite, and I began to tear up from the spice. I looked around the table to see everyone else's reaction to the seasoning, and couldn't help but notice that my dad was downing it with large bites. Lithuanian eyes gleamed at me in hope that I was enjoying this meal. I sheepishly smiled, and took a few more bites. I was reminded of a wasabi eating contest we had in Korea, when my "Hyong" (host family brother) ate a hunk of wasabi the size of a ping pong ball  for $20.

I couldn't continue eating, but I needed to show signs of politeness and grace since the meal was generously prepared for us. I quickly thought of three strategies:

  1. Angle my spoon towards me, so I could take empty spoonfuls, put them in my mouth, and smile knowingly.
  2. Pick out the butternut squash and broccoli and eat only those two ingredients since they masked the shoe-like flavor of the dish.
  3. Accidentally drop my bowl off the table onto my foot, and then politely excuse myself to leave and go to the hospital and get stitches.

Note: Strategy #3 was quickly discarded.

After the meal, my dad asked me what I thought of it. I responded truthfully about the seasoning, and he remarked how it would, "Clear my sinuses," and was very healthy for me.

The point of this post is that no matter how healthy a food or ingredient is, no matter the number of anti-cancer properties it contains, no matter the massive amount of energy gained from eating it; it only can affect you if it tastes good enough to finish the bowl.

I probably would've extended my life by several days if I had finished my bowl of vindaloo galangal stew, but looking back, it's definitely was not worth it.

Rehearsal for Murder Trailer

The Barron Collier Drama Club proudly presents…

Rehearsal for Murder

Evening performances are at 7:30 next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Special Matinee is at 2:30 on Saturday. Tickets are $7 at the door.

Synopsis:

The play opens in an empty New York theatre. The playwright has supposedly brought in actors to read bits and pieces of a new play, a murder mystery. As the readings unfold, we begin to see that everyone on the stage was involved in the last play by the same playwright exactly one year ago—everyone, that is, except the lead actress who was engaged to the playwright and mysteriously committed suicide; or did she?

Trailer:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg7GxuVgcrU

Vegetarian Tom Kha Gai Recipe

Tom kha gai (translated literally to mean chicken galangal soup), incorporates so many contrasting flavors that it can be intimidating for a new chef. When I first tasted tom kha gai at a Thai restaurant, I was so inspired that i wrote the following passage about its flavors:

Immediately the creamy milk hits your palate; transporting you to an exotic Thai beach. You’re lying down on a chase lounge; soup bowl in hand. As you slurp the broth, a hint of kaffir lime adds the perfect amount of tartness- enough so it plays off of the coconut milk, while not so much so that the tartness is overwhelming. Shreds of galangal root float about the bowl, each one permeating the broth with an earthy, citrusy flavor. Normally, the rice noodles would seem slightly overcooked and gloppy, but because they are coated in the broth, the flavors meld together to become one. With the last spoonful of broth, the elusive flavor of lemongrass- impalpable yet distinctly aromatic- lingers on.

This past week I attempted my own version of this Thai classic based upon a recipe found online. My variation follows:

Vegetarian Tom Kah Gai

Taste

The broth was perfectly seasoned by the combination of bullion, lime, lemongrass, and galangal. Every ingredient added to the flavor and texture of the soup.

Ease of Execution

About 20 minutes from start to finish, including prep time. While lemongrass and galangal root may seem intimidating to prepare, it’s simple once you get started.”

Presentation

Moderately attractive in the bowl, particularly when sprinkled with chiffonades of basil.

Overall

Tom kah gai is an easy to make delicious soup definitely a try.

Ingredients:

4-5 stalks lemongrass
2 cans (14 ounces each) unsweetened coconut milk
2 bouillon cubes (or 1.5 cups of vegetable stock)
1 galangal root (cut into 20 quarter-sized slices)
10 peppercorns (or ground pepper
Zest of 1/2 lime
1.5 pounds of sweet potatoes or butternut squash
1 can garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 scallions sliced
Basil (to taste)

1. Peel away the outer dry layers of the lemongrass. Trim the tops. You will use roughly 6 inches above the base. Using a blade/knife, bruise each stalk at 2 inch intervals at all sides.

2. Peel the galangal root and cut into 20 quarter-sized pieces.

2. Heat the coconut milk and water with bouillon over medium heat. Stir in the galangal root, lemongrass, peppercorns, and lime zest.

3. Cut the sweet potato/squash into large bite-sized pieces. Add to the broth, and bring soup to a gentle boil for 10 minutes.

4. Remove soup from heat and add the garbanzo beans, soy sauce, lime juice, and green onions. Serve warm with whole basil leaves or chiffinades of basil (see notes).

Notes:

  • To chiffonade basil, simply stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them intro a tight bundle. Cut diagonally.
  • In Thailand this soup is served with the lemongrass and galangal root still in the soup. If you would rather not  eat around them at the table,  remove them from the soup before Step 4.
  • Basil can be replaced with cilantro.
  • Mung bean noodles can also be added.