Thursday, March 14, 2019

What You Need to Know to Celebrate Persian New Year!

Persian New Year, Nowruz, starts on the first day of Spring. The exact beginning moment of Nowruz is calculated precisely every year at the stroke of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator. This year it will happen on March 20.

The term Nowruz is a Persian compound word. The first word “now” means new and the second word “ruz” means day; together they mean “New Day.” It is a secular festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years and enjoyed by people of several different faiths. The traditions of Nowruz were originated in Iran; however, it has been celebrated among people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada and the United States.

Families gather together around a ceremonial table known as the Haftseen for the countdown and observing the rituals. In every home, the haftseen table is decorated with seven items – since seven is considered a lucky number. Each item begins with the letter sin (s) in Persian, and each item represents a different symbol:
  1. Seeb (apple), representing beauty
  2. Seer (garlic), representing good health
  3. Serkeh (vinegar), representing patience
  4. Sonbol (hyacinth), representing spring
  5. Samanu (sweet pudding), representing fertility
  6. Sabzeh (sprouts), representing rebirth
  7. Sekeh (coins), representing prosperity
Other words beginning with the letter "s" can also be used, such as the spice sumac, its brilliant gold color representing the sunrise, or senjed, a dried fruit of the Lotus tree, representing love.

Haftseen tables can also include a religious or poetry book (representing Knowledge), a mirror and candles (reflecting into the future), a goldfish swimming in a bowl (representing life), painted eggs (representing fertility), and all kinds of sweets and fruits. 

Nowruz is also a time for spring cleaning, buying new clothes, visiting friends and relatives and renewing bonds. Nowruz festivities lasts 13 days, and during this time schools are closed, and most offices are closed for the first four days. People attend different parties, visit their loved ones, relatives and friends, get together and travel. On the 13th day of the New Year, the celebrations finally end. Since the 13th is an unlucky day, entire families go on picnics and take with them the sprouts (sabzeh) from the haftseen table. The sabzeh is thrown into flowing water, symbolizing a "letting go" of the misfortunes of the coming year.

The spirit of Nowruz is reflected in the renewal of the earth, the flower blossoms, the beautiful colors of the spring, bringing hope and inspiration.


Blog by ICSC Co-Leader Haniyeh Zamani

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Where Do You Belong?

I lived in a vibrant coastal city called Chennai in the southern part of India for the first 17 years of my life. I discovered my love for travelling and experiencing new cultures when I was 16. I applied for a cultural exchange program to Japan. Travelling to Japan was an experience that changed my life.

Japan turned the fussy eater in me into a foodie. I fell in love with Japanese cuisine. Japanese food tantalized my taste buds and made me crave cuisines from around the world. I spent a week travelling to some of the major Japanese cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meeting a 96-year old survivor of the Nagasaki bombing taught me that strength and perseverance come from within your soul and that there should be nothing that keeps you from getting up every time you fall. I became more optimistic in the way I perceive hardships.

After 5 years, I was ecstatic to visit the land of the rising sun again! I got an opportunity to work on stem cell research at the University of Tokyo. That was one of the best summers of my life, and I truly discovered myself. My solo adventures taught me that I don’t need a group of people to have fun, and that I should never refrain from doing things I love just because there is no one else who wants to do it with me. I felt empowered and content in my solitude. And along the way I met some wonderful people who taught me to be more spontaneous, to let go of things that cannot be controlled, to be free.

Slowly and steadily, travel helped me evolve into newer and better versions of myself. Last summer, I traveled to Israel. The concept of Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, seemed strange to me at first. It starts with sunset on Friday and ends with sunset on Saturday evening marking the end of a week and the beginning of a new one. This day of rest is meant to be a break from work, using electronic equipment and cooking. I was exposed to this culture during the summer vacation of graduate school, the busiest time of my life, a time when squeezing an assignment between coffee and breakfast in the morning was a satisfying accomplishment; a time when it felt like there is so much work that you might forget to breathe. This was a beautiful break from my hectic life. After experiencing Sabbath, I found new meaning and pleasure in living a slow-paced life, in resting my mind and soul from the rigor of this busy and modern world we live in, a world that thinks the busier you are the more accomplished you must be.

Travel has never failed to sculpt me into a newer and more nuanced version of myself. Every time, I travel, I take back with me a piece of culture and countless memories that give my life greater meaning. But the more I travel, the less I feel like I belong to just one city or town. Having lived in so many different places, I often catch myself wondering, where do I belong? The only answer I can come up with is ... maybe everywhere, all at once. After all, the world is one big city, and we are all one people.

Aruna Muthukumar
International Center Student Council

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Friend’s Day in Argentina

Dia Del Amigo, Friend’s Day, is a holiday Argentines celebrate every July 20. Very different from Thanksgiving in the United States where families get together, and Valentine’s Day where couples express their love to each other, Friend’s Day is an appreciation and gathering for friends.

With the growth of technology and online platforms, many people started greeting online. However, Argentines believe in sharing and enjoying the time together like the famous quote they say, “Cuando llueve, comparto me paraguas, si no tengo paraguas, comparto la lluvia”. This means that, “When it rains, I’ll share my umbrella, if I don’t have an umbrella, I’ll share the rain”. Although Friend’s Day is not a public holiday in Argentina, it is as significant to many individuals as it is to New Year, where restaurants are filled up with groups of friends. Teenagers, on the other hand, would bring sweets and candies to school to share it with their friends.

Recent years, Friend’s Day is becoming more popular in Argentina and many other South American countries. It is now proclaimed as an official holiday by the United Nations General Assembly. The UN Day of friendship celebrates not only friendships between friends, but also friendships between people with diverse backgrounds, adding further significance to the holiday.

This blog post was written by ICSC Co-Leader Analia Wu

Thursday, December 13, 2018

University of Michigan Beyond Ann Arbor

For sure, Ann Arbor is a perfect place for living and studying. You will have one of the best universities and one of the best Christmas markets here at the time. However, University of Michigan can go beyond the nice town. With the help of Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS), you can learn new knowledge with new buddies in a new environment!

Participating in the exchange program between University of Michigan and Sciences Po – Paris, I spent the past autumn in this beautiful, fashion, and historical city. Reading by the riverside of Seine, you will be able to feel the charm held this city. Truly, Paris, as a metropolitan, has heavy traffics and large population. It’s not as silent as that in Town. However, the gentle wind in evening should be enough to calm you done and get you ready for another busy day.

The education here is a little bit different compared to that in Ann Arbor. For exchange students, most courses only have a two-hour lecture per week, together with tons of readings. Furthermore, the professors here usually don’t hold regular office hours. Most professors prefer appointment by email to setting regular. Therefore, most of the time, you are on your own!

Being a university student here has great advantage for those who love paintings and sculptures. With your student ID, which shows you are a university student in the border of European Union, you can enter the museums, for free! Finally, if you decide to spend your fall semester here, you for sure will encounter the annual European Heritage Day. On European Heritage Day, the French presidential residence, Élysée Palace, will be open to the public during the weekend. Usually people start to wait in line from 6am, though the opening time for tour is usually 9am, in order to utilize this two-day period of special offer.

By Ziyi Wu
University of Michigan Class of 2020
Political Science Major
VP of Internal Affairs, Pi Sigma Alpha

Member, International Center Student Council

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

German Christmas Cookies – Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

Germans love to eat Christmas cookies during the Holiday season. One of the most popular German Christmas cookies are Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars). These cookies are almost entirely made out of ground nuts (almonds or hazelnuts), which makes them a tasty and naturally gluten-free Christmas treat. Additionally, Zimtsterne are easy to make and their star-like shape topped with white frosting makes them a festive addition to your table.

I translated an authentic German recipe for Zimtsterne (see below). You should definitely try these cookies out this Christmas season!

Recipe for German Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars):

· 3 egg whites
· 250 g powdered sugar
· 1 packet of vanilla sugar (can be omitted)
· 3 drops of rum extract/flavor (can be omitted)
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 400 g ground almonds or hazelnuts

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and then gradually add the powdered sugar (sugar should be sifted). Save two tablespoons of the beaten egg whites in a separate bowl (this will be used to glaze the cinnamon stars in the end). Mix the remaining beaten egg whites carefully with vanilla sugar, rum extract, cinnamon and half of the nuts. Add the remaining nuts until you get a smooth, non-sticky dough.

Put some powdered sugar on the counter top and roll the dough to 1 cm (0.5 inch) thickness. Cut out the stars (you can use a standard cookie cutter) and put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Glaze the cinnamon starts with the leftover egg whites (it works best if you use a knife) and bake them at 140 C (280 F) for 25 min (place rack low).

The cinnamon stars should be a little soft when taken out of the oven. Let the cookies cool and then store them in an air-tight container.

Enjoy your Zimtsterne!!

Blog post by ICSC Member Fabienne Birkle 

Monday, December 3, 2018

“Loi Krathong”- Festival of Lights

Growing up in Thailand, I have always associated November with Loi Krathong, also known as Festival of Lights. This festival happens during the 12th month of the Thai Lunar calendar which often falls in November. Although this festival has an ancient religious background, it has captivated the attention of many people regardless of their origin or beliefs that many foreigners would visit Thailand for this festival.

Each year thousands of people gathered together to light the lanterns and floating krathongs. The krathongs are made of banana trunks, banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. There are many theories of why this practice originated, but the popular theory is related to the agricultural culture in Thailand. Since agriculture was crucial in people’s lives, rivers were also very important. Hence, these practices originated from the efforts to pay respect to the river goddess. It is also believed that people floated lanterns and krathongs to ask for forgiveness and let go of sins of the past year to prepare for a new year.

Personally, I have a vivid memory of this festival in relation to my high school proms. One of the proms I attended happened to be on the day people lit the lanterns. The prom was held in a room with large glass walls throughout the room. As I was dancing with other people, I saw the millions of lanterns glowing in the night sky through the glass walls. I remember being mesmerized by this experience. Although I now associate more with Thanksgiving during November, this festival will always take a special place in my heart.

Blog post by ICSC Member Yena Song. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

My Express Summers of '18

For past few months I was thinking to pen down my experience during this year's summers at Express Scripts as a Data Science intern in the Clinical Research and New Solutions division. After 3 months savoring the memories, I finally found some time to reflect back on what I learned and what I achieved in those 3 months.

The internship experience as a whole was really rewarding especially since I got to work on the flagship clinical product named Advance Quality Management (AQM) to be launched in 2019 with an estimated $20 million in revenue. The predictive models I was building as part of the clinical solution had a potential to impact 400,000 patient lives suffering from diabetes and lipids conditions. The sheer impact of my work made me feel worthwhile and empowered at the same time responsible and accountable. It was the most rewarding experience as I was solely responsible for 4 of the 12 models for the clinical solution.

Coming from a Chemistry and Scientific Computing background, I did have the skill set to get the job done but I still learned a ton during the internship. Previously I had the experience with predictive modeling in my research here at University of Michigan but the problem statement and context were completely different during the internship. The intern project made me familiarize with different aspects and intricacies of predictive modeling in clinical domain, different techniques of doing things and how the model would be put into production.

The other major highlight of the internship was the 1-1 with leadership in different departments of the company. It helped me gain an insider perspective on the business model of a PBM (Pharmaceutical Benefit Manager) and the functions the different departments perform within the company from sales, logistics, accounting, finance, HR and distribution. It also helped me understand the day-to-day workings and responsibilities of a director, VP, Senior VPs, COO, CTO and CEO of a fortune 25 company. I also got some great pieces of advise from all the people I met within the company and few of them which I will always remember are following:
  • You are your own boss of your career. No one can or should decide your career except you! 
  • Surround yourself with people smarter than you and when you think you are equal or surpassed them, it's time for a change! 
  • Be a sponge and absorb as much around you as possible! (Which I always try to do!) 
  • Build your own brand! 
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses! And never be scared to say No. 
  • Use fewer exclamation marks in professional emails as possible! (That's a hard one to follow!!) 
This intern was my first interaction with Corporate America and would always hold a special place in my heart. As for me it's always about the people around, so I would like to give a shout out to my awesome supervisor, my team, my HR, my intern peers for making my summers a memorable experience. I am sure it will help shape my career in more ways than I can imagine.

Written by Sahil Chhabra
Country of Origin: India
Ph.D. Student in Chemistry