Spring Break Part Two: The Caribbean & South America

Spring_Break_Destinations_for_2020

Feel like wandering a little farther afield than your typical Spring Break jaunt? Try venturing to one of these destinations closer to the equator for a tropical getaway.

The Caribbean

Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica are Caribbean hotspots this time of year. It’s worth planning any excursions and activities well in advance. When it comes to dining, made-to-order food stations guarantee fresher and better-quality options. Seafood is a wise, and likelier cheaper choice, given the proximity of these locales to the ocean. Staying at an all-inclusive resort? Check the activity calendar for fun things to do—just be sure to verify what’s included in your stay.

Brazil

The Carnival of Brazil is a feast for the senses. Considered to be one of the world’s biggest parties, the five-day festival features parades with elaborate floats and thousands of dancers and drummers in the streets. Samba with the locals at any of the free live concerts and blocos de rue (neighborhood block parties). These are all-day (and all-night) events so be sure to bring your phone charger but leave your valuables at home.

Colombia

Colombia may be synonymous with coffee, but it’s an ideal destination for nature lovers. Horseback riding tours are popular and available for every riding level. With trails winding through lush forests and pristine beaches, these tours offer a memorable way to experience the diverse scenery. From accommodation to local attractions, Colombia is an inexpensive destination. You’d be hard pressed to find tastier street food—think arepas, tamales, empanadas. For a truly authentic Colombian experience, visit the farmers’ markets for unique arts, crafts, fresh produce, and the best food trucks available.

Peru

Peru offers so much more than Machu Picchu. Its capital, Lima, known as the city of kings, boasts an exciting nightlife, colonial-style architecture, world-class food, and adrenaline-inducing activities such as surfing, paragliding, sandboarding, and ziplining. Numerous museums in the city, and throughout Peru, offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Popular attractions such as Plaza Mayor, Casa De La Literatura and Parque del Amor are also free. The Free Walking Tour Peru group, operated by licensed Indigenous guides, run highly-recommended tours in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Barranco and Miraflores—and yes, the tours really are free.

COVID-19: STAY SAFE WITH THE FACTS

COVID-19

from the MSH Americas Medical Team

WHAT IS COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

CORONAVIRUSES are a family of viruses causing illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Synrdome (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and COVID-19 (2019-nCoV).

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. SARS was first transmitted to humans from civet cats; MERS was transmitted to humans by dromedary camels.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Common symptoms are:

  • Fever over 38°C
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath / difficulty breathing

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. These droplets can be inhaled if you are in close contact with an infected person. Touching objects or surfaces with respiratory droplets on them and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can also spread the virus.

The time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms is between 5 and 14 days, so the appropriate quarantine period for an individual exposed to COVID-19 is 14 days.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Medical care is focused on managing symptoms, by getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and treating the fever.

PREVENTION IS KEY

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and/or sneeze or cough into a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing or sneezing
  • Stay home if you are sick. Do not use public transportation or taxis. Do not go to work, school, or other public places.
  • If you have symptoms, avoid travel, particularly flying, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If you are travelling to an area known to have cases of COVID-19, avoid:

  • High-risk areas such as farms, live animal markets, and areas where animals may be slaughtered
  • Contact with animals (live or dead), including pigs, chickens, ducks, and wild birds
  • Surfaces with animal droppings or secretions on them

If you have or may have COVID-19, please refer to this link for more guidelines on preventing the spread of infection.

Top US Spring Break Destinations for 2020

Whatever the reason for your getaway– tired of the cold, need some family time, or just plain burnt out– here are some tips to help you get the most out of your travels during this upcoming spring break. First up, some places to consider for both relaxation and excitement in the continental USA.

3 places to spend a week off in America:

MIAMI, FLORIDA

It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, so be sure to wear lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. The Metromover train is a convenient (and free!) way to get around downtown Miami. If you can’t do without your dose of yoga while on vacay, free classes are offered across the city. View local graffiti and street art at Wynwood Walls or take in one of the live music shows at Bayside Marketplace. A trip to Miami isn’t complete without a visit to Miami Beach, but steer clear of hotel restaurants along Ocean Drive and their 2-for-1 drink offers—they typically include conditions, hidden gratuities, and extra charges, with an astronomically expensive bill as a result.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA

For many families, going to Disney World is a rite of passage but a costly one. Buying bottled water on Disney grounds will seriously hurt your wallet (not to mention the planet!) so do as the locals do and tout your own reusable (non-glass) water bottles. You’ll be able to refill them at water fountains and quick service restaurants around the park. Consider insulated, stainless steel bottles to ensure water stays cold for as long as possible. Bringing snacks for the kids can also be a big money saver, unless you don’t mind paying $7 (US) for a Mickey Mouse pretzel. Be sure to pack the daily essentials—sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, umbrella—as these items are outrageously overpriced. Ditto for the Mickey Mouse ears and other Disney souvenirs—they’re considerably cheaper at stores outside the park. The My Disney Experience app can help maximize family fun by bundling every aspect of your trip, from booking your hotel to researching wait times at attractions to looking for the nearest bathroom and other amenities.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Check out the spectacular Fountains of Bellagio for a beautifully choreographed performance of music, water, and light. The free 15-minute show runs daily and draws huge crowds, so consider getting there early. Tour the hotels along the strip—with their various themes, they’re attractions in their own right, even if you’re not an actual guest. But there’s more to Vegas than just the strip. Sample some tasty brews (try the coffee beer!) at Banger Brewing, learn about some less-than-upstanding historical figures at the Mob Museum, marvel at the views and engineering of the Hoover Dam, or take a short day trip to one of the many nearby natural attractions like the Valley of Fire State Park, the Grand Canyon, or Red Rock Canyon.

無論您是在國外工作還是留學,都要在春節期間保持傳統過新年!- Whether You Are Working Or Studying Abroad, Keep The Tradition Alive During Chinese New Year!

新年快樂 – Happy Chinese New Year!

Or in Hong Kong and other Cantonese regions, 恭喜發財 – it means congratulations on the fortune.

A Little History

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, has taken prominence and is celebrated all over the world. This New Year celebration is actually the longest Chinese holiday of the year (lasting 15-16 days) and is celebrated on a different day every year. Why? Because it follows the lunar calendar – the movement of the moon. This tradition has been around for almost 4000 years since the Han Dynasty in 202 BC-220 AD.  The Emperor commanded the use of the lunar calendar and it has been put into practice ever since.

2019, Year of the Pig

Every year is represented by a different Chinese zodiac sign. 2019 is the year of the pig – a year of fortune and luck! A pig represents wealth, honesty, prosperity, generosity, and patience to name a few. And depending on your birth year, a different zodiac animal can represent you or your personality type and determine your career, health and relationship success – just like the western zodiac with the 12 different astrological signs of the year. In China, you have your real age (the day you were actually born), and a “fake” nominal age where you grow an extra year older on top of your real age because of the Spring Festival and the lunar calendar. So if you’re 35 in your real age, with the lunar calendar you are actually 36! In 2019, Chinese New Year or Spring Festival lands on February 5th – where everyonegrows a year older.

The Reunion

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday celebrated in China and it causes the largest human migration in the world.  Everyone comes back home to celebrate and it is such a big event that it’s now known as the Spring Migration. As 1 out of every 5 people in the world is Chinese, not even including overseas Chinese and people of Chinese descent, it is a very busy and hectic time of the year, especially at airports – so it is good to be prepared and have everything in order before this big travel date. This time of year brings the anticipation of spending time with family and loved ones and enjoying one another’s company with amazing food, decorations, and traditions.

Specialty Food Dishes To Celebrate

There are many popular Chinese traditional food dishes with specific meanings that are used to celebrate the Spring Festival:

1 – Laba porridge 腊八粥. This porridge includes eight types of grains and is eaten on the 8th day of the 12th month in the Chinese calendar and is the subject of many different myths, but all teach the lesson of being grateful and not taking what you have for granted.

2 – Baked bread 馍饼. When you eat this bread, it’s believed that the road to wealth will be open and smooth for that year.

3 – Kumquats and sugarcanes means a sweet life and successful road ahead.

4 – Soup balls or sweet dumplings 湯圓. These soup balls have different filling inside, whether it be savoury or sweet, and are a popular dish as their name also sounds like the Chinese word for “reunion”. They are also shaped like the full moon.

5 – Fa Gao 發粿. It is a hybrid of muffins and a sponge cake. The word “fa” is the same as the word that means “get rich” in Chinese. People also dye these cakes in festive colours.

6 – Rice cake 年糕. When translated to English, it literally means “year cake” and it symbolizes success.

7 – Dumplings are to be eaten every meal for 5 days. With so many dishes to choose from, this tradition has been relaxed, but is still very much enjoyed.

8 – Tu Su Wine 屠蘇酒. Well you definitely can’t celebrate a new year without some wine! Chinese New Year calls for a specialty wine that was the Emperor’s first drink of the New Year. It is made with medicinal herbs and yellow rice wine and has many health benefits including disease prevention.

Celebrate Wherever You Are

If you’re a Chinese international student or an expatriate living or working away from home, we understand that if you can’t make it back for the New Year, this tradition will be sorely missed. But not to worry, you can bring these traditions to wherever you may be. You can also share these traditions with friends and show how proud you are of being an international student or expat. Creating a festive atmosphere where you are can really help you feel closer to where you came from. There are also many places you can go where you can join in on the celebrations of Spring Festival!

1 – Take a walk through China Town! Most cities in different countries have a China Town, full of traditional restaurants, little shops like the ones back home, architecture that mimic Chinese designs, and people who speak the language all over the streets.

2 – Even malls in different countries around the world celebrate Chinese New Year by hosting dragon dances, Chinese dances, and giving away red pockets with candies in them! How’s that for a little taste of back home?

3 – Don’t forget to call or video chat with your family! It’s always great to see familiar faces and how they are celebrating and wish a prosperous new year to the entire family all at once!

4 – Bring your traditions to where you are. Celebrate with friends and maybe teach them something new and what this festival means to you. You can have fun making dumplings and traditional Chinese dessert. Also, who wouldn’t love a red pocket if you’re feeling generous!

5 – Decorate your home in red to symbolize prosperity and happiness, like you do back home. It can be a reminder of this important tradition and bring happiness through familiarity.

6 – Have a night out at your favourite Chinese restaurant! They will sure know how to celebrate and you’ll be able to have a taste of home on that special day with everyone else around who is the doing the same thing.

7 – Buy your own fireworks! It may not be as grand as professional fireworks, but at least you and your friends can have fun lighting them up and seeing the beautiful colours in the sky.

8 – Why not host a hot pot dinner at your house? It may be cold, especially during this time of the year, and what better way to celebrate than to have a boiling hot buffet meal with your favourite meats, seafoods, and veggies and the ability to make your own special sauce to dip your food in.

9 – End this almost 23-day festival with your own lantern festival under the first full moon of the year! You can have fun making your own lanterns or buy them in Chinese stores. The Lantern Festival is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. In ancient times, the Chinese women who had to stay indoors most of their lives, were permitted to celebrate the lantern festival on the full moon of the month. Therefore, it was also the only time young men and women could meet with each other and fall in love. The Lantern Festival also symbolizes freedom, and it is a great reminder that you are free to travel to study or work where you please. Family will always be there and you will have your festive reunions again!

 

Comment below to let us know how you’re celebrating Chinese New Year!

New Canadian Biometric Requirements in Place for International Students and Other Visa Holders

As of July 31, 2018, international students applying for Canadian student visas from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are required to provide biometric facial photos and fingerprint data to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officers when entering the country. The requirements will also apply to applicants for visitor, work, permanent residency, or refugee asylum visas.

Applicants already in Canada are temporarily exempt from the requirements pending the establishment of biometric application processing centres in Canada starting in 2019.

Canada’s Biometric Initiative program, which is designed to ease legitimate travel to Canada while protecting national security and preventing identify fraud, will be extended to applicants from Asia, Asia- Pacific, and the Americas starting December 31, 2018. Canada already collects biometric data from refugee applicants from 30 countries.

Tourists from visa-exempt countries with valid Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTA) are exempt from the requirement, as are:

  • Canadian citizens
  • US nationals
  • Citizenship applicants (including passport applicants) or existing permanent residents
  • Children under 14
  • Applicants older than 79
  • US visa holders transiting through Canada
  • Foreign senior government officials
  • Refugee claimants who have already provided biometrics and are applying for study or work permits
  • Temporary resident applicants who have already provided biometrics in support of a permanent residency application that is still in progress

Canada’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen has stated that expanding the IRCC’s biometric program from the 30 countries now subject to the requirements to a planned 150 will allow border and immigration agents to establish travellers’ identities quickly and accurately. The full program is being rolled out to all ports of entry during 2018 and 2019.

Where will this take place?

Visa applicants outside of Canada can provide their biometrics to any one of 137 government-approved Visa Application Centres (VACs) in 95 countries, in addition to 135 Application Support Centers in the US. They can apply in person, online, or by mail. The biometric data will be valid for 10 years before it needs to be renewed. Those who have already provided biometrics prior to July 31, 2018, must provide them again.

More precise information on how and where to apply is available at the Canadian government’s website.

What about costs?

In addition to the regular visa application fee, a biometric fee of $85 CAD per person will apply. However, families applying together for a visitor visa will only pay a maximum biometric fee of up to $170 CAD.

Whether applications are made online or in person, VAC staff will ask to see proof that the biometric fees have been paid before taking fingerprints and photographs.

Biometric fees will also cover the cost of application handling at a VAC. The VAC will make sure applications are complete, then send them on to the appropriate visa office.

How will it work?

When entering or re-entering Canada, an IRCC officer will compare the photograph in the traveller’s passport or travel document to the photograph taken at the VAC. The officer may also ask for fingerprints.

At airports and land points of entry, discretionary fingerprint verification may be conducted by border officers to verify that the person entering Canada is the same person who was previously approved abroad.

As the biometrics program evolves, we will bring you updates. Stay tuned.

Let’s Talk About It: Chinese International Students and Their Mental Health

The Enticing Opportunities Abroad

As the global village becomes more and more tight-knit, students are eager to study abroad for opportunities at foreign institutions and programs of study that are renowned for academic excellence. We found that a very large amount of Chinese students, from primary to post secondary, are choosing to enter the western educational system for better opportunities.

In the past few years, there have been over 350,000 Chinese students studying annually in North America. Chinese students are the single largest international student population on most American campuses. But have we ever wondered why the population of Chinese students studying abroad is growing larger every year and if this transition is difficult for them? Or what it’s like for these students to leave their home country and immerse themselves into a new culture, language, and environment—alone?

We have found that Chinese parents choose to send their children abroad for better and broader learning opportunities where they can pick up another language and adapt to a different culture, which will give them an upper hand when they join the workforce in the global economy. Studying abroad also has a certain appeal to the students themselves as it gives them a chance to escape the Chinese education system—where there is an enormous amount of pressure for them to pass China’s college entrance exam, which they spend two years studying for—and cultural norms, where their value is based on how well they do academically.

The Difficulties Being Faced

Being brought up in a high-achieving society and with a cultural background like this already puts an inordinate amount of pressure, stress, and anxiety on these students while they are young, at a time when they really should embrace being a kid, get to know their interests and hobbies, and work on their social development. Not only are there cultural pressures for the students, but there are family pressures and high expectations on top of that as most Chinese students are their family’s only child (due to the country’s one-child policy), so even more weight is placed on them to succeed. The Chinese have a collective culture where how well you do or don’t do brings pleasure or shame to your family, so Chinese students have an even bigger burden to accomplish more. Once these students go overseas to study in a new country, where the language and culture is foreign to them, it adds to the anxiety and stress of performing well and meeting the expectations already set out for them.

When arriving in a new country, many of these Chinese students already come with higher stress levels and anxiety than local students because of how they were brought up. Some of them arrive with mental health problems from their childhood and adolescence and don’t even realize it. Alongside the fact that they have language barriers, they are experiencing the frustrations of culture shock and being out of their comfort zone, and they are far from their support system, these students are being introduced to a completely different education system where teaching methods are the opposite of what they are used to in China. Where the Chinese education system places emphasis on rote learning—memorization and repetition—and working individually, the Western education system focuses on critical thinking, open-ended questions, and group work, which leaves these students frustrated and confused. Before they know it, many realize the glamour of leaving behind the pressures of being educated in China isn’t what they thought.

Because of these difficulties and predetermined pressures to succeed, many of these students feel the weight of stress and anxiety and oftentimes insomnia and depression start to creep up on them. In North America, 13 per cent of the general population in university experiences depression and anxiety, whereas a survey done by Yale University in 2013 found that 45 per cent of Chinese international students on campus reported symptoms of depression and 29 per cent had symptoms of anxiety. As they feel the hardships of studying abroad and not wanting to feel the shame of failing their family, Chinese students are at an increased risk of contemplating and eventually committing suicide. In the US, suicide is the leading cause of death for college students, regardless of their origin. These alarming statistics show that attention and care must be brought to this group of students.

Ways To Help

A lot of the Chinese students in North America feel that there is nowhere they can go for help, or otherwise are unaware that there are resources available. There is also a cultural stigma attached to admitting that they are struggling with their mental health. It is hard to fix this problem among the Chinese student population as the root causes come from their home country and the cultural expectations they were brought up with. The only thing that can be done once they arrive is for educational institutions to be aware of these cultural differences, to address these problems in a way that these students can understand, and to provide resources that are easily accessible to them.

Some suggestions would be to hire Chinese-speaking mental health counsellors on campus who can then break the language barrier and provide more efficient communication and help these students adapt to their new country. Encouraging students to join cultural campus groups may also help them integrate more easily into the new environment and connect with other students with similar situations as them. Promoting stress-relieving activities in school such as meditation, yoga, or other fitness activities may also bring to the students’ attention that the institution understands how difficult it is being a student and that there are outlets to help cope with it.

Ultimately, the difficulties that international students face, and particularly those faced by the Chinese student population, need more attention. Realizing the cultural differences and challenges they may face, and responding by providing resources that can help them complete their education abroad in a physically and mentally healthy environment, can be considered early intervention—a strategy that can cut suicide rates in half (as stated by the Journal of the American Medical Association).

Our Solution

We realize that anxiety, depression, and culture shock are problems that many international students may face and we want to help these students as well as their school administrations to address these challenges and better provide a healthy learning environment.

We have created the Stay Healthy at School program as an initiative to help with the hardships international students face while learning and living in a foreign country. This program offers immediate and confidential 24/7 counselling in over 180 languages through phone, text or online help, an easy-to-use mobile application, and tools and resources to help students with their physical and mental wellbeing. Our program helps with cultural integration, homesickness, academic stress, depression and anxiety, and addiction and substance abuse.

For more information on our programs and solutions to help face these issues, email our Student Team at studentteam@studyinsured.com or give us a call at 1-855-649-4182.