May 2011 Archives

Greetings from Beijing!

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      I arrived a two days ago after a long flight from Newark Airport straight to China. Everything has been great here and I'm adjusting to the language, time difference and complete change in culture. I'd like to go into a little detail Food in China 3about adjusting to the food here. First of all, I'm a vegetarian so I knew going in to this that food would be a challenge. Fortunately, I realized this beforehand and made up a handy dandy card (pictured on the right). I'll shamelessly whip this out at street vendors or restaurants and avoid awkwardly gesturing. Although I hope that I won't have to rely on the card for the remaining 7 weeks, it works for now. Luckily there are also a lot of picture menus and helpful graduate students. As for some advice to the future PIRE students, take time to learn about the destination you will be visiting. This will give you the chance to realize the challenges that you might face. Every location has it's benefits (e.g. China's currency rate) and drawbacks (e.g. cow tongue on the menus) but with a little research pre-departure, you'll be better off in the end.

Mosquito Tigre, Dejame en Paz!

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There are these mosquitoes here -called mosquito tigre (tiger mosquitoes)--and they are eating me alive.  Though I've never seen one, I hear they're huge and they can bite you through your jeans.  It must be true because I have extremely itchy welts the size of golf balls all over my body. *make sure you bring hydrocortisone and bug repellent if you come to Spain.

Yesterday Kylee and I FINALLY began running participants...

Smile..[take 2]

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Setting up the lab..CIMG0118.JPG

Scoring Scares and Solutions

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Well, here we are--week four. I find it pretty unbelievable that I am this far along in my abroad experience already. And what a wonderful experience it has been! I am so happy that Lauren and I have had such great success with participants and availability of the rooms that we need. It really has made everything a lot less stressful on us knowing that have proper accommodations and many completed participants, with 26 more scheduled for next week.

Presenting my work in Granda

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On May 18th, I spoke about my research to Teresa Bajo's lab group (you can find the power-point here; login required). Broadly, my research reflects my interest in the mechanisms that bilinguals use in order to select one of their two languages while reading or speaking. Previous research has shown that bilinguals activate both of their languages in parallel when reading or speaking (e.g., Duyck, Van Assche, Drieghe, and Hartsuiker 2007; Schwartz and Kroll, 2006) in one language alone. My current project investigates whether bilinguals can use sentences that contain elements that only exist in one of their two languages to eliminate activation of the other language...

aye yi yi

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Due to some more road bumps, I can proudly say I have written my own script for my main task.  I have now learned how much time goes into actually making an experimental task, rather than just learning how to run participants and running through the motions. The detail and complicated rules and regulations are excrutiatingly tedious and frustrating.. my hat goes off to all who do this on a regular basis.  However I can now confidently stand behind my experiment, knowing the "ins and outs" of Translation Recognition.  Rosa has patiently taught me in 2 weeks more than I thought I would learn in 2 months, meanwhile Cornelia has provided me comfort sitting along side me to help combat the battle. 

Today Rachel and I are running our first 4 participants.  Thanks to Rosa's impressive recruiting skills, we have around 60 participants contact information.. now comes the waiting game..will they show up?

In addition to our research progess, Rachel and I have our very own pet.. Erwin - la lavadora .. at 2 tee shirts a time.. he is quite the charmer.. 

The Importance of Staying Flexible

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As more time passes, our time here in Beijing becomes less and less overtly unfamiliar.  Sure, Ben's beard, my checkered flag backpack, and most recently, Nicole's mere presence still draw many double-takes from the locals.  But every day, I learn more and more.  Due to a complicated IRB application protocol, I am still not cleared to perform research here at Beijing Normal University.  A predicament for sure, but my time has certainly not been wasted.  Every day, I have been reading as many papers as I can get my hands on regarding age of acquisition and proficiency, and their connection to bilingual research. 

I've been incredibly fortunate in that I know most of the people in Teresa's lab since this is my second visit, but it hasn't always been that way...
The very first time that I came to Granada I was nervous about meeting a new group of people in a completely different setting. I'm sure that this anxiety was in part due to not knowing where the School of Psychology was, questioning whether I would be eating on my own or with others, an uneasiness about whether I would be able to make it home successfully, etc. Looking back I can laugh with ease over those anxious feelings, but I can sympathize with that new PIRE student shock that many of us may experience in those first initial weeks. 
Get to know the students. Perhaps that sounds silly, but I think it makes all of the difference. Although, we are often under the auspices of a professor or researcher, chances are the interactions that happen day-to-day will primarily be with other students. They will most likely be the ones to help us set up our e-mail accounts, help us understand protocol for conducting experiments with human participants, and show us the ropes for getting around the labs. 

Slowly... but surely.

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Photo on 2011-05-19 at 14.22.jpgThe project has been advancing slowly over the past 2.5 weeks here, but surely. There are several factors that contribute to that: the building where the eye-tracker is located is closed on the weekends, the studio is used by other people as well so one has to reserve its use for a specific time, and I've had to be trained to calibrate the eye-tracker.

The woman who's eye-tracker it is, Beryl Hilberink, has been the one training me in its operation. She's a professor in the Business Communication department here at Radboud University. She has been incredibly helpful and is a very nice soul, so I owe much of my progress to her!

On May 18th and 19th, I attended a small conference at Peking University (Beijing, China) to celebrate the renewal of a Statement of Understanding between PSU and PKU and facilitate collaboration between the schools. The workshop I participated in was a fascinating fusion of computational linguistics and public health called "Smart Health and Wellbeing." There are several researchers at both institutions studying natural language processing to:
  1. enhance communication in health services
  2. provide improved cross-linguistic access to health information for speakers of English and Chinese
  3. and design more intelligent bio-monitoring systems that can advise doctors and patients
  4. and others!
My presentation discussed the lifetime concerns of language development for bilinguals undergoing first language attrition and a SOM model used for studying this phenomenon:
PDF available in PIRE repository, password required

Participants and Progress

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After the past few days of craziness, Lauren and I have officially run 24 participants, 17 of which were done this week. I am actually quite proud of that number and I hope that we continue to work so efficiently during the remainder of our stay in Granada. We have a lot more participants scheduled for the upcoming weeks in order to fill our quota of 52 by the time we leave. However, knowing whether or not participants will actually show up is an entirely different story. In fact, the one participant that we had scheduled for today did not show up and actually that is pretty common here. Luckily though, most of the participants that we have had over the last week or so have been very good about coming at their assigned times. And actually, for the most part, we haven't had people coming too late either. The thing that has helped with our participants showing up is the personalized reminder emails that we send to each of them the day before they have to come in. I think if we were just leaving it to their memory, then our number would be a lot lower than it currently is. So, if you seem to be having trouble with actually getting your participants there on experiment day, I would suggest just briefly reminding them.

Read on...

"Why Would Anyone Want to Eat Cheese Whiz?!"

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It is now day three of my stay here in Beijing, and I must give my experience here so far a great big thumbs up.  Every meal thus far has been shared with kind, accommodating, and hardworking graduate students with impressive patience for my poor Chinese language skills.  Don't get me wrong, many of the students here are quite fluently bilingual.  They have at least enough skill to help me through my first Chinese restaurant, dining hall, or fMRI training session. Our challenges in communication don't seem to be a "language barrier" to me - more like a "language screen."  We still communicate fairly well - about basketball, music, or the universal perception that Leonardo DiCaprio's appeal to the ladies since Titanic has significantly decreased.  But there are some terms or concepts that simply will not transfer across our languages...

Donde Tiramos la Basura

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So Kylee and I arrived Saturday morning by a slightly delayed but overall uneventful flight (no screaming babies for once).  The city was different from what we expected, but we are falling in love with it already and, making lots of great friends.  Our favorite friend is this sweet old man that we asked for directions to the beach.  Rosa (our advisor here in Tarragona) told us Catalan would be easy to pick up, so when the little old man began speaking in what I thought was Catalan I thought Rosa is so wrong...I can't understand a word he's saying, all I heard was playa.  Then he told us he was Slovakian; playa must be a cognate.  

Lesson 1: A.  Catalan is very similar to Castilian Spanish and shares a lot of cognates; therefore you can pick up the basics easily.  It's the grammar that is pretty different.

                B.  Never ask /refer to speaking Spanish when referring to Castilian Spanish in Cataluña. Specify with the word Castilian ("actual Spanish") or Catalan (the language spoken in this area) because they are both considered "Spanish".

Instant Noodles & Instant Immersion

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Between the time zone change, the flights, the layovers, and the short-phase sleep cycles I have recently experienced, it's hard to appreciate that it was only 30 hours ago that Patrick noodles.jpgand I left State College on the first leg of our journey to Beijing. I have to say that while I had great ambitions to study my Introduction to Chinese: Level 1 textbook for the duration of the trans-Arctic flight, language immersion was not at the forefront of my thoughts. My multiple trips to Wendy's and the snack shops at Dulles airport probably better exemplifies what I had on my mind yesterday (not to mention the anticipation of knowing that President Spanier and his entourage were also on our flight). But a 14 hour flight is plenty of time for a lot to happen, and this trip has already taken some unexpected (but welcome) turns...

Keyboards, and other adjustments

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Well, German keyboards are sufficiently confusing. The keyboard I'm typing on now could serve as a good analogy for my stay in this country so far. Overall, I feel fairly comfortable. A new city with new public transportation, grocery stores and neighbors, but overall everybody is friendly and personable and I can live a normal life.

 Similar to how this keyboard is set up exactly as those at home, with some minor changes.

   The language is the hardest thing to get used to. I should have listened to a few more German language podcasts, paid better attention in a few more German classes, or perhaps picked up a few more books written in German to decipher. However, I have faith I will become more fluent in the upcoming weeks. I know enough and am willing enough to learn that I am sure it will happen. Comparably, the z and y keys on this keyboard are switched. For a frequent and adept typer, this is a huge roadblock. Z is not a letter all too frequently used, but the Y is very common. There is enough typing in my future, however, that  most likely by the time I get back to the states I will have  difficulty remembering the old position of the y key (although  hopefully, I don't have any difficulty remembering the English  language).

Keep Reading...

Organizing Participants

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Right now, we are in the process of running participants using the eye-tracker. While the experiment itself is not too complicated, getting everything around it prepared is much more complicated. We needed to schedule participants and claim room space.

Last summer I studied abroad in Italy and I had no internet access for two months. Now, I almost wish it was the case. Every time I open my email, it is flooded with participant information. I am so grateful for the willingness, patience, and kindness of participants so far. We've been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm.

¡el agua caliente por favor!

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Hola a todos

Upon our arrival, Rachel and I experienced a few hiccups.  Beginning  with nuestro apartamento, Rachel and  I realized that we would be getting a lot closer than we anticipated..we share a bed!  No big deal to me, however if you asked Rachel she might say the opposite..

 Although we have no hot water, no internet in our actual apartment, no place to do laundry, and one bed..the view of the sea makes up for it....[kinda, maybe].   

Apart from the view, the pathway to the actual beach is not so bonita.   At the entrance of the hotel one would believe the beach is 3 yards away..  Wrong!  To our disappointment, this is not the case.  It is quite deceiving.  As soon as you reach where one would believe el mar to begin..there is a cliff..[not a little cliff - its quite a nose dive]...and then a high way...and then railroad tracks [which are in use] and then after a skip and a can touch the sand!!  Took us an hour and a half [más o menos] to figure this crucial information out..after it was una adventura. 

Today Rachel and I visited the University and Rosa helped us become acquainted with our new workspace.   We are extremely fortunate to have her guidance, as well as her kindness.

We hope all is well in the States!

Equipment, tuition, and cockroaches, oh my!!!

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If there's one thing I've learned from the PIRE experience thus far, it's to expect the unexpected and always be on your toes.  My title should be "Amber Evans: PIREfighter!"  There have been so many little glitches that have arisen and my goal is to extinguish them all as quickly as possible.  My hope is that you, the current PIRE students, have not been panicked and worried about these bumps in the road.  We have tried to keep everything as smooth as possible, but life always throws curves and we just have to navigate the best we can.

Insights for next year:

Equipment: This shouldn't be as big of a challenge next time around as we now have the major purchases completed.  One piece of wisdom is that the students need to make a plan with their adviser early on the semester prior to travel and communicate exactly what equipment they will require for experiments.  We have been so fortunate to have Mark Minnick working tirelessly on this for the past two months.  He has been a lifesaver as I do not know anything about computers and all of this equipment!  Mark will be joining the Clinical Psychology program here at PSU in the fall, so we will not have his expertise for the next round.  Mark, many thanks for the hard work you put into these purchases and congrats and good luck on your new adventure!

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Participant One: Check

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Yesterday, Lauren and I ran our first participant in our respective experiments. Overall, I would have to say that it went quite well. However, I should probably admit that we did hit a few roadblocks when running the participant. They really only occurred in our behavioral tasks though, which is a lot better than the alternative--a failure in the eye tracking portion. Basically it just boiled down to errors in the script and now we have fixed them for all of our participants in the future. Actually, on that note, we have seven scheduled for Friday and more ready for next week. I am pretty excited to have so many so soon and I cannot wait to see what results we get from them later on.

Probably the most challenging part about running the monolingual participants here is doing so in Spanish. I think that I am decently proficient in the language, but I think that I get nervous about them making potential mistakes simply because I was not that clear in the directions. But if yesterday was any indicator of the participants to come, I think that everything will turn out to be fine in the end. I feel like our first participant was able to understand everything that we were saying to her and when she did not understand, we were able to restate it in a way that allowed her to do so.

Other than running our first participant, Lauren and I have been working on recruitment of more participants. Some of the methods that we chose can be read on Lauren's post if you want some ideas. Hopefully everyone who is at their foreign sites has been having the same luck that we have been lately. And if you haven't left yet, good luck when you begin the recruitment process. It seems to be that most people are very energetic to help out with whatever you are doing here, especially if there is some money involved.

Hola, will you participate in my study?

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So we've created experiments, worked hard, and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. Now that we're all set up and ready to go, where are we going to get participants!?

We have already run the experiment with one participant (woohoo!), but there are still many more to go. Here are things we've done to try to recruit participants:...

Janet van Hell featured on Dutch TV

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Penn State's Dr. Janet van Hell and her research were featured on a documentary on Dutch national TV. Skip to 10 minutes to see Janet and her family!

Hot Pots and Dual Entry Visas

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Approximately twenty three minutes ago, I finished my last final of the semester.  I think it is just now hitting me that I will be traveling to a foreign country, of which I know very little, to live for eight weeks.  Such madness!  I'm nervous, of course, but despite everything I don't know about what is to come this summer, I am very aware of everyone that has helped me get to this point.  Their confidence has given me confidence.

Hot Pot.jpgThis past weekend, Jing Yang, who leads the research lab that got me started in the field of bilingual research invited the BLC lab staff (and the notorious Benjamin Zinszer) for a lunch of traditional Chinese food at her house.  She made hot pot, which Beijing is famous for.  It's basically a big wok of soup kept at a rolling boil in the middle of the table. The guests are presented with ingredients like beef, tofu, a variety of veggies, eel dumpling items ( I can't remember the exact name), and simply drop what they would like to eat into the delicious soup for a minute or two to be cooked.  It's a particularly social dish, and we talked a lot - about China, the Chinese people, Chinese music and fashion, some phrases to remember when at a meal with friends, and much more.  It was just one more thing to add the list that Jing has done to help me and Ben with our upcoming adventure to the other side of the world.


'Hallo' from the Netherlands!

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I took my final final exam yesterday, briefly stopped by my house for a last goodbye and a last once-over for anything missing and then went straight to the State College airport. I was amazed by the speed of a plane trip to Philadelphia, this is a route I've only ever driven before.

I always have some anxiety about plane flights, but it's something that's only begun to happen to me in the past three years or so. If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I'd say it's probably me projecting and anxiety about my travel and leaving home onto something more concrete. But as always happens, I arrived safely yet exhausted - at Schiphol Int'l Airport in Amsterdam.

Little sleep in the past few days (including none on the plane) had begun to give my surroundings an edge of surreality. This was compounded by the dawning realization that I was back in Europe, where I sometimes feel I left my heart during my last trip there.

Read on...

It depends ...

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It's very difficult for me to be dependent on other people. I like to be able to have all of my ducks in a row and be in control of everything that's going on around me. However, that cannot always be the case when abroad.

First: Madrid Airport. Our flight to Granada got cancelled and then delayed, so our trip was extended even longer. But what can you do? We are lucky that Jorge still met us at the airport and got us to the apartment with no problems.

Second: Working in the lab of another university is very different. You are no longer in your own territory. We are in the shared space of intelligent international graduate students, and we have a million questions. We must wait on equipment, access, and confirmation. However, we are so very fortunate that we are surrounded by genuinely kind people.

While we may have to depend on others for help in many areas, it is ok. So far, everyone that we've met at the Universidad de Granada have been more than nice, helpful, and friendly. It is not unnerving and our queries are always answered.

I am thankful for their patience and help. I hope that all other PIRE scholars find the same kindness in their travels.


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I arrived in Granada with Nathan and Lauren this past Sunday, following what seemed like an eternity waiting in airports. After more than 24 hours of traveling, we got to our apartment at around 9pm. To stave off jet-lag and adjust to the new time zone, I decided to stay awake until a reasonable bed-time. The airport lost my checked luggage (which has since been returned) and I had checked my toothbrush in a 6am attempt to repack my carry-on bag. Jorge and I ventured out to find a 24-hour store to buy a new one. On the way home we stopped for a glass of wine. Thus commenced my first wine and tapas experience. For those of you who don't know, in Granada you receive free tapas with drinks, and this serves as a typical light dinner that follows a larger lunch. Upon returning to the apartment, I finally got some much-needed rest.

Staying awake worked well to avoid jet-lag, and I woke up on Monday refreshed and ready to do some work...

Initial Impressions and Travel Tips

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            The last few days have been quite a unique experience to say the least. After leaving the States on Saturday for Granada, I embarked on what turned out to be a 27-hour trip to actually arrive at the apartment which I am staying in. However, I was lucky enough to be traveling with both Jason and Lauren, so when our flight from Madrid to Granada was cancelled on Sunday morning, at least I had people to talk to until our rebooking later that afternoon; although I don't think that I was much of a conversationalist, falling asleep on a table and all. The flight cancellation was a very new experience for me. Initially, I was very nervous because this was my first time traveling without my family, so I wasn't too sure what to do. But in the end everything worked itself out and the three of us made it to Granada. If I have one piece of advice for those unfamiliar with traveling alone and have not done so yet, however, it would be to make sure that you have the contact information of your host mentor ready in case something happens. Even if you're just making a simple change, letting your mentor know is always better than not doing so.
   Read on for more...

Use your resources!

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Throughout the semester, I've tried to expose myself to the Chinese culture as much as possible. I enrolled in Chinese 197- All About China (one credit course), joined the Chinese Connection Club, bought an audio book to learn Chinese and became a conversation partner through Global Programs. All of these experiences, I believe, will help me adjust to the huge culture shock I'll be faced with this summer. I recommend to any future PIRE student to use the resources that are available to them at Penn State. Audit a class, talk to international students from the country you will travel to, try to figure out the cultural differences, etc.

 Specifically, for the future PIRE student going to China, I would like to go into some detail about the things I've tried:


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