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Alternative Spring Break Phoenix 2017

In 2016, I spent my spring break in New Orleans through EC Alternative Spring Break, frequently abbreviated as ASB. The trip was so transformative for me that I eagerly applied to be part of ASB once again this year. I was one of 19 students who was part of the trip, which was without a doubt one of the highlights of my college experience.

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Kazan – Istanbul of Russia

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East of Moscow lies the major city Kazan, the capital of the republic of Tatarstan. Many moons ago during the 12th-century Turkish people, referred to as Tatars, settled in Russia. They have their own language, tradition and republic within Russia, so I guess you could think of it as a state, where it has its own capital but within the same country.

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Going into Kazan, I knew there were two major things that needed to be accomplished: Gander at its unique architecture and eat Tatar food. Since Russian Tatars trace their roots to Turkey the religion of Islam is widely practiced in Kazan, which is why you see a lot of mosques in this city.

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One of the most famous mosques in all of Kazan is the Qolsarif mosque, which is located inside the kremlin walls (yes, there are more kremlins in Russia than the one in Moscow). Its beautiful exterior was breathtaking with its white bricked marble walls and glimmering deep blue domes on top. Simply standing before its presence keeps you in awe.

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It’s unique because Russia usually has such special buildings for churches, considering that a huge majority of Russians are eastern Orthodox. But to have a mosque within the kremlin walls displayed as a prestigious point of interest emphasizes the uniqueness of Kazan since it celebrates something that is non-Russian.

Aside from the mosque, other public and residential buildings within the city are more modern-Europeanized. The city’s architecture is accented with Italian and French designs that can also be found in Saint Petersburg. Of course, the entire city is not built like this—beautiful residential buildings are occupied by government officials or rich Tatars, while the average Russian still lives in the same old gray communistic apartment buildings.

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But enough about buildings—let’s talk food! Since Tatars have their own culture and traditions, it only makes sense that they have their own type of cuisine as well. Tatar cuisine is similar to Russian in terms of their baked goods, where they have different types of baked breads stuffed with savory meats, cheeses or potatoes. The variety of baked goods range from Echpochmak, Balesh, Baklavesh, Chak Chak, Peremyach and Kictibi.

Everything was delicious and unique on its own, but the one thing that really got me was their sweet snack called “Chak Chak.” Even popular among Russians, Chak Chak consists of chopped-up dough that is fried and then coated with honey. It actually reminded me of my childhood. because in Taiwan we have something very similar to Chak Chak called “Sachima.” It’s so addictive that you can just eat it like popcorn!

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Our time in Kazan was short-lived since we only had three nights to spend there. But it would be worth revisiting, especially in the summertime, when the weather is beautiful. This summer, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be hosted in Kazan!