Fall’n for Oxford

Ethan Gaines
Virginia Program at Oxford
England 2019

During my time in England on the Virginia Program at Oxford, I was blown away at the how good the food was and how culturally diverse the cities of Oxford and London were. St. Anne’s College was surrounded by amazing Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Spanish, and French restaurants that offered delicious meals and reasonable prices. As for my favorite meal on the trip, nearly every place I went to offered an amazing burger, which I would say is my favorite food of all time. Every week, a large group of us would take a short walk to the Rickety Press, a busy pub with great atmosphere, for their five dollar burgers every Monday for lunch, which were definitely the tastiest burgers I have ever eaten.
In my opinion, how you spend your free time on the Virginia Program at Oxford is very different than how you would spend it at Hampden-Sydney. At Sydney, in my free time I would either go to the gym, play videogames, or hang out with my friends after classes. Oxford did not offer a lot of those things, and with the workload being so intensive, any free time I had went towards midday naps and relaxing in my room. Of course, with the drinking age being lower in England, we spent our fair share of free time at bars and pubs, all while being responsible though.
The classroom experience and how you go about studying was also different at Oxford than it is at Hampden-Sydney. Class at Oxford was an hour long every morning, and sometimes in the afternoon, structured so that the lecturer had around forty minutes to present and go in depth into their topic, with the remaining twenty minutes designated for questions. Abroad, it is disrespectful to interrupt the lecture with questions, and the use of cell phones and laptops was prohibited.
How you studied was also very different, in that you could not wait until the late evening to head over to the library and begin your research. You really had to commit each and every week by beginning your research early and writing at all times throughout the day in order to finish a well-written paper on time. There were also more options available as to where to study. Rather than spending all your time at the desk in your room, it was very popular to walk to either the prestigious Bodleian Library or University Park to research your topics. University Park was a favorite of mine to study at because we were blessed with great weather during our time at Oxford.

Fall’n for Oxford

Ethan Gaines
Virginia Program at Oxford
England 2019

On our first weekend at Oxford, the program director, Dr. Ken Fincham, led the group on a tour all around the city of Oxford. We were able to see the majority of the colleges that make up Oxford University, and learned a little history about each. We ended our tour at the world-renowned Bodleian Library, seeing the famous Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, and Divinity School, which were all absolutely fascinating. Over the duration of the program we were able to use the Bodleian Library and its vast resources to help with our intense studies.

Radcliffe Camera at the Bodleian


Dr. Fincham teaching us the history of the Bodleian Library










Over the next few weeks the program went on multiple excursions to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Here, we watched live performances of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Also, while we were there mainly for those plays, we were able to enjoy the Stratford River Festival, which is a free festival located along the canals of Stratford that offers live music and great food.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Our view at the Royal Shakespeare Company to see Taming of the Shrew















At about halfway through our time in Oxford, the program provides a long weekend of about four days, encouraging to students to travel all over Europe and experience new and exciting cultures. Taking advantage of this opportunity, three other Hampden-Sydney students and I traveled to the wonderful city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Amsterdam was absolutely gorgeous and on our canal tour we were able see much of the city and learn about its rich history. One of the more exciting things we did while there was visit the Rijks Museum, which is undoubtedly the largest and most intriguing museum I had ever been to. Overall, the long weekend vacation was a good change of pace from our strenuous studies at Oxford.

Canal Tour in Amsterdam

The Rijks Museum















Now on our fifth week of the program, we traveled to Hampton Court Palace and the Globe Theatre in London to see our last Shakespeare play, Henry IV Part 1. Hampton Court Palace was equally gorgeous as it was enormous, consisting of absolutely stunning gardens that surrounded the grounds, and magnificent art galleries which resided within its walls. On our way to the Globe Theatre, we were able to briefly travel around London, allowing me to see St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge on the Thames River. The play itself was wonderful and the ambience of the Globe theatre was like no other.

The Globe Theatre

London at night

Fall’n for Oxford

Ethan Gaines
Virginia Program at Oxford
England 2019

I chose to participate in the Virginia Program at Oxford because I wanted to experience the academic atmosphere, historical reputation, and cultural prominence that the University and City provides. I am very interested in residing in England for six weeks as the cultural diversity present in the country is astonishing and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Also, while I have visited Europe on a number of occasions in the past, I had never visited the United Kingdom, so I am really excited to experience something completely new. Overall, the Virginia Program at Oxford provided me with an amazing opportunity to challenge myself academically, and adventure into a unique and incredible culture, so I knew I had to go and experience it!

One of the things I am most looking forward to during my time in Oxford is the diverse selection of food. I have heard from friends and family, who have traveled there in the past, that England has amazing Chinese, Thai, African, Indian, and Italian restaurants. Another thing I am looking forward to is the history involved with the many colleges that make up Oxford University and their unique distinctions.

Since I studied abroad last summer in the beautiful cities of Vienna and Budapest, I wouldn’t say that I am feeling nervous about the trip as I have a good understanding of the daily aspects involved in an abroad program. However, due to the academic prestige and reputation of Oxford University, I am somewhat nervous about what coursework I will be challenged with every week. This style of group tutotial learning is completely different than that of the classes at Hampden-Sydney, and will challenge me to articulate my arguments and challenge my classmates on a myriad of unfamiliar topics. While I am certainly anxious, I am excited to see how I will perform in such settings.

Overall, my goals for this program include learning as much as I can about the history and culture of England, meeting amazing professors and lecturers, exploring the sites and scenery of Oxford, and making great new friends from other schools on the trip.

May Term in Germany

Nick Zurasky
May Term Abroad
Münster, Germany

This is my last week in Germany! I will not lie I am excited to go home soon, but I will miss Germany so much. Just this past night I was out until 3:00 am talking at a bar with people from all over the world. Most were from Germany, but other nationalities include British, Russian, and even Czech. If there’s one thing that I will miss the most, it has to be these conversations. I think that it is the coolest thing that I can walk anywhere here and strike up a conversation about anything with someone not even from my country. And these people love to talk to Americans, too! I had an Australian man bluntly tell me that Americans in a group can be obnoxious, but alone Americans are the nicest people you can find. There is a general sense of respect for everyone here, and sometimes I wonder what it will feel like once I am out of the country. Will it feel different talking to people in the US now?
All in all, my time here has been the adventure of a lifetime. I have done so much I thought I would never do in 6 weeks here. There is so much I could say about my time here, but most of it would be redundant, and all boil down to the same thing: go to Germany if you can. I will admit that Germany does a lot of things much better than America (except for no free water, that’s a big kick in the shins). Anyone could do with a cultured experience like this one, and I implore anyone who wants to visit Europe to go to Germany.
It is my last week here and I plan to make it a fun one. I do have a lot of classwork to do, but there are only three days of classes left until we go to Berlin, so it will be a great time here. I cannot wait to get home, but I also don’t want to leave!

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University

A Competitive Cultural Exchange
As I promised in my last blog, I plan on catching back up with the present, which means I will have to go back in time a few weeks. A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an amazing opportunity, but I had no idea what was actually involved at the time: all I knew was that there was an opportunity to stay over a weekend and meet people from other colleges in the area, as well as a group of Taiwanese students.

Hard at work at the workshop. From the left: Lai, Sasaki, me and Ko.

The program was called, “Yokote City Design Workshop,” but I just assumed that some company wanted feedback from international and Japanese students about their products. However, when I arrived, a large panel of Japanese officials and Taiwanese product design professors informed us that we had three days to design a product that represented the traditional values of Yokote City’s culture and people. I was assigned to a group with two students from Tatung University in Taiwan, Ko and Lai, and one Japanese student from Akita University of Arts, Sasaki. Early on, there were issues with communication as Ko spoke some English, and Sasaki spoke little English and no Chinese. Fortunately for us, Lai was a Linguistics student, so she formed the link that connected all of our ideas and passed them on to everyone in the group. When I realized that we were all expected to design a product from scratch, create samples and create a PowerPoint presentation, which would be presented in English and Japanese in front of a panel of local officials, I thought for sure that I would be dead weight: what business does a History major, who can’t draw to save his life, belong in a room full of graphics design majors from Art Schools. I did my best to contribute ideas and some “rough” sketches, and my teammates assured me that I was helpful, whether they were being nice or not, I don’t know.

The same scene from another angle. And, if you look in the background, you can see my friend, Jo, in the white hoodie: he is a grad student at Akita University of Arts.
Fortunately, the workshop wasn’t all work and no play. On Saturday, we were all given a guided tour of Yokote City, and it was amazing.


Yokote-jo (castle).


Nature area behind the castle.







The view from atop the castle.









Some cool examples of Samurai armor from inside the castle.








Perhaps one of my favorite places in Yokote is the Kamakura-house museum, which maintains a real example, all year round, of the “igloo-type” houses that the locals build in the winter.

From the left: Zack (D.C.), Me, Jo and Hiroomi (Akita Univ. of Arts). By the way, it was extremely cold in there: the room is a kind of refrigerator that keeps the snow from melting.



Afterwards, we headed back to the old High School where we were working on our projects. After the presentations, the winners were announced, and, unfortunately, we did not win.

Here was our banner, which Ko designed himself.


Here was one of the covers of our notebook, which had all four seasons, designed by Sasaki (she drew these from scratch using software!).



This was the Spring themed cover, with Yokote-jo surrounded by cherry blossoms.






Here was the Summer themed cover, featuring the fireworks festival.






Here was the Autumn themed cover, representing the local produce, which would be harvested in the Fall.





Finally, my personal favorite, the Winter themed cover, featuring an Akita-inu in traditional festival clothes, sheltering in a Kamakura-house.





Here, you can see my modest contribution to the drawing: many of the professors complimented me on my efforts, but I think they just thought it was a cute attempt.



At the end, all of the participants were given hand-towels as gifts, and the winners received nice, gift-wrapped packages. And, since I was a late addition to the program, I was not presented with a certificate, so Ko drew me up a new one.

After the awards ceremony, we all got on busses and visited the new manga museum, which hadn’t even opened to the public yet. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside, but I have some pictures with all of us before we had to say our sad goodbyes.

Ko and I.









Lai and I









The last photo of us all together.


Afterwards, we all got on separate buses and headed back to our respective colleges. The Taiwanese students stayed another night before getting on a plane back to Taiwan. Ko informed me afterwards that it was significantly hotter in Taiwan than in the mountains of northern Honshu.


After all was said and done, I was so happy that I was able to attend the workshop and meet these wonderful people. Initially, I was skeptical because we had to sleep on the floor of an old classroom, for one thing, which I was not excited about, but, by the end, I find everything memorable and are unique experiences, which come straight out of an anime.

May Term in Germany 2019

Nick Zurasky
May Term Abroad
Münster, Germany

Germany is still amazing. Recently, I’ve been going back and forth from class doing my work and eating in town. To start my day, I typically will listen to music, hop onto my bus, and ride to the bus stop closest to my school. Many times, I will see average people, of whom most likely have average day to day activities just like me. That “averageness” is the most intriguing part of another country for me. Knowing that halfway across the world there are people who go to work, come back, and do the same thing every day. These people have to fill up their car’s gas tanks just like I do, yet they are on a completely separate land mass than me. It goes to show just how many resources are used for everyday life; even when it is on the other side of the world.
This week has been a pretty, normal week. Nothing too interesting has happened, although I do feel myself becoming slightly fatter, so I should probably watch my food intake. Though, to combat this new fatness I have started going on runs around the promenade that goes along where the old medieval city walls used to be. My walk to, the run itself, and my walk back to my house equates for more than 3 miles, so I definitely get a very good run in. The weather has not been as forgiving lately, though. It has stormed recently, which has brought the temperatures down a little, but most of the time the temperatures go back up. It has been warm recently, and my attic room loves to store that heat during the day.
I still cannot complain about my time here. There has been so much to do and experience, and I would highly recommend anyone to visit a country like Germany, if one were to visit Europe.

May Term in Germany 2019

Nick Zurasky
May Term Abroad
Münster, Germany


This week has been a blast. It started out as a normal week with classes and walking around the city, but this weekend I went to Cologne. I ordered a ticket for a train earlier in the week, and this past Saturday I traveled to the city. On my way in, I did not see the main cathedral, but right out of the train station, I was met with the immense height of the cathedral. I felt pretty, insignificant standing under such a monolithic structure. The cathedral had delicate and beautiful designs on its façade, and the inside was impressive in its own right. I went with two other students around the cathedral and into the main part of the city of Cologne. We walked up and down the bank of the Rhine, and it was amazing to see a river with such rich history of Roman and German culture. Along the bank of the river we found a chocolate museum, and we went inside to find that the chocolate sold there was cheaper than the chocolate sold in stores. After the chocolate museum we walked back north and went to the Cologne zoo. We saw many animals including a hippo, a couple elephants, and even some giraffes. We ended up at an old bar, and I had some of the best liver I have ever had in my life. The taste was so much better than I expected. Afterwards, we went to an Irish pub and met an Australian woman. We talked with her for a little, but then we left to find more things to do. All in all, it was a very, very fun weekend, and I cannot wait to explore more of Germany!

Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)

May Term in Germany 2019

Nick Zurasky
May Term Abroad 2019
Münster, Germany

Wartburg Castle Eisenach, Germany

I’ve never been to Europe before, so this is my first time experiencing a whole other culture 4,000 miles away from home. I will say that my first week and a half in Germany has been one of the best parts of my life so far. I have seen so many new and exciting places to explore, and I’ve loved every single place I have been to. I have already visited two castles while in Germany, and both of them have stunned me. Seeing just how old some of these places are really is mindboggling.

St. Lambert’s Church
Münster, Germany

The city of Münster is a very nice place to be as well. I can walk to a café not even 10 minutes down the road, or I can take a bus into the main square and look for more shops. My host family has made it very easy for me to be able to be on my own, and experience German culture at its best. Most days here I hop on a bus near my house, put in headphones to listen to music, and ride all the way to the main market to find a café to relax at. German food is also amazing. I’ve never had more delicious sausages, or even potatoes. The quality of the food here is on another level as compared to America. I honestly think America should take some lessons in food preparation from Germany.
Now there is one thing that Germany is probably most well-known for, and that is the beer. Since I am legally able to drink beer in Germany, I will say that I have tasted many different types of beer. People were not lying to me when they said that German beer is cheap in cost, but high in quality. The culture around beer here is much different than America, and it is honestly sad to see how much stigma is placed on drinking in America. The German beer I have had is mostly local brews, and the brewers really care about their craft. Their goal is not to get someone drunk, it is to create a great tasting beer that people will enjoy during the evening. I genuinely cannot wait to experience more of the culture with my 4 remaining weeks here. Germany, by far, has been one of, if not, my favorite experiences ever.

Spring Semester in London

Yafet Cole
Richmond the American International University
London 2019

There are several different things that I am going to miss when I go back to Hampden-Sydney in the Fall of 2019. The lifestyle and the friends I have made are most likely what I am going to miss the most when I leave London. I have gotten into such a routine here and it will be difficult to transition back once I return to Hampden-Sydney. Due to the private nature of the campus, I will not be able to walk out of the dorm and head down to the coffee shop. I have to get into my car and physically drive down to the café in Farmville. The luxury about living in London is that everything is close, or you can at least get somewhere easily whether it is through the tube, bus, or even Uber. Being so close to everything just makes it so much easier to live life. With it being a city as well, there are a lot of different activities that people are able to partake in. There is also so much that needs to be seen in the city. As for Hampden-Sydney, the campus is secluded from the rest. Plus, after a night out in London, there is the benefit of being close to food instead of having to drive down 10 minutes into town if you do not want to eat at the moans. A part from all of that, I have truly met some great people since I have been here. Leaving them will for sure be a difficult task, but I know I will keep in contact with them. I am already planning a trip back to see them once I graduate next May. Although, I am looking forward to seeing everyone that I have left at Hampden-Sydney. It will be nice to catch up with them as we all enter our final year of College.

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University

Settling in With New Friends

I apologize for the wait, but every day seems like a new adventure, and I don’t know where to start or where to end a blog post. Here at AIU, we are now mid-way into our spring break, which is known as “Golden Week,” and, apparently, it is something that is planned semesters in advance for Japanese students, so, for us international students, many of our plans had to be altered because of flights and trains already being bought out. Also, the recent events with the abdication of Akihito, the former Emperor of Japan, who became the first Emperor in 200 years to abdicate the throne, and the coronation of his son, Norihito, today, made “Golden Week” that much more packed with events.
In other news, since I was unable to find a flight or a shinkansen (bullet-train) for a reasonable price, so that I could go to Kyoto, Nara and Osaka (Kansai region), I have made the best of the situation and have spent my time exploring all that Akita prefecture has to offer with the friends that I have made since I have been here.

From the left: Rekka (Japan), Ania (Romania), Danika (Alaska), Shannon (Germany), Ben (New York: you can see his legs), Autumn (Taiwan, taking the picture) and I at Senshu Park, enjoying the Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) festival with a variety of Japanese snacks and homemade foods made by Rekka.

Here you can see Autumn, Ben, Rekka (being lifted), Ania and I posing for a funny photo in front of the Sakura trees.








For me, this was one of the highlights of the day: petting an Akita-inu. They are so fluffy and cute!!!


The same scene as before, but, this time, we were expecting the photo. Once again, Autumn was the wonderful photographer.

Here, we all pose for a picturesque scene with an air of contemplation; at least, that was what we were going for.
























Here are a few pictures of the beautiful scenery at Senshu Park with all of the Sakura trees at full bloom.






I will break off this part of the blog, as it pertains to Senshu Park and make it a multi-part series until I can catch up to current events. Before I do, however, I want to share some thoughts on spending time with the other international students and Japanese students, as well as make some comments on the differences between being in Japan versus America.

For me, the most enjoyable part about spending time with people from around the world is seeing how their cultures/languages are different, (and finding out how different they are in funny ways), how they are, in many ways, the same as me, and finding how each country views other countries. For the Japanese students, there seems to be a keen fascination with all other cultures, including America’s, which is especially the case with Rekka, who did his semester abroad in California. But, for the Europeans and other international students, American culture is so widely publicized that they find little novelty in spending time with Americans or learning about our culture. That is not to say that they don’t want to spend time with Americans, but that, as is the case with other European countries, since they have learned English, studied about America and other European countries, they aren’t particularly enchanted by America’s culture. During a fun interaction with Martijn (Dutch), Ingird (Norwegian) and Doris (Estonian), where we were exchanging popular songs from our countries, as well as comparing names for things we had in our languages, I found out that the Europeans had already heard almost every song that I played, and I couldn’t really enjoy the word game because they all spoke English fluently, so, unless it was a colloquial southern phrase, I was just an interested spectator.
Seeing as I am running a little long, I will make a brief closing comment about being in Japan, particularly rural Japan. Even though I have lived in a rural area my whole life, nothing compares to the beautiful scenery that can be found in rural Akita. Despite the high population densities all over the country, the preservation of vast amounts of beautiful landscapes makes me think back to issues of land preservation in America, even though we have a much higher ratio of land per capita than Japan does.

I don’t know how good of an indicator these pictures are, but most of them were taken from the inside of buses to and from AIU.

Anyway, that’s all for this blog: look forward to more soon.