I have always wanted to come to Japan because of its unique cultural traditions and the beauty of the country, especially in spring. The reasons I chose Akita International University are 1) that all the classes are taught in English, 2) the university is set in a rural area, which is important to me because I have always lived in small towns, and 3) being an international university, I have the opportunity to meet students from all over the world, in addition to meeting Japanese students.
What am I most looking forward to?
I am most looking forward to experiencing, first-hand, Japan’s culture as well as interacting with locals and other students from around the world. I believe that, by studying abroad in Japan, I will not only come to better understand its people, language and culture, but I will also better understand myself and how limited the way I have seen the world really has been.
What am I especially worried about?
I am most worried about isolating myself and not making the most out of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope that I can accept others, but, most importantly, that others will accept me. I am also afraid that, due to my lack of Japanese language fluency, many of the Japanese students will avoid conversing with me.
What are my goals for my time in Japan?
My goals are quite simple: 1) to make a lot of friends, 2) to learn Japanese, 3) to broaden my horizons and 4) to learn as much about Japanese people and culture as possible.
After 1 Week
So far, I have had the privilege to meet many students from around the world, as well as Japanese students.
With the first week down, I feel confident that this wonderful journey is just beginning. Having met all these wonderful people, the thing I have come to enjoy the most is comparing and contrasting cultures with people from all over the world. It is not only interesting to see some universal qualities that exist across all cultures, but also the unique societal norms that have shaped each of us into unique people. For us Americans, the most commonly asked question has been, “what do you think about Donald Trump?” It is really, amusing to see what other countries think about Americans and our President, and, funnily enough, the most common stereotype is that we don’t know geography (which is kind of true). Anyway, that is all for my first blog…look forward to more later.
I had been wanting to experience a semester away from Hampden-Sydney just to witness what it would be like. After I spent the summer of 2017 in Ethiopia, I thought it would be beneficial to travel a bit more. The idea of studying abroad came along, and it was then that I began to start the process to get myself to my destination. The process was honestly straightforward. I narrowed it down to whether I would spend this time in England or Australia. Australia seemed more of an adventure because it has such a different culture. Its’ climate is very different, and there are more excursions to take part in. I also have family there, so that would have made it easier. But, then I began to think more realistically. I wanted to pick the place that would suit me best. I have always dreamed about living and spending a majority of my life in England. I saw this opportunity as a trial for me to discover if this was what I actually wanted.
The reason why I chose Richmond the American International University in London was because I had previously heard of this school. Also, the school is right in the middle of London. These two factors made me feel comfortable enough to come here. My dad grew up in London, so I view London as my home. I see myself living in the city and this made the decision a no brainer.
The best part about being at this program is that I am only two stations away from Stamford Bridge which is my favorite teams’ stadium. I have already been to one football game, and I am going to two more this week. The benefit about living in London for a semester is that I am still able to travel around Europe for good prices. For example, I found plane tickets to go to Switzerland for spring break and it will only cost 91 GBP. Being in this city will allow me to really get out there and see many different cultures and customs.
I decided to spend my Christmas break in London so that I could experience the city without the responsibility of school, and also to travel a little through Europe. Admittedly, it felt extremely odd being away from home for Christmas, but my brother came to visit for a week at Christmas which helped. He spent a total of four days in London, and we also visited Paris for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then we traveled to Brussels for two more days. While in London, we attended an Arsenal match which was extremely fun and also the first match I attended while in London. I also tried my best to show him as many famous London sights as possible in only four days while also doing less touristy things.
We only had two days to experience Paris and two days for Brussels, so we were crunched for time to see everything worth seeing. We also did not plan our visit to Paris very well which resulted in some complications for us. Our biggest problem was finding restaurants that were actually open without a reservation made in advance. We had so much trouble that we ended up searching for almost two hours trying to find a restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve. Luckily, we did end up finding an open restaurant for dinner and we did not have a problem finding places to eat for the rest of our trip. In Brussels, we did not have any problems finding open restaurants or stores since we went on the 26th. Our Hostel was also in the center of the city, so we had easy access to a huge amount of restaurants, museums, and shops.
While in Brussels, we visited the Atomium which was an interesting monument to say the least. It was constructed for the World’s Fair back in the 1950s and depicts nine iron atoms together. The coolest part of the Atomium is that each sphere is a room with specific information about the Atomium’s construction and the World’s Fair it was built for.
We arrived back in London on the 28th and spent my brother’s last two days experiencing the insanity that is the Boxing Day sales. After he left on the 30th, I figured it was time to get back to work for school. I needed to finish a marketing project, do research for a fashion show being organized by the Fashion Society, and start studying for my Macro exam that’s on January 11th. Staying here for Christmas has been a new and odd experience, but it has also been nice to have some time to chill by myself and relax before becoming swamped with work again.
Slow goodbyes and Yellow Jackets – on partings during the “jillets jaunes manifestations de 2018”
I find that it’s always helpful to take a moment to look back over a period of time, or an experience of some sort, and to savor and appreciate it fully before my memory naturally applies a rose-tinted filter. It’s good to remember the good with the bad, the hard and the easy, things won and lost. As I approach the end of my semester abroad (six days to go from the writing of this post), I find myself preparing to leave with a certain sense of satisfaction. This semester has been awesome – the things I have done and accomplished in my time here are worth remembering. But, I think the time has come for me to go home. While no stranger to spending most of a year away from my family and friends back in the states, I find it beginning to weigh on me. It’s not homesickness (at least, not fully), but it does remind me of being homesick. Ideally, I would want my leave-taking of the semester to be some kind of a mature farewell to this place, time, and all the people I have met here.
On the other hand, Paris is not precisely a wonderful place to be just now. France enjoys a culture of political activity and vibrancy that, I think, outweighs that of most in America. Yet, sadly, when the circumstances come around, that same passion for politics lends itself to violent displays. It’s hard to write about, in many ways, because I want to distance myself from it and view it intellectually if I can. But at the same time, I am not sure how that is possible. It’s something I can feel on the metro from day to day – a sense of urgency and pressure holding itself over the entire city. Even as I scramble to get in my last few assignments and exams, I can’t help but look out onto the streets and see where tens of thousands of protesters have been gathering these last few weeks. It’s sad to see a city renowned for charming exploration and sight-seeing suddenly rendered off-limits to most of the public. It’s an interesting send-off, and not one I expected. All the same, it does make me glad to be going home, glad for the opportunity to rest, to speak English freely, and once more to the coming semester back at H-SC.
After living in London for three months, I can now claim, rather confidently, that I have effectively adjusted to living here. Aside from developing a brisk walking pace to replace the traditional slow saunter that I have known my whole life, I have also found myself walking to practically every destination. I rarely use public transport, such as buses, taxis, or the underground, even though there are numerous stations surrounding my residence. The ease of navigating the London streets and the experience associated with it is much more valuable to me, and worth the longer travel time. Before becoming severely bogged down with schoolwork, I would walk the streets of London any free moment I had. I was averaging over 10 miles walked daily, and this was primarily without any purpose other than learning about the city. Even though I am much busier now, I still try my best to explore different parts of London I haven’t seen yet whenever I’m free.
Exploring the city and walking everywhere is very different from what I’m accustomed to in the US. Back home, I tend to drive to all of my destinations, though this is primarily due to living in a smaller town where everything is more spread out and there is little to no traffic. Back home, my free time was primarily spent either playing holes on a golf course or hitting balls on a driving range, but I have not been able to do that as frequently here. I have played golf three times since I arrived, at a golf course named Worplesdon Golf Club. This is a private course, but I am allowed to play there because one of the golf pros working there attended university in my hometown. He became close with my family because we played at the same golf course together, and he even attended Thanksgiving at our house while he was in the US. Even though I have only played 18 holes a few times, I still try my best to practice by visiting a driving range on the weekends. This can be difficult because I live in “Inner London” and the closest range is an hour train ride from where I live. However, I still have found the time to go at least every two weeks, and Winter Break is beginning soon so I’ll have plenty of time to play golf and hopefully travel before next term.
Nos vemos, Tiquicia!
This post has been a long time coming and I have to say that it also is coming so soon. About a month ago, my program members and I got to visit the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and it was incredible. One thing most people don’t know about Costa Rica is that most of the country isn’t on the beach, and it is in fact, not, an island. From the capital of San Jose, which is rather close to me, it takes about five to six hours to reach the nearest beach. Saying that, the Caribbean coast generally has the vibes that aspiring tourists have of the country. The beaches are gorgeous, the water is crystal clear, even after three nights of rain, and the Afro-Caribbean influence in the area is incredibly strong with Limonese music groups bar-crawling and playing for a bit at each new place on the weekends. One of my favorite parts of the trip was a trip to a Bean-to-Bar chocolate plantation, called Cari-beans. We got to see every step of the process from the acres of cacao trees throughout the plantation, to the seed pod fermentation and drying area, and ending with the little chocolatier kitchen. We also had a chocolate tasting of six 73% cacao chocolate made with beans from plantations all over. It was so incredible to taste the major differences between these chocolates prepared in the exact same way. My amazing experience in the Caribbean coast aside, this was the last scheduled program trip which meant departure was just around the corner and as I finish revising this article, departure is just around the corner, I leave on Saturday. I can honestly say that the end of semester has been the hardest of my life, many several page papers in Spanish, two 10- to 20-minute presentations, and of course, finals. Having, nearly, survived finals I have all the end of program things to hurry through, dinners with friends from my program and from Costa Rica, evaluations, and, also last-minute gift shopping because tomorrow is payday. In a bit, I’ll be making a last post to summarize some of my biggest lessons, once I’ve had time to step back and think about my program. For now, though, I think the lesson I’d love to end with is that of dealing with homesickness, so you’re not rushing to end your time abroad. For everyone in my program homesickness has been different between missing specific friends, or a pet, or hoping for a hamburger instead of another serving of gallo pinto. The thing that I want to press home is that because we all had homesickness due to different things, we had to deal with homesickness differently. So, my three suggestions are as follows. Being apart from family and friends does not mean you cannot be a part of your friends and family. I’m more than sure they will want to hear about your adventures, but what most people don’t expect is that you will want to hear about things back home, so call them and stay in touch. Second, indulging in home is not shameful and should be encouraged, just don’t go wild. Remember to try those restaurants you know you’ll never find back home, but don’t be ashamed because you really need some comfort McNuggets. Finally, sometimes homesickness is a nice thing to blame when things are going sour, like a bad test grade or trouble understanding some phrase used in everyday conversation. When you feel homesick, take a breath and take account of your past week. It is possible that if you can identify the problem and work on fixing it, it could either distract you from or eradicate almost entirely your homesickness. In his memoir, Roald Dahl said about homesickness, “[It] is a bit like seasickness, you don’t know how awful it is until you get it, and when you do, it hits you right in the stomach and you want to die.” Which I think is apt, it can hit out of nowhere, and just like seasickness everyone deals with it in their own way. A person could spend the whole boat ride tossing their lunch over the side or they could find their ginger ale, or root beer candies, or whatever their preferred method is. I hope that when you’re abroad you won’t get homesick, but if you do, remember your ginger ale may be different from someone’s Dramamine, and that’s okay.
Wishing you the best abroad, I’ll write again soon!
The history of Limon and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is deeply entwined with the history of the train rails. During the time of the track-laying, many people came and were brought from the Caribbean Sea and Asia. Even today, this effect is seen with the makeup of people who live on the eastern coast.
Something really, wonderful we learned about cacao trees is that like apples, every tree is completely different from another. In the same way that Granny Smith apples all come from cuttings of one tree, there are heritage strains of cacao. The plantation we visited elected not to grow commercially accepted heritage cacao, in order to keep prices down, also to have more control over the final taste profile of their chocolate.
It has now been nearly two months since I arrived in London and began my studies at LSE. It has been difficult adjusting to the different class format here at the school, but it’s been a refreshing change. I’ve had to improve my studying habits and time management skills in order to properly take advantage of the many activities present in London, and to also keep up with the rigorous schedule here. Aside from the different class structure, I do slightly miss the short 5-10 minute walk to class from the ABC’s that I had last year. It currently takes me 25 minutes of brisk walking from my dorm in order to reach the closest lecture hall. However, I very much enjoy the walk to class every day. It’s a pleasant experience to prepare for class and the coming day. During that walk, I cross the Blackfriars Bridge, which provides me with a view of the River Thames along with the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral. This view has become especially nice the past few weeks when the sun is setting.
Adjusting to the different pace that people move and act here in London is much faster than back home. Aside from lunch and dinner, where people seem like they have all the time in the world, everyone seems to be in a huge rush to get wherever they’re going. It’s like everyone is running five minutes late to work at all times and cannot afford to be late anymore. This rushed attitude is extremely different from the sauntering that’s commonplace at Hampden-Sydney and back home in Danville. It’s taken quite a while in order for me to speed up my walking pace so that I can keep up with the people I’m with. Another thing about London that has surprised me is the food. Before I arrived, I was warned by many people who had previously visited London that the food was not very good. I came into the city extremely worried because we are not provided catered meals in a cafeteria and I’m a rather picky person. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the food options. I have not yet had a meal I didn’t enjoy, and I’ve only resorted to eating McDonalds three or four times. Unfortunately, there is no Chick fil-A in England and that has been a huge struggle to deal with. Overall, the food has been delicious and the huge variety of cuisines has me excited to try new things every meal.
You know, I feel as if I should caveat my blog posts by assuring you that yes, I actually do have school work to do most of the time. What you don’t see (largely because I only remember it as a kind of edifying blur) are a great many hours sitting in large classrooms crowded with other students, most of whom speak French far better than I do. In terms of material, it’s pretty similar to what I imagine I would be learning back at H-SC – just with longer lectures, larger classes, and, mercifully, less homework. Overall, it’s nothing to complain about, but neither is it much to write home over either. Timed written tests are the name of the game here, of which I have already had two. They are highly structured affairs, and I would be lying if I did not mention that I was absolutely terrified going into my first one a few weeks ago for fear of messing up the format.
But enough about that: it’s time for me to show you another string of unreasonably scenic pictures. October came and went in a flurry of schoolwork and travel – a weekend trip to Normandy lightening our spirits under grey, cloudy skies.
A wonderful trip to remember, full of ancient castles (acoustics for days!), historical battles, and galettes (the fancier, full meal version of crepes), as well as several hours on a surprisingly comfortable bus. We spent the better part of a golden afternoon strolling across and through the shattered and cratered cliff edge of Pointe du Hoc, as well as the American cemetery just inland from the D-day beaches.
I have personally always held a profound respect for those in or with family in military service, as cemented by visits to places like that cemetery. While certainly emotionally painful, such opportunities to reflect are priceless, and will endure in my memory far longer than any fun romp through a part of restored medieval Europe.
That all too short visit, while not my first experience with the monuments we build to the fallen, was more meaningful to me than our visits to the dramatic abbey Mont St. Michel, the seaside town of St. Malo, or the intricate and compelling Bayeux tapestry.
For the next 10 months, I will be studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Studying here for the entire year was one of the factors interesting me the most because most programs do not last for the entire year. One of the things about studying at LSE that excites me the most is the different method of instruction practiced here compared to back at Hampden-Sydney. However, this new instruction style is also one of the things worrying me the most. Unlike in the US where there are typically two to three sessions per week, LSE has one lecture session and one class session per week. This type of instruction places much more responsibility on the student to learn the material outside of class. However, I have much more free time to explore the city, which I intend to take advantage of as best as possible. Most of my exploring so far has revolved around getting lost 1-2 miles away from my dorm and trying to find my way home, which has really helped me acclimate to the lifestyle of living in a major city.
Aside from studying at a prestigious university and living in the heart of London, London is also a travel hub, which makes traveling throughout Europe easy and cheap. The ease of traveling around Europe, also the rest of the United Kingdom, is one factor that I plan to take advantage of as much as possible. I also am an avid golfer, and many of the most historic golf courses are located in the United Kingdom. Courses like the Old Course at St Andrews, which is considered the home of modern golf, Carnoustie Golf Links, Kingsbarns Golf Links, and many other historic courses call Scotland their home. I also will have easy access to travel anywhere else in Europe for short weekend trips or during vacation after terms have ended. Overall, there are so many new things I’ve needed to adjust to coming from a small area like Hampden-Sydney because London is so different, but it’s a tremendous opportunity being able to study here that I intend to take advantage of.