“Bon Voyage” 2019

Will Driskill
SAS 2019

I started my Semester at Sea adventure about a month ago in Amsterdam, Netherlands and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Most of my travels before Semester at Sea have consisted of family vacations up and down the East coast. But, my travel bug really started several years back when I traveled to Pamplona, Spain to Run with the Bulls. For many, running with the bulls would be well outside their comfort zone, but I considered that to still be well within my comfort zone because, I traveled to Spain with family and close friends. Now, when I first heard about Semester at Sea, I was in disbelief. How was it possible to travel to eleven different countries and three continents all while getting an education for only half a semester? It was too good to be true and I believe that is what made me jump at this opportunity and not turn back. I was all in from the beginning and so far, it has been one of the best choices I have made.

So, about a month ago, I packed my bags, said bye to family and friends and headed off to start my journey in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Honestly, I was a little nervous at first because I have never done solo travel before and I knew absolutely nobody going on Semester at Sea. But, I think that is what made me want to go on this journey the most. Being able to meet people not only from the United States, but all over the world has been an eye-opening experience and something that challenges me to get outside my comfort zone.

I know that there will be many challenges that I will come across while traveling the world, but that is what I am looking forward to the most. It’s not just Europe that I am traveling to, but also Africa and South America. In both Africa and South America, I will be way outside of my comfort zone and that will be the biggest challenge for me. I have to be willing to not change, but become more open minded about the cultures and the areas that I will be visiting along the way.

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.

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.

Spring Semester in London

Yafet Cole
Richmond the American International University
London 2019

My commute to class in London is a whole lot different than my travel to class at Sydney. Surprisingly, it is actually a shorter commute, which is a bit of a surprise when you think about how small Hampden-Sydney is. At Hampden-Sydney, any student can walk to any building within about five to 10 minutes. But, at my school in London, I’m able to get to my classes within about three to five minutes. My classrooms are about a block or two over from my dorm building. Instead of walking out of Venable and seeing open space with nature, I walk out and see multi-million dollar apartments with such intricate but simple designs. As I see all of these buildings, I think to myself that I want to live in one of these houses in the future. Outside of these million dollar buildings are the most luxurious cars. Every other car is a Porsche, Bentley, Mercedes, BMW, Aston Martin, and occasionally I’ll see a Rolls-Royce. That is not a sight that anyone sees every day, especially at Sydney because it is filled with just college students and faculty. The mornings are usually quiet. The only noise I hear is either birds chirping, cars driving past, or people talking to each other. Other than those three, there is not much going on. Also, I usually walk with my headphones in so that shuts out the noise from the outside world. I pass several bakeries on my journey to class, so I smell the delicious pastries that are being made every morning. I normally stop by one of the bakery shops for a croissant, they are always so warm and flaky. Just enough to get me through the day. The smell of fresh air is always refreshing; it gives me the motive to be productive, every single day.

Spring Semester in London

Yafet Cole
Richmond the American International University
London 2019


The way I spend my free time in London is way different compared to the way that I spend my free time at Hampden-Sydney. It is nice because there is always something to do. There has not been a day where I spend my whole day in my room or in my bed. Usually, when I am at Hampden-Sydney, I go hang out with friends or just hang around in my room. London is such a bigger area, so I am able to go out and do more things if I am bored. England is a big soccer nation, so there are typically games in every single day. It is very convenient for me because I love the sport, so I typically just go down to the pub and watch whatever games they have on the television. Even if there is not a game on, once we all are done with classes, my friends and I head down to the pub to just hang out as well. It has basically turned into an everyday thing. Over the past couple of weeks, London has seen great weather, so instead of going to the pub, we all go to Hyde Park and spend our days there throwing the football or kicking the soccer ball around. Those are usually what we all do to take a break from school.  There is so much history within London. Sometimes I’ll head out with my friends and go see the museums or historic landmarks. We even just travel throughout all of London. This area is so big that we can travel an hour and still be in London. Sometimes, we travel to the different parts to eat different types of food. The city is so diverse, so we all travel to these places and eat the ethnic food whether it is African, Chinese, Indian food. With it being finals, I have spent most of my time in the labs and library studying.

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University

Why AIU?
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.

The AIU International team, with reps. from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Estonia, Norway, the Netherlands and America, posing in front of AIU’s mascot.

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.

Martijn, from the Netherlands, and I at the AIU matriculation.

Me, Atsuki and his friend pose for a selfie after the matriculation.

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.

Here, I am posing for a selfie, which has a beautification filter, with Chisato (front), Himi, Ayana and Moena.

Spring Semester in London

Yafet Cole
Richmond the American International University
London 2019

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.

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

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.