こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Saying Sayonara to Japan and All of My Friends

As much as I enjoyed every minute I was in Japan, I knew it had to come to end at some point. For most, the end of their adventure in Japan was the last week of July and the first few days of August. But, for me, I had an archaeological excavation that was part of one of my classes and ended August 7th. So, as one of the last to go, I had to say goodbye to everyone. Some left quietly on the first bus to the airport or to the train station; some left with a crowd of waves, and most of my friend group left to the ever dwindling remnants of our diverse crew of Europeans, Americans, and Taiwanese alike, with the token AIU student, looking sad but used to saying goodbye. Although I had planned on doing it for all my friends, I never remembered to take a final selfie with everyone before they left, so I can’t put in everybody’s pictures.

One of the first friends to leave was Eri (Japan): all of us played ping-pong together at the beginning of the year. It was a real full-circle moment for us, because we started off Orientation Week playing ping-pong, and the last thing we did together was play ping-pong. Eri was a really, quiet girl, but, apparently, she had one of the best English scores of her class: she just didn’t like talking. We had “developed” a game called “Circle Ping-Pong,” in which we would all run around the table while keeping the ball on the table, and whoever missed the table was out. The last two standing would play a best of two to determine the king of the table. All of us would play this game back to back for hours: playing circle ping-pong is one of my fondest memories of Japan.

This picture is one of the first pictures of my stay in Japan. This was the first week that we had all met each other. Eri (Japan) is the one taking the selfie with the glasses on. Next to her is Shinu (China/Japan), who was one of my other really, good friends while I was in Japan: she was one of my few AIU friends throughout my stay. Behind them are some familiar faces: Savannah (Penn.) and Martijn (Netherlands), and next to me is Danika from Alaska.

 

This is from that last week before my excavation. Once again, Eri is taking the selfie, and behind her is one of her and Martijn’s mutual friends, whom I met that day and whose name escapes me. And behind them is the familiar Trio of Martijn, Theo, and I.

 

This is effectively the same picture, but I like it, so I added it. It was an interesting circumstance because all of the guys, excluding me who wore chinos and a t-shirt every day, wore pretty “relaxed clothes.” Martijn usually wore a fancy button-down collared shirt and jeans, so this casual black shirt was rare. Theo had a wide range of apparel: he sometimes had a button-down shirt, khakis, and Sperry-like shoes, but he could also pull off this “bumming” outfit with the tank-top, swim-trunks, and shower shoes. On the opposite spectrum, Eri and her friend had the typical dressed up, loose fitting clothes that all the Japanese girls wore: she seemed almost over-dressed compared to us.

 

The weekend before I started the excavation, two of my best friends would leave the same Monday I left for the farm stay. It was mainly Jordan’s idea, as were most things we did (his charisma and drive in life were hard to turn down), that we watch all three of the John Wick films each night before they left. During those weekend nights, as we had many nights before, Theo and I sprawled out on the House Lounge sofa, but this time we were joined by a group of other friends to watch the films. My long-standing friend throughout my stay in Japan, Martijn, his good friend from Mexico, Jose, as well as Theo’s friend, a fellow Scandinavian from Denmark, Mikel. It was one of my favorite weekends of all time, mainly because it was so simple: we all just hung out and watched cool movies while eating an array of Japanese instant noodles and snacks. The final night was when a lot of our nostalgia kicked in, and we spent a good bit of time talking about when and how we all met, and, for most of us, it was on the first day, which made our imminent parting that much more depressing.

Both of these pictures were taken at around 2 a.m., but none of us felt very tired: we mostly wished we could stay longer. Jordan is taking the selfie, with his friend, someone I met a few days earlier, Satoshi, behind him: he was the tallest Japanese person I had met; we were the same height. Martijn and Theo are split by Jose, whom I spent a lot of time with that last week but not at all really before. He was pretty candid about America’s “strained” relations with Mexico under Trump: he was fairly charitable, since most other people were more angry about it than he was.

 

This picture was taken the night before Mikel left. It was confusing for me to talk to him, because he had the same name as my twin brother (spelled differently), but it was, in Danish, pronounced completely different, although he used my brother’s pronunciation for the “Americans.” He also had a girlfriend that came with him to study at AIU: her name was Nini, which was apparently a pretty common practice among the Scandanavians/Nordics. I had two other friends that were named Nana and Sisi. Mikel was probably the tallest person at AIU: I think he was around 6’6”, but they use a different system, so I never asked. He was also in the Danish military and had some pretty crazy stories about their basic training.

 

My best friend Theo saw me off to the farm stay before making his solo walk to the airport, because he said he wasn’t going to pay for a taxi. Our parting wasn’t as emotional as I expected it to be, but neither of us are particularly emotional people: we gave each other a bro-hug, mentioned hanging out or face-timing sometime down the road, and I ended by telling him to say hi to his girlfriend for me. With that, my class and I made our way to the farm where we would spend the next week excavating a local Junior High School that had been shutdown in the 80’s: the Junior High School was a known location of a Final Jomon site, which is Japan’s earliest pre-historic society.  Although we did a lot of fun and interesting things during the excavation, I’ll just keep it short: it was really hot and humid; there was a lot of digging; and, there was a lot of really good food.

 

Here is a picture of me in full Archaeologist attire. Since Japanese people are generally much smaller than Americans and Europeans, both my shirt and pants were 3XL, which did nothing for my insecurities. The hat, which was a hit with the other students and supervisors, was actually a women’s farm hat, but I just took the black-satin ribbon off of it and it looked pretty cool and archaeology-ish. The sign behind me is for the farm owners, saying it was their family’s house and it was also a boarding house.

This poster was really cool for our class. The school actually had it made for us as a promo for our work and our end of seminar project on our research/finding. This is a picture of our class trying to use a measuring device: it was probably the most tedious thing I had ever used in my life. There were so many things we had to do before using it, and it did such a simple thing: found angles to create squares. Alex (Russia) is the only other guy, and his partner, Honoka, is the one looking through the lens. My partner, Nanaho, is supervising us: in actuality, she was much better than me at levelling the device and finding accurate measurements.

 

This is a group photo of all the excavators. From the right is: Nishimura-san (a Tokyo Univ PhD. Student), Honoka, Nanaho, Saki (our Manager), me, Aleks (Russia), Sekine (Wasada Univ. Undergrad), and Kuma-san (Wasada Univ. Grad student).

 

 

This was the day before I left and my last day of excavation. Most of the labor had been done by then, so it was all detail work, measurements, recording, and scale-drawing. Negishi-sensei (the lead archaeologist and our professor) let me take a solo pic inside the dig site. It gives you some idea of how small the site was, but we still managed to spend 8 hrs. every day for a week digging and making measurements. It was a lot of tedious work, but it was all very interesting.

 

The night before my last day, I went to Akita City to watch the massively popular Kanto Festival. The Kanto Festival is an annual Prefecture wide holiday that is celebrated in the heart of Akita City. All along a huge, 4-lane highway called, Kanto street, thousands of spectators and vendors lined the entire length of the street. The main attractions were community teams of drum and flute floats, which were following behind the Kanto performers. Each paper-lantern mast would have logos that represented local communities or businesses. Our own AIU Kanto team performed as well. The sounds of the flute were quite shrill, and the shouts that were used to keep the drums in rhythm echoed down the street and off the buildings. After the performers had spread out to their respective spots, the Kanto team would form a circle and start their performance. Each Kanto mast weighed anywhere from 50-150 lbs., and many of the performers would support this with one hand, their waist-belt, or, for the truly talented, their forehead.

 

This gives you an idea of how many people were lining up to watch, and this was the furthest point of the festival. In the picture you can see the drum platform, on which the flutist and the singers would stand, as well as the drummers. This was taken as all the teams were lining up to start as dusk appeared.

 

 

This is a close-up of one of the teams of Kanto performers, with their mast lying on the ground in front of them.

 

 

 

 

Here is a picture, courtesy of one of the AIU Kanto member’s Facebook, of one of AIU’s Kanto performers transferring the mast, all while fighting the wind.

 

 

 

This is a great picture, again courtesy of the aforementioned Facebook profile, of AIU’s personal Kanto mast, with real flame-candles in each paper lantern. You can also see the vast line of Kanto teams performing. When I was walking back to the beginning of the Festival street, I saw one of the heavy masts fall into the crowd: luckily no one was hurt, but it is always a spectacle that elicits large cries and shouts from the onlookers. It is some what like a tree falling: very drawn-out and dramatic.

 

That night, I finished stuffing all of my clothes and souvenirs into my suitcases and said goodbye to my AIU friends and the full year international students. The next morning, I woke up early to eat my last meal in Japan: a bowl of cafeteria ramen. I met with “the few, the proud, the August 7th crowd.” With the exception of Atsuki, three of us went to Tokyo together on the same plane. I was in a different mood that day, whereas, the night before, I was very sentimental and nostalgic; that day, I was basically ready to go home. I was not looking forward to the long, twenty-hour total flight back to North Carolina. At Akita Airport, I bought some final souvenirs for my family and hung out with Ben and Mary, who were the other two flyers to Haneda, Tokyo.

This was taken the morning of our flight: I had shaved that morning, so I looked particularly pale. Atsuki was probably my best Japanese friend while I was in Japan. He loves Formula-1 racing and dune-buggy racing. He is also on the Kendo club, which is Japanese fencing with wooden swords. He is planning on becoming an English teacher for High School students and spent most of his first semester looking into ways to reform the Japanese primary education system, which he believes does not allow enough flexibility for students to explore academic interest and doesn’t put enough attention on English acquisition programs.

I apologize for the creepy face: it must’ve been a bad angle. In between Ben and I is Mary, really Hsu Ching-Hua, from Taiwan. I actually met her mom and dad in Tokyo at Haneda airport. Their English was pretty good, and her dad helped me get a limo-bus to Narita, from where my flight to O’Hare would be. Funny story: I saw her right before my taxi showed up and she asked if we could share, and I said yes, so she ran to Komachi Lobby (on the other side of campus) to cancel her cab. However, before she got back, my taxi showed up, and I didn’t know enough Japanese to ask him to wait for my friend. I later met her at Akita Airport’s terminal for Haneda, and I profusely apologized and she forgave me.

 

This is a pic of Akita Airport, as you can see from the hill outside, which says AKITA. It was the smallest airport of all the ones I had been to throughout my trip to Japan.

 

 

This is a picture of Haneda airport (one of their two terminals, each of which was about the size of O’Hare). I had just hugged Mary goodbye and was waiting for my limo-bus to come. It was my second time to Haneda, and it was just so huge. The ride to Narita took 45 minutes, and I finally got to see the vast urban sprawl of Tokyo City proper. As someone who has never spent any time in a proper “metropolis”, Tokyo was impossibly huge: the highway bridges were like 20 feet off the ground and hovered between vast expanses of tall buildings and apartment complexes.

 

 

 

This is a rather picturesque view of the skies above the U.S. before we arrived over Greensboro. This was a tiny jet, especially in comparison to ANA’s new Star Wars themed BB-8A that I landed in O’Hare in. In contrast to my flight to Japan, where I couldn’t sleep at all throughout the entire 40 hour process, on the flight back to NC, I slept most of the way.

 

 

This is a grainy pic of Greensboro before landing. I felt a tinge of comfort being back in NC, and I was ready to see my family and my dog.

 

 

 

 

Although it was sad to have to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people that I had met during my stay at AIU, it was by far, the greatest experience of my life, so far. I look forward to going back sometime in the future, but, for now, I have to make sure I graduate on time! Anyway,  I would like to sincerely thank all of the people who helped me get to Japan, not just my family, but also Dr. Widdows and Ms. Wright in the Global Education Department, who were so patient and helpful during my long process of applications and bureaucracy, Stephanie Joynes and the Career Services Department, who helped through the application process and gave me encouragement, Dr. Dinmore, who has helped me in so many ways during my time at H-SC, Dr. Irons, who took me to get my passport finished, and Dr. Eastby, who got me started on the whole process back in my Sophomore year. Without them, and many others, I would not have been able to realize this dream to go to Japan, and, for that, I am eternally grateful.

日本はとても面白かったです。日本に来年もどります。それまで、さよなら。

Sorry for my feeble attempt at Japanese, but I plan on going back to Japan after graduation, so, until then, goodbye!

 

 

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Working with AUWA

Since being at AIU, I have done my best to stay busy, whether that be with studies, clubs, events, or friends. That plan has been a resounding success, but, on the down side, I have not had much time for retrospection or blogging. Nevertheless, I wanted to take the time to talk about my wonderful adventures with a club on campus named, AUWA.

The whole club at their annual Okonomiyaki, event.

 

 

The premise of the club is to connect AIU students, especially International students, with the local community.

Our club getting ready to plant at a local farmer’s, Tooyama-san’s, rice field. I’m all the way at the end with the big hat.

During my time with the club, I have planted rice and vegetables and have helped tend to them; also, the club hosts monthly events to help teach local elementary school students English. To keep it fun and interactive, the members usually participate in singing songs, in Japanese and English (usually songs like “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star,” and in making arts and crafts, like origami.

Here, we are singing. “Nada Sou Sou” for some local elderly people. Our club president, Sayaka, is on guitar.

 

Some of the really, sweet Oiii-sans and Obaa-sans from the local area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I have tried many different clubs and activities since coming here, the AUWA events have, by far, been the most interesting and eye-opening.

With members of the club, planting vegetables for next year’s crop.

 

 

Much of the work we have done has been very tiring, but I think that people bond more over hard word and accomplishing a task than just hanging out.

Here, I’m with a few of the other AUWA members and a couple Oiii-sans, enjoying the delicious food they helped prepare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, farmers make the best food! So, after working, we all get to enjoy home grown food, which allows us to get a taste of the local cuisine from the people that make it best. It isn’t only about having fun and enjoying the food; through the work, we can gain a better understanding of the lifestyle and culture of the local people.

This is the last picture of the club before leaving: we were all sad to see each other off.

Fall’n for Oxford

Ethan Gaines
Virginia Program at Oxford
England 2019

Overall, I am very happy that I decided to study abroad in Oxford for six weeks. While the program was certainly very challenging, it was a very rewarding experience and I am grateful to Hampden-Sydney for providing me with this opportunity. The stereotype of Oxford being an unexciting city where the only things to do are study and attend lectures is very wrong. University Park and the Thames and Cherwell Rivers provide excellent places to relax and hang out with friends, and there are numerous bars and pubs throughout the city to occupy your nights. Through six weeks, Oxford was an amazing place to live, and I could definitely see myself living there in the future.
Studying abroad will most certainly broaden your perspective of the world, as you will meet new people and experience new and different cultures. For the Virginia Program at Oxford, one of the most common talking points between the students and the visiting lecturers or professors were the subtle and major differences between education in England and in the United States. You also learn a ton about yourself while abroad, such as how you would quickly adapt to a brand-new environment, and whether or not traveling interests you in the future.
What I will miss most from my time abroad in Oxford are the relationships I made with not only my peers, but with the professors and tutors as well. I will also miss the amazing food that the cultural hub of Oxford provided to us, and also the amazing pubs. What I will not miss is the four-flight staircase climb to my room every night, the complex laundry system, and the supremely English food in the St. Anne’s dining hall.
As for general advice to future students studying abroad, I would suggest researching any type of restaurant, store, or park you would like to visit in advance, and to visit it as soon as possible because time moves very quickly while abroad. Looking back on it, the six weeks I spent in England feels like a weekend, and I sometimes do wish I was able to do more with my time there.

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.

VPO 2017

Griffin  Salyer
Griff Travels 4
VPO 2017

How was your experience different from what you expected?  In what ways was it the same?

Lake Lamond

Lake Lamond

My experience was more enlightening than I truly expected. I came back wide-eyed and ready to take on a new world. It is weird how you might even expect this change, yet it still occurs so dramatically. I think about different ideas, in different ways, and about different perspectives than I had previously. I know more about myself, and I know more about others around me. I expected to come back with “wisdom” but it is not something I could have understood until I experienced it. Whatever it is that does this to us as humans, it certainly happened to me. It strengthened aspects of my faith, my resolve, and many ideas I have about the world. What I am saying is that no matter what you expect, you will always get more from an experience out of your comfort zone, and out of your own house.

What stereotypes did you have about your study abroad destination? Were those confirmed or negated?

Cool street performer and her dog just outside of the Edinburgh Castle.

Cool street performer and her dog just outside of the Edinburgh Castle.

Generally, I don’t like to go by stereotypes, whether they’re found in truth or rumor, just because of the principle of keeping an open mind about people. I find that I get some different ideas from my family and those around me, and that it’s alright, but I need to form my own opinions and really think for myself – especially when it is about my environment and the people that inhabit that environment. I found that English people are overwhelmingly nice and respectful. The country is not too far different from the U.S. and it felt like I was in a slightly different state, with slightly nicer people.

What do you miss/think you’ll miss most from abroad?

I really enjoyed the pub culture from the aspect of a place to go to bond with your friends,

Dalton and I on Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh.

Dalton and I on Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh.

have deep discussions about life and academics, and as a relaxing place that is separate from home and work. It was not about the beer. It was about the friendship that came with the pint and what you did with that friendship. I became much closer to many Hampden-Sydney men because of the discussions about both school and life that we would have over a relaxing pint. Sometimes, we would even read our books in the pub with a relaxing glass of wine or cold pint. It was an atmosphere that was conducive of so many positive experiences and I would feel wrong if I didn’t mention one of the most positive experiences I had.

What’s your general advice for students preparing to go abroad?  How about for students going on your study abroad program?

A war memorial for Scottish American Soldiers directly next to the gravesite of David Hume.

A war memorial for Scottish American Soldiers directly next to the gravesite of David Hume.

Prepare yourself for a different world, a different perspective and new experiences. Go and experience everything around you! Some of the most fun I had was just waking up, picking a place on the map, and going there. Walking everywhere is great, but make sure you have the shoes to do it.

 

 

What’s the best thing about being home?  What’s the hardest?

It is America. By far something everyone seems to take for granted too often. We seem to be one of the best countries, even when compared to a country that is as developed as we are. I got to get right back into school, where I am able to thrive, so that is wonderful as well. I cannot think of a hard thing about being home. I just gosh darn, love it.

In My Head.

The Symphony rages on in my head. A wonderful cacophony of elegant sounds smoothly sails from one side of my brain to another. I feel emotionally different. I feel stronger as a person, more driven, and more mature. I wanted to keep my reflection about my trip short, because it doesn’t need to be complex. It is simple. I grew as a person in every positive way. I came back more understanding of those around me, and with new convictions about where I’d like to direct my efforts. It was an incredible experience.

VPO 2017

Griffin Salyer
Griff Travels 3
July 25, 2017

What’s your favorite food you’ve tried so far?

My favorite food is by far any of the pub foods that are abundantly available in the U.K. Within the subsection of pub foods, nearly every item on any pub menu is restaurant or higher quality, and it is great for a growing young man like myself. Within the delicious pub food realm, I must say that my favorite so far is a panini, filled with tuna and mayonnaise and delivered to transcendence with melted cheese, appearing upon a golden platter and encircled by chips (fries for you America folk).

What have you accomplished while abroad that makes you proud?

The Church of Lincoln College where on of our lectures was held.

The Church of Lincoln College where on of our lectures was held.

I know how to travel. While abroad, by some act of god and the grace of my awesome parents, I did not have to do too much to refine my traveling skills and senses. I have an impeccable sense of direction, an impressive sense of smell for the best local places, and a common sense that can go to battle with the toughest streets of Rural U.K. In addition, my proudest accomplishment in the academic realm is receiving a bold and beautifully penned “Brilliant!” from my English tutor, Miranda Faye Thomas. A totally objective view of this is that it signifies how excellent I am (don’t worry, my ego isn’t that bad). Most importantly, something that makes me proud is the knowledge and skills that my H-SC has imparted upon me, and for that I am grateful.

How do you spend your free time? Is it different from what you would do in
the US?

I spend my free time discussing and interacting with new and old friends over subjects from academics to the height a sheep may jump when frightened. Incredibly, the best times have been spent not laying around and doing nothing, but actually interacting with my environment, my professors and tutors, and the people of Oxford and the U.K. This is not wholly different from what I do in the U.S. but it feels much more different because of the new environment and all the new people.

Are you making progress with the language? Any funny stories of language
gaffes?

The language happens to come very naturally to me. In England they actually, believe it or not, use the English language to communicate! It is truly a beautiful language. Aside from the jokes, the English in the U.K. has many differences, from tone and colloquial meanings, to the contexts of their jokes.  So far, my most embarrassing story is when I learned that “quite good” means “less than good”.  This was of course after one of my tutors had used the phrase when describing one of my papers, and I left the tutorial happy that my paper was “quite good”.

What are you learning in class? What are you learning outside of class?

Bath from Sham Castle.

Bath from Sham Castle.

We are learning Early Modern English history, the period from about the 1450s to the 1660s. I am learning many different lessons outside of class. There are too many to draw from so, just to give you a sense, I am learning lessons like how to talk to people who do not immediately understand your background or the ideologies in your country. I am learning lessons about the harsh reality of people and how they behave – whether good or bad – and how to distance myself from others who are a detriment to themselves, and worse, to those around them. On a lighter note, I am learning the horribleness to currency conversions and the tight rope that is walked when trying to live on a budget in a foreign country.

The ceiling of the Sheldonian Theatre where all Oxford students graduate.

The ceiling of the Sheldonian Theatre where all Oxford students graduate.

The academics have remained constant. Everything is a forward progression into improving the way I think, write, and articulate the thoughts I have. Every week improves my critical thinking skills and tries my soul on the thoughts that I use to have. The academics at Oxford have introduced my scholarship to a new division of thought process and thought articulation, as well as a development in the way that I structure essays. The experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I have become much more well read in legendary critics in literature, history, and the interpretation in both fields. Although it may not be clear in my writing on this blog, I have refined my reading and writing skills to the point that I am much more confident in my writing, speaking, and arguing ability, and much more confident in my ability to present an excellent essay to the waiting professors at Hampden-Sydney. I am enjoying my experience in Oxford.

In my head. I like to think often of how I grow each year, semester, and week as I learn more and am challenged by rigorous academics. I’ve learned from Hampden-Sydney that doing this can give you a sense of where you’ve been, but most importantly it gives you a sense of where you will go. From the beginning of this trip, to now at this last week, I have been through a wonderful experience of personal growth. Whether it comes from the academics, the traveling, or the combination of both – I have grown as a person in many ways. It is easy to forget how fortunate I am. Here, it is easy to remember, and not in a way that I mean to sound arrogant, but in the way that I am so thankful that I can see it more clearly now. I think traveling to Oxford, and staying on my own has developed my world view immensely, and from that I am immediately benefiting.

The entrance to Endinburgh Castle.

The entrance to Endinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh – Edinburgh was the best place I have visited on my trip. It was fun, cool, smart not always too crowded, and it had a world-class zoo! The Edinburgh Castle was an incredible piece of history and outlasted many different wars. The people there, and our AirBnB host, were extraordinarily nice and welcoming, while the entire area gave a nice sense of hospitality. There were many street performers there, and among them there were some talented bagpipe players – my favorite instrument. The only bad experience I had was on the way there, by bus, that took a whole 12 hours of overnight driving with the heat on. Never again will I travel by bus. The landscape was also incredible, and we got the chance to visit Lake Lomond shortly after arriving in Glasgow. I think everything about the Scottish Countryside can only be praised and it was more than worth every penny I spent.

The deteriorated rock of Sham Castle with Bath in the distance.

The deteriorated rock of Sham Castle with Bath in the distance.

Bath – Bath was a nice and comfortable town, very touristy, but also had an obvious personality. My group decided to wander around trying to figure out where to go, until we came upon the Jane Austin center. Here, everyone decided to take a look at what this little museum had to offer – except me of course. I decided that 9 pounds was too steep a price for an author I had barely read, so I waited outside for a long time watching the cars go by and the tour groups wander through. As I waited there, I got to see a shift change of the men who stand outside of the center in there 17th and 18th century clothing.

The Most Photographed Man in England.

The Most Photographed Man in England.

One of those men, who I forget the name of unfortunately, was a very well dressed (18th century standards) man who knew almost everything there is to know about Bath, and about American Civil War reenactments! He was one of the most genuine people I met, and the coolest. After an hour of conversation with him, a few songs of the old south that he remembered, and a wonderful tale of all the famous people who have lived in Bath, we parted ways and I left down the trail enlightened and entertained. As it turns out, this man is the most photographed man in England! He was famous and I had no idea – even when an LA Times reporter came up to him and told him she would be back later for an interview, I never thought he was famous! I did not even get a picture with him. Other than that, the cathedral was wonderful and I had a lovely time there in Bath.

Stratford-upon-Avon 2 – The second Journey to Stratford ended up being more fun and wholesome. During the day, Sam and I (my buddy from Sydney) decided to spend time talking in any honest pub we found. On our way to the grave of Shakespeare we found a nice pub in the wall just down the street from the theater. Here we spent several hours talking, then we left anxious for the upcoming Shakespeare play “Julius Caesar”. The play was wonderful! The best time we had here was at the pub “the dirty duck”, where we would meet the star of the play we saw the last time we were in Stratford. As we left at midnight, we were told that all the actors from the theater went there afterward to have a pint and hang out. It seems we have a wonderful taste in pubs.

Coming Soon: my final installment, final thoughts, and reflections about my trip. Tying up a couple different ends and concluding this blog series. Stay tuned to hear about my last two weeks and my travel home.

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
Japan Blog 6
7/21/17
When I last wrote, I had just finished my class and had an awful performance and I was so ashamed that I wanted to commit ritual suicide on stage to make up for how terribly I had performed. Well safe to say, I am still alive and I woke up the next day after my evening escapades with my classmates and teachers. I decided that after such an intensive class that I would take a one-day breather, so I really didn’t do anything except watch YouTube all day that Saturday. On the Sunday I made plans to go to Yokohama to visit the Ramen Museum.

A look inside the Ramen museum in Yokohama.

A look inside the Ramen museum in Yokohama.

I know that you may be thinking that the Ramen Museum sounds like a waste of time and super boring because it will just be a bunch of plastic ramen displays in a building. Not true! The Ramen Museum is what is known as a food amusement park. The building does have some plastic displays which talk about the creation of ramen and the various types all across Japan, but if you venture into the basement, you will be transported to 1940s post war Shinjuku, Tokyo where there are ramen shops all around. You get to have your pick of where you want to eat and how much you want to eat! There were 7 ramen shops in total all around in this 1940s Shinjuku neighborhood. There was also an old sweets shop and ice cream parlor that you could go into and buy some things to snack on. Because I went on a Sunday, the place was packed!! It took me 45 mins just to push a couple of buttons on the ticket machine to order one bowl of ramen and a bottle of Coca-Cola (which by the way is made from real cane sugar and taste waaaayyyy better than the corn syrup version we have in the states). And now I can say I had ramen from the Hokkaido region of Japan, somewhere where I won’t be able to visit.

Near the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Near the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Remember how I said I might go to Mt. Fuji but it was up in the air? Well guess who hopped on a train at 5 in the morning to get there…that’s right this guy! And guess who was dumb enough to put on a backpack and hike up Fujisan to the summit…yup! This moron! I arrived at Fujisan at about 10 am and began my ascent to the top at the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th station which is like 2 kilometers up the mountain…not much but well worth doing it from there compared from the bottom. The ascent took me almost 6 hours from the fifth station (a trek that would have taken me a grand total of 12 hours from the bottom…) and the descent took me 2 hours (guess you could tell I rolled down, right?) The hike at the beginning was not bad…I walked through some wooded areas and the slopes were very gradual and it lasted for about 20 mins and then I saw the first fork in the road. I read the sign that said to the summit 5.5 km. I was ready to knock those small insignificant kilometers in like 3 hours summit Fujisan and descend well before 4 pm.
I started up the steeper hill and wanted to die! The hill was so deceptive! It looked so easy that I rushed into it and pretty much hit a wall not realizing that it was almost 60 degrees for what seemed like miles! I pushed through this hill and the ones that followed until I reached the sixth station at which point I noticed I had sweated through my clothes. I put on my fleece and began to push forward toward the seventh station. It didn’t look too far and I was keeping pace with some little kids that were also ascending the mountain.
The trek to the seventh station took forever! It was steep; the ground was this fine volcanic ash and I slipped if I wasn’t careful when I put my foot down to move forward. I pressed on through bits that were nothing but volcanic boulders and parts where the trail seemed to go straight up for no reason (I am talking at like 90 degrees!). I made it to the eighth station and I could see the summit! After a while, a sign said that I was only 900 meters from the summit and that gave me the fuel to push through arguably the most grueling 900 meters that can exist on this planet. It was straight up almost the entire way with the terrain switching from ash to rock to boulder back to ash and slippery dust. I forced myself to climb higher and kept telling myself that I had made it so far and that I only had a few more meters to go. Turns out there was another sign saying that I had only gone like 200 meters and didn’t go as far as I thought I did. But I pushed all the way to the top. And I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to make it and then see the beauty from the top, which was nothing but big white fluffy clouds all around me.

The top of Mt. Fuji

The top of Mt. Fuji

I did what all Hampden-Sydney men do when they hike a mountain: I pulled out my flag and took a picture, commemorating it as a place the community can say they proudly sent a representative to. The community that I am referring to is the LGBTQIA+ community. If you are unaware, I am a proud member of the gay community and I thought it fitting to bring with me a pride flag donated by another Hampden-Sydney man in the community, and proudly raise it at the summit.

Sunset taken at the fifth station on the way down Mt. Fuji.

Sunset taken at the fifth station on the way down Mt. Fuji.

I took a couple of pictures at the summit and then basically ran back down the mountain to see the sunset at the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station. It was beautiful and it was probably even more beautiful at the summit…however, I had a train to catch and if I missed it, I would be out of luck until the next morning because it was the last train and the nearest hotel/hostel to me was another 4 kilometers from the train station and I was not ready to walk another 4 kilometers. Luckily I caught the last train headed to Shinjuku and made it back to my place at midnight disgustingly dirty, and hurting all over from the rugged hike. The next day I rested and relaxed my sore muscles.
The following day I decided to do some shopping because I don’t know the next time I am going to be in Japan.

Finally on the 20th of July I checked out of my share house and boarded the first Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Kyoto! What a crazy experience riding on a bullet train is. It took me three hours to traverse half of the country and it would have taken me 8 and half hours on a regular train with multiple transfers. When I arrived in Kyoto I was hit by the unbearable heat! Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on three sides and sits in valley and during the rainy season the humidity is a killer! I was unprepared to step off the train and literally be dripping in sweat.

Main shrine to Inari in Kyoto.

Main shrine to Inari in Kyoto.

I checked into my hostel and decided to travel to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the giant fox shrine that most people consider quintessential Japan. It was a beautiful shrine and I got there right when the sun was setting at twilight and decided that it was the perfect time to see this amazing shrine. I started walking up to the main shrine and saw path leading up Mt. Inari…once again I decided to ascend a mountain but I did not bring a banner or flag or anything because it is strictly forbidden to raise a flag or banner at a shrine…it’s like doing something blasphemous inside a church. But I took my time ascending and made it to the top. I hadn’t seen a single person on my way up the mountain until I reached the top.
When I reached the top of the mountain, there was a rather large group of European school children on a field trip with chaperones and teachers. They were loud, which is kind of a no-no in a shrine because it is a holy site and you are supposed to be respectful to those who are worshipping the deities. I decided that I was going to pray and began to walk over to the purification basin when a boy no older than 15 took a drink of water from his water bottle and spit it out directly into the basin! The basin is filled with holy water is used to purify the hands of those wishing to worship. I was extremely upset and tried to make it as clear as possible that what he did was sacrilegious; a concerned chaperone came over and I explained the situation as best I could and then she chastised the boy.
I then walked to the shrine and saw the most appalling thing: a group of students were putting their trash on the altar and knocking off the rice offerings. This shrine is different from most of the other ones because Inari is the protector of rice yields in Japan and an offering table is in front of the shrine so that Japanese can offer a portion of their yield to ensure another successful harvest. I also tried to tell them what they were doing was wrong and they just laughed and called me some names. That’s when I went down to the shrine officers at the bottom of the mountain and told them what was happening. They ran to the top with me and escorted every one of those tourists off the mountain and asked them to never return. I just want to say that even though you may not be believe in the religion of the country that you are visiting you should still be respectful toward their practices. You are a guest in their place of worship and they are allowing you to see their wonderful world. That incident made me very angry and it hurt to see that a basic sense of respect toward one another was abandoned.

Statue of the love god enshrined in Jisu-Jingu.

Statue of the love god enshrined in Jisu-Jingu.

The next day I went to another shrine and to Jisu Jingu, the shrine of love. Turns out that Jisu Jingu as well as the surrounding Buddhist Temple and Pagoda are a UNESCO World Heritage site! I am not sure how many UNESCO sites I went to in Kyoto but I know that almost everywhere in Kyoto was some heritage site. Tomorrow is my last day in Kyoto and I plan on going into Gion where the Geishas linger and maybe going to the contemporary art museum to see the Kusama exhibit. After that, I head to Hiroshima for three days before traveling back to Tokyo to catch my return flight back to the states!