Read the whole story here…
Read the whole story here…
How was your experience different from what you expected? In what ways was it the same?
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?
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,
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
What is your commute like from home to class? What do you hear/see/smell
on the way?
Well, fortunately for me, both my lectures and my tutorials (meetings with my professors where we discuss our essays and arguments) are inside the college I am staying in. Some people have to walk into city-center Oxford (about 10 minutes) to get to their tutorials. Every single day, I get to walk out of the courtyard behind our “bevs” (the street our dorms are on is Bevington Road) and smell the morning dew and sweet flowers that are growing there. The next immediate smell is the “bacon” – the Ham really – that they cook for breakfast. I always hear the delightful sound of bees on the flowers and cars passing by in the early morning.
What’s your living space like? Who do you live with? How is your home
abroad different from your home in the US?
Again, I am fortunate. My room is one of the largest rooms with three large windows and a beautiful view of Bevington Road. I live without a roommate, but I share a bathroom with the people on my side of our apartment style living complex. My home here is wildly different than in the US mainly because it is a dorm room! Otherwise, I’m living in England, so many things are different – all the way down to the way you flush the toilet.
What did you pack that you wish you’d left behind? What do you wish you’d
I packed 4 pairs of jeans, lots of sleep shirts, 2 floral pattern shirts that everyone loves, some sweatpants, some workout clothes, my tennis shoes, my loafers, my white converse, and a pair of Sperrys. All of which are essential to the fiber of my being here in England, as I rely daily on every single item I brought. I wish I packed more shoes because my shoe game can always be better. I brought nearly everything I needed and I probably should have packed just a little less, so that I had more room to bring things back.
How do people dress in your study abroad location? How did you expect
people to dress? Have you changed the way you dress?
People dress similarly to the United States with a few differences and influences from Europe. On the whole, everyone looks just as you would expect – except with more sweaters. Ken Fincham rocks a mean sweater game (our UK Director). The influences from Europe usually include very tight clothing, but tight clothing that looks stylish and great on youthful people. I’m pretty fluid with my style – often on the forefront of stylish opportunity – and have indeed adapted some of my styles to match a more European look. I absolutely love it. I like to think that I look extremely good rocking the blond European (Handsome) youth look.
Does your host culture have a different concept of time or space than you’re
The time is right about the same, the only difference is their use of “half past the hour, quarter past the hour and so on.” Space use is a little bit different, almost everywhere space is a little bit more valuable than in the US. Since the Island is much smaller than the US, the space they use has to be used more efficiently. One of the biggest differences is their use of little plots of land and their caring for small gardens. It is a part of the culture here to keep small plots of land, but it takes years to get one!
What’s your favorite food you’ve tried so far?
Classic, Scotland made, beer-breaded fish and chips. Best choice I made for dinner, had with my friend Dalton (also an H-SC junior-rising senior), and a wonderful recommended Scottish ale to enhance the flavor of the fish.
The academic situation has been steady and work-heavy as one might expect. As I get a hang of everything, my studies become much easier and more natural. I was yelled at for whispering in the Bodleian Library, so that was great too! The history is incredible and the literature we are reading is beautiful. All in all, I think (hope) my tutors like discussing with me and enjoy my arguments. I am doing well, and overjoyed to be studying at Oxford.
I love the UK. My favorite part about this place is that it’s always temperate, always lovely, and the sights to see are always incredible. Scotland is now my favorite place on earth and the accents are wonderful. I have rediscovered my passion for bagpipes while visiting Scotland and now plan to buy some bagpipes sometime in my near future. There is a wonderful amount of time that we have when we do not actually have to do work and it’s a perfect balance between being completely free while keeping ourselves busy. I met an extremely nice and wholesome English man who is homeless and paints every single day right outside of the college I am staying at. A few days ago, I commissioned a painting of his for my one year anniversary with my wonderful girlfriend! The painting was spectacular and Henry was awesome about how he made it and kept it nice and safe until I could get it from him. Henry is BBC famous after a small short they did on him, and is generally known around Oxford as a pleasant man with a passion to paint. My feet are extremely sore. Sounds a bit odd, but I am certain I’ve walked around 100 miles in the last few weeks (maybe slightly exaggerated) and my feet are dying. I continue to learn small life lessons everyday, and one of my most recent lessons taught me about how darn expensive it is to travel – importantly the traveling itself is not expensive but everything while you’re traveling costs money. I have continued to find within myself an ever-growing love for my incredible parents. It feels as if I am maturing every day, and as each day passes I receive a small but significant perspective from the traveling I have done, the people I have met, and the lessons I learn daily. I love my school. I have been able to take a fine look at how other schools and universities operate and I can definitively say that I love my school more and more each day. H-SC is undoubtedly a unique place and I am thankful I made the choice to go there, and to stay there.
This is the detailed story of all my wonderful travels while here in the UK. By the time I finish my studies here in England I will have traveled to Bath, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Oxfordshire (Oxford), Dover Priory (White Cliffs of Dover), and Cornwall. I’ll start off with my first couple of weeks here – my adventures exploring Oxford and my time in London and Stratford. Next blog I will detail Scotland and the glorious bagpipes that originate from that beautiful land.
Oxfordshire – A wonderful town an hour away from London and in the center of England. Oxford is where – you guessed it – the University of Oxford is located. To give a brief overview, the University of Oxford is composed of many different colleges that piece together to make it a university. The colleges generally have different areas of expertise and many have their own libraries separate from the main Oxford library – The Bodleian Library. Every one of these colleges are scattered throughout the city, while many remain concentrated in or around the city center, a good number require a good walk to get to. Every college has their own pub, and every college has a good number of pubs within a 10 minute walk. As I said before, many of the colleges have their own libraries, while the colleges that used to be women’s colleges have the best libraries (this is because of their dependence on a separate library as many other libraries would not allow entry to women). The University town is entirely dependent on the university itself, as it has become a sort of tourist center due to the history, prestige and beautiful architecture housed within the city limits. Many of the buildings in Oxford are over 500 years old, with some being a millennia old and integrated into the college itself. Some structures still stand from before Norman conquest (that is pre- 1066 AD) and act as a reminder of the fort that once stood as a foundation for the now remarkable university. I would give the Radcliffe Camera the floor for the most memorable sight, simply because it is a beautiful artwork that is a part of the Bodleian library. The library itself is only accessible to students and the public is not allowed to see the absolute wonders that are the ceilings, books, and atmosphere of the inside of the library. Also notable are the gorgeous fields and rivers that surround Oxford and give it that English feeling. There are many more sights to describe, but for right now I will tell you readers that the best part of Oxford and maybe England is the difference you feel from the US. As I look into the partly cloudy and beautiful Azure sky, I reminisce on the feeling of the culture in Oxford. Everything added together is what makes this place inviting and lovely – as I sit on my computer I can feel the study abroad experience enveloping my thoughts, and becoming an integral part of who I am. Not only is Oxford a place to see, but it is also a place to grow. The real sight to see in Oxford is the growth in oneself while here – and I am beginning to take on a different sense of who I am while here. The feeling is much more a cultural revelation, than it is a tourist sight-seeing extravaganza. I hope by now you can understand how, when I describe Oxford, and I hope you can read this as I am in my mind. More on Oxford coming soon!
London – London is a beast of its own. I will be able to describe more about it in my last and all-encompassing blogpost – post number four – but for now, I can tell you that it is worth at least going to. I didn’t stay long, but the time there was nice and memorable. While in London my VPO group watched a reproduction of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and it was interesting to say the most. Unfortunately, it was not the original version that Shakespeare had formed with his talented hands, but an adaption by a newly hired director at the original Globe Theater on the Thames river. My buddy, Sam Farley and I got to have a blast together, while separated from our group in the theater. The experience was something worth it, but one that I might not try recreating. Once was enough. The city itself is ginormagantous, and the bus we were on took about 45 minutes just to get from one end of the city to a third of the way through its diameter. The food was expensive and the people were not particularly inviting. All in all, London is something to see, but not my cup of tea.
In addition to the Globe Theater we visited the Hampton Court Palace that was built by a high-ranking church official under King Henry VIII (who it was later confiscated from). The palace itself is extravagant and an awesome place to begin understanding the Early Modern English development and royalty. There my trusty buddy, Sam Farley and I got to walk around and see bed chambers of the royals, tennis courts with current aristocrats, beautiful gardens, and the extraordinary wealth held by powerful people at the time. Sam and I had a blast. During the trip we talked about everything under the sun, then some, and then some more. The history we had learned in our lectures from wildly intelligent men and women prepared us for our visit. Overall, it was a worthwhile trip and something I look forward to telling my kids in the future!
Stratford-Upon-Avon – In Stratford we saw another Shakespeare play (and we will be seeing another soon as well). The entire group went to watch Antony and Cleopatra – a tragedy about the downfall of Marc Antony and his love affair with Cleopatra. I liked this production much more than the Globe Theater production as it stayed close to the original play by Shakespeare. The town itself is cute and cozy, not too big, and no lights later than 11pm. All in all, for my first trip there it was nice and I also ate one of the best burgers I have ever had, while relaxing in a pub waiting for the show to start.
Oshima sensei told me the day before the performance that I have good energy for Takasago and that I was timing my dance perfectly with the chant. He said that it was the best dance I had done the whole class and I thought that this was good news for the performance…turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On the day of the performance I was feeling powerful and intimidating in my dragon yukata with a golden dance fan in my obi. The men’s team had performed the drums pretty well and we had just chanted Gekkyuden and Hagoromo and executed it pretty well. I walked off stage and got ready to perform Takasago. I walked out on stage, opened my fan, took a second to breathe and started my chant. I pushed my diaphragm hard and my voice was strong, powerful, and filled the entire theatre. I began to dance while singing and then the unthinkable happened; The chant Gekkyuden came to my mind and I started to sing part of it as if it was Takasago. I realized two words in that I was singing Gekkyuden and not Takasago. I tried to rush back into the Takasago chant and I froze. My dance stopped, my chanting stopped, I was so lost and Oshima sensei who was in the choir had to give me the rest of line. I had never been so humiliated. I finished my line and continued to dance with the chorus singing behind me. It then came for my next line and I pushed through it without messing up. My final line came and I pushed that one out too, flawlessly and then finished my dance.
I finished the dance, closed my fan, turned and exited the stage. I heard applause as I exited, but I was too focused on not crying on stage for how badly I messed up. When I got backstage I couldn’t help myself but start to beat myself up over how I didn’t do a good job and how my senseis would be very upset and would not be proud that they had taught me how to chant and dance. Awaya sensei tried to comfort me (he had taught me how to do Takasago from the beginning), except this made me feel even more ashamed because I had let him down most of all. I went out into the audience to watch the senseis dances and when I entered the theatre I hid my face because I couldn’t stand to be seen after what I had done. Honestly, I wanted to go on stage and commit ritual suicide that warriors in ancient Japan would have done, because at least that way I would have done a better job at that than my dance.
After the performance, we all “graduated” and received our certificates from our senseis and I was ashamed to look Oshima sensei in the eye as I accepted my certificate. I quickly left the theatre, changed out of yukata and stayed with a few classmates until it was time to go to an izakaya (a traditional Japanese pub) for our party. When we got there all the seats were taken other than the ones right next to the senseis. (Perfect luck, am I right?) None of the senseis brought up the performance until after an hour in. Oshima sensei asked everyone at the table what they thought of their dance and after we gave our impressions of it, he told us what he thought. When it got to me I told him that I was very upset with how I performed and that I was not proud of it. Oshima sensei told me that the Fuji people (sidenote: we were being filmed and photographed for two separate documentaries. One by NHK, Japan’s equivalent to BBC, and Fuji) asked him if there was anyone that stood out to him in the whole class. (extra side note: the interview that the Fuji people gave Oshima sensei was after the performance) Oshima sensei told them that I was the only person who stood out to him and the only one that he will remember because of my energy. He said that throughout our rehearsals he could see and feel the energy in my chest and was expecting to see the same amount at the performance, however, he said that he was taken aback by how much energy came out in the performance. He said that the audience would not have noticed the mistake I made during the performance because the audience would have been too moved by the energy that I was giving. He also said that Noh is about making an impression, and he said that I definitely made an impression that the senseis and the audience would not soon forget.
I was very moved by what he said and it made me feel a whole lot better. I enjoyed the rest of the evening and Oshima sensei opened a sake barrel and led a toast. When we left, the izakaya, Oshima sensei took us out to a karaoke bar and continued the night. We laughed, had fun and enjoyed everyone’s company and by the time it was all said and done, I had to say goodbye to the amazing people I met. It was hard, and I was teary eyed the entire time as we all went our separate ways home. I won’t forget anyone that I met here, and I am sure I will keep in touch with them. I will be here in Tokyo for another week living it up. My plan is to do typical tourist things, including trying to hike up Mt. Fuji, but that is still up in the air. When I leave Tokyo, I will be travelling to Kyoto for three days, then to Hiroshima for four days before returning to Tokyo to fly home. I hope to have a great time here, but it will definitely be a lot, more lonely.
I’m Griff. You may or may not have known or heard of me at H-SC, but in any case, I am here to detail my story, perspective, and feelings about studying abroad in Oxford, England at – you guessed it – The University of Oxford. I want this blog to be more of my voice rather than an official and enthusiastically professional writing – and so in making it my voice I hope you’ll feel a lot of personality coming at you. The informal structure of each one of my blogs will come in three sections: Replying to some given questions in which I answer as much as I can about this new experience, giving a scholastic and wholly academic perspective, and finally giving a sense of reality about what is going on over the water and in my head while I’m here.
Why did you choose your specific country and program?
Well, if we are being honest here, I chose this program because I want to expand my intellectual experience. I believe that exposure is one of the best ways to learn. Exposure to material, exposure to culture and, as cliché as it is, the experience of going and being exposed to different situations in a different country work as an incredible teacher. Another way I love to look at it is that this study abroad program was an opportunity for me to put myself into my most vulnerable state and prove that I can excel. I do not want to prove to anyone else but myself that I can thrive in an environment different than where I am comfortable. Saying “you should do that for the heck of doing that” is one of my biggest motivations because I know it will prepare me for leaving college, leaving my parents, and I’ll be ready to do what needs to get done when I am out in the world. I hope it won’t be too optimistic of a read here but I like to keep positive – bear with me!
What are you nervous about?
I am just not nervous at all. I had this tiny fleeting feeling as my momma (momma Salyer) left me at security – but once I had shown my I.D. and was in line my freedom warded off any nervousness that I had briefly felt. I cannot wait to explore England, and I cannot wait to try my hardest with the courses here at Oxford. I’m not worried about my grades, and I’m not worried about proving myself to anyone but me, myself, and I. If I can focus on trying my best and being relaxed, narrowing my concentration onto a wholesome experience – I will be alright.
What are your goals for your time in your host country?
So, here we go being honest again, being in this country and experiencing a culture separate from my own is what I want to focus on. This means taking part in pub culture, trying to learn the politics, making some friends here in England, understanding the history and landscape, and taking a step back to not be American for a brief second so that I can learn something new and different from those things I am accustomed. My overall goal that I will absolutely achieve before I leave the U.K. is to get what exactly studying abroad is for – finding a balance between learning in the host culture and living in the host culture.
It is fascinating to me how incredible you feel when you are discussing the plays of Christopher Marlowe, or Shakespeare, or anyone else really. I have found that I have this super-intelligent organist in the background of my mind playing the most wonderful and superfluous sounds when I am discussing these intellectual topics. The reading and self-work is tiring but it just builds a mountain of knowledge you can use when critically thinking about a subject. It is awesome, as in awe – some, or some serious awe. Even more, the discussion I have shared with my classmates over some pints has been the most productive work I have done so far.
In my head.
Here, I sort of want to just put some thoughts out there. I am so very excited for the weeks to come. I am a little worn out with some normal drama that comes with people, but it is settling down and daily life is easy-going. My professors are all absolutely wonderful and I am loving it – getting beaten down a little in the work section, but I’m very glad about it. I am really excited to do this blog. I want to extend what is going on with me while I am here and try to emphasize the personality I want to convey and the reality behind every word I say. All in all, I wish I could ramble on and on and on and on and on, but I think I might already be sounding arrogant and self-absorbed. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you are taking what I say with a little bit of a grain of salt. I plan to be unguarded and realistic about what I say (without being offensive) so that there is some unique perspective being shared. I want this to be different from any of the other blogs – and in doing so I hope to keep down the wall of fakeness – this isn’t my beautifully composed string quartet, but rather an introduction into a 20-year old’s thoughts and experiences (many experiences for the first time) in a new country.
If you cared enough to read this, thank you! Next week we will be discovering my experiences and I would love to detail the people, sights, and probably some misfortunes so stay tuned!
I have been rehearsing really, hard and trying to memorize everything in a totally, different language. It has been really, really, rough and I have been able to do it, but it has come at the cost of me passing out at 8pm sharp every night. Later on in the week, I went yukata shopping and hakama shopping for my personal use. I found a yukata with a really, cool dragon pattern along with hakama that fit and complemented the color of the yukata, and a white obi which brings together the whole outfit. This yukata makes me look really intimidating and powerful when paired with the mask that Takasago wears for his dance in his true form.
The week flew by and before I knew it, it was Friday! As soon as class was over I went home took a nap and got ready to go to the gay district of Tokyo. Quick disclaimer; Legal drinking age in Japan is 20…I am/was 20 at the time I went out to the gay district. Needless to say I had a good time and I remember everything that happened, but I have to save some stories for my friends…let’s just say it was a night I won’t forget anytime soon, along with my classmates. We made it until 5 am when the trains started running again. As soon as i got home, I fell asleep and wasted my Saturday. On Sunday, I went to the Tanabata Festival.
The Tanabata Festival is known as the Chinese Star Festival.The Japanese adopted the myth and the festival into their own culture and it has become a big deal here. The Tanabata Festival celebrates the day that two stars are allowed to see each other. The story goes that there are two stars who are in love, but can never see each other because they live on opposite sides of a river known as the Milky Way. The gods decided that the two should be reunited on one day. So, on the seventh day of the seventh month the stars are allowed to cross the Milky Way to be with each other. The festival goes on to celebrate love and it is believed that during the festival you should write a wish and it will come true. Well, guess what I did at Tanabata…yup, I was selfish and wrote a wish down for myself…look, I have prayed for the world at a bunch of Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, I thought it was time to look after myself now.
I am entering the last week of my class and I couldn’t be more excited. I am going through an emotional rollercoaster, because in this week I will say goodbye to some really, good friends that I have made here as they travel back to their respective countries, while I explore Tokyo and the rest of Japan for the following two weeks. But, I am also excited, because I can’t wait to perform on the Kita School’s main stage and make Professor Dubroff as well as Oshima Sensei, Nagashima Sensei, and the two Awaya Senseis proud with how much I was able to accomplish in only three weeks. To put this into perspective; most professional Noh actors have their debut on stage at the age of three with beginning their training around age two. I would also like to point out that I am twenty years old and I have been doing this for less than three weeks. Actually, pre-professionals training in Noh, train with the senseis for months on one aspect of Noh, focusing on one piece and it takes them about six months or so to make the same progress I made in three weeks. I have studied two dances, three chants, and one instrument…I just can’t believe how much progress I have made
I can’t wait to learn even more this week, but I don’t want it to end because I won’t know what I am going to do with all my new free time when the class is over.
Another side note; sitting seiza is still killing me and I don’t understand how people can do this for over an hour when a full length Noh play is being performed.
Japan Blog #3
Sorry for not blogging about my Japan adventure but I have been very busy with my Noh Training. For those of you who don’t know why I am here in Tokyo, I am studying the traditional Japanese theatre form known as Noh theatre. The theatre form was created by Zeami in the 1300’s and became big when the first Shogun was created. Most of the noh plays revolve around the Tales of Genji and many of the plays focus around a main character that is otherworldly like ghosts, demons, and gods.
This theatre form focuses on the combination of singing, chanting, dancing, poetry, and instruments. All noh plays take about an hour and a half to perform even though the overall script usually is no more than 5 to 10 pages. Needless to say, noh plays move extremely slowly and the storylines are extremely tragic.
I am in Tokyo studying this ancient theatre form at the youngest of the five schools of noh; Kita. By school I am referring to the style of how the Noh is performed. There are five schools Kita being the youngest and I believe Kanze being the oldest school. I am actually studying at the same school as my professor, Professor Dubroff with the same teachers that he had! I just mention his first name and everyone at the school is like, “ah yes! Matthew!” It’s kind of like he is a Rockstar or something and I am elevated by sheer association.
I started my first day on Monday with 5 hours of noh. I thought I was ready for a couple of noh plays but I was sorely mistaken. The plays were sooooo sllloooowwww and I didn’t understand the Japanese being spoken but I was able to follow along with an English synopsis that was provided. The first two plays were kind of boring. The first one was about a dead poet who urged a priest to sleep under a cherry blossom, and the second one was about a woman spirit asking a priest to pray for Genji and when the priest prayed for Genji the woman turned into a dragon and disappeared. The last play was by far the most interesting. It was about a demon that lived in a rock. A priest exorcised the demon from the rock and on stage the rock exploded and out came a demon and the dance that the demon did was so intense you could feel the tension in the room as the demon repented and was exorcised from the rock.
That was my first day along with a group meal at a restaurant near the theatre in Meguro. On the second day we wasted no time getting into the meat of noh performance. We started the day off with a greeting and sat seiza for 20 mins chanting a very celebratory song called Gekkyuden. We were then broken up into two groups to learn shimai (dance) from two different plays. I am currently learning the shimai for Seiobo. The character that does the dance is a beautiful princess…yeah imagine me as a beautiful princess if you are capable of doing that. Over the first week I learned the shimai for Seiobo pretty well and I think I am ready to learn a harder shimai but I am not the master at this and they haven’t asked me to move on and they know better than I do…I just hope they ask me to learn another one because I would like to challenge myself in my shimai. We also learned some hiyashi (instruments). We started off learning how to play the kotsozumi also known as a shoulder drum. The drum can make five different sounds depending on how you hold the drum. We have learned three so far known as Po, Chi, and Ta.
Out of Utai (chanting) Shimai (dancing) and Hiyashi (instruments) I enjoy shimai the most and hiyashi the least. For the most part, that happened everyday through Friday. On Friday I went into Harajuku proper and found a cheap pair of hakama (samurai pants) because I am putting together a traditional Japanese Yukata for the Atsumori play that Professor Dubroff will be putting on this coming spring semester. I also went down the busiest street in Harajuku and found the store and designer where Lady Gaga bought her outfits for her Fame Monster album. I really want to buy something from there, but I can’t completely justify purchasing anything from there.
On Saturday I went to the Ueno Zoo and saw my favorite animal ever; the Giant Panda. I bought a small panda magnet for the fridge that I don’t own…I guess I know my next purchase before I head back to Hampden-Sydney… I went back to Harajuku and ate gyoza (pot stickers) for less than 3 dollars! I also went into Shinjuku’s gay district and got to look around at all the crazy nightlife that I will probably be partaking in next weekend with some friends. I also went to the extremely sketchy area of Shinjuku known as Kabukicho it is not as sketchy as Roppongi, which I will not be going to anytime soon. I was kind of concerned about getting pick pocketed but I made it out okay.
I am really enjoying my time here and I love the class even though sitting seiza is killing me. I hope I have some more adventures to talk about in the next week!
Enshrined in Meiji-Jingu is Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, Japan’s most revered royal family. When the Emperor died, the Japanese people built the shrine to honor him. The shrine burned down during World War II but was rebuilt by the Japanese people and the original shrine will turn 100 in 2020. When I visited, the copper plates on the roof were being refurbished and replaced for the centennial celebration and the Olympic games in 2020. I was also extremely privileged to witness a Shinto wedding procession into Meiji-Jingu. I sadly did not take any pictures, because I didn’t want to be irreverent to the couple getting married, and I wasn’t too sure about the policy on photographing Shinto wedding ceremonies.
The bride and groom were in beautiful traditional clothing and were being led in on a carriage. In the front of the procession seemed to be the head Shinto priest, followed by a drum, and then a few more priests (I think they were priests) who were chanting, and then the bride and groom came in on the carriage. It was very beautiful to witness and I wish I had been able to take a few stealthy photos.
Once I was in the shrine, I went and prayed for world peace and universal harmony. Through my prayer at the alter, and through my ema (a wooden plaque where you write your wish and prayers on) I prayed for myself and I received an omikuji, a small poem written by Emperor Meiji, which tells you about what to expect for the year and words of wisdom to be followed. The whole shrine was very beautiful, and the people there were extremely kind and welcoming to all foreigners and their religions. One Japanese woman was asking every person that finished praying at the alter what their current religion is; a few of the answers were Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, B’hai, and Buddhist. It is very beautiful and wonderful to see religions that have had bad blood with one another, come together and be peaceful toward one another, and wish and pray for the same thing. It just shows how we are all human and want the same thing; to be loved by one another and be peaceful toward each other.
I returned to my share house at about the middle of the day and relaxed a little bit before heading out to Shinjuku to register for a class the following day (today). Out in Shinjuku, there are a lot of very tall skyscrapers and shopping areas, which reminded me of Midtown Manhattan in the way that it is sensory overload almost the whole time. I found this one place called the robot restaurant, which costs about 8,000 (80.00USD) yen for one dinner. It seems that the robot restaurant is one big show, along with a dinner, and the people that I saw leaving the restaurant said it was worth the 8,000 yen for the show alone. So, I think when my class is over and if I have enough money saved up, before I leave, I will go and see what the robot restaurant is all about.
Today I went to Asakusa, about an hour away from where I live, to take part in traditional Japanese arts and crafts. The share house company that I am staying with while in Tokyo is known as Sakura House, and they put on events for their residents every month. This month one of the last events was making traditional crafts in the form of Zabuton and Hanko.
A zabuton is a traditional Japanese cushion, which has a trademark of being balanced in all four corners. You are able to tell the quality of the cushion by holding it by the thread in the center of the cushion, and seeing it hold steady and flat while being suspended in the air. Needless to say, mine was less than perfect. One of my corners was too heavy, and if you tried to pick it up by the center thread, it leans to one side. Building this zabuton was a lot of work too! I had to rip the cotton apart, lay each layer out, open each layer, rip some more, then feel for depressions, and add left over cotton to my cushion before I could even shape it into a cushion! Then came getting it into the cover, which is another long and drawn out process. In total, making one zabuton took me over 3 hours!
I had a little break between the two crafts so I went to Senso-Ji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, which is famous for how massive it is as well as the shopping street in front of it. I got lost there for a few hours and had some really, good fried chicken. It wasn’t like Granny B’s where it was fried with a breading, but rather just straight chicken fried in sesame oil. Some of the best fried chicken I have had in a while, actually. I explored the surrounding area of Senso-Ji until it was time to make a hanko.
A Japanese hanko is a traditional name stamp used by the Japanese to sign their name on contracts and loans from the bank. Every person in Japan has a hanko and uses it for official documents. The process started with us writing our names and then having someone write out a few modern Japanese characters, which mimic the sounds of our name. My name, being hard for them to wrap their minds around, because Quinn doesn’t exist in their language, ended up being a square. As I waited for them to explain how to make the hanko, I stared at my character, extremely upset that my stamp will just be a square. I felt terrible and like it was a waste of time at this point. Then something amazing happened! One of the professionals came around with a book of ancient Japanese characters, saw our modern day characters and then translated them to the ancient characters that they came from.
My little square “gu” turned into this face with two outstretched opened hands. I asked the professional why we were using the ancient characters, she said the ancient characters are more symmetrical and can be given meaning to them more so than some of the modern day characters. I then asked what my character meant now, and she said that it means giver or offering to the gods. I was thrilled and to be perfectly honest, the character looks really cool! After she wrote the character onto our stamp, we took an engraving tool and etched our character into the stone. It was rough work to do it by hand, but it was extremely relaxing for some reason. My stamp turned out to look pretty good, and the professional didn’t have to do too much in order to fix it. After I finished making my hanko, I stopped for dinner at this little place known as McDonalds. I know, I know, hate on me as much as you want for eating McDonald’s in a foreign country. However, I had only 500 yen that I was willing to spend and I didn’t want to go looking for a place that was selling traditional Japanese food at 500 yen…so I ate at McDonalds. I will say that it is a lot better than American McDonalds. Here in Japan, when you order something off the menu, the item actually looks like the picture on the menu compared to when you order something and it looks like it was run over by a truck.
That pretty much concludes my past two days here, and tomorrow I start my class in Noh theatre. I can’t wait to meet everyone in my class! I know this class is about to be super intensive, but I am ready for it. The only thing I may have a problem with is sitting sezah for long periods of time.