VPO 2017

The Travels and Reality of Griff
Griffin Salyer
Virginia Program at Oxford
England 2017

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
used to?

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.

My thoughts.
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.

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
Japan Blog 5
I just finished my class here in Tokyo and I couldn’t be more upset. Before I get into the performance I had yesterday I want to look back at the days leading up to the performance. Every day we chanted Gekkyuden and danced our respective shimais for hours. We practiced the shoulder drum until our hands went numb and sat seiza until our legs couldn’t support our body weight anymore.

Performing the Takasago the day before the performance during dress rehearsal.

Performing the Takasago the day before the performance during dress rehearsal.

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.

Oshima sensei and I

Oshima sensei and I

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.

Oshima sensei opening a sake barrel.

Oshima sensei opening a sake barrel.

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.

VPO 2017

The Travels and Reality of Griff
Griffin Salyer
Virginia Program at Oxford
England 2017


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!


Japan 2017

Japan Blog 4
I apologize for waiting a week to write one of these blogs but to be perfectly honest; I have been extremely tired after class to do anything, much less be witty on the web and write about the bad decisions I make while abroad. So, the past week has been a tough one. The pair of hakama that I bought turned out to be too small for me and I was out 40 dollars until someone in the class who did fit into them bought them off of me. My sensei also thinks that I am the best kotsozumi player in the men’s group, so guess what I get to do this coming Friday…that’s right; I get to lead the male group in playing the shoulder drum in front of an audience. Even better news is that I graduated from the Seiobo dance to the Takasago dance!
Here is a quick break down of the story for Takasago; Takasago is about a god who is a pine tree who disguises himself along with his lover as an elderly couple sweeping the pine needles around the pine tree that is his wife. The other main character; a Buddhist priest asks the old couple about the lover pine trees (two pine trees separated by a river who lean toward each other showing that they are in love with one another). The old man tells him the story of the two pine trees being gods and alludes to him and his wife being the two gods of the pine trees before disappearing. Takasago reappears in his true form as a young god and sings about the pine trees, his lover and everlasting love. I dance as Takasago in his true form, as a god. It is a quick dance, but there is a lot of singing which makes it kind of hard to perform, but I have picked it up relatively quickly and love this dance a whole lot more because there are quite a few stamps and it is a huge ego boost to be dancing as a young and powerful god.
I also have started memorizing a chant known as Gekkyuden, which I will perform on the main stage this coming Friday. It is a strong piece about long life and wishing the best for the emperor. Gekkyuden can be sung at weddings and it is considered very good luck if sung for the happy couple. If anybody would like this to be sung at their wedding, I am available for weddings and birthday parties…just email me, I charge 500 dollars for entertainment to be paid in cash up front…just kidding…but seriously, I am available.

In my dragon yukata on the main stage of the Keita School.

In my dragon yukata on the main stage of the Keita School.

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.

Sunrise over Tokyo after our adventures in the gay district.

Sunrise over Tokyo after our adventures in the gay district.

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.

Me putting on a mask before my Takasago dance (note this is not the mask to be used for the dance, this was just for practice. This mask would be used for the Seiobo dance)

Me putting on a mask before my Takasago dance (note this is not the mask to be used for the dance, this was just for practice. This mask would be used for the Seiobo dance).

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

Making a wish at the Tanabata Festival.

Making a wish at the Tanabata Festival.

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 2017

Quinn Sipes

Japan Blog #3


Chanting Gekkyuden in seize position.

Chanting Gekkyuden in seize position.

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.

shimai for Seiobo

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.

Learning kotsuzumi

Learning kotsuzumi

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.

The busy street in Harajuku.

The busy street in Harajuku.

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.

Giant panda at Ueno Zoo.

Giant panda at Ueno Zoo.

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!

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
Japan Blog
It has been two days since my last blog post and already so much has happened! First off, I would like to say that the crazy and overwhelming city of Tokyo is now easier to navigate after I wised up. Now, before I leave, I look up the address of the places I want to go while I have Wi-Fi and then screenshot the map and the directions to get to that place. I also have decided to just let the whirlwind that is Tokyo, take me to where I need to go rather than try to control it and live by the idea that “it happens.”
Other good news is that some of my money has been deposited and I can’t convey to you just how happy I am! I was so worried that I would have to make about 100 dollars stretch for 3 weeks, which would more than likely be impossible in a city where one dish usually averages 10 USD. But, I have money now and I am eating more than one meal every two days, and my goodness the food here is so delicious!
One of the things that I was looking forward to the most, when I was preparing to go to Japan, was to visit Shinto and Buddhist Shrines and Temples. I had the privilege to visit a shrine relatively close to where I live. The shrine known as Meiji-Jingu is a Shinto shrine located in Yoyogi Park right in the center of Tokyo’s famous Harajuku. The shrine, encased by a huge park that drowns out the sounds of modern day Tokyo, makes anyone who visits feel like they are in a rural Japanese town. The towering skyscrapers around the area are replaced by huge trees, and the sound of Tokyo traffic is replaced with the sounds of the birds and crickets.

Meijijingu Shrine- purifying my hands before entering.

Meiji-Jingu Shrine, purifying my hands before entering.

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.

My Zabuton

My Zabuton

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!


Senso-Ji in front of the temple and incense burner

Senso-Ji in front of the temple and incense burner

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 Hanko

My Hanko

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.

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
I arrived in Japan extremely jet lagged and confused. My flights went over without many problems. It was a 13 hour flight from Toronto to Tokyo and I ended up staying awake the whole flight because the guy behind me decided to knee me in the back every few minutes. Luckily I was able to power through and saw that by staying up the whole flight would help me get onto Tokyo time.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

I travelled to the heart of Tokyo in Shinjuku to sign over my life to Sakura House and receive my keys to my house near Yoyogi Hatichiman Station. I originally got off at the wrong station…actually I went on the wrong train line all together. To say that my brain was fried when I arrived is an understatement. While trying to navigate the train stations in Tokyo is hard enough; picture following signs that are in both English and Japanese but then suddenly turn into solely Japanese, during rush hour in Tokyo’s busiest train station with one hiking backpack and one suitcase weighing approximately 15 pounds and 26 pounds respectively. I was in total sensory overload and everything moved so fast that I had a really hard time trying to keep up!
I finally made it to my room and quickly unpacked while also stripping down to wash the grime of 24 hours of travel and 3 hours of Tokyo train hopping off. After getting comfortable in the quiet neighborhood where I will be spending the next month I quickly slipped into a coma. When I woke up I met my two roommates; one from Hawaii and the other from Tunisia. I woke up at about 5 am in Tokyo time and went outside to explore the area I now live in. Now comes literally all my advice; to make it easier to digest they will be listed below:
1. Nothing is open at 5 am in Tokyo, especially in a quiet residential area filled with elderly people and children.
2. Take out enough Yen in cash because card isn’t accepted everywhere.
3. Make sure you have enough money before coming here! (I do have enough, but I am actually waiting on it to all come through so I have to budget literally everything!
4. Don’t wander with no sense of direction…(I walked about 4.5 km in a big circle because I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going).
5. Before you leave write down as much information about the places you need to go, in case google maps and your phone decide to be dead weight (you guessed it I am going into this month long experience completely blind).
6. Watch what others do and just copy them, until you figure out what to do in certain situations.
7. Walk on the left! And on escalators you stand on the left walk on the right.
8. Wait in line for the subway and trains…don’t rush into the car!(this one came a little naturally for me, during rush hour everyone was in a line so it was easy to just follow behind).
9. Learn the language!! I can’t stress that one enough! I have 0 experience with this language that has 3 alphabets and sounds absolutely foreign when people are speaking (obviously it will be foreign…good observation Quinn…).
10. Buy a Passmo or start walking (a Passmo/Suica card is what gets you on the trains, subways, metros, and bus lines throughout Tokyo and other parts of Japan. Pass up a Passmo and you may as well just start walking because buying tickets at every stop is a real big hassle).
The above points are only some of my advice…if I added anymore it would be a sensory overload and I can’t do that to you. I got very lost the first full day in Tokyo.

Meguro shopping area

Meguro shopping area

I started walking in one direction hoping that if I got super lost I could consult Google Maps to get me back on track. However, my phone is not supported in Japan even if I bought a Japanese SIM card. I guess that’s what I get for getting some bootleg off brand smart phone. Also Japan is sorely lacking in its ability to provide free Wi-Fi so be prepared to buy a mobile hotspot if you really need it (like me). I somehow got from my house to where my class will be held at the Kita Nohgakudo in Meguro, a Tokyo neighborhood about 20 minutes from where I live, to Ikebukoro which is about an hour from where I live! How did I get there? I have no clue! Luckily I made it back to my house at about 8 pm and ate my first meal in two days: a cold soba noodle with tea from the 7/11 down the street from the station near my house.
After these past few days, I am so exhausted from all my walking and getting lost I really wish I studied this language a little bit more. I think when the class starts in a few days I should be okay as I will be in class for like 12 hours a day from 10 am to 10 pm with like a two hour break. I plan on doing a little more exploring, but maybe less spending until my outstanding checks make their way into my account! Until I go on another crazy adventure in a land where I am hardly in tune with the culture or language or direction of things, I guess that means tomorrow, have a wonderful day filled with a whole lot less confusion than mine! If you want to see pictures of the craziness that is Tokyo follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

Traveling Abroad with Biosecurity Internship

Patrick Woolwine ’17

September 09, 2016

For the second consecutive summer, Patrick Woolwine ’17, a foreign affairs major from Fairfax, Virginia, has worked as a global security researcher for the defense contracting firm Cubic Global Defense. The firm directly supports the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program of the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under the Department of Defense.

Patrick’s team travels all over the world to protect national security and to engage and assist foreign governments with achieving their international obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention. This summer, Patrick traveled to Manila, Philippines, to attend a national biological materials-of-concern write-shop for that country’s government. The two-day event was hosted by the Biological Risk Association Philippines in partnership with the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. This program made recommendations for beginning to establish a regulatory mechanism for biosecurity and created a preliminary list of biological materials that pose a security threat to humans, animals, or plants.

He says his liberal arts education is entirely relevant to this kind of work, “I have to consider written foreign and national security policy, as well as the science behind what drives the establishment of that policy and the regulatory mechanisms those policies create.”

His work with DTRA inspired his senior thesis in foreign affairs. “I argue that the U.S. government, through DTRA, should establish bioethics programs in the rising biotech countries in South America in order to establish biosafety and biosecurity in laboratories as a means of protecting National Security.”

Patrick will complete his requirements for graduation in December and begin working fulltime with Cubic Global Defense as a global security analyst working in the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program.

Patrick Woolwine '17 at national biological materials-of-concern write-shop

Building Communities in Uganda

September 01, 2016

Hunter Williams ’20

Hunter Williams '20 with a child in Uganda

Some callings are so strong that you end up going back to them. For Hunter Williams ’20, that calling was Sozo Children in Kampala, Uganda. This summer, Hunter made his second humanitarian trip to help children in the capital of the small East-African nation.

Sozo Children is a Christian non-profit organization building a permanent community for Ugandan orphans and impoverished children. This community, called The Village, is currently under construction on 28 acres near Kampala. Sozo Children has already dug two wells and will soon build homes in The Village to replace the facilities they now rent. The community will implement a sustainability program that feeds and regenerates the homes while teaching the children life skills.

Hunter reflected on his time in Uganda, where he assisted with daily schooling and extracurricular activities. “They like you to think you’re doing more for the kids, but it’s not true. You get way more from [the experience] than the kids.”

There’s more to Hunter than his mission work, however. Born in Washington and raised in Alabama, he played baseball in high school. He is serious about his academics and at Hampden-Sydney is a member of the Freshman Leadership Program and the Honors Program. The decision on where to go was very important to Hunter.

“Originally, I was like ‘no way am I going to an all-male college’ but after doing a lot of research and talking to [Assistant Dean of Admissions] Michael Lee ’14, I gave it some consideration.” The real deciding factor for Hunter came when he asked Lee to find an alumnus in New York who went to an elite MBA program, preferably Ivy League, who now works in financial services. Lee served his request in just an hour and a half. Hunter noted “you can’t get that kind of experience or a similar alumni network anywhere else.”

Hunter is excited about his time on the Hill – in and out of the classroom – and looking forward to pursuing an MBA next. As for his participation with the Sozo Children – he promised them he would return for a third visit one day.

Finding Confidence in Prague

September 05, 2016

Tyler Langhorn ’17

Many students who travel abroad for study or work use that opportunity to explore far beyond their base. Others though, like government major Tyler Langhorn ’17, immerse themselves in their new community and try to live like the locals.

Tyler is from Roanoke, Virginia, but spent his summer working as an intern at the Fulbright Commission in Prague, Czech Republic. He spent his days conducting English-language evaluations of Czech students wanting to study in the United States. However, he spent his nights in a kolej kajetenka, a building that houses both a hotel and college dorm, sharing a suite with a 28-year old Nigerian.

Tyler and Damir

Tyler and Damir

He ate in cafes along the river and took long walks through the city, usually searching for a unique hamburger. During a desperate attempt to find a place where he could get a haircut late one afternoon, he met Damir, a world-class hair stylist who would become one of his best friends in Prague.

Tyler says, “Spending time with local residents led to many amazing conversations and friendships.”

During his last night in Prague, his supervisor at the Fulbright Commission invited him to dine at his home with his family. They made traditional goulash and dumplings, which Tyler says he proudly made for his own family back in Virginia.

Living on his own for the first time also led to maturity and confidence. “I’ve always shown confidence but not always really had confidence. I became more confident in my confidence.”


Tyler Langhorn '17 speaks with the US ambassador in Prague

Tyler Langhorn ’17 speaks with the US ambassador in Prague

Government and Foreign Affairs Professor James Pontuso was the person who approached Tyler about working at the Fulbright Commission. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the early 1990s and has been responsible for sending a Hampden-Sydney College student to intern in Prague every summer since 1994.

“I try to send the children who I think will benefit most from the experience,” says Pontuso. “Tyler is a great guy, really tries hard but has no world experience. I wanted him to benefit from that. The Czech students get a lot out of it, too. They really like meeting American students.”

Tyler, who also helped Czech students with U.S. graduate school admissions essays, agrees: “In their mind, coming to America is a lynch pin in their success. So many people wanted to come to the U.S. because they all saw it as opportunity.”

The experience was a tremendous opportunity for Tyler as well. “I learned how blessed I am to be an American. I realized I want to travel more in the United States.” And that is just what he intends to do. After graduation in the spring, Tyler is moving to Southern California to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

Until then, he will enjoy his last year at Hampden-Sydney going to Pontuso’s class, debating at Union-Philanthropic Society, socializing at the Minority Student Union, and broadcasting on Tiger Radio.