A little over a month into our time here, and it feels like the semester is flying by. With so much that I want to see and so many places to go, we are trying to make the most of our time by exploring whenever possible.
Although classes are well underway, I only have one class each day allowing me plenty of time to go into town and find a new café, wander around the city, or go to a restaurant for some food that’s better than what the dining hall serves.
Unlike at Dillin Hall, we have only one option every night: you either eat the vegetarian entrée or the one with meat. Unfortunately, as a vegetarian, this leaves me with one choice every night. Although the quality of food is comparable to Dillin, the lack of options makes me less than enthusiastic. Like Linfield we have meal card money, aka “daily bites”, that allows us to buy food from the coffee shops, restaurants and bars on campus. This is a life saver when dinner just doesn’t sound that good, but I don’t want to leave campus or spend real money.
Last weekend we “played tourist” in Nottingham. We went to Nottingham Castle, found the Robin Hood statue and visited the oldest inn in England- Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.
If you don’t know, the legend of Robin Hood takes place in Nottingham and the Sherwood Forest. When I was still in the States and I told people that I would be in Nottingham they always mentioned Robin Hood, so I decided I had to find the statue as photographic proof that I was living where he once did. The statue is right outside the castle, which, unfortunately, is under construction until 2020.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is the oldest bar in England, established 1189 AD. It is built into the side of a cliff next to the castle and is said to be where King Richard the Lionheart and his men gathered before heading to Jerusalem. The bar has its history splattered on the walls, from swords to paintings.
During the week we also visited the Wollaton Deer Park, which is right across the street from campus. The park is amazing, with expansive grounds, a pond and a private golf course. Wollaton Hall, better known as Wayne Manor to anyone who has seen The Dark Knight Rises, houses a natural history museum. While walking the grounds, you can see herds of deer, you can sit by the pond, or if you were there when we were, you could see animatronic dinosaurs set up around the park as part of an exhibit about the Jurassic Kingdom (see picture). Needless to say, it was an amazing way to spend an afternoon and learn about the city we’re living in!
This weekend we ventured to Wales. We booked an Airbnb in a quaint town, Penperlleni, an hour bus ride from Cardiff. We had a little cottage all to ourselves, and luckily it had heat. So far on this trip, I have never been as cold as I was in Wales. Bone chilling wind and just plain cold weather kept us bundled up the whole weekend.
Friday, we made our way to Wales from Nottingham, arriving at our Airbnb eight hours after our train departed from Nottingham Station. From a three-hour train ride, missing our next train and waiting an hour and a half for the bus that would take us to Penperlleni, we were frozen and ready for a night soaking in the warmth of the cottage. A whole day of traveling in the brutal cold called for board games and fuzzy socks Friday night, so we would be ready for a day of walking around Cardiff.
Saturday we made it to Cardiff after a much shorter wait for the bus, and a better understanding of the bus system in Wales. We found cute vintage stores and used bookstores at Castle Arcade. Here I found a copy of Moby Dick and a book of poems by the Brontë sister, both of which were printed in the early 1900s.
We also went to Cardiff Castle. Located in the middle of the city, the castle has massive stone walls stretching around a large courtyard. The actual castle sits on a small hill in the center of the courtyard. You can pay to walk through the castle and around the courtyard, but we chose to just walk in as far as they let you without a ticket and then wandered around the gift shop. All weekend we marveled at the signs in Welsh trying to understand the language, but never actually figuring it out. Luckily the signs are also in English.
For now, it’s back to the books for me. Fortunately, I don’t really have homework – just reading for classes- which means more time planning my next trip.
If you have ever thought about coming to New Zealand and like me, are an outdoorsy person, you may have looked into doing a great walk. In all of New Zealand, there are a total of 10 great walks. The walks comprise of multi-day tracks that end at huts or camping grounds and are usually situated in a place with spectacular scenery. Because the great walks are sought out by people around the world, New Zealand has what’s called the Great Walks season. The season runs from October to April, when the weather is warmer, and a cost is set to however many nights you decide to stay at each hut. The great thing about being at Otago for the winter term is that it is out of the Great Walks season, meaning that the cost of staying a night at each hut is lower. Though it would add to the experience to be doing a great walk during the warmer months, the cost between the on and off season is substantially different. For international visitors, it costs about NZ$130 per night during the on-season, while it only costs NZ$15 during the offseason.
A list of Great Walks found in New Zealand can be seen here:https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/things-to-do/walking-and-tramping/great-walks/
The Kepler Track is a 3-4 day track and in total, a 60 km loop. Because we were in the colder months, the risk for avalanche in most areas of the track was higher. We also only had the weekend available since school started on Monday. The combination of these two factors led us to decide to only stay for one night on the track and not do the entire loop.
Ami, Patrick, Kevin and I started from Dock Bay and made our way to Mt Luxmore Hut. With our heavy backpacks strapped tightly to our backs, we set off along the bay. This part of the track was forested and there were multiple signs along the way warning us that we were in Kiwi territory. Within the first 10 minutes of the walk, I was already beginning to get hot and the view of people swimming in the bay did not help my want to stop and take a swim. Despite this, we swiftly moved along near the edge of the bay, only stopping once to take a swig of water before the sandflies swarmed us. About ¼ into the track, I began to notice that the track had increasingly gotten steeper. With shoulders aching and calves burning, we decided to stop and take a breather. After a couple of minutes, we set off again. We repeated this cycle multiple times along the hike. It was far more challenging than the Copland track that I had completed a few weeks ago. As the steep incline of the hike took us higher into the mountains, we were soon above the bush line and could see the tops of the trees and the view of the bay from which we started.
Tracks like this reminded me that tramping is a mental challenge just as much as it is a physical one. Just as we were about to take another break, we spotted a sign that stated that we were 20 minutes away from the hut. Once we saw this we started booking it and practically power-walked the rest of the way there. At this point, we were above the bush line and the view was absolutely stunning.
This was one of the most challenging walks I have ever done but the people and the view made it worth it.
Prague. Famous for Ice hockey and food. Just kidding its famous for more than those things, even though its food is absolutely amazing. Before we start talking about the infamous Prague lets discuss a much smaller city known as Olomouc. On our first day in the Czech Republic we visited Olomouc. Granted, this is not typically on the itinerary for this trip but Hermann had known of a former student of the AAIE that was working at the university there, so it was added. When we got there we had our first Czech meal and let me tell you something, it was DELICIOUS. Czech food is known for being very heavy, i.e. more carbs and sodium than any person should consume. But boy oh boy, it is delicious.
Later that day we visited the university and learned a little about it and where it came from. The university is called Palacky University and it is the second oldest university in the Czech Republic. It was established in 1573 and its medical school is one of the best in the Czech Republic!
That evening we went out for another delightful dinner!
The next morning we made our way to Prague. We arrived in early afternoon and headed to the hostel. Now if you plan on traveling in Europe alone, hostels are the way to go. You can chose to either be in a co-ed room ranging from all different people or just single gender. The highest bed number in most hostels are 6 beds. But the people that stay there are typically young college kids traveling and therefore you can make new friends from many different places! In Prague all 5 of us girls stayed in one room which was nice.
The first day we had an afternoon tour which lasted roughly five hours and we a large portion of the city including the Karls University and the Karls bridge. Both of these were established and built under Charles IV. Along the tour our tour guide showed us some great places to eat and drink.
The second day we headed up to the Prague Castle. An absolutely beautiful site to see. The tour again lasted about five hours, which after the first tour, was a little bit rough. However, it was enjoyable and totally worth it! Inside the castle is a beautiful church called St. Vitus Cathedral. Along with this, there is a very small street called Golden Lane. Here you can find very short houses. Yes short houses. They’re almost like the houses in the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit! Inside are tons of little shops, even ones where you can purchase beauty products made out of beer and wine (i.e lotion, shampoo etc.). Overall the whole area is a must see!
The next and last day we had another tour and then were able to have free time in the city. Later that evening, three of us group members, Tommy, Ana and I, attended an ice hockey game while the others headed back to Vienna. Why ice hokey? Well ice hockey is very big in Prague and it was probably one of the coolest experiences ever. The local team in Prague, known as Sparta ,crushed the opposing team 4 to 1! I highly recommend going to any sports games while in Europe, the experience is something different for sure!
After the game the three of us made our way back to Vienna.
Prague is definitely a must see, but there is one thing I must warn you about. there are a lot of tourists. ALOT. But don’t let that stop you from seeing this beautiful city.
It has been a hot minute since I have written a blog post, but for good reason. To be honest not much has happened in the last three weeks. At least nothing too interesting to write about!
First of all, I am composing this blog post on Thursday October 25th, which means it is week thirteen. In translation, this is my last week of classes before exams. Tomorrow is my last class at JCU, ever…. It is absolutely crazy to think how time has past me with a blink of an eye. Over the past three weeks the only two significant things worth talking about are Val Ball and Castle Hill. The rest of my time I have been studying and writing papers. After everyone returned from lecture recess classes got more intense and required less time relaxing on the beach and more time in the library studying.
Val Ball, which stands for Valedictorian Ball was October 6th. This is where our dorm, Uni Hall, celebrated all of the people (valedictorians) that are moving off Uni Hall next year. It is also used to recognize and award all of the RA’s and our Senior RA for their amazing work over the past year. This was a time for all of us to dress fancy and wear heels and celebrate. It was almost like prom. We picked our table group of ten people and we were served a two course meal, in addition to an open bar of champagne, wine and beer. Val Ball was such a fun experience because it reminded me of my high school prom experiences and it was fun to get dressed up and see everyone so well put together. After Val was over, all of us changed into regular going out outfits and went to town all together.
This past Tuesday Dena and I took a bus into town to climb Castle Hill. Castle Hill is a massive rock in the middle of Townsville. You can either climb or drive up it but it leads to a beautiful view of the city. Hundreds of people visit Castle Hill every day. It is a very popular place to get a great workout it considering it is a massive steep hill. Dena and I met up with Will, one of our friends we met in our hostel in Byron Bay. He stayed in Townsville for two days and we were glad we could meet up with him. Castle Hill is one of the main things to do in Townsville, so it was a “right of passage” to take Will up to the top (even though Dena and I hadn’t done it yet). Always, we went up around sunset and even though it was a bit of a difficult climb it was absolutely worth it. Unfortunately we didn’t get the best view of the sunset because of some clouds and the sun was almost already set but below is a photo from Google so you can get the idea of how beautiful it is.
Overall, even though these past few weeks have been pretty slow with school work, this upcoming week is SWOTVAC. SWOTVAC is the study week before exams. Most of us Americans tend to travel around this time. Dena and I are headed north up to Cairns and that’s what my next blog post will be about, until then…
Since arriving in Quito my life has seemed to be such a world wind but I could not be happier. In the beginning, I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say the most nerve racking part about coming to Ecuador was when our group arrived in Quito and we had to go our own ways to meet our host families for the first time. These nerves didn’t last long at all after I was welcomed with a big hug from my host mom and a host brother who offered to take my bags for me. From the very moment I met my host family I knew right away that I was going to feel right at home. After my first night in Quito my family has had nothing but kind, caring and understanding attitudes that really helped take stress off me in the first couple weeks. I also think the fact that they remind me of my big and outgoing family back in the states is a bonus because it really makes me feel like part of the family.
Once our group had attended a long orientation and our classes started, we began to settle into our new life in the big Ecuadorian city of Quito. At first the routine of public transportation and full spanish immersion was a bit overwhelming. The staring eyes everywhere I went took a little while to get used to as well, especially when I was still trying to figure out my way around the city. Now that it has been a couple of weeks I would say that I am super confident in my routine here in Ecuador. A typical day for me includes classes Monday-Thursday usually finishing around 4:00pm. To get to and from my University in Cumbaya I take 3 buses each costing $0.25 and taking me about 1hr 15m. Luckily, I have since met an ecuadorian friend who lives nearby and can drive me sometimes which only takes 25-30 min to get to school, saving me time and money.
Ecuabuddies is one of the programs here to meet and interact with ecuadorian students. The Linfield group and I have had some fun times with ecuabuddies, especially the pickup fútbol games on wednesdays, but I still felt I was missing the raw immersion. One of my biggest fears about coming to Ecuador was not being able to immerse myself enough into the culture and the people here, but I have figured out a couple ways to branch out since then. First thing I did was take an extra art class that won’t count towards my Majors but allowed me to have a class with full ecuadorian students, unlike my other classes that were all for international students. Considering that I am not that shy of a person I also decided to join the salsa club on campus, allowing me to meet some really fun, interesting people and practices my already awesome dancing skills. Last, I just decided to just step out of my comfort zone and try as much as I could.My decision to ask a girl I didn’t know for help with my computer has gained me a bunch of ecuadorian friends here in Ecuador and has really made my time here that much more amazing.
Although the first couple of weeks were time for us to settle into our new home, we still found time to do some pretty amazing things. Our program provided us with a trip to centre historico in Quito. I was excited because I knew that Quito was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I knew it was going to be beautiful. Here we got to visit an indigenous museum, Basilica del Voto Nacional, plaza de la independencia and the fully plated gold church of San Francisco, Quito. The entire Linfield group also planned to visit Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) together. First we stopped at the huge monument placed in 1736 by the French Geodesic Mission then we went to the current location 250 meters away in the rad Museo de sitio intiñan. I am not going to brag but I was the only one that could balance an egg on the equator. Next up was the Ecuador vs. Columbia soccer match. I am so glad I was able to have this experience. The energy was unlike any game I have ever been too I will probably go back to another, but next time learn the lyrics to the famous song they sing “Yo te diré.” Last I want to wrap up this post talking about my amazing experience taking the TeléferiQo and submitting the 4696m high Rucu Pichincha Volcano. I am not going to lie when I say that this hike was probably one of the hardest hikes I have ever done. It also probably didn’t help that I was not super adjusted to the high altitude of Quito yet but, I will say that this hike was 100% worth it. I love hiking back home in the states so, having the opportunity to hike such a beautiful new place and have a view of a volcano and Quito was a vision I won’t forget.
I can not believe the amazing time I am having here. I think that its been filled with such rich adventure that I never got the time to be homesick. I really believe that I am learning so much and growing as a person. I am so blessed to be able to have these experiences and I will not take them for granted. Although my time seems to be going by so fast, I am trying to embrace every part of it. If you want to continue with my crazy adventures in Ecuador, you can look forward to hearing about the beach, the amazon forest and the Galapagos islands! So until then…
Now that I had gotten my first ever tramping experience over with, I was feeling very confident to plan one without the help of the tramping club. From the mid-semester break, I had also made the realization that I loved camping and wanted to go on more camping trips with friends.
The Catlins is an area about two hours south of Dunedin. Many people, especially surfers, travel there during the weekends because of its popular surf spots. Plus, with its close proximity to Otago, it was an easy trip to make. Me and three of my friends, Jen, Sam, and Ailisa, decided to plan a spontaneous girls trip to the Catlins. We loaded the car with our sleeping bags, tents, and most importantly, hummus, crackers, and chocolate, and set-off on our two-hour journey to the Catlins.
We arrived at Purakaunui, a popular camping spot in the Catlins, close to dark, and most of everyone there had already set up their tents and made their fires. Ailisa, who had camped there previously, showed us the perfect camping spot that was already equipped with a bench and fire pit, and high cliffs that shielded us from the wind. It was a clear sky, and the moon was bright enough that we could still see the waves and cliffs in the distance. Ailisa ventured off to look for more firewood, as we had only bought one bag of kindling, and the rest of us began making dinner. For dinner, we made bacon and pesto pasta topped with cheese. Though the bacon ended up more boiled than crisped, it was still a delicious meal and we were all very proud that we had not opted out for buying already-made food. We sat near the fire, eating our pesto pasta, sharing sweets, listening to music, and talking. We joked about how brave we were to go camping without a big group of people and laughed at the struggles we faced as girls peeing in the wilderness. When our conversations about life died down, we simply looked up at the stars and moon and then decided to head to bed.
Like any time I’ve gone camping, I’ve always tried to wake up for the sunrise. Keyword: “tried” because sometimes we’re all too tired or an alarm just doesn’t go off to wake us up. This was one of those times. However, we still awoke to the sun still low near the horizon. We walked along the beach then packed up our camping gear and headed out to explore the rest of the Catlins. As we were leaving, we could spot a group of five surfers running into the surf and more vans had pulled up to the beach to scope out the waves.
We spent the rest of the day exploring Purakaunui Falls, Curio Bay, and Nugget Point.
Overall, the Catlins is a beautiful destination in the South Island. I would suggest anyone who decides to study abroad at Otago to spend a weekend here, especially since it’s so close to home.
After seeing the most pristine places along the west coast of the South Island, I felt eager to explore the rest of what the South Island had to offer. I was so excited to return home in Dunedin. It was the first time I realized that I could comfortably call Dunedin home and after being on a bus with fifty other people, sleeping in tents, and jumping from hostel to hostel, I could not wait to be in my own, comfortable, warm apartment. However, my eagerness to be home did not last long and I soon began planning a trip up to the northeast of the South Island to Kaikoura. That Friday, me and a friend I met on the tramping trip started our drive to Kaikoura. The seven-hour drive was accompanied by easy New Zealand tunes, views of sheep (you would not believe how many sheep are actually in New Zealand), and talks of how much we were enjoying our time in Dunedin.
Kaikoura is a town located up north from Dunedin where the beaches are scattered with seals, surfers, and paua shells. The town of Kaikoura is a unique one in that an earthquake had caused destruction to roads and other infrastructure in the area back in 2016. The earthquake was so huge that the construction of the roads is still going on today. What’s even more impressive is the seabed rose a few meters above sea level. Given this recent history, the drive there involved multiple construction stops along the way. Though, it gave us a chance to really see the effects of how this earthquake changed the landscape of this town.
Upon arrival, the sun was setting behind the clouds and our friends who we were to be meeting were gathering firewood for the night. After setting up our tent, my friend Miguel proudly showed me his bench that he had made over the past week that he had been there. In reality, it looked like a pile of rocks, but it worked as the perfect place to watch the waves and sit near the warm fire. As the sun went down, we sat around the fire cooking our meals for the evening and sharing drinks.
The next morning, I awoke to the sun shining through my tent and the sound of waves crashing along the shore. That day, my friend Mia and I did a walk along the Kaikoura coast, all while spotting seals along the way. We then decided to explore the town centre which was simply one strip of road filled with knick-knack shops, cafes, and OpShops. I took this time to search for gifts for my family back at home and even snagged a $2 book from an OpShop.
The rest of the two days that we were there, we simply sat, lay, and relaxed along the beach reading our books and watching the boys surf. It reminded me that it’s okay to not be constantly doing something when you’re abroad. After talking to other people about this subject, we all seemed to share the same feeling. Because we are abroad and have a limited time in the country that we are studying at, we were constantly feeling that we had to plan trips every moment we could. While spending those relaxing couple of days in Kaikoura, I realized that it was important to take a few days off of exploring and adventuring. During that weekend, I was able to finish the book I had bought and reflect upon my semester abroad thus far.
We fly back home to the U.S. in less than two months and coming to that realization in the last week has made me feel more internally conflicted than I ever thought was possible. Last spring when I sat in my study abroad orientation class and listened to my tutors tell me to cherish every second of the semester because if flies by in an instant, I didn’t understand the gravity of their sentiment. I can’t believe my experience here is over half way over.
On one hand, the thought of going back to the familiarity of home right in time for Christmas fills me with glee. I do miss my family and my friends and my house and Linfield and my dog a lot, after all.
The one thing about this new Chile study abroad program is that, since it’s Linfield’s first one, none of us really knew what to expect. Mel and I were told to pick up our visas in San Francisco and to wait for someone named Florencia to pick us up at the Santiago international airport upon our arrival. Other than that, we had no plans and no expectations.
Since then we’ve obviously figured a lot of stuff out, like our class schedules and how to maneuver around the city, but I can’t help but feel one step behind most of the time. This is probably mostly due to the language barrier, but nonetheless, I am excited to be back in a place where I, like, have a general idea of what’s going on most of the time.
But leaving this beautiful place and the loving people in it is something I’m absolutely dreading. Everyone I’ve met here- my host parents, my physical education major friends, my tutors, my Basque and French extranjeros, my host brothers and their friends, my advisor Florencia and her family- have made this place home. A year ago I never thought I’d have a home in central Chile.
So how can I leave my home in seven and a half short weeks, just as my Spanish is starting to improve more rapidly and just as I’m becoming closer with my Chilean friends and family? I know I can’t avoid the inevitable, and I know I can’t up and leave everything I have and everything I’ve worked for in the U.S. But part of me doesn’t ever want to leave, so the fact that I have to scares me.
I am not even close to seeing all that this country and this continent have to offer, but I suppose the traveling I have done and the home that Chile’s created for me are invaluable, and something that will be a part of me for the rest of my life.
In my last two months I’ve decided to stress less and live more, because this journey is already half way behind me.
It’s hard to believe that I have been in Cape Town for a month, whaaaat? Time has passed faster than I thought possible and I have had plenty of experiences, both positive and challenging.
To be honest, the start of my experience was rough. I got on the plane feeling a bit congested (not the ideal way to start 22 hours of flying time) and when I landed in Johannesburg, one of my bags was missing. Later when I got settled in my flat, the power went out so my first night I showered in the dark and after my phone had died, laid in bed wondering what I’d gotten myself into. To cap it off, my second day I felt the beginnings of a cold and spent the next 3 weeks sick with that virus and who knows how many others. I seem to have caught a break now after a bout of the flu and am expecting to return to the US with an incredibly fortified immune system. Besides being sick, there were the obvious adjustments I had to make, like handling a different $ system, new schedule, as well as adapting to co-habitating with 9 other people.
That being said, I have loved being here more than I thought possible. I have gotten to try great food, connected with people from all over, immersed myself in a new industry, and have seen incredible views. I had no idea South Africa was this beautiful and I’m loving every bit of what I have seen. Here are some memorable snippets from the past month:
All in all, it’s been a memorable month and I am excited to see what’s next. I’ll soon be assisting at our Oktoberfest event and starting planning for a street festival. See you in a few weeks!
Konnichiwa! It is hard to believe that I am at the halfway point of my time abroad in Japan. Being at the halfway point means I have experienced a lot! Recently, we have started our teaching assistant program at a nearby junior high school that is part of the Kanto Gakuin system. We assist a teacher in an English class and help the students learn English. On Tuesdays, we teach the high school grade 4 level class and on Thursdays we have a casual English lunch break in the English lounge where we talk with the students in English. After that, we help teach the junior high school grade 1 level class. To be quite honest, I wasn’t looking forward to be a TA for an English class at first because English was not one of my strong subjects in high school. Luckily, I reached out to some of my former high school teachers and they gave me strong words of encouragement to be patient and keep it simple. I especially need to have lots of patience because in the grade 4 class, some are not as interested in learning the English language. Some are sleeping, or talking to their friends. The grade 1 class on the other hand, are very energetic and interested in learning the subject. But at times, it can be hard to teach them since they are very noisy.
Now, this post will not be like the others because as much fun studying abroad seems, it will not look like a picture-perfect experience at times (and that’s OK). I will share those challenges that I (as well as others) have encountered during my time in Japan as they are considered learning experiences.
#1 The Language Barrier- this for me is the biggest challenge in Japan since the Japanese language is one of the most difficult languages in the world. In fact, the other Linfield students have said that the language barrier was the most difficult as well. Vanessa Kelly said that with the language barrier, you are “not able to say what you want to say.” Edna Poton mentioned that “it has stopped her from asking questions that she wanted to ask and continuing conversations. In Japan, there is more intricate vocabulary that catches us off guard at times.” I totally agree with both since they are mentioning similar points. In Japan, there are many levels of talking based on rank and statuses of people; ex. boss to his subordinates. Especially in Japan, you have to be very careful when speaking to someone higher than you because there is respectful language called keigo (honorific.) There are also different tense endings that are used when talking about past, present, and future. Even when speaking to friends/host family during a conversation, it is hard to continue the conversation especially when there is a word you don’t know the meaning of, yet you have so much to talk about. Often when I come across a word I don’t understand, most conversations are left open-ended.
And sometimes there are things I really want to talk about that I am able to in English, but many times I don’t know the meaning in Japanese, so I try my best to keep it simple. My perspective on the language barrier is that it is taking a while for me to get through. Sometimes, I feel intimidated when someone is talking to me in fluent Japanese, and I can’t understand a word at all. It also takes a lot of energy for me to speak the language especially there are times when I want to use English. If I am in an uncomfortable situation and someone is trying to help me, I completely shut down and unable to try to speak Japanese. Not a lot of people speak English in Japan, so it sounds very foreign to me and I have to fend for myself. Not only is there the language barrier in Japanese, there are also barriers from other languages. There are many international students from other countries such as Russia, China, and Taiwan. The positive aspect is that it makes the study abroad experience more diverse, but there is also a negative aspect in my opinion. English may not be their first language, so the only way to communicate is to use Japanese, or somehow find a way to learn their native language. In a way, it creates a double language barrier As you read on, you will find that the language barrier can play a role in the other challenges that I talk about.
#2 Standing Out- This is another major challenge that I have noticed in Japan. In the country, a majority of the population is Japanese/Asian. Very few are either white, hafu, (half-Japanese), etc. and that includes mostly tourists. For the two other Linfield students in my group, they easily stand out due to their ethnicity with one being white and other Latino. In my case, it is a little different. Since I am Japanese, I have a Japanese last name and I look Japanese. Therefore, people expect me to know Japanese. However, not being fluent and knowing little about the cultural habits makes me stand out as a 外国人(foreigner). There is a Japanese proverb that says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Japan is a group-oriented society meaning that everyone has to conform to the cultural norms. If one does not conform accidentally, Japanese people really notice, and act very emotional about it. That is why, I have to be careful when blending in with society so that they don’t know I am a 外国人.
#3 Typhoons- In my hometown of Hawaii, we have hurricane season but in Japan, there is typhoon season. The season lasts between May and October, with August and September being the peak season. During a typhoon, there are strong winds and heavy rain showers hitting Japan. Typhoons can impact many things including delays in the rail lines. There have been a few typhoons since arriving, and I remember experiencing one that hit close to my area. One night, I remember the room shaking in my homestay as the wind speeds were about 46 miles per hour, plus the power went out. I was feeling worried as the room kept shaking since this the first time I felt wind speeds at a very high level. Luckily, it happened close to my bedtime and I was safe after that. But it was a scary experience for me.
#4- Making Friends- I remember this point being mentioned by a former Linfield student that studied abroad in the same program. In Japan, people tend to be very shy so you have to make the move instead of them coming to you. I recently interviewed one of the KGU professors for my Japanese culture class, and he is also from Hawaii. He mentioned that in Japanese culture, they are more patient and willing to wait unlike the Hawaiian culture where they are more welcoming. In my case, it makes it really difficult when trying to do things during my free time and there are two reasons. One, is that I am an introverted person so I am shy as well. And two, there is that language barrier once again which makes me unable to say what I want to say to the Japanese students.
#5- Transportation/Getting Around- For me, this has to be the second biggest challenge during my experience. In Japan, the rail systems are the most reliable form of transportation for everybody. I mentioned this a little bit in my first blog that the trains can get really crowded especially during rush hour. You will find many people such as businessmen/women and school students riding at the same time. At times, it can get so crowded that you feel like you are in a can of sardines. Before coming to Japan, I heard that there are some instances where the train station attendants have to push people to fit in the train, but I have not seen that yet. There are also times when there are no seats available that you have to stand during the whole ride, and it can make you feel dizzy. And, as part of the cultural norm, you have to give up your seat to elderly, disabled, or infant-carrying passengers. Unlike McMinnville, Yokohama is a really big city and it can be hard to get around especially if you don’t know where you are going. I unfortunately got lost a couple times trying to get around. The first time was when I was trying to get to my homestay from school by bus. It seems that I kept taking the wrong bus that were heading in the opposite direction of where I was going. I tried to ask the drivers as best as I can, but I couldn’t understand them. Up to a certain point, I gave up on the bus and took the train instead since it was more convenient. I realized soon after that I was at the wrong bus stop, and I was going by the bus number and not the destination of where it was going. Luckily, the International Center staff helped me the next day by showing me the correct bus stop, and I even wrote the destinations down so I don’t confuse them. The second time happened recently on last week Thursday. This time, it was involving the train. I was supposed to go to the Tokyo Stock Exchange for an economics field trip. What happened was I went to the correct platform that the station attendant told me to go, but what I did not realize is that there is more than one train using that platform regardless of what the sign says. So the platform said to Haneda Airport, but I was supposed to go on a train that was headed to Aoto and was the limited express to Tokyo. That resulted in a series of wrong directions, and I never ended up near Tokyo at all. Therefore, I missed the field trip which feels like missing a big opportunity to experience. After that, I felt humiliated, disappointed, upset, and a little bit traumatized. Especially since this was the second time I got lost, I felt like I let the KGU International Center, my classmates, and my professor down. I didn’t even want to go to class the next day or talk to anyone since I blew it! What also made this more complicated was my poor Japanese language speaking ability. Again, when someone is trying to explain directions to me, I just block it out because I don’t understand a single word (plus they don’t speak English). Now that fall break is approaching, I still feel anxious of getting lost again as that memory haunts me.
Because of these challenges I have encountered, Japan still feels like a foreign country to me. Most of the time, I listen to music just to ease my worries. I have also reached out to the KGU International Center, Linfield College IPO, and my host family for support. They all understand the challenges I have been going through. Most of the time, it feels like I am the only one still struggling to get used to Japan, and the others already gotten used to it. On the positive side, the food is really good and because Japan is so fascinating, I feel like I don’t want to go back home. Already, I have gotten an email about course registrations coming soon, and it will be hard to get back to reality once I come back in the spring.
I hope that people that want to study abroad in the future will take-away from this post that you will tend to make a lot mistakes, and that is ok. It will take a while to get used to a new country, just like how we had to get used to being on our own at the beginning of our college career. At times, we may have mixed feelings when dealing with unknown situations, especially when the cultural norms are different. If you ever need help, you can always ask someone, they are willing to guide you. At this point, I am not ready to give up on my journey, and neither should you. If I had offended anyone who is reading this post, I am very sorry. がんばって!（do your best!)