Olivia in Sweden: Ducks and a Birthday!

April 3, 2017

I have been sick this past week so I haven’t been as active as I’ve wanted to be.

However, I was able to briefly enjoy the last bit of snow with some friends I made.

 

 

A herd of ducks swarmed me down by the river. What a delight!

 

I also couldn’t miss a birthday dinner with my international friend from Japan. We decided to give her a taste of home and took her to Yukiko’s Sushi, a popular restaurant here in Uppsala.

 

 

When we got home there will still surprises to be had! Look at this beautiful cake adorned by friends.

On the cake is written: Happy birthday Haruna! (in Swedish, of course!)

 

 

Hopefully, I’ll be better soon.

 

Til next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Flogsta Cat and Chocolate!

March 14, 2017

I’ve met a celebrity here in Sweden!

His name is Ingefära, which means “ginger” in Swedish.

 

 

He is a cat that lives here in Flogsta and he is known for traveling. He even published a book about his travels and he’s only 2 years old! What were you doing when you were 2?

 

 

We were pleasantly surprised to open the elevator door outside our corridor only to find him waiting inside! We played with him, fed him, and provided him time to sleep before he took off on his next journey. I look forward to seeing him again.

 

 

Since he’s been gone, I’ve kept myself busy with a new job. Last week was my turn to take out the trash! Sweden is very environmentally conscious and we have 6 different containers depending on the type of trash being disposed of: plastic packaging, colored glass, metal packaging, newspaper, cardboard, and clear glass.

Looking forward to not having to deal with that for a while!

 

 

Thankfully I didn’t have to spend too much time wallowing over Ingefära’s absence or my trash duty. Last weekend, a nation hosted a “Chocolate Gallop” with over 40 different chocolate treats. We arrived late but were still able to make off with some delicious treats. Woo-hoo! Until next time!

 


Karaoke and the Flogsta Chef!

March 1, 2017

img_4366

 

There is a stereotype that Swedes are very reserved and don’t like to let loose. Au contraire! Saturday night, some friends and I trekked to the nearest karaoke bar! Volunteers sang many hits that were very familiar to my American ears. I also heard some Swedish songs that all of the locals seemed to know! Very talented performers remain to be discovered in little Uppsala.

 

 

I, of course, am one of them. Before I get embarrassed and take this video down, take a peek at us revolutionizing “Oops!…I did it again!” by the incomparable Britney Spears. (I’m the one in green)

 

img_4387

 

I also had the pleasure of being served food by the Flogsta chef. Yes, there is a chef that has lived in the typically student residential dorms since the 1980s. He likes to live here because he travels often and doesn’t need a lot of space to feel at home. Students are encouraged to text him in advance of their arrival and share the level of spiciness they are comfortable with. Then that very day, they can come by for dinner and eat to their heart’s desire.

 

img_4390

 

My dish had a 50% spicy level. It’s an Ethiopian dish! Funnily enough, that’s one of the few countries the Flogsta chef has never visited, yet it’s his favorite style of food to produce. This is injera bread, which is used as a vehicle for the sauces, meat, and lentils on top.

 

img_4401

 

Finally, we got our last wave of snow! Ain’t she a beaut?

 

Until next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Joining a Nation!

February 13, 2017

I joined a nation!

As a student attending Uppsala University, it is crucial to join at least one.

Nations are made up of students, and the organizations hold events and offer a large variety of clubs so one can get involved with other students.

There are 13 nations, which are named after regions in Sweden. They have been around for centuries, and while previously students were only allowed to join the nation that represented their region, now the rules are much more relaxed.

I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation, nicknamed Snerikes. Founded in 1595, it is the oldest nation of Uppsala University.

I attended the Recce Reception where there was a mini fair with tables promoting the activities they offered, followed by an informal dinner.

 

img_4205-1

Shown above is the appetizer provided before our dinner. Some crackers with the option of butter or cheese as a topping! By the candles were some mustard, rosemary, and oregano to have with our yellow pea soup.

 

During the dinner, they showed us their choir, their improv group, and their band. All three are open to any students, regardless of the nation they chose to join!

 

Here are two videos of their band because I couldn’t pick between the two:

 

 

This song may sound familiar for any Aladdin or Broadway fans!

 

 

This is more of a traditional song played by the Swedes. It’s also common to start ball-room dancing while they play!

 

This week I went to two activities sponsored by the nations.

Kalmar nation holds a mixtape circle every other week. For the mixtape circle, the group picks a theme. For the next meeting, each person has picked a song that they feel goes with that theme. We all share and discuss the music. Because we are all so different, the mixtape circle is a great way to discover other music that maybe you wouldn’t usually listen to.

img_4296

 

To the right is a journal that is passed around as each person shares a song. We all write down the name of the song and the artist, and this list is then shared through a Facebook group. The big sound system to the left is the magical box that we hear it from.

 

I’ve also started attending an improv group hosted by my very own nation. I fell twice during the acting exercises and am currently recovering from the pain.

 

I have to bounce back quick because there’s so much to do!


Tori in Spain: Saying Yes to Hard Things

February 2, 2017

“How was abroad?” “Did you love Madrid?” “Your semester looked amazing, tell me about it.”

These are the questions I returned to. I have found it incredibly hard to sum up such an impactful experience, and honestly since being on campus abroad has felt like a distant dream. I lived in a faraway land for 4 months, got to learn a different language, and developed friendships that I wasn’t quite able to pack up in my suitcase and take home.

The one theme that has permeated my thoughts and reflections on abroad is how rich life is when we say yes to hard things. “Say yes to hard things” has become my slogan of the semester, and it is my biggest take away.

Showing up at a Spanish speaking church alone was not the most comfortable thing in the world. The prospect of leading a group of students, into a city I barely knew, to speak with strangers living on the street, in a foreign language, left me feeling unequipped and frustrated. Walking into the little bar next door to Amalie & I’s apartment on our last night in Madrid felt very inconvenient due to the flight I had to catch in the morning. Stopping to chat with Karrol when I was late to class seemed unproductive. Initiating conversation with the woman next to me on the subway felt awkward.

None of my sweetest memories abroad came from choosing to do what was the most convenient, socially acceptable, or comfortable. Life begins when we get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves. This can manifest itself in big ways or little ways, but it always involves leaning into the moment and being present. Even when I said yes to hard things begrudgingly, it lead to really special times. I need to ask, Lord, what do you have for me here? And it will lead me to love and think in a way that is more people-conscious, out of the knowledge that God is enamored with every soul I encounter on the street. Every little human bopping along in Madrid, Richmond, Winston Salem, or wherever I am, is created in the image of God and so in my every interaction I am interacting with one whom is dearly and sacredly loved by God.

 

 

 


Janus in Singapore: On the First Weeks

January 27, 2017

“Discuss your preparations to go abroad – how you are feeling, anxieties or excitements, last minute projects or plans you are making, etc.”

It feels a little strange writing about my “feelings, anxieties, or excitements” about studying abroad in Singapore when I’m already three and a half weeks through my semester. Singapore Management University (SMU) has this strange schedule where exchange students are encouraged to attend a student orientation on December 29, and classes start as early as January 2, so while many of my classmates were still enjoying the final trips of their study abroad programs or tucked into their comforters back home, I was already on the other side of the world, roaming the streets of Singapore looking for a hostel that had open beds on New Year’s Eve.

Then again, it’s still quite early, and the first three weeks have really been a frenzy of getting my immigration formalities done, attending student orientations, adding and dropping classes, and of course, turning my new flat into a something that resembles home. There hasn’t really been a lot of time to “feel” or “be anxious.” Writing this entry feels like my first real opportunity to reflect on what’s already happened and what I think will happen.

I spent my last semester abroad, too, in Beijing. When I hear about study abroad, usually I hear that students will do significantly less work than they do back home, spend a lot of time traveling or exploring the city, and generally have a lot of time to relax. In a way, it’s a lot like a vacation to another school. My experience was the exact opposite.

I participated in a language immersion program that required me to speak Chinese on weekdays, and classes were from 8:30 to 4:30 daily, and each of us in the program did at minimum 3-4 hours of homework and studying each night. Somehow, there was still ample time for most of us to enjoy the semester and bring home stories that weren’t just about being locked up in a classroom. We still managed to explore Beijing, travel all over China, experience the Beijing nightlife, and even fall into study abroad romances. It was a complete semester, but it definitely came at the expense of sleep. By the end, many of us sported the deepest eye bags we’ve ever had.

I expect that a semester at SMU will be more of the “traditional” study abroad experience. I’m only taking four classes (7-12 hours of out of class work rather than UR’s “10-15”), and they’re all on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I expect I can use this semester to sleep in to catch up on all the sleep I missed in Beijing. Given my five day weekends and Singapore’s proximity to many of Southeast Asia’s tourist destinations – Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, or even a trip home to the Philippines – I wholly expect to drain my bank account by the end of the semester taking flights out to a few of these places.

For now, though, I plan on figuratively walking every street in Singapore. Strangely enough, a lot of students who study abroad in Singapore say that their biggest regret is not exploring Singapore enough, because the presence of all these other destinations makes the city-state a practical home base, and something that you can always say “next week” to, until there aren’t any weeks left. It’s only a little bit bigger than Manhattan, so the process shouldn’t take that long.

Anxieties. I think, given that this is my second semester studying abroad, that Singapore is often described to me as “An Asian New York,” and that I’m used to moving around a lot, I don’t have the usual fears of culture shock or “will I fit in?” or “will I find my group of friends?” Instead, I’m worried about people back home. A semester away isn’t too bad because just about everyone does it at some point. Two semesters, however, seems a bit too long, especially since I spent the holidays in the Philippines instead of New York. It’ll be a full year before I’m back in the United States. I already feel myself losing contact with many of my friends, even close ones.

But that’s something I should worry about after Singapore, I think. For now – enjoy the semester to its fullest.


The Final Post

January 12, 2017

I don’t even know where to start. I get it now…how study abroad can be the best time of your life. You change; you come home a completely different person. I’ve moved around quite a few times throughout my life – New Jersey, Germany, Italy, Okinawa, Virginia – and I have always considered Okinawa to be home. It’s where, for the most part, I grew up, I took care of my family without dad around, made stupid decisions, and maybe even learned from my stupid decisions. Going back every summer and winter break is what keeps me going during the school year, honestly. Knowing I can eat Okinawa Soba, chill with friends at the seawall, and swim in the clear ocean again. Okinawa is home, no doubt. This was the first time that returning home to Okinawa felt unfamiliar. It almost felt wrong. I was leaving home to go to Okinawa.


Immediately after spending two days in Akita, everything became…light. There’s something about Akita. I felt more like myself in Akita. It’s not really the actual place of Akita that made me feel like myself because man, I’m not going to lie, we all hated that we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields. But honestly, if given the chance to study abroad at Tokyo or Osaka, I would choose Akita every single damn time. You could walk 5-minutes off campus and see older people working on the rice fields. These older individuals were all very sweet and had no problem speaking to us despite our broken Japanese. You’d hear a car pass by you every 10-minutes so walking around with the sun beating down on your face was such a nice way to relax. There were shrines nearby that we would walk to, always placing a 5-yen coin and praying at the entrance.

Banafi.jpg
I’m never going to forget the quick walks to Banafi, the convenience store right off campus. The amount of riceballs and beers bought there was endless. The older guy that runs that store is so dedicated to his job. Working from 7am to 7pm almost everyday and remembering our faces. He even brought his dog into the store sometimes – an old, fat beagle. The dog would slowly wobble over to me and hint for me to pet it. Sitting on the benches in front of Banafi while eating our bentos (boxed lunches) during the summer and drinking our hot cocoa from a can during the winter.


Or the quick walks to aBar right next to Banafi. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, the only bar near us was this one. It was made for the international students, although Japanese students would go as well. There were karaoke competitions, DJ nights, band performances, etc. that students would participate in, hoping to win a free drink by the end of the night. Everyone would go so you’d obviously talk to students you wouldn’t talk to otherwise in class. Oh man, the nights spent there were too fun.


The one and only Shimohamahimehoma beach trip during orientation week is still my best memory from Akita, well, everyone’s best memory. We had only been in Akita for about 5 days and we all decided to go to the beach together. All of the international and first-year students since none of the other students had arrived on campus yet. Waking up super early, riding the train (after missing the first train, of course), swimming for hours, drinking beers and blasting Chance The Rapper, singing karaoke at the shack with the wandering dog, Udon in the city afterwards…we were all so tired and red by the end of the day but full of so much joy. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the semester.

train

Train 2.jpgSpeaking of missing trains, you become a true international student at AIU once you miss at least three trains or even buses due to reading the schedule incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been yelled at for messing the schedule up HAHA it was fine though because honestly, the memories made while waiting for missed trains are some of my favorites. Creating videos of the Mannequin Challenge because of the nonstop laughter or the photoshoots I did with my friends around the entire station.


I’m so thankful the school planned out field trips for us. I know that sounds like a cliche high school thing but these bus trips definitely gave us the chance to explore Akita more. All of the international students signed up so once again, you’d spend time with students you wouldn’t otherwise talk to during class. We went to a samurai town, aquarium, deepest lake in Japan, Oga Peninsula, and watched a Namahage performance. Not only did I explore around Akita, I was also able to travel to Tokyo twice and Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara once. Meeting up with high school friends in Tokyo, walking around Shibuya at 4am, and eating ラーメン in individual stalls are a few of my favorite memories from Tokyo. And Osaka, wow, watching Isabella get rammed in the butt by a deer begging for food was absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Or the time Isabella went running ahead of me, desperately searching for a bathroom for me at around 12am, and us ending up going to a club and dancing for 3 hours solely because I needed to use the bathroom.

The small, close-knit community and campus brought us together – eating the set lunches together everyday, chilling in Komachi lobby, staying up till 4am every night. I could list all of the wonderful memories but there’s too many to list. You wouldn’t have the sense of family at any school as we did in Akita. We were all there for each other. It was the people, definitely. Especially Patrik and Isabella. The both of them changed the course of my study abroad experience.


Patrik, man, I don’t know where to start with this guy. Be honest, right? He actually went back to Okinawa with me for the couple of weeks of winter break. We became friends after day 2 in Akita. He complimented me on my smile and I thought he was an arrogant boy. Funny how quickly things changed. Surprisingly we were in the same Japanese class (his Japanese is 10x better than mine), and as a result we were always together, studying Japanese, eating meals between classes, learning the lyrics to Childs Play, talking for hours about the meaning of life…he really loves asking people what the meaning of life was. I still remember the first time he told me about this “beautiful sadness.” I’ve always been told that sadness is a bad thing but now I understand that it’s the complete opposite. We have all gone through pain but it’s only made us aware of ourselves. Patrik made sure that I understood how sadness helps you grow. Without sadness, we wouldn’t appreciate the happiness. Every time I was down, he would come in with this dorky smile, raise his voice, and bounce his shoulders and explain to me that because I was sad now, I know that I was happy before. I made great memories and now I have those to cherish. A beautiful sadness.

isabella-1isabella-2
I want to share with everyone that I fell in love with someone while studying abroad. Making myself vulnerable to her seemed like a risk knowing we would only be together for a short time. But, it was a beautiful risk, creating the space for her to make me feel more protected. I experienced the most intense feelings with her…confusion, desperation, pain, heart-exploding joy, and passion. She made me happy. It has been two weeks since I last saw her smile. You know, if it’s meant to be, it will be. We might come back to each other, but we might not. You can’t let the uncertainty stop you from doing anything. Fall hard and deeply in love. Go all in, man, because when are you ever going to have the chance again? Just live in the moment and let things play out the way it’s supposed to. I’m so happy that I fell in love with her while studying abroad. My time in Akita wouldn’t have been what it was without her by my side. Thank you for being vulnerable and letting me be a part of your life.

Like I said, it was all the people. I’m not sure what I was expecting from Akita. Maybe to speak Japanese fluently, meet some cool people from Europe, and leave knowing I had “ the best time of my life” as most people claim study abroad to be. I do have to say, Akita far reached my expectations. Akita has become one of my homes to me. Thank you Akita, for the confusion, heart-exploding joy, pain, constant excitement, and beautiful sadness.


%d bloggers like this: