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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Tori in Spain: Dear Elvira

January 11, 2017

This semester, I had the privilege of taking a class called Public Health and Social Justice with an amazing professor named Dr. Elvira. I really liked her from the beginning because she challenged us to question all of the assumptions that our society is constructed on and is a warrior for social justice. She pushed us to think very deeply, which is something I love about my classes at U of R and was not sure I would find in Spain. A couple weeks into school, I emailed her to see if she would be interested in attending the European Public Health Conference with me in Vienna this semester. To my surprise, she messaged me back and asked if I would be interested in presenting at the conference and joining in on her research.

Throughout my time in Madrid, Elvira was a constant support for me. She and the other two students that were researching with us became some of my closest friends abroad. After our abstract was accepted by the Global Health and Innovations conference, we had to record a video presentation for the next round of competition, and Elvira and I realized that we had done it wrong the night before it was due (claaaassssssiiiccc). Due to the time difference, we had until 6am to turn the project in, so we rushed to school at 10pm to get working. We stayed up until 3am to finally submit the video, getting more delirious every hour. She kept joking that she couldn’t speak English after midnight, and when we were almost done we listened to the song Breaking Free from High School Musical together (she had never seen it!) because we were finally breaking out of the closed university. Everything is funny at 3am, and we bonded deeply that night.

When my laptop and most of my belongings were stolen, Elvira selflessly lent me a laptop to use until the end of the semester. She didn’t even hesitate. She had the means to help, so of course she would. Just one more way to lay down her privilege and love someone, something she hopes to do with every action in her life. I think she succeeds.

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One of my attempts to make Tortilla this winter break!

Elvira showed me the best tortilla Espanola in Madrid (Las Rosas, es la verdad, este sitio tiene el mejor tortilla del mundo), a dish I have tried to replicate 3 times since I have been home.  One night she, Marcus, and I went out for Indian food and talked for 3 hours about faith, gender roles, family, animal ethics, responsibility to society, what we are created for, and fertility. She told me she had never felt the need to have kids because fertility is much bigger than the mere ability to bear children. Fertility is about helping things grow, investing in ideas and people that will change other things of import. Although she has never been pregnant, Elvira is one of the most fertile women I know.

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Good food, good conversation

One of my hardest experiences of my time in Madrid was leading a BocaTalk run one night, and getting verbally berated by a homeless man who was fed up with the rich trying to fix his situation without understanding it. I felt so ashamed and confused, and she was the one I came crying to. I was so upset because I knew he was right, I would never understand, and I knew my stupid sandwich and “sacrifice” of 2 hours sitting on the street would do nothing to solve his lifetime of struggle. I felt like I deserved the emotional violence I suffered at his hands due to my privileged position in society that I had truly done nothing to earn. I was frustrated because there were a thousand things I wished I had said, and a thousand more I could never communicate in Spanish. She reminded me that no matter what, no matter how deep the injustices of ones past or the level of poverty a person is experiencing, no human never has the right to rob dignity from another. Acts of violence, emotional or physical, are never deserved, regardless of the levels of inequity. I walked out of her office with a greater sense of peace in my heart, knowing the truth that I did not deserve what had happened to me, but also understanding what I symbolized for that man (power, wealth, privilege) and desiring to change the oppressive forces that have pushed him down to where he sits.

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Dear Elvira,

I am so thankful to know you.

Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for looking for ways to surrender the power and privilege you have been given in every moment.

Thank you for demonstrating deep humility and selflessness to me.

Thank you for reminding me that it is not my fault that I was born into the privileged position I hold, and thus, I do not deserve abuse for that position.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on when I could not take the injustice I am surrounded with and when I felt guilty for not doing enough.

Thank you for teaching me that life is an adventure, and I don’t ever have to ascribe to societies ideas of who I should be.

Hasta pronto amiga, estoy agredecida para conocerte.

Besos,

Tori


Tori in Spain: 2 Lists

December 15, 2016

 

As my time abroad comes to a close, I have been reflecting on all the sweet little things that have made my time so special, and a few of the things that have made it hard. To sum it all up, I made two lists. 30 things I will miss, and 5 that I won’t.

  1. When mi hermanito Juanito peeks his face into my room and I get to wake up to his sweet giggle and smile

14516527_10210754072031396_3460640273559046703_n.jpg2. KARROL’S AMAZING SOUPS: Pumpkin garbanzo, lentil vegetable, pork adobo.

3. Café con leche y cortados at fun Spanish cafes.14642467_10210754319357579_8852335988187807400_n.jpg4. Cesar hijo’s many alteregos! I never know if I will come home to Cesar hijo, superman, spiderman, a power ranger, or a caballero. I also never know if I am the good guy or the bad guy… until I am struck down by una espada. “Si, Cesar, estoy muerta… como siempre.”

5. Worshipping in Spanish

6. Local fresh food markets and Spanish grocery stores. (Huge hunks of specialty cheese for a euro or two? Yes please.)15181531_10211259135657671_4514411424490300169_n.jpg7. Walking home really late and feeling perfectly safe

8. Picnics in the many beautiful parks of Madrid, on the docks of Barcelona, or by the shore in Lake Como. No matter where in the world I am, if I had to describe by favorite part of abroad in one word, “picnics” would be a strong contender.

15109533_10211259138297737_7157100840706222617_n.jpg9. “Guapa”

10. Long breakfasts with Amalie! Avocado toast, coffee, and journaling by this roommate turned soul sister of mine are my favorite. Honestly, I will miss everything about her and know I have found a lifelong friend in this little room of ours.

11. Rooftop sunsets

14650701_10210754291796890_3615999998446205609_n.jpg12. Hushed conversation about human rights, politics, religion, and personal philosophy of life with my host mom Bela after the kids go to bed

13.Weekly coffee/philosophy/catch up dates with Dan

14. Amazing, homemade, 3 course, dinners on the terrace. With Amalie, of course.

14633000_10210754122712663_6352662603635917363_n.jpg15. BESOS! Why don´t Americans kiss each other more? It is the warmest thing ever. Try to be mean to someone after they have just warmly kissed you on the cheek, I dare ya.

16. César padre teaching me how to pronounce Spanish words and cook Spanish foods… syllable by syllable, ingredient by ingredient.

17. My bible study: Half Catholic, half prodestant…. All just trying to figure out how to love a little better and know Jesus a little more.

15493470_562548873937717_8479785988788571161_o.jpg18. “Quieres pan?” The question of the semester, honestly.

19. Churros, coffee, and looooong, unrushed conversation after the service at my church here. When I leave church 2.5 hours after I arrive, I am leaving early. That is special.

20. La gente de Iglesia Evangélica de Cristo Vive. These people are special, and I am especially thankful to Gabi and Sarah, and Yolanda and Ekir for welcoming me into their families and making me feel known here.

21. Professor Elvira, Marcus, and Molly. The most fun public health and social justice research team ever. It has been such a privilege to learn about privilege with you, and brainstorm about how to break down systems that perpetuate privilege for some and oppress others.

22. The metro. I am convinced that Madrid has the greatest public transportation system in the world, and I am returning to places where public transport is objectively horrible.

23. Saying “Claro” and “Vale” way more than I actually should to make it seem like I know what I am talking about.

24. The delicious, seedy, grainy, wheaty bread my host mom buys that I consume copious amount of every day.

25. Making lunch with Yolanda at Eker’s mountain house. I can never cut fast enough or cook well enough to really help, so my main contribution is helping eat it all. While every moment in this little refuge is special, the ones around the dinner table are my favorites.

26. My friend Elvis’s smile and greeting every day when I pass by or sit and chat with him. He is a man experiencing homelessness from Romania, and we used to chat every day on my way to and from school in the little Spanish we both know. He isn’t there anymore, and I didn’t get to say bye, which is a bummer.

27. Having a glass of wine and listening to live music at Café Barbieri while feeling very adult with Amalie, Dan, and Andrew.

28. Being able to operate without a daily planner.

29. Kirstin’s ability to sum up all my thoughts much more eloquently than I can, Maggie’s joy, Amalie’s honesty and vulnerability, Michaela’s steadfastness and obvious love of Jesus, Gabi’s infectious laugh, Ana’s depth and gentle spirit, Anna’s dance moves, Emily’s depth of humility and encouraging words, Molly’s ability to never take herself too seriously.

30. BlaBla Car. Uber for long distances is essentially the greatest thing ever. The cheapest way to travel, and best way to meet cool Spaniards.

Life was not always easy. Expressing myself and understanding others was incredibly hard sometimes, and there were a few cultural things I could not quite adjust to.

 

  1. Jamón. I am so sorry, Spain, but I neither want to see a bag of Jamón flavored anything nor a huge pig leg hanging from the ceiling for the rest of my life.
  2. Not being able to understand/make jokes (The one time I was funny in Spanish was probably the peak of my entire abroad experience… but it was literally one time.)
  3. Never being able to get quite the whole meaning of what people are saying. Major theme, no hay problema. Actual understanding of the cultural context of the exact words used and their connotations… nunca.
  4. Men speaking in bad English to me when I pass them at a bar. I don´t know why, but I hate this a lot.
  5. Sometimes feeling like an intruder or outsider because I am not Spanishç

I am excited to go home, but sad to leave. Thanks for all the little joys, Spain. You will be deeply missed.

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Naomi at Akita Week 13: Mission Impossible

December 2, 2016

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Remember how it snowed for the first time a couple of weeks ago? The snow melted right away and since then it hadn’t snowed. Well, it started snowing again this past week and it was actually pretty bad. Some of the snow melted and froze during the night; the next day I could barely walk. I was basically ice skating everywhere in my slip-on Vans since I wanted to refrain from slipping and falling on my butt. I really need to buy some snow boots…

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Thursday evening, my mom and brother, Tyler, landed in Akita! They stayed in a hotel near campus – only a 5-minute walk away. My mom decided not to get a rental car in fear of sliding on the icy roads. Practically all of the ice had melted by the second day they were here but she insisted on using the buses and trains for transportation. We all got dinner in the school cafeteria since my mom wanted to try the food they served there. I was surprised to see that there was a Thanksgiving special considering we’re in Japan! The turkey was actually very delicious when drenched in gravy. Since we had nothing planned for the night, we took the bus to AEON so my mom could buy some food for breakfast. We met Patrik there – he went earlier to get a haircut before the shop closed. After the mall, my mom and Tyler headed back to the hotel. They were tired from traveling and Patrik and I had to work on Japanese homework due the next day.

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After my 10:30 Japanese class, I walked to the hotel. My mom’s friend and husband from Iwata (different prefecture) drove about three hours to visit us. My mom has been a friend of this woman since 3rd grade – they’re pen pals. The last time they saw each other was in 1993…that’s 23 years ago. She lives in the area that was affected by the tsunami in 2011. My mom wanted us to visit her there but since we didn’t have a car we would have had to travel by train and it would’ve taken 6 hours. For lunch, we ate at the restaurant in the hotel. I got the Lunch Set with the ハンバーガーステーキ (Hamburger Steak) and it was delicious. Afterwards, we decided to walk around my campus. We showed them our beautiful library and stopped at the only café on campus for some coffee. They left around 4pm so my mom and Tyler just sat at one of the tables outside of the café. Patrik and Isabella both ended up coming to hang out with us before Isabella left for dance rehearsals. They both kept asking my mom and Tyler for embarrassing/funny stories about me, giving Tyler the opportunity to make fun of me. All of us were laughing so hard, especially Tyler and me. The both of us even started tearing up – it was great.


After Isabella left, we got on the bus and headed to AEON for dinner. Tyler wanted to go to 焼肉 (grill in the middle of table so you cook your own meat) and Patrik found one that was a 15-minute walk away from the mall. However, while on the bus, Patrik admitted to not wanting to go because it was cold and snowing outside. So, we walked into the restaurant area of the mall not knowing where to eat. We looked at the menus of all the restaurants there and then stood in the middle of the walkway trying to figure out where to eat. It was very inconvenient that the four of us were all very indecisive. Thankfully, Patrik had made an earlier comment that he hadn’t eaten pizza in a while so my mom said we should go to the Italian restaurant. Once we sat down we realized that the pizza given to us wasn’t that big, it was more of a side of pizza – only 15cm wide. The four of us ended up getting spaghetti with a side of pizza. Patrik and I both got spaghetti with squid ink – it was a Black Friday special. Patrik got honey pizza and I got pizza with spicy pollock/cod roe. It was obviously a Japanese-style Italian restaurant! After dinner, my mom insisted on going to Baskin Robbins so she could get a free scoop of ice cream with a coupon she got from her phone company. Once she got it, she took two bites, said it was too sweet, and gave it to Tyler to finish. Oh brother.


On Saturday, Patrik and Isabella joined us to head into the city. My mom was on me about making Christmas cards to send to family and friends. I told her we could use pictures that we took together during the summer in Okinawa but she was persistent in taking some pictures here. While I gave my camera to Patrik and he proceeded to take some pictures of us.


Oh, here are some pictures of me throwing a snowball at Patrik. I missed. BUT, I missed intentionally because I didn’t want to hit my camera.


We got to Akita Station and saw some guys dressed as Namahage! My mom told us to run over and take pictures with them before another group of kids jumped ahead of us. I felt like an elementary school student being forced to take a picture with one of the scary movie characters at Disneyland. After we took that picture, we walked towards the city and passed a souvenir shop with a big stuffed bull. Isabella started freaking out and I could tell she wanted to go hug it so I told her I would take a picture of her with it. Tyler ended up jumping in too and the both of them look so happy! It makes me happy.


We walked to a fish and vegetable market. There was a guy chopping off fish heads. We saw puffer fish and lots of cheap ikura (salmon roe) – Tyler’s favorite. I actually really love going to fish markets. I don’t know why. I love seeing all the different kinds of fish and as weird as this is going to sound, I appreciate the smell. We walked outside and saw someone selling different kinds of mochi – a Japanese rice cake. The rice is pounded for several hours until it turns into paste and then shaped. In Akita, zunda mocha is popular so my mom bought a package of four. Tyler and I shared one. It tasted nothing like the mochi we are used to; it was super sweet and soft to chew. I guess the rice was pounded for a longer time.

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After the market, we walked to Senshu Park. Isabella and Patrik have never gone so I decided to take everyone there since there isn’t that much to do in the city here. Tyler’s a senior in high school so he needs senior casuals for the yearbook. I offered to take some pictures for him. He found a bunch of leaves sprawled on the ground under a naked tree. The leaves matched with his hoodie and shoes so we thought it would make for a nice set of photos. I told him to throw some leaves for a couple of the pictures and it turned out looking pretty cool. There’s a castle at the park that I wanted to show my mom but we had to climb up a pretty steep hill. Tyler had to help her out and we were all laughing, even my mom. She felt like a grandma hanging out with us kids, she said.


After the park, my mom treated all of us to some ラーメン (ramen). The place was very small and only had maybe 15 seats altogether. Each table only seated three people so we had to sit separately. You had to order at a machine, which allowed you to receive a ticket you give to the cooks. I was shocked when my mom told me the only sizes they had were regular, large, and extra large. We all got the regular size but the bowl was still so huge. I’ve never eaten so many noodles in one sitting. Isabella couldn’t even finish her bowl. Tyler was still hungry and ate some of hers before we headed out. His stomach is bottomless, apparently.


Saturday night, we went to Isabella and Annabelle’s dance performances. There were 24 dance teams performing at Dance Virus. It was the last dance event for the semester so it was very emotional for the seniors graduating soon. It was a lot of fun to watch though and I’m glad my mom and Tyler came this weekend to see everyone perform. Even dance teams from other schools came to perform. The last performance was very exciting though. A bunch of people danced to “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” the song from Hairspray. Not many people know this about me but I love watching musicals. My mom watched them while I was growing up so it has rubbed off on me. I was rocking out in my chair when the song played.

 

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My mom and Tyler had to leave for the airport at 10am today but Patrik wanted us to complete Mission Impossible before they left. We met up at 8am and Patrik gave us that first paper shown above and told us good luck. There were 7 missions and we had to walk around campus looking for the next clue. I was laughing throughout the entire game. It amazes me that Patrik made this for my mom and Tyler; he’s such a sweetheart. He even created mp3 files that we read with a QR scanner on Tyler’s phone. We had to guess the national anthem of different countries to find the next location. We used Shazam to find out some of the anthems – we couldn’t figure out the Italian national anthem. We told Patrik that and he told us they sing “Italia” in the song….I guess we have bad hearing. At the end, my mom and Tyler were rewarded with maple cookies and syrup from Canada. Patrik’s sister lives in Canada so he asked her to send that over for us. What a wonderful weekend. It makes me happy that Patrik gets along with my family so well considering he’s going to Okinawa with me this winter break.


Week 11: Crepes and Kraft Mac & Cheese

November 14, 2016

1I appreciate Patrik so much. I’m so used to drinking five cups of coffee at Richmond because it’s so easily accessible so I appreciate Patrik letting me make coffee in his room. I was having a hard time staying up in my International Trade class so Patrik brought me a cup of coffee during my class break, before my History of Pre-Modern Japan class. やさしいね〜 (he’s very kind, huh?)!

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Isabella and Annabelle finished writing their speech about their Korean trip for JPL100 and I finished my grammar homework for JPL300 and this was the outcome. We were all very tired so we continued to hang out in Annabelle’s room in Sakura Village. I was also messing with my camera a bit. Trying new lightings and what not.


Do you all remember the Draw Something app that came out maybe…four years ago? Well, Griff, Patrik, and I were hanging out in the Komachi Lobby and rediscovered the game. Some of our other friends joined in and we soon found out that Griff is actually Picasso. How do you even draw that nice of a toilet and blender? I want his drawing skills.

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Griff even drew me…I don’t have a neck but it’s still a pretty good drawing considering he drew me with only his index finger on his small screen.


We had our first snow this past week. I still can’t believe the snow stuck. It’s only the beginning of November. I woke up and heard the hail hitting the ground and immediately fell back into bed…very unwilling to walk outside in the cold. Thankfully I bought a winter jacket from UNIQLO though and it actually keeps me very warm. Now I have to buy some snow boots though or else I’m going to injure myself.

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Saturday, a group of us took the bus to AEON to eat lunch then walked over to Yotsugoya station to head into Akita City. I had the directions up on Google maps but closed the app when I realized where the train station was…you could see it in the distance. Unfortunately, the rode split into two and we didn’t know which road to take. Everyone yelled at me for closing the app then proceeded to split up. Patrik, Griff, and I walked on a path that led into the fields while Isabella, Annabell, and Tristan took the actual road. We ended up meeting up five minutes later as the roads met up! We made it to the station five minutes to spare before the train arrived.


You wouldn’t believe this but we actually ended up getting on the wrong train. It took us in the opposite direction. That’s the life of AIU international students: reading the schedule wrong and getting on the wrong train/bus. The train took us to Wada Station so we had to wait there for an hour before the train came to take us to Akita. It was fine though. We listened to some music on Patrik’s speakers and took a couple videos of us doing the mannequin challenge. If you don’t know what it is just look it up online and it should pop up as it’s trending right now. We had to retake one shot at least 10 times because I couldn’t stop laughing. Anyways, we went into the city and went to Karaoke for about 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures but just know we sang our hearts out to 80s music and Michael Jackson songs. We took the last train from Akita to Wada Station and walked for an hour back to campus.

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I’m super proud of all of my friends for expanding their collection of beer stickers. Most of the time Japanese beer cans have a sticker on them so I decided to start collecting them on my phone. When I got to Akita, I influenced people to start collecting the stickers as well. Everyone has more than me now though and it’s upsetting. I took off all of my stickers recently so I have 0…


Sunday afternoon, everyone came to Isabella’s apartment to make crepes. Griff and Patrik had been planning this out for about two weeks now. It was originally supposed to be pancake day but Griff told us that the pancakes wouldn’t be as good without baking powder, so crepes it was. Patrik went all out and bought whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberry jam, canned peaches, and canned pineapples for the crepe toppings. We didn’t have a whisk so Griff, Annabelle, and Patrik stirred as fast and hard as they could with the forks and chopsticks. It was pretty intense.

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I FaceTimed my mom asking for help on how to make the whipped cream since none of us could read the directions. She told me that we needed a whisk or else it would be very difficult to make. So, Patrik actually ended up running to the Komachi kitchen and finding a whisk. The whipped cream was almost impossible to make with just a fork. Kevin had been stirring it for about 20 minutes and the consistency was still very liquid. Tristan took the whisk and stirred for only about 5 minutes before it turned to actual whipped cream.

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We actually had a can opener but I guess it didn’t work out too well…I turned my back to help Isabella with the crepes and by the time I was done the can was opened like this. Super dangerous…we should probably invest in a nice can opener.

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The first one was pretty rough but Isabella looked up a tutorial on YouTube and after that the crepes came out perfect. Patrik sprinkled some brown sugar on his crepe. He had the first one and Kevin commented on the placement of the whipped cream. All of us put our whipped cream inside the crepe and Patrik found it super weird. I guess that’s just a minor culture difference in the way we make crepes. Everyone had 1-2 crepes and we were still very hungry so Isabella ended up making some Kraft Mac and Cheese that my mom sent me recently. Eating American food was a nice change. My mom is visiting at the end of this month so I’m going to have to ask her to bring some more mac and cheese with her!


Naomi at Akita Week 10: EXCITING NEWS!!

November 10, 2016

OKAY, SO VERY EXCITING NEWS! I Facetime my mom pretty often while I’m here since it’s so easy without the usual time difference while I’m in Richmond, as she’s in Okinawa with my younger brother, Tyler. Well, she has met a couple of my friends here via Facetime including Patrik. She knows how close the two of us are and knew that Patrik had nothing planned for winter break. See, Patrik is staying here for a year so he has about a three week winter break to do anything. Well, I’m going back home to Okinawa from December 22nd – January 5th before heading back to Richmond and…

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My mom invited Patrik to come with me to Okinawa and he had to get approval from his parents AND HE JUST BOUGHT HIS TICKETS THIS PAST WEEK! HE’S GOING BACK HOME TO OKINAWA FOR ME AND I’M SO EXCITED!! I’m sorry for all of this excitement but it’s just…I’m so happy. We’re going to have so much fun. I get to show him where I grew up during high school and he gets to try Okinawa Soba and Milk Zenzai and all of the other Okinawan food that I love. I told him we’re going swimming at the beaches; I don’t care how cold the water is, we’re still getting in the water. We’re going to chill on the seawall. I’m so excited. You have no idea.

Another thing that made our day even better…after he bought the tickets, we started walking back to our dorms. I was talking to him about chilling on the seawall as someone passed us. This woman immediately turned around after hearing the word “seawall” and asked me if I was talking about Okinawa. I told her I went to high school there and she told me that she graduated from Kadena High School, the rival of Kubasaki High School, my school. I was shocked. I asked if she was a student here and turns out, she’s a professor! I told her that Patrik was going back with me this winter break and she told us she’s going back too. It was a great moment. Everyone from Okinawa understands how close everyone is, especially with the military life. I CAN’T WAIT TO GO TO OKINAWA WITH PATRIK!

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Remember last week how I mentioned we had a speech to give in Japanese class? Yeah, it went very well! I snapped a quick picture of Patrik giving his speech. If we used difficult vocabulary in our speech we had to put it on a slide and show it to everyone so they would know the English translation. Patrik talked about the culture shock he felt when coming to Japan. For example, how kind and helpful Japanese people are. I didn’t provide a slide of difficult vocabularly words because the Japanese words I used were words students in our level should already know, or so I thought. I talked about Japanese vending machines and how they sell hot food and drinks, and the convenience of selling iced black coffee, since they don’t have that in the states. After a speech, the students have to ask the speaker questions. I had about seven questions related to vending machines directed towards me. Just as I was about to thank everyone for listening to me, Will, one of my classmates, raised his hand to ask a last question. He asked me what 自動販売機 meant…he didn’t know the Japanese word for vending machine. Everyone started laughing. Here I am talking about vending machines and everyone asking me about vending machines and poor Will didn’t know what I was talking about. 亀井先生 (Teacher Kamei) laughed as well.

Cool Japan, a show on NHK that promotes Japan’s “creative industries” to foreign countries, came to campus and asked for international students to give two hours of their time to watch popular Japanese YouTube videos. After every video we had to write down our comments and rate the video. Between videos the camera crew would walk around and quickly interview students, getting our opinion on Japanese innovations. They had us watch videos on bullet train, PPAP (if you don’t know what this I recommend looking it up), bentos, and raw squid. We had to watch 43 videos. It took a while but it was interesting trying to understand why certain videos had millions of likes in Japan and even outside of Japan.


On Wednesday, there is no early Japanese class so Patrik and I decided to sign up to go to Omagari Elementary School to hang out with the students. The Division of Research and Community Outreach (RCOS) puts out events weekly for international students to participate in. Most of the events include going to elementary/middle schools and talking to Japanese students.

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We got to the school an hour early so Patrik, Okka, and I walked to a nearby grocery store to get some breakfast. It was super cheap. We were able to buy a 2L bottle of tea for less than¥100. We bought a couple of riceballs and some sweet bread then headed back.

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We were directed into the gymnasium and seated in front of all of the students. The students welcomed us by all standing up and singing a song to us. They were all so cute. Afterwards, we each had to introduce ourselves and introduce our home country with the file book we made ourselves. Of course, we had to do it in Japanese. It was a challenge but very fun to try out. Patrik stole my camera and ran to the back to snap a picture of me introducing the US to everyone. The kids yelled with excitement when they saw the pictures of the hamburger and pizza that was already included in the file book.


After we all introduced ourselves, we played a couple of games with the kids. The teachers all stood around and announced what games we were playing. We played Rock, Paper, Scissors first. I was so confused as to how they were paying but I understood towards the end. Everyone runs around while the music is playing and once the music stops you have to find someone to go against. The loser has to put their hands on the winner’s back and follow them around when the music continues playing. The winner runs around and looks for someone to go against once the music stops. The loser then goes behind the winner again. This is repeated over and over again until there are two winners left. You can imagine how hectic this is because the winner’s lines of kids behind them increases more and more with each win. Whoever wins gets to walk around the entire gymnasium with all the kids behind them. It was so funny seeing us, the older international students, following the winner in front of us and having more students behind us. The kids were too short to put their hands on our back so we all had to bend down!


The school provided lunch for us and it was quite delicious. Two students from each classroom had to bring our lunch trays to the classroom. Patrik and I were assigned to the same classroom for lunch so we followed the students there. I was surprised to find out that we were served the same amount of food as the elementary school students. The rice bowl was filled up only a quarter of the way. We were served a vegetable soup, gyoza, and some type of noodle and meat mix. We also drank milk with our lunch. I used to drink milk with every meal when I was younger but I haven’t in a while so it was interesting. The milk actually tasted really good.

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Patrik ended up getting more food since it wasn’t enough. Funny because when we got back to campus he immediately went to his room to get more food because lunch wasn’t filling enough.

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I snapped a picture of the students’ backpacks. This is a typical Japanese backpack that you see in アニメ (Japanese animation) or 漫画 (comics). I used to have one because my mom made me attend Japanese Elementary School for a month every time we visited Okinawa during the summer. I had to wear a uniform but these students didn’t have to…quite envious.

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Can you believe the students brush their teeth after eating lunch? Some kids didn’t even use toothpaste. The teacher told everyone to sit down and start brushing their teeth as she played some listening video in the background. Patrik and I sat there smiling at each other while watching the clean and healthy children.

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After lunch, we headed back to the gym to say bye to everyone. The kids made a tunnel for us and it was the sweetest thing. Again, since they were so short we had to bend down the entire time we ran through the tunnel. It was uncomfortable bending down for that long so I ran through the tunnel as fast as possible to get to the end quickly! I had such a wonderful time so I told Patrik we should sign up for another one. We’re going to try going to RCOS tomorrow and sign up for another Wednesday morning/afternoon one.

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Unfortunately, Patrik and I have been stuck in the IT lab all day working on our papers. Fortunately, my paper has to only be 1500 words long; Patrik has to write a 4000 word essay. I actually just finished and left to go back home. Patrik wasn’t even half way through…he’s probably going to be stuck there all night. Poor guy. His paper is for his Japanese Literature class and my paper is for my Japanese Premodern History class. It’s our last long paper for the semester! We still have to write short papers for the discussion forum and come up with our final project. I should probably start coming up with an idea for that considering the semester is quickly coming to an end.


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