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!


Karaoke and the Flogsta Chef!

March 1, 2017

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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)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

Until next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Abroad at Last!

January 27, 2017

Hi! I’m Olivia and I am a junior at University of Richmond. I am majoring in Biology with a minor in Healthcare Studies.

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I’ve never been to Europe before and, as the baby of the family, never experienced much independence either. I set out to form new experiences by studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden. Uppsala University is a leading international research university, and I was anxious to join its numbers.

Postponing the inevitable of being alone in Sweden, I was joined by my mom and aunt in Uppsala on January 11th. This was a sneak peak of my new home from the window of the airplane. Frozen ice and snow never looked so appealing!

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Before I could move in, I had to explore Stockholm with my family. On a train, Stockholm is only 40 minutes away.

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This is one of the many busy streets of Stockholm. We went on a Hop-On Hop Off, which is an all day bus service that provides tours of cities. My mom and aunt were too tired to explore the royal palace, libraries, and museums of Stockholm, but I imagine since the city is only 40 minutes away, I’ll be back soon to explore properly.

This is a peak into my room. At Uppsala University, the rooms for students are owned by different housing companies. You pay rent each month. It is typical to have a single room with each room having a private bathroom. Each hall shares a kitchen.

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Classes started this week, and while many people feel comfortable biking (in icy cold weather!) I prefer the bus. The city buses in Uppsala are extremely punctual. They have an app that provides timetables, and if you enter your location and where you wish to go, there is always a bus ready. While it’s simple enough, I’m still getting used to it as I have fallen victim to being at the wrong bus stop many times!

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Alas, practice makes perfect, right?


Week 15: 焼肉 Family Dinner

December 15, 2016

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After our Japanese reading class, I asked Patrik if he wanted to go to the convenience store with me to just buy some hot coffee and hang out for a bit. We both didn’t have anything after class so he agreed. Of course, we stopped in his room first so he could drop some stuff off. As we were leaving his room, he told me to put my hand out. I did as I was told and he dropped some peanuts into my hand. Surprisingly, I’ve never eaten peanuts with the shell. I’ve always eaten peanuts from jars that were already de-shelled. He had to show me a trick on how to crack them open. Apparently everyone back home eats peanuts all the time around Christmas…his mom even sent these peanuts to him all the way from Slovakia. We ate them while walking to the convenience store and they were delicious. I’m going to have to ask my mom to buy some peanuts for us to eat on Christmas!

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Isabella surprised me with box of Wasabi Kit Kats from Tokyo. I remember trying one in high school; my friend’s mom had some and had us try it. I thought it was the most interestingly delicious Kit Kat. I always talk about it around Isabella and Annabelle because they’re obsessed with finding different types of Kit Kats. Well, while they were in Tokyo they found a store with several different types of Kit Kats, one being wasabi, so Isabella bought some for me. I had her try one too and she even admitted that it was good! I gave Patrik one as well and he liked it too. I don’t know how to quite describe the taste because it takes just like wasabi but the Kit Kat is also very sweet. I love it.

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This week, I went to my last RCOS activity with Patrik, Isabella, and Annabelle. We all decided to sign up for one together. I know Patrik and I have already gone to two together but we thought it would be fun for Isabella and Annabelle to experience hanging out with Japanese elementary school students. We arrived at Nangai Elementary School pretty early so the man in charge told us that we could walk around and explore the school. At the moment, the kids were doing work and cleaning around the school. Everyday the kids have to clean the floors, bathroom, classrooms, and well, basically do housework in the school. I snapped a picture of a couple of kids wiping down the basketball court floors. There were several other kids washing the floors. They would look up at us and see that we were international students and scream “HELLO” and “NICE TO MEET YOU.”

Instead of playing games with the kids, like Patrik and I did at Omagari Elementary School and the kindergarten, the children asked us questions in English. Each student had a sheet they had to fill out after asking us what our favorite fruit, sport, subject, country, food, and animal were. They sat in groups of four so we would each sit with a group then move onto the next group after about 10-15 minutes. The kids were surprised when I answered with Okinawa Soba for my favorite food. I explained to them that I used to live in Okinawa and they were very shocked. At the end of the interview, the kids were allowed to ask us any questions they wanted to until the time ran out. One of the groups asked me what my favorite Japanese word was and I answered with 時差ぼけ (jisaboke), which means jetlag. I learned this word for one of my vocabulary quizzes in Japanese class this semester and I don’t know why, but I love the word. You wouldn’t believe this, but after saying 時差ぼけ the children immediately asked me what that word meant. I had to have the teacher explain to them the meaning of the word. I guess I didn’t know what jetlag meant when I was in elementary school either? Who knows? Anyways, we all had such a great time interacting with the children, even Isabella and Annabelle, who don’t know much Japanese. It was a fun last RCOS event!

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After Nangai Elementary School, Isabella, Annabelle, Kevin, and I wanted to go to the mall to go grocery shopping, so we decided to eat dinner at the food court there as well. Patrik stayed on campus to eat dinner so I bought him his carton of milk from the grocery store. He always drinks a carton of milk after drinking and partying since it apparently helps prevent hangovers. I should probably start doing that…well, Isabella, Annabelle, and Kevin all got dinner from Pepper Lunch. This fast food restaurant serves the steak in a sizzling plate so you have to cook the steak yourself once you sit down. I decided to get udon because they had some spicy special and I love spicy food so, of course, I had to order it. After we ate, we shopped around in different stores, went to the pet store to see the cute puppies, and went to an ice cream shop. Annabelle and Isabella are obsessed with the matcha ice cream they serve. I also bought Kevin a 6-pack of beer to thank him for letting Patrik and I sleep over in the Airbnb they rented in Tokyo. He started drinking one of the beers immediately after I bought him the back. It’s legal to drink alcohol from a can in public in Japan; Kevin loves to take advantage of that rule.


Remember the ポスター発表 (poster presentation) I mentioned before? Well, we had our presentations on Friday. An elementary school even came to watch us present some of our posters. I was very nervous but thankfully, I was able to memorize my speech! I did mess up a couple of times but my message still came across so no worries. At the end of our speech, we are supposed to ask 何か質問はありませんか, which translates to “are there any questions?” I had a couple of people ask me about 5 questions and oh man, I loved it. I love talking about Okinawa. It made me even more excited to be going back in just a couple of weeks for winter break! Don’t get me wrong though, I’m also very upset that I’ll be leaving Akita soon.

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For her flower arrangement class, Isabella was allowed to create her own flower presentation. When I first saw it, I jokingly said it looked like Easter. Unfortunately, I never took a picture of the flowers while they were alive so here is a picture of the dying flowers. I opened the curtains and let the lighting in and I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty cool picture despite the dying flowers.

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For dinner on Saturday night, Patrik told us about this all you can eat 焼肉 (yakiniku) that costs only ¥2000 per person. It was a 15-minute walk away from the mall, which we were all dreading considering the amount of snow on the ground. By the time we got to the restaurant, our hands were freezing so we used the grill in the middle of the table to warm up our hands. I was so surprised with the amount of food available to us. Not only did they have a large selection of meat, they also had regular food (spaghetti, ramen, udon, meatballs, fries, etc.) and many different types of sushi. They even had a dessert section where you could make your own crepes and cotton candy. It was a beautiful sight really.


Nils and Kevin decided to take the fish from the sushi and grill some of it. Kevin ended up liking it so much that he came back with about 20 pieces of squid sushi and grilling it. Kevin doesn’t like rice so he ended up stacking the rice from the sushi in a bowl. Don’t worry though, it didn’t go to waste; Griff ate it all with his meat. Oh, I forgot to mention that there was an ice cream section as well. They had matcha flavor and oh boy, Griff went all out. He LOVES match flavored ice cream. I’ve never seen such a happy boy. All of us got full after about 30-40 minutes of straight eating. I couldn’t sit up straight. We all sat at the table and talked while letting our stomachs digest. Patrik’s crazy self kept getting more and more food though. Every 5 minutes he was sitting back down with another dessert. He really wanted to get his money’s worth.

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Here’s a selfie Patrik took of all of us. What a great last family dinner. I’m not going to lie though the walk back to the mall was probably the best part. The guy and I all had a snowball fight. We were trying to form alliances but kept going against each other. The girls were all the way in the front trying to avoid us. One minute they were next to us…the next minute they were 100 meters ahead of us. We ended up catching up to them and hitting them with snowballs.


Isabella and I decided to do laundry at 1am just to get it out of the way. We needed to change so I broke my ¥1000 bill in the vending machine and bought hot coffee for me and hot milk tea for Isabella. The snow was beautiful so we walked outside for a bit while sipping on our hot drinks. The picture above is of Isabella concentrating on the snowflakes attaching to her eyelashes. I couldn’t stop laughing because it looked like she was staring off into the distance…we were laughing so hard. Oh brother. Sleep deprivation is a wonderful thing.

15403156_10210866845014487_103781612_n.jpgThe snow just keeps piling up. I still don’t own any boots so I’m walking around with my slip on vans. Did I mention that my vans have holes in them? There’s only two weeks left here though so I think I can manage. I should probably buy a pair of boots before I return to Richmond though considering it snows there too. Oh man. Well, last week of school starts tomorrow then I’m off to Osaka. I don’t think it’s hit me that I’m leaving Akita yet. It’s hard to believe that I’m never going to see most of these people again. 11 more days and that will all be over. I’m so used to walking around, going to class, and grabbing meals with friends. It probably won’t hit me that I’m leaving until I set foot into the airport. I’m really going to miss this place.


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.


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