Kakehashi Project: Austin and Chandler’s Home Stay

Austin and Chandler share their home stay experience closer to the seaside of Oita. They got to experience the Japanese hospitality and humbleness, a 5-start meal made by the host families, as well as a great ocean view on their walks around town.

On the island of Kyushu, visiting the relaxed, peaceful countryside of Saiki City, we were given the amazing opportunity to stay in the homes of the members of the Green Tourism volunteers. Our home stay group consisted on Austin, Chandler, Dennis, Ahmed, and Evan. An hour away from the urban centers of Oita, and a scenic drive through mountains and forests, Saiki felt like another world. The fields of crops were neatly aligned and houses adorned with beautiful roofs. It was the pure ideal of the Japanese countryside.

At first the idea of staying with someone who knew no English was a little worrisome. Most people in the areas of Japan that we had been to up to this point had spoken a decent amount of English and could understand our broken attempts at Japanese. The area of Saiki was less used to this. We arrived to a greeting that was enough to put our hearts at ease. The town had put up a big banner to welcome us, and soon we met Hadaka-San.

Austin with his home stay parents

Our home stay family only spoke Japanese, but fortunately, Dennis (who was in our group) speaks Japanese, so he was able to translate for us. Despite this language barrier, this experience taught us about key cultural differences. While our home stay family were a quiet couple, their hospitality for us was like none I have ever experienced before. They opened their home to us, fed us with delicious food and gave us a look into their lives. Sitting around the table with Hadaka-san late at night having coffee and enjoying each others’ company was a simple pleasure that reminded me how much of a treasure it is to share time with other people.

This home stay experience gave us a clearer understanding of the differences between urban and rural Japan. Luckily on this trip, we were fortunate enough to go sightseeing in the urban area of Tokyo and the more rural, scenic area of Oita. Tokyo was tremendous in size and appeared to be a financial hub similar to New York City, although much cleaner and less hectic. Conversely, Oita was very mountainous throughout, but Hadaka-san, being a fisherman, lived right on the coast. The view on the walk we took in the morning still feels too beautiful to have been real, but the scenery stays with us.

The view of the ocean from our home stay in Oita

Further, many of the vegetables and fish which we ate were raised and caught by our host family personally; this is significantly different than the typical American experience of going to a grocery store for raw materials to cook. Our host family provided a 5-star restaurant-quality dinner and breakfast for all five of us, which we appreciated thoroughly.

This was a big part of what we found to be the humility of the Japanese people. As can be seen by certain items in the below image which I took of the interior of their home, our host father was a proud carpenter, fisherman, and musician. However, he was too humble to play his instruments or boast about his fascinating work to us, even when prompted.

The interior of the home we stayed in
Ahmed, Evan, Hadaka-san, Dennis, Austin, and Chandler

Before long we had to say our goodbyes. Despite a language barrier and only staying one night, leaving was very hard. This trip to Japan has taught me to value the people I meet and keep the lessons I learn with them with me as I live my life. I hope to pay forward the warm welcome I was extended.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 5: Ittekimasu or Sayonara?

Or go see another home stay! Joe’s Home StayChristine’s Home Stay

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project: Joe’s Home Stay

Follow Joseph Latkovich’s home stay experience in Oita, Japan! He gets to see some traditional Japanese homes, bond over a Japanese card game, have a traditional Japanese breakfast, and visit a Sake factory business, to have the most enjoyable time with the host families.

Joe here! At the beginning of the third day, Lorraine gave me a paper covering my home stay group; Ethan, Kevin, Judson, and I would be staying with a grandmother named Shouko, grandfather named Mitsuo, and their grandson named Soto. As we were walking to meet Shouko, I asked Miho if she was happy to get a break from us for the night, but she said that she was very sad about it and that she wanted to sneak into one of our suitcases on Sunday to come back to the United States with us.

We met with Shouko who greeted us and drove us to her house, near the bottom of a mountainous area. She knew a few English words, so Kevin translated for the group. The house had two main parts with a garden in between. One side was a functional house with a kitchen, shower area, living room, and tatami room and the other side had two rooms; one was something between a garage and a kitchen, and the other is best described as a dining room with a cooking pit in the middle, which we’ll just call the dining room.

Once we arrived at the house, she introduced us to Mitsuo, who was busy making a fire in the kitchen/garage. We changed into casual clothes and went into the dining room, where we were served green tea and a dessert made from red beans. We sat and talked with Shouko for a while, and then some of their neighbors as well as one of the groups from University of Kentucky came over. We then went into the kitchen/garage area to help with cooking; we battered and fried mushrooms, chicken, and sweet potatoes. At the same time, Mitsuo and the host family father for the Kentucky group  put coals in the cooking pit and cooked shrimp, scallops, squid, and potatoes.

The Kentucky home stay father cooking over the pit while Kevin and Judson help

Our group, Mitsuo, the other host father, and the Kentucky group all ate together sitting around the cooking pit, while Shouko and other women ate in the kitchen/garage. The food was amazing, and there was an ungodly amount of it; we were all stuffed, but felt obligated to finish as our hosts were so proud of their cooking and wanted to make sure we had eaten enough.

The full meal

After dinner, the group from Kentucky left, and we sat talking with Mitsuo for a while. Not much longer afterwards, the grandson, Soto, returned home from playing baseball, so he joined us. Soto’s father as well as Shouko both joined us, and we all sat and talked. Mitsuo was eager to share his perspective on the Japanese people and economy; he took a lot of pride in the quality of Japanese products and engineering, as well as their commitment to safety. He had previously worked as an inspector for the railway system in Oita, and he told us that rail workers from other countries would come to study the structure and quality of the Japanese railways, but were unable to successfully replicate it. We got onto the topic of sports, and Ethan showed them a picture of the Shoe during a game, which they were amazed by. They taught us a card game similar to old maid, and we taught them blackjack. We played cards until around midnight, at which point Shouko led us over to the tatami room, where she had set up mats and blankets for us to sleep on.

Even though we had stayed up very late, we wanted to get up early to say goodbye to Soto. Before he left, we took a picture with him and Shouko.

In front: Shouko and Soto. In back, left to right: Ethan, Joe, Kevin, Judson.

After Soto left for school, Shouko made us breakfast consisting of rice, eggs, fermented beans, yogurt, and bananas. Ethan couldn’t handle the taste of the fermented beans, but the rest of the group powered through. Once we finished, Shouko led us on a walk down the road next to her house. She told us that she used to walk the family dog down the road every day, and no matter how many times she did, the scenery still looked beautiful to her.

The view from Shouko’s home in Oita

We walked back, and Shouko drove us to a nearby Sake factory for a tour. Upon arriving, we found that another home stay group (consisting of Lewis, Pat, Alex, and Jacob) were also there with their home stay mother. Our tour leader walked us through their entire process, showing us the vats of fermenting rice up through putting labels on the finished bottles. While Sake is traditionally made from rice, they also produced several variations made from barley, peaches, and plums. The tour leader was very proud to announce that one of their types of Sake is used on American Airlines flights, which was very significant as it was a small factory (roughly equivalent to a microbrewery, having limited access to distribution networks). Consequently, it was cool to see how much the town supported the factory; the factory was an obvious point of pride for the town, and it employed a good number of residents. This gave us a big takeaway in the fact that the community was not just a group of neighbors, but also a group of friends that enjoyed living together and supporting each other.

Checking out the process at the local Sake factory
One of the vats at the Sake factory

After the tour ended, Shouko drove us to Saiki City Hall to meet back up with everyone from Fisher and their home stay families, which is where our Day Four blog picks up. See you there!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 5: Ittekimasu or Sayonara?

Or go see another home Saty! Austin and Chandler’s Home StayChristine’s Home Stay

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 5: Ittekimasu or Sayonara?

On the forth day on the Kakehashi Project, the group is confronted with some difficult goodbyes with their host families as they get ready to depart from Oita, Japan. They also finished and practiced their final preparation on the action plan presentation they will give to the Foreign Ministry of the Japan.

On day four, all of the students and home stay families regrouped at the Saiki City Hall. We went up to a large conference room inside and sat down for a talk from the mayor. Most of the host families sat in the back of the room, but Shouko (Joe’s home stay mother – read his blog post to hear more about it!) sat up towards the front next to Miho, the staff from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE),  who was translating; after the mayor was done speaking, they handed the microphone to Shouko who talked about how much she, Mitsuo, and Soto looked forward to us visiting, and how much they enjoyed hosting us. After Shouko was done speaking, we cleared the chairs from the room to do our group presentations; Cindy led the Ohio State group in singing Carmen Ohio, and the Kentucky group had a few people swing dance and a 4th-year PhD student play a guitar riff.

Shouko speaking to the group at city hall

After the presentations, we left city hall for lunch. Each group sat with their host family, which was nice because they were able to guide us through what each food item was and how to eat it.

Pat, Alex, Jacob, and Lewis with their homestay mother
Christine, Lily, and Amber with their homestay parents

After we were done, we went outside to say our final goodbyes. Even though we were going to be back with Miho, we didn’t want to leave our host families. There are several accounts of what happened next, but Kevin would say that it was extremely dusty outside of the restaurant and he was thus ‘sweating profusely’ from his eyes. We got back on the bus and waved goodbye.

Kevin fighting through an extreme case of eyeball sweating while waving goodbye to Shouko

During our orientation sessions with Kozue, the program coordinator,  we learned two phrases for departing: sayonara, essentially meaning ‘goodbye’ with the connotation that you will not be returning, and ittekimasu, which directly translates as ‘I will go and I will come back.’ This seemed too nuanced for us to try to remember a month before the trip, but it became extremely important as we started having to say our goodbyes. Leaving our homestay families was our first go-around with saying goodbye to some of the people we bonded with during the trip, and it was much harder than we had expected; these people had invited us into their homes and treated us like family. They showed us a true kindness that we couldn’t repay, and we really appreciated it, which really catalyzed the bonds developed during the homestays. In the back of our heads, we knew that we were getting into the back-half of the trip, and in a few short days, we would have to say goodbye to Miho and the country of Japan. Miho kept reminding us not to say ‘goodbye’ to anyone, but ‘see you later.’

We went back to the building where the  Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) representative spoke to us to work on our dissemination plans; prior to the trip, we had been split into ‘social media team,’ ‘video team,’ ‘presentation team,’ and ‘blog team’. Each group had been working on different dissemination methods throughout the trip; social media team had been posting on the Fisher OGB Instagram account, video team had been taking short videos throughout the trip and is planning to edit them into a larger string of videos, blog team had been writing what happened on the trip to be posted in blog form after the trip, and presentation team had to give a presentation in the closing meeting with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). This time gave us an opportunity to regroup and evaluate how we were doing. After quick discussions, the social media team, video team, and blog team took some time to go outside and enjoy the sunny day, as we had spent most of our time either inside buildings or on the bus. Meanwhile, Cindy whipped the presentation team into shape and got the ball rolling on a rough draft of the PowerPoint they would be showing the next day.

Dr. Prud’homme taking a selfie at the dissemination planning session

We left for our hotel to get changed, and then went out to dinner at Stamina Taro, which could best be described as the Japanese equivalent of Golden Corral. Another ‘cook your own meal’ restaurant, raw meat and uncooked vegetables were set up in a buffet, and you cooked your food at a grill at your table. It was extremely tough to correctly time out how long each item should cook for, so most of the meat ended up very overcooked. There was also sushi and desserts available, so after we tried and failed to enjoy the meat and vegetables, we deferred to the shrimp sushi and ice cream (separately but interestingly, we have been suspecting that Miho only likes dessert. It has become a habit for us to ask Miho if she will eat when we go into a restaurant, to which she normally responds “ehhhh, I’m not really hungry, but maybe there’ll be ice cream”). Most of us thought this was most ‘average’ meal of the trip, but Kelly said it was the most enjoyable.

We returned to the hotel so that the presentation team could continue working, while the rest of the group started to decompress in their rooms. About an hour later, we all met in the lobby of the hotel so that the presentation team could go through a trial run. Casey wasn’t feeling well, but she was very determined to give a great presentation. Afterwards, a few people gave some very fiery feedback comments to the presenters, effectively ending the meeting and the night.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 6: What’s a Fork?

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 4: Try it and See

They visit the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO), an organization facilitating foreign direct investment opportunities in Japan, and OMRON, an electronic company creating job opportunities for people with disabilities. Both exposing them to the unique and interesting dynamic of doing business in Japan.

We didn’t have to board the bus until 9:30 a.m. on the fifth day, so we had a very long breakfast, complete with friendly gossip. 

We took a short bus ride to hear a speaker from the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO). JETRO is a non-profit organization that helps non-Japanese companies with foreign direct investment opportunities in Japan. This work includes assistance with visas, immigration, human resources, navigating the local markets, and other key functions. JETRO has provided assistance to companies in a diverse array of industries such as automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and technology. In the past, JETRO has provided assistance to major companies including Amazon, Tesla, and Johnson & Johnson. Our speaker, Mr. Yusuke Okano, talked about his time working for JETRO both in Japan and in their Chicago, Illinois office (one of six in the United States). The presentation wrapped up and we appointed Dennis to give Mr. Okano a gift from us. We then left and headed off to lunch.

Lecture on JETRO from Mr. Okano

Continuing on the ‘cook your own meal at a restaurant’ theme, lunch was a combination of cabbage, egg, and pork that we mixed together and cooked on a grill in the middle of our table. We were given glasses and told to fill up our glasses at a soft drink dispenser. The labels on the dispenser were written nearly exclusively in Japanese, so it quickly became a game of sampling each option to figure out what everything was, which exemplified most of our meals on the trip – we took on a ‘try it and see’ mentality as some of the foods we were eating had never entered our consciousness before arriving in Japan. Because every table had a hot grill going, the restaurant was steaming inside, so we ate as quickly as possible, so that we could go outside in the breeze. There was a pet store on the other side of the plaza that some of us went to see; in addition to the pets we were expecting such as dogs, rabbits, and fish, they had some other types of animals such as owls and mice. All of the dogs were behind glass, which made it quite tough to boop them on the nose.

We were each given a bowl of cabbage, pork, and a raw egg that we mixed and then cooked on the grill in front of us
Kevin, Christine Dawson, Dennis, and Chandler enjoying lunch together

After lunch, we were off to OMRON, a company that we didn’t know much about prior to our visit. Coming off of a big meal and crowding into a small, warm room for the presentation, we were initially concerned about our ability to listen (read: stay awake). This is why it took several seconds for us to really grasp the overall uniqueness of the OMRON mission; while several companies in the U.S. employed primarily people with disabilities, they were rarely considered successful from a purely business standpoint. Companies like Goodwill thrived mostly as a combination of altruism, donations and separate regulations for non-profits and charities.

OMRON, however, was different. They are a fully-functional, successful business that employees people with disabilities and, rather than work around the particular disabilities their employees were presented with, they worked with them. On the line, everyone had the same production requirements. OMRON was willing to go above and beyond in terms of finding ways to make that possible, but otherwise the employees were all considered equal in terms of both benefits and responsibilities.

Kevin thanking the OMRON representatives for their presentation

The tour emphasized what the presentation told us, with windows allowing a look onto the line where numbers tallied each employee’s count for the day. Specially-built tables allowed for both wheelchairs and static chairs to fit under the same way, allowing for an interchangeability between employees with and without disabilities that other companies don’t even try for. Mirrors at the bottom of staircases give full visibility of the hallway that a limited range of movement can sometimes prevent. Even the crosswalk between the office building and plant was unusual, playing a distinctive tune (unlike an ice cream truck) when it was safe to stand out from the general hubbub of the day. All of this played into our big takeaway from OMRON that a company can develop itself to fit the strengths and mitigate the struggles of its employees as opposed to the typical inverse structure of making employees fit a pre-existing job description and work environment. This idea isn’t just limited to employees with physical disabilities either; allowing employees to focus on their strengths and interests will ultimately lead to a more positive work experience. We hope to take this idea with us in the future and implement it in our current group work in the classroom as well as in our future careers.

After departing OMRON, we went to meet our host families for our home stay. We were split up into six groups with three or four people in each group. We grouped up, and each home stay family’s name was called out, so they could join their group, unlike a sorority big/little reveal. Dr. Prud’homme and Lorraine got a break from us for a night, and it got dusty parting from Miho. Ironically enough, some of the host families drove Daihatsu cars (read the blog post on the visit to Daihatsu), so we got to see what their automobiles were like on the inside (very roomy for a compact car, in our opinion). Experiences varied by group, so we’ll cut the blog for day three here and dive into our home stay experiences in separate blog posts. Arigatogozaimasu! Thank you!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 5: Ittekimasu or Sayonara?

Read about the home stays! Joe’s Home Stay /  Christine Dawson’s Home StayAustin and Chandler’s Home Stay

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

The Kakehashi Project group moves on to their second day in Japan! This time in Oita, south west of Japan. There they were impressed by an automotive company, immersed in the culture through a tea ceremony and performance, and devoured the wonderful food the country offeres. At the end of the day, they learned the Japanese spirit of “ichi-go, ichi-e”, cherishing every encounter in our lives.

Day two after arriving in Tokyo, Japan, we were already in a new city on a new island. We flew to the southern island of Kyushu. Known for its hot springs and mountains, it was a whole new world compared to busy Tokyo. We got the chance to tour the facilities of a domestic car manufacturer, Daihatsu, and see what their processes were like.

Daihatsu takes great pride in making small, comfortable cars for Japan, a country where space and the ability to drive come at a premium. Additionally, they have some of the most eco-friendly automobile production plants in the country, which is a major point of pride for them. It offered a lot of perspective in regards to how to responsibly manufacturer goods.

The tour consisted of a presentation on the history of the company and their different business lines. Daihatsu is a 100% subsidiary of Toyota, and competes in three main automobile markets: small passenger cars, compact pickup trucks, and special purpose vehicles. We saw very few Toyotas on the road during our time in Japan, but we saw a considerable amount of Dsihatsu cars, so we concluded that Diahatsu was Toyota’s method of capturing the Japanese car market, which would be considered niche given the tastes and preferences towards compact vehicles.

After the presentation, we walked through one of their plants and observed work being done at various points on the assembly line. What we found to be very unique is that they produced several types of vehicles on the same assembly line; we watched as a seemingly random order of vehicles came through, with cars, trucks, and other vehicles mixed in with each other. Another thing that stood out to us was the positive energy or ‘vibe’ in the factory. The workers all seemed to be enthusiastic as they performed their jobs, and the factory was very well lit on the inside, which we thought to be completely different from typical US factories. Dr. Prud’homme was thoroughly impressed with the process efficiency (very candidly, it was the most excited any of us have ever seen her).

Taking in the Daihatsu presentation with graduate and PhD students from University of Kentucky. In this photo, a vending machine is visible in the back of the room, which sold toy model versions of their automobiles

At the conclusion of the tour, we boarded our bus, and our contact from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that it is common practice in Japanese culture to wave at your guests as they depart until they can no longer see you. Sure enough, we watched our tour guides wave at our bus until we were well down the road and out of view.

In the afternoon, we visited a Japanese hot spring. Kozue, our program coordinator, had talked extensively in her orientation sessions about sentos (public baths) and onsens (hot springs); the general concept is to bathe publicly with other members of the same sex. Being college students, the vast majority of us are extremely body conscious, so the thought of public bathing prompted us to work furiously in the RPAC before the trip to shed some unwanted weight. Luckily, the hot spring we visited was just for dipping your feet in. Before taking the dip into the steaming water, we walked around the grounds at the facility, which was absolutely stunning. This was our first real chance to take in the scenery in Oita, so we were blown away by the beauty within the landscape.

Beppu onsen in Oita

The spring did have a strong smell of sulfur, which Judson found tough but bearable. We then all took a seat and put our feet in the water. It was very refreshing, and very hot. The onsen had a very calming effect, which provided us a nice break after a few days of hectic travel. Kozue had told us ahead of time that within the Japanese culture, bathing is used as a time of tranquility and reflection. Whether using a bath in a home, a sento, or an onsen, a large part of the experience involved sitting in water and being still. From our experience in the onsen, we were definitely able to get a glimpse into the soothing effects of this practice.

From left to right: Judson, Ahmed, Austin, Joe, Ethan, Kevin, Kelly, Chandler

We headed back into the city for a tea ceremony and cultural presentation. The tea ceremony consisted of drinking tea in a traditional tatami room in a ceremony conducted by a tea master and her assistants. Miho translated for the tea master as she talked about the spiritual aspect of tea in Japanese culture. She taught us the phrase Ichi-go Ichi-e, which means “once-in-a-lifetime” (literally, “one time, one meeting”) The meaning of this phrase is to enjoy your time spent with others and to really embrace the moment you share, and that in life, we must cherish every encounter, and that even one meeting with someone is priceless.

The Tea Master (center) with our group

After we finished drinking the tea, we were allowed to ask the tea master questions about the ceremony and her profession. Someone asked her what made her become a tea master and how long she had been a tea master for. As she responded in Japanese, Dennis and Kevin (both Japanese language learners) gasped and tried to hide wide smiles, so the rest of the group knew something good was coming; she had started training to become a tea master in her twenties, and she was now 84 years old. She didn’t look older than 60, so we were all shocked. Lewis, who is speculated to be over 6’3”, was determined to get a picture with the tea master, who was well under 4’0”.

The Tea Master and Lewis

We moved down the hall of the building we were to a small presentation room, where we enjoyed a traditional Japanese music and dance presentation. Before each song or dance, Miho would explain the cultural significance. We had a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when Miho explained what one of the dances was about and followed it up by saying “the dance doesn’t make much sense.”

From there, we split into two groups, with one group going to a seafood and vegetable buffet, and the other going to shabu shabu. Shabu shabu is a style of eating where pots of oil and soy sauce boil in the middle of the table and beef, pork, chicken, tofu, and vegetables are dropped in, cooked, and eaten. All of the Ohio State members sat together except for Ahmed, who squeezed in with some Kentucky PhD students and learned about their journeys through life. The buffet group reported it as being enjoyable, but the shabu shabu group had a great time being able to cook together and try new foods.

We returned back to the hotel at around 6:45 pm, so we had a good amount of time to ourselves that night. The majority of the group walked down the street to go shopping in a store called Trial, which is roughly comparable to a Walmart. While shopping, we found Miho, who had the same idea as us; she showed the group what the best items were to buy. From there, one group led by Erica went out looking for something to do, but returned unsuccessful. Another group gathered in one of the hotel rooms to talk and watch TV; a program about Canada was on, and even though we had only been in Japan for a couple days, it seemed extremely odd when the screen showed cars driving on the right side of the road.

The theme for Tuesday afternoon was definitely “Ichi-go, ichi-e”, as this opportunity has already been once in a lifetime and this phrase captures that. It is true that in life we never know what truly lies in the next day. That’s certainly true on this trip, but in living out ichi-go, ichi-e,the importance of cherishing every encounter in our lives is something that we carry with us from now on (certainly for the rest of our time in Japan).

As we close out another day in Japan, we wish you a good night, oyasuminasai.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 4: Try it and See

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Guide for Attending a Spanish University

From how to dress, how you take your in-between-class breaks, to the best gelato place to go after class, Samantha Ludes guides you how to navigate a Spanish university, as she attends the Universidad Pontificia Comillas for a semester on the Student Exchange Program.

I wish there had been a “How To” guide to attending a university in Spain, but since there is not, I decided to make my own. Everything from the clothes you wear to using graph paper instead of lined paper, there is a laundry list of differences.

I am studying at Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICADE, a business school in the heart of Madrid, Spain on Fisher’s Student Exchange Program. The school itself is beautiful. The Church inside the school and the tiled blue walls make me feel as if I am not at school at all.

I take classes ranging from Planificación y Gestión de Marketing (Marketing Planning and Management) to Spanish Culture Through Visual Arts. Most of my classes are primarily international students except for my Marketing course. It has been very beneficial to take classes with Spanish students since I have learned so much about the culture, the slang, and what university is like in Spain.

The first thing I learned is that students do not eat in classes, that is considered very rude. They do, however, talk during class. At least in my experience, students will talk to friends and be very casual in front of the teachers. Professors here are also more informal, talking about what good places students should go to, and not minding when students show up 20 minutes late to class, especially on Mondays.

Coffee breaks are apart of everyone’s everyday schedule. Before or after class, we will often go grab a coffee at a local cafe near school. My personal favorite is to go to UVEPAN because all of the staff are so friendly and love when I practice my Spanish with them. PRO TIP: If it is Monday then go to McDonald’s (which are a lot nicer in Spain) and get FREE coffee. All you have to do is ask for it!

People stand outside the building and catch up for a while after class with friends. Standing on those steps I have planned weekend trips, dinner plans, and laughed about stories from the previous week. I have met with group project members to discuss our assignments and scheduled our next meetings. In the states, I tend to go to class and then straight to whatever I had planned next. Here they take their time, plan a lot less, and chat a lot more. In my attempt to blend in, I have had to adjust how I present myself in class. I went from dressing very casually, typically in my workout clothes and my backpack, to wearing jeans, a sweater, and boots or sneakers with my purse. People dress as if they are going out to dinner but instead it is just for class. To my surprise, I have actually enjoyed getting ready like that everyday (probably because the shopping is so great here) but nonetheless, it has been an adjustment.

Going to a university in Spain may be very different from going to Ohio State, but different is not always bad. Getting lost in this small (but VERY confusing) building has led me to meet Spanish students who studied at Ohio State for their abroad experience. I approached a group of students in the cafe and asked if one of them could show me where the bookstore was. A few of them offered to walk me there and were telling me about where they studied in the US. It was the craziest coincidence when one of the students told me he studied at Ohio State. We talked about our business classes and football (of course) and how we missed the deep love for all things OSU. Talking with him about being a Buckeye made this new place feel a little more like home.

Another perk of going to Comillas is the gelato shop La Romana right down the street. If you like gelato, you will LOVE this.  The people at the counter will let you try almost every flavor, ranging from the classic Pistachio to Biscotto. I get a new flavor almost every time I go because they’re all so delicious that I can’t even pick a favorite! You must go in there and ask for a “muestra” (sample) and you will understand what I am talking about.

As always, Go Bucks!

First Week in Italy

Sarah Disselkamp shares some of the differences in being a student in Italy vs. U.S. Hear what her life is like in her first week attending Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi on the Student Exchange Program.

It has officially been 1.5 weeks since we arrived here in Milan to study at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, and it certainly has been a whirlwind! I have learned so much about living in Europe and specifically Italy.

Being in Milan, one of the most fashion conscientious cities in the world, the most immediate difference I noticed was the clothing. It is very easy to pick out a native Italian versus an exchange student while walking around Bocconi. Italian students tend to dress up more for class, and their outfits are more trendy, whereas American students tend to dress more business casual when dressing up for classes. I’ve noticed that the shoes tend to be a big hint, as Italians usually wear boots or something with a heel. Shopping in and around Milan has helped a lot though, and has been super fun!

Another major difference is the culture around food. In the United States, we typically eat 3 meals a day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner; whereas in Milan they do 4. They have breakfast and lunch, which are smaller meals, aperitivo, which is a prix fix hour of unlimited appetizers at a restaurant between 6 and 9pm, and then dinner beginning between 8 and 9 typically. Many restaurants are closed between the end of lunch around 2pm and 4, sometimes even being closed until dinner at 7! This can make it hard to find something to eat, especially on Sundays when almost everything is closed. I am learning how to plan ahead and make sure I don’t get caught in one of the in between times though!

The final difference I have noticed between American culture and Italian is the bureaucracy. In the United States, filling out forms is usually a straightforward event. However, in Italy, it has been anything but! From the permit of stay to an Italian SIM card and a monthly metro pass, it seems that every task has come with a wide range of conflicting advice and instructions. I have found that the best way to approach these situations is to have all of your ducks in a row and just go for it! The people processing the paperwork and such have all been very understanding so far.

Although it has definitely been an adjustment, I am loving my time so far in Italy! I have gotten the opportunity to meet so many people and experience so many things that I wouldn’t have been able to in the United States, and it hasn’t even been 2 weeks. As classes start this week, my goals going forward are to ensure that I am keeping up with my schoolwork and finding the perfect balance between school and travelling. I am so excited to see what the rest of the semester holds in store!

Life in Bangkok – A Typical Week

Live through a typical week in Bangkok, Thailand with Talia Bhaiji, as she shares her week as a student at Thammasat University on the Student Exchange Program.

There’s no typical week in Bangkok, but I’ll do my best to try and describe what I do here, and how a week here goes.

Monday: I usually head to the school library or the cafe next to Amarin to get some work done. I prefer to get my work done early in the week, so that I can have the opportunity to enjoy my weekends with my friends or on a trip. Sometimes, if I am on a trip, I’ll fly home/take a bus home this morning, so that I can have a full day before school; lots of my friends have class on Mondays, so it’s cool for me to go shopping or go to a museum I missed out on earlier.

Tuesday: Class 9-12, Class 1-4. I’ll stay on campus all day, breakfast at 7/11, and lunch at the canteen. At the end of the day, I’ll usually head home, get a quick nap in (the heat takes it out of your body) and usually do some homework at night or spend time with my friends.

Wednesday: Class 9-12. Sometimes I’ll stay on campus and get lunch at the canteen (it’s so cheap, food is on average 30 baht=$0.90) and maybe go to the library for some work. Sometimes we’ll go do something after school, a couple days ago we went and did laser tag after class which was so much fun! At night, we usually all hang out on the rooftop or play cards in someone’s room. Sometimes we’ll go check out a live band, or hang around at an event around Bangkok; there’s always lots of concerts and lots to do in the area. If you have a Facebook, start RSVPing to a bunch of events and you’ll see the hundreds of things to do in Bangkok all the time.

Thursday: Class 9-12, and after class I usually always head home after an exhausting week of class and take a nap. If we’re going on a trip, we usually always leave at night, or if my friends have already gone, I’ll usually leave right after my class and head out. If not, we’ll enjoy a nice night in Bangkok, maybe staying in and watching a movie or walking around a nice new neighborhood.

Friday: If I’m not on a trip, I’m spending a lot of time with my friends. Since the majority of people have class Monday-Thursday, Fridays are usually off for everyone. We usually go somewhere and do something fun, or take the time to explore somewhere new in Bangkok. There’s so many places to get lost in the city and so much to do, minus the pricey taxi rides.

Saturday: We’ve used Saturdays as a day to start exploring new restaurants all around Bangkok. Unfortunately there’s almost no restaurants around Amarin, so we’re usually forced to go outside of our neighborhood, but there’s a ton of nice restaurants in Khao San. If you’re on the road, check out Ethos Vegetarian Restaurant, May Kaidee, and Taste of India! Even Burger King, their veggie burger is absolute amazing. They’re some of my favorites that I’ve been able to find just by wandering around and exploring.

Sunday: Many times Sunday is the day we’re getting back from a trip so it’s filled with lots of laundry, cleaning, and showers. I know that doesn’t sound glamorous but not all of Student Exchange is. If we’re not traveling I’m usually still doing homework and getting ahead for the weeks that I am traveling since it’s nearly impossible to get homework done while you’re backpacking. We also go to Yimsoo Cafe and hang out and do homework!

I hope you enjoyed a week in Bangkok!

Reflections on My Semester Abroad in France

After a month back from the Student Exchange Program, Troy Weider reflects on his incredible semester abroad in Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things that he already misses about leaving Europe, the return culture shock he felt coming back to the U.S., and his message to students considering (or on the fence) to go abroad.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.17.41 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.24 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.26 PMWow… I can hardly believe that it has already been a month since I arrived back to Perrysburg, Ohio, after four months of exploring some of the most beautiful places in Europe. I catch myself daydreaming about being back in the Alps, being back in a Parisian café, or being back in Strasbourg, surrounded by fairy-tale architecture, Christmas markets and all the new friends I so quickly had to leave behind.

Studying abroad was a life-changing experience, and I would recommend it to any college student who has ever had even Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.18.20 PMthe faintest interest. Ever since I was a little kid, the outside world, with its diverse people’s and cultures has always fascinated me. In elementary school, I would pour over children’s atlases and history books, dreaming of what it would be like to be in another country, exploring a corner of the world that was previously unknown to me. I finally got to know what that experience felt like in these last few months. Living in a place that’s very different, yet at the same time comfortable and unintimidating.

Things are very different now that I’m back at home. I no longer plan weekend trips to London or Slovenia, I’ve got a lot more schoolwork that I have to do, and for whatever reason, no one is speaking French! On a more serious note, it is great to be back again to see everyone who I was missing during this last semester, and after not really being in Columbus for the last eight months, it feels nice to be back on Ohio State’s campus again. Near the top of my list of things that I missed while in France, was being able to watch football (well at least so called “American football”, and luckily I arrived back just in time to watch the college football bowl season and the NFL playoffs! While at the game I was most looking forward to, did not really go as planned, it was nice to be back watching football with friends and family.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.04 PMDespite all the bittersweet happiness of being back home, the first few weeks back showed me that reverse culture shock really does exist. I can remember just realizing how big everything really is here: from the portion sizes to the cars to the buildings. People speak much quieter in public in France than they do in the United States, and right when I started getting use to that back in Strasbourg, I left to come back. Something that I did not really miss though was that the air feels much cleaner in the United States without the constant smell of everyone smoking cigarettes. But one of the things that I was most excited about being back was being able to have large amounts of mediocre American coffee again! I’m a big coffee drinker, and while I love the French café culture, it’s hard to find cheap coffee that is anywhere near the same size as its American counterpart, instead it’s stronger and much smaller. There is a plethora of differences between France and the United States, but these differences are really what made my trip so exciting in the first place!

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.21.05 PM

Last Travels

I love being able to reflect on my experiences during the last few months, so I figured I’d also give you all a brief recap of what’s been going on since my last blog post.

After starting classes near the end of September, I came into October with a full schedule of trips planned. My first one, and one of the highlights of my whole experience, was a trip with four of my friends to Slovenia. This is one of the most beautiful, but sadly overlooked countries of Europe. Slovenia had everything: beautiful Alps and lakes in the northwest, beautiful castles and villages, a very quaint yet cosmopolitan capital city, some of the largest caves in the whole world, and a small but beautiful Adriatic coastline. Slovenia was an amazing trip, and luckily the next weekend I got to go on a long weekend trip with my friend Julie, who happens to go to BGSU and was on the Slovenia trip as well. Julie and I spent three full days seeing the best of London! We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and tons of free museums along the way. London is an incredible city with all its history and diversity, and I was very lucky to cross that one off my bucket list. Then the following week, the University of Strasbourg had its Fall Break and I got to go on the trip of a lifetime, a 10-day trip through Europe with my dad. While my dad and I had always loved to travel together, he had never been to Europe before, and this was a great opportunity to show him around my “temporary home”. We met up in Paris for a few days before taking the TGV high-speed train to Strasbourg. Once there I gave him a 36-hour “best of Strasbourg” tour, with stops at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the European Parliament, Petite-France, the European Parliament, Orangerie Park, lots of sauerkraut and tarte flambées along the way. Then the next morning the two of us rented a little French car, a black Renault Twingo, and started a 6-day road trip through the heart of Europe. Starting first in Ribeauvillé, a small medieval town along the Alsatian Wine Route, we visited my French friend Hakim, who gave us a day-long tour of his hometown and the castles and villages that surrounded it. Hakim was one of my closest friends who I met in Strasbourg, and we luckily met during my first week in the city when I was lost trying to find the laundry room. I asked this random student in the main building where to do my laundry, and after showing me the way there, we ended up talking for an hour or so in both French and English, and then we started hanging out a few days later. Getting to see this region with a local made the experience much more unique, and since Hakim had several friends and family members working at the local wineries, we ended our day with a few tastings and cellar tours. From here, we spent the next day in the Swiss Alps, making a four-hour stop in my favorite Swiss city, Lucerne, before driving the high mountain Klausen Pass through the heart of the Alps. After several hours of the most breathtaking scenery, we made it to the micro-country of Liechtenstein, where we saw the main castle, got a “VIP tour” of the nation’s parliament, and ate at what seemed like Vaduz’s most happening restaurant. Then we left the Alps behind us and made it to Munich, where we spent the next day biking between parks and beer gardens past old reconstructed churches and palaces. Munich was amazing, but I was most excited about the final leg of our trip, the Czech Republic. I had made a lot of friends from this country during my time in Strasbourg, and Prague was always at the top of my bucket list of places to see. During our short two-day stay we drove to Plzen, where my friend Petra gave us a list of cool breweries and sites to visit in her hometown, then we visited the imposing Karlstejn castle en route to Prague in time to catch the sunset. Prague lived up to my expectations and was one of the most beautiful cities that I visited in Europe. Between the Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and all the local pubs, restaurants, and hidden spots that I was told to visit by my Czech friends, Prague proved to be a memorable stop. The last day of our trip, we drove back through the Czech Republic and Germany, before I sadly had to say goodbye to my dad the next morning, but while his European vacation was over, my adventure continued.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.39 PMIn the last half of my stay I went on several day trips with my “host family”, was interviewed by French radio about the American presidential elections, continued spending time with my new friends, and went on several more weekend trips to Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Route, Heidelberg and Nancy. The biggest trip of this last leg was a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam with a French club at the university, where we biked along the canals, ate tons of local delicacies, and took in the nightlife. Also one of the biggest highlights of the last month in Strasbourg was getting to see the cities world famous Christmas market. Over the last few years this 500-year market with 300+ stalls selling everything from hot wine and local foods to ornaments, has been named Europe’s best Christmas market. The city was beautiful festooned with lights and decorations, and during December more than a million tourists packed the city center and added a different energy to Strasbourg. After an extremely busy last few weeks of exams, traveling, and saying goodbye to friends, I left Strasbourg for Paris on December 18th. After a whirlwind 24-hour stay in Paris, which I now feel I know better than almost any other city after 5 trips there, I boarded my plane to head back to Chicago to once again see all my friends and family back home.

I know that was a very brief recap of months worth of adventures in Strasbourg, but it definitely helps to illustrate all the fun that you can have exploring a new country and culture. Besides the enjoyment of just being over there, my semester abroad gave me a greater appreciation of different cultures, an amazing opportunity to improve my French, and the ability to exchange beliefs and ideas with new friends from all over the world. I’m very grateful for my time spent in Strasbourg, and I’m already looking at opportunities to return there again.
Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.10 PM

That’s a Spicy… Bullfrog Leg?!

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.54.30 AM

Soon after final exams were finished and the first year of the MBA program came to a close, the Columbus Industries team was on the way to Shanghai!  We arrived in country on Saturday afternoon — some came directly from the U.S. while others were able to spend some time with family and friends in India and China.  Needless to say, we were quite jetlagged upon arrival, and it took some adjustment.

We decided to have our first team meal together on Sunday afternoon.  Our resident Shanghai expert (Hong) suggested that wScreen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.54.21 AMe check out Xin Xiang Hui in People’s Square.  We ventured up to the 4th floor of the building, and Hong got us into our own private dining room!  The experience was “family style” in nature — we all chose a dish which we shared by using the rotating wheel (Lazy Susan) in the center of the table.  Of course, we enjoyed typical cuisine such as beef, pork, tofu, veggies, rice, and noodles and everything we ate was quite spicy.  One of the more interesting (and delectable) choices that we tried were the bullfrog legs!  The best way I can describe the taste and texture was that bullfrog legs are similar to ….chicken, but better.  Did I mention that everything was spicy?

Overall, it was a great dining experience in an authentic Chinese restaurant.  After many hours of preparation and planning for our journey, it was nice to have all twelve of us sitting around the table enjoying lunch together.  I can’t think of a better way to start off our time here in China!  Next up — pork brain!  We’ll save that for another day.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.58.47 AM