Kakehaski Project: Christine’s Home Stay

Take a peek at Christine Dawson’ home stay experience in Oita, Japan! From trying on a traditional Japanese dress, to experiencing a traditional home and bath, and walking around the beautiful scenery of the town, she shares some of her culture shock moments, funny interactions, and heartwarming memories she made in Japan.

If I’m being honest, the home stay was the part I was both most, and least looking forward to. With a hearing issue that has always made even English difficult to understand at times and a shy personality, staying at a stranger’s house was going to be a challenge regardless of the situation. Add in a language barrier, a gulf of cultural divides and no data or wifi to do any research meant I felt like I was walking into a maelstrom of the unknown.

It started off rough, trying to mime out what it meant to keep kosher to a couple with very possibly no previous exposure to the Jewish religion, and Frank was quickly flagged down to translate while I felt horrible about the added imposition on these people who were already opening their home to me. Next, a misheard introduction led to calling my host mother -kun, which I knew was a Japanese honorific but had no idea what it meant, so it made no sense to me. The host mother, however, giggled and looked at her husband while shaking her head, letting me know that was, in fact, not what I was to call her. (A later google search has revealed she was most likely telling us to call her Ka, and that -kun is akin to a pet name for young boys.)

There would be three of us staying with the couple (Christine, Lily, and Amber), and the car ride home was filled with all of us flipping through the “useful expressions” booklet that they gave us, and apparently our host families, since our host mother was searching through hers as well. After realizing the phrases were not actually universally useful. Eventually we all gave up and accepted the silence, and I crocheted in the back seat to take my mind off of how awkward I felt and how worried I was for the next twelve hours.

When we got to their house, they showed us in and introduced us to the third resident of the house, the host father’s 93 year-old mother. She waved at us from her seat where she watched a show on the television with a blanket over her legs. Continuing on, they took us up to the room we’d be sleeping in, a space with a low table, a kotatsu, and sliding paper doors, but also outlets and lights. The combination shouldn’t have been, but was, surprising. I don’t know which of these things I thought the house would lack, but the combination of traditional and modern harkened back to the presentation given on the continuity of Japanese culture.

After setting down our things, we joined our host mother in a separate building to try on yukata (summer version kimono, the Japanese traditional dress). She gestured for us to take off our sweaters, and this is where I made yet another embarrassing mistake. Lily and Amber were both wearing two layers. I, however, had gotten used to the winter weather in Columbus so the mild temperature was comfortable to me and I’d only worn a top. So when we were told to take things off, I assumed she meant all of us were overly dressed for the occasion and when she turned around to ready the garments, I took my shirt off.

Her surprise when she turned around let me know that we would, in fact, be wearing our shirts under the yukata, and I quickly pulled my shirt back on while muttering my apologies.

Beyond being amused, it didn’t seem to phase her, and she quickly went to work wrapping us in the intricate ties and strands that exist to keep the yukata both closed and neatly decorated. Once we were all dressed, we asked if they’d be willing to take a picture for us, and our host dad walking in with his large camera strung around his neck and heading out to the deck to move things around to give us an area let us know that they’d already planned on it.

Lily, Amber, and Christine in traditional yukatas at their home stay

The view from their patio made for an amazing backdrop, with green hills and even a cherry tree poking in from beside their house. For a girl who grew up in a college neighborhood and whose view from her bedroom window was currently another building, the whole experience was astounding.

After pictures, we went into the next room for dinner. Still wearing the yukata made turning down the offered forks to attempt the chopsticks a challenge, but our host grandmother offered us some tips by showing us how she did it and so I made it through without dropping anything staining on myself. Lily had a mishap with a tomato resulted in our host mother cutting every tomato she served to us before putting it on the table for the rest of the stay, but otherwise we survived.

I did, however, marvel once again at how small of a part beverages seem to play in the Japanese meal. Throughout our entire trip, cups were tiny (4-6 oz) and water fountains were non-existent. At U.S. restaurants, normally drinks were offered in fountain form, and mostly soda. Our host mother pulled out a large jug of water for us, for which I was thankful and drank many glasses of, but they poured themselves a very small measure of a milky-white drink instead. Only the host grandmother got a second serving, also a very small amount. For someone who tends to carry around a 32 oz water bottle everywhere (and also requires far more than 6 oz of coffee in the morning), this may be one of the larger culture shocks that I endured through the trip, so I noted through the meal how they very rarely grabbed their glass to take a sip.

Finally, after we all had eaten our fill, we changed back into our clothes and our hosts flipped through the book to find the phrase that most closely matched what they were trying to say. “Take a bath, please.”

The hotel bathrooms had been fairly westernized, but the host family’s house much less so. There was a room for the toilet, with two side-by-side sinks outside in the hallway next to it. On the other side of the house, however, was the shower room. For someone who viewed showering as mainly a functional activity with the added benefit of being relaxing, the experience was a bit overwhelming. The accordion door led to an area with towels and shelves, where I left my glasses and clothes, and had yet another door leading to the shower itself. A giant bathtub took up one half of the room, with the rest being tile and a bench. It took me a long while to realize that the drain on the floor of the non-tub half essentially made the entire room the shower, where you hosed off before getting into the bath.

Shower/bathtub from one of the home stays. The floor slanted down to the drain, and there was a cover over the bath so that no shower water entered the bathtub.

In hindsight I wish I had taken the time to enjoy the experience more, but the novelty got to me, so instead I washed quickly and returned to our bedroom.

After, we went back to the second building and sat at the dinner table to make dolls. From what we were able to gather from context, the dolls represented the Imperial couple, and we adorned them in swatches of beautiful, decorative fabric and ribbons as our host mother helped us with our lackluster sewing – and in my case, matching – skills. We laughed along with our host mother as she exclaimed over our messy stitches and disastrous attempts to glue neatly, but by the end all three of us had adorable doll sets and she presented us with flower pins that she had made for us, along with other crafted presents. We thanked her and I attempted to explain that I enjoyed crafts as well, but my skills lay more on the crocheting end over sewing.

The dolls Christine, Lily, and Amber made

Finally, after we finished, it was time for bed and they told us to meet for breakfast at 7:30 am. The futons were comfortable, though the rice-filled pillows were different enough that after trying it for a while, I ultimately ended up sleeping without it.

When we woke up, we quickly washed up and dressed for breakfast, which featured the most delicious Asian pears I’ve ever had. Once again, the spread was extensive and varied, with pancakes and fish and vegetables. Not the breakfast I was used to, but still very good.

After breakfast, our host dad drove us to a nearby building which turned out to be where he worked part-time. He showed us the display of dolls, and we looked around at the decorations, including some of his own framed photographs. His coworker seemed extremely excited to meet us, and despite the language barrier she expressed her happiness to meet us clearly.

After saying our goodbyes, we went on a walk to his fishing spot near a small temple, and we all took pictures of the beautiful locations he showed us. Lily had her camera, a similar model to his, so he took the time to instruct her on how to take a photograph of the cherry blossoms against the blue sky, and showed Amber some other lovely flowers as we went.

Christine in front of a cherry blossom tree

We went back to the car, still parked at his work, and the patients all gathered to get pictures of us, including one older lady with a walker who rushed her aide to make sure she got into the group shot as we all smiled for the camera and laughed along with their obvious happiness. It made me smile sadly, remembering how excited my mom would get when visitors came by her nursing home, and I was glad for the opportunity to give back even a little to my host father who had dedicated so much of his time and energy for us.

After our walk, he quickly raced back into the house to print the photos for us as his gift, and before we went back to the meeting spot to rejoin the group as a whole, we asked them to stand in front of their house, so that we could get pictures of them both. They seemed embarrassed but obliged, and we thanked them for everything they’d done for us as we all loaded up into the car to leave.

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

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

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

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 9: Repatriation

After the week on the Kakehashi Project, they share their thoughts of reflection on the program. Feeling reverse culture shock, sharing how they have changed, what they have learned, advise for future travelers, and what they plan to take with them into the future from the experience abroad in Japan.

The Fisher curriculum requires all students to complete BUSMHR 3200: Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, often taught by Dr. Larry Inks. One of the major concepts covered in his class is global job assignments, which covers a broad process of preparing employees for foreign assignments, managing employees while abroad, and repatriation. While it may seem like repatriation is as simple as a plane ride to your home country, it often entails reverse culture shock, a change in living standards, and a change in the employee due to their experience abroad. Coming back from Japan and re-entering daily life in Columbus gave us a taste of this concept of repatriation.

With minimal international experience, we had no idea of what to expect before arriving in Japan. Fortunately, the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan, and the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University adequately prepared and facilitated the Kakehashi Project for students of all backgrounds.

As soon as we returned, we couldn’t stop telling our roommates and friends about our week abroad. Of course, we had some trouble readjusting; Kelly said that she missed hearing ohayo gozaimasu (good morning) from hotel breakfast waitstaff in the morning, and Jacob accidentally told the cashier at CVS arigato gozaimasu (Thank you) out of habit. Over the course of the next few days, however, we found that while we had a great experience in Japan and enjoyed recalling the memories, we really missed being together as a group. About half of us went to visit Lorraine in Undergraduate Leadership and Engagement Office (ULEO) at least once throughout the week.

Lily & Lorraine
311 Schoenbaum is party central

One of the things that we have been thinking about a lot since our return is Japanese ettiquette. An example that we touched upon earlier in our blog series is that Japanese people wave goodbye as you drive away until your car is completely out of sight as a courtesy. This provides a very warm, hospitable feeling from the host to the guest. These subtle, yet new cultural differences were eye-opening and pleasant to be a part of. Our amazing tour guide, Miho Sato, even told us after the trip that she constantly checked our flight to make sure we arrived back to Columbus on time and safely.

Now that we’re home, it hasn’t been the details that have pushed through, but the concepts and lessons that cultural exchange has taught us; the lenses we see things through will be forever changed. When a non-native speaker struggles to find a word in English, we won’t have only our place of privilege to look back on, and hopefully we can listen to context enough to help them find that word, remembering our experiences of having no way to communicate, as empathy is much stronger than sympathy. When someone makes a cultural gaffe, hopefully we can remember something from our trip where we made errors, such as Ahmed saying hajimemashite (Nice to meet you) to a cashier, or how Christine D’s host-mom kindly giggled and corrected her when Christine thought the mom asked her to call her -kun (only uses towards boys). Hopefully when we see a gaggle of tourists, rather than feeling annoyed, we will be proud and try to see our world through their eyes and remember the amazement and awe we felt at the Japanese countryside.

Overall, the Kakehashi Project had a great impact on us. Having now experienced another culture first-hand, our perspectives have been widened to form a more developed outlook of the world, and we all consider ourselves very lucky to have had this tremendous opportunity.

Going abroad taught us a lot about becoming a global citizen, but most importantly that kindness is a universal language. We had never been to Japan before, nor did we know Japanese, but we were able to have a wonderful trip through the mutual exchange of courtesy; it was amazing to see how far arigato gozaimasu (Thank you) and a smile would go. In terms of business, this trip showed us about taking pride in the work that you do, demonstrated by the employees at Daihatsu, OMRON, the Sake factory in Oita, and Mr. Yusuke Okano from Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO). We hope to take this lesson with us and implement it both in the classroom and our future careers.

Given the right opportunity, we would highly encourage our peers in Columbus to travel abroad. There is so much to learn about other cultures that can’t be taught in a classroom or experienced through a screen; anyone with internet access could read this blog or look at pictures and videos, but there is no way to feel the energy of standing in the middle of the monstrous crowd in Asakusa between Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street without actually doing exactly that. This travel opportunity also taught us a lot about ourselves, both as individuals and as Americans. In the U.S., we possess a relatively short history and ever-changing, often undefined identity. By going abroad, we were able to take in a land and people with a long, rich, enduring history and a strong identity defined by continuity and resilience. Our reflection upon this taught us that being a global citizen is being able to recognize the strong, admirable qualities and values held by other cultures and implement those qualities and values into your own life.

Also, a big part of why we enjoyed this trip so much was that we went in a group that we liked and was respectful. Most of us had become great friends by the end which enhanced the trip immensely. Travel is as much a skill as it is an experience, and we were lucky to have good travelers on the trip. Beyond the basics of travel (like how to pack a suitcase, what documents to carry, how much money to carry, etc.), most of the people in our group possessed the ability to maintain awareness in every situation, which allowed our trip to go smoothly with no hiccups. Most importantly, everyone kept a good attitude on the trip, which made a world of difference. If you do go on a global program group, we encourage you to be punctual, make smart decisions on how to conduct yourselves abroad, and keep up the positivity. By doing this you and your group will have a much better experience and make life lasting memories together like we have in Japan.

Long after the details fade, despite the hundreds and hundreds of pictures we’re anxiously awaiting the prints of, those lessons will live on in us. That’s what has made this trip so much larger than the sum of its parts, and that’s what leaves us struggling to pinpoint our “favorite” thing about the trip. The overall course for each of our lives may not be drastically altered going forward (though we do have a newfound confidence in seeking opportunities to live and work abroad), but a tiny piece of our stories will always exist in Tokyo, Oita, Beppu, and Saiki City.

Thanks for reading!

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

Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

While counting down the hours of leaving Japan on their last day, they share their visit to mall and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. Then off to Narita airport for final goodbyes to the country and people of Japan.

We woke up on the last day with a growing reluctance inside of us; we had a thrilling time this week immersing in a new culture and making new friends, and we were not ready to return to class. Most people know the ‘sunday scaries’ – anxiety and dread that starts on Sunday afternoon brought on by the thought of the upcoming week (and all of the responsibilities that come with school and work). Not only was the greatest spring break we had ever experienced coming to an end, but we were being thrown into the back-half of spring semester (which is tough enough already). This Sunday would be 37 hours long for us with the time change between Japan and the United States, so we had plenty of time ahead of us to endure the sunday scaries.

Our bus took us from the hotel to Narita, a town about an hour outside of Tokyo where the international airport is located. Our first stop in Narita was a large mall. This was our third mall visit of the trip, so most people were just interested in walking around, getting food, and finding WiFi. Dennis was glad to find a McDonalds in the food court, saying that his body had been going through fast food withdrawal. Casey couldn’t get over how cute the children in the mall were.

View from inside the mall

After the mall, we went to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 940 AD. In terms of structure and architecture, this was very similar to the Sensoji Temple we had seen the day before in Asakusa, but due to how far we were outside of the city, there was just a fraction of the foot traffic, which really allowed us to explore freely.

Pat taking it all in
The program coordinator, Kozue, told us that the ‘peace’ sign is common in Japan; Casey was sure to use it

Evan and Jacob purify themselves in the waters of the temple. A visiting etiquette when going to temples in Japan.

After leaving Shinshoji Temple, we went to the airport. Most of us had to check a bag on the way back since we had bought so many souvenirs to take home with us. After we dropped our bags with the airline, we regrouped to say goodbye to Miho.

Miho had meshed really well with our group. She was young and she wasn’t overly serious, always conversing with us and treating us as equals, so it felt like she was more of an older sister than a tour guide. She had gone to university in Great Britain, so we thought it was funny to hear a slight British accent come through when she spoke English, her second language. Most importantly, it became increasingly apparent over the course of our time in Japan that she really liked us and cared about us. She made several comments about how much she was dreading us leaving, as she did not want to part from us. One of our group members had their birthday on the last day of the trip, and Miho bought them a birthday gift at the Narita mall. Miho was just as important to our group as any one of us was, and we were going to miss her immensely. When it was finally time to split apart, there were several tears. We gave her three or four gift bags to show our appreciation for everything she had done for us. We made sure to say ittekimasu; we will go and, someday, we’ll come back.

Miho Sato — the best guide to Japan that we could have ever asked for!
Alex and Miho just before airport security

We went through security and enjoyed our last moments in Japan before our long journey back to the United States. Over the course of our time in Japan, we had grown together, going from being near strangers to good friends, and it would be tough to split apart once we went home. Everything had been a group activity from the moment we got to the Columbus airport on the first day, to when we left the Columbus airport on the last day. Our group started to connect before our plane touched down in Tokyo, so the experiences we had further catalyzed the bonds that developed between us. We had made so many memories together ranging from the incredible, unforgettable experiences of the Beppu Onsen and our home stays, to the very ordinary experiences of hotel breakfasts and being on the bus together. Even after the structured events had ended each day, we would still gather in each other’s hotel rooms just because we liked being together so much. Like the tea master taught us back in Oita, ichi-go ichi-e; this was our one time to come together as this group, and we will all treasure these memories forever.

Ittekimasu!!!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 9: Repatriation

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

Kakehashi Project 6: What’s a Fork?

The big day has come to present in front of the Foreign Ministry of Japan! The students suite up and show OSU style business presentation. After, they head out to Tokyo to see the city, as one student sums it “This is the coolest city ever, it has everything! Once we get back to Columbus, we’re going to miss Tokyo so much.”

On the morning of day five, we woke up and got dressed in our best clothes, ready to represent Ohio State University in the ending meeting with Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Evan sat down on the bus wearing a half-windsor knot on his necktie, and was quickly verbally accosted by the other males on the trip as well as Dr. Prud’homme. One of his peers tied Evan’s necktie with a full-windsor knot, and then we were ready to go. Our bus took us to the Oita airport and we had a short flight back into Tokyo. This was our fourth flight of the trip, so the excitement and nerves that typically come with flying had completely left us. Jacob and Cindy were both fixated on their phones throughout the entire flight, looking at the presentation making sure it would be perfect. As soon as we landed back in Tokyo, we went to lunch at an ‘American’ restaurant downtown. The meal was baked fish, potatoes, vegetables, rice, and some sort of corn chowder. We were all stunned to find silverware on our tables instead of chopsticks; it seemed sacrilegious to use forks and knives on a culturally immersive trip to Japan, and we actually started to enjoy using chopsticks by this point.

Austin showing off his chopstick skills back in Oita

We headed to the JICE reporting session and rejoined with the groups from University of Kentucky, Rutgers, and UNC – Chapel Hill. Our group presented third after Rutgers and UNC. These first two presentations were very well done and offered a lot of insight into what their takeaways were. Instead of going to Oita, Rutgers and UNC traveled to Tochigi, a prefecture very near to Tokyo, so it was interesting to hear how their experience differed from ours. For instance, they met with the Tochigi prefectural government for a lecture on local industry and trade, and they made a visit to a local farm for strawberry picking. The UNC group put together a short video of small clips from their experience, which had a very thoughtful and professional feel to it.

Conversely, the OSU presentation focused on sincerity, authenticity, and gratitude towards JICE for giving us the opportunity to travel to Japan and have such a wonderful experience. They stressed how we came into the trip with very limited knowledge on Japan, and how much we had learned about the Japanese economy (including the jobs Japan were creating in the United States), the cleanliness of Japan, the regional diversity we saw through our time in Tokyo and Oita, Japanese hospitality, and the concept of ichi-go ichi-e (“Once in a lifetime”, taught to us by the tea master in Oita). They also outlined our action plan to continue learning the Japanese language, maintain communication with the people we met on our trip, post content about our trip on social media and the Fisher website (e.g. this blog), presenting to the investment clubs on campus about Japanese markets, and share our experiences with our friends and families. They closed with quotes from two members of our group that we thought had really taken in the experience and made the most of the trip. First, they talked about how Dennis had been learning the language in school, and how rewarding it was for him to be able to come to Japan and get to apply his knowledge of the language. Second, they outlined Lily’s reflection on how she was able to make a significant amount of authentic connections in Japan without sharing a common language. The larger OSU group, Lorraine, Dr. Prud’homme, and Miho were all extremely proud of how they represented us, Fisher, and Ohio State University.

Presentation Team representing OSU in front of the three other school as well as JICE. From left to right: Evan, Casey, Makayla, Cindy, Jacob, Judson

After Kentucky gave their presentation, two representatives from JICE spoke expressing their thanks for our participation in the Kakehashi Project and hope that this would encourage and strengthen the ties between Japan and the United States. Then, one representative from each school went to the front of the room to receive a certificate. We had chosen Austin to represent us and receive the certificate; he was all smiles and gave a very deep bow to the JICE representatives.

After the session concluded, we went to Odaiba, a very large mall just outside of downtown Tokyo. We were given a significant amount of free time to shop and explore. Most of the stores were western brand stores, such as Adidas and Nike. We found the equivalent of a dollar store (which Kevin aptly called “the Yen store”) called Daiso. A good amount of the products they carried had some element representative of the culture of Japan, so it made for a great place to buy souvenirs and gifts inexpensively. Each item cost ¥108 (roughly $1), so we appreciated it as college students with little disposable income. In addition to a lot of snacks, we were able to find carp-streamers (called koinobori), hand fans, and training chopsticks for children (which we thought would be funny to buy and give to our roommates back in Columbus). Outside, there were several great spots to take pictures of downtown Tokyo, which we all took advantage of.

Tokyo skyline, taken from Odaiba
Ethan, Pat, Alex, and Dennis giving the O-H-I-O

For dinner, we were told to meet outside of a restaurant in the mall called “The Oven” which we found out was an American-style buffet. We joked that the previous night we went to the Japanese Golden Corral, and now we were at the actual Golden Corral. It was more or less what we had expected, offering fried chicken, tacos, macaroni and cheese, meatballs, and a large chocolate fountain.

After dinner as we started to walk to meet the bus, we noticed that Jacob was carrying a bag that had been torn, so Christine D kindly offered him a plastic bag to use. Jacob explained that he had bought a shirt from the mall and then went outside to take pictures of Tokyo. While outside, he went to show some friends from the group his new shirt, and he accidentally dropped it into a muddy spot on the ground, so he took the shirt back inside and tried his best to wash the mud out in the bathroom of the mall. Thus, the shirt was wet, which made the bag disintegrate in the corners. After he was finished explaining what happened, someone asked if it was ruining his usual happy mood. His answer was so positive that it made us all take a minute to reflect: “I mean, we’re in Tokyo! This is the coolest city ever, it has everything! Evan and I are going to Chicago next weekend, and it won’t have half of the cool stuff Tokyo has. Once we get back to Columbus, we’re going to miss Tokyo so much.” His phenomenal attitude and focus on the positive really made an impression on us; some of the people on this trip were excellent picks to go on the Kakehashi Project because of how much it meant to them and how much they appreciated it. The students on the trip like Jacob who made the most of this trip through their openness to the experience and great attitudes are the heart of Fisher and make us all proud to attend Ohio State University. We went back to the hotel ready to take on Tokyo for sightseeing the next day.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 7:  Big Day Out in Tokyo

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

Not Your Typical Group

With some struggles, Sydney Lapin shares her success expanding her network at Strasbourg, France, as she attends Ecole de Management Strasbourg on the Student Exchange Program. Now she has made friends from Canada, Hungary, Finland, Czech Republic, Columbia, France, Germany, Norway, Ireland, and the U.S!

Bonjour!

My Finnish friends, Anna and Emilia, and I at the East Side Gallery in Berlin, Germany.

My name is Sydney Lapin, and I am in the Fisher College of Business studying Marketing and minoring in Fashion Retail Studies. Currently, I am  spending my Junior year second semester abroad in Strasbourg, France on the Student Exchange Program! I am taking classes through EM Strasbourg, the business school here.

I have been in Strasbourg for one month, and while I haven’t been too active on blogging yet, I have kept a journal of most of my days here. So far I have had bad days and good days, but overall I am always grateful for this opportunity. Not many people can have the chance to study abroad, and I would like to thank Ohio State and my family for being supportive of my decision to be here.

I’ll start with a bit of background. Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to study abroad. My mom studied at Miami, Ohio, and went abroad to their school in Luxembourg. My parents are probably the people who gave me the travel bug, and I will be thanking them the rest of my life. There is nothing more amazing than traveling to a brand new place and exploring the different things it has to offer: a new culture, a new way of doing things, new foods, the list goes on. I have a lot of friends from other schools around the states who have also planned on studying abroad. However, when it came down to it, our programs are, for the most part, quite different. Fisher’s Office of Global Business made sure that those of us who chose to go through the business school knew that this is a very independent program. While they offered assistance when we came to them with issues, most of getting here and being here is all on us. Luckily for me, another student from Ohio State, Brad, decided to come to Strasbourg last minute as well, making my transition a little bit easier.

Most of the friends I know are on these Student Exchange group trips through their school or other schools. For them, they were placed in Facebook groups, given contacts for roommates, and are dropped in a different country with a support group of what sounds like 50 other Americans. Brad and I arrived in Strasbourg, and had our “group” of two. On the second night we were here, someone posted in the Facebook group (that we were added to about five days before arriving) about meeting up somewhere. When Brad and I arrived, we sat down to a table of three Canadians, two Finnish girls, a girl from Turkey, a girl from Norway, a girl from Estonia, and a girl from Argentina. It was really cool to meet these people from around the world, and to have Business in common.

After the first week and a half of meeting people from all over the world, I was a little lonely. It was hard to create friendships, there seemed to be some cultural barriers and miscommunication. I was feeling bitter towards other Student Exchange Programs, because they were with all Americans and able to make friends and connect with others in an instant. I was on the phone with a friend, helping her pack for her Student Exchange, and she was telling me all about her roommates (that she hadn’t even met yet) and how they already have four trips planned out together. She asked: “So tell me what the first day was like!” And I responded, “First day? Brad and I were alone the first day, what do you mean?” She expected me to say that we were immersed into this huge group of people to meet and make connections and become best friends with. Well, we did have orientation the week after we arrived, and I can tell you it was nothing like an orientation you would expect in America. No “ice breakers” no name games, just sitting in a room for half an hour at a time and then being released. We did not meet many people at orientation, so we really had to reach out to the Facebook group and see if anyone was making any plans.

Now, I look back on these past few weeks, and forward at the next three months, realizing that I have been given the best opportunity of all. How many people get to not only study abroad, but to create friendships with such culturally different people? I am so grateful that I am on this program, and while it has had its hard days, I finally feel like I am starting to make good friends. These friends are from the United States, from Canada, from Hungary, from Finland, and from Czech Republic. They’re from Columbia, France, and Germany. I have a friend from Norway, friends from Ireland. Yes, it was and is harder to create close friendships with people who aren’t from the same place as us, but it has been a growing experience and it has taught me that sometimes it just takes a little extra time to get to know someone, and get them to open up to you and your culture, just like you have to open up to them and their culture.

I would not trade this experience for any other, and I look forward to more challenges that I can grow from and overcome.

 

4 Weeks Left in Thailand

As her semester at Thammasat University ends, Talia Bhaiji reflects on her semester on the Student Exchange Program and encourages you to go abroad too!

According to the calendar, I currently have 28 days left in Thailand, and it makes me so sad to even think about that. I can’t believe my experience is flying by, and I’m definitely not ready to go home just yet.

I’m not sure if you need any more convincing about going abroad, but if you do I hope this post will do so. At Ohio State, I’m involved in a lot of things, studying a subject that I thought would make a lot of money, and working a job while maintaining leadership positions in a bunch of clubs. It’s everything that I thought I needed and was supposed to do in college. Student Exchange was more of an afterthought when it came to priorities and necessities in college. I took it as more of a vacation and more of a time to relax from school, but that was nothing like my experience.

Yes, it was definitely a bit less stressful than Ohio State, where the possibilities of what you want to do and be a part of are numerous, but it was just as much of a learning and growing experience as anything else, if not more. I didn’t think Student Exchange would change my life and I highly doubted people when they told me that it did, but my semester abroad did exactly that.

I not only learned to appreciate a whole other culture around the world, but it gave me such a strong appreciation for the United States, my status as an American citizen, and all the possibilities and opportunities that I have back at home. The rest of the world doesn’t give you open doors to do what you want to do, and to have unlimited opportunities. So many places are still so far behind, but not the United States. It really is the land of opportunity and I feel so lucky to live there and to have access to anything and everything.

Student Exchange has also really taught me what’s important in life. When you’re traveling with a backpack and have a 15 pound weight limit (it’s true, be careful!), you really learn what’s important to bring and what’s unnecessary. Same goes for packing for Thailand; you’re really forced to pay attention to what’s important and leave behind the things that aren’t. It actually taught me to be way less materialistic than I am at home. When you see how people here live, and how they don’t need much, it really makes you think about the amount of things you have and how much you don’t need. The other thing that I thought about a lot was the consequences of pollution and my actions in the U.S. Bangkok, and the rest of Thailand, doesn’t have a strong sewage and trash collection system, so all the trash is displayed on the streets and in the river. It makes you think about your effect on the world’s pollution and how to decrease that. In the U.S., we can be more environmentally friendly because we have the money and resources, but we choose not to be. Thailand doesn’t have those financial resources, and they’re suffering the consequences. It’s up to us to take on these responsibilities.

Environmentalism rant aside, Student Exchange has taught me more about myself than I ever thought I could discover. You’ll be placed in situations you never thought you’d be in, around people you never thought you’d see, and experience some of the most beautiful things on Earth. You definitely change, and you feel things you weren’t sure were possible. I’ve never felt so connected to so many people; I also never knew how little I knew. I learned how to take care of myself when I was traveling, how to push through my emotions and not give up when I was frustrated, how to take care of myself and others when I was homesick, I learned my boundaries and what I’ll take and what I won’t take, how to be spontaneous and enjoy the unexpected things in life, and more importantly how to be a better person. This has been one of the most transformative experiences of my entire life and I leave this semester with absolutely so regrets. It is so hard to walk away from so many amazing people and places, but it just gives me another reason to come back.

Thank you for everything Thailand, Amarin, Thammasat, and all of my friends, I’ll never forget you!

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!