While in Denmark on the Student Exchange Program, Katelyn Mistele discovered a “hygge” way of life, and still carries this with her as she returns from abroad! She attempts to share this feeling of “hygge” in three parts: light and mood, relationships, and the way of life.
The most fundamentally unique and beautiful aspect of the Danish culture is “hygge”. Hygge cannot be translated into English, but it has been attempted, and most simply it translates to English as “cozy”, but hygge is much more than that. The concept of hygge has stuck with me long after my time in Denmark, and has influenced the way I live my life. I will attempt to describe the feeling of hygge in three parts: light and mood, relationships, and the way of life.
Hygge is commonly describe in Denmark by the lighting and mood of a place. Hygge spaces are dimly lit with tons of candles. Spaces are designed for close seating with your friends and family. Copenhagen is known for its coffee shop scene and many of these coffee shops had a hygge feel to them. This feeling of the space makes it feel extremely cozy and homey which at the end of the day the Danes would describe as hygge. Also when in these spaces it is not common to see the Danes engrossed in their cell phones. Instead you will see groups of people having coffee for upwards of two hours and just taking the time to be present with each other. I had the opportunity to get coffee with a few individuals from Denmark and this was my experience with all of them.
The other part of hygge that is extremely important is the importance of friends and families in ones life. A lot of times Danes and people will describe hygge as spending time with friends and family. The Danish culture places a strong emphasis on the importance of close relationships. This is why at first the Danes can appear cold and not open. Danes would prefer to have a close knit group of friends as opposed to a large network as we commonly see here in the United States. At the end of the day a dinner party with lots of candles and ones family would be a perfect example of hygge.
Lastly hygge at the end of the day is a way of life. The emphasis on creating a cozy environment for one to live in with their close friends and family is a way of life for the Danish people. It is a life that is rooted in the simplicity and act of just being present in the environment with those around you. It is truly hard to explain the way of Danish culture and hygge in words.
For me personally I took all the aspects of hygge I learned and lived and internalized it. There is nothing quiet like this concept anywhere else in the world. Hygge has its core concepts but the part that makes it unique is that it isn’t “translatable” it is at the end of the day a feeling that you can interpret and live any way you want. Personally, I found hygge in placing a close emphasis on relationships but instead of being trapped inside with my candles I found the same feeling when I was in Denmark at one of the many parks in the city. Just taking the time to be in an environment with my close friends made me feel hygge.
Back in the United State it is hard to find this hygge. I have become a lot more self aware in my personal relationships with my friends and family and placed importance on all of these relationships. Also I do find myself lighting a lot more candles! To me hygge is all about taking time to realize what’s important and blocking out what is not. To you hygge might be something completely different but at the end of the day just remember that hygge should make you feel at home and cozy! Go find your hygge!
Maggie Hobson counts the many blessing from the semester abroad as she returns to the U.S. from Australia, after completing her semester at Curtin University on the Student Exchange Program.
My last day in Australia:
8-10am: Enjoyed my final $10 black coffee and raspberry muffin at my favorite on-campus cafe as I did some last minute studying
10-11:10am: Psychology exam
11:10am-2pm: Made my last meal of pasta using the one pan, one bowl and one fork that I bought for the entire semester and ate it while doing more last minute studying
2-4:10pm: Human Structure and Function exam
4:10-6pm: Packed my things, cleaned my room and had it inspected by the RA
6-9:30pm: Said my goodbyes with the amazing friends I made during the semester over one final group dinner
9:30-11:55pm: Went to the airport and checked in
From that time on, I traveled 32 hours to be greeted by my parents in the Chicago airport where my audit internship with EY started the next morning.
To some, this may seem like a “day” (it was only a day since I gained 12 hours) they would dread, but to me this is a day to be so thankful for. First of all, I had the opportunity to study in Australia and take classes a regular accounting major at OSU would not normally take. Not to mention, my professors were able to move my exams early so that I could get back to Chicago in time for my internship. Secondly, I made amazing friendships and lasting memories that I will never forget. Thirdly, I was greeted by two very supportive parents who were able to meet me away from home (Ohio) in order to move my things into an apartment in Chicago for the summer. Lastly, I am humbled to start an internship with EY where I am able to gain experience working for a big four accounting firm.
OSU has provided me with so many great opportunities and for that I am forever thankful. Studying abroad in Australia has been hands down my favorite college experience and I would do nothing to change my experience there. I am satisfied with the time I spent there: the places I was able to explore, the people I met and the things I was able to accomplish. Now, I am looking forward to continuing my internship with EY. My fellow interns have already been so enthralled by the fact that I was living in Australia for five months. I plan to share my experiences in a beneficial way. The knowledge I learned about different cultures through becoming friends with so many exchange students from all around the world, will only benefit me in the workplace. Therefore, overall I am thankful for this experience because it did not only influence me personally, but professionally as well.
“‘Everyone assumes that Cultural Intelligence (CQ) comes from understanding other people’s cultures, but you really have to understand your own’ (Middleton). Julia is so right about this point.” says Sydney Lapin studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program at Ecole de Management Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France. Read more on what she learned about CQ and how it related to her experience abroad, as well as how being abroad has helped her learn about her own culture and about herself.
The other day in my International Marketing Strategy class, we watched a Ted Talk that really spoke out to me. It was called “Cultural Intelligence: The Competitive Edge for Leaders” spoken by Julia Middleton. In the beginning, Julia defines cultural intelligence as “the ability to cross borders and boundaries between different cultures, and actually thrive in doing so and love doing it and never want to not do it”. Julia grew up in the time where IQ meant everything, where it was considered crucial. Then, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) came around and people realized that it would be good for leaders to have this trait as well. However, people who are “good with people”, may really just be good with people who are like them. That is where CQ (Cultural Intelligence) comes into play: “the ability to work with people, and lead people, who are not like you”.
Julia went around the world, studying and interviewing people who she thought to have a good amount of cultural intelligence. Through her conversations, she found one large thing in common: “They had sort of figured out which bits of them was core, and which bits of them was flex”. By core “bits”, Julia means the behaviors, values and beliefs that are absolutely crucial to you being who you are, and a part of you that you are not willing to change. By flex bits, Julia means everything else that you are willing to compromise, or be flexible about. She states, “The more core you are, the more people trust you. The more flex you are, the more people trust you”. By this I believe she means that one needs to find a good balance, and that balance is what people who obtain cultural intelligence have found. For example, a salesperson is extremely flexible, and you lose all parts of your core and no one trusts you. And then, as Julia mentions, you have people like your grandparents, who are so set in their core that they refuse to be the least bit flexible.
Julia stated that cultural intelligence is found on the linebetween one’s core and one’s flex, and it moves from learning new things, gaining new experiences, and meeting new people. This video really got me thinking about which parts of me are core, and which parts are flex. I thought about my life, and my culture, and I tried and am still trying to figure it out. I think it will take a long time, if not forever, for someone to truly figure out where they stand because like Julia says, the line is always moving based on the things you learn and the people you meet.
Being abroad, I completely see how this video connects with my life. I have met people from all over the world, and not only met them but have held conversations, been involved in group projects, and traveled with these people of different backgrounds. There are parts of me I have and still need to adapt in order to get things to go smoothly when I work with people from other cultures.
With that, I am talking about the part of the video where Julia mentions knots in the core. We all have knots: parts of our supposed core that are based on PRE-judgement, rather than judgement. These are things we should push at and work on changing about ourselves. They might not be pretty, but I feel like that’s the point. For example, something I know I need to work on is my emotional resilience. When coming abroad, I thought that I had a pretty good grip on the things that would be difficult: the language barrier, the bureaucracy, the new school system. However, I did not think about preparing myself for how to react when difficult things are occurring. This is emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back and be okay when something is extremely frustrating and difficult. I have bounced back, but there are situations that I know I could have been more flexible and less reactive about.
An important part of the Ted Talk was where CQ comes from: “Everyone assumes that CQ comes from understanding other people’s cultures, but you really have to understand your own” (Middleton). Julia is so right about this point. She talks about the need to understand how your culture helps you versus hinders you, how it could open doors or close them, when your culture causes other people problems, and when your culture causes you to miss opportunities. To quote myself from my application, I thought one of the most important things was for me to “experience new cultures, learn about different backgrounds, and immerse myself in these cultures”. However, I now realize that the most important thing I am doing here, aside from learning about other cultures (which of course is still important), is learning who I am and how my culture, my core and my flex, affect my life and the people around me.
It is actually extremely complex, because when I think about the many things that I thought I was flexible on, it turns out that in some situations here I have found these things as “knots” in my core: they are things I want and aim to be flexible about, but I am currently not there yet, like my emotional resilience for example. It also turns out that when thinking deeper, things that I thought were in my core are actually things that I am quite flexible on. The biggest example of that I can think of is my Judaism. Being Jewish has always been one of the most important parts of me. I grew up in Cleveland, in an amazing Jewish community, that gave me so many opportunities I am grateful for. While being Jewish is something I hold very close, this video has made me think about the fact that yes, I am Jewish. Yes, this is important to me, and a part of me that I will not change. But, Judaism is actually one of the most flexible religions in the world. For instance, I personally do not think I believe in God, or in a lot of the things that supposedly happened back then, but Judaism still accepts me as a Jew. I am flexible to new opinions that go along with Judaism, and my thoughts and beliefs about it are always changing. So while being Jewish is something in my core, something that makes me who I am, I am still quite flexible about my beliefs through my religion.
I am beyond grateful to have seen this video while being abroad, and to be able to relate it to my everyday life here in Strasbourg, France. I feel as though I am much more aware of my personal strengths and weaknesses, and what I need to work on in order to become more culturally aware and to gain cultural intelligence. I know that the journey to having cultural intelligence is not easy, and will take a long time, but I think it is so important to be open to changing things about yourself, while also realizing what you are not willing to change in order to be who you are.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.