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.
Calling out O-H! and getting an I-O! back in the Glass Mountains in Australia while on a hike, along with may other encounters, Maggie Hobson studying at Curtin University realizes how small the world can be and how anywhere can feel like home.
It’s crazy how small the world can be. Especially when you are traveling with an open mind and meeting as many people as possible. This past week and a half I traveled with four other exchange students to the East Coast of Australia during our time off from Curtin University. On the first plane ride from Perth to Cairns, I sat next to a girl that looked about the same age as me and we got talking. It turns out she attends University of Guelph in Canada, the same university that the two guys who were on my trip attend. What a small world. We ended up spending some time with her in Cairns, exploring the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. After those few days in Cairns, we departed ways with our new friend and flew to Brisbane.
While in Brisbane, we were able to explore the city as well as nearby areas such as Noosa, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. While on a hike through the Glass Mountains, we passed by a group of people headed down the trail. I took a double take and saw a woman wearing an Ohio State t-shirt. “OH” I shouted and of course she replied with an “IO” and a big grin. Even though that was such a short moment, there was a part of me that felt like I was back at home.
After a bit of a drive, we made it to Sydney. We were able to meet so many people who had been traveling around the world for months, sharing stories of their adventures. I found it amazing how so many people travel to places alone and just meet people as they go. All the travelers we met had such open mindsets, making them people we wanted to spend time with. So we spent a lot of time with them and one day while hiking along the coast from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach, an older gentleman stopped my friend from New York because of her shirt. Turns out he had attended the same university as her, New Paltz. We learned from him that he has lived in Sydney for quite a few years now, but was a born and raised New Yorker. What a small world.
Finally, towards the end of our trip, we flew to Melbourne. It happened to be Kings Day, which is a Dutch holiday and the last girl traveling in my group was Dutch. That evening, after exploring the city, we attended a Dutch festival to celebrate the holiday that was so important to her and her culture. I spent my night trying all kinds of Dutch food and meeting spirited people who were happy to talk about their Dutch traditions.
By the end of our week an a half trip on the East Coast of Australia, myself (from Ohio), my friends Mitch and Nick (both from Toronto), my friend Paige (from New York) and my friend Steffi (from Amsterdam) were all able to experience something from each of our home towns. In my time exploring the world and seeing so many new things, I was baffled by how small the world can really be.
“‘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.
Kayla Salant, on the Student Exchange Program at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi (Milan, Italy), shares her two week break time travels with some advice and tips of traveling, as well as what she has learned from traveling abroad.
As I am beginning the second half of my semester abroad, there are many things I have learned about taking advantage of every second you have while abroad.
Recently I had a two-week spring break. This is unheard of in the states, but seemed normal to most students here in Italy. When my friends and I realized this at the beginning of the semester, we knew we had to take full advantage of this time off to cross many cities off our lists.
After hours of searching on Google Flights, Sky Scanner, and Go Euro we had the perfect two weeks planned to the minute. It was time to begin our break, everyone packed in just a carry on and a backpack, it was going to be the most adventurous two weeks of our lives.
From London to Amsterdam, Brussels to Paris, Prague to Budapest, we had a packed full two weeks. I will say, you learn a lot, not only about the cities but certainly about yourself when traveling for that long, hostel to hostel. You learn that alone time is necessary, that sleep is important, and time flies.
Some things I’ve learned
It is important to read about the history of cities before going. We have many different cultures in the U.S. alone, but imagine traveling from country to country, you’ll be in for a bit of a shock. It is easy to forget what languages they speak as you are traveling, so it is crucial to look up and remember basic greetings and phrases before you arrive.
Some things I wouldn’t change
Always travel with people you get along with. Take the time to meet locals. Go on free walking tours. Wake up early, and get lost in a city. Take tons of photos, but remember to be present.
Some things I won’t forget
The connections you’ll make. The breath-taking views. The unforgettable food. And certainly, the times you almost miss your bus, or getting stuck in the rain for hours in a line.
It is important to take time for yourself, and get rest. Two weeks of straight travel was not easy mentally or physically, but if I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I would!
Sydney Lapin shares her adventures in Belgium, meeting the locals in Brussles and Bruges. Family dinners, an amazing hot chocolate, and a picturesque towns welcomed her to the country as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France.
Today I was thinking back to one of my first trips in January, Belgium. I had taken an overnight bus to Brussels with a few friends, and we arrived around 7:30 am. Anna, my friend from Finland, has a home is Brussels! Her parents work with the EU, and they move there every few years from what it sounds like. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and her mom had even prepared a lovely European breakfast for us! There were croissant, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muesli, and juice. Anna’s mother spoke great English, and I was so appreciative to be around a parent again! It was like being at home a bit.
We had a wonderful day of Anna showing us around Brussels. We took the long way to the city center, so that we could see the Parc de la Cinquentenare, (the park with the large gate that looks like the Brandenburg gate), the European Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a stunning view of Brussels near the Fine Arts Museum. We made our way toward Grand Place, where the buildings are gorgeously trimmed with gold decals. It was absolutely stunning. I think in the square alone there were four chocolate stores! Safe to say I was not dieting on this trip. But first, street waffles.
We were on the hunt for the perfect street waffle. I ordered one with caramel, Belgian chocolate, and bananas. It took until I had about two bites left for me to realize it was landing like a pound of rocks in my stomach…but the taste was SO worth it!
We walked around a bit more, and had planned to go home and relax and then head back out for dinner somewhere. When we arrived at Anna’s however, her mom had cooked a traditional Finnish meal for us! We all had drinks and discussed things about America and Finland, and each of us wrote a little note in the guest book that Anna’s family keeps.
In the morning, my friends had planned to go to Cologne, Germany but I was a little more interested in seeing Bruges, a more Northern town in Belgium, so I booked a night in a hostel just outside of the town and jumped on a train to Bruges! The train took about an hour, and when I arrived I had to take the public buses over to the area that the hostel was located. As I was sitting on the bus, I was a little unsure of what stop I was getting off at. An old man next to me noticed, and started speaking something in Flemmish. When he realized I had no idea what he was saying, the guy across from us laughed and translated. In Belgium, they speak Flemmish and French, so the man who spoke English and I had a nice conversation about speaking French, his friends in the states who live in New Mexico, and about the canal tours.
After dropping off my things, I headed out with my camera into the extremely picturesque streets of Bruges. I went on the canal tour, which was really cool and showed the entire city from a different perspective.
I had done some research on where I wanted to spend time in Bruges, besides just walking around, and so I headed to ‘The Old Chocolate House’ for hot chocolate! It was AMAZING. I sat in the restaurant upstairs, and ordered Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and an assortment of 10 pralines (mystery chocolates!). When the hot coco arrived, it was a mug of steamed milk, and then a cup filled with your ingredients that you are supposed to dump in and stir. Even the cup was made of chocolate! It was so delicious, I went back a second time while being in the town.
The thing about Europe I noticed, especially in these smaller towns, is that so much closes around 6/7 pm. So I walked around a little, and bought my friends some assortments of chocolates, but then just sat in this little restaurant I found for a while until I felt hungry enough to eat again! I had to eat dinner, because there was a dish I was told I needed to try called “Waterzooi”. I ordered a drink, and the traditional dish, and wrote in my journal about my travel day. The restaurant was called “Brugge-Link”, and the dish was so amazing. It was almost like a cream of potato base with chicken and vegetables, and came with mashed potatoes on the side. Totally worth being overly full!
As I was walking back to the hostel, I ran into some sort of fire festival being held behind the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were stands for food and drinks, a band playing music, and entertainers playing with fire! It was such a cool thing to run into!
In the morning, I got up before the sun rose to pack up my things and walk around the town while it was quiet. I was happy that the hostel was situated a little outside of the town, because the streets and alleys were just stunning. I was happy to be with my camera.
The rest of the day I explored. I roamed the town, went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood church, climbed the Belfry (the town tower in the center), walked around the ‘Lake of Love’, and then found a place called ‘Wijngaerde Beguinage’ which was a home for women, religious women, and widows who wished to live an “independent but committed life outside the recognized orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty”. It was considered a “city of peace”, and was a really beautiful area.
After strolling around some more, sending a couple postcards, and of course eating more chocolate, I took the train back to Brussels where I was catching another overnight bus back to Strasbourg. On the train I got to reflect on my time in Bruges, and my love of travel. Sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little and let yourself explore new things. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that’s something that is really important in life! I hope to one day take my parents to Bruges and show them around, because it was such a lovely and picturesque little town.
Katelyn Mistele talks about her visit to the local high school to talk about cultural differences. She shared her surprise, experiencing a very different high school system, and touches on what she has learned about the U.S. and how these experiences changed her cultural views.
Today I had an amazing opportunity to go into a local Danish high school and give a talk about cultural differences and my experiences as an exchange student from America in Denmark. I decided to participate in this opportunity and the experience was extremely insightful and rewarding.
For starters, the Danish high school environment is dramatically different from the environment in the United States. When I first arrived on the high schools campus everyone looked very old and mature from what image I had in my mind of “typical” American high school students. This I thought can be attributed to two factors. First off, high school in Denmark is only three years long and most students take a gap year or years after completing elementary school. So the students I had a chance to talk with today about cultural differences and my experiences were all 16 to 20 years old, so not dramatically far off from my age. As well, Danish students are given a great degree of freedom in their high school experience which I think also lends a hand to how mature they were in comparison to how “typical” American high schoolers act.
The degree of freedom that the Danish students get at high school was honestly shocking to me. Students were able to leave campus to get lunch or coffee during breaks. In some schools in the United States this happens to some degree as well, but the Danish students almost seemed as if they could come and go as they please whereas in my high school it was a highly regulated process and we had to check in and out when we were leaving. In addition, there are many open areas and common areas where students were participating in collaborative group projects. It felt more like a college setting as opposed to a traditional high school where the students are herded from class to class in a structured and efficient manner. Along with this idea of freedom students upon acceptance into the high school get to choose one of six tracks in which they want to study on. Some examples of tracks include biology, business, technology, and social sciences. Once in their track students take a range of courses, but focus on their specialized track which again lends to more of a college like atmosphere. I find this very interesting because I had no idea I even wanted to major in business until my sophomore year in college. Imagine having to have a general idea of what you want to do with your life immediately after elementary school.
Another dramatic difference that I could see in the high school experience was the fact that Danish students don’t have as large of a sports culture as we can see in high schools across the states. My high school in particular was extremely sports heavy. Most students played at least one sport growing up. However, at this particular high school they didn’t have any sports teams. Instead they had a designated weekend each spring to a tournament of some sort, but that was it. Some of the students asked me about sports culture in the United States. They wanted to know if it was like the movies with cheerleaders, fans, and the band. I was able to provide them some insight to Ohio States football culture which they were very interested in.
During my time at the high school in addition to learning more about the Danish education system, I was asked to present my experiences so far as an exchange student. I discussed some of the immediate cultural differences I have seen. For example, my biggest adjustment so far has been the fact that Danish people in general aren’t as open and chatty as Americans. After I presented my thoughts the students had the floor and could ask myself any questions. I found it very interesting and eye opening that many of their questions revolved around how safe I felt in the states. They also wanted to get my stance and my peers stance on gun laws. For the Danish people the threats and attacks we have in the states they have never even heard of in their country and they have only seen this through the news so they wanted to get my stance on it. I found it very eye opening and interesting as I have never really given much thought to how some of these events might be seen by other cultures.
I am so fortunate to have been able to go on this experience. It was extremely interesting and definitely has led me to become even more mindful and aware of how my culture is. Specifically, this experience provided me with insight on how other cultures view America. The idea that students thought that I felt unsafe in America really was interesting to me as I have never thought of Columbus or my hometown as being unsafe. Also the realization that other cultures give their youth more freedom and flexibility to me was interesting as well and I think some aspects of the American schooling system could benefit from less rigidity. This experience of being in Denmark has challenged my cultural views and has shaped them in many more ways than one, and this experience this morning at the high school has contributed to this.
As I don’t have any pictures from the high school I thought I would share some of my pictures from my most recent trip. I know it doesn’t really fit in with this blog post, but I wanted to give you all something to look at besides words. For spring break myself and some friends from four different universities traveled to Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. It was an amazing experience and so much fun. My personal favorite out of the three was Budapest, Hungary because it felt like New York City in a way and the prices were SO cheap. In Denmark a single cup of coffee is around $6 and in Budapest it was refreshing as I could get the same quality of coffee for around $1 which I am sure contributed to the fact that this location was my favorite. As well I was able to go to the roman baths in the city which was an amazing experience as well.
These “typical tourist” experiences are great, but traveling around Europe has been really eye opening from a cultural standpoint. Everything is so different in comparison to the United States and has led me to become more mindful. My friends and I really attempt to make an effort to talk with some of the locals when we travel so we can get the true cultural experience. For example, in Prague we met some individuals from London and while they weren’t from the Czech Republic we were able to sit down and have dinner with them and exchange ideas. It’s interesting, many European’s are very interested in my views on the current political climate in the United States, and it’s interesting to see how other cultures view the current environment. Overall, traveling in Europe has made me a more mindful individual. In addition, I see myself adapting some aspects of European culture into my own identity. I find myself more relaxed and find myself doing things at a more leisure pace in comparison to the quick and fast paced nature of my cultural identity in the United States. I have some pictures from my trip below, and I already have my next trip planned to Malta in a week! All of these little experiences are incredible and I cannot wait to share more!
Although Spain is a wonderful adventure, Nikki Matz also recognizes the difference from the U.S. She shares the things that she misses from the U.S. from her experience on the Student Exchange Program.
As a student studying abroad, one of the most-asked questions aside from “where are you from” or “what are you studying” is “are you homesick yet?” I have never been someone that gets homesick easily, I didn’t even get homesick when I went to college my freshman year. I wondered if the case would be the same when I moved across the world to live in a foreign country. After living in Madrid for 3 months I have decided that I may just miss a few things about home. I’ve compiled a list of a few things that I miss the most about America and home. I found it best to schedule a time to talk to people and if you can’t call texting can be just as useful.
The people- At first I was very good about keeping in contact with friends and family at home, a 6 hour time difference meant I usually called people around 11 or 12 at night. As my friends and I got more busy with school and other things, I have found it harder to spend an hour on Facetime a couple times a week. Weekend trips will take ALL of your energy and the weeks have to be dedicated to all the schoolwork I don’t do on the weekends. 6 hours isn’t a lot, but it makes communication much more difficult than being in the same time zone. I found it worked best to set a time when you will try to call people, and it helps a lot to know other peoples schedules. For example, my parents would not get home from work until almost midnight in Spain, so I remember that when I wanted to call them.
2.The culture- Spain is not what I would consider a stereo typically cold culture, the people are generally nice and always willing to help, but I miss the friendly good mornings of American strangers when you are walking down the street or striking up conversations with people in the grocery store. I never realized that Americans were stereotyped as overtly friendly until I talked to people from other countries and they told me they thought this, and then I began to realize that it is very true. People generally consider Americans to be friendly people.
3. Free water/American service industry- I will be very relieved to order water with my first meal back in the States and to not see a charge for it on my bill. Europeans pay for all beverages on the menu and I have sadly eaten many meals without a drink because I am too stubborn to pay for water. In addition to the water dilemma, service in Europe is very different from the service in America. Waiters and waitresses in Europe are salaried and paid fairly well, so they do not have the motivation to give you excellent service because tipping is for the most part non-existent. You must get the waiters attention if you want anything, and sometimes they may still take 20 minutes to come to your table. In Europe it is rude to keep checking on a table because you may be interrupting conversations and it seems like you want to hurry people along. I found that I would spend over 2 hours at restaurants almost every time just because no one is checking on you and you don’t feel rushed.
I never appreciated the things that I love about America until I left and realized that I missed them. I am so happy that I have the chance to live in a culture so different from my own, and I really enjoy being able to see the differences in cultures across Europe. The truth is almost everyone abroad will eventually succumb to some kind of homesickness, missing a restaurant in your hometown or friends from college, but homesickness can easily turn into a good thing, because it makes you appreciate the things you miss even more than you already did. Keeping in touch with people helps a lot with homesickness and it helps you still feel connected to home. I also have found that a lot of the things you might miss (especially food) are available if you search hard enough. For example Bagels and many cereals that I like are not typical in Madrid, but I have found special stores such as Made in America or even cereal and bagel shops that serve some of my favorites. It won’t be something you get everyday, but every once in a while it is nice to have a bagel to remind me of home.
Some of the food I have enjoyed in Europe (without water)
P.S. Of the 10 countries in Europe I have visited, Italy had the best food!
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.
Why go to Singapore? Megan Reardon who studies at Singapore Management University in Singapore tells you the top 10 reasons why!
Probably the top reason I went to Singapore was because I knew that travel opportunities would be plentiful. People normally think of Europe when they want to travel, but Singapore is in the heart of Southeast Asia and offers easy access to destinations like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. On top of that, Singapore’s airport was recently voted as the best airport in the world for the fifth year in the row, making getting to these places very easy.
English is the most widely spoken language in Singapore. While Singapore has four national languages (English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin), signs and communication are largely in English and very easy to follow. Unlike other Asian countries, it is not a problem if you are only familiar with English.
3) Safety and Cleanliness
Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. There is essentially no fear of harm if you are out walking alone at night. Singapore is also very clean. Have you ever heard that gum is illegal in Singapore? It’s true! Singapore is so clean that the government doesn’t want to risk gum being spit out on sidewalks.
The university that Fisher partners with, Singapore Management University (SMU), offers great courses and a competitive curriculum. Unlike at Fisher, most of their core courses focus on one intense, semester long project. Every class is required to have a group project. This gives an awesome chance to work in a project setting with people from all around the world.
Singapore is famous for places called Hawker Centers. These are open-air complexes that house stalls selling inexpensive food from around the world. Most days, I would eat various hawker meals for lunch. These cheap meals also give you a chance to try all of the local flavors without breaking the bank.
6) Public Transportation
Singapore is small, and therefore so easy to get around. Getting to the middle of the city from my apartment was a 15 minute MRT train ride. The public transport system hits all parts of the island, and they are constantly adding more routes to improve efficiency.
7) Cultural blend of local and international students
One of the best parts of studying at SMU is that there is such a diverse blend of students and teachers. Whereas in Europe, many of the exchange students are from the U.S., in Singapore most exchange students were from Europe. I rarely met other U.S. foreign exchange students, which offered great opportunities to learn different cultures.
8) SMU is in the city
Unlike the two other Singaporean universities, Singapore Management University (SMU) is directly in the middle of the city. It’s easy to get to, and offers many off campus options for things to do when you’re done with classes.
9) Leading global business hub
Singapore itself is a hub of international business in Asia. Being a business student, this was an awesome way to learn about international business and how business is conducted in Asia.
10) High standard of living
Singapore offers a very high standard of living. SMU is a commuter school, so all exchange students live off campus. Most students live in condos with a few other students. These condos are luxury. They have pools, hot tubs, gym facilities, etc. Since Singapore is usually about 80 F, a long morning of classes is easily followed by an afternoon at the pool.
Considering to go to Singapore Management University (SMU), but still unsure about going? Read Megan Reardons advice on studying on the Student Exchange Program to Singapore!
Before I went to Singapore, all I wanted was someone who had been there before to answer some questions. I did not have this person, but I want to try and answer some of my biggest questions for potential students studying abroad in Singapore.
1. How hard are the classes?
Coming from Ohio State, I would say the classes are the same level of difficult. However, they are difficult in different ways. Singapore Management University (SMU) puts a large focus on class participation and group projects in every course, while Fisher’s core classes focus on exams and homework. Being an exchange student, it is also difficult because all you want to do is explore the city you are in and travel on the weekends. Since classes transfer back as grades rather than Pass/Fail as most other U.S. schools, you have to try for good grades. This means studying harder than your other exchange friends.
2. Where should I live?
Unfortunately, since SMU is an urban campus they do not have dorms. You are on your own to find housing. Most students end up living in condo’s run by individual landlords. Some people choose to live in hostels, however I would not recommend this. When I first arrived in Singapore, I stayed in a hostel that was very dirty and ended up being unable to receive my deposit back. Many students wait until they arrive in Singapore to find housing. They book a hostel for the first few nights, and take the first few days to contact a housing agent and tour potential condos.
Note: it is required that you have an agent to rent a condo. I was not the person in my group to contact the agent, but I believe they just Googled, “Housing agent for expat in Singapore” and emailing the first few.
I ended up finding two other Americans, three Finnish people, and one French girl to share a condo with. Being with other nationalities was a very rewarding experience because it gave us the opportunity to learn from each other. We stayed in City Square, which was right next to the MRT train station making it very convenient to get to school. There are many other housing options closer and further from school, depending on the price range you pay. We each ended up paying S$950 = US$680 per month.
3. What did you do about your phone?
Fortunately, most mobile phones that we buy now are unlocked. This means that as long as the phone is working well, it will be able to accept any wireless carrier. I brought my iPhone from the U.S., and was able to use one of the wireless carriers in Singapore to get a new sim card with data and messaging. It is very straightforward to get a new sim card. Like Verizon and AT&T, wireless carriers in Singapore have physical store locations. If you walk into one of these locations (I prefer Singtel), you will be able to purchase a sim card with however much data you want. I was able to get 2GB data for S$20/month. Singtel also offers international packages, so when you travel abroad to places like Thailand and Indonesia, you don’t need to buy a new sim card in those places.
4. How do the subways work?
The subway in Singapore is called the MRT. Rather than buying a package at the beginning of the semester, I recommend purchasing an EZ-Link card at any of the kiosks at the entrance to the MRT. You can refill this card throughout your semester at any self-serve kiosk at every MRT station. Rides are typically in the S$1.50-S$2 range per trip, but are cheaper during rush hour. This same EZ-Link card is used for buses and printing at SMU.
5. What do I pack?
Singapore is a hot, humid, tropical city-state. Students in Singapore look much nicer than students in the U.S. They hardly wear athletic gear and are more in favor of trendier styles. Still most people wear shorts and nice shirts to class. I would pack a light jacket because the air conditioning can be very chilly indoors. Additionally, research the places you want to visit. Northern Vietnam and Hong Kong can get chilly during the evenings, so jackets might be necessary. I would recommend bringing at least one business casual outfit. This can be used for group presentations, meeting with professionals, etc. I chose to purchase cheap, plain t-shirts and leave them in Singapore to save luggage space for souvenirs.
If you have any questions about studying in Singapore, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am more than happy to talk to anyone who is interested but unsure about what to expect.