My Danish High School Experience

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!

Budapest Parliament Building
Budapest Parliament Building 
John Lennon Wall, Prague 
Prague, Czech Republic
Yummy shakes in Vienna, Austria

Kakehaski Project: Christine’s Home Stay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dolls Christine, Lily, and Amber made

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

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

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

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

Christine in front of a cherry blossom tree

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

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

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

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

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

Kakehashi Project: Austin and Chandler’s Home Stay

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

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

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

Austin with his home stay parents

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

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

The view of the ocean from our home stay in Oita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kakehashi Project: Joe’s Home Stay

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full meal

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

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

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

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

The view from Shouko’s home in Oita

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

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

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

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

View from inside the mall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ittekimasu!!!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 9: Repatriation

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

Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beppu onsen in Oita

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

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

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

The Tea Master (center) with our group

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

The Tea Master and Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weekend In Morocco

From seeing the blue city to enjoying camel rides, join Samantha Ludes on her adventure to Morocco, while she studies at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain on the Student Exchange Program.

If you hadn’t planned on visiting Morocco while abroad, then you need to read this and I hope you change your mind. I suggest traveling with a group, especially as a student. The cultural differences and language barriers make it a challenging trip to do on your own. I am not normally a fan of group trips; I hate being on a strict schedule, I always feel exhausted, and I never see everything I wanted to see. However, this group trip was unlike any I had been on. I went through a group called BeMadrid (but I booked it through UniTrips) and I cannot recommend it enough. While it was a long weekend, it was really a great one.

The trip that we chose to do was not necessarily the easiest transportation wise, but I swear it was not as bad as it may sound. We met late Thursday night and took a 7 hour bus ride to Tarifa, Spain. From there, we took an hour ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. If a longer travel day is not for you, there are trips where you can fly into Morocco and meet them, but the bus was nice enough that we were all able to sleep and honestly not that bad.

In Tangier, we met up with our tour guide Mohammed and hopped on a bus to start off our day. While on our way to see Cap Spartel and Hercules Caves, Mohammed would tell us anything ranging from funny stories about his life to facts about their culture. Having a local guide allowed us to get by much better since there was no language barrier or questions about where something was. Cap Spartel is a famous lighthouse overlooking the ocean just a quick drive from Tangier. We stopped here and got out to take some pictures, as well as pet a donkey and buy some beautiful little gifts that none of us actually needed.  After, we visited Hercules Caves which are a few minutes from Cap Spartel. The story behind these caves is that Hercules is said to have rested here during one of his journeys. The caves have two openings, one to the sea and one to the land, with the opening to the sea in the shape of Africa. If you go to Tangier, these are two touristy sites you must see.

And if you want to ride camels, you can do so only a short drive from Hercules Caves. I’m not sure if you have ever been on a camel but it is like riding a very unstable horse. While you may feel like you are going to fall off at any moment, it is one of those activities that you cannot miss when in Morocco (and this was included in the trip I went on).

We also went to Chefchaouen and Tétouan. If you have ever looked at pictures of Morocco, you most likely have seen either Marrakech (on my list of places to visit) or Chefchauoen, aka the blue city. We walked through the narrow streets of the blue city, each street painted blue and covered with a  range of colors. If I had more space in my backpack I would have bought a lot more than I did, everything is so beautiful. My lunch in Chefchauoen was my favorite meal of the trip. For the equivalent of 5 euros, we were able to get more food than our stomachs could keep up with. I left this beautiful city with lots of argan oil (Morocco is famous for it) and a few other goods I probably did not need. For those of you who love skincare, argan oil is great for hydration of your skin, without being too oily, as well as for your hair. Buy it for yourself, your mom, your sister, and everyone will be happy. Next on our tour was Tétouan, one of Morocco’s major ports famous for their seafood markets. We only spent an hour or so here but I was happy we did because we were able to see a much less touristy city but a gem nonetheless.

Back in Tangier, we had an “authentic” Moroccan dinner (bread, chicken, soup, potatoes, and their delicious mint green tea) while we watched a performance by a few locals. It was a great end to our trip and fun to get to meet a wide variety of people. Our group of 100 people (& 40 different nationalities) were led by students and a few adult advisors. Even though we only had 2 full days in Morocco, I think that our leaders did such an efficient job in organizing the trip that I felt like I had seen everything.

Now, there are a few things to remember when traveling here. What you wear has become less of a focus, however, you should still dress on the conservative side to draw less attention. In Morocco, most people speak French (and Arabic of course) but if you don’t know French, try Spanish or even German before you try English. My weekend consisted of lots of pointing and using the only two French words I know; toilet and pan. And speaking of toilet, do not forget to bring a roll of toilet paper because the bathrooms in restaurants and public places most likely won’t have any. Also, never pay whatever price they’re asking for (except at restaurants), ALWAYS barter and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel like you’re paying too much. Do not forget to buy lots of bottled water and just be cautious about where you are getting your fruit from. I personally had no problems with the food but I know other people did. Overall everything is very cheap there, so you should expect to pay less and get more (finally an exchange rate that is totally in your favor).

I am so happy that I decided to go on this trip. It is an amazing experience unlike anything I had done before and the weather is beautiful. So if you are studying abroad, add Morocco to a weekend trip because you definitely will not regret it.

 

The Difference in University Culture in Italy

Although questioning if he wanted to leave his comfort zone in the U.S., Chandler Ross took the leap to go abroad for a semester. Now, one month at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi on the Student Exchange Program, he shares what it was like starting in a new country and the differences he sees in university culture in Milan,Italy.

So, it’s officially been one month since I started school here at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Before departing on this trip, I’m going to be honest and say that I was very worried and had doubts how this whole experience was going to be. There was comfort in being a third year at OSU, with all my friends and loved ones around me. Why leave that comfort behind for something very unknown? I thought about this for a long time, but I realized that’s exactly why I decided to leave for a semester abroad. The unknown of what this journey would bring, who I would meet, or the new culture I would get to see. I’ve always been adventurous, but have my moments of just playing it safe and going the easy route. Overall, I put aside all of that and went into this journey with an open mind.

When I got to Italy, after a two full days of traveling and some very serious jet lag, it of course felt surreal and yet very scary. I was fully on my own, away from my friends and family in a brand new country. The first week was a mix of being a little homesick, but excitement of exploring a new city with new friends. Milan is a very interesting city. It’s a very metropolitan city filled with TONS of shopping, but turn a corner and you can get transported to an old Italian town, with small streets and beautiful buildings. Some of my favorite parts in town would be Navigli, which has some great apertivo spots, with a very young crowd in the area. Another thing I discovered about Milan is that it’s not a huge touristy town. Before I came here, I thought it would have been tourist after tourist in the city, but Milan’s majority of people here are just people who live here. It makes this city feel more authentic, as you’re meeting real Italians living and working here.

When school started at Bocconi, I honestly had no idea how it was going to be. After one month, it’s very interesting to see the comparisons between a school like Bocconi and OSU. First, Bocconi has this policy called “non-attending student” for classes. This simply means you can tell your professor that you will not be coming to class and that you will just take the final for that class based on the professor’s textbook. That was such a foreign concept due to the fact that you can be upfront about your schedule and decide to still be in the class. I didn’t really like this because I didn’t want only ONE exam to decide whether or not I passed the class. However, another difference is that most classes I’m taking have no midterm. Your grade is simply determined by a final and a group project.

Bocconi’s culture is of course VERY different from OSU. Smoke breaks are very popular here and you can guarantee to see a good amount of Bocconi students outside the buildings chatting and having a cigarette. This is uncommon for OSU, as the campus promotes students to not smoke and be tobacco-free. I had an idea that this was maybe common, I just didn’t understand it was this common where a good portion of the students partake in it. The school itself is really only comprised of a few buildings. My classes are only in 2 buildings, which is of course different from OSU, due to the fact that we have such a huge campus. Bocconi is on the south side of Milan located within the city, so it’s very much a city school.

A huge difference between Bocconi and OSU has to be the clothing between the students. At OSU, a typical student might wear sweatpants or leggings to class and this is just the norm. At Bocconi, you don’t really see anyone wearing sweatpants or leggings. School could be compared to a fashion show with people dressing to impress. Girls in long, luxurious coats and guys in nice shoes is what you see here on campus. It’s an interesting difference because one day I wore sweatpants to class and did get some interesting looks from the students.

Expanding upon Milan, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to travel to new cities. I’ve been able to see Venice, Switzerland and Germany. Each brought their different aspects about what makes them so great. Venice had this high energy spirit for their Carnival celebration. Switzerland had this mountain charm, with a bit of a price tag as it is an expensive country. Germany had this rich history of its town with some great food.

Knowing what I know now, if I had to say anything to myself before I came on this trip, I would say that just truly everything does work out. No matter what the reservations you have or how scary it might be, everything really does work out in the end. I’m just getting started in this journey, but so far it’s been an incredible experience and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Guide for Attending a Spanish University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, Go Bucks!

First Week in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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