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.


Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 9: Repatriation

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

Singlish 101

Want to learn some of Singapore English – Singlish? Megan Reardon gives you a quick lesson on how to speak Singlish, which she learned while studying at Singapore Management University on the Student Exchange Program!

Singapore has four national languages – English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin. While “English” is the most widely spoken language, it is initially a very difficult transition for most foreigners. Singaporeans call their dialect of English “Singlish” or colloquial Singaporean English, as it is a mixture of all four national languages and other dialects around. By the end of my exchange program, I was speaking Singlish like it was a foreign language. At first, my friends and I would speak in Singlish terms to show how well we knew Singapore, but it quickly morphed into us unknowingly adding the phrases into our sentences.

There is a lack of officially printed Singlish dictionaries or pamphlets. Since Singlish is commonly regarded as having low prestige, the government and some Singaporeans highly discourage using Singlish. The government has created the “Speak Good English Movement” to emphasize the importance of speaking traditional English. Still, as it becomes more accepted as a cornerstone of Singapore’s culture, Singaporeans use Singlish in casual conversations with friends and family.

Singlish is colorful, expressive, and demonstrates the history and multiculturalism of Singapore. Singapore was established as a British colony in 1824, and remained so until 1942 when it was occupied by the Japanese Empire during World War II. When the war ended, Singapore reverted to British control, but quickly merged with Malaysia from 1963-1965. Singapore became an independent republic in 1965. Given Singapore’s rich history of cultural blends, Singlish is a language that brings diverse ethnicities together.

My favorite Singlish phrases are below:

  1. Lah

This is easily my favorite Singlish phrase. It’s added to the end of sentences as an exclamation, or to add emphasis to a sentence. It can be used in questions, exclamations, or statement sentences. Examples of sentences lah can be used in are, “The weather is so nice today lah!”, “Will you pass the pepper lah?”, and my personal favorite, Ok, lah!” By the end of my time in Singapore, I would answer almost every question with an, “Ok, lah!”

  1. Kiasu

Singapore’s education system has a reputation for being highly competitive and overly focused on grades. Bred out of this competition is a highly individualistic culture. This individualism continues to manifest in many of the company cultures around Singapore. Kiasu is a word that is essentially the fear of losing out to other people. It is getting a child ahead so they won’t be behind their peers, overly prepping for group presentations, or being competitive to the point of doing anything to win. One example of a sentence using kiasu would be, “She is so kiasu that she bought her school books early so she could study over summer.”

  1. Can can

Typically, people in the U.S. use affirmative words like “sure” or “sounds good”, but Singaporeans largely use one word as an affirmation more than any other word – can. It can also be asked as a question, as in Can I?” Asking for favors usually ends in a, Can can!” Working on a group project, people would answer questions with a simple, “can.”

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

The Substation

One of the classes Megan Reardon took at Singapore Management University (SMU) was “Arts and Culture Management”. She worked on a group project to research about The Substation, a arts hubs created under government policy, and through this leaned the difference in U.S. vs Singaporian business practices.

Singapore’s arts scene is not as vibrant as other countries. Since policy has always been focused on economic development, arts policy has often been deemed as a sort of forced social project. This is not a uniquely Singaporean problem – Hong Kong and Shanghai also face similar obstacles. One of the policies implemented was the Arts Housing Scheme, which refurbished vacant government buildings into arts hubs. The Substation was born out of the Arts Housing Scheme and is Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts center. Established in 1990 when the arts in Singapore were severely lagging, as a collaborative and pioneering experimental arts center. For one of my classes, Arts and Culture Management, my project team was assigned to analyze The Substation’s role in the emerging Singapore arts scene. Once the centerpiece of a bustling neighborhood, The Substation is now surrounded by new, upscale restaurants and shopping centers, and unable to financially compete with the surrounding businesses.

Image from Google Images

Part of our assignment was interviewing various people associated with the development of The Substation in its current form. Though no longer thriving, the mission is clear – to foster creativity and innovation in the Singapore community by providing programming, practice spaces, and courses to artists. For part of our project, we had to interview people closely connected with The Substation, whether it be previous artistic directors, the woman who gave The Substation its original building, or various artists who have used their facilities. These interviews gave me the opportunity to discover more about how business is done in Singapore.

The most interesting observation in comparing Singaporean business to how business is done in the U.S. is the level of formality. Though I had previously believed lunch meetings to be very casual, the lunch meeting with several of our interviewees was formal. There was no small talk, no exchange of pleasantries, but the ever looming feeling that we were there for business only.

Another difference in business practices was that our professor joined us on meetings. At first, I found this odd. It was as if our professor did not trust us enough to be able to conduct the meetings on our own. However, as we continued interviews, I eventually learned that my professor attended these meetings as a vessel to continue her own learning. She was just as curious about the answers to our questions as we were. The emphasis on continued learning is very strong in Singapore. Because it is such an economically advanced society, people are constantly trying to stay on the cusp of what is new and exciting. It’s why Singapore continues to thrive during these times.

Our Final Presentation Timeline

First Month of Adjusting to the Culture of Japan

Cayhil Grubbs explains the process of adjusting to a new culture while he is abroad in Tokyo, Japan on the Student Exchange Program to Rikkyo University. “I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh”

When I first landed in Japan, I didn’t truly feel like I had left the U.S. There was English under each kanji character on every airport sign, every staff member greeted me in English, and there were foreigners everywhere. I didn’t truly process where I was until I went to the supermarket a few hours later to look for things like hand soap and paper towels. At first everything felt normal. The supermarket’s layout was similar, I could here American pop music playing through the loud-speakers, and I even heard the Migos’ song “T-Shirt” playing a few minutes later.

The soap section changed everything. Everything was in Japanese. I couldn’t tell the difference between hand soap, body soap, and shampoo. Trying to pick which soap brand I wanted was humbling. It marked the first time I felt helpless in Japan, but I didn’t mind because I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh, pull out Google Translate, and learn more Japanese. These are the basic survival tools of living in any foreign country for the non-fluent nomad/exchange student.

One thing I’ve quickly adjusted to is the dorm and surrounding area I live in. Like Ohio State, Rikkyo University has more than one campus. The main campus is in Ikebukuro, Tokyo and the second campus is in Niiza, Saitama. Unlike Ohio State, Rikkyo’s dorms aren’t on campus. I live in the dorm right outside of Asakadai Station, called RUID Asakadai. The many restaurants and stores in and surrounding the station can be very lively during the day, but the area gets nice and quiet at night. There’s a certain sense of serenity in the air, a calmness, peace. I think this aspect of Japan is overlooked. The calmness is unmatched in the world.

Since I have Japanese class at 9 o’clock every day, I have to take the train during rush hour. Any train I get on before 8:30am is packed. The train ride to school is extremely uncomfortable, not because of how you get body slammed with the collective force of nine sumo wrestlers every time the train car rocks back and forth, or that at each stop five people try to squeeze their way in for every person that gets off, or even the fact that it’s a 23-minute ride. What makes it uncomfortable is the strange pose I inevitably end up in. It’s like playing twister, but all of your color’s spots that are close to you are gone, you only get one spin the entire game, and there’s no room to fall.

Having lived in Japan for nearly a month, I’ve noticed a few cultural things that are different. The one thing here that has stood out the most to me is using a public bathroom. Not all public bathrooms have soap and there’s nothing to dry your hands with. Paper towels only exist in grocery stores and the rarer than unicorn hand dryers are weaker than Derrick Rose’s knees. Lastly, anime, video games, media, and sushi are not representative of real life. Americans don’t eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s better to not come to Japan with expectations, especially not ridiculous ones. Allow yourself to learn through experience. Let yourself be surprised.

Chinese New Year in Singapore

Megan Reardon shares her experience spending time over Chinese New Year! From Hong Bao to lantern festivals, she describes the celebration she saw while on the Student Exchange Program.

“恭喜发财!” As I walked around Singapore during Chinese New Year, you could hear these words being uttered by groups in passing. The literal translation of 恭喜发财 (gōngxǐ fācái) is “Congratulations on making money,” meaning well wishes for prosperity in the New Year. Chinese New Year is one of Singapore’s biggest cultural celebrations. It is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar, which traditionally falls around the middle of February. The best way to describe the importance of Chinese New Year is by comparing it to the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Traditionally, the Chinese New Year is a way to celebrate deities and ancestors, as well as an opportunity for family to come together from around the world.

There are many traditions that occur during Chinese New Year. Perhaps the most treasured tradition is the giving of a red Hong Bao envelope to the young. The red color symbolizes good luck and is used as a symbol to ward off evil spirits. This is such a common practice that even my landlord gave me a Hong Bao with $10 Singapore dollars! Other traditions include cleaning the home to ward off bad spirits that have accumulated in the prior year, eating mandarin oranges to celebrate fullness and wealth, and tossing together a large plate of Yu Sheng, a salad made of raw fish, fruits, and vegetables to ensure a lucky, prosperous, and healthy year for all.

The Hong Bao with S$10 from my Landlord
Tossing the Yu Sheng Salad

At Singapore Management University (SMU), though Chinese New Year was on a Saturday, we had the day off of school so international students had the opportunity to travel home if needed (in China, the students and adults get a WEEK off of school/work). Many expats in Singapore treat this weekend as a chance to explore the surrounding countries, knowing that everything closes down for the weekend, including restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. Rather than leaving the city, we decided to experience what Singapore had to offer for the Chinese New Year.

Every year, Singapore lights up the city to commemorate the Lunar New Year. Chinatown is lined with beautifully designed lanterns for weeks prior to the New Year. There is a giant lantern with the yearly zodiac; in 2017, it was The Year of the Rooster. During the weekend of Chinese New Year, downtown Singapore has a festival with glowing lanterns that explain what Chinese New Year is and the history of the holiday in Singapore.

Every year, there is a fireworks show over the water on Marina Bay. Since Marina Bay is in the downtown area, we were able to get reservations for one of the many rooftop restaurants in the skyscrapers, observing the fireworks from the one of the best vantage points in Singapore.

At the rooftop restaurant with fireworks behind us

Can My Semester Abroad Be Over Already?

Culture shock happens, even if you prepare as much as you can before you depart. Megan Reardon shares some of her culture shock moments and how she survived through them while in Singapore on the Student Exchange Program.

After you go through the application process and finally get accepted, you start telling people about how you are spending a precious 1/8 of your college experience in another country. If your experience is anything like mine, your parents will be asking how safe it is, your aunts and uncles will demand constant Facebook updates, and your friends will rant about how they wish they could visit. People who have gone abroad before will talk about the transformative nature of studying abroad. They will talk about how it completely changed their perspective on life, gave them more patience and understanding of other cultures, and was the greatest college experience one can have. When I was packing to leave on Christmas Eve, these were the thoughts going through my head. “I’m going to come back to the U.S. a completely different person that people won’t even recognize me. I’m going to be so tan.

Within the first 36 hours of leaving my house that Christmas Eve, my flight had been rerouted four times, spent the night in the airport, lost my luggage, my accommodation had no record of me planning to arrive, lost a $600 deposit on housing, and knew absolutely no one in the city. At this time, the only thing I wanted was to be back in Ohio, sitting on the couch on Christmas Day and be with my family.

Looking back, that experience was my most challenging in any of my experiences abroad. At the time, I didn’t think that anyone would understand what was going on in my mind. Now, I can clearly define this as culture shock. All of the prep classes, YouTube videos, and articles I read, could not prepare me for the reality which is physically going to another country. Everything was changing at once and I was not prepared. By the time I finally met other exchange students two days later, I was ready to call it quits. Talking with the other exchange students about how strange it was to be in Singapore finally pulled me back to reality. I was no longer “alone” and had people to share and reflect on everything with.

My point with this story is that culture shock will probably happen, and you won’t be nearly as prepared as you think you are. Culture shock is  normal, and being ready to deal with it and face the uncertainty that it brings is essential. The best thing that I did for myself during those first few days was watching a Netflix movie one afternoon during a rainstorm. It brought me back to a place of familiarity. Additional to that, I continued to remind myself why I was so excited to be in Singapore. I visited the major tourist areas, toured my school, and drank a cold tea by the South China Sea. That initial culture shock passed, and I was able to really enjoy the rest of my time in Singapore. From then on, whenever I was feeling homesick, I would pull out my journal from the first few days and remind myself of why I was in Singapore.

I wanted to completely immerse myself in Singapore. I wanted to experience what it is like to live in another country for an extended amount of time. I wanted to make friends from around the world. Most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I had it in me to live alone for four months. I wanted to grow more independent and discover more about myself with each new day in Singapore.

By the time my program was over, I was so thankful that I stayed in Singapore. Though I would continue to feel culture shock throughout my four months, I was able to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences that completely altered my view of the world experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I let culture shock hold me back. I am extremely grateful for my time abroad.

Bags Packed – Ready to Move In

Reflection of Study Abroad

Bradley Herndon reflects on his semester abroad on the Student Exchange Program at Ecole de Management Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things he have learned through the people he have met and the classes he has taken, to take steps to be a better global citizen and global business leader.

These days I often find it difficult to close my eyes, because right now, I am living in my dream. Since I was a kid in elementary school I knew I wanted to study abroad; it is an opportunity to explore new cultures, places, and ideas. I recognize I am a product of my environment and opportunities – I would not be writing this today in Strasbourg, France, if not for my family, friends, mentors, and teachers. These individuals have supported me in my endeavors, challenged me to work harder, and inspire me to pursue my passions. Only around 1.6% of U.S. students enrolled in higher education study abroad each year; for most students, studying abroad is simply infeasible. These four months in France are truly a gift, and I owe it to the people who helped get me here, to be cognizant and reflective. I believe it is my responsibility to think critically and share some of the insights I have derived from my first two months of studying abroad.

I am by no means an expert on understanding cultural differences, I am far from being a truly immersed, global citizen, and these insights have no doubt been written about before. This essay is partially a platform for me to understand where I have gained value from my experience; but, maybe it will also be a platform for me to distribute value to others. Perhaps it will shed new light on the importance of learning from different cultures and appreciating the world we inhabit. Although minute, perhaps I will be doing my part to bridge the cultural divide and connect this world even more. I hope you enjoy.


These past two months I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from all over the world and it is the most inspiring aspect of studying abroad. I’ve met and made friends with people from Australia, Singapore, Ireland, Spain, France, Kazakhstan, Finland, Czech Republic, Hungary, U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and more; each person has a story and perspective that varies vastly from the next. Most of the time I just sit in awe and listen to people speak about their cultures, the hardships they’ve endured, and the passions they grip fervently. I want to share two stories that have influenced my perspective.

When I first met Mariana, what struck me most was how proud she is to say she is from Colombia. It was this passion which prompted me to learn more about her story. When people first learn she is from Colombia, overwhelmingly, their first response is to ask about drugs and crime. The Colombia that many people know, is the Colombia depicted in Narcos – Pablo Escobar, cocaine, drug-trafficking, guerillas, and violence. To be frank, those issues have plagued Colombia in the past. The guerillas were founded in the 1960’s as a communist-inspired army. Much of their operations were funded by drug-trafficking and ransom payments, leading to violence for a long period of time. However, the past is the past, and a lot of the violence and corruption has eased. Narcos, while portraying true issues, undermines the tremendous progress that Colombia has made to create peace. Colombia is more than just Pablo Escobar, and it is more than its past.

Mariana recognizes there is progress to be made, but she chooses to view her country in a positive light and focuses on the aspects that make Colombia unique and beautiful. For starters, it is a cultural hub having been a home to writers like Gabriel García Márquez, artists like Juanes and Shakira, painters like Fernando Botero, and athletes like James Rodríquez.

“I wish everyone was able to see Colombia through my eyes.”

It was through those eyes that she grew up watching the Carnaval de Barranquilla, filled with adults and children dancing, celebrating their culture. Those eyes that would watch people cheer madly for the Colombian National Football Team; those eyes that witnessed the beauty in the beaches, mountains, and cities that comprise the land; and those eyes that have consistently seen energetic, warm, and loving people, fight through adversity and remain strong. That is the Colombia that Mariana knows and holds so dearly. As an aspiring journalist, her experiences have shaped her passion to one day open a media company that focuses on positive news stories in Colombia. It is her dream to inspire hope and compassion in the people, and to share the Colombia she sees through her eyes.

Besides experiencing joy while listening to her speak about her country, Mariana taught me to look beneath the surface of a situation; it is a reminder to seek the truth and the light within the world, a country, or a person.


The next story is about my friend Bernat from Barcelona, who has experienced Catalonia’s plight for independence from Spain. His story is complicated and I will attempt to give a brief synopsis; Catalonia is a region of 7.5 million people in the northeast corner of Spain, notable for being the region of Barcelona. Catalans have their own language, their own culture, their own parliament, and their own history. On multiple occasions, the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan identity, including the period after the siege of Barcelona in 1714 during the War of Spanish Succession, and also during the reign of the military dictator Francisco Franco from 1939 – 1975. Catalonia, accounting for 16% of Spain’s population, is a wealthy region accounting for 19% of GDP and 25% of industrial production. Recently, the country has seen Madrid take large sums of taxes from their region, and distribute the benefits to areas outside of Catalonia. This history has created cultural, political, and economic motives for the Catalan population to claim the right of self-determination, and it lead to the events that took place on October 1, 2017.

Since 2012, the Catalan Parliament has been calling on the Spanish government to hold a  referendum, to let the people decide the future of their small nation. However, after twenty formal demands and consequential denials, the Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont scheduled a referendum to vote for independence without consent from Madrid. After the announcement, “The government of the conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on residents to stay home. With the help of Spanish courts and the police, it confiscated paper ballots and closed referendum-related websites.” (New York Times) When the Catalan’s took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully and exercise their right to vote, the Spanish government sent police forces and the violence used on citizens is truly shocking. When talking to Bernat, who associates himself as a Catalan and is on the pro-independence side, he said, “It’s no longer a nationalist issue, it’s an issue of democracy. Catalans deserve the right to decide on independence and to have their voices heard.”

These are his people; you can see in his eyes the deep connection and love he has for Catalonia, and the hurt he feels while describing the violence. There are two sides of every story; Bernat has encouraged me to research and understand the motives from the Catalan and Spanish perspective. One thing is evident – the actions taken by the Spanish Government to inhibit the vote, violated human rights and clearly undermines the value of democracy. To understand more of the situation I encourage you to watch the video on youtube: “Help Catalonia. Save Europe.”


I could go on to share multiple stories like these two which have impacted the way I think and view the world. Studying abroad has pushed me to be cognizant and opened my eyes to situations and hardships that I knew little or nothing about. I’ve realized I am passionate about connecting people; sharing stories so we realize we are more alike than we are different. When you listen to people’s stories, you empathize and learn how you can advocate for them.

Observe – Interpret – Value:

I recently attended a lecture on French Culture, delivered by a professor who has experience working with schools from all around the world. Dr. Mac Gabhann implored that we should be curious about the toughest issues of the day, both business and social, and that we should be garnering a European perspective to assist in decision making. One of his main points resonated with me: it is not satisfactory to exclusively observe French behaviors, you have to interpret those behaviors using historical and societal context, in order to value the French culture.

Personally, I do not know the French language and, most of the time, I have absolutely no idea what people are saying around me. However, I am still actively attempting to immerse myself in the culture, so I have been researching French history as an avenue to relate to French students and interpret their behaviors. One of my observations is that the French appear to be slightly less welcome to speaking other languages, and prefer for you to attempt to speak in French. My interpretation is that France is a very proud country; their language represents their rich history of Enlightenment thinkers, innovation and diplomacy. They have also seen the English language infiltrate their society and it has upended some of the French influence around the world. These changes have made the French more protective of their language, and hence, on average, slightly less welcome to speaking different languages. I have learned to value the pride they have in their country, and it has motivated me to learn more of the language, culture, and history.

I stated before that I am not yet an immersed global citizen, but I do have aspirations to one day work with people across borders. I am excited to be exposed to many different cultures and it is necessary to value their differences in order to collaborate and optimize performance. I believe this framework, observe – interpret – value, is an important reminder to abandon preconceptions, and learn how to view cultural differences in a positive light.


I love reflecting on moments. There is something incredibly satisfying about narrowing your scope, and understanding exactly what specific events brought you happiness. Time is fleeting; you are forced to pay attention to the details to prevent sources of happiness from slipping away. Traveling produces a heightened sense of emotion. Time after time, these past two months I have experienced moments where I just feel happy and alive and inspired. Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by beauty. Beauty in the streets of Vienna, captured from my early morning stroll in the snow; beauty in the alleyways of Strasbourg, on Sunday mornings when the quaint apartments and their iron railings have still yet to be woken; beauty in the sunsets, enveloping the Côte d’Azur, Paris, and Florence in their own distinct shade of red and orange; beauty in the thousands of years of French history, rich with the Enlightenment, kings, queens, revolutions, art, fashion, and cuisine; and finally, beauty in the friends I have met, each one with a tale from another part of the world. This world has destinations to explore, cultures to learn from, ideas waiting to be tapped, and beauty to be discovered; what a privilege it is to play our own role.

Life will likely not always be this lively, where I seemingly have the freedom to travel to another country every weekend. So while I am holding onto this time dearly, I am also not afraid of when it will pass. Whether I am spending hours studying or relaxing with friends, hanging out in Ohio or traveling the world, I control my mindset and can always work to derive happiness from the simplest moments. Life is short, and I know for many it is characterized by hardship, inequality, and constant struggle. But try to focus on what brings you happiness, what you are grateful for, and what inspires you. Optimism only strengthens your ability to enact positive change. For me, studying abroad has reaffirmed the importance of appreciating the individuals and opportunities which have shaped me, and also taught me to pause and reflect. There is a lot of beauty in this world, we just have to open our eyes and look.


Read more of his experiences in France on Brad Herndon’s original blog here!

About the Author: Brad Herndon, Sophomore, Finance. Student Exchange Program- France.

Public vs. Private Sector in Italy

Sarah Disselkamp observes that difference in public vs. private sectors in Italy as she studies at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan, Italy. She shares some of her advice and tips to be prepared for differences in Italy’s!

I have noticed that professional norms across the board tend to be slightly different in Italy versus what I am used to in the United States, especially in terms of public service. In the United States, we are used to some services to always be open and usable, such as the post office and public transportation. However, in Italy, that is very much not true. Strikes of public workers are frequent and almost ignored in Italy, whereas they are usually a big deal at home. In Italy, I have found that they are for a few hours, maybe a full day in extreme cases, and rarely come with any sort of actual demonstration.

One example of this happened last Thursday, when the public transportation workers went on strike. This meant that there were no subways, trams, or buses within the city of Milan almost all day, and the ones that did run were sporadic at best. It showed the dichotomy between public and private transportation workers that we don’t see as much in the Untied States, as the private trains and buses between cities were by and large unaffected.

Similarly, the response to the strike was very different between the Americans and our European counterparts. Because of the location of our dorm, we take public transportation to class, so the idea of it not running on a school day was pretty concerning to me! However, when I spoke to my professors, their attitude was much more along the lines of whatever happens, happens – who knows, maybe there will be trams running anyway! It ended up that the trams happened to run when I needed them to in order to get to class and then I walked home (only about an hour, and the weather was great!), so it all ended well.

There are a couple ways to deal with this when you encounter it in Italy (definitely more of a “when” than an “if”!). First of all, I just guess and check. At each tram stop, there is a screen that tells you which lines run to that stop and how far away the next train is. This is usually pretty accurate, and sometimes you get lucky that there will be a train coming soon. The other option that I’ve found works pretty well is Google maps. There’s an option for public transportation that is usually updated in real time, meaning you can see how long it will take you to get somewhere and the timetables for the trains and trams. This helps tremendously, both during a strike and during regular operation, as the notices at the stop or on the websites are usually all in Italian and can be confusing.