The Reality of Planning for a Semester Abroad

This being my first blog entry, I suppose I’m starting things off on a negative note. However, I think it’s an important topic that should be touched on initially and reinforced from a student’s perspective.

First off, get started on your planning, as soon as possible. I cannot stress that enough. I made a lot of excuses for myself to put things off (Spring classes, summer trips, focus on internship, etc) but it made for a very stressful process when I couldn’t delay any longer. I wound up spending a lot of time searching for apartments and coordinating with other exchange students in Italy, which is not an easy process given the language barrier as well as the fraud/deception risk of searching for overseas lodging. My suggestion: stick with university sponsored housing (assuming it’s available). It will alleviate some of that stress and probably be a nicer set-up anyway, not to mention it facilitates the process of meeting other students.

If I had made this decision sooner, I could have put my time into the process of getting a study visa, which should be started ASAP. Initially I noted the 1-3 week processing time for the visa, but neglected the fact that you generally need to book an appointment 4-6 weeks in advance. Ended up contacting about 10 vice consulates to set up a last minute appointment, not fun. Also, it can take some time to gather and clarify all the required documents, especially since the consulates can be very hard to get a hold of with any questions (email is best). Didn’t help that I was planning to travel before and after my time in Milan, which complicated the travel documents needed.

The actual packing process was surprisingly simple, even for a procrastinator like myself. A quick google search will bring up plenty of student provided lists of items, and remember that you can always buy non-essentials like clothes, deodorant, etc. Focus on making sure you’re documents, medicines, and travel plans are in order, then you can worry about how many dress shirts to take.

All that said, don’t let stress distract you from excitement about the opportunity ahead! Spend a bit of time friending others on Facebook ahead of time (and of course upon arrival) and remember to use resources around you.

My next entry will be on all the positive things (since it’s already been a terrific 3 weeks in Italy). Coming soon..

The Past vs. The Future

Manchester, England

The photo shown above was taken in the city center of Manchester, England.

I believe it is an interesting perspective as to the cultural shifts that seems to be occurring. On the left side you can see the more modern architecture representative of Manchester’s modernization and continued growth.  If you turn your attention to the right, the contrast in building design is immediately apparent. The architecture is obviously of much older design, though kept in good condition. We were informed that many buildings in Manchester were originally textile factories built in the early 1900’s, but have been “recycled” as office buildings, hotels, and so on.

With a history dating back to 79 AD, it’s fair to say that Manchester is an ancient city. Despite that, the “Mancunians” (Those who live in Manchester), have kept relevancy remarkably well. Culturally, it should be noted that while the Mancunians have a sense of practicality about them, their respect for tradition and conservation should be noted as well.

First Impressions of Dublin

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Céad míle fáilte! A hundred thousand welcomes! This semester I have the privilege of representing Fisher Exchange and Ohio State at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. So far my impressions of the college as well as the country have been wildly positive even though things here are run very differently then one would expect in the states. I arrived in Dublin on 23 August to start a program called Semester Start Up- Understanding Ireland.

The class is designed to introduce international students from outside the EU to the history, art, and culture of Ireland by listening to lectures, attending discussions, and making trips to sites of historical and cultural significance. We visited the castles Trim and Dublin, the spiritual hills of Tara, and Croke Park the football stadium where Bloody Sunday occurred in 1920.

An interesting point for me was the amount of history of Ireland. We learned of the history from before the arrival of St. Patrick in 450AD to the works of James Joyce and beyond in the twentieth century. In the United States, events from the 1700’s are considered old but here that is considered modern history. The sheer age of some of the buildings is staggering. I ate in a pub that was founded in 1198, almost 600 years before the US constitution was ratified! In short, there is a lot of history to learn.

Outside of the program I have been exploring all the things Ireland has to offer. A group of students and I got out of the city to the quaint fishing villages of Howth and Dun Laoghaire at the points of Dublin harbor, spent a day hiking in the Wicklow Mountains, and watched Dublin play Donegal in the semifinals of Gaelic Football, the national sport. The finals are this weekend and I can’t wait to see another match of this intense sport.

At the moment we are in the middle of Freshers Week, an infamous kickoff to the start of the year in which the societies vie for students participation. At Trinity, the societies are the basis of college life out of the classroom similar to clubs at OSU. Imagine the student involvement fair at OSU for twelve plus hours a day for a whole week. There are concerts, social events, free food, and a lot more people now that many of the students have moved in. The biggest difference that I have seen between OSU and Trinity is the urgency with which things get done. I am in the process of scheduling my classes this week! At OSU I would have had that done months ago. It is a bit scary but all the professors assure us this is normal procedure.

Living in Dublin has been great so far and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. The locals are friendly, the city is beautiful, and the weather has been surprisingly sunny. I’m so excited that I was able to do the Exchange Program and can’t wait to share more about my experiences here.

Perth, Australia 1 Month Reflection

Six weeks ago, I left for my journey to study abroad. I spent two weeks in Southern China before traveling to Perth, Australia where I will study abroad during this autumn semester at Curtin University. Since that time, I can say that I have learned more in the last six weeks than I have at Ohio State in the previous three years. I have learned so much about culture, geography, language, business, people and most importantly, myself among countless other things. Having this experience firsthand is something I would not trade for anything in the world. Sitting in a classroom and reading a textbook will never provide the same thing, the same opportunity. Unfortunately, time is moving fast and I can’t believe I’ve been abroad for six weeks already, but it is important to reflect back on my journey so far and this blog post is the perfect way of doing so!

Quite honestly, after the first day of being in Australia, I couldn’t wait to go home. I couldn’t believe the situation I got myself into! My campus was far from the city center and everything was spread out unlike Columbus, Ohio. There are about 1,000 students living on campus and out of those 1,000, a good percentage of them are graduate students that are 35 years old or older! At Ohio State, there are about 10,000 students my own age living on campus and the other 50,000 at OSU live right around the campus in nearby off-campus housing. At Curtin, this wasn’t the case; everyone is spread out throughout the city and commutes to class maybe once or twice a week. You barely see them.

To make it worse, everything closes at 5pm and the WiFi was terrible! It was quiet, far from the beach or any form of shopping area and it was much colder than I expected. I was alone, 11,600 miles away from home, and the worst part…everything was so expensive! I had no idea how I would afford to be here. What was I thinking? I knew I could survive, but I didn’t know if I wanted to. I told myself that I have to stick with it, and it is what you make of it. I knew I was tough, but this would be a true test.
It took some adjusting, but within a week of being in Australia, I had a new bank account, a new phone number, new friends, a new home, but still something was missing.

First, let me tell you what wasn’t missing. It wasn’t a way of getting around. I’m way too independent to have to rely on Perth’s terrible public transportation or their expensive taxi’s. Instead I successfully figured a different form of transportation on my own.

It also wasn’t money. Within a few days of being here, Curtin offered me a $2,500 grant that I didn’t even apply for! They apparently looked at all of the incoming international students previous semester grades and gave scholarships to those who did well beforehand. This included myself. I wasn’t about to screw up the opportunity to go abroad and got a 3.7 GPA last semester, much higher than usual. Sure enough, it paid off, literally! The extra $2,500 was just what I needed to get by, and very conveniently, i’d say Australia is 25% more expensive. So that should give you an idea of what I’m spending to come here.

Here’s what was missing. True friendship. True relationships with people who cared about you. I knew that if I was going to survive here, I needed these true relationships. I was making a lot of new friends from all over the world, but I really wasn’t close with anyone yet. I experienced a similar thing when going to Ohio State the first year and being the emotionally outgoing and sociable guy that I am, it was hard. I knew it would take time, you don’t develop true friendships overnight, but when everyone else is 18,670 kilometers away (Yes another thing I learned was the conversions), you need someone to rely on.

First off, let me tell you that it is very obvious that there are groups around campus depending on each person’s cultural background. I also want to point out that the international students here all seem significantly more educated and enlightened than the typical people I am used to interacting with. Therefore, most of these people were bigger fish, they had more talent, more social skills and brighter futures. They like me, were also tough for being here on their own. We all share the same bond with the same love of travel. That’s why we’re all here. Based on this premise, I wanted to bring everyone together.

I initially made friends with all of the Brazilians, they were very friendly and very genuine. I felt very included, whenever I’d enter the conversation, they would stop speaking Portuguese and speak English to include me. None the less, I didn’t come here to just meet Brazilians, I came here to network with people from all over the world. I forced myself to go to another group. I then proceeded to start hanging out with the Swedes. They are also very great people. After that, I hung out with a group of mostly Europeans and after one night that I spent time with them, I was invited to join a Facebook group that they had. I felt loved and got a great vibe from them.

Finally, I chose to meet the Americans, most of whom all knew each other beforehand because they are on the same study abroad program. However, for myself, this wasn’t the case as I am on exchange. I made some American friends sure. It would have been easiest to develop those friendships sure, but quite honestly, I found I did not have things in common with this group  to connect. The interactions with the Brazilians were different. They looked you in the face and spoke with you. It was nice for a change because that’s who I am.

Here we are, a month later. I have met and made friends with people from the following countries in no particular order: Brazil, Belgium, Venezuela, Germany, Holland, England, Sweden, Lithuania, France, Russia, Switzerland, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Malaysia, Albania, Thailand, South Korea, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, India, Iran, places that I never even heard of like East Timor and Martinique, and last but definitely not least Australia! I’m probably forgetting a few, but you get the point.

Of course, I won’t be close with everyone, but now that I feel like I know almost everyone on campus, I can start developing these closer relationships with the people who matter to me, the genuinely good people. The people who I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. And without even realizing, these people did start coming together just like I wanted. Over the weekend, I celebrated a Kraftskiva (a crayfish party) which is a Swedish tradition. Sure enough a handful of Brazilians and Europeans joined as well.

Now, a month later, I fear the day when I have to return home to the USA because I know how much I’ll miss it here. I’ve grown to love it in Australia and it is already turning into one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve found my way around and learned to love the same things the Aussies do. Not only the people matter, but I’ve adjusted to everything shutting down early and found the places that don’t. I’ve grown to love the always nice weather, the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to, eating Kangaroo, and especially the laid back attitude which mirrors my personality.

Next week, I will head to the east coast to see Sydney and Melbourne. Yet, I am not nervous. I am excited for the opportunity to meet plenty of other people as I am staying at the best youth hostel in Australia which is also top 10 in the world. Traveling to Australia has already proven to be one of the most difficult things I have ever overcome as well as one of the best decisions of my life. It has forever strengthened my desire to keep traveling. I have decided that upon graduating from Ohio State in the spring of 2015, I will look to pursue my masters degree in Europe. I cannot wait to see what is in store over these remaining next three months as well as continue to develop the friendships I have made. I will cherish every moment of it!

European Destinations

If my last post was written in a state of culture shock induced delirium, this second post is written in a state of culture awe and relish. In the past two weeks, I have had the joy of visiting some of the world’s most famous and attractive cities: Paris, Dublin, London, and Amsterdam.

I was wowed by the utter difference among all the cities; the history, the people, the art, the architecture, the food, the landscapes, everything.

Paris

Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I wrote this sentence before seeing the other three cities, and I must say now it is debatable, though Paris is certainly stunning. Everywhere you look, every street you wander down, every building you gaze up at, is striking. Of course the chocolate, pastries, and bread are to die for (and I would, if I lived there to have them every day). The city is so French; not comprable to any other city in any other country. I am struggling to find words to describe it: charming, but at the same time elusive; hurried, but slow; uptight but relaxed; old, set in its ways, but so much young, vibrancy. I would love to go back and explore it more.

 

Dublin

The skies. Dublin skies are the biggest, most-blue, most enveloping skies. The clouds are streamy, stringy, yet fluffy white caps on blue waves that are the crisp, clean, skies. The Dublin people are exceptional. They are welcoming, funny, carefree, and a joy to be around. They’ll thank you after every interaction even when you are the one who should do the thanking. Their self-effacing humor is charming, and, needless to say, the accents are delightful. Also, the food in Dublin is amazing. No, they do not consume only potatoes and other bland anomalies. We feasted on delicious lamb stews, soda bread, garlic burgers, Spanish food, butternut squash soup, and chicken pâté paired with apple compote (surprisingly good).

We were also able to visit a village just outside Dublin called Howth. It is one of the most endearing seaside villages. I want to retire there. We climbed to the peak and wandered down the hill that is the town, seaside views all-encompasing. In the distance was one a magical-looking isle before I’d only seen in movies. It was an enchanting afternoon.

London

I loved London. It reminded me most of the US (which I did not mind, as being away for 3 months will most certainly make the heart grow fonder). It is reminiscent of New York City, but concurrently nothing like it all. Again, the people are lovely. Even the metro system announcers are incredibly polite, letting passengers know to, “Please, mind the gap” when disembarking, and also making announcements just for the sake of letting people know all trains are in good service. It was interesting to see that a lot of Londoners are in fact not British. I heard many languages, accents, and the like, where I expected to be surrounded by posh “Dear boy”’s and “Cheerio”’s. The British ones, though, call everyone “Love” and wish you a “Cheers” on the constant.

It was lovely to be in London during the first signs of Spring. We were able to go to their gorgeous parks and see the first flowers blooming and (much to our terror) birds taking flight.

We paid a visit to the queen outside her castle. By visit, of course, I mean we (and hundreds of others) gathered at a safe distance outside her gates and took pictures of her accommodations completely unbeknownst to her majesty.

I would love to go back to the UK. We had to take hour-long bus rides to and from the airport through the country. The countryside is phenomenal. There actually are sheep grazing on rolling green hills and thatched-roof houses, like something out of a storybook.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam was our “wildcard” city, if you will. We were originally not supposed to visit, but we messed up our ticketing to London, and had a few days to spare: why not Holland?

I am so glad we did.

Amsterdam is the Venice of Western Europe. 60 miles of canals weave throughout. There are over 1200 bridges and some 600,000 bicycles. It is, for lack of a better word: incredible. Someone else on the internet wrote:
“It may sound like a generic word to describe a place, but Amsterdam epitomizes what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as ‘too extraordinary and improbable to be believed.’”.

And it’s true.

Amsterdam is like a fairytale. The architecture is remarkably charming: townhouses, each one unique as the last, packed next to each other line bicycle-filled streets following meandering canals throughout.

Upside Down and Backwards: My First Week in France

Wow. I live in France now. This place is crazy. Not crazy like “OMG this is cah-rayyy-zayyy”, but crazy like EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT.

I don’t know why this took me aback so. I mean, I was more than prepared to deal with culture shock, and of course, I understood I would. But this week has been intense. I have created a list of all the differences (some, opposites) between my home country/state (the US/Ohio) and my host country.

1. The weather is the same here every. single. day. Wake up: cold, dark, probably rain. Lunch time: sunny, warm. Night: cold, dark, rain. This is not Ohio where Tuesday you’re laying out and Saturday wearing your parka.

2. There are no baggers at the grocery store. The clerk and all the people behind you literally watch you bag your items and you wonder why you bought so much. (AKA efficiency is not prized)

3. Oh! Another grocery thing: they have NO plastic grocery bags. You either bring your own or buy their reusable ones, so now I have 4 grocery bags . . . (My city, Nantes, prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in France).

4. THEY DO NOT EAT PEANUT BUTTER HERE. IT IS NOT A PRIORITY, AND I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS. You have to pay roughly 8 USD for a tiny jar of Skippy (the only brand they have). Where the PB should be in the grocery, all you see are shelves packed with Nutella and cookie butter.

5. This leads me to: everything is sweet! They put chocolate in everything, and I am 100% okay with it. I have become obsessed with this amazing dark chocolate chunk granola. It is really difficult to find a cereal without some kind of chocolate component. They have chocolate chip bread right there with the sandwich slices. They have chocolate yogurt, rows and rows of every kind of cookie/chocolate combination imaginable, and a truly sinful treat: chocolate stuffed croissants, or, pain au chocolat.

6. Their sandwich bread has no end pieces. So what does that mean? Do they make super long loaves of bread and just sell us sections of a loaf? Or do they throw away every loaf’s end pieces?? These are the things keeping me up at night . . .

7. Another food thing: the largest pack of lunch meat I can find has 4 slices. 4. What am I supposed to do, buy lunch meat every 2 days? What do they eat for lunch?? BAGUETTES. The stereotype is SO TRUE. People literally walk down the street eating baguettes. I did it. It was fun and yummy.

8. Their coffee is amazing. If you order a small black coffee. They give you the teensiest cup of espresso and a wafer. It literally woke my jet-lagged butt UP. It was also incredibly delicious, and I’d drink it every day if I was sure it wouldn’t give me a heart attack.

9. They sell their milk warm. It sits on the shelf like any other beverage. I’ve seen this before in other countries, but I just think it’s so weird.

10. They have pink toilet paper. (Yeah, I bought it)

11. Nothing is open past 7pm during the week or at all on Sundays. There is literally NOTHING to do on Sundays. Even our university closes.

12. They take 2 hour lunch breaks.

13. The people are quiet in public. It’s so quiet here. People rarely talk on trains or sidewalks. They dress in all dark colors and neither smile at you nor excuse themselves when obstructing another’s path. In class though, the students talk over the professor while he’s lecturing, and over each other when we present projects. It’s an odd juxtaposition.

 

That is what I’ve noticed so far. Mostly food/grocery related things. Oops.

 

Keep checking up on this blog; I will try to post weekly/biweekly depending on how many exciting things I have to tell you! Thanks for reading et au revoir!

Christmas Days

Rikkyo University is also named Saint Paul’s University, and it was founded by Channing Moore Williams, an Episcopalian missionary. Therefore, there are deep religion traditions at Rikkyo University.

This is the main gate of Rikkyo University, and the two big trees are decorated as Christmas Trees. There was also a lightening ceremony of these Christmas Trees on December 3rd 5:00 pm this year. On that day, many people came to Rikkyo campus to see the ceremony. I had a class at that time, so I could not see the ceremony myself =( This picture was taken by my friend.

Besides these two trees, there are also many beautiful paintings inside the Rikkyo campus, celebrating Christmas this year.

These three paintings are on the buildings at Rikkyo University. Several days before, I saw some students were working on them, and now, they are all finished. I like these paintings because they make me feel warm in heart.

Job hunting season at Rikkyo

The job hunting season in Japan is quite different from that in the US. Most colleges students in Japan tend to finish their study when they get the bachelor’s degree and start to work in companies, rather than entering a graduate school. Therefore, college students have to start their job hunting process in their junior year, and most of the students will find jobs before their graduation.

My Japanese classmates and professors at Rikkyo University told me that the Junior year is the busiest year for students because of the pressure to find a job. Also, the chance to get a job after graduation is very low for college students in Japan.

The year arrangement in Japan is also different from the US. The school year always starts in April or May, so the autumn semester is the last semester in their Junior year. The job hunting season this year started in November. So it is very common to see students wearing suits walking in the Rikkyo campus starting November.

Winter Wonderland Annual Cultural Event in Milan

In Milan, every year around Christmas time, the city transforms itself into a winter wonderland.  The busiest centers of the city are decorated in beautiful Christmas lights of all colors and shapes.  Also in the central plaza of the city by the famous cathedral, an enormous Christmas tree is placed in the center.  The tree is several stories tall and glittering in lights.

Gigantic Christmas Tree! “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…”

In addition to all the decorations, there are annual Christmas markets set up all over the city.  These Christmas markets open in the beginning of December and have hundreds of different vendors either selling food, trinkets, or other holiday gifts and products.  It definitely gives me a warm feeling as if I am living in a winter wonderland inside a large snow-globe.  I really wish that Christmas markets like the ones in Milan existed back in Ohio.

Christmas lights decor, and Christmas Market

Since Italy is one of the central locations for the birth of Catholicism, and Christianity, it makes sense that Christmas is highly important to Milan, and that it is widely celebrated throughout the city.

Cultural Festival In Milan

Today, I went to a cultural festival in Milan.  It was a huge event where countries from all over the world came together in a large convention center to showcase the highlights of their countries.  There was an incredibly large amount of people, probably thousands upon thousands of people, at this festival enjoying the amazing mix of cultures from around the world.

There was plenty of food being served from all the different countries and the booth owners were also selling different merchandise from their respective countries.  It was a fun experience to be in the midst of a large crowd looking at hundreds of booths with thousands of products.  It was also very lively and loud since the vendors were open to bargaining for prices with customers.

seafood paella from Argentina! yum yum!

When I was roaming around this festival, I felt like I was not in Italy anymore but rather in one of the famous street markets in India, or Asia that are always portrayed in movies.  Also it was interesting to come across the United States section of the festival, because they were selling many stereotypical American Western merchandise such as cowboy hats, cattle boots, cow hide, fancy old style rifles, etc.  They were also playing a lot of country music in the North American section.  It was amusing for me to see how the world outside of America portrayed our culture.

Stand selling dolls

This festival kind of reminded me of Taste of OSU, except about one-hundred times larger.  I loved this experience and I hope that I will be able to go to a similar festival in America.