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On Being a “Good” Foreigner in Japan

Japan has built a reputation as a safe haven for tourists, often going out of their way to help them and making sure they have a good time. Most notably, Japanese citizens grant foreigners “gaijin power”, or forgiveness for any social mistakes that they may commit. While they are nice enough to excuse any ignorance, when you are abroad, you should try your best to learn these unspoken rules so as not to live up to the “entitled American/foreigner” stereotype. Here are just a few of the behaviors I’ve noticed.

Train practices

When riding on a train, it is expected that everyone stays quiet. Often time, “salary men”, or employees often characterized as wearing suits and working long hours, fall asleep on their commute home. As a vast majority of the employees here work over time, it is good practice to be considerate. This general concern for others begets other rules like putting your phone on “manner mode” or silent/vibrate, not eating as to avoid creating a smell, and not answering phone calls.

When waiting for the train, make sure you’re waiting orderly in line. When about to board the train, step to the side of the doors and wait until everybody gets off before you step on. You should always yield your seat to the elderly/pregnant/injured (in some areas where there’s priority seating, this is mandatory). Move into the middle of train if you’re standing so as not to make it difficult for the next person to step in.

Japan’s public transportation system is very good so you may find yourself riding the trains a lot. With a general concern for others, Japanese people try to make the riding experience good for everyone so it’s important to try to remember these rules as well.

Food Practices

When you start your meal, you say “itadakimasu”, as a form of saying thank you for the meal prepared. When you finish your meal, you say “gochisousamadeshita”, as a final thank you for the meal. Never pass food chopsticks-to-chopsticks or leave your chopsticks “stabbed” upright in food, as this is only done in funeral ceremonies. In restaurants, there is no tipping. If you’re outside, you don’t walk and eat at the same time. When you’re done with your trash, you have to separate it. Japan has some of the strictest trash laws so it’s important to take care in making sure your trash is in the right place. This helps keeps Japan’s streets very clean, something it is known for.

Food is most commonly used as an expression of culture, and Japan is no different. By adhering to the customs that the Japanese use, you can show a level of respect that will make the food and the experience that much better.

Parting Thoughts

While these represent a small portion of the unspoken rules Japanese people live by, the underlying principle is the mindfulness of others. If you as a foreigner seek to minimize your disruption, you will find that most of these considerations come normally, making your time here enjoyable for both you and the Japanese.

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Becoming a Global Citizen – Arlette

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Changed for the Better

As my time in Poland comes to an end and I prepare for one more round of final papers, presentations, and meetings with friends I have begun to reflect on on how different my life here has been in comparison to the one I put on pause in Nebraska and how those differences have changed me as both a student and a person. I make this distinction because often people think that purpose of going abroad is specifically academic, and to some extent, it is. However, the majority of my growth over the past academic year has taken place off campus and outside of the classroom. Instead of crafting the perfect thesis at every corner, I’ve learned to create and have dialogues that I cannot have at home. Rather than living for an exam, I’ve spent the year living for experiences and seeing sites that will be out of reach in just a couple of weeks. Of course, I’ve definitely taken the time to study, particularly when it comes to the political and cultural shifts that are visibly changing Poland, but while nine short months ago I would have only examined these changes behind the screen of a laptop or between the covers of a book, I am now actively witnessing them with analyses provided by professionals who call this country home.

This past year has also changed my outlook on my future and my home state significantly. When I initially applied to attend the University of Wrocław, I was actively seeking a change of pace. I had recently concluded what I consider to be the most difficult year in my academic career and questioning whether or not my future would be in Nebraska, and if not, where would I go? My time in Poland provided with clarity when it came to these topics and reassurance in the fact that sometimes it’s impossible to know. I’ve become more relaxed and flexible when it comes to setbacks, both personally and academically, and a new found acceptance of deviations to my “master plan” seem far less intimidating than they did last fall. This is not to say that I don’t take my education and future seriously, but it does mean that I’ve allowed myself more room to expand my horizons and embrace situations that would have only caused me frustration in the past.

When it comes to Nebraska, I have to admit, I miss it far more than I thought I would at the beginning of this experience. Of course, I never had any doubt that I would miss my friends and family (and a special thanks to each of them that has worked with my strange schedule and across time zones just to say hello), but I was skeptical of missing the slow pace of my small hometown. As it comes time to consider my return, though, I am far more excited than I expected to spend some time back in the routine that has, love it or hate it, always been home. As I move from the short grace period of reconnecting with family and friends, I will also embark on my final year of college. Before long, I will be writing a thesis and rushing to finish final projects, but I will also have the opportunity to work with international students at my home university and my peers that have decided to go abroad through my university’s Office of Global Engagement. I will also be able to welcome the newest class of students to the campus I have considered a second home for the last four years, and for that I am all the more prepared because of the experience I have gained over this past year.

Perhaps the largest impact that going to Poland has had on me is the affirmation I am capable and excited by the prospect of living and learning abroad. I have gained a support group on an international scale that has encouraged and inspired me since my first day in Wrocław, and these factors have ultimately led me to consider the pursuit of a master’s degree abroad with a focus on development, security, and the impact of a globalizing world. If someone had asked me a year ago about my plans after undergraduate study, I would likely have smiled and politely declared that I first had to get through the semester at hand. Now, I am looking forward to finding a place to continue my education even further and taking my experiences with me on the long journey back home as the next chapter in my life unfolds. Although I cannot pick one single event during my time here that led to a life changing epiphany, my collective experiences have ultimately changed me for the better and I am beyond excited to translate them into a new perspective on my once familiar life back home.

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Lessons from My Study Abroad

Studying abroad in Seville has definitely prepared me to exceed professionally, academically, and personally. Reflecting on my mentality before leaving the United States to now, I can notice a drastic change on my outlook on things and situations. It’s funny to think that the only aspiration I wanted out of this experience was to become more fluent in Spanish and I have received years of wisdom, knowledge, and confidence in aspects of life I did not even realize I needed to sharpen.

From kindergarten until now, I have attended predominately African American populated schools. In this semester, I was the only student of color in my classes. “I cannot mess up, I cannot be the weakest link.” was what I used to tell myself. I felt like I was representing the entire African American undergraduate population and I could not appear less than my peers. I had to let these thoughts go and tell myself that I am taking on a journey not so many students like me are able to (yet) and that I am doing my best. This semester has really broken down my weakness of being a perfectionist. As long as I did my best and learn from my mistakes, I can only up from here. I have always been a optimist but after this semester, I have learned to count my blessings one by one. From arriving with no luggage to not being able to board flights, I have seen it all. I am able to think faster when unexpected situations present themselves. Budgeting and trip organizing are also key skills I have also picked up along the way.

Communicating is vital to progress. Whether it is for social activism, business negotiations, or clarity, communications is how we get from point A to point B. I will never forget how, when I first arrived to Seville, I asked my host father if he spoke English and he said no. From then on, every conversation was Spanish or nothing at all. At first I did not speak as much, but with growing confidence and vocabulary, my host family and I have shared memorable, comical, and interesting conversations. I have always had an interest in Spanish but after spending a semester in Spain, I love the language and the idea of communicating in multiple languages. To speak to someone in their native tongue is essentially showing interest in their culture. I never thought I would grow fluent in Spanish based on my education prior to studying abroad. My teachers were great, but if you don’t use it you lose it. I am now able to confidently read, write, and speak Spanish. I plan to keep this proficiency through keeping in contact with my Spanish friends, listening to Spanish music, and having Spanish subtitles on movies and television shows.

This semester I challenged myself to obtain an internship, professional development opportunities, scholarships, and a student government position while abroad. I was not going to let opportunity pass me by because I was an ocean away. I am fortunate to say I will be interning with Fox 4 in Ft Myers, Florida and I have been elected as Student Government Association (SGA) Secretary for 2018-2019 academic school year. Obtaining these opportunities was not easy. In running for SGA, I had two students running against me. Not being on campus can make or break a campaign. With my strong and dependable campaign team and my reputation on campus, I became one of few students to win such a prestigious position while studying abroad. This experience, along with coordinating interviews for professional development opportunities and my internship, has strengthened my organization and critical thinking skills. I had to have the answer to my questions before I asked the questions. I had to be flexible and strong standing because it would be so easy to forfeit these opportunities since I was abroad. I was not going to let that hold me back. I know if I can get this much completed while abroad, I can tackle anything that comes my way now.

I was only supposed to complete some credit hours and learn a little Spanish while abroad. Instead I have gained life-long skills, relationships, and confidence. If I could restart this semester, I may have started by hitting the grown running on Spanish. I was so afraid to be wrong or sound stupid. Nothing is stupid about trying. I see the fruits of my labor now. I only hope my experience influences more students to go abroad and not let anything defy to determine their success and future.

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An Interesting Place To Call Home

There are days when I just want to remain in bed and cherish that sweet moment between sleep and awake. But the alarm goes off – yet again – and I have to get up and get on with my daily duties.

It shouldn’t sound like a chore, after all I’m in the city of fashion and design. In the city where it seems like every week holds a new event that you have to rush to keep up. Maybe this is why I feel so tired. So, I press the snooze button one more time and take in those extra five minutes, before I have to dash off.

My time here in Milan is coming to an end. It is a bittersweet feeling to realize that I will soon have to depart and say goodbye to all the people that I have met in the last four months or so. But I have made some fond memories along the way, and those are the things that stay with you for times to come.

I have always thought of myself as an independent person. As someone who could get by on their own out of sheer will. My time abroad has taught me that yes, I am independent, but that does not mean that I have to alienate myself. Independence is wonderful, but so is the company of others.

It is through this realization that I have been able to partake in great opportunities. Not only have I been able to travel to cities in Italy that I would have never thought of going to (Parma and Genova), but I have also developed myself professionally.

It is through these connections that I have been able to gain work experience. Never in a million years would I have thought that in a month and a half of being in Milan that I would get the opportunity to work here. Much less to work at an agency as an English content writer and Spanish translator or even to be writing about cryptocurrency, ICO’s, and bicycles.

It’s amusing to think that I would have never been able to partake in this opportunity if I hadn’t answered to a Facebook post that was looking for various language writers. It’s an experience that has made me grow professionally and personally from the get go. As a Communications student majoring in Advertising and Public Relations, I am proud to say that this experience has expanded my view of what it means to be in a real work environment. 77 Agency has become a home away from home, where I have been able to interact with people from various places around the world – Chile, China, Japan, Korea, Italy, and many more. Here I have polished my social media writing skills while also appreciating my former education.

What I can say about this month is that, while I may still not understand Celsius fully and freak my European friends out when I say “Oh it’s going to be in the seventies today!”. At least I can talk about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. But all the joking aside, you never know how much an experience like being abroad can change you, until you begin to focus on it and recognize how little you have left of it.

Every day in Milan is filled with something exciting and new – I guess you could say that about any place, but it feels more real when you are living somewhere on borrowed time. After all, study abroad can’t last forever. But that’s the beauty of it, because it makes you appreciate every moment so much more.

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This Impact Will Last

I’ve always been a big believer in change. I think that no matter what culture a person is raised in, it is human nature to be constantly pushing towards something. Some sort of goal that is driving each individual to act the way they do. I think that goal setting nature is a big indicator of the ability that we as human beings have to change, and that change can happen quickly or slowly in ways that we wouldn’t expect.

Two and a half months ago I arrived in Slovenia. At that point I felt pretty confident in myself. I had set a goal to study abroad, and getting to Slovenia meant I had achieved my goal! What I didn’t know is how immensely these last two months would affect me. The changes that I have seen in myself in these last two months are far more than just academic growth. It has been personal growth. The kind that hurts at times, that is scary to face, that makes you smile and laugh uncontrollably, the kind of growth that is so far outside of your comfort zone that it seems comfort is no where in sight.

The kind of growth that is life altering.

Being in Slovenia has taught me that it is perfectly okay to try new things. Academically, when I came to Slovenia I was really confident in my abilities. I knew how to achieve good grades, work hard, and produce work that was above average. I thought that I knew the intense design process, and the best way to accomplish a good design. In Ljubljana the design process is a bit different. Each project is to be started in a place that I wasn’t used to. I was being asked to try new methods and push my understanding of what design is. I’m happy that I have learned this new way of design. It is difficult and far from comfortable, but I don’t think I could have learned it anywhere else.

As far as personal growth goes, it seems impossible to put into words what being here has done for me. I have learned the importance of being true to yourself, and holding onto what you believe. On the contrary however, I have learned that its okay to put my walls down sometimes. To let myself form lasting relationships here that will affect me for the rest of my life. I have learned how to be a solo traveler and to enjoy being alone sometimes. I’ve learned that I am capable of far more than I thought I was.

I have been able to travel to a lot of countries that I never thought possible. I have seen the effects of the recent war in what used to be Yugoslavia, and how people are still responding to and in some cases holding grudges about what has happened. I’ve seen first hand the bomb shelters and destruction. I have always been interested in history, but learning about the history of this place that I have grown to call home will stick with me forever.

Serbia[picture of me in Belgrade, Serbia]

Celje[picture of me in Celje, Slovenia]

Budapest[the famous Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary]

Postojna[Castle of Postojna, Slovenia]

Italy[the epitome of my joy to be in Italy eating real Italian food]

I will never regret my decision to study abroad. It has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I think that everyone who is even mildly interested in trying it should do it! Traveling abroad and living abroad is probably the fastest way to discover yourself. It is hard, and you’ll be forced into a lot of difficult situations. You won’t know where to go or even how to ask for help. You’ll try new foods, some that are so good and others that really aren’t. You will grow. I know that I have, and I hope to keep growing in my last month here.

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The Next Chapter: Kyoto

The next chapter of Japan has begun. After an amazing 6 months in the big city of Tokyo, I’m now attending Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. I’m also now living in a dorm rather than a home stay. I arrived in Kyoto about 6 weeks ago now and I think I have finally adjusted for the most part. The transition was and still is difficult, but some great things have come out of it.

CAMPUS

Ritsumeikan’s campus is gorgeous. It’s much larger than Sophia’s (of course Kyoto is much more spacious) and the environment is pleasing.

This is my favorite spot on campus. It’s usually packed with students eating lunch as you’ll see later. This was also during sakura season. What a beautiful time.

Me and some friends going to the gym, which is really nice actually.

This was on club fair day, when all the clubs and circles came out to introduce what their club/circle is all about. The atmosphere was awesome.

Believe it or not, this is what a normal day of lunch looks like. The acapella club isn’t always performing, but there is always this many people. That’s why I love eating here.

And of course, there’s always funny sights like this which make it that much better.

THE CITY

To be honest, I like Tokyo a lot more. That’s because I love the big and busy city life. Kyoto is quite the opposite. It is pretty large but much less compacted, and it’s very quiet. There are also a lot more older people compared to Tokyo’s “youngness.” It is a beautiful city though.

This is くろちゃん, Kurochan or Kuchan. He’s the neighborhood dog who is outside almost every day. We always pet him on our way to school. He’s adorable and very relaxed.

THE DORM

The dorm is awesome. Homestay was great but I missed the freedom that comes with living alone. All rooms in the dorm are singles, so everyone has their privacy. There are 4 floors total with an LDK on each floor. It’s very updated as well, and each room even has its own sink! There’s a beautiful courtyard in the middle too.

The one downside of the dorm is that everyone is an international student besides the RM’s, which are Japanese (there are eight or so RM’s). The international students come from all around the world, though, which is pretty cool for learning about cultures and ideals of countries other than Japan. I’ve also met a lot of great people. I have two language partners as well, so Japanese practice will still happen, in addition to meeting Japanese friends at school.

Overall, I do like Kyoto a lot. There’s a lot back in Tokyo that I miss dearly, which makes it hard, but it’s definitely a great experience and I’m glad that I chose to come here for my second semester. There are also many sights around Kyoto to see, though I have only been to one major one thus far. I’ll most likely write about that for my next blog so stay tuned!

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