A Different Flavor of Normal

It has now been well over a month since my passage through Mexico and its rich cultures. With that time, I’ve been able to reflect, decompress and once again integrate myself into my home society of the University of Washington. The sense of a new year, new beginnings, it coincides well with the end of such a life changing month. Yet with all this reflective thought, claims of new roads to travel, and new frames of view to see the world through, I can’t stop asking myself the question which has proven most difficult to answer. What has really changed since Mexico? Am I a new different person, changed for better or worse? Have these self proclaimed prophecies of a changed life really taken root or even shown evidence of themselves in my daily life?

That’s why this final return post comes so late, nearly a month and a half after my return. I look back at my field journal and see all these bright hopes of bringing back all this learning and yet I feel I’ve made no effort towards any of these goals. It’s almost disturbing when I think about how fast I returned to my seemingly complacent self within the first couple days back. I’ve heard all these stories of “reverse culture shock” and feelings of loneliness in your knowledge but to me, it seems just like “normal” life.

So after exhausting observations of my physical actions through the world, I turned to focus more on my psyche. It was there that upon closer examination which I could notice the subtlest of changes. These new thought patterns lay deep, where Mexico has embedded itself in my most routine and closely held behaviors. It’s in how I make an active effort to use less water, taking shorter and less showers, trying to wash dishes faster. It’s in pausing for the smallest moments to consider my every action from the lens of an outside observer. The reason I’ve been having so much difficulty with seeing the change is because that change has been so ingrained as to seem natural.

So the way I see things now is this. I’m a busy college student. I can’t expect so much to change so fast. I’m not alone in this experience either. It’s a quest to be taken with classmates and others who dare to journey abroad. A month and a half ago, seeds were sown. These seeds today are only just beginning to take root but given time, they will grow into the most beautiful of orchards. Plans are being made. Work in migration, queer activism, abroad, all seem within the sphere of my future when before, not even a field of work was clear. Not all change is apparent even when given time. I’ll just have to trust my gut to tell me what the future holds, how to take action, and that this trip really has registered new thought. In the end, it really is just a slightly different flavor of the everyday normal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alex in Mexico, Uncategorized

Sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun

There’s nothing quite like the sunrise from your own window, in your own home the day you leave for a long trip abroad. This is, I think, generally true, but all the more so if you’re going to be leaving your friends and loved ones for a full semester or an entire year. In my case, it was the latter. And my house has giant windows, which seemed the morning of September 12th almost to spite me as I left for the airport. The house has giant everything, if I’m honest, something of a symbol of American luxury that I can’t help but contemplate when I travel to Asia. I lived for a summer at a Buddhist monastery in Ningbo, China, and learned that this sense of bigness is hard to find in many personal spaces abroad. Though there are plenty of giant buildings, big streets, and big cities, personal accommodations in Asia are made for people of a much narrower stature than myself, and for people accustomed to being a lot closer to one another.

It was that kind of knowledge that left me so excited, curious, and apprehensive about the adventure to Japan I was about to embark upon; and it was that morning’s sunrise, my girlfriend’s I’m-trying-to-be-strong smile, and the soft warmth of my dog’s fur that reminded me, yes, there were a lot of things it was going to sincerely hurt to be away from for a year. Part of me wondered, perhaps a little cynically, whether the trip was really worth such a sacrifice.

But of course emotion speaks in that primal language, and a larger part of me knew that what was to come was something I’d spent the better part of a decade preparing for. This is my future, for better or worse, and when I’d decided to go back to school in pursuit of an Asian Studies degree, this was already part of a loose plan I’d mapped out for myself. So after a slow, tearful, reluctant farewell with my beloved, I boarded the plane that would take me to a place I’d never been before that I would soon begin to call home.

Michael blog 1_view

Kamakura, my first stop after taking the shinkansen from Narita Airport

The Known Unknown

Narita Airport wasn’t what I expected. It bore more of a resemblance to the Shanghai Pudong Airport where I’d flown en route to Ningbo than it did LAX. It wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, and felt crowded and dirty. I realized that I’d never even seen pictures of it before. So as I scrambled to fill out immigration documents and stood in a long line of other foreigners, mostly from other parts of Asia, I had to remind myself that I too had foolish prejudices. I thought of Japan as modern, clean, organized, and above all more polite than we’re used to in America, but those concepts were in many ways just stereotypes, and the reality was that no matter how generally familiar I was with Japanese culture from afar, via TV, comics, friends, and reading about Japan’s history, this was my first time to ever visit the country. I checked my expectations, took a deep breath, and walked on through the line.

Even my checked expectations would prove unrealistic. On top of the general feel of the airport (which did at least function in a very organized and polite fashion), when I was taken aside to get my residence card with a couple of other foreign students, we were taken to a small, dirty, poorly-lit back room where a pile of children’s toys sat next to an old crib, and various worn-looking paper signs in Japanese and English adorned the wall, cautioning us against a variety of prohibitions. While I waited to be processed, an unhappy native Japanese traveler rather noisily informed the staff of her dissatisfaction with some element or other of her recent treatment, and there was a continual shuffling of airport employees as they attempted to resolve her issue and figure out how to process me and another student. After getting my resident card, crossing through customs, and retrieving my errant luggage, which was no longer on the carousel due to the length of time it had taken me to get through, my expectations had another challenge: trying to figure out which train to take to get to Kamakura. When I finally navigated what the best cost-to-effort ratio was through much consulting of my phone, and finally located where my chosen train was to depart, I had to actually buy the ticket, a process that involved a small piece of paper that a wandering ticket sales employee helped me fill out while I stood in line. I brought the paper to the the man at the counter, who hemmed and hawed a bit before finally giving me my final total. It all seemed weirdly imprecise.

I took my train without too much added difficulty, and figured out how to buy a local ticket at a terminal in Ofuna Station. I stood in a wobbly, charming monorail car next to commuters of all types for the short distance to Kamakura, where in the dark and intermittent rain I dragged my luggage another ten minutes to my hostel.

It was a different first vision of the country than I expected to have, especially given how much I already felt I knew about Japan. But what I knew had, of course, been filtered through an endless screen of cultural filters: media outlets selected only the best and most interesting stories, other people had shown me their best pictures and told me their least-mundane stories, and even friends from Japan had talked more about cultural differences than mechanical ones. Everyone’s seen about a thousand meanwhile in Japan memes, ranging from jokes about the questionable content in some anime and manga (read: cartoons and comics) to jokes about the eccentricity of certain citizens or oddities of cultural practice, but those are mostly false-positive stereotypes. Put simply, Japan isn’t that weird. If you took a sampling of the weirdest stuff in America or any other country, you would end up with similar memes, all while having to acknowledge that few of them reflect daily life. Whatever we think we know about a country is a heady mixture of the assumed, the relayed, the exaggerated, and the misconstrued, and so wherever you may be headed, expect to have your expectations overturned, even (or perhaps especially) if you think you know so much about the place that you’re the exception.


The streets of Nagoya at night. This is probably what most people expect Japan to look like.


The Differences are Different

One of my mentors at my home university has told students to avoid overly simplistic and overreaching thesis statements in their papers, often saying, “Don’t tell me that the differences are different, tell me why they’re important.” That advice seems to apply equally to writing this article, but in attempting to implement it, I’ve run into the problem of the fact that Japan is both different and not all that different from my home country. Insubstantial or surface-level differences aren’t hard to find, but it doesn’t take long to realize that there are still streets, sidewalks, convenience stores, big-box stores, Italian restaurants, office buildings, and laundromats. The cars drive on the left side of the road, as once upon a time Japan took some of their modernization blueprints from England, there are vending machines almost everywhere you look, and it can be hard to find public waste receptacles because of Japan’s ideology that people should be responsible for their own garbage, but these sorts of immediately noticeable differences become window dressing in short order.

Larger differences might be, say, registering at a local municipal office if you’re becoming a resident. This is not an especially English-friendly process, and thankfully in my case I had a fellow student from Shinshu University to assist me. I’m currently living in Matsumoto city (松本市), and after settling down in my university apartment I needed to register with the government and open a bank account. So my companion picked me up and we took the bus over to Matsumoto’s local shiyakusho (市役所) or City Hall. We filled out at least 4 different forms via at least 4 different windows, which included some sort of insurance desk and something about the Japan Pension Service, and I was fingerprinted. In exchange for this process, they gave me a massive packet with a guide to the city, coupons to local museums and attractions, a map, and schedules for local transportation. This was all decidedly Japanese, including the bustling, crowded, and organized office in which it took place. And, as also seems par for the course in Japan, despite having received numerous explanatory papers, I was still very confused about many things, but was also glad for the friendliness extended to me not just by the employees and my assisting student, but also the system itself. I would venture to guess no local municipality in the U.S. has such a comprehensive package to give their long-term visitors from other countries.

My apartment has been another adjustment, though it’s easier for me than it might be for someone else, given that I’ve traveled around Asia staying in hostels. The apartment isn’t entirely unlike a good hostel, in fact: it’s small and old, but clean and (mostly) functional. Japan, as any visiting gaijin (foreigner) can tell you, is not built for large people. So it follows with the average Japanese apartment. It’s ostensibly just one room with a small bed, and what amounts to a hallway with a kitchenette on one side and a door leading to a tiny bathroom on the other. There’s a balcony, which is common practice almost everywhere in Asia since you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who owns a machine for drying their laundry. My front door uses a key-card style key, which is a small, metal, rounded-rectangle of a thing that fits into the front part of a two-segment doorknob. Once inserted properly, the front part of the knob can be rotated right or left to unlock or lock the door, and if unlocked, the back part of the handle can be turned as you would expect. The tiny bathroom has been something of a challenge given that I’m six feet tall, and learning the ins and outs of the small gas range took some time. The range isn’t a full oven, but just a big slab of a device hooked up to a gas valve, resting on a cabinet, with two burners and a small oven-like tray in the center. I didn’t initially realize that using it required manually turning on the gas valve at the wall every time. Hot water isn’t dissimilar: for hot water either at the tap or the shower or bath, you have to use a small unit that looks like a home air-conditioning panel. This will allow you to turn on the boiler and set the water temperature, though we’ve been cautioned not to use it for more than 30 minutes, or it may get turned off and require that we call someone to turn it back on.

Beyond these sorts of mechanical adjustments, my familiarity with Japan has kept the culture shock to a general minimum. I feel quite comfortable here on the whole, and yet it’s still been an emotional experience, with some highs and quite a few emotional lows, the latter mostly due to occasional loneliness and feelings of isolation, missing my family, and most especially missing my girlfriend and my dog. If there is one huge challenge I feel I have to overcome, it’s living without those closest to me for an entire year. My dog is a pit bull I rescued from the streets of Texas around 6 years ago, a giant softie sweetheart that is probably the closest thing I’ll ever have to a child. My girlfriend and I got together only one year before I left for Japan (and she’s not Japanese, if you’re wondering), which makes the year apart even more of a strain than it might normally be. Humorously enough, the one thing I said I wouldn’t do was get into a relationship before I left—life has a way of mocking our plans.


Tiny washing machines and air-drying the laundry are par for the course in Asia, and Japan is no exception.


The Choice and the Challenge

But I made a conscious effort to make this trip happen. From six months filling out countless scholarship applications and asking my beleaguered professors for countless letters of recommendation, to all the preparation that goes into leaving one’s home for a year, to talking to my girlfriend about what I was doing to make sure we had open lines of communication and were on the same page, nothing I did was anything less than a whole-hearted, conscious choice. Because I knew that this is what I wanted to do. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for years, because I love the language, I love the people, and I wanted to do something that would allow me to grow closer to them both.

The challenges, two weeks in, have already been many. My Japanese is considerably less than adequate for anything beyond everyday tasks. I can buy things in stores, exchange money, wish people good morning and ask them basic questions about themselves, in addition to answering basic questions about my own experience, but more complex instructions are still difficult, and I’ve had to cope with the realization that I am a much longer way from real competency than I’d imagined. The placement tests for language study at my Japanese university were humbling. Frankly, I’d never been more embarrassed to turn in a test in my entire life. Out of all the (as I thought) complex grammar that I’ve learned, none of it whatsoever turned up on that test, only some basic stuff, then a pile of things I’d never seen, which might as well have been gibberish. Kanji, the complex characters imported from China that represent one of three different writing systems in the logo- and syllabo-graphic totality of the written Japanese language, went a little bit better, and I was fine with the more basic reading and comprehension material, but the rest of it was just rough. To be fair, the test is intended to gauge proficiency all the way from total beginner to the level of someone who could do graduate coursework in the language, but I had hoped I was at least a little further up the scale than I turned out to be.


These are the kinds of places that even a small degree of language ability can make a lot more accessible. Learning a new language is hard work, but well worth it.

No matter. I didn’t just stumble into this gig on a whim, nor did I study for the last decade (with a few long gaps) just to let my pride get in the way of the end goal of Japanese fluency. If I haven’t done as well here on my first outing as I might have hoped, that just means I have that much more reason to buckle down and give this the attention it deserves and demands. I have a year. It’s a long time, but it’s also a short time—when it comes to something like the lifelong experience of learning a language deeply, there’s no room to squander any of it.

And that’s an important point. I am committed to what I am doing, and to the sacrifices I’ve had to accept in order to make this opportunity a reality. Anyone studying abroad owes it to themselves to ask questions about their motivation, and what they hope their end goal will be, not only because it helps at the outset to make plans and manage expectations, but because it can constantly remind you of what you should be doing at any point along the way. It’s easy to fall into numerous social and academic traps when studying abroad: hanging out with other foreigners, using too much English, not studying enough, or studying too much and not going outside and talking to people are all good examples of how you can throw away what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

So every day here has been a choice. It was a choice to find the last bus to Eiheiji Temple from Fukui Station where I was seemingly the only foreigner for 200 square kilometers. It was a choice to stay in an apartment outside of the International House that my host university makes available to its exchange students. And it was a choice to leave behind so much that is precious to me in order to truly experience life in another part of the world. Because nothing worth doing comes without some sacrifice, whether that be of time, effort, or presence. Every morning, when I see the sun rise over the mountains between Nagano Prefecture and its neighbors Gunma and Saitama, I am reminded of this, and of why it’s important. I chose to be here, and the only one who can make the most of that choice is me.


Matsumoto City, my home for the next year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Michael in Japan

A New Beginning and A New Lifestyle

Marhaba! My name is Sofia Sinnokrot and I am a second year student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the 2018-2019 academic year I will be studying abroad in Amman, Jordan. Being half Palestinian and visiting the Middle East several times in my life, I do not share the culture shock that many of my fellow peers have experienced from the moment they saw the McDonald’s sign written in Arabic.


However, visiting the Middle East and living in the Middle East are two completely different situations; the latter in which I was not prepared for. In the United States, we take for granted many aspects of our daily lives that are additional privileges in other parts of the world. For example, Jordan is one of the poorest water countries in the world. That being said, my apartment is only given a measurable tank of water for the month. Once that water runs out, we have to wait until the next refillment period or pay a large amount of money to get a new tank before. We are not able to drink the tap water from our kitchen sink, and have to pay for additional water jugs once we run out of drinking water. It is emphasised that laundry should only be done on the first day that our water is refilled since a load of laundry requires a significant amount of water. Water alone is a major change for me to adjust to while I am here. Being a runner, I consume at least 3 liters of water a day. Not having access to water fountains in buildings is something that is actively on my conscious and an adjustment I have had to account for in my daily routine. Coming from Chicago, unlimited drinkable running water was a norm for me that I took for granted. The same goes for electricity. Electricity in Amman is very expensive, and drying machines are rare household items. Instead of having my laundry done in a few hours, I have to hang my clothes up outside and wait two days for them to dry.


Life in Amman is very different compared to life in the United States. Most of the food in the supermarkets are imported from nearby countries. Thus, grocery shopping can become very expensive. Vegetables that are imported are sprayed with an extreme amount of pesticides and the chemical taste of them has made eating food an unpleasurable experience. Although I could go on forever comparing the simple life of living in America to the more complex adjustment of living in Amman, there are many positive aspects to each scenario. For one, I have become water conscious. With global warming on the rise, gaining environmental friendly traits is NOT something that should be talked about in a negative way. Jordan being a poor water country is extremely unfortunate, but I am now conscientious of my water usage. As well, instead of buying from supermarkets where goods are imported, I have learned to buy from local sellers. Not only is the food comparably fresh and cheap, I am helping the seller’s family as well as the Jordanian economy.

veggie stand

It is the little things that I do not normally think about that make adjusting to life in Amman a little bit more difficult than I expected. Nonetheless, I love my life here so far and I am very excited for the next few months!

Leave a comment

Filed under Sofia in Jordan

The Return and Reverse Culture Shock

Was it all a dream? Did all of that really happen? How can I even begin to explain to my friends and family back home about my experiences studying in Sápmi? I have identified closely with the stages of reverse culture shock in the past two weeks. I miss the Sámi culture and the closeness I developed with my hosts and random people that became friends. Before returning home home in Northern Illinois, I spent six days with my mother in Oslo which is the largest city in Norway. After studying so closely with the indigenous peoples, it was a shock to be surrounded by so many Norwegians and little evidence of Sámi presence. Spending the time with my mother was wonderful because we got to spend quality time together doing really fun things in a city neither of us had been to before, but I couldn’t eloquently express what I was thinking about after such an intensive month of immersion study. Fortunately the only stories I have to share are happy ones, this program couldn’t have gone any better.

Mom and I Exploring Oslo, Norway.

Mom and I Exploring Oslo, Norway

Part of me thinks I will be back there someday…maybe for a holiday or to visit an old friend. Part of me can’t imagine the next time I will ever get the chance to go to this part of the world…will any of those new friendships last the test of time? The last ten days back in small-town Illinois have been excellent, but complicated. I’ve been spending time with family and got to visit an old friend and explore downtown Chicago but mind is trying to adjust to American ways of life…and also knowing that I am leaving to study in Costa Rica soon. As an environmental studies major, I can’t help but find myself comparing the ecological health of place I visited in Norway, the Chicago river I walked beside, the tropic rain-forest I will find myself in for the next month…its too much for me to process in a short amount of time.

Things I have been so happy to have back in America are non-dairy milk options, the overwhelming choices available in any shopping or grocery store, and lower prices compared to Scandinavia, and the beautiful prairies and forests I grew up among. Thing I miss about my host country is the lower population density, vast and lush natural landscapes, being surrounded by foreign languages, and the general nomadic travel component of my particular course, and most of all the people that I got to share enlightening experiences with. The ego check that comes along with culture shock has taught me a lot about myself and what I would like to change.

On a walk in the windy city...the city by the lake...Chicago.

On a walk in the windy city…the city by the lake…Chicago.

I now know my strengths and weaknesses better than I had a month and a half ago the day I began my international journey. I can also identify qualities in other people in a way that I couldn’t before this experience; I feel like the more people who are different that you meet and interact closely with, the more about human behavior becomes apparent to you. People are so diverse, even among close communities. Generalizing and comparing one culture to another doesn’t do any good, but recognizing those beautiful and challenging uniquenesses is important. I wonder if I will ever see someone wearing the beautifully colored gahkti, or if I will ever eat reindeer or whale, or surf above the arctic circle again? Will the friends I made there ever come to visit me in America? So many people hear a lot about America and want to visit so badly, and I hope to be a good host to anyone who finds their way here.

On a hike enjoying the natural beauty of northern Illinois.

On a hike enjoying the natural beauty of northern Illinois.

What will I do now? Well…I’m going to be studying in Costa Rica for 23 days! It will be my final course of study for my first bachelor’s degree in Conservation Science and Management from the University of Washington. The course is in environmental science and restoration ecology through the school of environment and focuses on biodiversity and sustainability. I wish I could tell you all about it, but my Gilman International Scholar’s duties have come to an end with this final blog about my experiences in Sápmi. I look forward to seeing sloths, observe hundreds of species within each taxa, to eat exotic fruits, practice Spanish and scientific sketching, and to have the best final class any undergraduate student could ask for!

It’s been a pleasure writing for all of you. Peace.


Leave a comment

Filed under Steve in Norway, Uncategorized

Costa Rica to College to Career

It has been two years since I was awarded the Gilman Scholarship to Costa Rica, and it has provided me the skills to be confident, flexible, and independent. So, I initially did not think that I would gain these skills when studying abroad- I thought that I could just get ahead by taking courses while having the opportunity to travel and become more advanced in my Spanish-speaking skills, but studying abroad allowed me to gain critical career skills by pushing me from my comfort zone.

Yes, I did expand my Spanish-speaking vocabulary, but more importantly I developed important cross-cultural communication skills. You see, I was in a home-stay program where I was able to live with a family and learn about the Costa Rican culture to truly adapt to the Pura Vida lifestyle. My communication skills developed immensely, and I am able to now interact with people with different backgrounds. Also, learning another language can make you a competitive applicant for a future career because you are able to connect with a greater range of people through communication.

Studying abroad will help you enhance your ability to adapt to a new environment. During my first days in Costa Rica I had no idea what to do, where to go, or how to have fun. I escaped the dim lighting of the library and was able to actually walk outside and study wildlife on campus (such as sloths) at the University of Costa Rica! Fortunately, I was able to make cheap affordable travel plans through contacting travel agencies. While traveling in Costa Rica, I was able to meet other college students while staying in hostels, which really opened my eyes as it was a completely different experience. However, that experience was a growing experience as I was able to meet and connect with others from all across the world. I was also able to develop new time management skills in order to balance my classes as well as traveling. Ultimately, studying abroad allowed me to gain the skills necessary such as time management and being flexible which are key skills in the workforce.

Being a Gilman Scholar means that you are not only given the opportunity to study abroad, but you are given a strong foundation to set up your future career through the experiences that you will gain.  Thank you Gilman for providing me with that foundation!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writing Prompts

Finishing college and Cambridge

This week I finished my college degree. In the past five years I have written dozens of papers, taken countless tests and quizzes, and spent hundreds of hours in the library, but Thursday night that all concluded when I submitted my final paper. As I said before it all feels a bit odd finishing my degree at the University of Cambridge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


A pasture near River Great Ouse.

With the completion of this study abroad program I feel well prepared to jump into my next stage of life. In college I lived in the urban city of Berkeley, the rural mountain community of Monteverde Costa Rica, and now finally the historical town of Cambridge. I never thought going to university would provide the opportunity to travel and live in so many new places and I can confidently say that living abroad has been the most educational experiences during my time in college. Powerpoints, lectures, and discussions provide for academic growth, but living in a new country allows for growth in far more important ways.

Snapshots of St. Ives, Cambridgeshire on my 23rd birthday

Having visited the UK once before and having previously studied abroad, I did not experience the same radical personal changes that are common from your first time abroad. That being said, this experience was in no way any less important. At UC Berkeley students feel an intense pressure to immediately launch into a career, which makes a high stress environment conducive to rash decisions. Being here we were all so engaged with the Cambridge community and English culture that we didn’t have the mental space to worry too much about job apps and resumes. This is not to say that career planning was put on hold, to the contrary this program has provided the time to think deeply about my career priorities and goals. I have had many discussions with the locals, my professors, and my peers about careers in medicine and science. I even perused the job openings on the local hospital’s website this week. Studying abroad at the end of my college career has provided freedom and time to deeply ponder my career direction and aspirations, a luxury I would not have had if I was back home.

Local snacks! These were the best scones I have ever tried and we couldn’t resist indulging in the wild blackberries.

 Furthermore, living in Cambridge has given me a window into a different lifestyle. In the United States I would never have the chance to live in an 800-year-old building or visit ancient Roman sites such as Bath. There is a sense of permanence here that is oddly comforting: life has persisted for thousands of years and will continue to do so while you are here, and after you are gone. Layered upon this antiquity is a vibrant modern culture. Walking through the beautiful stone buildings you see live music almost every day, food from all over the world, and the distinctive youth fashion. Life here is founded on traditions and history, but also innovative and progressive. Getting to experience life in England I can now relate better to European foreigners and better understand what influences their morals and values. I will incorporate various habits and customs that I learned here when I return home.


Gonville & Caius College on King’s Parade

A piece of England will always remain with me in the form of the growth I experienced here. Cambridge has given me a certain steadiness and confidence that I would not have had if I chose to do summer school in Berkeley. I feel more firm in who I am, but at the same time more open to change. Studying abroad has been an exercise in assessing my strengths and weakness; I know what I am capable of and what I need to work on. As I pack my bags, melancholy washes over me: it is difficult letting go of this beautiful chapter in my life, but I can’t help but be excited for the next one. I am no longer a university student, but I know that as long as I can travel I will never stop learning.




Leave a comment

Filed under Sofia in England, Uncategorized

Meaningful relationships in Brazil

One of the most meaningful relationships during my time abroad was with a local Brazilian student named Gabriel Barros. I was introduced to “Gabe” by my Portuguese instructor; for the sole purpose of tutoring. Gabe was an Engineering major and thus, he was fairly busy. In all honesty, I can say that Gabriel was a terrible tutor (of course I am being funny)! I cannot say that I learned very much during our tutor sessions. In accordance to my host university’s policy, Gabriel and I could not socialize off of school grounds. Therefore, Gabriel and I did not “hang out” much, aside from when he went with me to get my first tattoo, went to the movies, and gave me a ride to the airport for my departure. Even though Gabriel was a terrible tutor, he was a great friend. We did not spend a lot of time together in Rio de Janeiro, but our lost time was made up during our reunion in Tokyo Japan!

I feel like I really got to know Gabriel in Tokyo. I brought him several snacks from the U.S. (as his birthday was on my arrival in Japan) and we rented a hostel together. I came to understand his sense of humor and he mine (although, it took us both a while to get accustomed to, ie- he didn’t understand my sarcasm so he became irritated whenever I said something sarcastic. I thought that his reaction was funny so I would deliberately be sarcastic to get him upset)

My time with Gabriel in Tokyo was well spent! Every morning, we planned out our schedule over a cup of Japanese espresso (Gabriel wines a lot if he doesn’t have coffee). On several occasions, we had 100 Yen sushi together (which is very cheap), went people watching in the Shibuya district (cool place to people watch), went Anime shopping in Akihabara (Gabriel likes Anime, I don’t), tried several Ramen dishes at the Yokohama Ramen Museum, visited Mt. Fuji, bathed in a public onsen, had a blast in Roppongi, and we did so much more! Unfortunately, our time together ended after I was scheduled to depart to Osaka and Kyoto, 8 days after our trip to Tokyo. But even though our time in Tokyo is over, our adventures together are not!

Gabriel and I have been actively in contact over the years. Mainly, via Facebook messenger and Facebook video chat. Until next time Gabbi!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized