Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wrappig up and Reflections

So I am organizing this into three sections. Part one wraps up my experience as a whole, Part two covers the scholarship repayment events I did when I returned, and Part three includes some great milestone links from my experiences for people maybe embarking on their own similar yet unique journey.

Wrapping up and coming full circle.

I have finished my semester in Nara, Japan am back in Michigan, and wanted to wrap up this blog with useful information for people planning on going to Japan, or specifically studying in Nara.

PART I. What was the purpose of this blog, my experience, where am I now, and what are my plans for the near future?

When I returned after a semester in Japan, I was depressed. 

I went from living in a tight-knit international dorm in Nara- always with other internationals- to being a solo student not always surrounded by friends in America. After months of dealing with something on my return (depression) I had never dealt with before, things gradually got better. 

It was more of a readjustment to being back in a different lifestyle than anything. I wasn't desperately missing Japan like many people I know in the same situation. But 

I deeply missed the people and the connections I had made. 

I also did, and still do, miss the landscape, architectural layout and typical foods that are difficult to come by here in our neck of the woods.

Things changed for me after the Japan experience in many dynamic ways. 

Of course I had great experiences both abroad and at home, but the adjustment was an experience in itself.

Eventually (maybe about 4-5 months later) I gradually got my self confidence back, I didn't feel abandoned and I felt consistently happy and normal.

Little things like visiting with friends, going to the movies, painting, and new experiences helped me to re-adjust to my newly altered life back home. 

Now I am working at a radio station reporting news and striving towards a spring graduation as a journalist. Looking forward, I plan to gain more news experience with a local news organization and then eventually be a foreign correspondent. 

I hope to keep getting better, using what I have learned in Japan, and at home to become a better more experienced journalist who is connected to the people I report about and work with.

PART II. Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship Project
 After I returned

For the repayment scholarship project I planned to do events when I returned from January til May that would help bring members of my community together to learn and enjoy parts of Japanese language and culture. 

Here are some of the event recaps:

-My first event was helping with the Study Abroad Expo at CMU where I talked with students about my experiences, offered advice and answered questions about Nara and what I did while studying there.

-One event was to have a Teen Night at the Chippewa River District Library where teens learned about writing styles of Japanese, made candy sushi, had a scavenger hunt, and conversations about living in Japan.

-I met with a Japanese language class and talked with them about my stay, study and learning Japanese. I also answered questions and was able to meet with enthusiastic students beginning their journey of discovery.

-Another event was a live web chat with an expat living long term in Japan. Hiroki Matsuuchi answered questions about living in Japan and also talked with students about practices in Japan as far as business, politics, language etc.

-I also organized a Children's Day Holiday celebration at t he CRDL Library for families on May 5th where kids could do origami, practice with chopsticks, color, write in Japanese, and make Teru Teru Bozu to scare away the rain.

-I helped to organize a table representing Japan at the 2014 International Expo where people could learn more about places to visit, see a Yukata, meet Japanese people, learn phrases, write in Japanese etc.

- Before going to Nara I had the opportunity to talk with and do video interviews with several Japanese students from Okaya Japan and I am still working on editing and translating the video and will post a link as soon as I have completed it.

-Another project was actually done while in Japan, I did an independent photojournalism class while in Nara where I learned about three Japanese people and concepts while in Japan through photographing them 

Independent Photojournalism Class 

PART III. Useful links for students and others in similar situations

Starting out preparations dealing with the paperwork process. I had to choose between Nara University and Hikone options for my school.

Basically it came down to price and Nara won, it also helped that Nara was the original capital and traditional focal point within Japan.

Milestone events:

Applying was a whirlwind of hurry up and wait. 
I had to hurry up and prepare for deadlines and then wait for government and other agencies to get back with me with acceptance letters, scholarship information etc. 

I tried to apply for everything and prepare for what I could far in advance which helped me be prepared, but also made me anxious at times since I had to wait for responses.

Once I had finished applying and was accepted and received scholarships, bought my round trip ticket through travel agency and had packed my 2 bags as lightly as I could, I found myself in Nara, Japan.

Soon I was adjusting to my new school, a dorm setting and living in Japan.I was photographing for fun and class, and taking little videos here and there when I could. This was also a way to cope with changes and living without my boyfriend and in a new environment.

I also turned to art as a way of adjusting. Viewing and creating art really kept me going. I went to museums, did fun watercolors, listened to little known performers, even made pottery as part of a school trip.

Festivals were something to look forward to as something to enjoy as well as something representative of the Japanese culture I was trying to learn more about.

There were many other adventures I did and did not write about, but I encourage you to go out and explore and have your very own unique adventure.

Thanks for reading! 

Feel free to email me!          
I would be happy to answer any questions if you email me at

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Upon Return; My dynamic re-adjustment thus far.

     As I have been back now for a month as of tomorrow I thought it would be prudent to talk about how things have been for me personally.
Trailer-park swingset in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 2014.

     When I first came back some things seemed so surreal such as using dollar bills to pay instead of Yen coin or bills. I wasn't sad when I left, I made that point in an earlier posting. I had and still have a feeling of accomplishment.

     I started my regular classes 2 weeks after I returned which was good because it gave me time to get re-situated with people and culture again.
Trailer-park playground in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 2014.

     The people you leave when you go abroad do not stop their lives when you are gone, and your country, and town and other things will have changed too. This I knew but didn't grasp until I saw it.

     Just seeing my town again after so long in comparison to the way Nara was laid out as a city was a big deal to me. 

     The foods doubly so. I had and am still having a rough time with the rich foods often loaded with sugar, salt, and grease and understand why my friend from Nara who studied at CMU before I came to Nara lost so much weight- he couldn't eat the food we are so surrounded by here.
Trailer-park swingset in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 2014.

     I miss the international students especially my dorm-mates who I would see like at least 5 or 6 times a day just by going to the kitchen or common room.

     I miss the amazingly light and delicious and affordable simple foods like Udon soup or soba noodle soup I could get at the school cafeteria for about $2-3 that fill you up!

     However, there are plenty of things I do not miss. I do not miss that Kawaii, or cute culture where even trivial items (to me) are made into 'cute' caracatures. I also really do not miss the frustration of not being able to speak on deeper topics in Japanese like I can do in English.
Trailer-park playground in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 2014.

     I missed being in class and really 100% or 99% of the time knowing precisely what I am supposed to be learning, and I also missed my Major and Minor's (Journalism and Anthropology) classes. My writing skills were suffering from a lack of usage.

     I also missed eating game animals and wilderness exploration. Since I am so familiar with Michigan I know where you can go and what is allowed as far as state land public access rules etc. but in Japan I was lucky to be able to read the kanji on the sign that said bicycles were prohibited.

      It's not that Nara didn't have wilderness it just didn't have it in the same capacity and I didn't have the connections to be able to have access to eat game animals, and plus in Nara venison is pretty much off the menu as they are protected as National Treasures of the area.

     It was weird to be back with my boyfriend who I live with and was actively around for nine years. After my return it was odd for him as well as for me. We had both adopted different lifestyles in our separate environments for four months, so it was difficult at first to re-adjust. Plus I feel a little like an abandoner even though I know it wasn't really like that.
Central Michigan University's Park Library. 2014.

     So far I also noticed a significant change in the way I had been communicating (in English) since I only used English (sans with the other Americans) to communicate with international students for whom English was a second or third language.

     I also have said some interesting things (during my time in Japan and upon my return) such as "Got shirts none?" and calling gravy "potato juice" because it was in with the potatoes...It's funny but just a shift in my thinking patterns and also comes out in stressful "I can't think fast" times.
Central Michigan University's Park Library. 2014.

     Another big change for me was the attitude towards college expectations in society. In America we hardly think much about it but our collective concept is that when you enter college you are considered an adult- a young adult who may party or whatever but an adult none-the-less and that you should act in such a way as to be treated as an adult.

     In Japan they typically work their butts off to get into a good middle school, then to get into a good high school then into a good college...But then something changes. The college scene is seen as a break-time, a time before the tempest when they will have to work their butts off in their adult careers.

     So the expectations are less, the stress is sometimes lower, and the over all feeling (not all the time or everywhere but comparatively) is more relaxed.
On Wiggins Lake, Gladwin Michigan. 2014.

     Now that I am back I can really feel that difference. Extensive lists of readings, multiple topics of homework submissions, quizzes on my first day (seriously- it was technically everyone else’s' 2nd day but I transferred into an added class after the first class).

     Many of the internationals I had talked with said similar things, some were stressed so badly by their colleges back home their hair was falling out and they had had anxiety attacks. Several students called their time in Japan their 'holiday' because it was done at a slower pace. Part of that was because they weren't as strict on foreigners learning Japanese, but also was because of a difference in attitude.
Central Michigan University's Park Library Mary Dow Reading Room. 2014.

     Another huge difference was the weather. I literally didn't even bring a coat to Nara. As someone from and used to Michigan weather I knew I was leaving December 29th and had checked the typical temperatures in Nara for that time of year. It was no big deal I just wore a hoodie when I was cold.

     Coming back to the snow and cold though was a drastic change but I missed it, so I was glad to be back to this frozen tundra called Michigan. Really I was, and still am. It makes me appreciate warm beverages, house slippers and wool socks even more, but so be it.

Central Michigan University's Woldt Hall student lounge. 2014.

     Another example of a positive re-adjustment for me, is based on my realization in Japan that our movies here are so cheap compared to theater prices in Japan.

 For me it was going to be about $16 for a ticket after my student discount, typically it is $21. 

     BUT here's one for the women, Wednesday is Ladies' Night at many places so you can get a ticket for about $11.

     I also missed Roller Derby, but now I miss Karaoke and the pub culture of Japan that we don't really have here.
In Yanaka Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.

When I was in Japan I missed being active in a community as an equal citizen. It was great to volunteer and help out in Japan

     However, my situation and interactions were not the same. Since I was not viewed as a Japanese person the treatment was often different (for example I was told I would be working a popcorn stand and instead they told me to go enjoy the festival even after I insistently came back every 20 minutes or so to offer my help). This wasn't always the case, but it often was.

Snowy sunrise in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. 2014.

     Overall I am very happy with the variety of experiences in Japan. I do plan to continue using the Japanese language as I have been, and continue to pursue a career in Journalism that will benefit from these experiences. 

     I feel accomplished, but I am also very glad to be back to the cold-snowy weather of Michigan, my Journalism and Anthropology classes, and of course I am happy to be back home with my boyfriend and closer to my family.
Study Abroad Expo at Park Library corridor. Jan. 2014.

     If I could have the best of both worlds scenario though, I would import my international friends to America and move them in next door to me, convince Americans that they really should adopt Japanese foods for their health, pocketbooks, and happiness, and I would be able to eat all those deer in Nara that kept staring at me next to my veranda...but we can't have it all.

     So currently I have become involved in the Society of Professional Journalists to further my career, am helping out with Study Abroad events like the expo shown above, and maintaining ties and relationships with my Japanese friends.

     In Japan, I took an independent Photojournalism class that got me off my butt, sent me out the door and taking pictures. It also was part of my ticket to learning more about many areas of Japanese culture and was a free pass into the parts of Japanese lives not all foreigners get to see.

     However, it also had another effect on me. It made me interested in Photojournalism like I hadn't been before. Now, I still don't want to be a photojournalist but that doesn't stop me from being deeply interested in a way I wasn't before even in my photojournalism classes. 
Rice harvest in Tawaramoto, Nara, Japan. 2013.

      Something about getting out there with a camera, face-to-face with a new place really got me interested. 

     Then I read "Shutterbabe"  and this feeling of interest in photojournalism, art, journalism and travel really took hold and made me deeply want to know even more of our interestingly culturally diverse world.
Painting on outside wall of business in Shinjuku, Japan.

     I also have been taking advantage of the cultural and artistic points of Michigan and America I missed when I was in Japan such as film, theater, sports, and local culture.
     As a result of my friendships with students from all over the globe and my goal to be a foreign correspondent,  I have become intensely interested in international news and events from all over. 
Near Yanaka Cemetery,  Tokyo. 2011

     Unlike at any time before where I had merely a detached interest, now I think of specific people I have met and connect them to news events of their home country.

     When I hear about the revolution in Ukraine, or the advancements of Brazil's government the latest scandal from the French president, the social classes of India, or the controversial roles and rules for Gypsy's or Roma people**(See note of clarification below) in Romania, I now have these actual connections with these places' culture and people that I lacked before I met them.

**I wanted to make a note of clarification on the term `Gypsy` used to reference the Roma people. In many news articles and other publications the term is used to reference the Indigenous Romani peoples. From Wikipedia's page on racial slurs 
"Gyppo, gippo, gypo, gyppie, gyppy, gipp
a. A Romani people.
b. (UK and Australia) Egyptians.[99] These are variations of 

"Gypsy", the most common word in English for people of 

Romani origin. "Gypsy" is not in itself an ethnic slur but its

 usage is sometimes controversial". 
Screenshot from "Lakshmi and Me", "a story about a relationship between unequals" (New York Times).

     I think it is especially important to be aware of the many global issues and now I also have a deeper desire to watch foreign films and documentaries (example) that depict and offer a different perspective than the American dominant lifestyle that we are surrounded by- especially in films.

      For this and other reasons, I am very proud of my decision to study abroad. Who knew when I went to Nara, Japan I would learn so much about the rest of the world in the process.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tokyo and Nagoya trip.

Night view of Takabatake Cho, where our dorms are, Nara at night.
Night Buses and Bullet Trains
Yamazoe Mura Tea Ceremony with host family.

My final destinations in Japan were Tokyo and then Nagoya.
Night view of fruit tree on Takabatake cho, Nara.

After I said goodbye to friends, I left Nara, I took a bus to the Nara city JR Train station, to take a train to the Osaka Umeda station, with a friend. Our goal was to take the "Night bus" to Tokyo from Osaka.

A note on "Night buses", often but not always they are at night, and the most inexpensive way to travel long distances. For my situation, I ordered 2 tickets from Osaka to Shinjuku by way of bus from the Willerexpress website. 

After I ordered them I was given two options of how to pay; either by credit card or go to the convenience store within 2 days and pay there.

The trip was from 9am. until about 8pm and costed about $30 per person. 

My friend and I barely made it on the bus, we were 2 minutes late and the tickets were non-refundable. Thankfully the many awesome, helpful and friendly Kansai people we stopped for directions along the way helped us to get on the bus before it left.

We couldn't believe we had made it on the bus, and that we were on our way to Tokyo. We were full of doubt when we were running to the bus station and our lungs and legs were burning, but we pushed on and made it!

We even saw Mount Fuji along the way. Unfortunately my camera was in my bag in the luggage, so I don't have an actual photo, but I have a great mental photo.
Inside Karaoke box in Shinjuku

During the trip it was about 1 break every two hours which was absolutely necessary for me to get up, move or whatever.

After we arrived in Shinjuku, we had no real idea where we were, I had banked on getting a good map at the station upon arrival, but was told that they didn't carry maps (this was at the information center of all places).

Then it started raining, and of course neither of us had an umbrella and were so exhausted it was difficult to think rationally on next to no sleep and a squished bus ride.

So wandering around trying to find a hotel, in the rain when our brains were mush we decided to sleep in a karaoke box. 

Turns out that because it was so close to the station they charged an outrageous price, about 3 times the price we typically paid back in Nara for the 11 o'clock til 5 am time slot.
A view from the Washington Hotel in Shinjuku.

And after we paid and tried to sleep we couldn't because it was so loud and drunk people kept making noise outside our door. It was not a fun night for us.

After we left the karaoke box having gotten maybe an hour or two tops of sleep we managed to find a clustering of hotels. We stayed in one until noon or 1pm and then decided to be more proactive and find a place to sleep before the Friday night crowd did.

After we secured a place to sleep we felt much better and were able to explore the Shinjuku area more. For me I love the backstreet areas.
Shinjuku back street wanderings.

We met up with some friends and had Gyros street food at a stall near Times Square and then went to bed early enjoying our nice hotel room even though we wanted to try out the capsule hotel scene.
In a garden, backstreets Shinjuku.

The next morning we ate (I of course had a natto roll), got some money out for a shinkansen (bullet train) ride, and then we took a train from Shinjuku to Bunkyo-ku's Sendagi and Yanaka Ginza areas.
Local business wall painting in backstreets of Shinjuku.

After we arrived at the Nippori station I was happy to see I could find my way around well. We bought our Shinkansen tickets at the station for Tokyo station to Nagoya for roughly $120. 
Side streets of Shinjuku.

It was expensive but it was also my next to last day in Japan and it was an experience I had planned for for some time.
Cats sleeping on bench in Hibiya park, 2011.

After we left the station we visited the Yanaka Ginza areas, and Yanaka cemetery as well as areas of Sendagi like the park and coffee shop I had frequented on my previous trip to Japan.
Cat sleeping on tree trunk in Tokyo's Hibiya Park, June 2011.

I even saw a man making rope by hand and another older guy who made wooden foldable knives some smaller then my thumb.
Courtesy Photo of Boglarka Kiss,  Bunkyo-ku Cafe Espresso Factory.
After our short time in Bunkyo-ku we headed back to the station so we could get on the Shinkansen and then off to Nagoya.
Studio Ghibli visit, on the way, 2011.

The Shinkansen trip was interesting, not as fast at times as I had assumed, but at other times it sounded like a plane and it was so comfortable!

After the Shinkansen ride I said goodbye to my friend twice, once at first and then again because she had my camera in her bag.
In Shinjuku, saying goodbye to the Karaoke box we slept in.

I explored the areas around the station as I waited to meet up with my friend who had studied for the summer at CMU, who lived in Nagoya.

I went with her and friends to Karaoke (even though I thought after the karaoke box sleeping debacle I would never again). Then we went out to eat some amazing Nagoya foods, and we took a packed train to her boyfriends where she let me sleep over.
At Nagoya's Centrair Airport.

Then in the morning she took me to the Nagoya airport (making it my 3rd airport in Japan-Narita, Osaka and now Nagoya). We said goodbye and wished each other a great new year.
Using a cloth mask as a personal humidifier on the plane home.

This time coming home I didn't cry, I didn't fret, and I was excited to see my people.

It wasn't because Japan was bad, on the contrary- I was so happy with my experiences in language, and culture this time around, so much so that I felt accomplished, but also I missed things from my life. Mainly my boyfriend and my active role in Journalism writing.

I felt like I had met my goals head on, and while some times were tough, I made it, persevered and did what I came to do. 

As a result I feel I did and still am benefiting from the amazing journeys I have had.