Japan: Commuting and Conversing

Marguerite Franklin is currently a 3rd year Japanese and biology major who studied at KCP International Japanese Language School in Tokyo this past summer. Though her time in Japan was short, she learned a lot and had a great experience, which you can read snippets of below!

Commuting in Tokyo

One thing I of course knew before going to Tokyo was the intensity of commutes on the trains. I have quite a few factors going against me: first, being a city, people rarely idle and are always on the move to their destinations. Secondly, Tokyo is an absolutely massive city. And finally, the station that I have to pass through is the busiest station in said city, seeing over a million people a day on average. With all of this in mind, it is not difficult to imagine that the cars of the trains get packed rather quickly. Even knowing all this, I was still unprepared for the complete absence of personal space that was shared with fellow commuters.

It was easy to become self-conscious on the train. No matter how much I may have tried, sometimes I would end up knocking into someone’s side or stepping on their shoes. I felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb due to my own clumsiness and wondered whether it was possible to ever become acclimated to such an embarrassing predicament. Yet here I am, a week in and I already view my time on the train as a rather fascinating event that I no longer worry about. But what changed in my short time here?

I think I became a lot less nervous when I stepped back and reminded myself that all of the people around me are indeed strangers. I know nothing about them and they know nothing about me, whatever ideas about me that they may hold in their heads are unlikely to be conveyed to me. Observing others, I noticed people nearly falling from paying more attention to their phones than the train coming to a halt, people dropping their phones, and several other incidents where no one batted an eye. I realized how much I overestimated my own importance, it was a small reality check of sorts. Moving forward, I will remind myself that I will always be my greatest critic.

An Unexpected Conversation

As the weeks have passed, I have become so used to my commute to and from school that I unfortunately developed the tendency to somewhat zone out. I pass certain landmarks, such as the McDonald’s by the station entrance, or the Shinto shrine to keep myself on the proper course. However, I am otherwise more focused on the music playing on my phone. I guess you could say I have fallen into a state that has taken my surroundings for granite. Today, however, was different.

I pass the small lot that usually has stray cats, but this time there is no one around and I feel a bit more bold than usual. So I approach a black cat sheepishly, hoping that I would not end up with some scratches. I am pleasantly surprised not only when it meows and rubs against me, but another tabby cat joins us. As I enjoy my impromptu therapy session petting the cats, an older woman comes out commenting how cute they are. The introvert in me instinctively wants to excuse myself and prevent an extended conversation, but the more responsible side of my psyche reminds me that I have little time and want to make the most out of what I have left.

For the vast majority of our talk, I could properly understand what was being said. I will admit that there were times when I had to kind of nod along or just outright say “I don’t understand”, but the woman was very patient and kind. Before I knew it, we talked about common topics like where I am from, to more personal topics such as politics. Before I knew it, a whole hour had passed. Even though it put my whole schedule for doing homework off, I was grateful to be able to get an extended one-on-one practice with my conversational skills. I only have a little over a week left and I am still able to find new things to enjoy even during my regular routine; I’m definitely going to miss Japan, but I know I’ll be back soon.

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A Summer in South Korea

Minsi Sun, a linguistics major, finished out her 2nd year this past summer at Yonsei International Summer School in South Korea. During her experience she took many photos to share what she saw and learned there, so keep scrolling to learn more about it!

Taken in a Buddhist temple in Gangwon province. In the picture I am making a wish by writing on the tile, following one of the Buddhist traditions.

Taken outside of an intestine store in Sinchon. Like many other Asian countries, Korean people enjoy eating the inside of animals, and the intestines are popular choices. I personally think they are too oily.

Taken at the entrance to an old train station. The sign reads “To Pyeongyang”, which is the capital of North Korea. People were able to take a train to North Korea before but not anymore.

Taken in a fusional Korean restaurant in Seoul. The traditional lamp has both Korean and Chinese characters on them, a common way of writing before modern time. Before the 15th century, Korea used Chinese characters for their writing system before the invention of Hangul.

Taken at a famous restaurant for soybean paste noodles. The dish actually came from China, but now the Korean version is far more famous. They taste quite different, though.

Taken at the palace from Silla Period in Gyeongju. I was amazed by how the side was well preserved and how pretty it is at night.

Taken at the MBC (Culture Broadcasting Company) theme park in Seoul. Interesting pictures can be taken with famous dramas and entertainment shows. What a good way for people to experience K-pop!

Taken at the Incheon International Airport. Staff members would dress up like the royal family and parade around the airport. It is such a good way of exporting their culture.

Taking pictures in the traditional Korean clothing—Hanbok in the royal palace Gyeongbokgong in Seoul. If you go into the palace wearing Hanbok, the entrance fee is waived. All kinds of tourists wear colorful Hanbok on the street, and it is such a good way to promote the traditional costume.

Sweden: An Ode to Fika and The Final Presentation

Camryn Burley is a systems engineering major who studied on the UVA in Sweden: Global Sustainability Consulting program this past summer. During her time there, she worked on a consulting project at Garaget, which she describes as “a unique public library in Malmö that responds to the needs of its users and offers spaces for reading, studying, coffee, creating, and much more.” Keep reading to see some of what she learned from her experience abroad.

Ode to Fika

Fika is a Swedish tradition of a coffee break with pastries or cookies. It is a very social practice and most workplaces have at least one fika, sometimes two fika or more, per day. We were introduced to fika on the first full day in Sweden, and I loved the concept and how I felt during and after the fika.

fika is the rich
brown of coffee that matches
the wooden table
marked by rings of both
tree growth and
drips from the many mugs
set upon it each day

fika is the feel of
smooth ceramic
under my palms
and soft pastry crumbling
under my fingers
as I pull off the next bite

fika is the smell of the fresh brew
entering my lungs, sweet
and sharp,
rising with the steam from cups
that comes in tendrils
not unlike the ivy crawling
the bricked buildings
and brushing cobblestone paths
outside

fika is my spirits feeling as light as the vapor
as I smile at my neighbor
with cinnamon-smeared lips,
icing still melting on my tongue

fika is warming our hands with mugs,
stomachs with tea,
and hearts with conversation

The Final Presentation

I had not thought that the final presentation part of this program would be very different than any other presentation I’ve given before, but I had not considered how a foreign audience would change things. We had a briefing about how best to deliver our final presentation to explain the work we had done for the past three weeks to our client. We were told to avoid idioms and speak slowly, in addition to keeping our presentations short by including only relevant content and elaborating where necessary in the report we delivered to them. It struck me, while planning the presentation and then delivering it, how important clear communication between parties that speak different languages is. Though all of the clients for this program spoke English, it was not their first language, and there were also varying degrees of comfort with speaking English. The presentation is something that I will definitely take away from this program and think about long after. I am more confident that, in the future, I could communicate with a foreign client through presentation, conversation, email, etc., because I have now actually been able to interact with a group of people from a different country than myself in a professional setting. I also think that giving a presentation to an international audience will help me with any future presentation I might give, as I know better how to use clear and concise language that a wide range of people will understand.

I feel like I’ve come a long way in my knowledge of international cultures and especially business relationships. I hadn’t thought of all of the complexities that would come up, such as giving presentations, but I now have experience with many of those situations. Another learning point for me in regard to international relationships is that I learned that Swedish people tend to be more direct in giving feedback; if they do not think something will work, they will say so without beating around the bush. This took some getting used to, but eventually I was happy that they would say what was on their minds instead of us trying to decipher their feelings about our designs. I am also glad to have had the chance to learn about Swedish culture through working with our client, Garaget, where all of the staff were very welcoming and answered many questions we had about Sweden. By the end, we had a strong professional and personal relationship with two of employees in higher management positions. It was really great to talk to them about their travels in the US and other places at the fika after our presentation. I am continually grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about Sweden and its culture in ways that I could not have just by visiting as a tourist.

Making Connections in Rome

Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflection here (https://hoosabroad.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/rome-pre-departure-reflection/) and keep reading below to see some of what she did while in Rome last spring.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and in my attempt to make deeper connections with Italians and other people living in Rome, I did some research online and found an organization called Romaltruista (Altruistic Rome). One of the programs of this organization is Benvenuti a Cena (Welcome to Dinner). It’s a eventful that pairs a small group of Italians and foreign residents of Rome together for a potluck dinner in an Italian host’s house and an opportunity to speak with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. I made an Indian rice pudding dish to share, and had a chance to speak with people from Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Kurdistan, and Mali. Although we came from such different backgrounds, we realized we had common interests–travel and learning languages. Also, that evening, a journalist and a camera crew from an Italian news channel came to cover Benvenuti a Cena. I haven’t seen the segment yet, but there’s a chance there’s an Italian news clip with me speaking in it! I’m nervous, but I’m proud of myself for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and more importantly, being part of an effort to showcase this organization’s important initiative to bring Italians and foreigners moving to Italy together.

My immigration and integration politics class visited a refugee center called the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. We met the staff and refugees who visit the center to socialize, gather supplies, take language lessons and more. When we reflected upon the experience as a class, there was actually a lot of conflict about whether or not the visit was a positive experience for all parties involved. My two friends and I (who speak more Italian than the rest of my classmates) had a fun time connecting with the folks at JNRC, especially when we dropped into a German language class that was finishing up. It might have been more overwhelming if there was a large class, but we got to chat with the German teacher, a man from Bangladesh, and a man from Senegal, talking about and bouncing between languages like English and Italian, and also French and Spanish. It was meaningful because we could all connect over our interests in languages and our multicultural backgrounds. Other students in the class said that they felt like they were intruding and that they did not want to disturb the guests of the refugee center. Well, I also felt uncomfortable (as I am in any situation where I don’t know anyone) until I found common ground in a small group setting! Maybe they did not yet find a common interest or maybe they faced language barriers that made it hard to break through in our short visit. Regardless, our professor told us that being uncomfortable is part of the experience and that the JNRC and other refugee centers opening up their doors to those interested in seeing is better for refugees in the long run, spreading awareness and making the public empathetic.

Besides these activities, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of other things through my classes and on my own! I also visited a section of Rome with beautiful street art for my Italian class and went to the Foro Italico (formerly the Foro Mussolini, or the Forum of Mussolini) for my Italian Fascist history class. I went to a food truck festival with some study abroad friends and the old roommate of a friend who was visiting Rome for the weekend, and then woke up early to see the Vatican museums on the last Sunday of the month (the free entry day!) and saw the Pope speed by in a car in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica on Palm Sunday. Easter weekend was my spring break, and I took the opportunity to visit my relatives in Manchester, England. One day we woke up early and made the four hour drive to London, and one afternoon I saw downtown Manchester. One day my aunt had a bunch of her family friends over and their kids in their teens and twenties were all so kind and welcoming to me as we sit around, talked, and ate. I went grocery shopping and clothes shopping, and even though that doesn’t sound the most exciting or glamorous, but it was a great break to relax and catch up with family. In England, I thought, how will I adjust to Italy again? And now that I’m writing this update between classes back in Rome at the IES Abroad center, I’m thinking, how will I adjust to home again?

Pictures in Singapore

Dorothy Wang, a computer science major, studied this past spring semester during her 3rd year on the UVA Exchange: National University of Singapore program. She spent some of her time taking photos through which to share her experience, so take a look at them below!

People enjoying a nice break from the rain in the Chinese Gardens.

Silosa Beach at Sentosa Island, the southernmost point of the continental Asia.

The tallest indoor waterfall in the world at 38 meters (Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay)

Biking around Marina Barrage, Singapore’s 15th reservoir.

Lotus flowers outside Singapore’s lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum.

Singapore adds life to the concrete jungle that it is with colorful buildings and murals – this particular example is in Holland Village.

Late night dim sum

A bird owner taking down his cages from a morning at the Kebun Baru Bird Corner

Glimpses of the Netherlands

Seena Honarvar studied in Rotterdam, Netherlands last spring semester as a 3rd year studying economics and commerce. He enjoyed having new cultural experiences abroad and took many pictures along the way. Keep scrolling to see some of what he has shared!

 

 

The second lecture: Strategic Management

The famous cube houses in Rotterdam city center!

Primary government building in Rotterdam.

Interior of a crafty thrift shop in Rotterdam

First flakes of snow in Kralingen!

New age Rotterdam apartment complexes, built after World War 2 bombings.

Tribute statue to Jacobus Henricus Van’t Hoff, Dutch chemist

Iconic Rotterdam Markthall from inside

Old style Dutch windmill by Kralingen Lake

UVA in Lyon: My Progression in French

Brielle Entzminger is a Media Studies major who studied in Lyon, France during the Spring 2018 semester of her 3rd year. She was provided with many opportunities to practice her French language skills over the course of her semester. Keep reading to see how she took them on!

“When you come back, you’ll be practically fluent!” Countless people told me this when I told them I was studying abroad in Lyon. I would not only be taking classes in French with French students but also living with a French host family for an entire semester. It makes sense – 5 months of immersion in another language should make you practically fluent, right?

While I would like to think that that is true, my experiences in France so far prove otherwise. I have been in Lyon for almost 3 months now, yet I do not feel anywhere close to being fluent, and I doubt that I will be fluent by the time I leave in May. It is still very difficult to follow conversations between French people, completely comprehend a French movie, and to understand the professors who teach non-international student classes (classes with mostly French students), for example. No matter how hard I concentrate, I can only understand part of the conversation, movie, etc., unless the speakers are not talking too fast.

I have come to realize that becoming fluent in just five months is an unrealistic goal, especially considering my life here. I do take almost all of my class in French and must listen, take notes, and speak in French during those classes. I also speak to my host mother in French and must use French during my day-to-day activities, such as ordering food. However, many of my friends are other American students, meaning that, for the most part, we are communicating in English. I am still exposed to English on a daily basis, from music to social media, also. In short, I am not completely immersed in French.

Other international students have expressed similar feelings to me. A girl who I worked on a group project with has been studying in Lyon since last semester, for example. I asked her if she thinks her French has improved and she said that, honestly, she does not think that it has. While she is now used to listening to and comprehending French in and outside of class, she does not feel that her speaking skills have gotten much better. Many of her roommates and friends (other international students) communicate in English rather than French, so she does not have to speak French all of the time. She too is not completely immersed.

With this, I now no longer hold the goal of becoming fluent above my head. It would take several semesters, perhaps even an entire bachelor’s degree (four years), as well as further immersion (i.e. no use of English), to truly become fluent while studying in France. Instead, I am considering the smaller ways I have progressed in French since January. While reading and writing have never been very difficult for me, I have certainly improved in my comprehension; while in January, I did not even understand when a cashier asked me if I wanted my food “for here” or “to go,” I can now order and ask questions at restaurants with little problem. I can also understand almost all of my professors (excluding my media professor who speaks way too fast). I admit that I do not understand everything the French people say around me at school, on the street, etc. but, if I am paying attention, I can understand what they are talking about.

As for my speaking skills, I now feel a bit more confident when speaking French during my classes, to French people, and with my friends. I have already had to do a total of four exposés (oral presentations) this semester, along with French students and other international students. The presentations were very intimidating, especially the ones in my media class that I have the most trouble understanding; nonetheless, I was quite proud of myself for getting through them.

I also feel happy every time I am able to have a successful conversation with a French person, meaning that I understood them, he or she understood me, and he or she did not switch to English once he or she realized I was not French. Having a successful conversation in French can still be hard, especially with French people who know English and want to ‘practice’ with me, but I have become better at having them.

Finally, I have come to enjoy practicing French with my friends who are also learning French. It helps me to not only realize which words and phrases I do not yet know in French but also helps me to further integrate French into my daily life. While we certainly do not practice French enough with each other, I like it when we do and plan to do it more often.

Perhaps one of my most memorable French milestones occurred just a little over one week ago. As part of the Lyon study abroad program, us UVA students were invited to take a cooking class. The class was a French woman’s house and was entirely in French. While it was difficult at first to understand the written recipes the woman gave us, she was very friendly and helpful, making sure we cooked everything correctly. It was quite easy to understand her and ask her questions, and she complimented our French skills throughout the class. As we dug into our delicious meal of quiche, chicken with vegetables, and chocolate cake, I smiled to myself – we had successfully completed a French cooking class.

My progression in French has ultimately reassured me that fluency is possible. It simply takes a lot of practice and time – way more than one semester in France. It also depends on the person. While some people can quickly grasp new languages (especially if they already know more than one language), for others it takes years. A Polish girl I met, for example, told me she did not feel fluent in English until she was seventeen or eighteen, and she started studying it when she was in elementary school. As I spend my remaining time, I will try my hardest to appreciate the different ways I progress in French; no matter how small they are, they bring me one step closer to truly mastering a second language.