Preparing for Takeoff

Leah Corbett is a 3rd year student studying Japanese. This semester she will be on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Check out her thoughts on starting her semester below!
I am less than a week away from my departure date to Japan for a full semester abroad. It would be an understatement to say that I’m nervous. I have never been out of the country before, or travelled anywhere near this far away, let alone by myself. I’ve wanted to study in Japan for years, but it was always a far-off dream. That dream got a little closer when I finally finished my application, but I had to wait. I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance letter! After I took the necessary steps such as ordering plane tickets, I then had to wait some more. I’ve been waiting for so long, and now I’m almost done doing so. While I’m pretty much ready in terms of knowing what to pack and what I need to do, I’m realizing I’m not mentally prepared.
I thought I was mentally prepared for most of my time waiting. One summer as a high school student, I attended a three-week-long Japanese language academy, which was the first time I’d been away from family for an extended period of time, so I was naturally nervous beforehand. It turned out to be an amazing experience! The next summer, I went to a week-long program at NASA Langley Research Center, and I had nowhere near as many nerves going into that. When I left for my first year of college, I felt like those experiences had helped me prepare for it, which they did. I adjusted to college life fairly quickly and have enjoyed it, so I figured a trip abroad wouldn’t be too nerve-wracking.
But here’s the catch (which I didn’t think about until very recently): I’ve lived in Virginia my entire life, and all of those times I’ve been away from home, I was still in Virginia. My home is a 40-minute drive away from UVA. That’s way closer than a lot of my classmates are from. While I’ve been on my own at college, I’ve always had my family nearby as a safety net, and I’m not going to have that in Japan.
In a way, I feel like I’m back where I started when I was preparing for that language academy five years ago. I can still use what I learned from that experience, which is knowing that being nervous is normal, and that it in no way means I won’t have a great time. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, and being a Japanese language and literature major, I know it will enrich my knowledge of the culture beyond what
I can learn in a classroom. Having so many friends and family rooting for me helps me to realize my potential and try to be as proud of myself as they are of me, which pushes me forward.

Language Immersion and Speech Pathology

melanie turnerMelanie Turner is a 3rd year studying in Spain through UVA in Valencia for spring 2018. See her thoughts on how her time abroad has influenced her experience in her major!

At UVA, I study Speech Pathology in addition to Spanish. Throughout my time in Valencia, I’ve realized that my experience as a second language-learner might mimic the experience of people with communication disorders. In the same way that patients with Broca’s Aphasia struggle to explain their thoughts fluently, I sometimes find myself grasping hopelessly for words to express my ideas. Like stutterers, who might initially hesitate to speak up among strangers, I sometimes become timid among native Spaniards. Similarly to some people with a voice disorders, my inability to speak English sometimes makes me feel like I’ve lost a piece of my identity. While I certainly do not understand what it’s like to have these communication disorders, I do believe that my time in Spain has shaped how I view speech therapy. As I approach the halfway point of my semester abroad, I thought I’d share here are 7 things I’ve learned about speech pathology through language immersion:

1. Patience is crucial: When I first arrived in Spain, I was discouraged by my inability to speak fluently. In English, I enjoy finding the best word to explain my ideas, and in Spanish I frequently resort to the same limited vocabulary. I expected to see rapid progress within the first few weeks, but even after two months, it is still sometimes difficult for me to pinpoint exactly how I have improved. At times when I feel like I can’t see results, it’s easy to want to give up. In the same way, a speech pathology patient who
progresses slowly might become frustrated and want to halt therapy sessions, and a speech pathologist might lose heart when therapy goals are not reached. My language immersion experience has taught me that I should set ambitious but realistic goals, and that I should be patient to see these objectives realized.

2. Encouragement is key: When I feel frustrated by slow progress, I greatly appreciate verbal encouragement. I remember almost every time someone has specifically complimented my Spanish skills: When I first arrived, my host family’s daughter applauded my accent. When I visited with a pastor of a local church, he told me that my Spanish was advanced. When I went to a café with some of the youth from that church, they commented on how I spoke Spanish fluently. Just last night at dinner, my host parents mentioned that my level has improved since arriving. All of these comments remind me that language immersion is worthwhile, and they motivate me to keep trying. As a future speech pathologist, I hope I can remember how much these sporadic affirmations meant to me and provide the same kind of feedback to my clients.

3. Improvement is NOT passive: Another myth I believed before coming to Spain was
that just by being here I would become fluent. Certainly, being surrounded by the language solidifies certain skills, especially aural comprehension. However, language mastery does not happen without an intentional effort. If I want a word to become part of my vernacular, I have to consciously incorporate it into conversation. If I want to sound like a native, I have to speak to natives. If I want to learn new manners of expression, I have to study them. The same is true in speech pathology: clients have to do their homework if they want to improve, and clinicians have to put forth effort to plan the most appropriate and effective evidence-based practices. Improvement is possible, but it is an active process.

4. Language difficulties have a social dimension: Those who know me know that I am rather introverted. Small talk is exhausting for me, and back-to-back social interactions can wear me out. This poses a unique challenge for language immersion, which is inherently social. When I first arrived, all of the “getting to know you” conversations were taxing, and even now, there are some times when I choose not to add to conversations because expressing my thoughts in Spanish feels tiring. I imagine that people with communication disorders have similar experiences. Remaining silent might feel easier than mustering up the strength to communicate an idea, especially for introverts with speech/language challenges. Nevertheless, just as I would never improve my Spanish if I never spoke, these patients would never advance if they didn’t attempt to communicate. If I ever work with clients who share my tendency towards introversion, I hope I can affirm all the wonderful parts of being an introvert (for there are many!) while also encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of their
speech/language skills.

5. Correction is appreciated: One thing that I greatly appreciate when I am conversing with native speakers is correction. This past week, a friend from church invited me to her apartment for brunch with some other girls from church. One of these ladies has a degree in music education, and during our conversation, there were several times when she corrected my Spanish. When I thanked her, she laughed and apologized, saying that her tendency to correct is her “teacher’s flaw.” However, I insisted that my thanks were genuine; I would never improve if I were not told what I was doing wrong. While I recognize that if I were corrected all the time I would probably become disheartened, I also need to remember that most of the time, I desire this kind of instruction. In the same way, speech pathology clients – who want to improve their speech/language/voice just as much as I want to improve my Spanish – will probably welcome constructive feedback.

6. The process is never “finished”: Ever since I started taking Spanish classes in middle school, I imagined that studying abroad would be the culmination of language learning. After a semester in a Spanish-speaking country, I would finally be able to call myself “fluent.” Since arriving, I have realized how wrong this assumption was. Even my English is not completely “fluent” – in my translation class, we literally dedicated a class period to learning English idioms! I may never feel completely comfortable calling myself “fluent” in Spanish, but that is to be expected: language is a skill that I will improve throughout my whole life. Similarly, a person with a communication disorder may never be totally rid of the problem; for example, a stutterer may develop tactics to deal with stuttering without actually eliminating the root problem. Nevertheless, the lack of a clear ending point should not discourage the process.

7. The process is REWARDING: The aforementioned points may make both language learning and speech pathology seem overwhelmingly difficult; however, there is also incredible joy that comes with each of these processes! While some days progress feels slow, other days I find myself jumping up and down when I correctly use a Spanish idiom, audibly cheering myself on when I recollect new vocabulary words, or smiling broadly when I formulate sentences using tricky grammatical tenses. Furthermore, as I
learn a new language, the doors open to establish relationships that otherwise would not have been possible. While this is slightly different than what people with communication disorders experience, successful speech therapy can also open or reopen doors to new and/or old friendships, and even small steps towards an end goal can be thrilling. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of the Spanish language and for the opportunity to practice it, and I look forward to practicing a profession that is also highly gratifying. Although not everyone is a speech pathologist, I hope this blog shed some light on the
broad advantages of language immersion programs. Feel free to share any additional
thoughts about language immersion in the comments below!

Until next time,
Melanie 🙂

Tokyo, Japan

Rachel White is a 3rd year studying Foreign Affairs at Waseda University in Tokyo for the 2017-2018 school year. Check out some photos from her first semester below!
Lake near Mt. Fuji2
Mt. Fuji can be seen from this lake in Shizuoka Prefecture. Mt. Fuji is Japan’s tallest volcano and symbolizes Japan. Because my exchange university is in Tokyo, natural
scenery like this is not very common. Also, I thought it was interesting that some people live on that island because they would have to commute by boat to get groceries.
Fried Oysters at Hiroshima
Fried Oysters at Hiroshima: Hiroshima is known for having fresh oysters around fall, so this is a common dish sold there.
International Exchange Halloween Party
International Exchange Halloween Party: I joined an international exchange group at Waseda, and was able to meet a lot of other exchange students and Japanese students. The international exchange group is connected to other universities as well, so I am able to meet people from other parts of Tokyo. Halloween was not a common holiday celebrated in Japan, but has recently become very popular.
Torii Shrine at Miyajima
Tori Shrine: This is the most notable landmark at Miyajima, an island near Hiroshima. During high-tide, water covers the bottom of the pillars. However, during low-tide people are able to walk up to the shrine.
Red Spider Lily field in Saitama (1)
Red Spider Lily: This flower was once believed to be a flower sent from the heavens, and is a very popular plant during the fall.
View from Odaiba
This is a view of part of Tokyo from Odaiba. Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo and is a very popular tourist spot. This area will host the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so they are currently constructing more buildings in preparation.
Odango at Mt. Takao
Odango at Mt. Takao. Odango is a traditional Japanese food, and can be served either sweet or salty. The one picture on the left is mochi with a layer of soy sauce type sauce that is grilled. The one on the right has a layer of “azuki” or “red bean.”
tokyo station
In 1914, Tokyo Station was built and was known for its red-brick
appearance. It became damaged in WWII, and recently was renovated back to what it looked like in 1914. Many Japanese businessmen use this station because of the various company buildings surrounding the station.
Mitama Festival
Mitama Festival is one of Japan’s biggest Obon festivals, and it celebrates the lives of the dead. The festival is held at Yasukuni Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine that commemorates those who fought for Japan. However, it is controversial in the Asia-Pacific region because it also commemorates class A war criminals. Mitama Festival: Although the festival is located in a controversial location, the festival attracts tourists because of the 30,000 lanterns on display. There are also traditional Japanese performances.

Where I’m From and Why I’m Here

Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, who studied in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!

I write this to you all fresh from an eight (!) day journey with my friend Anna Lee, where we hopped from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence, France to Florence and then on to Rome, Italy,before heading back here to face the end of our semester abroad, brave final exams, and soak up the remainder of our time across the pond.I spent my Thanksgiving going to French class and then hopping on a plane to Prague, Czech Republic, before tuning in via FaceTime to say hello to family at 1 am, when Thanksgiving was already, technically, over for me. Two days later, I took a train to Vienna and spent a whopping 24 hours there, exploring Christmas markets, touring Schonbrunn Palace, and going to a Mozart performance that was so surreal I can’t put it into words. **
Over the course of these trips, I’ve stayed in many a hostel or Airbnb and run into Americans, Italians, Slovakians, South Africans, Australians, Chinese, the French, Brits, and a number of other nationalities. Some of them are doing the same thing as me—taking a weekend, going on a trip while they’re already on the continent and airfare is cheap. Some of them are there for work. Some are there for personal journeys, or school, or they’re just trying to stay over here and travel until their Visa runs out and they have to go home. Everyone’s exact narrative varies, although some are similar enough, but we’ve all got one thing in common: we’re not from here, but we arehere.
And this, if I had to compile a list of personal FAQs from this semester abroad, would be one of the chief questions posed to me: Where are you from? Why are you here? (or, sometimes, why Edinburgh? or Why not France ? or any of that question’s grammatical variants). Of course, there are others: What are you studying, what year are you, how are you finding it here,and soon and so forth. But it’s these two—where from, and why here—that linger with me a little longer than the rest.
I’d say it’s because they don’t have clear-cut answers, but they do (Tuscaloosa, Alabama,and It just worked out better this way). Invariably, there are more complicated answers; I could launch into my backstory (born in North Carolina, a short stint in Alexander City, then Tuscaloosa, and now Charlottesville, Virginia), or I could—and sometimes do—recount the fraught saga of my hopes to study in Lyon, France or London, England, summing it up with the conclusion that God had different ideas than I did, and now here I am, in Edinburgh, Scotland, spending too much money on coffee, hiking up Drummond Street every morning, and somehow ending up at Christmas markets when I should really just be studying.
So it’s hard to pinpoint why I think about these questions so much, when it’d be easy enough to not think about them. I’m here because I’m here. I’m from the States. Which one,you ask? Alabama—yes, the one with Forrest Gump and that one Lynyrd Skynyrd song. Do you know much about football, the American kind?
But perhaps there’s something more to these questions, besides the potential complexity of an answer. These questions trace a journey, from point A (where I’m from) to point B (where I am now). They ask for a story, a narrative of movement from one place to another, that is rarely as straightforward as the words used to ask for it.
But I’m all about journeys, and trying to uncover why they happened, what I’m supposed to learn, and who I was when I started compared to who I am now. And this where-and-why only asks about the journey of before, of how I got here and not what has happened since. The sequel to these questions, the How has this changed you? hasn’t been asked yet, mainly because I’m not finished with my time here and so cannot yet fully employ that simultaneous gift and curse of retrospection to examine what has been good and what has been bad or strange or funny or hard.
That being said, I think it’s interesting at this point, before these next two weeks are up and I’m on a flight back stateside, to think (briefly) about how I got here, and what I wanted, and where I came from.
In the most literal sense, I came from the Providence, Rhode Island T.F. Green Airport,on a ridiculously cheap Norwegian Air flight. Before that, it was the Atlanta airport, and then, of course, my home in Tuscaloosa.
But what I really came from was a long,beautiful summer in the Blue Ridge mountains,where I’d returned to a summer camp I’d called home so many years ago as a lonely, quiet middle-schooler. Before that, it had been an anxiety-riddled semester of existential questions,flourishing friendships that challenged how I look at love, and personal doubt. I came here from a place of trying to prove something, of wanting to see more, of wishing to test my limits and revel in another tiny corner of this world the Lord created for us. I wanted to get away, because that’s when I think best,and that’s when I can see myself, and the people and places I’ve left,more clearly. I wanted a reprieve from the wonderful and loving, but also physically and emotionally taxing, world of UVA, with its over-busy lifestyle and obsessive comparing of hours slept during the night.
I wanted to keep moving, because it’s something I’m good at, and something I like, and mobility—and the chance to see more of the world—has an allure I just can’t ever seem to shake.I wanted to rec-contextualize myself again, to get another angle for the exploration of what and who I am.I wanted to take the tiny, tattered fabric of my life and sew it someplace new on the tapestry of the world, to see how I fit into a new part of the pattern.
I recognize that, ostensibly, this is all emblematically youthful, romantic, naïve, and probably grandiose—that these are big words that are difficult to translate into everyday life—but youthful questions are important questions,if only because they are big and difficult to translate.I’m not trying to paint myself as some deep thinker here, as some tortured artist or restless soul that tosses and turns at night while grappling with the deep, dark question of humanity, or who traverses the world without ever looking back or missing her mom.I wouldn’t call myself any of these things, because they’re tropes, and they’re not real, and I don’t think the questions I’m asking are terribly unique ones.I am one of hundreds of thousands of college women who decided to skip town to spend a semester in Europe, and I’m probably not the only one who came for these reasons.
But I think that’s a more honest answer for where I came from, and also why I’m here: I came from a place of questions and uncertainty and restlessness,and I’m here so I can take a better, different look at these questions, so I can experience someplace new, and so I might burst the bounds of my own localized understanding of the world and see the different parts of the world’s pattern, whether I fit in to them or not.
Next time I post, I’ll be back in the States, feeling the numb sort of whiplash that comes with the quick, unceremonious uprooting of life from one lifestyle, community, and place to another. There will be a lot I’ll want to say, and a lot I won’t know how to express, but if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that I won’t have answered these questions. I’ll probably keep seeking, and moving, and wondering, and sewing my fabric into new places on the tapestry. Sometimes it will fit, and sometimes it won’t, but at least I’ve seen a new part of the pattern.
**For those of you wondering: yes, I have still managed to make it to class, and school does exist, and I am doing it!

Learning the Rules of Life in Aix – En – Provence

Margaret Jewett is a 3rd year studying Global Security & Justice and French at AIU College: France this semester. Check out her post about her arrival in Aix-en-Provence below! 

On the first day of my wine and food pairing class (yes, that’s actually a class I am taking here), my professor opened with an unfamiliar sentiment. “In wine and food pairing,” she declared, “there are no rules, except for one: pleasure.” This idea seemed strange to me – a rule governed only by enjoyment didn’t seem like a rule at all. But a week in Aix-en-Provence, a small city in the heart of southern France, has shown me that here, this rule does not only apply to cuisine, and learning to follow it is a lesson in itself.
The Aixois, as the locals are called, are not consumed with the constant need to be busy and productive that characterizes many Americans, myself included. While the streets of Aix are often bustling with activity, the energy of the city is lively, rather than stressed. Pedestrians window-shop along the store-lined streets, dogs run unleashed on the cobblestone roads, and mopeds periodically part the crowds as they navigate the narrow passageways of the medieval city. Locals are constantly eating and drinking outside, no matter the weather. Outdoor cafés are equipped with wide umbrellas and heat lamps so that Aixois can enjoy their pre-dinner apéritifs even in the rain and cold. In Aix, the general consensus seems to be that enjoying the pleasures of daily life is both encouraged and expected.
While I am beginning to learn and appreciate the Aixois way of life, the stress-free mindset has not yet completely taken a hold of me. In America, I would feel lazy sitting for hours over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and after only a week here, I am still learning not to make mental to-do lists when I’m enjoying a drink with friends. The enriching effects of this lifestyle are, however, beginning to influence my state of mind. Already, I am starting to walk more slowly, to take in the picturesque world around me. I feel less and less guilty about lingering over my dinner in the evenings, or watching the world go by for hours at a café. It might take me some time to fully embrace this new philosophy, but mastering the rule of pleasure is one lesson I look forward to learning during my semester abroad.

Freiburg Green City

 Holland Cathey is a current 4th year student who studied abroad in Germany for Environmental Studies and Sustainability in the spring of 2017. Check out her experience below!

Okay, I know I’ve said this about a million times, but Freiburg is SO GREEN!  My first impressions were very positive—I knew that the culture here was much more centered about environmental stewardship and protection, but I had no idea exactly how far ahead Freiburg was until we started my class, Freiburg Green City.

Hotel Victoria’s rooftop solar and wind panels

My classes here are formatted in three-week modules, so we really have a chance to focus on one at a time.  For the first part of the day, we have lecture and in the afternoon we usually go out and see the things we talked about in lecture!  A few days ago, we went to Hotel Victoria in the city center of Freiburg, one the most sustainable hotels in the world!

 This hotel has been green since before being “green” was good for business.  The energy used to power the hotel is renewable—from wind and solar mostly.  To heat the water, they burn the byproduct of the local logging industry—further preventing the creation of waste.  There are multiple parking spots under the hotel, all with the capability to charge electric cars.  And, to promote the use of the fantastic public transportation that Freiburg offers, the hotel provides guests with a free unlimited pass to the regional public transport while they are in town in addition to bike and electric car rentals.

Landfill covered in solar panels!

The next day, we visited a landfill that’s been sealed for years now, so that the city can harvest the methane gas that’s produced by the decomposition of the waste.  This gas is burned and used to heat an entire district of Freiburg! I find it absolutely amazing that waste is used so often to create energy here. Oh, and the entire mound is covered with solar panels, because why not??
My favorite part of sustainable Freiburg is a district called Vauban.  The former French military barracks were turned into an ultra-sustainable and Hotel Victoria’s rooftop solar and wind panels autonomous housing community; it’s super unique.  The citizens of Freiburg decided that they wanted to rebuild this area as a relatively dense, urban area that feels like a forest oasis.  There are trees and playgrounds everywhere.  Bikes and playing children dominate the streets because very few people that live here even own cars. Those that do, must park their cars in one of the three parking garages on the periphery of the district, so that more space is left open for living!
The result is a gorgeous, cohesive, and friendly district where citizens have had a significant say in the planning and upkeep of their community. It’s practically impossible not to fall in love with Freiburg after seeing the kind of autonomy the citizens have and the standard of life they enjoy.  Now, I just need to

The streets of Vauban

figure out how to bring this back to the states.  One of the biggest differences is that the community is the driver of environmental change in Freiburg.  The citizens of Vauban are the ones that asked for parking to be limited on the periphery.  In fact, people overwhelmingly support laws that make it more difficult to own and drive cars in the city.  Most of the downtown area is a pedestrian zone, so cars have been replaced by efficient trams, safe bike paths, and good walking paths.  For those rare times where a car is necessary, you can easily participate in car-sharing and use an electric car.

When I come home, I think I’ll have an interesting perspective and critical eye for city planning.  I didn’t even realize how much space cars took up until there were no cars to be found! I’d love to try and implement some of the ideas that I’ve observed here in Freiburg and especially try to get the community involved.  People often have this antiquated idea that “green” energy and lifestyle is more expensive. But if done right, it can save a significant amount of money in the long run!  Our lifestyles are often unnecessarily wasteful, and living here has made me realize just how many things we could change to make a difference.