Chinese New Year Festivities

Renae Laurice Meana is a 3rd year Global Studies major studying at Yale-NUS College in Singapore this semester. As many of you know, Chinese New Year was a few weeks ago. As we begin the Year of the Pig, read what Renae experienced in Singapore to learn more about some of the holiday traditions around the world!

It’s the beginning of February, which means it’s holiday season in Singapore. Chinese Singaporeans are the largest ethnic group, accounting for almost ¾ of the total Singaporean population. Although the holidays may be considered over in the U.S., it feels as if it’s just beginning here. I can feel it and see it all around me.

Outside of MRT stations there are stands selling so many Chinese New Year related items. With Chinese music playing in the background of the stalls, there are red and gold decorations being sold alongside cute plush pigs since it is the year of the pig. Malls are decorated with displays of red lanterns, pigs, tangerines, and oranges (as this fruit signifies wealth and luck for the upcoming year). Booths selling goodies such as dried fruits and traditional cookies are found everywhere in the mall. At most malls, there are huge displays with all the different fortunes and predictions for the upcoming year for you, based on the year you were born. The fortunes include predictions on your health, career, love life, financial state, and more. It’s actually pretty funny how in depth they can be. For example, one of my roommates’ fortunes predicted pretty bad luck for a majority of the categories, but it did say she would find her life partner this year. The actual accuracy and validity of these fortunes is debatable. My roommates and I love reading them and seeing how they differ from mall to mall. Even the big transnational brands in the mall are targeting shoppers during the holiday season. Walking into H&M, all the advertisements feature Chinese models wearing red dresses, tops, sweaters, and suits. Beyond the shopping mall, what I love to scout out are the fast food chains and their special menu items for the New Year. McDonald’s has prosperity burgers and prosperity punch while KFC and Burger King sell New Year’s bundle meals.

Chinese New Year almost feels equivalent to Thanksgiving back in the U.S. I was able to enjoy a five-day weekend since my classes were cancelled on Monday for New Year’s Eve and Tuesday and Wednesday were considered public holidays in Singapore for the celebrations. The campus felt quite emptier, as most Singaporean students went back home to celebrate the holiday with their family. Only one dining hall was open to accommodate international students who would be staying on campus during the holiday. Speaking to some local students, many of them are exhausted from the festivities. For Chinese Singaporeans, Chinese New Year means visiting the houses of all their relatives, no matter how distant. However, what was really nice was that Yale-NUS’s president and his wife opened up their house for a Chinese New Year celebration for students that were on campus. It was a very welcoming event with a beautifully laid out table with many Chinese New Year treats and desserts. It was a really thoughtful event and a great way for international students to engage in the celebrations.

An incredible and unforgettable event that I went to with my suite was the Lunar New Year celebrations next to Marina Bay Sands. Being within a crowd of red and seeing the vibrancy of the celebrations with the music, food, and dance in the background was electric. Many families and couples were out and about to celebrate. There were so many beautiful lanterns that glowed throughout the night. Fireworks are actually illegal in Singapore so you won’t find individual households setting them off. However, the firework show put on by the Singaporean government made up for it. I have seen so many images and have watched live television broadcasts of fireworks shows during the New Year, but seeing it in person was an incredible experience.

It’s a couple weeks later and the celebrations are still going on strong. I am so glad to be in Singapore during such a festive time. The city is decorated beautifully in celebration of the New Year to bring in prosperity for the coming year. It truly feels as if the holiday season never really stopped after leaving the U.S.

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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.

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.

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

Japan: Weekend Homestay

Leah Corbett, a 4th year Japanese major, spent the spring semester studying on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Read about her homestay experience below, check our her own blog at https://leahandjapan.wordpress.com/, and watch her “daily snapshot” video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLN6dASZnU4.

This past weekend, I did a two-day, one-night homestay. I and another student from India, Gopi, stayed at the home of a woman, Takahashi-san, who works at Oberlin. I remember when I first signed up to do a homestay through Oberlin’s Office of International Programs, the vision that automatically came to my mind was staying with a nuclear family – I think that’s the typical vision – so I was a little surprised when I got the notification that I would be staying with one person. However, I think it brings up an important point, which is that not everyone lives in that style of household. I think it turned out to be an enjoyable experience for all three of us!

We met up on Saturday morning, and then went shopping for food. Gopi and I are both vegetarian, and Takahashi-san was very thoughtful in making sure we would have a good choice of food during our time with her. We even stopped by a Japanese sweets store and picked out something for each of us.

This is a flower made of sweet bean paste which I got at the sweets shop. It was almost too pretty to eat.

Once we got settled in at her place, Takahashi-san began preparing ingredients for making vegetable sushi rolls. Since I’ve been in Japan, I have not yet been able to eat any kind of sushi here because veggie rolls aren’t a normal thing that is sold here, like they sometimes are in the U.S., so I was excited to be able to eat some and experiment with fillings. She cut the nori (seaweed) into smaller sections so we could make lots of individual rolls with different ingredients.

If you look closely, there are two tiny dollops of wasabi in this roll. I was scared of trying any more than that.

Later that day, we went to a piano performance, which Gopi had been invited to. It was rainy and we had to take the train a little ways to get there, but it was relaxing and a nice evening excursion for us.

The next day for a midday snack, Gopi showed us how to make chapati, a type of flatbread from India. We ate it along with a mango pickle which she brought with her to Japan.

All in all, it was a cool experience because there was cultural exchange going more than one way, with us eating both Japanese and Indian food during our time there. It was an enriching experience which especially demonstrated just how important food is in the varying cultures in the world. I’m glad I decided to try out a homestay!

Interning and Commuting in Shanghai

Let’s turn to Elizabeth Chung, an economics major who studied during the Spring 2018 semester on the UVA in Shanghai: Fudan University program as a 2nd year. Read about her experience as an intern in addition to her classes below!

While in Shanghai, in addition to attending a full course load, I have also been interning two days a week. The company is called Knudsen&Co, and they are a foreign-invested company based in Shanghai that consults on foreign companies hoping to join the Chinese market. Every Thursday and Friday, I hop on the Shanghai metro during the crazy rush hour and get smooshed into a train cart. The metro during rush hour is really something else. While the trains run frequently, it is just a fact that too many people need to use the trains. People line up for the trains, and once the train doors open, people all push and push into the train carts. I have been shoved a handful of times. While seemingly rude, it is just the fact that people need to get to where they need to go, and if they want to get there on time, they have to push to make it onto the train.

            Once I have made the 45-minute commute, I take the elevator to the 34th floor, the top floor, to get to my office. The CEO is a Danish woman and is simply incredible. She has lived in Shanghai for over 10 years and has been enormously successful with her business. My day to day work is based on whatever my colleagues need help with, whether that be research on recent regulations or working on social media, it really depends on what the current projects are and their priority. This is their busy season, so they have a lot of clients who are working on a variety of different projects. As one of their multiple interns, I am there to help where I can. However, I am also working on a specific project for a new client where I am researching and drafting a government strategies report. My majors are economics and foreign affairs, and I am really interested in how economic analysis affect policy. With this project, I am researching how government policy is affecting and can affect a business plan or proposition. So, it has been really interesting to see how the inverse of what I am interested in works.

            A big part of my research includes learning about obesity in China, where I learned is a major problem in the country. After the United States, China is the most obese country in the world and rapidly catching up to the U. S. Because of this major problem, China has made multiple major policy shifts towards making health a priority when making future policy. I have really been enjoying delving into a specific topic, where I can simultaneously learn about the policy implications for a business and learn about the Chinese development and how that has culminated in serious health issues. In addition to economic policy, I am also interested in development, so gaining knowledge about how Chinese development has progressed for this report has been fascinating for me. Also because Knudsen&Co is a small business, I have been exposed to how a small business can create roots in a foreign country as well as the grit and hard work that is necessary to survive and thrive.

            The fast pace of a small business also brings new energy into the office, and allows me to really be involved in the work that they do, allowing me to learn a lot about business, especially international business. Working 8-hour days twice a week when I have other courses and trying to explore a new country and city have been tiring, and I don’t always get to go out when my friends do, but it has been an incredible experience so far. I definitely have to manage my time more than my friends who are not interning do, but I do feel more like a local when I am on the metro when they are, and working the 9-5. It is the study and interning abroad that has enabled me to have these experiences that I am grateful to be receiving.

Japan: The Halfway Point

It may be the middle of summer in Cville, but Leah Corbett, a rising 4th year Japanese major, is still finishing up her 3rd year spring semester studying on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Read her thoughts from halfway through her semester below, check our her own blog at https://leahandjapan.wordpress.com/, and watch her “daily snapshot” video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLN6dASZnU4.

 

I am almost halfway through my semester in Japan already! Looking back, I’m realizing how far I’ve come since I first arrived here. There was a lot of adjustment, though I didn’t notice it at the time. There were a lot of smaller things that I had to get used to.

For instance, the cars driving on the left side of the road was hard to get used to, and I still sometimes get momentarily turned around by it. Crossing the road without walk signals took extra thinking at first, because I had to double check that the coast was clear. Or, when a car stopped to let me cross, I would nod and wave at the front left seat of the car as I always do, but then realize afterwards that I had accidentally thanked the person in the passenger seat for stopping for me instead of the driver.

Another thing is that Japan is very environmentally conscious, which I think it great! But the annoying thing about it is that there are rarely hand towels or dryers in the bathrooms, so I have to shake out my hands and wipe them on my jeans or shirt. Some students carry hand towels with them for this reason, though I decided that’s not absolutely necessary for me.

For a while after I arrived, I felt very self-conscious when walking around in public. Since Japan is a homogeneous society, I felt like I stick out a lot. One of my first days here, a friendly Japanese man said “hello” to me in English when I walked by, which made me think even more about how not-Japanese I look. The longer I’m here, though, the more I realize it’s not a big deal to Japanese people, especially since there are a lot of foreign students around campus and in Fuchinobe, which is where the international dorms are.

Before I went abroad, I saw a graph on several occasions explaining the cultural adjustment timeline/curve. Right after you first arrive, there’s a honeymoon phase where you’re so excited about everything. Then at some point later the graph drops, which is when various frustrations start to take hold and the initial excitement wears off; the graph goes back up once you’ve more fully adjusted to the environment. There may be more than one drop in the curve.

(Here’s a simple example of the cultural adjustment curve. And yes, I made this in MS Paint.)

I think that right now, I’m in one of those valleys. Midterm season is upon me, and because I and my friends have been so busy I haven’t take much time to go sightsee or hang out much lately outside of school days (though I do have some plans for the upcoming weekend). Life is starting to feel more normal and my weekly schedule is fairly regular, but my subconscious is telling me I should still feel constant excitement and that I’m supposed to have an amazing day every day. When going abroad for an extended period of time, though, I’m realizing that’s not a realistic expectation. Yes, overall I’ve had a good time so far, but it’s okay to have mediocre days, and those don’t take away from the experience as a whole.

Once midterms have died down and once I settle even more into life here, I know my feelings will once again change. I thought that adjustment would happen for a while and then it would be static, but it’s more ongoing than I had previously thought, and I’m curious to see how I will react during my remaining time here.