Longing for Lyon

Third-year English major Anne Whitney spent last summer on the UVA in Lyon program in Lyon, France. Read how a trip to Paris made her realize how familiar she had become with her host city.

 

This past weekend I met one of my high-school friends in Paris for a day trip, and on that trip, I discovered many differences between Paris and Lyon. It was my first time in Paris, and there was a definite shock of being there among so many tourists after living my authentic French experience in Lyon! Of course, Grace and I tried to fit in as many touristy excursions as possible since it was the first time in Paris for both of us, but even so I was surprised at how different the two cities are.

First of all, I truly realized how comfortable I was in French cities and especially with my routine in Lyon. I knew where most things were, where to go and where not to go, and didn’t brush up against many other Americans. However, in Paris, it was to be expected that I wouldn’t know exactly where to go to lunch to not be subjected to a tourist trap, but I did not expect to hear as much English as I did. I guess that was just naiveté on my part, but I heard more English than French! It was then that I realized that Paris is much more of an international city than a French city – though I’m not sure a French person, especially a native Parisian, would want to hear me say that.

I also realized the clout that Sciences-Po has among the French. Grace and I went into three museums, and in all of them she got in for free because of her six-month student visa for her studies at the London School of Economics; I didn’t have a similar visa for France, but every time I told the worker that I studied at Sciences-Po Lyon, I received a hearty congratulations. I then felt kind of like a poseur since I didn’t put in the same amount of work to get there that French university students did – I didn’t take the exams, the extra preparatory classes in the last two years of high school, and I wasn’t French. I still appreciated the name-recognition though!

The sensory input in Paris is also much different than in Lyon. In Lyon, I was used to getting whiffs of the sewer, of cigarette smoke, of body odor, but also of the boulangeries and restaurants. In Paris, there aren’t as many smells! Not as many people smoked, since there were so many tourists, particularly American, and I guess the bustle of city life covered up the other smells that became interwoven in my daily life in Lyon. It seemed a little more sterile – and I missed Lyon! Paris was beautiful, of course, and the museums and culture were amazing, but that night I was glad to be back in Lyon with my friends and the myriad of smells.

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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?

Experiences in Milan

As we continue to look back at experiences students had last spring, let’s turn to Linjiang Han, a Commerce major who studied in Milan, Italy on the UVA Commerce: Third Year Core: Universita Bocconi program to finish off her third year. In this post, she writes about her thoughts from during her second month in Italy!

One of my biggest challenges since coming to Italy is the use of clothes drying racks instead of dryers. I asked around and realized other European countries also use drying racks. When I lived in the United States, I used to wash my clothes once every two or three weeks. After coming here, I must wash my clothes every week because of the lag time for my clothes to dry as well as the small size of the washing machine.

Another difference is that the grocery stores and product container sizes can be much smaller than they are in the United States. I find this to be a fact that is rooted in culture and not likely to change. In the stores, there is also not as many selections as I am used to and prices can be higher due to the cost of living in Milan and the euro-to-dollar exchange rate. I try to save on expenses by finding less expensive restaurants and places to buy food in bulk.
Not only are the grocery store prices high, but also restaurant prices. While you do not tip in Italy, there are sitting fees that are essentially mandatory tips. These sitting fees are generally €2.50. Once, I thought I should save money and ate a small meal that was €4.50 only to realize the sitting fee costed over 55% of what I ate. To get around this problem, especially when I’m traveling and prices can sometimes be exorbitant in the first place, I will eat at cafes or small establishments where there is no sitting fee. However, when it comes to eating authentic Italian food, especially ones specific to a region, I am willing to pay more money for it. In the following photographs are some of the local foods I’ve eaten: Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (Squid Ink Pasta) from Venice and Polenta e Osèi (Polenta Cake) from Bergamo.
Related to food, another challenge I encountered when I came to Milan was the late dinner time because of aperitivo. Since then, I have fully adjusted by to it by eating lunch at a later time or eating a snack around lunch time. After coming to Milan, I have realized that not only is my body affected by meal times, but that many Italian businesses tend to take a lunch break. Even at the university’s help desk, there is a three-hour window in the middle of the day when it is closed. Therefore, I am now accustomed to checking hours of operation if I want to go someplace close to lunch time.

Additionally, everyone places great efforts in sorting out trash in Italy. For example, we have five different trash bins in my apartment with one each for plastic, paper, glass, organic waste, and miscellaneous. In addition, personal bathroom trash must be taken out by each occupant that day. I was not used to taking out the trash every day, so it was an initial challenge to remember every day.

I have been exploring Milan by going to different neighborhoods/bureaus of the city. When I went to the northwest part of the city, I was surprised to find a Chinatown. I later asked around and discovered there is a large Chinese population in Milan. After my realization, I asked some Chinese speaking locals about their immigration and was informed they immigrated to Italy when the economy in the country was good and particularly because they already had friends in Milan. This really resonated with me because I immigrated to the U.S. from China. Beside is a picture I took when the Chinese New Year was approaching and I saw there was a lot of decorations in Chinatown. On Chinese New Year, there were so many Chinese gathered that could cause someone to think they were not in Italy anymore.

Unfortunately, I have had more practice speaking Chinese than Italian since I came to Italy. My Italian is very poor and I also cannot roll my r’s. Some Italians assume I cannot speak Italian because I am Asian and they are correct in this case. Once or twice, people have greeted me with “konnichiwa” or “nihao.” The most Italian I have used is to order food to the lunch lady or the basic phrases such as “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” However, I shall endeavor to learn more Italian while I also explore more of Milan.

My exploration of Milan includes going to its different museums. From my visits, I learned a lot about the history of the city I’m currently studying abroad in.  For example, in Milan, there is one central canal with many restaurants known as Navigli. However, in one of the museums, I learned Milan was once more like Venice with many canals but, due to industrialization, most of the old canals were covered over by concrete and Navigli now remains the only main canal in Milan. While I thought this was rather tragic, I am glad Navigli is still around as I often go there for aperitivo and enjoy the view (seen on the left). I believe that anyone who lives in Milan must have seen this beautiful view as they pass by Navigli.

Through walking around Milan and sometimes taking spontaneous routes and detours, I am becoming more attuned to the pulse of the city. I believe by the end of my experience, I will feel like a real local rather than just a student who attends one of its universities.

A big part of my goal for coming to Italy was not just getting to know Milan, as I wrote about in my last blog, but the country itself. By going to other Italian cities besides Milan, I have been able to see the part of Italy that’s less business-focused. In smaller towns like Bergamo, an hour away from Milan, the pace of life is slower, though definitely not lackadaisical, in which Italians take time to eat meals or sit in a gorgeous park to read. On the other hand, in cities like Venice where tourists outpopulate the locals, many of the locals I find are around retirement age and often keep to themselves.

I believe I am learning more about Italy, not only through a third-person point of view of traveling, but also interacting with local Italians wherever I go. In Venice, I talked to a local who actually spoke Chinese to me, a huge indication of the number of Chinese tourists who visit the city, and we discussed the city itself. He told me about the pollution of the canals that is not only caused by tourists, which I had previously assumed, but mostly because of the wastes from nearby plastic factories. When I brought up how the U.S. would usually fine such companies to clean up the waste, he replied that the red tape of the system means that these factories wouldn’t really be fined. I found this topic really fascinating because I don’t think I would have researched something like this before going to Venice and I got to see Venice beyond all the touristy canals and through the lens of a local.

Currently I have traveled to six different Italian northern cities, most of which are close to Milan. My travels have provided me the opportunity to practice Italian. Since Bocconi is an international school and my classes are all in the English, I don’t meet many Italians at school. When I go to stores and shops, I use very basic Italian phrases such as “how much.” Through my travels, I seek to gain a better understanding of the Italian lifestyle and culture that are shaped by the country’s history and geographical location. Later this semester, I hope to visit more Italian places, both cities and small towns, in my efforts to become more educated about the country I am living in.

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.

Cultural Snapshot: the Razor Scooter

Lillian Harris is a 3rd year majoring in Art History who studied abroad with UVA in Lyon in the fall of 2017. Check out some of her cultural observations  below.

One of the first things that struck me as funny when I arrived in Lyon –  and something I don’t even notice now – is the way people get around here, that is, how people physically get from one place to another: from home to work, from school to soccer practice, from the nightclub to back home. While I expected the preferred mode of transportation to be the bike, or maybe even the Vespa, I’ve found that it’s the Razor Scooter that rules the city streets as the most overwhelmingly popular ride in Lyon.

I used to have a razor scooter when I was younger; my childhood memories are punctuated with bruised ankles and skinned knees from scooting down the driveway at top speeds and attempting bunny hops over the cracks in the sidewalk.

I hopped back on my scooter in high school, when some of the seniors created a Scooter Club. It started out as a joke, but as more and more kids dug out their razors from the back of their garages, the Club became pretty legit. Members rode their razors to and from class and even held scooter rallies at recess.

So it’s funny that this scooter motif keeps reappearing in my life. First in my childhood play dates, then as an ironic joke in high school, and now it’s followed me all the way to France.

Since I’ve become so well re-acquainted with this mode of transportation in my time abroad, I’ve compiled a list of 6 things you should know about the rich scooter culture in Lyon. “Rules of the Road,” if you will. Here they are:

  1. Not just for kids
    • This is the first aspect of scooter culture that I noticed in Lyon. While I had always thought of the Razor Scooter as a child’s plaything, it turns out that scooters are a very efficient mode of transportation used on a daily basis by adults and kids alike in Lyon. I am constantly taken aback when I see a grown man in a suit and carrying a briefcase scooting down the sidewalk on his way to work.
  1. Bikes on road, scooters on sidewalk
    • This is arguably the most important rule of scooting etiquette. Bikes, since they have thick, rubber wheels that are able to conquer the cobble stoned-streets of Vieux Lyon, should always be on the road; most of the roads in Lyon have bike lanes, so sticking to this rule should not be difficult. Scooters, on the other hand, have small, hard, plastic wheels, and do not do well with bumps. So scooters are allowed on the smooth sidewalks. Whether you’re on a bike or a scooter, it is important to stay in your lane.
  2. Scooters have the right-of-way
    • Forget yielding for pedestrians; scooters, as the dominant, speedy form of transportation, have the right-of-way on sidewalks. All walkers should move out of the way for scooters to come through. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than having to decelerate and lose momentum to dodge slow walkers.
  3. Pimp my ride
    • The Lyonnais take pride in their scooters, and do not hesitate to trick them out. For the adults, this might include a little hook to hang a purse, or an added platform on the back for a child to stand and ride with his parent. For the kids, common accessories include decals, detachable bags, and fashion helmets, of course.
  4. Pop a wheelie
    • Scooting is so popular in Lyon that it has become not just a mode of transportation but also a sport. There are many skate parks in Lyon, and one of my favorite activities is going to the quai at Guillotière and watching grown men do tricks on scooters. Think: wheelies, 180s – heck, I even saw someone do a backflip just the other day. It’s really impressive to see all the tricks one can do with the simple Razor.
  5. Paradoxical French efficiency
    • A major change from my life at UVA that I’ve experienced here in Lyon is the whole idea of time. Everything in France takes a little longer than it does in the US. For example, it is considered rude to show up on time to a dinner party, and also, you can count on courses at the university starting at least 10 minutes late. So it’s so funny to me that the French buy so wholeheartedly into this uber efficient mode of transportation, the Razor Scooter, despite a general lack of concern for the need to rush.

It’s interesting to note the differences in daily life in different places: the way we eat, the way we talk, the way we get around. These are the nuances of the way of living that really define a culture and set it apart from others. The use of the Razor Scooter I’ve found in Lyon is just one facet of its culture that makes it totally unique.

They say that instead of focusing on the destination, one should enjoy the journey; in Lyon, I’m taking my sweet time on my Razor Scooter.

Religions of Korea

Jonathan Thomas is a Second Year student, currently enrolled in the UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in Seoul, South Korea.

Seoul National University is nestled into a contour on the side of one of Seoul’s largest mountains, Gwankak mountain. The mountain is located to the south of the city, and like most of Korea, is particularly picturesque during the fall months when the trees covering the mountains turn from green to autumnal colors. Getting off at Gwacheon station puts you at the base of the mountain path that begins the ascent to the top of Gwanak mountain.  The path winds its way up, following a clear stream which makes it way down the mountain in the opposite direction.

Just before the peak of the mountain, there are a series of buildings, where you’ll find an ornate and active Buddhist temple, with its members still operating and maintaining the temple. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Walking up to the top and finding a temple is quite common in Korea, with many of them located on or around mountains. This doesn’t mean that Buddhists or Buddhist monks are in anyway secluded. Often times you’ll see monks with their heads shaved dressed in gray robes riding the subway. Additionally, if you take the bus from Seoul National University to the closest subway station on the east side of the school, you will be thrust into the busy area of Nakseongdae station. The busy streets are home to coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and churches. The churches are highlighted by the spires jutting up from them, but apart from this they look like any other building on the street.

What is remarkable about this is the coexistence of both of these religions in harmony. Many times, religions butt heads, clash in their ideology and generally don’t get along. While there have been rises and falls in popularity of both religions in Korea over the centuries, Korea has had a history of religious acceptance, especially of foreign religions, and the divide between Christianity and Buddhism is about fifty-fifty. This has created a dynamic that has continued into the present. The religious order of Korea isn’t something of tension, but rather a virtue, where the religion you hold is your belief and the religion another person holds is their own belief. This has created a society where Buddhist temples and Christian churches sit virtually side-by-side without the slightest hint of animosity.

While this may seem trivial, to me it’s a refreshing reassurance. Currently, there are quite a lot religious conflicts spread across the world, and these conflicts are some of the most difficult to resolve. Therefore, to see a country and culture like Korea where two religions can coexist, sans conflict, gives me hope that those conflicts have some sort of resolution, and makes me appreciated Korea for its unique cultural aspects like this one.

Can You Really Cross Cultural Boundaries?

Lauren Bredar is a 3rd Year student studying Global Studies and English. She attended UVA in Morocco this summer.
On Monday of my final week of my internships at Fondation Orient-Occident, an NGO that helps immigrants and refugees, I met a man name Abubakar. Abubakar is a refugee in his late twenties from Central African Republic. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, with deep brown skin, and a soft voice. He wore a white and black baseball cap with a Nike swoosh, and a form-fitting white t-shirt when I first met him. He speaks English with a thick accent, but enjoys talking to people in either French or English more than anything.
On Wednesday of this same week, I met a man named Oumar. Oumar is my same age, 21, and a refugee from Cameroon. He is average height, with high cheek bones and a wide, constant smile. He wore a bright blue t-shirt and spoke only a few words of English.
At first glance, Abubakar and Oumar seem to be similar people —at least more similar to each other than either one of them could be to me: they’re both refugees from sub-Saharan Africa; they both came to Morocco; they’re both in their twenties; and they both hope to one day immigrate to the US.
But my interactions with each man could not have been more different.
Once Abubakar started talking, he couldn’t stop. Each of the three conversations I had with him lasted more than an hour, and ended with me excusing myself to finish my work. I could tell he thinks deeply and often about life and what it means and his own personal philosophies. But when he spoke, I grasped little more than a very general, superficial understanding of the subject we were discussing (“discussing” is probably not the right word to use here, as our conversations resembled extemporaneous speeches far more than a two-sided discussion.) I attribute this utter lack of clarity partly to his broken English, partly to his soft voice, and perhaps mostly to the fact that we have very different ways of organizing our thoughts. Coherent for him is not coherent for me.
I would leave these periods of listening to him talk with confusion and an acceptance that I would simply not be able to see his ideas the way he saw them. I accepted that there are some cultural boundaries that can’t be crossed. I accepted that we’re different, and try as we might to connect despite the differences, maybe a genuine connection isn’t possible. We will never be able to see each other the way we see ourselves or wish to be seen. I don’t see this as a problem—just worthy of recognition.
But my single conversation with Oumar left me with a feeling that completely contradicted how I felt after speaking with Abubakar. Oumar and I had a two-sided conversation. Despite our speaking in French, I understood what he had to say and he understood me. He made jokes and I laughed, because his humor made sense. I could follow his train of thought, I could read his facial expressions. I like to think that we saw each other how we intended to be seen. Just after coming to the conclusion in my mind that some cultural differences make understanding impossible, I met someone with a background that couldn’t be more different from my own, and yet understanding was natural and easy.
These conversations taught me that sometimes cultural differences give way to connection. Other times, they interfere with understanding. Either is okay. As long as you try hard enough to know which.