Spring Break in Japan!

皆さんこんにちは!Spring break has finally arrived! This past week consisted of nothing but vigorous studying in order to pass my exams. I have already received my mid term grade from my Japanese speaking class and I was very satisfied by my grade. I am almost positive I got an A on my Japanese reading and writing class but have not heard from my Sensei yet. The hardest test I had was for one of the English classes I am taking…who would have thought? I am actually a little worried about my score on that test but I am hoping that it will be a B. But, enough of school for now, I am on spring break!
I actually arrived in Niigata last night and am planning on doing some sightseeing. Here is a picture of the sunset last night:

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I attended a friends college graduation ceremony in Kanagawa the other day and I was surprised to say the least. First off, at Japanese graduations all of the girls wear Kimonos or Hakamas which are very beautifully designed outfits. All of the men wear suits and ties. The actually ceremony lasted 1 hour and had 1,200 graduating students. However during the ceremony, we only saw about 30 students receive their diploma. I was trying to understand what the speaker was saying but he was using a lot of vocabulary I do not know and speaking very fast. From what I could understand, for each student who received their diploma, he was talking about their college achievements and the kind of student they were. When a student walks on stage, they bowed three times, first to the administrators on the right, then the left and finally the announcer. Some of the students, after receiving their diploma, took two steps back, extended their arms holding the diploma and gave another bow to the spokesman. After 55 minutes or so passed, all of the college’s professors/administrators left the ceremony hall. I was confused so I asked my friends mother what was going on and she informed me that it was over…What? What I figured out later that night is that during the college graduation they recognize the students who have had a stellar performance throughout their college life. After the ceremony, the students who were not called to the stage would attend the after party where they would receive their diploma. I found this graduation system very unusual and somehow refreshing.
Unfortunately, the cherry blossom season in Niigata starts next week so I will not be able to see them here. It is still very cold in Niigata and there is a lot of snow in the mountains. When I return to Osaka on Sunday, I am planning a trip to Kyoto to see and take a lot of photos of the cherry blossoms! Which reminds me, I still have not posted the pictures from 2 weeks ago when I went to Kyoto. I was able to visit a lot of really nice places and the 梅の木 plum blossoms were in bloom. I thought some of the temples were very beautiful. Below are some of my favorite shots from Kyoto:

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I hope everyone at USF is having a great semester as well. I will be back next week sometime with a new blog. Until then, 皆んな頑張って!

All Work and No Play

Hello everybody, I hope your semester is off to a great start! These past two weeks have been very work intensive. I wanted to go to Kyoto last weekend but I had some issues due to the weather. However, this weekend the weather is supposed to be decent and I have already booked a hotel in Kyoto for 3 days! I am really looking forward to going on this trip because right now, the Plum blossoms are blooming and it will be very beautiful. As I am sure most of you already know, Kyoto is especially famous for its Cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, they are not in bloom yet but when they bloom (according to my teacher, it should be in 2 or 3 weeks), I am planning on going up there to take a ton of pictures. But for now, I will settle for Plum blossoms ;).
These past two weeks have been a bit stressful with all of the work I have been assigned. The best news I received this week was my score for my lesson 1 & 2 test in Japanese Reading and Writing class. I managed to get a 45.7/50. I have been working very hard trying to keep up with my Level 4 class. We go over material at such a fast rate that sometimes it feels overwhelming. 頑張る!
It is hard to believe that it is almost time for mid term exams. I feel like I just got here a week or two ago. Next Friday I have the first part of my midterm exam for spoken Japanese which entails an oral interview in my professors office. He told us if we want to do well on the oral section we should be very comfortable using 敬語 (Respectful style of speech.) If you have studied Japanese, you may know some Keigo and chances are you hate it, right :D? The same goes for about 90% of the 留学生(Study Abroad Students) currently attending Kansai. Every time you mention Keigo in the student lounge, it never fails the person next you you will mutter something bad about Keigo. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Japanese speak to their seniors completely different from how they speak to their parents and or friends. Most Japanese people even have difficulties and or dislike using Keigo. However, it is very important to have a good grasp on Keigo because chances are you will hear it almost everyday if you buy something in a store and or walk by a store. Also, if you plan on working in Japan, you better use Keigo during your Job interview! However, if you talk to Japanese students in Keigo, they will usually tell you do not need to use Keigo toward them. The reason being is because they feel as if you are putting distance between yourself and them. When talking to a friend, I usually use casual speech and sometimes polite speech. Therefore, this weekend while I am in Kyoto I plan on practicing a lot of Keigo to prepare for my Exam! In two weeks, I have 4 midterm exams so I think after this trip to Kyoto I will be studying pretty much every waking second of the days. But do not fear! I will make sure to post a short blog with a lot of pictures by the middle of next week.
I almost forgot, four days ago my homestay family took me out to dinner! We went to 回転寿し(Kaitenzushi) which specializes in sushi. In the restaurant there are conveyer belts that have a massive selection of sushi that passes next to the tables. You have two options, if you see a sushi that sparks your interest on the conveyer belt, you can pick it up as it is going by and start snackin! Or if you want something specific that may not be on the conveyer belt, you can use the ipad on the table to place an order for the sushi you want. Your sushi will be delivered by train…what? Above the conveyer belt, there was a track which had a shinkansen that could hold up to 4 different plates of sushi. After about 3 minutes, the train would arrive at your table and you can get the sushi off. After your sushi has safely exited, the train takes its leave back to the kitchen. How cool is that!? If you have never been to a Kaitenzushi, I highly recommend it because it is cheap and you will savor every last bite.
Tonight I made yellow rice for my homestay family. They have never had it and though it was very delicious. I brought a variety of things from America for them including cookies, sweets, etc. Every time my homestay brothers ate one of the snacks they would always comment on how “American” it tasted. I always find it funny when they say that but I understand what they mean. I have had a variety of different sweets over here and can say that what Japanese consider sweet is not what I think of sweet. For example, the cakes over here have a very mild sweet taste as compared with American cakes, which recipes call for 14 cups of sugar :). I was talking to my Japanese friends today about chocolate and peanut butter fudge and they seemed really interested to try it. None of them have even heard of fudge before which came as a surprise to me. I would love to see the look on their faces as they tried fudge because I am almost positive they would about die from sweetness overload. I am planning on making some after the mid term week has passed. I will bring it to Kansai Gaidai and just let all of the Japanese students try it out. I think that would be a good idea to spark conversation with a lot of new students as well!
Well, it is almost 1am over here now and I am getting sleepy so  I am going to call it a day. Be sure to check back next week for some photos of Kyoto! 皆さん良い一日を!

ジェイク

Weekend in Barcelona

 

 

When I was trying to figure out where I wanted to study abroad, Spain was a very close second to Italy. I had studied Spanish extensively for about 5 years during middle and high school, and felt fairly confident that if I were to study abroad in Spain I could return to the States nearly fluent. Nevertheless, I chose Italy, but I still had the intention of visiting Spain during my time abroad. One of the greatest parts about studying in Europe is the ease in which you can travel to another country, even for just the weekend. So, that’s what we did. On Tuesday morning, we went to Bus2Alps, one of the many travel agencies that specialize in trips for students studying abroad, and booked our trip. On Thursday evening, we found ourselves on an overnight bus ride to Barcelona. The bus ride itself was a little bit rough. I was one of seventy plus study abroad students that were crammed into a single bus along with all of the luggage that we had brought. We tried our best to get as much sleep as possible, knowing we had a jam packed weekend ahead of us.

We arrived in Barcelona at around 9 am, and checked into a youth hostel called St. Christopher’s Inn. This was the first hostel I’ve ever stayed at, and had been unsure about what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised at how clean and comfortable it was. After dropping off our luggage we went on a walking tour with a guide who led us around the city showing us historical monuments and buildings and explaining their importance. After the tour we had time to walk around other parts of the city and visit Sagrada Familia, an enormous Roman Catholic church designed by a Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The church has been in the process of being built in accordance to Gaudí’s plans for over a hundred years, and is estimated to be completed in 2026. When it is completed, it will be the tallest church in the world. The building is truly a work of art, and its blending of Gothic and Art Nuoveau styles makes it unlike any other architectural design in the world. After seeing the church we headed back to the hostel to shower and get ready for dinner. We asked a man at the front desk to recommend a good but inexpensive place to eat, and he was able to point us in the direction of a place just down the street from the hostel. There was about 6 of us and we each ordered seafood paella, which came out on two huge steaming platters to be shared among the table. The paella came with langostinos, which are basically mini lobsters. They came with the shells still on them, like everything else, and it was a little bit weird eating them, but delicious nonetheless. After dinner my friends went out to a few clubs, but I had been feeling a little under the weather and decided to go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep.

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A day at Fushimi Inari Shrine

皆さんおはようおございます! I hope your semester is off to a great start. It is hard to believe that I have already been at Kansai Gaidai for a month. I guess the saying, “Time flies when your having fun”, is true! However, that being said, I have come to realize that there is a lot of work requirements for my courses. Specifically my Japanese courses. As you know from my last post, I am now in level 4 Japanese reading and writing. The writing class can be very stressful at times. It is very challenging for me but that is what I was expecting when I wanted to move up to level 4. The speed we are learning Japanese is insanely fast and trying to remember the kanji writings, new vocabulary words, sentence patterns is proving to be a challenge. I am however, really enjoying my speaking class. My Sensei is very funny and he definitely knows how to interact with the students! I feel like there is not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do anymore. I am enjoying my time here tremendously and am still thrilled that I am actually in Japan studying at Kansai Gaidai.

Last weekend, I took a trip to Fushimi Inari Shrine with my religion class. Started my day off by purchasing a ticket to Temmabashi station which I quickly found out was incorrect. The ticket I should have purchased was to Tambabashi. Thanks to the station attendant, I was able to make my way there with no other snags. I arrived at the station just in time to see my class exiting the station. Once I caught up with them, it took about 3 minutes by walking to get to the shine entrance. It was really interesting listening to what our teacher had to say about the shrine and the beliefs of Japanese people regarding deities and gods. I quickly became impressed by the shrine when I saw the red tori gates. There were literally thousands of them. To reach the top of the shrine it took us about an hour and 15 minutes. Almost the whole way up the mountain, we walked through the red tori gates. After 35 minutes of climbing stone steps, my legs started getting tired. I took my coat and my sweater off because I started sweating even though it was only around 6 Celsius. My class began to move really slow after 40 minutes so I went alone to the top. It was…to say the least, not what I expected. I thought there would be a great view of the city, mountains, etc. but instead, the prayer shrine was surrounded by trees and there was a shop next to it. I offered some Yen at the shrine and prayed. After waiting for 10 minutes and my class never showed up, I decided I would descend the mountain myself. There was some really nice scenery on the way back down. Probably 20 minutes down the mountain there was another shine. Here is a short clip I took:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZO8LQBPyAI I explored for a few minutes before I decided to finish my journey down the mountain…or so I thought. Everything seemed fine as I was going down until I notice the red tori gates starting to disappear. After 10 minutes of walking and not seeing one other person (I saw about 500 people as I was walking up the mountain), I began to question if this was the right way. I had that little voice in my head saying, “just a little further and I am sure you will see someone or find a new path”. Well, I continued for another 5 minutes before coming across a really old shrine. I thought it was very neat because the whole thing was covered by moss. After I left that shrine, I was now walking on a mud path that had no foot prints and or tire tracks to be seen. I crossed a thin metal bridge over a small canal and walked for another 5 minutes before I thought, uhh…screw that. I am not sure how old this bridge was, if that’s what one would call it, that was in front of me. It looked like a log that had been decaying for a century covered in holes, moss with major portions of the side missing. Unfortunately I did not take a photo and I am very upset that I didn’t. At the time I was thinking to myself…if I try crossing this and fall into this canal that probably won’t be good. I decided to turn around and make that brutal 20 minute walk back up mountain to see if there was a different path I could have taken earlier. By the time I made it back to the right path, I saw some of my classmates so I followed them. By this time, my legs were like jelly and I was sweating but I still had about 25-30 more minutes of walking…sigh. I was able to get some good scenic photos though! In front of the shrine I purchased a small souvenir for my homestay family. I finished my day at the shrine around 2 pm and returned to my homestay house where I slept until around 7 pm. If any of you every come to Japan, I highly recommend visiting this shrine, it was a great experience.

The view from the halfway point

The view from the halfway point

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Red tori gates

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Inari

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The top!

The top!

I just liked the photo!

I just liked the photo!

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The shine I found when I got lost

The shine I found when I got lost

The shrine I found when I got lost

The shrine I found when I got lost

Inari

Inari

This week was pretty hectic. I had a report due in my religion class and 3 tests. Two of which counted for 10% of my overall grade. I mainly used what spare time I had during the week to study for those tests and do homework. I bought a Japanese mystery novel at the Kasai bookstore that I am attempting to read while I am commuting via train and bus. I also made some new Japanese friends as well! Almost every Japanese student I have met here so far is majoring in English. When I tell them that I am also majoring in English education they are always shocked and want me to teach them English in my spare time. Everyone is so kind here and I am enjoying every minute of it. Well I feel like I am rambling now so I will end here for the day.

Until next time,

Jake

Rome for Valentine’s Day

Also known as the Eternal City, Rome is a romantic city where public displays of affection are nothing out of ordinary, and musicians fill streets, restaurants, and subway stations with their music. My friends and I thought there would be no better place to spend our Valentine’s Day weekend than in Rome, and so we planned a trip. The high speed train that runs throughout Italy makes traveling much more efficient, which is especially useful since most of our trips are confined to the weekend. Though the journey itself can be nice, especially when traveling through the scenic countryside, cutting down on travel time gives you more time to enjoy your destination. Since we were traveling in a group of 6, we decided to rent an apartment that was owned by a husband and wife and would accommodate all of us. When traveling in a group of this size, an “Air B&B” is a great option, as there is not only space for everyone, but there is a kitchen, which allows you to prepare some of your own meals and spend less money on eating out.

When we got to the apartment, we were greeted by the wife who was very welcoming and showed us around the apartment. After we got settled, we went to the store that was just up the street from us to pick up a few groceries to cook dinner later on. After that, we went out to explore the city. First, we stopped into a bar (In Italy bars are where you get coffee, not alcohol) where I had a mochaccino, which is essentially a chocolate flavored cappuccino. I believe they use real cacao to make the drink, as it is not nearly as sweet as the mocha flavored drinks one would find in the States. The owner of the bar spoke some broken English, but was very funny and was having a great time making fun of us. One of my friends bought a donut covered in sugar and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate here is much thicker than what we have in the U.S., and quite rich. She was breaking off pieces of the donut and dipping it into the hot chocolate, sort of like you would do with a churro. When she looked up she saw that the owner was watching her with an amused look on his face, and when they made eye contact he said “Weirdo”. We all laughed, including him, and she tried to explain that it was good and he should try it himself.

After our snack, we made our way to the subway station, where we tried to navigate the different lines and find the one that would take us to the Colosseum. When we finally found the right track, we made our way to the platform. Everywhere you looked there was graffiti. One the walls of the station, and on the trains themselves. I never realized how much I liked graffiti until coming to Europe, where it seems to me to be more of a form of expression than a form of destruction. When we got to the Colosseum it was closed, but we were still able to explore the ruins around it along a walking trail. The trail was beautiful, and it led us up to a church, which we entered. Inside the church was an alter of candles, and I lit one, saying a prayer for my loved ones. We made our way back down along the trail, and walked a little further past the colosseum where we saw even more remains of forums that were once used as meeting places in ancient times. Eventually we made our way back to the apartment, stopping into shops along the way. We made dinner, and spent the night in to rest up for the day ahead of us.

Our first destination was the Vatican City. When we got there, the line to get in to the city was at least four hours long. We wanted desperately to go in, but didn’t want to spend our whole day waiting in line. When we learned that you could buy online tickets, we went into a nearby cafe to use their wifi and buy tickets that would get us a reserved entrance time. Doing this cut down on so much time, and we couldn’t believe that everyone else standing in line wasn’t doing the same thing. Walking through the Vatican Museum was incredible. Some rooms were dedicated to Egyptian artwork and mummified remains, while others were filled with sculptures of Roman Gods and important figures. The ceilings were adorned with religious artwork, and the floors were made of intricate mosaic tiles. The museum leads to the Sistine Chapel, which was overwhelmingly beautiful. There was no picture taking allowed and staff shushed the crowd into reverent silence. Later on I learned that Michelangelo painted the chapel at age 70. I tried to imagine a 70 year-old man bending and craning his neck to create the images adorning the walls and ceiling of the chapel. The whole thing was truly awe-inspiring.

After the Vatican City, we went to find the Spanish steps. When we finally found them, there were people covering them eating lunch and talking. If you didn’t know that they are a historical monument, you could easily mistaken them for ordinary steps. We could tell that it was going to start raining, so we made our way back to the apartment and had dinner. After dinner, we went to a night club called Shari Vari, which looked like an old house with elaborate staircases and different rooms. We felt very underdressed as everybody was dressed very formally, and one girl was even in a full gown. There were multiple rooms and levels in the club, and each room had a different style of music. It seemed to be a melting pot of locals and study abroad students both young and old.

The next day was our last in Rome, and we had a limited amount of time before we had to catch a train back to Florence. After checking out of our apartment, we made our way towards the colosseum once again, and found a place to have breakfast. After breakfast, we waited in line to get into the colosseum. Walking inside the Colosseum was overwhelming, especially when you think about how and when it was made. We walked around the two levels that our ticket allowed us access to. From the second level you could see out over the Colosseum to some of the ruins that we had seen before. You can’t help but feel so small when standing in a place like this. Before we knew it, it was time to go, and so we made our way back to the train station. The owners of the apartment we stayed at had generously held our bags for us after we had checked out earlier that morning so that we would be free to enjoy the city until we left. When we collected our bags, they called a taxi for us and saw us off. I was so thankful for the warmth and kindness of the couple, and wondered if this kind of hospitality is just another part of Italian culture. At last, we headed back to Florence, knowing that Rome and all its treasures were just another high speed train ride away.

 

Mochaccino

Mochaccino

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Mummified remains

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ceiling inside the Vatican museum

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Metro

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Colosseum

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example of graffiti inside Metro

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Ruins

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artwork inside Museum

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altar of candles

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Carnevale di Venezia

The time leading up to Easter is a time of celebration and tradition in Italy known as Carnevale. Masks play an important role in the Venetian Carnevale and historically, different types of masks were worn by people with different occupations. For example, half masks, known as the Columbina, were worn by actresses or particularly beautiful women who didn’t want to cover their faces completely. During my first weekend here in Florence, my roommates and I traveled to Venice to experience this much talked about tradition. One of my roommates found a tour through Smart Trip, which provided transportation to and from Venice via a luxury bus. There are many different travel agencies that specialize in planning weekend trips for study abroad students here in Florence, which makes traveling much easier!

On the bus ride there, we watched the movie “Casanova” which is set in Florence. It was neat to later on see some of the scenes we had seen in the movie in real life. The streets of Venice were filled to capacity with tourists, locals, and vendors. Many people wore masks, and some even wore masks and full costumes. My roommates and I had purchased our masks ahead of time in Florence at an outside market, not knowing what the prices of masks in Venice during Carnevale would be. Walking along the streets, we saw some strange sights. One man was dressed up as a baby and had his body hidden by a carriage. The only thing visible was his painted face. He made baby noises and interacted with the people passing by. He looked a lot like a baby clown and was actually rather frightening.

We continued walking along and came across St. Mark’s Basilica. The detail of the building is truly magnificent, and the colors beautiful as well. Next to the Basilica is the world’s first digital clock. Every 5 minutes the number changes. Below that, a dial with each of the zodiac symbols on it. I was especially interested in this as I love the zodiacs. Also in the square was a show of some sort, with elaborate costumes and a huge crowd. We didn’t have much time as we were on a guided tour, so we didn’t stay in this area for too long. Beyond St. Mark’s Square is a maze of narrow streets with shops and restaurants. We found a restaurant that looked welcoming and had a wonderful meal. After, we continued to explore the streets and shops.

Later on in the day, one of my roommates and I went on a gondola ride. While we were waiting in line for them, the gondoliers were singing a song so joyfully that you couldn’t help but smile. The ride itself was such a memorable experience and though it was rather costly, I’m so glad I did it! It was so cool to have an uninhibited view of so many of the beautiful buildings in Venice. The water and wind was cold, but we didn’t mind! After the gondola ride, we got a cup of hot chocolate to warm up. The hot chocolate here is so different than in the States. It is so thick and rich, but not too sweet.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Florence. I would have liked to stay longer than the day but I know I will never forget Venice and its waterways, architecture, and people.

Venetian Costumes & Masks

Venetian Costumes & Masks

Our Masks

Our Masks

Basilica Di Santa Maria della Salute

Basilica Di Santa Maria della Salute

St. Mark's

St. Mark’s

The Digital Clock & Zodiac Dial

The Digital Clock & Zodiac Dial

Gondolas

Gondolas

Kansai Gaidai Life

Good morning everyone! I hope you are all doing well. A lot of interesting things have happened to me over the past two weeks including moving into my homestay parents house, taking placement exams and so on. Sometimes it has been very stressful while others have been amazing! Let’s do a little catch up from the last blog.

I was traveling to various places in Japan before moving down to the seminar house in Osaka, Hirakata-shi. I took the Shinkansen from Tokyo down to Osaka where I had to travel to two other stations via subway.

20150124_124043Taken from the Shinkansen.

If you are planning on studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai don’t be embarrassed about asking simple questions. At the first subway at Osaka station I was standing looking at the subway map for like 10 minutes trying to find Hirakata-shi. I asked a young couple, who were so friendly, where Hirakata-shi eki was and they pointed out that I had to go to another station to board a special train. They even brought me to the kaisatsuguchi (ticket gate)! Well now the hard part is over…wrong. I literally stood at the train platform trying to decipher jukugo (kanji compounds) on the signs and trains for 10 minutes. On my specific line, three different trains came through and they all looked the same. I let 4 trains pass after my fruitless efforts of reading kanji and I just decided to jump in the next train. Luckily, I got in the right one because we stopped at my station I needed. Getting from one train to the next at this station was very simple. I have to give a big thanks to Takashi who is a study abroad student from Kansai Gaidai currently studying at USF. If you are reading this, maybe you already know him. He had his friend meet me at the station to take me to the seminar house. That took a great deal of stress off me! From the station to the seminar house it was about a 10 minute bus ride. I checked into the seminar house and was given a tour around the facility and finally brought to my room. I had 2 other roommates but they both showed up later in the week.

I really enjoyed staying at the dorm for the first week. If you are planning on coming to Kansai Gaidai be prepared to eat very minimal for the first week unless you plan on dinning out every night. Unfortunately, the dorm would not allow us to use the ovens which limited my meals to mainly microwavable rice, ramen and toast. Oh, I forgot to mention…they also do not allow you to use their utensils. Just be prepared to buy your own bowl, cup, chopsticks, etc. I bought a lot of bananas because that was my main breakfast food source while I was there. For lunch, I usually at ate at one the the Kansai Gaidai cafeterias. You seriously can’t beat the prices they offer. I usually order the カツ丼カレーライス(katsudon curry & rice) which costs a whole 350 yen (3 USD) and it is a big plate. After leaving Kansai Gaidai in the afternoon, I usually stopped at a grocery store called Top World. It was not so expensive and they had a large selection of goods to choose from.

Orientation week was pretty straight forward. Follow your schedule and you will have no complications. I will say that orientation week was really fun though. In the first four days of orientation week I made around 20 Japanese friends. I was slightly shocked at the number of students at Kansai Gaidai majoring in English. Probably 15 of the 20 students I met were majoring in English. When I meet Japanese people I use Japanese all of the time when talking to them. I feel that doing so will steadily improve my Japanese communication abilities. Of course, if they have any English questions I will help them. One of my friends who also came from USF only speaks Japanese to students and even me. A tip I will give to future study abroad students is to not be shy. All of the Japanese students at Kansai Gaidai want to speak to foreigners and it is very easy to tell which ones do. I would suggest sitting in the study abroad student lounge because there are always a bunch of Japanese students that come in and sit at a table by themself and just use their cellphone while looking around the room. Find that courage and go start a conversation!

20150126_130528 My first day at Kansai Gaidai.                                     20150126_144115Near the cafeteria and bookstore.

20150208_120927 Another photo of Kansai Gaidai

On February 1st I meet my homestay family and I couldn’t be happier! Actually, I was very nervous because I had asked some students who have been here since last year what home-stay is like and have received many mixed comments. My homestay family consists of a Mother and two highschool boys. Of course the first meeting was strange, I think they always are! After we talked about the household rules and regulations, we left for her house. We first pulled into an apartment complex parking lot and I figured she must live in one of the rooms but I was wrong. I got my bags and we started walking towards a road next to a large Japanese wooden gate and then we entered a sliding door. I was very surprised at the size of the house, not to mention that the Japanese style garden in front of it adds a nice touch! So my life for the next 115 days will be in this house:

20150201_171735 This is Bloom! She loves biting my socks and shirts.20150201_181651My first dinner with my homestay mother. Her friend came over to have dinner as well. We ate Okonomiyaki and various vegetables, meats, etc.

20150202_183902This is Yuma-kun with Bloom.

20150203_081752This is the garden in front of their house!

20150203_081800This is their house! I love the Japanese taste.

I have always heard Japanese people complain how much Americans eat but honestly I have a hard time finishing all of my food at her house every night. So far every dish has been excellent! The first night I was here she invited two of her friends over and we had okonomiyaki and a ton of other food. I brought some omiyage (gifts) from Florida and presented them to the family after her friends had gone. I bought a mini calendar, magnet, various snacks and keychains. All of the gifts were very small but they seemed to enjoy receiving them.  The only downfall about my homestay is the distance to school. On average it takes me an hour to get to school. 10 minutes from the house to the bus stop, 15 minutes from the bus to the train station, 12 mins from the station to the station closest to my school and then a good 25 minute walk from that station to my school. This time will also varies with weather. But I don’t mind the commute that much now. I bought a Japanese mystery novel the other day so I usually try to read that on the bus or train.

The first week of classes was very easy. They are mainly reviewing and talking about what we will be doing in the class for the remainder of the semester. I was placed in Japanese three speaking and reading & writing. However, I did not want to be in level three because I already knew most of the information so I decided to test up to level 4 this past Friday. The listening part of the level 4 test was pretty hard but I understood all of the reading and writing. I found out on Saturday that I had passed the level four examination and I was now moved to a new speaking and reading&writing class. I was very happy because I can already tell that this class will be pushing me the whole semester to keep studying.

Well today is February 10th and apparently I had a test in Level 4 reading and writing that I was unaware of because of my recent change in level. I walked into class to be met with a 3 page test mainly on translating hiragana to kanji compounds, grammatical structures and a 1 page essay…yayy ;( However, I think I did pretty well…I hope.

February 11th: Well, I just checked my email and found a message from my sensei. I Passed! I was actually pretty surprised because I wasn’t able to study for it and it was difficult. However, I have noticed that since I have been in Japan, I have been able to recognize far more Kanji than I could while I was in Florida. Today is also a holiday over here so we did not have school today. I am just spending the day studying and doing homework for various classes. I hope all of you have a great week!

皆んなさん、ではまた。

ジェイク

Semester in Florence, Italy

Ciao!

My name is Victoria Marino and I’m studying in Florence, Italy this Spring semester! Florence is the capital of the region Tuscany, and is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance I’m attending classes at Florence University of the Arts (FUA) and I’ll be staying in an apartment located in the heart of Florence, near the Ponte Vecchio. At USF I’m a third year Gerontology student. While I hope to continue to learn about aging in Italy, I will be taking mostly elective classes while here. I chose to come to Italy for many reasons. My family is from Italy and I felt that coming here would help me connect with who I am and where I come from. Italy is also a beautiful place with a fascinating history and culture. The school itself drew me in as well, as it is a school where I would be able to take classes that are outside of my usual area of study as well as get in touch with my own creativity. I took one semester of Italian before I left to help prepare myself for the trip, and will be studying the language in and out of the classroom while here as well. I hope to travel as much as possible this semester, and experience as many different things as possible. I am so excited for the next 4 months that lay ahead and can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Take a Journey Through Japan With Me!

皆さん、こんにちは!(Hello everyone!)

My name is Jacob Smith and I am a Junior at USF. I am currently majoring in English Education and minoring in business. Last semester I received wonderful news that I had been selected to study abroad in Japan at Kansai Gaidai University along with three other students. It has been my dream to teach English in Japan for a long time now and this experience will give me further insight as to what it is like to live in Japan. I had done a self study of Japanese for 1 year before taking a placement test at USF. I was placed into Japanese III for the fall semester of 2014. I will be participating in homestay for my semester at Kansai Gaidai. I also signed up to have a language partner program that was offered on their website. I am really looking forward to meeting everyone!

To be honest, I was unaware of how much paperwork and time I would have to spend getting prepared study abroad. I am going to write an extra blog about the whole process for those who are interested in applying for this program. Sometimes it was quite hectic but it has already been worth it! One thing I will stress to everyone is to pack as little luggage as possible. I purchased a large travel backpack and a roller suitcase. I was able to fit 2 weeks worth of clothing along with other amenities.  I left for Japan on the 14th of January so I could do some sight seeing before I start my semester at Kansai Gaidai. I flew into Haneda airport with three of my friends who were also picked for study abroad. We all parted our separate ways but have kept in touch via LINE (application for free international texts and calls). As a foreigner, one of the most difficult aspects of Japan is understanding the train schedules. It can be very challenging at times but everyone here is so nice and will be glad to help if you have questions. I first went to Niigata to see snow and meet with my Japanese friends. I went with her family to an 温泉(Japanese hot-spring) which was very interesting. I was very embarrassed the first time because you don’t wear any clothing into the spring.

This was taken right outside of the hotspring:

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I stayed at her families house for three days. We went to many interesting restaurants and I tried many new dishes. On my last day there we all went over to her grandmother and grandfathers house. It was such a nice experience but very difficult for me at times because they spoke so fast in Japanese that it was hard to understand the conversation. According to her grandfather, I am the first American to come to their house in 65 years. I was pretty shocked to hear that.  I left by 新幹線 (Bullet train) in the afternoon and arrived in tokyo 3 hours later.

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After arriving in Yokohama at Shounandai station, I found a Taiyaki shop (fish shaped pancake filled with bean jam) near my hotel. It was my first time eating one and it was delicious!20150121_103208

1/20/15 Today I woke up around 8 a.m to go to my friend’s college. I sat near the college cafeteria and studied Japanese while I waited for her to finish her class. I think I startled a student this morning when I asked if I could sit in the chair next to him in Japanese. His expression was priceless when he looked up to see who was talking to him! For the three hours I was at her college, I didn’t see any other foreigners. After meeting with her, she showed me around her college and we had lunch. It was really interesting to see the differences between USF and a college in Japan.

Oh…another thing that I found very interesting was something that happened after we finished lunch. As we were exiting the building, I held the door open for two girls and a guy. Their expressions were that of astonishment followed by smiles and slight laughter. Well, now that confused me…so I asked my friend what just happened and she told me that it is not usual for people to hold doors open for the next person in Japan. She also stated that part of the reason may have been because I was a foreigner as well.

1/21/15 I was invited to a 鍋 (Nabe) party by my friend. 7 people met including me at her college and we all went to the super market from there. After we bought all of our ingredients we went back to Kyuuri’s apartment and started cooking. We stayed at his house from 6:30 pm until 12 am. All of the people who attended could speak English and practiced speaking with me. I had such a good time last night. Tomorrow will be my last day in the Yokohama area before going to Osaka to stay in my dorm for orientation week. I am really looking forward to starting the semester and meeting my homestay family!20150121_202844

This is 鍋:

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I am also planning on making some videos during my study abroad experience so be sure to check back every once in a while to see my new blogs!

またお会いしましょう!

さようなら!私のブログを読んでくださてありがとうございました!(Goodbye, thanks so much for reading my blog)

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Well, the semester is over for me, and I’m currently writing this entry from the dwellings of my new home in the USA. When I was off exploring and learning in Japan, my family moved into a new house. It’s been an adjustment when I can’t find anything of mine to take back my apartment at USF next spring, but it’s worth missing moving all of that stuff.  Everything seems to be settling down now however. This is going to be my last blog post for you guys this year. I hope that you’ve all had fun tagging alongside me in my journey as I discovered new adventures in Japan. I would have stayed another semester at Kansai, but the credits for me are limited (especially with the excess credit law in Florida, but that’s another story).

Before I was forced to sit down to complete two Japanese finals, write two papers, and finish up another lecture class, I was able to get two of my friends (see the trend here, two, I don’t know why that is) to accompany me to climb up Mt. Atago, only a 924 meter mountain in Kyoto, the highest in the city. It took about 2.5 hours to climb up and about 1 to come down. To get here, we took the trains to Hankyu Arashiyama Station, and then took the Kyoto Bus to Kiyotoki, where the mountain trek begins. There’s a shrine on top of the mountain which dates back hundreds of years. I bought a nice little boar omamori for my brother, since he was born in the year of the boar/pig.

Mt. Atago, Kyoto

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Katrina and I walking towards the beginning (photo credit to Stephen Kahlow)

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The view about half-way up

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Another secret entrance way to the old cable car path. A girl online did the hike and said it was awesome. I didn’t have time though.

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Daimonjiyama (Again) 

The day before I had to leave for the airport, I wanted to climb Mt. Daimonjiyama because I wanted to see the sunset over Kyoto. My friend Katrina, accompanied me because she is my unofficial climbing bud. Little did we know that the small amounts of snow that day would accumulate on the mountain to be a death trap. I fell almost 17 times on that mountain! Didn’t get one scratch though, only a bruise on my shin. I did give Katrina a heart-attack though. I wasn’t trained for this type of weather, it gets about 60 F outside, and it’s the Apocalypse in Florida. Nevertheless, it was fun for us.

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September

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December

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Party After

After Katrina and I returned from purgatory on the mountain, we got ready for our Seminar House 1 Party. People made food from their countries, and everything was delicious! It was great spending time with everyone this semester and meeting people from so many countries. I learned so much about the world, and hopefully I shared that Americans can be cool too. I’ll miss the comrade that I shared with these people, from breakfast time, to sports festival time, to even hall talk. It was great, thanks everyone!

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P.S. Tomodachippoi 

If future Kansai-Gaiders are reading this, say hello to the little nice black cat on the way to Makino Station for me. I named her Tomodachippoi because she was so friendly. “Tomodachi” means friend and “Ppoi” just means “something like” or along those lines. So basically, I just named her “Friend-like”. I’m pretty sure she has a home and may or may not be pregnant right now, I’m not sure. :/

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Additional Information for Future Kansai-Gaidaiers 

So, here’s some information for people who are probably reading this blog for their own adventures.

1. When you come to Kansai Gaidai, even if you are homestay, you have to stay in the seminar houses for orientation. The catch: they don’t let you cook or use utensils. So, people had to eat out or buy bento boxes. Be prepared. A good place I went to for food is SANKO, which is the opposite direction towards the school, walk past the park and keep going till you reach it. If your level is high enough, or someone is with you, ask to get a card. It was 200 yen, less than a buck, to sign up and I received discounts with it for buying stuff. They always ask for it, too. Also, I got a card from Lawson, but it’s tricky online and in all Japanese, have one of the RAs help you. I got points for buying stuff from them and then coupons too. Also made it easier to reserve spots online for events, like in Tokyo. 7-11 and Family Mart both have cards too.

2. You have to register your residence card that you received at the airport. Basically just take a bus from the Kansai Gaidai stop to the end, which is the station. Go out left, not towards the Karaoke places but towards the fancy looking buildings. Walk until you reach the town-hall and read the signs.

3. Get an ICOCA card. You can get it at the ticket stations at the station. You also load money on it at the station and can use it on the bus and trains, and in some stores, as a type of debit card. Saves A LOT of time, and you slow down your friends if you have to pay for tickets all the time. :/

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4. The WIFI isn’t good. Especially split between all of us. They have computer labs at the CIE lounge and in the Seminar Houses, they work fine enough and you need to use them to print. I guess just go out and explore rather than sit around. I did load an anime all day and came back to the house as a treat for myself though. ;)

5. Hyperdia. It’s a cool website to show you how to get to a certain station. You input your station and then the final one and it gives you detailed instructions. DON’T TRUST GOOGLE MAPS.

6. Don’t be afraid to have your own adventures. If people want to do something you don’t want to do, check out, do your own thing. Often, I put together trips of my own and invited people to go hiking. But sometimes, people couldn’t go, so I just went by myself.

7. If you have any questions Bulls, or just curious about something, I’ll be around campus, feel free to stop me and be like “Hey, Japan-Girl, right?”. I’ll be happy to help.

Thanks so much for reading my blog guys. ありがとうみな!Happy New Year! (I would say 新年おめでとうございます but you can’t actually use this phrase until the next year has begun)

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Shelby Thomas

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