Vacation Week

Here at ESC-Rennes students, those not in the masters program at least, get a week off the last week of October.  Most students are using this time to visit family around Europe or go see places they haven’t seen before.  I will be visiting the museums and parks around Rennes.  Now that I have my student card, I will be able to get into most of them for much cheaper than before.  Rennes is a small city, compared to Paris, but has many different museums to choose from.  I will first be looking at the musee des beaux arts and the Parliament building.  There are a number of gardens around the Parliament building, and according to my French language professor the best bakery in town.  I haven’t been able to go visit many places thus far, and mostly it is due to a lot of work that I have had to get done for school.

European Geopolitics is a very interesting course here at ESC-Rennes, however the teacher is a no-games kind of professor.  He laid out strict rules in the beginning of the semester of no electronic devices unless being used for notes.  Already he has kicked three people out of his class for good from both sections of the course for failing to adhere to this rule.  He runs his class as if it were a boardroom and grants everyone the respect that is expected of a boardroom.  Unfortunately for me, I knew very little about the actual running of the European Union so I have had to read a lot more than most of the students simply to be on an even playing field when it comes to class.  We are lucky as students to have the professor that we do though, considering that he is actually active in one of the EU institutions and has been a politician for many years.  We are able to hear first hand how things work versus how they were intended to work through the different treaties.  Every comment or question that is posed must be well thought out and defended, it really keeps you on your toes.

French culture is taught by a very kind and odd man.  We are learning about the history of the French people from a first hand perspective.  We have covered everything from the French Revolution and the ideals established then to the number of waves of immigration into France that has shaped its people.  We are starting to get into the education system now and it is a very different method than most students are accustomed to.  Public universities are very cheap and there is no criteria for admittance aside from having your BAC, basically a comprehensive general studies test given at the end of high school age in America.  If you pass it within a certain percentile then you are free to be admitted to any public university in France.  When you go to school, you also only pay around Euro 200 for a semester of study.  There are other types of institutions as well, more prestigious ones.  A vast majority of the politicians and CEOs in France have come from just two schools.  They are called Top Schools, and once you graduate from one of the top Top Schools your career trajectory is all but assured.  I couldn’t imagine something like that being in place in the US.

Most of the international students here are on ERASMUS programs.  In many cases, they get paid to study at foreign universities.  It is a program established in European Union countries, I think, to aid students studying in different countries.  Maybe one day the US will be on board with that program to make it much easier for students to study abroad.  Currently there are only 4 or 5 Americans in my program at ESC-Rennes, I’m not sure if that is from lack of advertising or a lack of appeal to the lesser known cities in France, but I’m sure that if there were a program like ERASMUS many more Americans would study abroad in Europe.  As the world becomes more and more connected through the internet, high speed trains, faster and cheaper flights it will be imperative to have experiences abroad in the future generations.

I’ll try to take a few pictures of the museums and gardens while I am out and about this week and update you on them next time.

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スポツや、 広島市や,兎 (Sports, Hiroshima, and Bunnies)

Every academic year Kansai Gaidai hosts their Asu Tomo Sports Festival. The international students are put on teams based on where they live, alongside Japanese students. Since I live in Seminar House 1, my teammates were my neighbors and friends. One of our resident assistants drew the color pink so our whole team was mandated to wear the color pink, thus the trend in color in the pictures. We started off the day doing a Japanese version of Rock, Paper, Scissors called “Janken” with our teammates. We introduced ourselves and then played and whoever lost had to get behind the one who won and form a Conga Line. Once we were warmed up our first game was Tail Football, where we had to grab as many “tails” that the other participants wore as possible. I decided to represent my team in the first game and it was tons of fun. We also played a game where we had to run to a box in the middle of the court and grab a paper. You had to read what was on this and then grab someone who represented the statement written. We also played Dodgeball, which my team dominated. To wrap it up we played a Japanese version of “Red Light, Green Light” where the “demon” or “oni” turns around and the rest of the players have to try to touch the oni first. Once someone does, you book it out of there because the oni then “finds out” we’re there. In between turns of pausing and running, we had to pose according to the sign that someone held up. We got such things as “Model” and “Harry Potter.” It was a great way to build friendships with my housemates and the Japanese students . At the closing, it was announced that my team, Seminar House 1, had won 1st place. GO PINK!

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Warming up the same way Japanese elementary students do

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Congrats team!

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Capture the Tail Game 1st Team

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Japanese Red Light, Green Light

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Harry Potter Pose! I did a Voldemort and got bonus points for originality. Hence, the ribbon around my neck:D

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Through one of my classes at Kansai, I was able to participate in a weekend trip to Hiroshima. I have been once before a couple of years ago, but I was seeing this city in a new light, and with a better academic foundation. We took a Shinkansen from Osaka station, taking about an hour and a half.

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The trip centered around hearing an Atomic Bomb survivor, whom was 15 at the time the atomic bomb dropped. It was interesting to hear her perspective of the Americans at the time and after the war, and the story she told about her journey to get back to her family after the bomb exploded really touched me. I thanked her personally after the talk where she exclaimed that she was so surprised to hear me speak the Japanese language so well. I thought about how she had lived though a time where Americans were her hated enemies, to shy acquaintances, to now close friends- to the point that my country sends hundreds of students to Japan to learn-like me. I wondered how this contrast was for her in terms of her experiences.

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After this, my friends and I went to Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima “Shrine Mountain” via ferry , where the famous red tori stands guard over the the Itsukushima Shrine and native deer. We petted the various deer (“shika”) on our way to the shrine and afterward shopped. Here, they have pastries filled with various fillings in the shape of a maple leaf. I tried the chocolate one and it was pretty delicious! We took the ferry back to the mainland, had dinner, and left to check out Diamond City which is supposedly one of the best places to go to shop in Hiroshima. We never made it though, because we ended up in a huge mall and it was too late for any other shops to stay open. We reserved beds at a local hostel previously so we checked in. The owners were nice and I felt perfectly comfortable in the international setting. They even gave us a free drink on the house.

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The next day we headed out for Okunoshima Island, aka “Bunny Island”. This island used to be a testing facility for weapons and ammunition during WW2. After the war was over, the rabbits that were initially going to be used for testing were set free, and, well, populated…Because of this rabbits are abundant here on the island, and it is now a tourist site. However, not as many people come to island as someone might expect because the trip out there is a bit difficult. It took us 3 hours to get here. The train took an hour. The first part of the train trip was the most crowded I’ve ever seen a train here and I actually experienced the “Japanese Train Ride” where I was literally pushed against my friends and strangers. At one point, EVERYONE left and my friends and I were left alone as we journeyed farther away from urbanized sites and into the rural parts of Japan. At one point, you have to take another line to the Tadanoumi station to catch the ferry to island. We had no idea that this train ran only 2 times a day from this station, so we waited 45 minutes INSIDE the train wishing it would just move. Definitely not in Osaka anymore. Once we reached the station, we took the ferry, which only costs about 200 Yen one way. The island not only has adorable bunnies, but abandoned buildings overtaken by nature, and great sites that include miniature hikes to get to them. The trek out here is not something international people take very often, and I was glad I was able to do so.

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If you want to take the ferry find your way to this station

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This week is also midterms, and everyone has a Spoken Midterm, and for those that take writing, a Kanji Midterm. Lecture midterms are this week for most people as well, most of mine are actually just papers. I found it hard to focus on studying after having such a fun time, but regardless, I came to Japan to learn. Wish me luck! Till next time!

 

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Torquay & Salisbury

 

It has been a month since I have been in the UK!!! It was a good first month if you ask me. I am adapting very well and sometimes I even have to remind myself that I am not “home”. I developed this routine in the UK and I feel like it is my home away from home. I have been trying to find the perfect balance between being a student and a tourist. During the week, I focus on my readings and assignments. I also try to attend socials that the different societies I am a part of are hosting so that I do not become a loner. As far as the weekend, I usually take a day trip to a different location in South England. The locations I want to visit for more than one day I am leaving them for the end of the semester.

Torquay

Two weeks ago, I took a day trip to Torquay and I had my first boat tour. It was beautiful but uncomfortable, I was freezing the whole time I was on the boat. After the boat ride, we got to walk around and see some of the shops in the city.

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Salisbury

Let’s go see some Stones

This weekend I went to Salisbury!! I got to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and the Salisbury Cathedral. Stonehenge is a prehistoric temple and the stones are aligned with the movements of the sun. Therefore, there is a lot of tourists who visit during the summer and winter solstice.  I had the opportunity to learn about the story behind Stonehenge, although, no one seems to quite know as to why Stonehenge was actually built. I was not able to touch the stones themselves because they do not let you get that close to them but I am still glad I was able to see it for myself.

More Cathedrals and Magna Carta

The Salisbury Cathedral was beautiful! When we walked in the Cathedral there was a wedding taking place and we kind of walked in on the ceremony. Not awkward at all. Later on we found out only a few people are allowed to get married within the Cathedral! On a more interesting note, I got to see one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was issued in 1215 and it was issued to limit King John’s authorities. Three of the laws from the Magna Carta are still part of the British Law today!  Also, all four copies will be brought together in 2015.

 

 

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Also, I experienced Fall for the First Time !

Fall

 

 

 

 

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Financial Problems While in South Korea

This will be the fifth blog post that I have posted to this site while studying abroad in South Korea. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to write about for this week, but I decided to write about a particular situation that I had the bad luck of being involved in. This situation left me extremely stressed, vulnerable, with the potential to starve, alone, and I felt very hopeless; however, it taught me several very important life lessons and the importance of being cautious while away from home or in a foreign country.

Last week, I went with a group of friends to a dance club in Hongdae, South Korea called NB2. This place is notorious for having a good selection of music, a mix of both Korean and foreign students, and always becoming packed to the point that you are front to back with random strangers as the night goes on. This particular night I decided not to check my bag in at the locker room since I did not have any cash and they did not accept card at the locker room. I was extremely confident that I would be able to hold onto my bag all night long; which I did most nights anyways. Close to 1:00 am the dance club began to grow extremely packed. My friends and I attempted to walk to the other side of the club to meet up with other friends who had arrived late. While walking through the crowd my friends and I had to walk single file other wise we would have never got through. During the walk across the club someone bumped me with enough force to knock my bag from my arm. Immediately, and almost coincidentally as soon as the bag was falling, the guy in from of me retrieved my bag from the floor and took off with it.

I was unable to get to it due to there being so many people, not to mention I only saw the back of his head, and he was also Korean (not to be offensive) to which many of the Koreans I meet all look somewhat similar. I ended up loosing my phone, my drivers license, my credit card, subway card, key to my room, and my debit card all in one night. That is when the seriousness of my situation hit me. I was across the world in a dance club in South Korea at 1:30 am with no money, no means to get money from my bank account, which meant that with no money I couldn’t take a taxi home. The subway had closed for the night hours ago and I couldn’t walk home even though the trip would have taken ten minutes, I had no sense of direction or which direction to even take; as well as, I couldn’t ask for directions since many people don’t speak English as well as was expressed before coming here and my Korea certainly wasn’t up to par. I couldn’t call ahead and ask my family for help since I had no phone. Images of some random person withdrawing all my money out of my account swam before my eyes and I almost had a good cry right there on the side of the road somewhere in Hongdae.

Luckily I went with friends from school and someone loaned me ten dollars and I was able to chase down a cab in order to get home in time to contact my family on my laptop. My cards were cancelled and my phone shut off to prevent others from using them. The situation was handled quickly and precisely. I had a good sob (really helped to relieve the stress) and looked forward to the next step. I contacted the U.S. embassy here in South Korea and asked them what I needed to do since I did not have access to any money now that my debit card had been stolen. They were very unhelpful and almost uncaring. The only solution they offered me was to email my family for me to try and set up a wire transfer which mind you would have taken days as the embassy closes on holidays (which was the day after I emailed them) and an appointment was necessary to even be seen at the embassy. I was told by several people in the states that if a U.S. citizen all of a sudden had financial problems then there would be a care package offered in the mean time until a problem was resolved, but apparently that wasn’t so. Thankfully, I had kept 80 U.S. dollars in my room to use on the return flight to the U.S. and was able to make a money exchange at a bank on Yonsei’s campus to help me until my replacement cards were sent here.

Currently, I am waiting for the cards to arrive (the arrival date should be tomorrow). I’m very skeptical that they will arrive safe and sound as Fedex has new rules regarding the delivery of packages: if you want your international package to arrive more quickly you need to write a description of the contents on the outside of the package. So, my package is on its way here to South Korea, with the cards already activated as I have no way to do that here, and with “debit and credit card inside” written on the outside of the package. It seems like it was set up to be a fail from the beginning.

What I’ve learned from this is to be more cautious when walking around. In South Korea everyone will reassure you that it is a safe place and there are so many examples of how virtuous everyone is here so in some sense it is not far off. Shop keepers leave stuff sitting outside the shop to attract shoppers and no one touches the stuff or steals. I guess the saying that there is always one bad egg is true; I just had the rotten luck of coming across that one ‘bad egg’. Everyone will also tell you that you need to carry your passport OR your alien registration card where ever you go in South Korea. I think this is accurate; however, I would NEVER carry my passport anywhere while in South Korea. I have been walking around and traveling around South Korea and getting by with my U.S. drivers license just fine. I can not help feeling extremely relieved every time I think about my purse having been stolen and just how lucky I was that I did not take my passport around with me as a form of identification. Things aren’t so bad now even after loosing my cards and phone, but I believe things would have been far worse had I lost my passport.

 

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October 12th

I’ve now been been here for almost month and I’ve finally been able to settle down in my new home. It’s been crazy the past few weeks getting used to the university, my accommodation, the city, the culture, etc but I’m happy to say that it’s finally starting to feel like home here. Speaking of home, I’m enjoying all of the Florida references I see at the grocery store. I’ve stumbled across Florida Sunny D and Florida Vegetable Soup, which of course I bought both of them!

 

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I’m still getting used to the teaching style here in the UK. Everything is a lecture, and there are no quizzes, exams, or assignments until the end of the term…which is appealing, yes, but they make up for it with the intense load of reading required each week! I am really enjoying my classes here though.

I’m very excited for my upcoming trip to Paris this month! We have booked a hotel in the middle of Paris for 5 days, which is going to be amazing. The only downfall of the trip is the 15 hours bus ride there! But considering that it leaves at 2 am, I’m sure I’ll spend most of it sleeping. I’m so happy to say that I will be able to cross off seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre from my bucket list! After Paris, I will be spending Halloween in London, which apparently is very celebrated there compared to the US so I’m very anxious to engage in the festivities!

 

Cheers!

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October

The past two weeks have been pretty uneventful, but I kinda liked it. I really feel settled now, and feel like this is home instead of back in the states. If I were to leave now, the culture shock would definitely be there upon return, but it really makes me happy knowing that I still have three more months here, meaning that the change will be that much more severe.

Most of the first week after my last post was mainly me running around campus getting my classes sorted out, and finally on that Friday, I got everything settled with my courses.

The next headache will be figuring out where my exams will take place, as I booked my flight back during finals week here, meaning that I might have to return to Exeter once more after my travels at the end of the semester to take my finals.

Either way, it’ll work out, and I’ll deal with it later down the semester.

I’m planning on visiting Oxford to check out the University, and possibly stock by Stonehenge on the way back. That should be next week, but we’ll see what my schedule looks like.

Apart from that, our transportations for Amsterdam and Paris are booked for the end of the month, so we’re pretty much set for that week. We’ll be spending three days in Amsterdam and 4 in Paris. Paris will probably be the highlight of the entire trip abroad, and I hope to be able to return in the same way I’ll be returning to London whenever possible.

My modules have been going pretty smoothly, and I hope that my notes are up to par since the teaching style here is very different than that of the US.

It’s funny because a lot of people don’t like lectures in the states, but here, everything is a lecture. There is minimal interaction with the professors here, and speaking out if basically frowned upon.

I don’t mind lectures, but the style of teaching in general in different, so we’ll see how I do on the finals. :) IMG_5482

 

Until next time,

Cheers

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Getting into a groove

The school weeks are becoming a routine, I’ve been here over a month now and pretty much know what to expect.  Oh ya, and a month in and I’m finally getting my international student ID on Monday.  Finally I’ll be able to get in for cheaper at museums around the city and the surrounding cities.  The hardest part so far is dealing with the fact that it is cold already, and I’m freezing, but it is only going to get colder!  I have no idea how I’ll manage when it does, but I’m sure I’ll make do.

I’m working on my french every chance I get.  I attempt to chat with people at bus stops and the shop keepers. I am able to carry conversations, so long as they speak very slowly, which is a very reassuring feeling.  Possibly the best part is having a class with all of the international students.  Each class has a different mix of people and it is quite an eye opening experience to see the different views on life, headline stories, culture, etc.  Also seeing the struggle with some cultures to speak against their country, as if there is a level of fear about doing so really hammers home how much we Americans take for granted.  A simple question that most Americans would have no problem voicing their opinion on, others seem very reserved in doing so, almost fearful at times.  We really do have a lot of freedoms that we take for granted.

The view economically is also different here.  A lot of people only see the struggles and how difficult a business proposal could be.  There is a level of pessimism in many of the international students and the French in general.  It may be so in the US as well, but everyone I talk with has hope and aspirations at least.  There isn’t an assumption of failure before even trying.  Our economy may be rocky and on the rebound, but we always have people thriving, or some uplifting story to give hope.  Even in down markets there is profit to be made, yet here it seems as if the only option is to leave and find greener pastures.  There’s so much that we can be thankful for, that if we were to experience life elsewhere we may truly appreciate.

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Exeter and Black History Month

Life in Exeter:

School

I actually ended up liking all of my classes. I must say that my favorite one so far is Cinescapes: Time, Space, and Identity. This week we focused on post-modernism and how it is represented in movies. Interesting class except for the 4,000 words paper I have to turn in by the end of the semester.  As far as my other classes, I have been able to view the business world from an “English” perspective.

Societies

I did attend the French conversation class again. This week was a little more challenging for me because we had a debate on two topics:

1) Should the UK remain part of the European Union?

2) Should Scotland have voted for its Independence?

I had to have a debate in French for two minutes on both topics. It was interesting to hear their perspective…. in French lol !

As far as the Slow Food Society, I will be attending the Dartmouth Food Festival on the 25th of October so I am looking forward to that!

Landscapes

Last week I visited Saint Michael’s Mount which is in Cornwall. We were able to walk from the train station to the island, it was a pretty (long) coastal walk. Due to the low tide, we were able to walk on the causeway leading up to the island. It is a pretty small island, only 36 people still reside there. We had a free historical tour of the island and the opportunity to visit the castle!

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Black History Month:

Unlike the US, the UK actually celebrates Black History Month in October. To start off the month, I had an opportunity to meet Baroness Floella Benjamin, the Chancellor of the University of Exeter. I was able to hear about how she became one of the most influential women in England. She talked about the obstacles she had to overcome as a black woman in the UK.  It was a very inspiring talk!

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To finish up the first week of Black History Month, the African-Caribbean Society will be hosting a little get together to celebrate Nigeria’s Independence Day, which was on October 1st. I am looking forward to the party!

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Mountain Climbing in South Korea: Bukhansan Mountain

One of the most alluring aspects of South Korea are its mountains. South Korea has many mountains and mountain ranges spread all across the country; some smaller than others or more challenging to climb. Mountain climbing is a highly respected and encouraged sport in South Korea taken up by the elder generations more so than the younger generation. The elder generation (40′s to 75 years of age or even older) having grown, lived, and aged in a country in which virtue is sacred believe that mountain climbing is very serious and if attempted one should put their full energy into it. This belief even includes the clothing that they wear; every person who hikes the mountains here in South Korea can be seen wearing the top of the line name brand hiking gear with backpacks and poles to go along with it. It is safe to say that foreigners who hike wearing jeans or normal athletic clothing (loose shorts, sweat pants, t-shirts, etc) will be given very disapproving stares.

Since I have been here I have hiked only two mountains in South Korea: the small one behind Yonsei University’s main campus (I forgot the name of the mountain) and Bukhansan mountain which is also located in Seoul. Yesterday, I actually hiked Bukhansan for the first time. It was such an enjoyable experience and I had so much fun while climbing; the next time I hike this mountain I will bring a picnic basket. It is essential to always climb and hike the mountains with a group so that you do not get lost and in case you slip and becoming injured you have someone there to help you back down the mountain.

Here are a few pictures from my latest hike:

This was just the view of Seoul from half way up the mountain. This just made the climb that much more worth it.

This was just the view of Seoul from half way up the mountain. This just made the climb that much more worth it.

On the way up the mountain we came across a temple. I loved the way the red vines wrapped around the statue's base.

On the way up the mountain we came across a temple. I loved the way the red vines wrapped around the statue’s base.

My patriotic friends brought their flags so they could take pictures with them at the top of the mountain.

My patriotic friends brought their flags so they could take pictures with them at the top of the mountain.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the hike. They wanted to climb the rock formations on the way down the mountain and since we had time we stopped for a bit to let them indulge themselves.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the hike. They wanted to climb the rock formations on the way down the mountain and since we had time we stopped for a bit to let them indulge themselves.

 

PS: No matter where you go in South Korea, if you are a foreigner, you will be stared at. The elder generation find it amusing that foreigners like to mountain climb without the ‘correct’ gear, some even do double-takes when passing as if confused. What I like to do is psyche them out by climbing the mountain while walking backwards (just a short piece while there are Koreans passing by) …the look on their faces is priceless.

 

 

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