On the road again…

5/20/2015,  Blog by Steven Kay, Com­puter Sci­ence and Soft­ware Engi­neer­ing, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion via Dig­i­tal Sto­ry­telling in the US and South Africa

dfsaThis will be my sec­ond expe­ri­ence with study abroad, a lit­tle bit older and, I like to think, a lit­tle bit wiser. I’ll be head­ing out to South Africa come July 2nd to attend a Global Lead­er­ship Sum­mit at the Uni­ver­sity of the Free State in Bloem­fontein. But first I’ll be tak­ing a cou­ple of inten­sive sum­mer ses­sion courses designed to get me edu­cated on South African cul­ture and soci­etal issues, and dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling. I’m not even sure what dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling is yet, but I’m excited to find out.

Last sum­mer I trav­eled to Bei­jing, and made the seri­ous mis­take of not study­ing any­thing about Chi­nese cul­ture or his­tory before trav­el­ing there.

Due to a mas­sive lan­guage bar­rier in China, I ended up learn­ing far more about China via Wikipedia perus­ing when I got back than I ever learned while there. In hind­sight, I wished that I had acquired that con­tex­tual infor­ma­tion BEFORE vis­it­ing those awe­some places and expe­ri­enc­ing that awe­some cul­ture. So this time around I’m dig­ging deep.

I looked at my library for a book rec­om­mended to me by an pro­fes­sor here at UW Both­ell called “Cry, the Beloved Coun­try” that goes deep into soci­etal ten­sions in South Africa. Unfor­tu­nately, I was able to find noth­ing but Cliff’s notes and the like. I finally resorted to buy­ing it online through a Thrift book retailer for 5 bucks. I think I’ll also have to re-read “The Power of One”, a story about a young Eng­lish boy grow­ing up to become a pro­fes­sional boxer in South Africa. It was made into a move back in the 90’s as well, which was decent, but I think the rule of “the book was bet­ter than the movie” holds here.

Besides delv­ing into these lit­er­ary works, I think I’ll have to get some cin­ema going, as well. I loved Dis­trict 9, and may have to re-watch that as part of a per­sonal going away party. I’ve also heard “Search­ing for Sug­ar­man” is a great doc­u­men­tary about an little-known Amer­i­can musi­cian who became the musi­cal voice of Apartheid. Being a musi­cian myself, I think this will be enjoy­able, as well as a pos­si­bly great intro­duc­tion to the his­tory of Apartheid (which I know next to noth­ing about). Maybe “Long Walk to Free­dom” and the auto­bi­og­ra­phy it’s based on (writ­ten by Nel­son Man­dela) might be worth check­ing out, as well.

After courses, books, and movies, the last gaps will no doubt be filled by Wikipedia.   The amount of infor­ma­tion orga­nized and made avail­able on Wikipedia is amaz­ing to me. I can spend (and have spent) all night on Wikipedia jump­ing from arti­cle to arti­cle, learn­ing things I would never have touched in a Uni­ver­sity setting.

I’m excited for South Africa, but equally excited to expand my brain. Let the learn­ing begin!

Fish and Deer

It’s been just over one month since arriv­ing in Japan and I can safely say I’ve set­tled down com­pletely. School is in full swing and I haven’t had as much free time as I had hoped, but I still man­aged to travel to a few new places since my last post.

A few weeks ago I vis­ited Osaka Aquar­ium, which is one of the largest aquar­i­ums in the world. The only other aquar­ium I had been to before then was the Seat­tle Aquar­ium, so I was in for a real sur­prise. Osaka Aquar­ium was absolutely mas­sive, and had an amaz­ing selec­tion of sea life. My favorite was the sun­fish which, though beau­ti­ful, was not par­tic­u­larly bright. While I was there it man­aged to swim face first into the glass at full speed.

Last week I vis­ited Nara, which is one of my favorite places in Japan. Much like Kyoto, Nara is home to many of Japan’s famous his­tor­i­cal sites. Nara Park con­tains a num­ber of beau­ti­ful tem­ples but what really make it stand out are the locals. Nara is home to more than a thou­sand spot­ted deer, which roam the park freely and are very accus­tomed to peo­ple. Ven­dors through­out the park sell bis­cuits which you can then feed to the deer, but if you’re not care­ful they will some­times eat your clothes, paper, or even your money! The deer will often let you pet them, and some will even bow before being given a treat. Here is a fam­ily of deer pan­han­dling out­side a sou­venir shop for some tasty biscuits:

Though it seems the deer aren’t always fun and games:

My first month in Japan has been an absolute blast, but it truly sad­dens me that a whole month has already gone by. My goal is to make the next month even bet­ter by explor­ing even more of Japan, and I will con­tinue to share my sto­ries when I get a chance.

Thanks for reading.

Settling Down in Osaka

It’s been a lit­tle more than a week since arriv­ing in Osaka, Japan, and I’ve finally set­tled down enough to write about my expe­ri­ences over the past ten or so days.

I left Seat­tle on March 31st and caught my flight to San Fran­cisco where I was sup­posed to catch a con­nect­ing flight to my final des­ti­na­tion in Osaka. Unfor­tu­nately, there was a weather delay and I ended up miss­ing my flight out of San Fran­cisco by about five min­utes. All of the flights from San Fran­cisco to Osaka were booked for the next two days so I had no choice but to be rerouted to Seoul later that day from where I was finally able to catch my flight to Osaka. I arrived at Osaka around 10pm but the prob­lem was the check in hours for my dorm were between 1 and 7pm, mean­ing I had no choice but to wait in the air­port until the next day. After very lit­tle sleep on my flight over, and even less sleep in the air­port, I was finally able to make it to my dorm a full day later than I expected. Iron­i­cally, a mere five min­utes ended up cost­ing me a full day.

After mak­ing it to my dorm, I was given the key to my room as well as a wel­come pack con­tain­ing a descrip­tion of a hand­ful of things I had to do imme­di­ately after arriv­ing. These tasks ended up being very com­pli­cated and involved reg­is­ter­ing with the city office and fill­ing out some paper­work. Thank­fully, I was able to make some friends in my dorm soon after arriv­ing and they helped me through the process. With­out them I prob­a­bly would not have been able to fig­ure any­thing out. I also did some shop­ping and pur­chased some neces­si­ties includ­ing food, some cook­ing uten­sils, as well as some gen­eral house­hold products.

After buy­ing every­thing I needed, I decided it was time to explore Osaka and a few friends and I made a trip to Osaka Cas­tle. The weather that day was fairly wet, but we decided we had to visit the cas­tle as soon as pos­si­ble while the cherry blos­soms were still in bloom. This ended up being a great deci­sion and see­ing Osaka Cas­tle sur­rounded by pink was truly a pleasure.

School has just started and there are still a few things I need to do to set­tle down com­pletely, but after that I will be able to focus on my stud­ies. Hope­fully, over the next five months I will be able to explore Osaka and Japan a lot more, and I’ll make sure to write about any inter­est­ing expe­ri­ences I have.

Thanks for reading.

Exchanges in France

Life in Mont­pel­lier, France has been amaz­ing these past two and a half months! I can’t believe I only have 2 months left! I think in com­ing here I thought things were going to be vastly dif­fer­ent than they are. I absolutely love it here though.

Uni­ver­sité Montpellier-Paul Valery is much dif­fer­ent than any other school I have ever been too. There is not a lot of help like we are used to in Amer­ica, but I have learned that that is just the French way. You def­i­nitely have to be much more inde­pen­dent to study in another coun­try where their aca­d­e­mic sys­tem is set up com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Find­ing classes was one of the hard­est things I have done in France so far. Though one really cool thing is you are allowed to spend two weeks try­ing out classes before actu­ally reg­is­ter­ing for classes and hav­ing to take them. Though a much less cool part is not get­ting your sched­ule for finals until 6 weeks before finals. So as of now I still do not know the exact dates for my finals that I will be tak­ing the end of May. The classes are also harder than I thought they would be but it’s really good for my french, see­ing as out­side of class I almost only speak in Eng­lish because I have made a lot of friends that are Amer­i­can and Aus­tralian. I do how­ever still see an amaz­ing improve­ment in my level of French and how much I under­stand more cul­tur­ally the French in general.


The beau­ti­ful La Come­die in Montpellier :)

Another thing I have come to love here is the cof­fee. You def­i­nitely can­not get a latte any­where but the Cafe Crème is just as won­der­ful! There are cof­fee shops on every cor­ner, as well as bak­eries to buy amaz­ing baguettes! Find­ing a gym was harder than I thought it would be, I think work­ing out might not be as big a deal in France. I have also dis­cov­ered through obser­vance and ask­ing my pro­fes­sors, that the French do not dress for the weather, they dress for the sea­sons. Some of my profs will wear jack­ets when it’s 70 degrees out! But it’s because it was still tech­ni­cally win­ter. Over­all though I think this expe­ri­ence has really opened my eyes to how amaz­ing France and the peo­ple here are!

Trav­el­ing is prob­a­bly the best part about being in France though! I have so far been able to visit Paris, Barcelona, Nimes, Split Croa­tia, Orange, Loire Val­ley, Dublin Ire­land, Avi­gnon, Sete, and Couliour! I wish I could upload pic­tures but for some rea­son my blog isn’t allow­ing me to add anymore.

Next on my list is Col­mar, Frei­d­burg Ger­many, Stras­burg, Rome Italy, Venice Italy, Flo­rence Italy, and Greece!

Hope­fully soon my blog will let me add more pho­tos and I can share with you more evi­dence of this amaz­ing experience!


58 Hours

I left my home in Seat­tle at 5 A.M. on March 26, I reached my dorm in Freiburg on March 28 at ~ 3:00 P.M. That’s ~58 hours of trav­el­ing. There was an overnight delay of more than 24 hours in Las Vegas (Best thing ever!!!). But, I finally reached my dorm with barely 3 hours of sleep in the 58 hours that I trav­eled. I slept for 22 hours and woke up at 1 P.M. on March 29, today. I went out to get some­thing to eat but found out that almost every­thing is closed on Sun­days, espe­cially super­mar­kets. In addi­tion, there are no water foun­tains here, you have to pur­chase your own water. The worst part so far has been car­ry­ing around 3 bags and the best part has been to sleep.


After I landed in Frank­furt I had to fig­ure out how to get to Freiburg, around 270 km (168 miles). It was a bit dif­fi­cult as most peo­ple didn’t speak Eng­lish and the ones that did spoke very lit­tle and for­mal Eng­lish, but I man­aged to pur­chase a train ticket and find my way to Freiburg. Freiburg is a very small town in South­ern Ger­many and it is beau­ti­ful. It has enough infra­struc­ture and resources to be able to access almost any­thing and at the same time it is small enough to nav­i­gate. One thing I noticed is that every­one uses bikes here and the cars are parked half way on the side walk. Also, there are only for­mal road crossing/marked cross­ings with sig­nal light (for pedes­tri­ans) on major roads, every­where else there are no mak­ings or lights to cross, you just cross where there are no cars or bikes coming.

Regional Train — The seats are so com­fort­able and much more leg room than Sound Transit

My dorm is nice, it is much big­ger than the old UW Seat­tle dorms and also much brighter. It has nice hard­wood floor­ing and the bath­room floors are heated. There is a nice locale closet and a mini fridge. They have also given me some basic kitchen sup­plies. I have met some local stu­dents and I found out that you only go to col­lege for 3 years in Ger­many and you don’t have to pay a sin­gle penny. The libraries have many copies of each text­book so you don’t even have to pay for text­books. This is only for pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, you still have to pay for pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties. The admis­sion process for pub­lic and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties are the same as in the U.S. So far it has been really windy and the tem­per­a­ture is the same as Seat­tle, expect with­out the rain.


Why Study Abroad?

March 23rd, 2015, Blog by Muhammed Saleh, Com­puter Sci­ence and Soft­ware Engi­neer­ing, Osaka Uni­ver­sity Exchange

On March 31st I will be catch­ing my flight to begin my semes­ter abroad at Osaka Uni­ver­sity in Japan. With my trip just a week away, I thought I would share what lead to me to pur­sue study abroad and why I chose to study at Osaka University.

In high school I began study­ing Japan­ese, and I devel­oped an inter­est in the lan­guage and cul­ture; how­ever, I quickly learned that lan­guage learn­ing in a class­room set­ting has its lim­i­ta­tions. I dreamed of becom­ing flu­ent in Japan­ese, but I knew I would never be able to do so with­out spend­ing some time study­ing the lan­guage in Japan. In order to achieve flu­ency in Japan­ese, study abroad was always some­thing I wanted to try, but it was also some­thing I never truly believed I would have time for. I feel like there’s a gen­eral mis­con­cep­tion that study abroad is a waste of time, and ini­tially I didn’t think I could fit it into my aca­d­e­mic sched­ule. Even­tu­ally, after years of doubt­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of study­ing abroad, I finally worked up the courage to pur­sue the oppor­tu­nity, and here I am!

Pick­ing what coun­try I wanted to study abroad in was easy, but there were a num­ber of options in terms of where in Japan I wanted to study. As a senior in the CSSE depart­ment, I knew I needed to find a study abroad pro­gram that would allow me to study com­puter sci­ence while abroad. This helped me nar­row my choices down to two schools: Tokyo Insti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Osaka Uni­ver­sity. The rea­son I even­tu­ally decided to attend Osaka Uni­ver­sity was because of the Fron­tier Lab pro­gram which allows inter­na­tional stu­dents to per­form research in a STEM lab­o­ra­tory. The Fron­tier Lab offered the per­fect oppor­tu­nity for me to make the most of my study abroad expe­ri­ence, and it made pick­ing Osaka Uni­ver­sity a no-brainer.

Over the next week I have a moun­tain tasks I need to com­plete in prepa­ra­tion for my trip. I’m sure five months abroad will go by faster than I would like, but it’s a very long time to be away, and I need to make sure I have taken care of every­thing before I go. I still can’t believe there’s only a week left. I am brim­ming with excite­ment and just a lit­tle bit of worry.


Thanks for reading!


Blog by Savan Vekaria, Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, Goethe Insti­tute Ger­man Lan­guage Program

Ger­many, why did I choose this for my first Study Abroad expe­ri­ence? The rea­son why I chose this spe­cific pro­gram was because it was a lan­guage inten­sive pro­gram. I want to and have wanted to learn Ger­man for a while now and this was the per­fect oppor­tu­nity to learn Ger­man and also expe­ri­ence the cul­ture at the same time.


I chose the Goethe Insti­tute Ger­man Lan­guage Pro­gram. The loca­tion did not mat­ter as long as it was within Ger­many. The loca­tion that I will be trav­el­ing to is Freiburg. Out of this expe­ri­ence I want to learn as much Ger­man as I can (aca­d­e­m­i­cally), want to learn more about the cul­ture of Ger­many and Europe in gen­eral (per­son­ally), and meet with stu­dents from dif­fer­ent coun­try who I very well could be work­ing with one day (pro­fes­sion­ally & personally).


My main anx­i­ety is mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but only when I first arrive there because I hope to be pro­fi­cient enough too able to com­mu­ni­cate by the time I depart. My pack­ing expe­ri­ence was a bit unusual than nor­mal. The two main things that changed were buy­ing bags that met the air­line require­ments and pack­ing for school instead of a vaca­tion (mean­ing pack­ing pens, notepads, etc.).

A Weekend in Barcelona

The week­end of Jan­u­ary 30– Feb­ru­ary 1st was an amaz­ing week­end spent in Barcelona, Spain with two awe­some girls! We spent almost 3 hours after our last class Fri­day after­noon on a train from Mont­pel­lier, France to get to Barcelona, with some beau­ti­ful scenery to keep us busy. Once we arrived in Barcelona we looked for our AirBnB apart­ment that we rented from the sweet­est lit­tle Span­ish man. It was much harder than we orig­i­nally thought see­ing as none of us spoke very good span­ish, more like no span­ish.  Our apart­ment was per­fect and cozy just like we had hoped! On our way to our apart­ment we saw the Arco de Tri­umf which was absolutely gor­geous and full of the sub­tle beauty we rarely see in France. In France things are bright and col­or­ful and cov­ered in gold, this was not the case in Spain.

Arco de Triomf

Arco de Triomf

After this we made a deli­cious pasta din­ner and went to bed because we had a lot planned for the next day. We started the day off with a walk to La Ram­bla, which ended up only being about 15 min­utes from our apart­ment. After a lit­tle break­fast we walked down to the mar­ket, which was so full of peo­ple and so many dif­fer­ent types of stands it was incred­i­ble. We then walked down to the end of La Ram­bla where they have these amaz­ing tour buses that take you all over the city for only 27 euros, with only 10 min­utes in between buses. It was like the per­fect taxi!

Our first place we vis­ited was La Per­dr­era, one of Anto­nio Gaudi’s many beau­ti­ful archi­tec­tural works. It was amaz­ing and reminded me of some­thing out of Dr. Suess. This apart­ment build­ing was built in the early 1900s for a very wealthy fam­ily to live in and rent out the remain­ing floors.

Even the roof was given incred­i­ble detail to make sure every aspect would be like noth­ing ever seen before.

Le Perdrera

Le Per­dr­era

After this we went to Gaudi’s Park Guell and walked around the beau­ti­ful lands, even though they are still work­ing on fin­ish­ing some of his work. We then went home and changed into nice clothes for a nice evening out! We had a won­der­ful din­ner on the water­front before going to an ice bar and hav­ing a drink. We fin­ished the night off at a local club that had out­ra­geously expen­sive drinks!

The next morn­ing we were able to attend mass at a gor­geous Cata­lan church. None of us are catholic so we didn’t know much about what was going on, but it was still incred­i­ble to experience.

After this we headed to the train sta­tion and began our trip back to Mont­pel­lier. Barcelona was so amaz­ing and I def­i­nitely can’t wait to go again!

Getting to know France a little better!

I have now been liv­ing in Mont­pel­lier, France for three weeks and I think I’m start­ing to get things down now! Which feels won­der­ful I must say! Though I don’t think I will ever get used to play­ing chicken every day when walk­ing in the cross walk, try­ing not to get hit by the cars in the street who refuse to stop!!

Also the Euro is a lit­tle hard to get used to because I know have a huge pocket full of change because there are 1 and 2 euro coins. But they are really pretty :)

I didn’t know peanut but­ter was only an Amer­i­can thing, and after search­ing for a bit I was finally able to find some in the Amer­i­can sec­tion at the big super­mar­ket! Who would have thought peanut but­ter was such a commodity!IMG_1467


Another thing I wasn’t pre­pared for, that I think we might need to bring back to the U.S. is how scared lunch breaks and week­ends are here in France. Noth­ing is opened on Sun­days! And by noth­ing i mean NOTHING! No gro­cery stores, phar­ma­cies, malls, lit­er­ally noth­ing but maybe one or two restau­rants. Also most places here close for at least one hour dur­ing lunch, some­times even two! So don’t plan on going any­where between 12 and 2!


My First Week in Montpellier

10305325_10104188499779895_3077599117402858865_nThis week has been a really hard week but also a lot of fun! Let’s start by say­ing I miss my fam­ily ter­ri­bly and i prob­a­bly cried 6 or 7 times since I’ve been here and I have only been here for 6 days. Thank­fully I am finally get­ting to set­tle in, and the crois­sants def­i­nitely help!! I spent most of the first few days just get­ting the basic things I needed for my tiny dorm room. I needed hang­ers and gro­ceries as well as pots and pans. My room is extremely small but also cozy and thank­fully I have my own shower, which kind of looks like an air­plane bath­room that they just threw a shower into. I also was lucky to find two girls sim­i­lar to me, who aren’t big partiers and who are excited about trav­el­ing and learn­ing French. Mont­pel­lier is a gor­geous city with won­der­ful peo­ple and I am so glad I chose to do my study abroad expe­ri­ence here. The Tam in Mont­pel­lier is their tram sys­tem and is a huge help get­ting around. I love know­ing I have a way to get to wher­ever I want in this city. This week has been hard but I am look­ing for­ward to see­ing what else UPV has to offer. :)