Beautiful culture, breathtaking island: Kosrae, FSM


Before my trip to Kos­rae, Fed­er­ated States of Microne­sia, I would never have been able to com­pre­hend the beau­ti­ful expe­ri­ences that I would gain from meet­ing the peo­ple who live on the island.  As it is very small and remains rel­a­tively geo­graph­i­cally iso­lated in the equa­to­r­ial pacific, there is not a lot of tourism or traf­fic to and from the island from peo­ple other than the Kos­raens.  Because of this, our visit went hardly unno­ticed by the locals.

As we left the air­port for our first ride around the island, it seemed like every one of the island’s 6000 cit­i­zens was wav­ing to us from the road which spans a par­tial perime­ter of the island.   The kids would run after our truck, and every­one would should a greet­ing (which I would become very fond of) Lwen Wo (Good after­noon)!  I was ini­tially over­whelmed with the imme­di­ate enthu­si­asm of the islander’s on behalf of our visit, but I soon became very used to this as I real­ized that they are really just that friendly all the time.


As reli­gion is wide­spread among the islanders, it is very impor­tant that Sunday’s remain a day solely of rest, and no activ­i­ties are per­mit­ted which may cause a per­son ‘to sweat’.  We were warmly (no pun intended) wel­comed the day after our arrival to attend a large church on the south side of the island in the vil­lage of Utwe.  Group after group of men and women went to the front of the church to sing, with voices clear and melodic (they are very mod­est about their singing, but it is known that the islanders have a par­tic­u­lar tal­ent).  After the ser­vice there were snacks of fresh fruit such as green tan­ger­ines and bananas set up out­side for us, which was an ini­tial taste of the gen­eros­ity which we were to expe­ri­ence through­out our month there.

One of the goals of our class is to help pro­mote sus­tain­able prac­tices and edu­ca­tion about the man­grove forests on Kos­rae.  To do this, we planned a teacher work­shop where we could assist the teach­ers in devel­op­ing les­son ideas as well as pro­vid­ing addi­tional knowl­edge about why man­groves are impor­tant to the health of the island. Although I (sadly) missed the actual work­shop because I was sick, I got the oppor­tu­nity to teach a cou­ple of Kos­raen women the same mate­r­ial, and the exchange of infor­ma­tion that took place was very enlight­en­ing for all of us.


Through­out our sci­en­tific endeav­ors we began to become more acquainted with peo­ple who helped to guide us or work with us through our stud­ies.  One man in par­tic­u­lar, named Erik, is the head forester of the island and proved to be par­tic­u­larly spe­cial to every one of us stu­dents.  As we spent quite a bit of time vis­it­ing with him we got to know him and his fam­ily.  As we were prepar­ing to say good­bye on our last week he invited us to his house for a ‘party’.  As I arrived I saw four tables full of tra­di­tional Kos­raen food which he and his fam­ily had pre­pared for us.  He had hand caught lob­ster, reef fish, and man­grove crabs for us, as well as catch­ing a tuna for some fresh sashimi.  The amount of effort on their part to pro­vide us with this uniquely gen­er­ous expe­ri­ence was one that I will remem­ber forever.

I also got the oppor­tu­nity to meet a num­ber of peo­ple on the island through my 24 hour home­s­tay with a fam­ily in the vil­lage of Malem.  I was excited to learn that the father of my home­s­tay fam­ily was an envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist, and so it was very easy for us to become acquainted and build good con­ver­sa­tion.  How­ever, the major­ity of my time was spent with his chil­dren and their cousins, who were so excited to have us stay.  They showed us all of their favorite spots to play, as well as games that they enjoy and they even attempted to teach us how to speak Kos­raen (I now think it was so that they could gig­gle at our poor pro­nun­ci­a­tion).  They were absolutely adorable, and we were all sad to part ways.


Dur­ing our trip the islander’s cel­e­brated one of their biggest hol­i­days, Lib­er­a­tion Day.  They invited us to join in with their parades and games, and they sat us with their elders as guest of honor while we spec­tated.  Every­body was light­hearted and hav­ing so much fun, and it was pleas­ant to see such a large group of peo­ple inter­act­ing with each other in such a care­free (yet at times slightly mis­chie­vous) way.  As women and men par­tic­i­pated in games, there was some play­ful sab­o­tage (I am fairly sure I got hit in the back by a fly­ing flip-flop after I passed a laugh­ing Kos­raen woman in the race)… The sec­ond Lib­er­a­tion Day cer­e­mony was par­tic­u­larly spe­cial to us because we were joined by the Gov­er­nor of Kos­rae, who later made it a point to attend our final banquet.


This trip has taught me that some of the best expe­ri­ences that you have in life are the ones that you don’t antic­i­pate. I knew that I was going to ‘expe­ri­ence a new cul­ture’, but I had no idea how much it would warm my heart and how impor­tant and enrich­ing it would be for all of us collectively.

Kulo Malu­lap (thank you) for reading!

Link for more pictures:


Türkiye Cumhuriyeti welcomes You!

10/7/2014 Blog by Damian Kash­fia, UW Both­ell IAS: Global Stud­ies, Bogazici Uni­ver­sity Exchange

One month has passed since I left Seat­tle for Istan­bul, pop­u­la­tion 14 mil­lion. For so long, I have wanted to get away from Wash­ing­ton and really immerse myself in a new envi­ron­ment and oh man, I def­i­nitely think I accom­plished that.

Ankara may be the cap­i­tal of Turkey, but Istan­bul is truly where the action takes place. The eco­nomic and cul­tural cen­ter of the coun­try, Istan­bul is always evolv­ing, the city itself is the def­i­n­i­tion of change. Every­where I go, I con­stantly see the new and old in an embrace; cen­turies old build­ings lined up next to beau­ti­fully designed high-rises hold­ing offices to multi-national com­pa­nies and banks, peo­ple shop­ping in brand new shop­ping cen­ters mush­room­ing around the city then going to a cafés that have been around for over 100 years, etc. It may be a cliché, but Istan­bul is truly an East meets West city. To gain an idea of the atmos­phere of the city, just imag­ine Europe and the Mid­dle East hav­ing a baby. It’s really a cool sight to see such con­trasts as women dressed con­ser­v­a­tively abid­ing by mod­est dress pre­scribed by Islam stand next to adver­tise­ments with scant­ily class, or hear­ing the call to prayer from mosques as peo­ple sip fine Turk­ish wines from local eater­ies. Need­less to say, Turkey is quite a dif­fer­ent place from the U.S., at least from Seattle.


Istan­bul, Turkey

A Brief Overview of my First Month          

When I landed at Ataturk Inter­na­tional, my first thought was how was I sup­posed to leave the air­port because for the first time in my life, there was no one by my side to help me out and no one wait­ing to pick me up when I landed. Once I exchanged some dol­lars into Turk­ish liras, I went out and some­how man­aged to com­mu­ni­cate with a very friendly taxi dri­ver who spoke next to no Eng­lish and sim­ply gave him the address of my apart­ment. 2 and a half hours and God knows how many traf­fic jams later, I reached what was to become my new home. There to greet me was my Turk­ish room­mate, Eyup, who has since become one of my friends, in fact I could safely say he was my first friend here.

turkey 2

My neigh­bor­hood

For the first few days after I landed, I went out just around the area of the apart­ment located in a nice, mid­dle class area close to the tallest build­ing in Turkey, Sap­phire. The neigh­bor­hood, located in the area known as Kagithane, is in my opin­ion a nice area filled with a plethora of shops, cafes, gro­cery stores, bak­eries, and small restau­rants, all within walk­ing dis­tance of the apart­ment and only a 12 minute walk from the metro sys­tem. What I’m really look­ing for­ward to is the open­ing of the metro line for Bogazici Uni­ver­sity, so then I can just take the metro instead of the bus, but then again I’m not com­plain­ing about a 30 minute bus ride either com­pared t over an hour back in Washington.

turkey 3

Sur­prise birth­day party with new friends

Thank­fully after about a week, my slump felt to be com­ing to an end. As the days pro­gressed, my room­mate began tak­ing me out (he’s 29 and told to me that he is see­ing me more as his lit­tle brother than his room­mate) and show­ing me around, even intro­duc­ing me to some of his friends. Then my Ger­man room­mate, Tobi, came from Cologne. When he arrived, things really began to pick up as we began going out more and meet­ing more exchange stu­dents, a major­ity of which seemed to be com­ing from Ger­many. I don’t know why, it may have to do with the large Turk­ish pop­u­la­tion in Ger­many, but it seems that Ger­man stu­dents are really attracted to Turkey.  After some days had passed, I had already devel­oped my cir­cle of friends and with­out me even think­ing such a thing was pos­si­ble here, they had orga­nized a sur­prise party for me for my 20th birth­day which I orig­i­nally thought would be the first birth­day I spend alone! I really could not believe what had just hap­pened. It was really one of the coolest things I couldn’t even have thought of.

As the days, I began going out more and social­iz­ing and meet­ing up with new friends. I was really start­ing to explore the city and develop a life of my own in Istan­bul.  And before the semes­ter was about to begin, a large group of exchange stu­dents, includ­ing some of my friends and myself, took a trip to the Cap­pado­cia region in east­ern Turkey.

tureky 25

Cap­pado­cia, Cen­tral Turkey


The trip started out a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, but quickly took a turn for the bet­ter and it was a beau­ti­ful area filled with amaz­ing designs and land­scapes designed by Mother Nature her­self. One of the best things about this trip was not only see­ing a new face to Turkey, but also devel­op­ing stronger con­nec­tions I had already estab­lished with oth­ers, and in some cases, cre­at­ing new ones as well.

Bebek, near university

Bebek, near university

Once we came back, the semes­ter imme­di­ately began and I can hon­estly say it wasn’t a drag at all. Bogazici Uni­ver­sity is an incred­i­bly beau­ti­ful uni­ver­sity, and great part of this is due to loca­tion, loca­tion, loca­tion. The uni­ver­sity is located on a cliff over­look­ing the Bospho­rus Strait from the uni­ver­sity derives its name (Bogazici lit­er­ally means Bospho­rus in Turk­ish, hence Bospho­rus Uni­ver­sity).  The area the uni­ver­sity is in is also great, sur­rounded by count­less cafes, shops, and restau­rants, so when you fin­ish your classes there is really no rush in going back home when you can soak in the laid back atmos­phere of the area. My pro­fes­sors all seem to be personable

View from Bogazici University

View from Bogazici University

peo­ple as well, very fun and engag­ing which makes the classes enjoy­able and makes all of us in the class actu­ally want to participate.

All in all, my intro­duc­tory time to Turkey is def­i­nitely going to be some­thing I will never for­get through the tri­als that I was put through and the new life I devel­oped on my own. I can con­fi­dently say that if this first month has been a sign of any­thing, it’s that there will be count­less sur­prises, both good and not so good, that await me in my one year here.

Until next time!





Of Soul and Seoul

Blog writ­ten by Valerie Cortes, Class of 2015, Media and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies. Study abroad–South Korea

valerie cortes photo for blogMy study abroad trip to South Korea mainly focuses on Seoul and how its peo­ple and tech­nol­ogy inter­twine. There is this spe­cial rela­tion­ship between the city itself, its inhab­i­tants, and the tech­nol­ogy that merges the two together. Both are part of the impor­tant cul­tural dynam­ics found not only in Seoul but all of South Korean cul­ture. The mix of old and new can be seen in this dynamic and inno­v­a­tive coun­try that also main­tains impor­tant parts of its cul­tural past.

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Time to Reflect~

With a lit­tle over a month gone by I feel that it is appro­pri­ate to do some reflec­tions. The best way to describe what it is like to live in a for­eign coun­try for a month would be to say that the first week feels like your entire life, and every day after that is made up of less hours in the day.

My first day in Bergen felt chaotic, relax­ing, insane, dan­ger­ous.. just a pile of emo­tions. I remem­ber look­ing out of my win­dow and star­ing at the water and moun­tains and city lights and think­ing to myself that this will be what I see every­day. In other words, it will be home. As I stare out of my win­dow it seems impos­si­ble that the girl I was a month ago has trans­formed into the girl I am today, and that when I look out my win­dow for the last time in four months I’ll be think­ing the same thing.

This month has brought me so many beau­ti­ful moments and just as many obsta­cles. One of the most impor­tant lessons I have learned while being here is that the effort you put into some­thing is what you will receive. Every­one should go out of their way and find a way to get what you want.

The beauty in Bergen can­not be beat. Above we have the view from Mt. Floyen dur­ing the sun­set. The pic­ture does this no jus­tice. I can say that when I get back to the US I’ll have some neat look­ing calfs from all the hik­ing adven­tures that are offered here! Below is a pic­ture at the top of Mt. Floyen! You won’t have to look far for some troll and witch action here!

One of the most invig­o­rat­ing feel­ings is know­ing that I can nav­i­gate a com­pletely for­eign place. Walk­ing around with a map in my hand at all times for the first week feels like a life­time ago. Walk­ing into the gro­cery store and see­ing such a high price for every sin­gle item, rang­ing from 22 NOK to 100 NOK, I was ner­vous to buy any­thing! Learn­ing how to under­stand another cur­rency on top of under­stand­ing the lan­guage has changed quite a lot since I’ve been here. I can now under­stand the prices of things, where to go to find the cheap­est price for a cer­tain item, and what is rea­son­able on Norway’s terms for some­thing. I am also sur­prised at how much Nor­we­gian I can take in and reply to (in English)!

With such a short time liv­ing in Bergen I feel as though the things that I have come to value the most are things you can­not buy. Being here has made me think about every­day strug­gles in a way I always over­looked before. Mak­ing con­nec­tions with other peo­ple has been one of the hard­est tasks while study­ing abroad. I have come to have a new appre­ci­a­tion and kind­ness to peo­ple. This month has brought me to a place that allows me to open up eas­ier then I ever have before. Not only have I been able to iden­tify the bet­ter ways in which I can inter­act with peo­ple more, but the way to bet­ter present your­self to the world. I have learned to grow into the per­son that I really am as a twenty year old woman, rather then a lost teenager enter­ing col­lege not know­ing what I want to do in the world.

 Quote of the day: 

We are very good at prepar­ing to live, but not very good at liv­ing. We know how to sac­ri­fice ten years for a diploma, and we are will­ing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have dif­fi­culty remem­ber­ing that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.” –Unknown

Over­all, from the moment I stepped off the plane and could not find my way around the air­port I knew that things were going to change very fast here in Nor­way. They have, but mostly I have. With the expe­ri­ence I have had so far I am able to push myself in ways I never knew were pos­si­ble. For the first time in my life my only respon­si­bil­ity is to enjoy and con­quer Europe, study hard, eat well, and take the time to stay out­side of my room as much as pos­si­ble! The finan­cial, men­tal, and phys­i­cally strug­gle that I have faced here seems insignif­i­cant to the greater pur­pose. I guess money can buy hap­pi­ness ;) because it sure can buy plane tickets!!!

Forest, meet the group…group, meet the forest — August 31st and September 1st

Day Six: Intro­duc­tory Hikes

Our first cou­ple of days at Cocha Cashu were spent get­ting our bear­ings, and for good rea­son. Cocha Cashu is so remote and the for­est is so untouched that it comes as a bit of a shock. The 31st of August was an easy hik­ing day.

We woke up nice and early for our first hike (though much later than we were used to, at that point — we nearly fell over when they told us that we weren’t meet­ing until 7:00AM). We were all required to wear rub­ber boots while out in the wilder­ness, so I donned my absolutely ridiculous-looking white boots that I bought in Cusco. Pretty much every­one bought there’s in Cusco, but theirs were black and yel­low. Me, being my father’s daugh­ter and there­fore an incred­i­ble cheap indi­vid­ual, decided to go for the white boots that were two or three soles cheaper. Suf­fice it to say, I got teased a bit — but all in good fun, of course!

We split up into groups after break­fast. One group went with Ursula to explore the area north of the sta­tion, and my group went south with Tim. We worked our way beyond the tents, into the thicker veg­e­ta­tion, and even­tu­ally into swamp­land. Along the way, we were intro­duced to dozens of plants, insects, and spi­ders. At one point, Tim caught a beau­ti­ful Blue Mor­pho but­ter­fly and held it up for us to see clearly. They’re sim­ply enor­mous! He also caught the much smaller Glass-Winged But­ter­fly. Through­out the hike, we were focus­ing on plant adap­ta­tions, par­tic­u­larly in the swampy areas. We dis­cussed why all leaves in the rain­for­est had “drip tips”, why only some trees have but­tresses, and how plants com­pare to oth­ers. For me, it was a new aca­d­e­mic expe­ri­ence; I’m not a sci­ence major, after all. I strug­gled to keep up with the Latin names of plants, but I was deter­mined to learn more!

Later in the day, our group went with Ursula and did the same thing in a new area. We talked a lot about ter­mites, the Solanaceae fam­ily (tomato, egg­plant, bell pep­per, etc.), and plant pre­da­tion. We also got to see some incred­i­ble mon­key activ­ity right above our heads! We all went to our tents com­pletely exhausted that night, and fell asleep to the itch­ing of bug bites and the lul­laby of the jungle.


Day Seven: Intro­duc­tion to Bird Watching

And on the sev­enth day, Ursula said.…let us watch birds.


Any­way, the first of Sep­tem­ber was devoted to the birds! We got up very early and split into three groups, who all went in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. My group started in the canoes with our TA, David. The canoes are these shaky, hard-seated cedar canoes — I’ll talk a whole lot more about those once we get to our research projects. For today, we took these canoes out for nearly two and a half hours before break­fast and enjoyed watch­ing the sun come up over the lake. 


Dur­ing our time out there, we got to finally see the Giant River Otters up close. They were too quick to get good pic­tures of, but they popped up around us a few times before becom­ing bored with us and head­ing north. We also observed Jacanas, Hoatzins, Dona­co­bius, Green Ibis, Scar­lett Macaws, Blue and Gold Macaws, a Red Capped Hawk, Tiger Heron, and many other bird species. Like I men­tioned in an ear­lier post, I was get­ting really into birds at this point. I think the fact that I strug­gled so much with the plant names but under­stood the bird names made them that much more excit­ing to observe. Not to men­tion that they were all beau­ti­ful and so dif­fer­ent than the birds at home.

After break­fast, we went with the next group. For us, that was mist net­ting with Ursula. She taught us how to han­dle, take out, clean, put away, trans­port, and set up the nets. Once we had been edu­cated, we headed out into the field to put our new knowl­edge to the test. We found our spot in the woods, set up our nets, and left them overnight. It wouldn’t be until the next day that we actu­ally got to try catch­ing birds and study­ing them.

The day wasn’t long enough for a three-part rota­tion, so my group would be bird-watching with Tim the fol­low­ing day. The rest of this day was spent tak­ing a botany class in which we learned how to inquire about and iden­tify plant char­ac­ter­is­tics. Again, I really strug­gled, but I’ve come home with a bunch of new knowl­edge about plants and I want to learn even more.


Leaving for Cocha Cashu — August 29th and 30th

Day Three: Travel by Boat

Me and my tent-mate were woken up around 4:00AM by the sound of bib­li­cal rain. And I mean BIBLICAL. I’ve heard sto­ries about heavy rain, but this exceeded even those. It sounded as if the Blue Angels were some­how hov­er­ing over our heads for an hour and a half. At one point, I thought the world might be end­ing. At another, I was sure that we were in dan­ger. But every­thing turned out fine — in fact, you might say things turned out bet­ter than they oth­er­wise would have, since the height of the river rose nearly a meter! When we all (offi­cially) got up, we boarded a boat on this river and were thank­ful that our chances of hav­ing to push the boat over shal­lows was decreased.

The boats, which were large, cov­ered canoes with motors, car­ried all of us in two groups deep into Manu National Park. As we pushed on, civ­i­liza­tion became sparser and veg­e­ta­tion denser. Even­tu­ally, no other boats or houses were able to be seen — only thick, dark for­est. We made a few bath­room stops on beaches (not much pri­vacy through­out this trip…) and looked for ani­mal tracks in the sand and mud. At one point, we found fresh ocelot tracks.

One of our stops was at a very remote town called Boca Manu. Here, we were sup­posed to present our vac­ci­na­tion cards to a doc­tor and get approved to go deeper into the park. We waited for hours for the doc­tor to show. Dur­ing these hours, we became well-acquainted with the gnats of Peru, which are not at all like the ones here at home. These ones bite…and itch. They’re also every­where; nearly impos­si­ble to escape. When they bite you, they take out of a vis­i­ble chunk of skin and leave behind a con­gealed spot of blood. The group impa­tiently waited for the doc­tor, swat­ting and grunt­ing at the gnats the whole time. Once the doc­tor finally came, we were dis­ap­pointed to find out that he had no inter­est in see­ing proof of the vac­ci­na­tions we paid a lot to get. He was much more con­cerned about us wear­ing sun­screen. To be clear, though, DO make sure that you get your vac­cines when trav­el­ing to Peru and other sur­round­ing coun­tries! Not only for your own safety, but for the sake of the indige­nous peo­ple that you have very real chances of run­ning into.

We left Boca Manu and prac­ti­cally cheered to have the gnats gone from the sur­round­ing air. We did, how­ever, take dozens of bites with us. My feet and ankles had some­where in the neigh­bor­hood of thirty bites.

After a full day of travel, we stopped at our lodg­ing for the night. This place, called Limonal, was a sta­tion off the bank of the river. Unfor­tu­nately for the group — which was com­posed of new adven­tur­ers, at this point — we arrived after night­fall. We started set­ting up our tents by the light of our head­lamps and quickly real­ized that the long grass we were set­ting up in was swarm­ing with insects. And I mean SWARMING. You could shine your light at any given spots and see a blur of hop­ping, fly­ing, and sprint­ing crea­tures. We got our tents up quickly, ate our din­ner with an air of para­noia, and dove into our tents for sleep. My tent-mate and I spent a num­ber of min­utes check­ing the nooks and cran­nies of the tent for any crit­ters. Alas, there were a hand­ful of grasshop­pers, but we let them stay, since they were the least of our con­cern. We slept pretty hard that night, though we prac­ti­cally fell asleep itch­ing gnat bites.


Day Four: Travel by Boat…again!

We got up at the break of dawn and set out for our final des­ti­na­tion: Cocha Cashu Bio­log­i­cal Research Sta­tion. We ate our break­fast of eggs and rice, packed up our tents, and were on the boat once more. This time around on the boat, we were to take a wildlife sur­vey for the whole ride. Over the course of the eight or nine hours we spent on that ride, I learned how to iden­tify a large num­ber of bird species, even from a dis­tance. Horned Scream­ers, Yellow-billed Terns, Large-billed Terns, Road­side Hawks, Black Vul­tures, Greater Yellow-headed Vul­tures, Turkey Vul­tures, Mus­covy Ducks, four kinds of par­rot, five kinds of macaw, Orinoco Geese, and many more. That was my absolute favorite part of this sec­tion of the trip: learn­ing that I had a knack for bird iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. I can see myself get­ting into bird-watching later in life.

Along the way, we also got to spot a White Caiman, Wooly Mon­keys, and Spi­der Mon­keys. It was a beau­ti­ful day. You hardly notice that you’ve been sit­ting for nine hours on those boats. There’s so much to look at, and you’re acutely aware that you could spot some­thing amaz­ing at any given moment.

In the early evening, we made it to Cocha Cashu. We had to hike our things about half a kilo­me­ter from the beach to the sta­tion. It’s a beau­ti­ful area — the

kitchen is spa­cious and clean, the bath­house has plenty of room

for stor­age, the show­ers are clean and mod­ern, and the library makes for a nice quiet area. After every­thing was brought in, we were assigned to tent plat­forms. K

ellen, Haley and I set up our stuff on our plat­form quickly and made it back to the com­mon area with time to spare. The light was amaz­ing — you would look up through the trees and see shim­mer­ing leaves, puffy clouds, and a Squir­rel Mon­key or two. The lake was calm and quiet.

We all went on a short hike to get intro­duced to the veg­e­ta­tion sur­round­ing the sta­tion. We talked about plant species and the his­tory of the land. The flood­plains used to be under water a lit­tle over 100 years ago, but once the river broke off and formed the lake, the flood­plains burst to life with tons of inter­est­ing species. We talked for hours about the plants’ adap­ta­tions to the envi­ron­ment. Tim, the other pro­fes­sor, caught a cou­ple but­ter­flies and let us look at them closely. The hike was an adven­ture in and of itself.

That night, we were wel­comed by a few researchers at the sta­tion. They told us that we were incred­i­bly priv­i­leged to be there — a state­ment that I know under­stand the weight of. In the 40 years that Cocha Cashu has existed, fewer than 5,000 peo­ple have been there. It is truly one of the most remote and untouched places on the planet.

We went to bed feel­ing blessed…and acutely aware of how iso­lated we all were.


The Return Home from Japan

It’s been a few days since I got­ten back from Japan and I have one thing to point out first. That point is “Jet Lag” is real. I thought jet lag was noth­ing more then a minor symp­tom that I could brush off. Going to Japan was easy to deal with jet lag, but after com­ing home from Japan, it’s been a dif­fer­ent story. It’s been a while since I trav­eled to another coun­try by plane and I don’t recall how I felt before. All I know is that next time I travel, I’ll set a few more extra days to take rest.

Besides the fact of jet lag, being in Japan was a great expe­ri­ence for me.  I learned so much about the cul­ture and his­tory that Japan has to offer. One thing I want to point out is that from my expe­ri­ence being in Japan, I notice that I’ve been an observer and inter­preter of the place. I’ve use my expe­ri­ence of being with Japan­ese peo­ple to be my inter­pre­ta­tion of the coun­try as a whole and then mak­ing an obser­va­tion from it. I learned that I should be more of an observer then inter­pret­ing things. It will help me learn more about a cul­ture and what not.

What also I took back from being in Japan is the many dif­fer­ent from being in Amer­ica. One of the big dif­fer­ence that I saw from being there is the idea of hos­pi­tal­ity. In Japan­ese it is called “Omote­nashi” and they really live up to that name. They attend to every­thing and treat guest like they are the pres­i­dent. It was kind of mind blow­ing wit­ness­ing this for myself when I was there. I mean, for my fam­ily we attend to our guest to the best of our abil­i­ties, but not in a level of Japan­ese hos­pi­tal­ity. There level of hos­pi­tal­ity is at the top com­pared to Amer­ica.  At the fam­ily house I was stay­ing at, I wanted to use my own towel in the bath­room. How­ever, they told me it’s okay and to use their towel. Of course I can not say no. I’m not sure if that would hap­pen here, but it defi­antly shows how atten­tive every­thing is in the house I was stay­ing at.

I’m really grate­ful for my time in Japan. I hope to go back for visit with a big­ger intent to explore more and  to visit many other pre­fec­ture there. My jour­ney doesn’t end with this, it will con­tinue to grow.


P.S. Here is one of my favorite pho­tos I took while in Japan. It is the Tokyo Sky Tree. It was truly amaz­ing and com­pa­ra­ble to the Space Nee­dle in Seat­tle. Except for the fact that it is 500 meters taller then the Space Nee­dle. I will upload more pho­tos as time progresses.




9/19/14 Fri­day

Tokyo!  It’s big, loud, and crowded!  We woke up and first thing, we got break­fast deliv­ered to our room.  We had a leisurely morn­ing, got dressed and headed out on an adven­ture!  Our hotel (Tokyo NUTS hotel) was amaz­ing and offered a portable wi-fi hotspot for $8 a day.  Since our data is roam­ing, this was a steal, so we got one.  First thing I wanted to see was the impe­r­ial palace and gar­dens.  We bought an all day “Tokyo Free” train ticket, gazed at a map for a while, punched our des­ti­na­tion into google maps, and jumped on a sub­way.  It was after rush hour, but the train still seemed busy to me.  All the trains all day seemed busy.  We got off at our stop, and set off.

We walked through an area with a bunch of muse­ums out­side the impe­r­ial palace.  They have found a bunch of mos­qui­toes lately that have dengue fever, so there were signs every­where say­ing “use mos­quito spray” or “wear long sleeves and pants!”.  We got through the park to the palace entrance.  It was closed, so we walked down to the next one.  That was closed too.  We kept walk­ing until we met two French gen­tle­men who had talked to the guard who said the palace was closed today.  I’m not sure why.  So, we sat down and fig­ured out that next we should head to a big shrine that one of my friends had told me about.

My sug­ars were get­ting a bit low at this point, so we stopped and grabbed a quick snack, then walked down to Tokyo Sta­tion.  It’s this beau­ti­ful old build­ing that is an inter­est­ing mix of east and west.  We took a quick peak inside and then jumped on another train.  We didn’t quite get all the way to the shrine before we passed a really neat look­ing shop­ping street.  We got off the train and wan­dered for a bit, got on a dif­fer­ent train and finally made it to the stop for the shrine.  The first thing we saw when we got off the train was a Burger King.  One of my friends from home had told me about a “black burger” that you can only get in Japan.  So, of course, we had to try it.

When we finally made it to the shrine, it was gor­geous, but crazy crowded and busy.  There is this long row of shops lead­ing up to it, and rows of men try­ing to get you to ride in a rick­shaw.  We wove our way up to the shrine.  It was a huge build­ing with these amaz­ing doors with gilded han­dles and hinges.  The ceil­ing had these amaz­ing paint­ings on it.  The actual shrines were spec­tac­u­lar.  Out the side door, there were a bunch of lit­tle sculp­tures and shrines all arrayed in a beau­ti­ful park­like set­ting.  Com­plete with a pond of koi.  There were women every­where dressed in kimono.  Two were tak­ing pic­tures of each other, so I asked if they would like me to take one of them together.  The were very thank­ful, and I asked if they would take one of us, and one with us.  They were delighted.  Then, they con­fided that they were from Tai­wan, and not   even Japan­ese!  It was fun.

We wan­dered down a bunch of ran­dom streets, and finally found a lit­tle shop to grab some lunch.  We came in, sat down and started to look at the menu.  There were no pic­tures, and no Eng­lish.  A really nice young man at the next table asked if we needed a trans­la­tion.  I said yes, and he told us what every­thing was.  Again, I am con­stantly amazed at how won­der­ful peo­ple are.  Jack had eel and soba, and I had chicken and soba.  Another amaz­ing meal.

After lunch, we made our way back to our hotel.  We were both over­whelmed and tired.  We took a nap, and at about 7 made our way to an Oki­nomiyaki restau­rant where we met Sunny fro din­ner.  Din­ner was fan­tas­tic.  After din­ner, we met up with a friend of Sunny’s who took us to Rop­pongi (another neigh­bor­hood in Tokyo) for some night­time action.  We met up with a gen­tle­man from East­ern Rus­sia and one from Lithua­nia.  We went to an Irish bar, got a drink and then tried to go to a dance club.  Funny thing about dance clubs in Japan, you can’t actu­ally dance in them.  Tech­ni­cally, if your club is the right size and you have gone through an appli­ca­tion process, peo­ple can dance, but this club said at the door, “No Dance. No Drugs.”.  Plus, I was wear­ing my adven­ture clothes (Chaco san­dals and North­Face capri pants) and the bouncer wouldn’t let me in.  Which I was a lit­tle thank­ful for.  At this point it was 11, and the trains stop run­ning at mid-night.  So, we said good-bye and thanks to the other guys, and Jack and I headed back to our hotel.  It was a crazy busy day.


Good-bye Matsuyama, Hello Tokyo!

9/18/14 Thurs­day

All the Amer­i­cans leave Matusyuma toady.  A few of us will hang out in Japan for a few more days, but not together.  It’s so strange to think that the pro­gram is over.

I woke up, did one last quick run to Dogo Onsen for some last minute pur­chases, and ran back to the share house for break­fast.  We had to return our bikes by 10, so I woke Sunny and Jack up (they were out late, or early depend­ing on how you look at it) and we headed to Ehime.  We dropped our bikes off, said thank you and good buy to the inter­na­tional sup­port staff, and walked back to the share house.  We stopped at the gro­cery store one last time for a quick snack, got back to the share house and got packed.

Ruth-sensai got to the share house at 11:30 with tax­ies, and we were out the door.  A few last minute self­ies with the Japan­ese stu­dents and we divided into two big vans and were off to the air­port.  Sayako brought Van and Tom out to occupy some of their time (they leave tomor­row) and to say good-bye.  All the Amer­i­cans got checked in, and started going through secu­rity.  Our flight was delayed, so Jack, Sunny and I grabbed a quick lunch before going through.  Then we said our final good-bye to Ruth-sensai, Tanaka-sensai, Sayako, Van and Tom.  It was really hard.  I thanked them all pro­fusely for the won­der­ful time.  I told Van I would come to Viet­nam and visit her.  She was excited and said that that way, she would have an excuse to go do stuff with­out her par­ents per­mis­sion.  Ruth told me to come back and help develop a power sys­tem for the lit­tle fish­ing vil­lage.  I told her after I grad­u­ate, I’m all about it.

We went through secu­rity and got on the plane.  It was a pretty short flight, but Jack and I slept the whole way.  We got to Narita and every­one who was not stay­ing had to rush off to catch their next flight.  Jack and I were busy try­ing to fig­ure out how to get to our hotel, so we missed say­ing good-bye.  But it’s ok, I’ll see them in a week or so.

Matt, Amanda, Sunny, Jack and I are stay­ing in Shin­juku, a neigh­bor­hood in Tokyo.  Matt and Amanda wanted to take the bus, but Sunny, Jack and I opted for the train.  With only a small amount of dif­fi­culty, we fig­ured out what train we needed, and got on board.  We sat next to a man from Vir­ginia (orig­i­nally from Aus­tralia I think), who was com­ing to do busi­ness in Kyoto and explore Tokyo a bit and another young man who had stud­ied in Tokyo, gone home, and was now tak­ing a semes­ter off to hang out in Tokyo more.  They were really nice and help­ful.  They told us were, and we got off at the right sta­tion, made a con­nec­tion, and some­how got to Sunny’s hotel.  From there, we got direc­tions from the lady at the front desk, and again, some­how made it to our hotel.

Our hotel is awe­some.  It’s about 2 blocks from the train sta­tion, 4 blocks from all sorts of action, and on a quiet lit­tle street.  We are on the 7th floor (the top) in a beau­ti­ful lit­tle room.  We got semi-situated, and went out to grab din­ner.  We wan­dered a few blocks and ended up at a Turk­ish restau­rant.  It was this tiny lit­tle shop, long and thin, and it was absolutely deli­cious.  After din­ner, we wan­dered a few more blocks, then headed back to the hotel and headed for bed.  It has been a long, emo­tional day.  And we’ll need our sleep because tomor­row, we explore Tokyo!


Local Artist

9/17/14 Wednes­day

The stu­dents from Indone­sia and Turkey leave today :-(   But much must hap­pen first.  Jack, Amanda, Matt and I met up with Ruth-sensei to go to a fab­ric mak­ing museum.  We rode about half an hour by bike across town.  It was a cool old museum.  Inside they had a life size model of an old farm house with thatched roof.  It was prob­a­bly 2 feet thick!  Then, there were a bunch of dif­fer­ent kinds of old looms.  It was crazy how much work went into mak­ing fab­ric in the old days!  First, they used to string it out, they lay out a design, dye the string, then weave it on the loom.  It was crazy!  The, we got to see the big vats of indigo dye that they used to use.  It smelled ter­ri­ble.  But the color is gor­geous.  At the end of the museum, there is a lit­tle shop, but noth­ing there was made there, which was a lit­tle disappointing.

After the museum, Jack and I stopped at a second-hand shop, which turned out to be all stuff from Amer­ica.  It was really weird.  But also fas­ci­nat­ing.  Japan­ese young peo­ple love Amer­i­can clothes.  After this, we stopped by a Big Boy, which is a restau­rant that Jack used to go to in Cal­i­for­nia.  It was inter­est­ing that there was a lit­tle statue in front that was hold­ing a try of Japan­ese food.  I won­der if the on in Amer­ica holds Amer­i­can food?

On the way back to the share house, we stopped at the mar­ket and grabbed bento boxes and sushi.  We took it back to the share house and ate with a bunch of other peo­ple.  At 2, we had to be on cam­pus for a clos­ing cer­e­mony.  The direc­tor of the school came and gave us all cer­tifi­cates for com­plet­ing the pro­gram.  It was really nice.  Then we all had to do our final pre­sen­ta­tions.  It was cool that even though we all had to present on the same things, dif­fer­ent infor­ma­tion was pre­sented by every­one.  Every­one did a really great job.

Then, they had a lit­tle party for us with lit­tle sand­wiches, sweets and tea.  A few of the fam­i­lies even showed up.  It was really nice.  There were a lot of self­ies taken.  Then, we headed back to the share house so peo­ple could get ready to go.  I wanted to make a lit­tle present for Ruth-sensei, so Jack and I ran to the store really fast.  No one was gone yet when we got back, so I had every­one sign the pic­ture frame I had got­ten.  I think she’ll like it.

Then we had to send off Ardy, Jen, Nadia and Tolga.  It was really sad.  I’m so very glad I met them.  They are all dif­fer­ent, and all won­der­ful.  I hope with all my heart that we will remain friends.

After they left, Van, Matt, Amanda and I had been invited to Sayako’s home to meet her mother and father and have din­ner.  So we went to do that.  Her father made us all din­ner in the home that they had just had re-modeled.  It was beau­ti­ful.  And din­ner was great.  Sayako’s father showed us some of his work.  He makes these amaz­ing lit­tle carv­ings.  There is a world for thine in Japan­ese.  They were orig­i­nally made to hang from one end of a string with a coin pouch on the other end that you can hang from the wrap on your kimono.  Appar­ently, there are peo­ple through­out the world that col­lect these.  They were incred­i­ble.  We asked how much each cost.  At first, he told us it was a secret.  He said that each one takes about a month to make.  Finally, he told us that each is about 90000 JPY, which is about $900.

After din­ner and a lit­tle chat­ting, Sayako took us to an onsen in the town she grew up in.  It was unbe­liev­able.  It cost 800 JPY (about $8) but it was worth every penny.  Men and women were sep­a­rate.  There were two big pools inside, but then you walk out­side.  WOW.  Against the far wall there are three indi­vid­ual tubs, kind of like half wine bar­rels.  Then, a huge hot lagoon, with a cave and a few islands.  There was even an exer­cise pool you could walk laps in!  Then, a long row of recliner bed with dif­fer­ent lev­els of jets, a cold pool and a huge sauna.  It was so much fun and so so so relaxing.

After the hot springs, Sayako took us back to the share house.  It was such a won­der­ful evening.  I got home, talked with Jack and Sunny, and headed for bed.  They are headed out for an evening on the town.  Our last night here!