Quasi-Touring

One of the amazing things about study abroad is that it offers the opportunity to not just travel, visit, or tour a foreign country, but, to live in a foreign country. When I first arrived in France, I felt in a weird position; I didn’t feel quite like a tourist — I was running around trying to find my classes and way around a new city, getting lost, becoming acquainted with a new university, doing schoolwork, figuring out where to buy socks…and the like. These “tasks” were not like those in Seattle, in that, in Seattle I could go to Target to buy socks (and everything else I needed), and I knew how to get there. However, these “tasks” that I experienced during my first month or so here in Paris, were combined with a sort of quasi-Touring.

Occasionally, being lost would brighten my day. During my first week in Paris, I was frustrated and angry when I couldn’t find my way to the metro station — but where did I end up? Right along the Seine, staring across to see a giant building: The Louvre. Another day, I had a break during class so decided to take a walk down Boulevard Saint-Germain, a famous street just next to Sciences Po. Walking along, enjoying the sun, I came upon a park. It looked nice, so I entered and took a walk around. Later, I discovered that it was The Luxembourg Gardens; blissfully ignorant, I had walked around enjoying the flowers, ponds, and statues without a clue that I was in the famous gardens, with the French Senate building just next door. Not realizing where I was made the experience different in a way. I have been back to “Les Jardins du Luxembourg,” but will always remember that first time I walked through what to me was just a beautiful park.

While not quite a tourist, but not quite a resident, the first few days, weeks, sometimes even months in a foreign country are often comprised of a bizarre mix of “normal,” daily tasks, with that of your average tourist activities. What’s different is that you might find yourself stumbling upon the Eiffel Tower on your way to meet a friend, rather than seeking it out in a guide book.

 

UW Bothell Voices from Around the World

Blog by Aaron Huston, UW Bothell Environmental Studies Major, Study Abroad–Japan

     

                I’m a junior studying Environmental Studies and during spring break I studied abroad for 16 days through Ehime University in Matsuyama, Japan, to learn about the linkage between rural and urban communities and the need for sustainable agricultural practices in Japan.  I stayed in Ehime Prefecture in the city of Matsuyama, the largest city on the island of Shikoku with a population of over 500,000 people.  During my time in Japan I learned about their agricultural system, but that was only the beginning.  I learned about the government, culture, history, art, values and beliefs, food, architecture, people, and languages.  In a little over two weeks in Japan, I learned far more than I expected I would and it was the trip of a lifetime. 

                It might sound too clichéd to say that it was the best experience I have ever had in my life, but it’s the truth.  I don’t know how else to say it.  Nothing will ever compare to my time in Japan and it was the greatest experience.  Only those who were there in the program along with me know exactly what I mean when I say that there was more to Japan than just doing a study abroad program.  It became, if only temporarily, my way of life.  I left my busy life at home and started a new, exciting one in Japan.  I began life-long friendships with other students and professors and developed a new perspective being in a different culture

                Cooking and trying new foods was a crucial part of this program because being one of two UWB students going to Japan—along with Linda Cung—an open mind is definitely needed in a new culture.  It might be difficult for others to try raw fish, unheard of ingredients, or bad smelling foods.  But for me, food is my passion and I love trying new things.  Japan was perfect for me in that sense because I love sushi and I tried new kinds of fish that I can’t get in America at a local sushi bar.  I could care less of how bad the foods smell, what kind of random meat or vegetable was included in my meal, or if it was still moving.  Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was eating, but I can honestly say that there wasn’t one food that I didn’t enjoy. Upon my return, I went shopping at Uwajimaya and spent almost $150 on groceries so I could make Japanese food for myself!

                As I mentioned before, I was accompanied by another UWB student, Linda Cung, who is a senior studying Environmental Science, and we were the only two Americans in Ehime University’s program.  Eight Indonesian students from Yogyakarta and about six Japanese students were also in the program.  For the Indonesian students, it was their first time studying abroad and leaving their own country as well.  It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.  We lived together in a home-stay for about nine days in Matsuyama.  We cooked, cleaned, had lectures, shopped, slept in the same rooms, and spent every moment together as a group. 

                The hidden information about the study abroad program that should have been emphasized more is the cohesion of the different cultural backgrounds that would be present during the program.  This is what I found to be most valuable.  This was the first time I met Indonesians and I began to know them on a personal level.  Being with other students my age for 16 days, I know their pet peeves, their interests, their taste of music, their favorite and least favorite foods, their personality type, and their family and social life back at home.  Every single one of us became close friends and as the time got near to the end, there was sadness and depression among all of us because we would all be separated and going back to our “normal” lives again.

                Tears poured from everyone’s eyes when we had to leave to catch our flights back to our country.  Hugs, gifts, handshakes, and bows were exchanged and no one wanted to leave.  The Japanese students seem like the lucky ones because they get to stay in Matsuyama, but it’s not that much better for them because they had to watch us leave.  Who knows when I’ll be able to see my friends again, but I know someday I will.

                My 16 days in Japan was not enough time because I wanted to stay longer to continue learning more of the Indonesian and Japanese languages.  I wanted to stay with my friends there and travel with them more.  I wanted to experience more of the culture and learn more from the local villagers I met.  I saw numerous temples that were built with the highest quality of materials and were the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen.  The wood was hand carved which created magnificent figures of dragons, koi fish, samurais, gods and guardians, and beautifully created designs.  Being in the presence of something so spiritual and meaningful brought a Zen-like feeling.  I felt at home in Japan, especially during our time in the countryside where we spent the second half of our trip. 

                We stayed in Kawanouchi Village where we lived in old, traditional Japanese houses.  We lived in the village with the locals and worked on the rice paddy fields along with the non-profit organization whose efforts were to restore the terrace fields and to attract more city-folk to the countryside to see the real importance and value of sustainable agriculture.  The river flowed next to our house as if it were part of our backyard and we had our very own waterfall.  The cherry blossoms were in bloom, oranges were going on trees, and there were large mountains surrounding us with terrace fields every step of the way down.  I felt really in tune with nature and it was the greatest feeling being outdoors.  Living with the villagers and participating in their everyday activities was one of my favorite parts of my study abroad trip.

                We were invited to the monthly community meeting where the chiefs of the village attended and we all got to introduce ourselves in Japanese.  We learned previously in the program how to say a simple introduction of our name, university, and where we are from.  Later in the evening, we presented our projects, sang traditional songs, exchanged gifts, and ate the best tasting foods.  We made mochi with the villagers and their families and I didn’t know it would be so fun to make.  We also made soba noodles from scratch and I was told I was a natural at cutting the noodles at the perfect size.  Everyone I met was extremely nice, welcoming and everyone there had the warmest hospitality.  

                Before going to Japan, I thought I would get treated or looked at differently since I’m not Japanese.  I am white and I already stand out being 6′ 4″.  There was only one time I remember getting an awkward look from someone and a few people would laugh because I would hit my head on a lot walking through doorways.  Sometimes I saw shyness in people’s eyes and sometimes people were nervous to approach me, but they had so many questions and so many things they wanted to talk to me about.  In fact, Japanese people asked me about my personal life, about what I’m studying, my hobbies, the music I like, and the list goes on.  They were not shy at all and it seemed as if I have been friends with them for most of my life because we became close so quickly.  Within five minutes of meeting someone, we were already joking around and having a great time. 

                I loved the people I met in Japan and studying abroad was hands down the greatest experience I’ve had.  Being in a different routine every day, trying new things, meeting new people, and not stressing about life back at home made me the happiest I’ve ever been.  I loved not having to worry about checking my phone for text messages and missed calls.  It was a relief to not have to check emails and obsess with replying back right away, too.  Being outdoors in the countryside, meeting new people, and experiencing a new culture has dramatically enriched my life.  Studying abroad has changed my perspective and values towards social issues and I have come to realize more about myself.  I’m really motivated to travel even more and now I want to go back to Japan, and Indonesia, as soon as I can. 

                I thank UW Bothell and Ehime University for giving me the opportunity to study abroad because I couldn’t have had this life changing experience without the help of UWB’s amazing staff and student body.  I’m so grateful for everything and everyone and I have a desire to travel even more in the future.  I recommend studying abroad at the first chance you get and it doesn’t matter where you go.  Everyone deserves to have the experience I did and you will have the trip of a lifetime.   Arigatou gozaimasu!

–Aaron

UW Bothell Voices from Around the World

Blog by Chelsea Boren, UW Bothell Global Studies Major, Study Abroad–France

      

Bonjour à tous! Welcome to the UWB study abroad blog. My name is Chelsea and I’m spending the year in Paris. After never having travelled outside of the country (other than Vancouver), I found myself as a sixteen year-old going to France. It was whirl wind trip – nine days, including travel. As a small group of six from the Lake Stevens High School French class, plus a rather large group of 20 or so Texan high school students, we took the North of France by storm: cheese, wine, monuments, museums, the countryside and the city.

 Being in a truly foreign country for the first time was an experience like never before, and really, something I struggle to put into words. If you have had the experience of travelling outside of the country, remember that time when you first arrived on truly foreign ground. If not, imagine yourself in a place where all around you things sound different, look different, and often even taste different. The mind and body don’t know what to do! It’s like being a child, experiencing things from the first time, through all of the senses. I remember being in France for the first time – everything seemed amazing: the tiny cars, the people speaking French in the metro, the metro for that matter, the smell (ick!) of the cheese, the taste (yum!) of the cheese, and churches significantly older than our country. I can’t say I have ever lived as much in nine days as I did on that trip.

The end of August was the first time that I had travelled back to France, but the planning began two Novembers ago, at the beginning of my sophomore year. Wanting to travel again, especially to France, I saw study abroad as the perfect time to do so. I met with the UW International Programs and Exchanges office in Seattle to discuss possible study abroad opportunities. Ultimately, I narrowed my first choice to the direct-exchange program to Sciences Po in Paris for two reasons: the location and the program. The school, Sciences Po, is not only located in the heart of France, but the courses offered are perfectly aligned with my line of study: the social sciences. Further, the direct-exchange program means that tuition is paid directly to the UW, and remains the same (if you receive financial aid, it also applies). After being accepted to the program, one large challenge arose: how to finance studying in Paris. While tuition remains the same, Paris is among one of the most expensive cities in the world to live. After some thought, I had an idea: I knew of some friends who had “au paired” before – essentially, being a live-in nanny in a foreign country. Typically, Au Pairs receive full room and board, and often a small stipend. I posted my profile on aupair-world.net and took it from there. After interviewing with several families via Skype, I came upon the perfect situation: a family looking for a part-time, live-in au pair who would also be studying (most au pairs typically only au pair, and most families typically look for an au pair who can work full-time). 

I was thrilled at the opportunity because I now had a way to finance studying abroad. At the same time, I was extremely nervous. What if the family is crazy? What if they don’t like me? What if the decide they don’t want me at the last minute? Questions and fears buzzed in my head. I had Skyped, e-mailed, seen photos, and had a contract so I was nearly positive it would be a safe, good situation; but of course, until I was there in person, everything was a little bizarre.

However, upon arriving in France, my initial fears were gone. Amazing food, incredible wine, and a sunny, beautiful Paris have a way of putting one at ease. The family was warm, kind, and welcoming. At Sciences Po, I participated in a welcome program that helped to orientate me to the University. Not only did I learn about the University, take tours, etc., but more importantly, I met a ton of other exchange students. The welcome group organized nights out; with beers in hands, as excited and nervous exchange students we talked amongst ourselves, becoming fast friends in the city of light. I started each day and ended each night not quite sure of what would come next.

I have now been in Paris for just over seven months, and still, each day is different. While the initial challenges have been overcome (setting up a bank account, a cell phone plan, registering for classes, etc), new and exciting things seem to take place all the time. I should note, upon coming to France, I hardly spoke any French. Still, my French is nowhere near fantastic, but after a while your brain becomes a bit like a sponge – soaking up vocab, verbs, and the like. Foreign language adds to the craziness and amazement of being in another country. And I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s the new and challenging which makes study abroad an experience unlike any other.

On paper, I’m a Global Studies major from UWB studying topics ranging from political science, history, media studies, to international relations at Sciences Po Paris, but in reality, that doesn’t even begin to explain what it means to be an exchange student. Sure, I go to class, write papers, take tests, just like I would at UWB, but more than that, each day is a chance to interact with someone from a totally different culture, eat new food, go to a new museum, walk down a different street – see, hear, feel, smell, taste things new. I hope that through this blog, I can let you all in on some of the magic of this experience! À la prochaine!

– Chelsea