Last weekend, I left the Midlands. Weeeeee. It was through a uni organized trip so we got to tour around more Western-Southern England.
We traveled in a group of about 20 other international students and had a professional tour guide who was an absolute riot.
Our first stop was the shining city of Bath. The Romans built the great baths to pay homage to the city and they took baths there. We got to do audio tours because our tour guide was not allowed in. I learned so much about Bath that it’s actually ridiculous. If you want to learn about Bath, I’m your girl.
I had the most fun traveling, getting to know the beautiful country of Germany in great detail, and experiencing all the wonderful opportunities it had to offer. I traveled all around the country and visited many different places including Neuschwanstein Schloss in Füssen (the castle Disney based Cinderella’s Castle on) and Oktoberfest in München, and have tried lots of authentically German foods including Schnitzel, Black Forest Cherry Cake from its origin town Baden Baden, and Mannheim’s own Spaghetti Eis (ice cream made to look like spaghetti).
Mannheim is a very beautiful city and I am very glad to have chosen to go there. The Wasser Turm is a key symbol of the city, and proves much more beautiful in person than in photos. And while many of the other, older building were destroyed during the war, Mannheim still amazed me with its beauty every day. The fact that I attended University in a Palace certainly helps that.
In addition to the beauty, another wonderful aspect of living in Mannheim was the transportation. Mannheim has a wonderful public transportation system consisting of Buses, Trams, and Trains that can take you anywhere you could want to go. Because Mannheim is a fairly large city, the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is a main stop for ICE trains, essentially bullet trains, which makes going places like even easier, and much faster. It was by one of these trains that a friend and I were able to travel to Switzerland to go skydiving!
I also made a number of new friends while in Germany. With my friends I had wonderful adventures, going out onto town together and travelling. The nightlife in Mannheim is very active, and created a great opportunity for social bonding. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel abroad in Germany, and will remember this experience for the rest of my life.
This is one of my first pictures of the Pantheon
Living in a large ancient city definitely took an adjustment. Most of the streets were windy and narrow without any sidewalks. Cars, mopeds, and pedestrians have to share the area. Navigating through all the streets was definitely a process and it was still easy to get lost. People’s driving was insane in Rome and parking was interesting. Cars would park on curbs, squeeze into tiny parking spots, and people would make their own spots wherever they pleased. There were so many changes (big and small) that took getting used to. However, it was amazing living in an ancient city and every day I grew to appreciate it more and more. One of my first days wandering around the city was with a group of people from my school and we were following a friend who was navigating us to the Trevi fountain. I did not have a map with me so I did not know where we were going or what was around us. As we turn a corner, all the sudden the Pantheon is right in front of us. This grand building commissioned by Agrippa in 126 AD! It is surreal thinking how old the building is and seeing it in the middle of a piazza. It became one of my favorite buildings and whenever I would cut through the middle of the city, I could count on passing by the Pantheon. Eventually I grew to love the ancient city that I called my home for a few months.
This picture was taken on one of our final days in Rome. We went around to see the Roman sites one last time
This is a photo of the Thanksgiving dinner that I prepared for myself while studying abroad in England. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because I love spending a cozy and relaxing day at home with my family. It was difficult to have my first Thanksgiving away from home in a different country, and without my close friends to help ease the homesickness. I found a way to celebrate the holiday with my flatmates (who had very specific dietary needs) by making vegan, nut-free pumpkin pies. It was funny to hear what my British flatmates thought about Thanksgiving, and their responses demonstrated some of the British/American tension that I experienced during my time abroad. For example, one girl asked if Thanksgiving was an “anti-British” holiday, at which point I explained to her that the pilgrims were actually British themselves. Luckily, none of my flatmates had ever eaten pumpkin pie before. so they didn’t know how wrong my attempt tasted!
I studied abroad in Kawagoe, Japan this past fall semester. Although there were many frustrating and trying times trying to integrate into a culture so vastly different from what I was accustomed too, it was so incredibly rewarding. I met many friends, both American and Japanese, and made so many great memories that I still reflect on from a day-to-day basis while back to my regular life at Willamette.
While there’s no possible way to share even a fraction of what I was able to see in my four months, one particularly fun trip was to the Kansai region, where cities like Kyoto present a more traditional and spiritual side of Japan, in contrast to the bustling cosmopolitan area of Tokyo where we lived. I was able to become close with the people in my program and see a lot of amazing sights. Here’s a few photos to document our 5 day journey:
Our first stop to Miyajima. Popularly known as “shrine island,” you might recognize the giant shrine gate that stands out in the middle of the water. Here, the tide was out, so you could actually walk over to it!
This is the “genbaku dome” in Hiroshima. This building was miraculously left standing after the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. It stands as a testament to this dark time in history in hopes that nuclear weapons will never be used in wartime again.
This is the “kinkakuji” or the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. It’s covered in gold leaf and resides on an island out in the middle of a giant lake/pond. Beautiful!
My personal favorite place was the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine a little ways outside of Kyoto. You might recognize these gates from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. There are hundreds of these gates that wend every which way and lead to thousands of shrines with statues of foxes, the messengers of Inari.
Group shot of the Japan Studies Program group at Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most well-known temples in Japan.
My host family showed me a flyer for an archery event at the park near our house. I convinced my friend Alyssa to go with me. The event was fun and the archery was amazing. The archers raced down a path and shot at three targets. They did this routine three times before the event ended. This event showed that the Japanese treasure tradition and also amazed me with Japan’s long history.
When my friend invited our mutual friend Kelsey and me to come to her house, I didn’t realize I’d get to make takoyaki. I’d eaten takoyaki before and really enjoyed it, and had been wanting to learn to prepare a Japanese dish. Takoyaki seemed like a good choice. After all how hard could making small round,fried batter with octopus inside be? As I quickly learned though the initial steps were easy, actually flipping the ball of dough was not. Thankfully my friends didn’t mind my ineptness and we ultimately ended up bonding even more while having a really fun time.
Older Jazz musicians from my hometown of New Orleans have proclaimed to me that the country to bring the next golden age of Jazz will be Japan. With this prediction in mind, I decided to go to a theme cafe where Jazz is not performed, but consumed. Milestone, a jazz cafe located just blocks away from of the Seibu Shinjuku Station took me to a different world from the crowds and excessive neon lights that the district is famous for.
Inside, we were greeted by an old man wearing a light kimono signaling for us to sit at any of the six tables in the slightly cramped room. Books about jazz lined one wall, while records occupied another. On the third wall sat a massive and ancient stereo system. With its old electric tubes and wires exposed, it played vinyl and CD’s of old American Jazz musicians. My friend at first tried to sit at a table where his back would face the speakers, but the host came and gestured for him to move. Aside from the music, there were no other sounds to be heard. The host tried his hardest to not speak—save for when he needed to tell us to buy an alcoholic drink. I am a music lover, but I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward sitting at attention in complete silence to a machine playing music for me. However, after a while I became immersed in the music and almost caught myself clapping at the end of a song. When the host was not making drinks or food, he flipped through crates of records and CD’s, deciding which song to play next. While we were there, an old salary man came in, quietly ordered a glass of wine, and then sat as close to the speaker as he could. For the rest of the night he sat there with his eyes closed and his head bobbing to the music.
We went with the entire group of exchange students to all of the touristy locations.
Somehow I never made it back. That is one of biggest regrets about my trip.
During a trip organized by a group of Turkish grads, we were stopped at a shady beach town.
We went exploring and found this coffee shop with a beautiful view of the water.
This experience was very reflective of my entire trip in that we always had to dig a little deeper in order find interesting things in certain areas.
This picture was taken very quickly because we were terrified of being criticized for being touristy and commodifying the culture. But we really loved the hats and wanted some documentation of it. This was a common trend of for cultural things we wanted to experience.
This is Lake Tuz, a massive salt lake. During the rainy months, the lake becomes a giant mirror. With only a few inches of water on the ground, you can walk across it. Unfortunately we weren’t there during that time but we still got to watch the sun rise over the hills surrounding the lake. I really want to go back during the raining season at some point though.
One of the most shocking things about my exchange were the amount of stray cats and dogs that littered the streets. The locals were disgusted by them and it was hard to watch them interact with them. I eventually became numb to it, but I never really got use to it.
This was one of the most exciting days of my exchange. We attracted a crowd of over 50 bystanders in the process of trying to recreate the final scene from Dirty Dancing for my photography class.
This was what they were looking at.
I went to Budapest for my birthday in December. It was the only time I was able to leave the country during my exchange because of issues with my residence permit. I’m so glad I chose to go to Budapest though because it is such a beautiful city. Also because Turkey is a Muslim nation, this was the only taste I had of Christmas this past year.