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Creating New Bonds in Japan »

When I decided to study abroad, I figured I would return having had the same experiences most other study abroad students have: a new perspective on life, improved language skills, etc. But my two most fond memories are not at all what I would have expected.

The first is living with a host family and having siblings for the first time. I am an only child, so moving into a home with three children under the age of 10 was an extreme change to say the least. I quickly learned how to play with them, anticipate their needs and decipher their speech (it isn’t always easy to understand children in the first place, let alone in a second language). It was challenging at times, especially when I would try to have time in my room by myself and still be able to hear them from the second floor of the house. But I came to delight in their giggles and smiling faces. I loved being able to joke around with my 9 year old host brother and laugh at his silly antics. I was amazed at the Lego castles and robots my 5 year old host brother would build for me on a daily basis. My heart melted the first time my 2 year old host sister ran into my arms for comfort when her brothers were bullying her. I had never before felt the bonds that siblings have and I have come home with a better understanding of them. I also developed a confidence in interacting with children that I didn’t have before.

The second is making friends I wouldn’t have otherwise ever met. Around halfway through our program, a large group of Japanese Studies Program (JSP) students took a trip to the Kansai area of Japan. On the island of Miyajima off the coast of Hiroshima prefecture, we stayed six to a room in a traditional style inn. We bonded immediately, getting to talk about more than the usual classroom banter and really got to know each other as people. I became close with two WU students I had only spoken to a few times and two students from different universities in particular. Once we returned to TIU and resumed classes, my new friends and I continued to go out together during our free time. We still talk on a daily basis, over a month after leaving Japan. I feel that participating in JSP and going on the Kansai trip fostered new bonds that could only have happened as a result of studying abroad.

In the end, I do feel like I have a new perspective on life in some ways, and I do feel that my Japanese language abilities have improved. But for me, studying abroad has helped gain a new branch of family in Japan and lifelong friends.

The London Theater-Going Experience »

View of the London Eye from the Millennium Bridge

The London Theater- Going Experience was one full of culture, sights, entertainment, and learning. The two plays I got to see at the Globe were A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth. On the way to Shakespeare’s Globe, I would walk across this bridge to get to the other side of the Thames river. The Globe is still located in what a Londoner in Shakespeare’s time would call “the liberties.” The London Eye is the big Ferris Wheel looking structure. From the top of that one can see all of London, but it is about forty quid for the opportunity! The view was always epic across the bridge, night or day, heavy winds and all. It is also the way to the Tate Modern!
Back to the plays! It was quite the experience to see Shakespeare’s plays in the place they were meant to be performed. The idea of standing on the ground floor through a three hour performance seemed exhausting. However, it proved to be one of the most engaging surroundings.

Kacey’s Blog Post »

This weekend was my first weekend in Angers! I started class on Wednesday, and I was more than ready to have a few days off to explore the town.

Thursday night there was a Soirée Française at the Soft Bar, close to the school. Everyone in the program was invited to wear colors of the french flag, and everyone who went got one free drink!

Thursday, after class, my friends, Caroline, Katie, Paige and I went to get a little bit of shopping done, and have some dinner before the soirée. We had a bit of trouble finding a place that served food, rather than drinks only, but we managed to find a pub that served sandwiches and quiches! My Croque Monsieur hit the spot, however the beer in France is a lot lighter in flavor than the beer in America! I have yet to try one that I really love.

Next we met the group to go to the Soft Bar. We each had our free drinks and got to know some of the other people from the program! My favorite parts of the night were getting hot french fries across the street, and singing Britney Spears and Party in the U.S.A. with the other students.

The next day, Friday was the night of the big show, Puy de Fou. The show was a little over an hour away, and it was incredible how many people were there. When we sat down in our seats in the outdoor arena, I could not believe how big the landscape was for the show!

The best way that I can describe the show is as a live-action film. The landscape looked a little like the shire from Lord of the Rings; There were windmills in the distance, a small house, rolling hills, cobblestone paths and a Castle at the center surrounded by a lake. The show told the history of a town, from when it was mostly peasant farmers to after World War II. There were hundred of actors who participated, and the music, lights, special effects, and fireworks were spectacular.

This weekend in Angers there is an Arts festival called les Accroche-Coeurs. Paige and I met Caroline for crepes and shopping before we went to see the show. We decided to see an acrobatic act at 8:30 pm, so we had time to grab an early dinner with Katie at a Tapas bar.

The show was great, however we left early because it was so cold!

All in all, my first weekend in Angers was AMAZING! I am loving the town and everything it has to offer.

The Most Important Lesson »

Before I went to Japan, I always used to say

“No, I’m not someone who does stuff like that.” I used to limit myself like that and tell myself that there were certain things that I would just never do because they “weren’t me”.

I was wrong. Japan was a whole new, exciting world. I’d been there three times before already, but never for longer than two weeks. I guess I’d never realized, even though I loved Japan so much, that there was so much left out there for me to explore.

Six hours of class by day and karaoke parties or shopping at night was an entirely different kind of lifestyle for me. I’d never lived in such an exciting way before. I’d always felt tied down by the rules I’d been raised with and expectations of good grades and good behavior looming over my shoulder. Now, in a completely different country, I was totally free. I could just hop on a train anywhere anytime I wanted. There was no one watching over my shoulder.

So I did a whole bunch of things I could have never done at home, and it was fun. Sometimes I felt bad for betraying the rules I’d grown up with, but it was exhilarating. Most of all, no one could judge me because no one really knew me. They didn’t know where I’d come from, what I did all day, or anything at all about me. It was really freeing.

“I don’t do stuff like that” I would sometimes catch myself saying. But I could, I would always think to myself afterwards.

A friend of mine that I meant in the program I was on told me something really freeing. He told me that I can’t define myself by what I don’t do, because if I’d never done it, I’d never know.

I realized how limiting those words “I don’t” or “I can’t” were. I decided to stop saying things like that. I didn’t want to limit myself anymore or feel trapped and tied down. Of course following rules is important, but allowing yourself personal freedom is just as important. I think this is the most important thing I learned while abroad in Japan. I learned a lot of other things, but this is the thing that will probably have the most impact on my life from now on. I’m going to try going out there and doing more, I’m going to try going out there and being more.

Thanks to study abroad I really have become a better person, and I was really able to learn something that I think will benefit me for the rest of my life.

Sweet Aoteroa Bro »

This first picture is a typical image of what you can expect to see while wandering around New Zealand. Sheep, or animal clouds, are everywhere in New Zealand! In fact, I learned that the sheep to human ratio is 4:1. There are sheep covering farms, hills, roads and they occasionally insert themselves onto college campuses. I didn’t study abroad at Lincoln University but it is relatively close to University of Canterbury where I did study. Every now and then at Lincoln, few of our animal cloud friends would casually roam the pathways of Lincoln, investigate the exotic scents from the campus, seek out a meal in grassy areas, and then go on their way.

The first time I saw sheep was when my friends and I were on our way to the beach and we saw them migrating from one end of a farm to another. The white cloud smoothly walked in sync away from the road. On another adventure with friends, we actually stopped on the side of the road to take pictures of them. Along with taking pictures of the massive lake the sheep were near, or the mountain that sprouted out from the middle of the lake, as if it was its own little island, the sheep were a spectacle themselves as well. One sheep was the first to notice we were near and stopped walking to look back at us. Instantly afterwards, the entire herd of what looked like 200 sheep were gazing at us.

Upon returning from abroad, sheep are just as entertaining, and intriguing,  as they were since my first encounter with them. To me, they’re a symbol of my rural New Zealand explorations, my curiosity, and togetherness.

This is a picture my friend Andi took while we went hiking. I went on this particular tramp with a group of friends- Will, Gabe, Beth, Alexa, Kristina, Sarah and Andi. We were all both  international students and tramping enthusiasts. At Hanmer, it took us about 2-3 hours to summit to the top of Mt. Isobel, with me taking the longest because of my bad knees. Though it was physically tough on my part to climb the elevation, the view from the top was worth it. New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful.

Sarah once described tramping as an activity that never gets old. Some people might think this is not true, like I did at first, but after a while you start to appreciate it more and more. Tramping has given me a deeper appreciation of nature and our environment. Tramping lets you experience the plants, animals, land and sea that make up the world around you. I got to see what New Zealand was made up of, literally. Nature shows us history, of what land and society used to be and what it used to look like. I really loved my semester in New Zealand in its modern developed state, but specifically through tramping, I learned to appreciate and love the older, historic and natural parts of it as well.

The University of Canterbury (UC) shows some striking resemblance to Willamette. The final image shows Ilam Gardens which is a collection of plants and trees that encompass the Avon river that runs through the University of Canterbury campus. Yes, there was a river that ran through the middle of campus, just like the Mill stream that divides Willamette into two parts. Also like Willamette, there were the ducks. There was also a university center building near the library and between it was a plaza. On the ground in the middle of the plaza sat a plaque of the University of Canterbury logo and a campus map. To the left of the library was a bridge that goes over the river and to the right was a tall clock tower. When I first noticed this, I was amazed, and wanted to investigate more similarities between my two schools.

I obviously discovered both differences and similarities as far as student activites and club life, residential life, academics, professors, resources and students. I liked the University of Canterbury more than Willamette, but I also realised that it’s pointless to compare. If I saw or experienced something at UC, I would think Willamette was disadvantaging me in that way, and that would make me not look forward to returning. On the other hand, if I saw something that UC doesn’t have that WU does, I would be discouraged from trying to enjoy being an international student there. Horrible study abroad politics there of course.

A famous Facebook quote states “comparison is the thief of joy.” This quote is fitting in my case, because I came to New Zealand for new experiences, not to do a comparative analysis.  Sometimes I do get frustrated with the Willamette community and environment, but being at UC taught me to enjoy what I have at both schools. Studying abroad means living in the moment, YOLO (you only live once), and enjoying all that is around you! Keep that in mind, future international students. Even if I didn’t have something that another school didn’t, I realised I should think positively about it. Instead of thinking of how a certain school might suck because of what they don’t have, I pushed myself to think of it as something I miss and would look forward to again at Willamette, or something I will miss when I leave, and should take advantage of it while I am at UC.  I might like UC better, but I became more grateful for having the privilege of being a student there and grateful for being a Willamette student who studied abroad.

If there was any lessons learned about my time in New Zealand it was that I genuinely learned how to be happy and I discovered new elements of my own personality, thinking, and behaviour. Though I learned about New Zealand’s people, culture, environment and history, I learned the most about myself. Studying abroad not only gives you a chance to explore a whole new country, but you get to see how you fit in that new place as you explore yourself as well.

My London Theatre Experience »

The Lift Part 1The Lift Part 2The Lift Part 3 When I was abroad in London during the fall I went to an intensive drama school. I am a shy, reserved guy so the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)tested my comfort zone and brought me out of my shell more. One of the big challenges of theatre is learning to trust your fellow actors and this photo sums that up. I was practicing clowning skits with friends and one of my friends mentioned that he can do “the lift” from the film “Dirty Dancing.” Multiple people took turns being lifted by my friend, Zack Purdy. I normally would have shied away but I felt confident about “the lift.” Nervous but confident. As shown here, it took three tries to fully trust my partner and correctly accomplish the lift. Even though “the lift” experience wasn’t an official LAMDA classroom activity, it sums up my LAMDA experience in that I was always being challenged to bring more to the table in terms of performance, effort, and trusting my fellow actors.

I knew that this photo was taken but I didn’t know it was going to be posted on Facebook. At the time the photo was taken I felt  nervous and disoriented since I was higher off the ground than I wanted to be. After Zack lowered me down onto the ground I felt thrilled and way better about myself than if I had just given up and not attempted “the lift.”

When I go back to look at these photos I will always remember how much I learned about myself while abroad. I went to London to not just experience life in a new culture but to also put myself out there. If I had not gone to a tough drama school like LAMDA I wouldn’t have had the nerve to be lifted by someone else. I wouldn’t have had enough confidence in myself or the other person to lift me up but my London trip helped me become less shy and approach new, difficult opportunities. I currently really struggle with confidence and taking risks but LAMDA helped me realize that to accomplish a hard task, you need that “just go for it” mentality. My inspiration for this picture was to show that anything can be done if you just set your mind to it. That was something else I learned about myself while in London which is also the context for these photos. I have a long way to go but my teachers at LAMDA emphasized relaxing when approaching a new task. If you have a goal you want to accomplish, tensing up and letting your fear get to you will make that fear worse. When you relax and get out of your head, you’ll have an easier time working at it. Relaxing and letting loose are big challenges for me but my trip helped me become more aware of my tension and being in my head too much.

Special shout-out to my friend and fellow Willamette LAMDA attender, Karina Fathi, for posting the above pictures on Facebook.

Abundance of Diversity; otherwise known as Ecuador »

Diversity abounds in Ecuador. And I’m talking diversity in every sense of the word. From the people and culture to the ecosystem, diversity is everywhere. I mean where else in the world can you wake up on the Galapagos, have lunch in the Andes, and go to bed in the Amazon? I think that is what I loved most about my time in Ecuador; being able to explore the various climates and environments.

I lived in Quito. A busy, capitol city up in the Andes mountains of great historical significance (the location the French discovered and measured the equator). It is a city full of life, people and over crowded-buses. And I mean seriously over-crowded buses in which sweaty bodies pressed against you and if you didn’t use your elbows you would never be able to get off the bus at the right stop. But once you got off the buses and started to walk around, beauty surrounded you. From the Gothic style cathedral to the giant angel statue on the hill, Quito was full of wonders and rich history.

Although Quito was a wonderful place to explore, my favorite place that I visited was the Amazon. A plane ride, boat ride, bus ride, and another boat ride away, we had left the noise of cars behind and entered paradise. Through my host university, I got the chance to visit a research center in Yasuni National Park. There we were able to enjoy the natural beauty that is the Amazon. We had amazing guides that knew much about all of the flora and fauna that coexists in the rain forest.

As we walked through the trees trying not to disturb the life around us, sweating in the humidity, our guide would all of a sudden stop for what seemed to be no apparent reason. He would then proceed to pick up a lizard that I would never have spotted in a thousand years due to its perfect camouflage. Its skin the very color and texture of a leaf. Nonetheless, he had been able to spot it. He would then proceed to tell us all these various facts about the lizard; he knew more than even Wikipedia could tell me. In the two days that I spent there, I learned so much about the plants and animals. It was peaceful there and I felt that I could live there perfectly content forever. Sadly, when the weekend was up I had to return to the hustle and bustle of Quito. But luckily that only meant more time to explore other things.

I Had the Chance to Change My Fate (And I Did) »

We all love to hate a cheesy Disney/Pixar trope or  message (while actually kind of really loving it anyway). Although it wasn’t my first choice, I was really excited by the prospect of studying abroad in Scotland. And though I was offered a spot in Glasgow, far away from the Highland setting of Brave, I have to admit that when I first read the line saying “University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland,” all I could hear in my head was Merida’s brogue chanting, “If yeh had tha chance te chenge yer feit, woodjyoo?”  I can now admit with only a little embarrassment to most people who ask that this saying was a big inspiration during my time abroad. I wanted to make my time in Glasgow mean something. I wanted to explore. I wanted to grow. And I think I achieved all those things thanks to a corny slogan from a children’s movie (which yes, I did rush to see on opening weekend).

Moving overseas for 4 months is scary. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. And while it gets less scary over time, it doesn’t necessarily get any easier. Being over 5,ooo miles away from family, friends, significant others, favorite TV shows, familiar stores, and easy to understand accents was something that stuck with me during my entire trip. But a couple things that make all that seem a little less daunting are all the amazing people you meet and the incredible memories you make with them.It was hard to pick from so many pictures and memories, but below are just a few pictures of the people and places that made my trip pretty darn close to Disney Magic.

One of my favorite parts of studying abroad was the diverse group of people I befriended. In this picture, one of my flatmates, two boys from downstairs, and I went to Christmas carnival that was only a few minute’s walk from campus. I’m on the left, sporting my purple ‘do; next to me is Val from Bulgaria; next is Ronnie, from a town called Stirling that’s between Glasgow and Edinburgh; last is Steph from Inverness, way up in the Highlands.

I had to inclue a picture of the room in my flat of course! Each block had four flats of 6 people with a common kitchen/living room area and shared toilet and shower rooms. My flat was really eclectic and consisted of myself, Steph (Inverness), Annie (Edinburgh), Desi (Bulgaria), Angela (Spain), and Marie (France).

I went on several day trips all over the country in my time abroad. This is a picture I took in the small town of Inverary, on the way to the costal town of Oban. The town used to be located a little down the road, but one day the Duke of Argyll, whose castle was in the center of town, decided he didn’t like all those people crowding his space. Apparently, it’s good to be the duke as well as the king.

I was so lucky to be able to go home with my Bulgarian flatmate Desi for a week in December. Honestly, the only thing I knew about Bulgaria before hand was that Viktor Krum from Harry Potter was from there. The experience was absolutely amazing and not one I would exchange for the world. In this picture, the two of us and her high school friend Valentina are in front of a monument built in memory of the Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski, who was integral in gathering support for the revolution against the Ottoman Empire.


Here are some photos I took from the Diren Gezi Park protests in Taksim Square and some captions with my translations or explanations.

Gezi Park 1

“Resistance is everywhere.” from Galatasaray fans. I noticed that while united by a common cause, most of the fans from Turkey’s three main soccer clubs identified themselves in different camps within the park.

Gezi Park 2

“This is a civil resistance, do not damage anything.”

Tayyip Istifa

“Resign Tayyip!”  Tayyip is the middle name of the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Capulcu Hotel

“Çapulcu Hotel”–Çarşı” The Çarşı is the fan club for the Turkish soccer team Beşiktaş which is especially known for its association with radical leftist politics, as evidenced in part by the use of the anarchy symbol in their name. It was members of the Çarşı who hijacked a police tank and used it to hunt down police officers with its water cannon and who commandeered a bulldozer and charged it against the police lines in Beşiktaş. The term “Capulcu” means “Marauder” and is a term that the protesters appropriated for themselves when Prime Minister Erdogan used it to describe them.

Gezi Park 3

“Here you may take action!”
also, right below it, “All Cops are bastards”

Fun Q&A About my year in the UAE »

Why did you decide to study abroad with American University of Sharjah?

Keith Fakhoury Camel

Read about Keith’s study abroad experience in Sharjah!

Keith: While deciding upon potential universities, the one aspect of the American University of Sharjah that captivated me was its appearance, gorgeous architecture and a breathtaking campus. The institution was founded by the Ruler of Sharjah and AUS President, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qasimi, who grew it to be the top ranked school in the Gulf with the best professors in the world and the host of international engagements such as the MENA Economic Forum. As if these weren’t reasons enough, AUS was a stone toss away from Dubai, the international economic and entertainment hub that was always a vacation favorite of mine.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Keith: Experiencing the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, on New Year’s Eve was the greatest, and logistically worst, experience during my year abroad. Several Friends had dinner at Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall, which was unbelievably packed. Then, from a friend’s apartment at the Index Tower, we watched Burj Khalifa host thousands of fireworks. What an unbelievable sight! As beautiful as it was, the night quickly turned into a logistical nightmare as more than 5,000 people were bound for the metro system. It was hours waiting in line with inpatient people and cranky police officers with rifles. It was very intense at the time, but I personally grew from trying to survive that night and I relish the opportunity to talk about that escapade.

Describe your program socially and academically.

Keith: The social and academic aspects of my program were equally awesome and overwhelming. Most of my professors were superstar academics and professionals from Europe and America, included the former head trader at JPMorgan Germany, a partner at KPMG Netherlands, and other illustrious figures. Professors, like students, come from all four corners of the map. UAE is home to many professional expats and many of them send their kids to AUS, creating the most flavorful melting pot and social situation. In addition, every class had fewer than 15 students, making every session especially intimate and engaging.

The campus is bustling with dozens of student clubs, from the Emirati Cultural Club to the Entrepreneurship Club, giving the student body endless opportunities to network and connect with our peers. The biggest event on campus, Annual Global Days, provided a platform for various groups to showcase themselves and their homeland. Despite being entirely Jordanian, I was a member of the Emirati and Pakistani Club and performed their traditional dance at the event and had the most memorable of times. Overall, my time at AUS was a social paradise: constant desert parties, never-ending chai karak tea breaks, the most diverse melting pot of potential friends, and the Dubai nightlife.

Keith Fakhoury Fujairah Fort

Keith at Fujairah Fort with the Sheikh!

Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.

Keith: My must-have international food is Biryani. I first had it at Gazebo, a popular chain across the UAE. Initially, I was disappointed because it looked like a plain pot of seasoned rice. Dig in a little deeper and you’ll strike tender chicken or beef and feel like an Emirati who struck oil in the desert. Usually served with a side of salad and zesty sauce, it a dish I’ve always look forward to. I would eat it every day if it weren’t for those meddling carbs.

Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits you noticed about your country.

Keith: Respect in the UAE is like tax in the US — everywhere and significant. Within the dialogue between Arabs, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of praising and complimenting between the individuals. However, that was taken to another level when I heard my Emirati friends speaking with their fathers. It sounded like they were speaking to the ruler of their Emirate! There was enormous respect present. It inspired me in my own relationships with my family. Cheetahs and tigers are common domesticated pets. Seeing a tiger on a leash as if it was an American household cat was startling! The parking lot at AUS was like an international auto show. I’ve never seen so many so many Maserati’s, Range Rovers, R8’s, and Ferraris in my life.