Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One month until we're in Berlin!

Tour Of Central Europe - One Month Until Departure!

Hi! My name is Brooke Leisinger and I'm a senior undergraduate history major (and women's studies minor) at Columbia College. 

Like Melissa, I'm also traveling to Eastern Europe in just under a month as part of the History of the Holocaust class and tour. We're almost done with the semester, and the sheer amount of things of learned about the places we'll be visiting (Berlin, Prague, Krakow, and Budapest) makes me both excited and a little nervous! This is also my first adventure outside of the United States and as I'm on my senior year I am incredibly thrilled to have been given the opportunity. 

The beautiful city of Krakow, Poland!
As part of the course attached to the trip, we each are responsible for researching one of the cities we will be visiting and sharing how that city has memorialized the Holocaust. I have Krakow, and will upload what I find out about it before we depart so everyone is a little more familiar with what we're hoping to see while over there!

I can't wait!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Navigating Nihon

On March 24th I began my almost 20-hour journey to Hikone-shi and the University of Shiga Prefecture. The couple of weeks prior to my departure had been hazy with everything being finalized, what seemed like, all-at-once. Evening courses were completed, visa obtained, and the flights-booked. The 3 flights went well, and any uneasiness I had was dissipated by the kindness of several strangers along the way. About 17-hours in I found myself in Osaka during the evening, where I was to meet with and be escorted to my apartment by a student from the University. I will take this moment to say there is a certain type of relief brought-on by the site of seeing one's name in big, bold print when they exit into the arrival lobby of an airport. This is when I met Julio, a fellow exchange student from California State University, Monterey Bay. While on our way out of Osaka I distinctly remember the gorgeous cityscape and booming night activity. I have never been surrounded by so many people who weren't congregating for a common event like a concert or ball game. Together, Julio and I made our way to Hikone Station first by monorail, and then by the JR (Japanese Railway). He made sure I understood how to properly read the railway maps and purchase a ticket for the right destination. With his help, and the generosity of Yamakawa-san and Iwama-san (two of the amazing staff members at USP which helped make this trip happen for me) I was able to safely settle into my apartment, soon collapsing onto my wonderful futon (bed).

Drug Yutaka
Meena is a fellow classmate of mine from Columbia College studying abroad at USP this semester. She is originally from Singapore, so this is her second study abroad experience. Our first two weeks were spent with orientation, placement testing, city hall registration, and an abundant amount of shopping. We are now pretty familiar with the immediate area and have come to know little intricacies like the Heiwado in Viva City having a wider selection of produce than the one on Bell Road. There is a dollar store called the 100 Yen Shop which has been a solid go-to place for a majority of the items which now occupy my apartment. Lastly, less than a block away is my favorite little drug store called Drug Yutaka. It carries pretty much anything one would need for day-to-day living. Meena and I have become regulars there, and the prospect of obtaining a point card is quickly becoming favorable.

Photo of Administration Building (spire, left) and Library (dome, right)
School began this past week. This being said, class sign-up is April 8th-16th. The way registration works here is very interesting. For starters, classes are typically 90-minutes and 1-day a week. During the registration period, students are welcome to sit-in on a class before they register. Classes are usually 2-credit hours and most students I know are taking around 10 classes. Me, you ask? I am only taking 6: Beginning Japanese I-III, Medieval Japanese History, Discussion and Debate, and Environmental Science in Japan. The latter three are taught in English.
Moat surrounding USP

Local park
Hikone is a beautiful city, with a population size similar to Columbia's. It is considered to be rural by many. Apart from traveling to school and various grocery stores, I have been to a few local parks, a western-style restaurant named Coco's, a shopping mall called Viva City, and perhaps the biggest attraction in all of Shiga Prefecture, Hikone Castle. In fact, yesterday was spent with my new friends Ryuhei and Daiki going to Viva City, where they helped me shop for some gym shoes. Sad to say, my decision was made easy when there was only one pair between two stores which came in my size. Next, we went to the arcade section and took Purikura. Imagine a high-tech and fully customizable photo booth. Daiki had to depart for work soon after, but Ryuhei and I stayed behind and played an intense game of air hockey and attempted to master some of the grab-claw machines.

On my walk to school

Hikone Castle

The weather was beautiful, and after some discussion we decided it would be a good day to go and visit Hikone Castle. Now THIS is what I came to see. Hikone Castle is officially one of Japan's National Treasures and was completed around 1607. If you measure the birth of the U.S. by the signing of the Declaration of Independence, then this castle is almost 170 years older than the United States. The massive architectural elements and shear sturdiness of the building are almost overwhelming. I have never been inside anything more unyielding. And as it turns out, interior castle stairs are no small matter. I am 1.9 meters-tall (sorry, it's a habit now) and these stairs are challenging for someone of my height to climb. What a tiny price to pay for the view of the city and Lake Biwa which waits at the top. On the castle grounds I was able to enjoy some genuine Japanese "junk food" as Ryuhei put it. Anko flavored taiyaki is a simple yet delicious red-bean flavored treat and a personal recommendation of mine. Takoyaki is equally fantastic and conceptually would be related to the chili-cheese hot dog in the United States. It is a round snack consisting of a wheat-flour batter, octopus, green onion, ginger, some special takoyaki sauce, optional mayonnaise and a few other ingredients I was unable to determine. I will definitely be ordering this one again. (Click the links to see examples.)
Ceiling structure at the very top.  Can't tell you how massive those beams really are

And how could I forget the sakura! They started blooming about a week after I arrived and will only be around for about another week or two. I have been sure to have a couple of o-hanami, where I eat outside underneath the sakura and admire their beauty. In Japanese, hana means flower, -mi is a conjugation of miru which is to see or to look, and o- is used as an honorific and is a polite way to refer to certain nouns, phrases, and actions.
Beautiful walk home from school

Strolling around campus
Greetings from USP

Wow--all of these astonishing sights and I haven't even made it out of the prefecture yet!  Thank you for reading! Until next time,

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

42 Days Until Departure!

Hello!  I am Melissa, a history major and typically a student in the Evening Campus.  In relation to the Central Europe tour, I am taking the History of the Holocaust class with Dr. Compton, who has been my catalyst and source of encouragement for embarking on this journey.  Four weeks into the class, I am learning so much.  While many of the things we learn reflect one of the darkest periods in human history, the knowledge we gain is of vital importance, lest we forget what happens when mankind becomes complacent.

At posting, it is 42 days until departure.  I just realized that our flights have been booked, which is exciting!  This will be my first trip outside of the continental United States, and while I am nervous, I can't wait to see another part of the world.  I am still in shock that I am about to experience something this amazing.  I don't want to waste a minute of this wonderful opportunity!
Of all the things we will see, I most look forward to cathedrals done in the elaborate neogothic style, and real, legitimate castles.  I don't know what to expect, other than wonderment!
I am so, so grateful for a chance to venture out beyond my own little corner of the world.  I can't wait to post pictures and tell stories of all the incredible things we'll see.  I am ready for my greatest adventure!  

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