Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Free Days

Sept. 24

Brett Clements, who studied abroad here at USP a few years ago, visited Hikone today, so Ayame, Rei and I went to dinner with him. It was a small CC reunion. We ate at an Indian restaurant down Bell Street. It's quite lovely at night with lights strung up in the shape of bells. I'm enjoying these last few free days though I am looking forward to having some structure and having something to do. Thursday is orientation and classes start Friday.
(Attached are photos from today. Photo credit goes to Ayame)

Sept. 25

We were taken to city hall to take care of a few things today. Though it should have been a fairly uneventful day, it wasn't so...
I went to the convenience store in the morning, and halfway home I realized I didn't have my phone. I searched frantically both retracing my steps twice and thoroughly searching my apartment. Not a great way to start the day, I must say. I have had this phone for three years and have never lost it. Wouldn't it just be my luck to lose it in another country? It never occurred to me to file a report that it was missing because in America I would have cut my losses and got a new phone, but the woman who took us to city hall took me to the police station to see if someone had turned it in or found it. Lo and behold, someone had turned it in. It was an emotional roller coaster of a day, and I missed out on taking a few pictures, but I'm so very glad to have my phone back.

The Wireless World Still Spins

Photo Credit: SeekLogo
Photo Credit: SketchRepo
Because it’s so expensive to use phone services internationally and getting an entirely new phone, SIM card, or phone number seemed unnecessary for a mere three months, we decided to shut off data use just rely on wifi, communicating via social media and apps like Slack and Whatsapp. The chargers over here are also different. I have an adapter, but I mostly use it at the house; I don’t travel with it. There are a few USB ports, and I have a handheld charger, but I still try to conserve as much phone energy as possible. So because of no data and because of battery preservation – my phone also has a relatively short battery life – I receive fewer notifications and spend less time on my phone. (Admittedly, I am still on it quite a bit; it is the 21st century). I still use my phone a lot, but I’m on it less, and I’m more efficient with it. I get on it because I actually need to use it.

I get so wrapped up and feel this compulsory, panic-inducing need to keep up, catch up, not miss a thing. But, when I have to turn it all off for a few days, I find the world keeps on spinning, and I’m still alive. It’s humbling and helps keep me on track – to take a step back and look at the big picture and remind myself of what really matters. It takes me out of myself while also reminding me who I am, without all the distractions and comparison and anxieties

Monday, September 24, 2018

Swear to Tell the Truth...But Not the Whole Truth: The Real Lie of Social Media

Yesterday, I went to London with a friend. We had fun train rides; we enjoyed walking through streets, past architecture that I absolutely adored; we visited several interesting museums; we found great (and affordable) food; and we had an amazing view of the city from the Shard at sunset. 

That’s what you would know from all the pictures I took and my Snapchat story. Friends sent messages saying it looked great; they were glad I was enjoying myself; they were jealous. They didn’t hear about the cold, windy, wet weather. They didn’t hear about how we were rushing to catch our rides to the Shard and the train back – literally running into the tube as the doors were closing and dashing up and down several flights of stairs, trying to find the right platforms. All of that was actually fairly inconsequential, though, and just added to the fun of the day in its own way – making good stories and adding to the experience in more hectic ways. Nevertheless, they only make it to social media if they do, in fact, make a good story. 

One of the things I hate about social media is the false image it presents. A lot of people hate it because they think it’s intentional, but I hate it because sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes people don’t mean to give a false impression at all; it’s just an inherent, inevitable consequence of how social media operates. Social media is about connecting people, but it’s also about convenience, so, no matter what the platform, it’s based on being short-form. People scroll through social media; they don’t stop to read through it. If you post a long caption on Instagram or a lengthy article on Facebook, few people are actually going to read over it, and even fewer will read it in detail (as opposed to skimming). Even videos, people tend to jump through them or exit out early or just skip them over entirely. If they want to read something long, they’ll go to a blog or an online publication or pick up an old-fashioned book. If they want to watch something long, they’ll go to YouTube or Netflix or get an actual DVD. Social media is so fast-paced that people don’t have time or space to really explain what’s going on in their lives and give an accurate representation.

People heard about yesterday, because it was a good day. They didn’t and won’t hear about today: the first day of classes. They won’t hear about the loneliness; the homesickness; the overwhelming feelings of frustration and anxiety, feeling unprepared and lost. Even if it wasn’t a bad day, they wouldn’t hear about it, because it would be a boring day. And people don’t want to go to social media for boring; they go to have fun and escape their lives. They go to be inspired and amused. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t; it makes us envious, and we feel worse about our lives and ourselves. 

But I don’t think it’s always intentional. People post their highlights on social media. They don’t post the mundane days or boring stuff; they post fun and exciting and intriguing. Even if it’s negative, they make it captivating, wanting to get attention and elicit a response. Whenever people post on social media, they’re posting a narrative. Maybe they’re posting honestly, with honest intentions, and there’s no conscious, underlying agenda, but social media is about sharing your life and connecting with others, and they’re specifically censoring certain parts. It’s not a bad thing – we should have privacy, and there are some things we should keep to ourselves – but it’s important to recognize that social media is inherently short-form, which may mean truth, but it never means complete

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Canterbury to Columbia: Surprisingly Similar

As an international student, many people ask me where I am from and, after I say the US, they naturally ask what it's like or how it's different from Canterbury. It's actually difficult for me to describe because, even though I haven't traveled much (within the US even) and haven't really known much different, and even though this is an entirely new country across the ocean, it doesn't really feel all that different. Even the accents - people are always asking about the British accent - but even that isn't overly noticeable. I noticed it a bit at first and every once in a while it strikes me, but, for the most part, it sounds normal. Part of it is because I've been decently immersed in British culture prior - I've read a lot of British literature and seen several British shows - so there hasn't been much that's surprised me. And part of it is because I don't think there really are that many major differences. Originally, we adopted our culture from them, and then, as we grew, we've become such a dominant culture that the rest of the world is adopting ours.

England is a first-world, Western country with more than just a shared language. Actually, one of the first things I noticed was how similar we are. They listen to largely the same music; they have television and radio programs like ours; they advertise like us; they even have several American brands (Asdas, which is Walmart; Aldis; H&M; Starbucks; Subway; McDonalds). And they have local brands that imitate ours (instead of Starbucks, they have Costas).

In fact, Canterbury is even more like Columbia because it's a small town that's enlarged by being a university center. Because of all the students, it becomes busier. Half the population is students, and the permanent inhabitants are mostly families, which affects what sorts of businesses are here. It has the bustling air of a big city and some of its layout and benefits, with public transport and taxis, but it is still a small town - or a small city simulating a large one. But it doesn't have the modern architecture of big cities with towering office buildings and skyscrapers. It doesn't attract innovators or innovations; it adopts them in time, but it doesn't produce them - and, in this way, it is a bit different from Columbia, because Columbia isn't a major hub, but it does have a number of startups and small entrepreneurs. It isn't as expensive as large cities. It feels like I've come to the British version of Columbia.

One of the main and most obvious differences, though, is its history. I told my hostess that I was surprised they grant students free access to the Cathedral year-long, and she said it's because they have so many tourists, mainly Americans, that they don't need to charge students. And, at night, the inside is closed to the public, but the grounds are open and free to everyone. Even the townhouses have a more quaint architecture to them. They have a beautiful blend of progressive modernity and ancient history that coalesces, rather than clashes.

Photo Credit
Because they're so close to the European continent, most of them have traveled to many different countries and fairly cheaply, which I'm a bit jealous of. The US is so large that the mainland contains four time zones, five including Alaska. From the UK to Russia is only three. So, for us to travel around in the same country is the same as for them to travel around the Continent to multiple countries, experiencing different cultures, cuisines, languages, and histories. I am a bit jealous of that.

The other differences are much smaller. They smoke a lot. We do too, but much more with vaping, with less aroma and litter. And I think they actually dress more liberally than we do.

Photo Credit
The housing is different here too. We mostly live in apartment buildings or have our own houses and private lots with space in front, back, and on the sides, but they mostly have townhouses, each self-contained and individual but all conjoined together, side-by-side. They have front and backyards, but they're smaller and no outside area to go back and forth. In the halls (or dormitories), they are much more like apartment buildings. They're arranged suite style, so students each have their own rooms, and then they share a common bathroom or two, living space, and kitchen.

So when people ask me to describe where I'm from and how it's different, I don't have much to tell them. There are differences, but I've noticed more similarities

Friday, September 21, 2018

Columbia to Canterbury

I called home the other night, and everyone was asking what it's like in Canterbury.

Walking through City Centre is like walking into a fairytale. It reminds me of the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast (my favorite because it's a princess who reads!). I recalled that early scene when Belle is walking through town to the bookstore. Canterbury is a  beautiful blend of history and modernity. It has thrived through the centuries, so it has a quaint, traditional air without feeling decayed or outdated. It feels like you're visiting the past but not stepping back into it. There are old, brick shoppes and modern office buildings. The streets and sidewalks are cobblestoned but bustle with cars and buses.

It's actually a lot like Columbia as a small, student city. Because it has so many schools and universities (University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, King's School - to name a few), it imitates the large city vibe with lots of pedestrians walking everywhere, buses and taxis always transporting, and two trains going in and out all day. Most of the inhabitants are students or families.

As a university city, a large portion of the population is international. It's England, but there are many visitors from all over the world. Some study for just a few weeks, some for years, and some to live here permanently. People ask me about hearing the British accent, but I hear foreign tongues and global accents just as much. There are shops and cafes advertising cultural shops advertising British paraphernalia and cuisine, but there are also Thai groceries, American candies, and French boutiques.

Walking through City Centre is like the "little town" Belle sings about, but they also have Westgate Gardens, which feel like a fairytale in a very different way. There are large willow trees, a river, bridges, outlooks, and rock walls. It's a little oasis from city life with the fresh feeling of autumn as school begins

Thursday, September 20, 2018


I arrived on Wednesday around lunchtime. I didn't get to my apartment here until almost 8 in the evening. By that time I was slightly grumpy. I had been in a plane for 21 hours and sitting in airports for an additional 12. I was exhausted and in desperate need of a shower and nap. I have since done both of those and feel better.

There have been so many firsts. I had never set foot in an airport before, much less flown, so that was an adventure. Turns out I don't mind flying. I slept most of the flights, although the sleep wasn't particularly restful. It was also the first time out of the country. There was a layover in Taipei, so now I've been in three countries. I had never seen the ocean either.

There are many differences that I've noticed in my almost 24 hours here. It is quieter. For being a city about the size of Columbia, I assumed there would be city sounds. The cars are quiet, there's no sounds of people talking when the window is open, even though many people walk or bike. My apartment sits between two auto repair shops and even they aren't loud. I find it odd. The trash here has to be separated in three ways, which will take some getting used to. The bathroom set up also is interesting. The toilet seat is heated which will be nice in the winter. The bath and shower are separate ,but in the same room. There is a sink and mirror in this room as well. To quote the meme, "I am confusion," but I'm enjoying observing and experiencing the differences.

I haven't gotten to do much exploring since it's raining today, but I look forward to that.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Getting Orientated

I arrived Saturday afternoon, had registration Sunday, and just began orientation today (Monday). It probably seems like rather a lot all at once, but I’m glad of it, because it keeps me busy. I think the bigger issue is having time. When I’m not busy, I start to feel more lonely and miss home, but, when I’m busy, I’m distracted and occupied. It’s been a good balance – not too much to be overwhelming and exhausting but not too little either. And, because I don’t have an overly pressing schedule this early, I can take my time to familiarize myself with the city and newness better, get more comfortable. 

I was nervous for orientation, because, in America, we have all sorts of wild events and games that I hate, but, here, it’s more calm and conducive to my introverted type. We have lots of free time to chat and get to know each other better. The events are more like social gatherings, so we go to different places – like the Student Center or a pub – where there are activities available, but they’re not pressed on you like in America. They’re available for you to join at your own will, and then you can meet more people like you. Otherwise, you can mingle and meet people that way. 

I think it’s a better system. I was more capable approaching people, and there was more opportunity to talk without disruption. There’s a lot of free time, so sometimes conversations got stilted and ran out, but that also helped us move on and meet more people and find more things to do together. It’s much more fun exploring the city with other people than alone – and it was safer. I used to wish I’d arrived earlier to travel to more of England and even the Continent, but I think it will be better, cheaper, and safer with others. It's still early and rough, but it's smoothing out better

The Comforts of Homestay

It’s my first time away from home, and it’s in an entirely new country for the next several months. I don’t know anyone, and I’ve only just arrived yesterday. I was feeling a bit low. People would probably say I’m homesick, lonely, overwhelmed, jet-lagged, and experiencing culture shock; I'm not sure.

Regardless, my hostess noticed I was a bit low – I’ve been in my room a lot, slept a lot, haven’t eaten – and she was lovely. She came and comforted me, and then she brought me up hot chocolate and a granola bar; I think she worried that I haven't been eating much. She gave me some time alone to sip the cocoa and eat, and then we began chatting when I took the mug downstairs to wash. She made me toast, which was sweet – the homestay really only provides breakfast. And we began talking a lot. 

We talked for an hour or more. She told me lots about herself, her family, pets, her one holiday 4 years ago to the Caribbean with her youngest Jessica (where they swam with stingrays in the ocean), her work and homestays. We talked about movies, music, and then books. She’s reading books from the same authoress I enjoy (Cathy Glass), and she showed me. She’s lent me a couple that I haven’t read plus another that’s similar and sounds good. I feel much better now. Maybe I was a bit lonely and homesick and overwhelmed – I don’t know – but I feel much better, and I’m very grateful to her

Humanity in the Hectic

I’m living with a host for the semester, but, two days before leaving, I found out that she wouldn’t be available to meet me at the airport or the station; I would have to arrange transport and meet her at the house. I’ve never traveled alone and never internationally, so I wasn’t really prepared.

The airports were manageable but, after landing in London and getting my passport stamped, I was a bit more frazzled. I wasn’t scared, really, and it wouldn’t have been so bad but for managing the large luggage bags. (I cursed myself for packing so much!) 

I was supposed to pick up pre-paid train tickets, but I couldn’t find the kiosk – they were all for buying new ones – and no one seemed to be able to help me. I’d walked a long ways down to the underground, was sent back up, sent in circles, and then directed back down again. I was so frustrated because I knew I could figure it out, but the luggage was weighing me down, and I was miserably sore. That was the beginning of a mildly hectic journey that was a bit rough but really made me appreciate humanity again. I work in retail, and it’s not just the angry customers but also the ones that lie, accuse, steal. I get cynical about the state of humanity, and then I was also cynical because of numerous warnings about pickpocketers, traffickers, etc. But, on my little journey, I found the best in humanity instead 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The 3 Things I Will Miss Most

Tomorrow, I leave for England, to study at Canterbury Christ Church for a semester. I haven't been outside of the United States since I was a baby, and I've only flown on a plane one other time. I've never left home before, and now I'm going to travel to another country alone.

People ask me if I'm nervous, but, strangely enough, I'm really not, which is especially unusual for me, because I worry about everything. And I think the reason is that I haven't really been focusing on what's coming up as much as what I'm leaving behind - not in a sad way but appreciatively. They say you don't appreciate a good thing until it's gone, and maybe that's true, but I'm trying to appreciate right now. 

I made a little list of the 3 things I'll miss most when I'm gone. (I'll miss the people most - family and friends, especially - but everyone misses the people most, so I'm not listing them).

The weather. We've had amazing weather these past few days, and I live out in the country with a beautiful backyard. My mother is an amazing gardener, and we don't have the nuisance of city traffic, so I love sitting outside while working on things. I also love rain, though, so I think I'll enjoy drizzily, English weather.

Knitting. My mother taught me how to knit several years ago, and I recently began again. One of my favorite things is to knit with her while watching television. It's a soothing pastime that's very different from anything else I do. I just picked it up again, and now I'm setting it back down again just as quickly.

Our wood-burning stove. We have a cozy wood-burning stove downstairs, and one of my favorite things to do during winter is cuddling up by it with a cup of hot cocoa and a book (or homework, but that wasn't so fun). Or my mom and I would watch television on the couch with the fire going. I loved the cold outside, so I could snuggle by the warm fire.
Most people, including me sometimes, think that living at home during college is embarrassing and distasteful, but it's also something to be grateful for. I've shared some very special times with my family these past few years. I don't want to live at home forever - soon, I will move out - but I want to appreciate every part of it that's left. When I was a child, I was too anxious to grow up and be an adult. Now, I don't want to run away from adulthood and responsibility, but I also don't want to throw away what I have and be ungrateful. I will always be my parents' child, and they will always care for me

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Chinese Paper-Cutting

Hello, all! When I look back on our trip to China (which is happening quite frequently, as we’re all finally posting our pictures!), one experience in particular stood out to me. Do you all remember when we went to an art museum to learn some basic calligraphy? Before we went in to the ‘classroom’ for our lesson, we got the opportunity to look around and learn a bit about more traditional styles of Chinese art. Among my favorites of these art styles was Chinese paper-cutting – which I’d never actually heard of before, or even seen pictures of online.

With this art form, scissors or an engraving knife are used to cut delicate, detailed shapes into paper, often depicting elegant motifs or scenes from everyday life (such as portrayals of flowers and plants or weddings). Nowadays, modern technologies are also used to create paper-cuttings, although the more traditional methods still hold precedence.

Paper-cuttings serve as decorations for many different events or areas of life, ranging from interior d├ęcor in the home to festivities such as birthday celebrations, and are also occasionally utilized in prayer.

Here are a few of my favorites of the paper-cuttings we got a chance to see!

Chinese Paper-Cut. (2017). Retrieved from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/chinese-paper-cut-00219

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