Category Archives: Travel

The Universality of Human Connection

By Anthea Xiao

At a young age, I was introduced to and fascinated by Japanese culture through the channel of Japanese animations such as Studio Ghibli films and Doraemon. Eager to learn more about the Japanese language and customs, I enrolled in Japanese as my foreign language class and took the initiative to study Japanese culture on my own. My Japanese teacher recognized my passion and introduced me to an exchange program, which allowed students to live with host families and experience life as a Japanese High School student. I quickly seized the opportunity, and in the summer of 2016, I embarked on an unforgettable journey to Kanazawa, Japan.

Prior to flying to Japan, I diligently memorized Japanese phrases applicable for specific situations, read countless articles regarding Japanese etiquette, and even watched host-exchange “horror-stories” online from other students to prepare myself for any undesirable scenarios.

My heart was leaping out of my chest with anxiety and excitement when I saw my host-family waving the sign “ようこそ, アンセア!” (Welcome, Anthea!) at airport gate. During the initial stage of my stay, my host-exchange experience was exceeded beyond my imagination and expectations. I tasted a diverse array of authentic Japanese cuisines (a superb bowl of ramen was only $5 USD!), I quickly bonded with classmates through organizations such as the student acapella and traditional tea ceremony club, and I was able to improve my language ability through practicing colloquial Japanese outside of a classroom setting.

However, despite enjoying my host situation, I found it difficult to feel completely at ease with my host-family. I had read in textbooks that it is impolite to address Japanese people in an intimate or casual manner upon initial greetings. Therefore, although my host-parents asked me to address them as “mother” and “father” just like my host-sister did, I insisted on calling them Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida in fear of breaching their existing family structure.

The phrase “迷惑” (meiwaku) means to burden or to cause inconvenience for others. In Japan, a collective and harmony-focused society, causing meiwaku is a taboo and could signal a person as self-centered and uncouth. To avoid being seen as a meiwaku to my host-family, I refrained from seeking for help when I had trouble finding the way home from school or did not understand how to operate machine devices at home.

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Learning about Islam Firsthand

By Stephanie Corrigan

My initial experience with the Middle East is defined by my time spent as an international exchange student in Ankara, Turkey; a time when  I encountered new, distinctive experiences that have molded me into the person I am today. This story begins with my experience participating in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a fully-funded U.S. State Department exchange program. I lived with a loving host family, took intensive language courses, and used my newly acquired cultural awareness to assist with advancing U.S. relations abroad.
I was met with various challenges, many coming in the form of cultural misunderstandings. I was now the outsider in a foreign land, questioned by locals about my background and judged by my appearance and dress. My beliefs were challenged everyday, as Turks would ask me about American culture, politics, and values. I dedicated my summer to comprehending Turkish culture, while sharing bits and pieces of my experiences as an American. Studying abroad challenged my preconceived ideas, fostered my appreciation for diversity, and made me more understanding of different lifestyles and beliefs, especially in areas concerning familial hierarchies and relationships, unique cuisine, and a distinctive religion.
Prior to living in Turkey, the most knowledge I had of Islam was what I read in textbooks or saw on CNN. My exposure to the major world religion and its traditions took on great significance when I participated in Ramadan. The fasting ritual was incredibly beautiful to me, as my host family rose in the early hours at the sound of the ezan, or call to prayer. After being exposed to Islam and the Turkish people, I found myself more understanding of their lifestyle and beliefs. I am sympathetic to struggles of Islamophobia, as well as more impartial when analyzing media. While many Western news outlets present Muslim populations in general terms of terrorist activity, my time in Turkey proved quite the contrary. I have been fortunate to have had meaningful experiences with people who are frequently misunderstood in the non-Muslim world.
Studying abroad at such an early age also shaped my development and career goals, positively impacting every aspect of my culture and beliefs – and about Islam in particular. It ignited a desire to further explore and understand the region of the Middle East and North Africa. This compulsion led me to spearheading a family vacation to Egypt in December 2014, which ultimately altered my parents’ views of the region for the better. My family and I regard our experiences in Egypt as some of the best memories we possess, with the people we met being a significant influential factor. Both trips taught me to reflect on my culture from the perspective of another, and to this day, I consider every opposing idea as a precious opportunity to learn and grow.

Stephanie is an undergraduate senior who is currently studying Political Science, with the hopes of adding on Public Relations. She is from Orlando, Florida and loves to spend time outside, whether hiking or exploring a new city, as well as practicing her photography, writing in her travel blog, or planning her next backpacking trip abroad.

Witnessing the American Landscape through my Car Window

By Amber Heldreth-Miller

The United States is a large country in terms of physical size. Many countries throughout the world, especially in Europe, are small and you can drive from one side to another in a single day–but not America. Not only is it physically large, but there are many different cultures, ways of living, and people scattered across the land.

The summer before last, I drove cross country from the West Coast to the East Coast, an experience that gave me the opportunity to see the vast change in landscape throughout the country, visit small towns and large cities, and really see the country that I live in. It was a long drive that I did in five days, so I did not have much time to explore each place that I visited, but I got a glimpse of the country through my car window.

We started in Arizona where it is hot–hotter than LA most days–and where saguaros (tall green cacti) sprinkle the desert with their beauty. From there, we drove east towards New Mexico and then headed north to the city of Santa Fe. It was crazy how even this relatively small distance took us from a view of saguaros as far as the eye could see to their sudden disappearance as the land became more rocky. When we reached Santa Fe it was like being in a whole new world–even though we were technically still in the desert, we were now viewing evergreen covered mountains instead of cactus country. We then drove east again on small little roads that felt like we were in the middle of nowhere (that is how many of the roads in the middle of the country made me feel.)

We drove through northern Texas, where it was flat dirt and farms, and then into Oklahoma, where more flat dirt made way to flat grass. Then, all of a sudden, small hills and trees started to appear and, for the rest of the trip, there were big trees lining all the roads. In Oklahoma, we passed through many Indian Nations, which is another example of different cultures that make up this melting pot of the US.

East we drove on, through Arkansas and Tennessee. Since we were on the highway and we were not driving through towns–we were surrounded by wilderness for most of the way. Trees and trees filled my vision in the car.

My favorite part of the entire trip was driving from Tennessee to North Carolina through the beautiful Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains. We literally drove through the mountains, with the road winding back and forth surrounded by the beauty of nature. We stopped in Ashville for the night, which is a beautiful, hilly, artistic town in North Carolina. I ate the most amazing shrimp and grits I have ever had in my life–actually it was the first time I have ever had it–but it is a specialty of many southern states. I highly recommend it!

We continued our journey through West Virginia and through Maryland and then Washington DC. For most of the country, there was wilderness surrounding the area. As soon as we drove to Washington DC, and through Delaware and New Jersey–the roads became much more crowded with cars and the trees and, just like that, the wilderness gave way to houses and supermarkets. New Jersey is the state in the US with the most population density, a fact made apparent from just driving through it.

Even though I was not able to spend a lot of time in each city that I passed through, driving across the country was an incredible experience where I was able to see all the terrain and diversity that the US has.

Amber is from southern Arizona but she spent the last year and a half in upstate New York. Even though Amber is from the desert, she loves the ocean and hopes to one day live on the beach. She is studying environmental science and hopes to minor in the dramatic arts, as she is interested in creating films, especially for social change. Amber love cats, eating food, swimming, sleeping and laying in the grass and staring at the clouds. She loves traveling and exploring the world– so far, she has traveled to Costa Rica, Canada, and all over Europe.