South Korea… Here I Come!

In exactly two weeks I will be in South Korea. Up to this point I have felt nothing but excitement. It still doesn’t seem real that I will be leaving the country and traveling across the world for the very first time. I have never been outside the United States before so I have no idea what to expect. My parents have only flown once so they hardly have any traveling experience either. For the past few weeks I have been arguing with my mom about how many suitcases I should bring. I am flying with KoreanAir and they allow each passenger to bring two bags, but my mom thinks I should only bring one. I understand her point, but it’s hard to fit everything in one, especially shoes! Last week I did a “pre-packing” trial. I decided this would be a good idea because it would help me eliminate anything I don’t have room for and let me know if I will have extra room to bring souvenirs home. Luckily, I am studying abroad over the summer so all of my clothes are small and light. I decided to pack as much as I can in my main suitcase and use a smaller, second one as my carry on. I will put my backpack in my carry on for any extra room I need when I come home. Now all I can do it wait. I’m hoping the next two weeks fly by!

Back in K O R E A !!

United Airlines. Newark International Airport. Looking like a Korean. Why I came back. This year.

This time around I had no trouble getting on the plane, unlike last year because of the Russian Visa. The thing worrying me this year is being away from my family, my friends, and my usual language, culture, and surroundings for 6 months. Starting June 18 I will be away from home till December. Despite being in the country I love and came back to, I can’t help but feel home sick.

But back to United Airlines. They do not give you a T.V. on the back of the seats. However, they do offer free WiFi. So download the United App beforehand if you want to be able to stream most things on your small devices (such as phone, and tablet). This means, bring your charger with you on flight. Of course, me being me, forgot her phone charger at home. Luckily for me, when I was about to buy a phone charger at a store my friend bought her phone, they gave me the charger for free. YASSS.

EWR – AMAZING, and NICE staff. I remember having to check in at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City and they were not the nicest people. Now, it may be because I was at the airport this year at 4AM (transfer flight at San Francisco was at 5:45AM) and that they did not deal with many people yet. Whatever the case, the staff at Newark Liberty Int. Airport were smiling, none were frowning, and all wishing me a good time at my destination.

Prior to this I did not sleep the night before because I knew sleeping/napping would only make me more disoriented. But I recovered by sleeping 2 hours on the flight to San Francisco.

Funny story, on the line of the flight to San Francisco, there were 2 ahjumma (older ladies) standing behind me in line. One of them tapped me and asked me in Korean if I was a Korean. In which I replied, “Ani,” which means no in Korean. I forgot to add the -yo at the end, to be polite, but that was because I thought I should have just said no. But hey, that was my first Korean ish experience since last year.

I decided to come back to Korea because I had a great time last summer. I learned about a culture in the perspective of Korean citizens. I learned more of their language – so now I can walk around Korea feeling more confident. I met amazing people, who I still keep in contact with today – I actually came to Korea a few days early and crashed in one of my student from last summer place. I also learned that I like that awkward, I don’t know much about your culture and you don’t know mine so I’m not sure what to say or how to interact with you but lets do it anyways, feeling.

This year I wish to go to places I was not able to last year. This year I hope I have a good bunch of students as I had last summer. This year I hope to improve/upgrade my Korean communication skills. This year I plan on making more awesome memories of the place I love.

P.S. many food pics and sight seeing pictures will be coming – Instagram viow9 for immediate updates.

Till then.

Cloudy with a chance of Nihon

My first international plane ride was alright considering I had the middle seat in the middle section of the plane. But it was spacious, I had plenty of leg room, the seats were comfortable, I was given a blanket and a neck pillow, and the TV in the seat was stocked will all the Oscar nominee movies. I was given two meals and two snacks and all the drinks that I wanted.

Beer and a brownie

And some fancy toilets were stocked on the plane. Bidets for days.

My flight though was delayed on the runway for about 2 hours. We were 18th in queue for take off. And then it was 14 hours in the air for a total of 16 hours of sitting on a plane. And once we touched down in Narita international airport, there was a bit of turbulence because of the cloud cover and the rain. Over all, a successful flight and little to no sleep on the plane.

7AM at JFK, waiting to check in

It didn’t really feel all the different setting foot off the plane, but once I starting to see the sign that said “Welcome to Japan” and pretty much ever sign was in Japanese, then it hit me. My dad and brother actually too the trip with me, and they stayed in Shinjuku for the whole week. Luckily enough, my friend Kazuki, who had studied abroad at New Paltz a year ago, works at Narita Airport. When he finished his shift at work he met us at the Starbucks in Narita, we all caught up and chatted and tried to figure out what was the best (and cheapest) way to get to their hotel. And we figured that the JR (Japan Railway) line would be the cheapest albeit a little longer along the lines of travel duration.

We needed to get to Okubo station, which is one stop after Shinjuku on the Soubu local line. It took about 2 hours and one transfer. Thankfully the trains not only announced the stops in Japanese but also in English, and the signs were posted in English as well so we didn’t get lost trying to find our station.

And a fun side-note: The stations play music, like an ice-cream truck on a merry-go-round kinda music, right before the doors close. And also, the seats on the train were heated. I’d take the JR line over the LIRR any day!

Shinjuku at night, from the 17th floor of the Hundred Stay hotel

So having been awake for over 24 hours, navigated the Japanese transportation system, and had a nice man on the street who spoke English very well helped us find our hotel midst the nighttime city life, my first day in Japan ended with me flopping onto the hotel bed, too tired and too late to check into my dorm. Which was around 8PM Japan time, which would have been 7AM EST. It was exhausting. I could have checked into my dorm that night since I contacted the International office letting them know about the delay and all, but it was dark, I was tired, and I didn’t want to lug around my bags trying to find a building somewhere I didn’t know.

The next day thought, I met up with my friend Rachel, who is also here from New Paltz, and we moved into the Tokyo Girls dorm together. I will be talking about my dorm and some of the beautiful sights my family, friends and I went to the week before orientation started.

Two free checked suitcases, yes please!

The one week mark approaches.

I was talking about studying abroad with my brother the other day on our drive to the post office (because no one can physically reach my mailbox with all this snow) to pick up my visa and other various forms of junk mail. If you had asked me months ago how I felt about studying abroad, I would have told you, “Shush, it’s not happening yet. I’ve got months. Calm down.”

Well, now I have almost a week left.

All my documents are in order. And the visa for Japan is gorgeous, it is pretty in pink with cherry blossoms making me long for spring & to go and see and take all the pictures of 花見 hanami (which translates to flower viewing)! I called up Bank of America to let them know that I will be out of the country so they don’t shut off the money flow thinking there is fraudulent activity afoot. Went to the doctors & dentist. Shopping for essentials like clothes and hygiene products and plug adapters. The essentials.

Took a trip up to New Paltz, saw friends before I left. Had a family dinner and said my goodbyes for five months.

New Paltz Reunion!

Surreal? Yes, sir.

Pressed for time? Hell yeah.

I am trying to shovel work (and snow), reading, language studies, and all the sleep that I can get into a short amount of days. And it’s kind of freaking me out. In a good way. But my stomach flip-flops when I think about getting on that 14 hour plane ride next week. Work does wonders in keeping me preoccupied and help feed the “Courtney Needs Money for Travel (and Food)” fund.

I have everything all booked with Japan Airlines, and this is my first international flight (2nd plane ride in my entire life). One of the things that is different from other study abroad experiences, is that Meiji does not send anyone to pick you up from the airport and show you where you are going to live for the next 5 months. Real life just hits you in the face once you touch down in Tokyo, Japan. But luckily, my dad and brother are taking the trip with me and staying in Shinjuku for a week. So I won’t get lost alone, at least.

Through Japan Airlines, I get two free checked bags and a free carry-on. Which is great because I have clothes galore to bring, and it gives me enough storage space for bringing back souvenirs and gifts and even more clothes that I buy throughout the duration of my trip! So A+ to Japan Airlines for being so awesome!

And another added bonus with JAL: Not only is alcohol served, it is free! 

Now I am left to count the days with that nervous/excited feeling taking root in my stomach for another week. It’s worth every moment. More pictures to come prior to departure~!

Here’s to Many Firsts

“Soon”. That’s the only word I’ve been thinking about as the day of my flight comes closer and closer. It has been a long 3 month winter break and while I am thankful for the long vacation, I’m ready to hop on the plane and go to Japan! It’s weird to think that this study abroad experience will allow me to do a lot of new things that I have never done before. My first two new experiences: getting on a plane and going out of the country. This is going to be the first time I have ever been on a plane, and so I’m pretty excited. Just buying the plane ticket was a whole new experience in itself and it was a task I was easily able to accomplish on my own. My flight is 14 hours long nonstop, so I’m basically going from zero experience to 14 hours worth of it all in one sitting. Thankfully, I will be traveling with a friend who is also apart of the same study abroad program, so the plane ride should pass by a little more quicker.

This final week is filled with last-minute hangouts and packing. For the most part, I have already finished packing but for some reason I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing a few things. I guess this is just a normal feeling for a lot of people, especially when traveling to a new country. You never know what you do and don’t need, so you try to pack everything even if it doesn’t seem logical to do so. But somehow, I was able to only fill up half my suitcase so maybe I can safely say that I didn’t over pack. So far, I only have one large suitcase and a duffle bag, and sticking to just those two things! I don’t want to have to carry a lot of luggage around Tokyo especially since we have to make to our dorms on our own. If there is ever a case where I need something, I’m better off trying to buy it while in Japan.

A surprise birthday party before I go lol

A surprise birthday party before I go lol

For the past couple of months, people have been asking me how I feel about this trip, but in all honesty I don’t really know how I feel. Maybe it’s a little bit of excitement mixed in with a little bit of nervousness, but I’m not entireIy sure. Studying abroad is suppose to be a growing process, and so I sure whatever I am feeling is just apart of that process. All I can say is that I’m in for a lot of new experiences and I can’t wait for it to start! If I had to commit to any feeling, it would be “Let me get on this plane already!”. 9 more days and counting!

One last movie night with the girls.

One last movie night with the girls.


Welcome to Malaysia

It’s been almost two months since I arrived in Malaysia on January 4 for the English Teaching Assistant Fulbright grant. Before I came to Malaysia I was spending time in Prague, Czech Republic working as an on-site coordinator for the ECES office at Charles University, I then went to Ireland for three weeks to take a TEFL (teaching english as a foreign language) class. After being in Europe for four months it was nice to return to New York for December to celebrate the holidays with my family and friends before moving to Malaysia for the next year.

These first two months in Malaysia have been quite the ride, going from Europe, back home, and then to South East Asia has been an interesting adjustment period, but I have already learned so much and fallen in love with this country, specifically my state of Sabah. The first month consisted or orientation, two and half weeks in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL), and about a week in my state’s capital, Kota Kinabalu (KK). Orientation was intense, but incredibly beneficial. We had meetings with different members of the American embassy, the Malaysian Ministry of Education (MOE), TEFL teachers, and the highlight, afternoon tea at the Ambassador’s house. There are 100 ETAs in Malaysia and at the end of the KL orientation 15 of us left for the wonderful, arguably the best, state of Malaysia, Sabah!

Sabah is located on Malaysian, Borneo, not peninsular Malaysia, about a three hour flight from KL. We were greeted at the airport on January 20 by the MOE officials holding a huge banner with our photo on it and beaded Sabah necklaces to drape around our necks, we had arrived in our home state for the next year. The orientation in KK was lead by MOE officials so we got to spend the week getting to know our Malaysian bosses and meeting our mentors. My mentor, Doreen, is one of the sweetest women I have ever met. The role of the mentor is navigate the school both literally and socially for the ETA. Meeting our mentors was a long anticipated event that did no cease to meet its expectations. Doreen was able to tell me about SMK Mat Salleh, we created a schedule, and we shared pictures of our families, I was officially and ETA at SMK Mat Salleh.

After the handing over ceremony in KK me and my two Ranau roommates, Cori and Kate, packed our life in a van, with Doreen, and were brought to our new home in Ranau, Sabah to start school the following morning. Being dropped off at our house was such a surreal feeling. We had been living in and out of hotels for the past month with insane schedules of meetings and lectures and lots of learning with so many other ETAs that we had bonded so closely with. Once our mentors left our home we just started at each other and laughed at how crazy it was that we were living in rural Borneo with a magnificent view of Mt. Kinabalu. The three of us had gotten very close during orientation and we were so lucky to have been placed together and in that moment we fully understood how lucky we were. Of course we would have our mentors and our teacher friends and even our students to keep us company, but it was a really nice feeling knowing that we would be starting and finishing this year together. We are all placed at different schools in the Ranau district, but we will plan lessons together, hold English camps together, travel together, and live together in  Malaysia for the next year and in that moment I could not have been more excited.

The first month at school has been wonderful. All of the administration, teachers, and students have been so welcoming and helpful. Everyone wants to help, and feed me, all of the time! My school was great and had my schedule ready the second day of school so I was able to start teaching in the classroom right away. I have also become part of English Language Society and the younger girl’s net ball team. I am currently working on a project called “Humans of Borneo.” Inspired by the “Humans of New York” blog I decided to have my students be the photographers and interviewers. Sabah is a very diverse state, and Borneo is an incredibly diverse island consisting of three different countries, Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak), Brunei, and Indonesia. My goal for this project is for me and my students to learn more about how diverse our school, our state, and the whole island of Borneo is. This project has been launched at SMK Mat Salleh and I have already been receiving posts from my students. A few ETAs in Sarawak have also joined the project, as well as some other ETAs in my state of Sabah. Once the page becomes a bit more established my plan is the spread the word to ETAs in Indonesian, Borneo and international schools in Brunei. I am very excited about the prospects of this project and I can already see the excitement in my students!

Although I have been in Malaysia for two months already the time is flying and continues to fly. Last weekend was Chinese New Year so we had almost a week off and a group of Sabahans (we call ourselves the Sabah$$es) decided to get scuba certified! I was a little apprehensive, my entire family is certified so I have tried it and always thought it wasn’t for me, how wrong I was. Getting certified was one of the best decisions I have ever made. This past weekend has opened up so many more adventures for me, and living in Sabah, one of the number one dive destinations in the world, I knew it was a must! In about two weeks we have a spring break, so another week off, and a group of us has planned a trip to Indonesia! I cannot wait to explore the depths of Bali.

All in all Malaysia so far has been an incredible experience in every way possible. The Fulbright program is amazing, my roommates are the best, Ranau is a wonderful town in a beautiful state, and my school is full of such beautiful people inside and out. If these first two months are an indication of how the rest of the year will be I anticipate a year full of adventure and change, one of my best years yet!

Batu Caves, KL

Afternoon Tea at the Ambassador’s Home

Sabah$$es Jungle Trek

Luanti – Natural Fish Massage

Welcome Speech to SMK Mat Salleh

Students love Selfies!

me and my lovely roommates enjoying Sapi Island

Sapi Island, KK

A Malaysian Engagment

some R&R after a long week

Sabah Tea Garden

Sabah Scuba Dives

Final Goodbye

The morning I left, I sent a text message to my host mum telling her about the fun I had in Kyoto and Tokyo and how, when I come back, we’ll eat lots of cake and have fun together again.

Studying in Japan was a dream come true, and something that used to be a figment of my imagination. I came to college determined to study abroad for a variety of personal, rather than academic, reasons. At the very end of this adventure, I grew up in the most personal aspect of my life. I don’t think it’s something that my friends or family will see, but just something that I alone will realize and that is good enough.

During my last few days in Nagasaki, a friend’s host dad who also attended the university had apparently told my friend that my Japanese had really improved. I think that I can do a lot better, but it’s extremely encouraging to hear. I can only hope that the next time I come to Nagasaki, I’ll be able to really speak to all of the people I’ve met here. The next time I hope to be back here, a lot of my friends in the JASIN program will have left, but I hope to see some of my Japanese friends.

I spoke to a student in the highest level of Japanese offered in our program, as well as a friend who began her study there as an international student but transferred to become a permanent student in the school, and there are so many things that I wasn’t able to learn. It’s sad, but also exciting news that pushes me to want to learn even more. I’m excited to come back to Japan and fill in all the holes that I wasn’t able to fill in this time.

Winter Vacation

Leaving Nagasaki was really hard for me. I cried multiple times the night before while doing last minute packing, and couldn’t accept it. Honestly, it was one of the hardest things I had done in quite a long time. I remember I was standing in the middle of my room, holding clothes to be put away, when I just burst into tears for the third time that night.

The next morning, I mailed out more things, and my host mum drove me to the airport. We arrived early, and hung out with Alyssa’s host mum and host sister. I cried a lot at the airport too. Overall, I’m just a big ball of tears. Thankfully, at the end when we really had to say our goodbyes, we said ‘See you later’ instead of goodbye. I’m happy that our host parents believe that we’ll be back soon… and we will be! I have nothing but fond memories in Nagasaki, and headed out to Kyoto and Tokyo knowing that they would be places of wonder and excitement, but also knowing that they would never be able to replace Nagasaki in my heart.

Our first stop was Kyoto! We stayed at an Airbnb, and our host was this really nice lady named Rumi. We spent Christmas day shrine hopping, visiting Shimogamo, Yasaka and Fushimi Inari shrine!

We actually ended up visiting Fushimi Inari a total of three times during our stay in Kyoto since we kept arriving a bit towards sunset and couldn’t manage to get any nice photos…

We also went to Nara to feed deer! They’re quite frightening…

On our last day, we went to Mt. Kurama to enjoy the onsen there! There was also a temple there.

In Tokyo we went to a whole bunch of places like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Odaiba, and Akihabara! We did meet with quite a few friends here, some of them who are currently studying abroad at Meiji University! I want to go there next year, so they gave me some helpful tips…

I ended up buying a new scarf here for $15!! It’s super wide and warm and cozy~

Shibuya was high on my priority list because one of my favorite games takes place here. A friend of mine who studied abroad and visited Shibuya last year said the game’s map of Shibuya is highly accurate!! There’s a mural in the game that she found in real life but I didn’t find it… I did find this though!

(When we had trouble finding Hachiko my friend told me “Quick! Which direction did you go from here in the game?” Sadly it’s been years since I’ve played it… but there were only two directions you could choose from in the game and I ended up choosing the wrong way in real life…)


We also went to Meiji shrine to pray! We decided to go New Years Eve even though you’re supposed to go on New Years…

We also visited Harajuku! We came back at a later date and got crepes… I got one with Matcha ice cream and CHEESECAKE. It was the best thing on Earth.

I don’t like Gundams but I also visited the Gundam cafe for a friend! (We later found two more… one in Tokyo station and one in Odaiba behind the giant Gundam!)

It’s just a small glimpse of what I did…!

We really did cram quite a bit in during our last weeks here in Japan. It’s tough to say goodbye, but I’ll be back someday soon!




Penguins and Cocowalk Mall

Today we went to an aquarium! It was suuuuuper pretty!!

We decided to meet at Cocowalk Mall! I took the streetcar there with some friends.




Inside, I saw this.


I miss bubble tea so much… I used to drink it so much in the states haha!

Then we left to the penguin museum! It was quite a faraway trip, maybe about half an hour? It cost roughly 500yen to get there one way!

We got off here.



There was bit of a long path to get to the actual museum itself, but it was a super pretty walk! There were some scarecrows here hehe.



Here it is!!


We got in for free because of our resident cards eheh. If you ever come here, there are SO many places you can get into for free when you show your resident card!

When we walked in there were all these cute little fishes!! Then this huge tank full of huge fish!!



We kept laughing about how weird some of them looked lol.

There was also a huge tank for the penguins to swim in! They were kept on the second floor, there was only one swimming in here.



Then we went upstairs!

More fishies! And jellyfish! AND PENGUINS.


Tiny baby jellyfish!



This fella waddled over to us.



There were also these guys! Wonder what they were doing…


What an unfortunate looking fish…


I stepped outside because I saw a vending machine (with CALPIS written on the side. I thought it was a vending machine full of different flavored calpis drinks. I was completely wrong and mislead) but there was this GORGEOUS view!



Look at the kids with the penguins!!


We started getting hungry around now and went down another path, and saw more penguins!



The giftshop and food place were really expensive unfortunately lol. But they had narimo!


Then we went to go pet a penguin!! They’re a lot softer than I expected!!


It tried to nip at my friend…


After all of that, we decided that we were all hungry and went back to Cocowalk. One of our friends had never had okonomiyaki, so we went to an okonomiyaki restaurant in the mall! It was the kind where you took off your shoes.


We were a large group so were split into two tables. My table ordered 2 okonomiyaki, and a side dish. (Later we ordered one more okonomiyaki because we’re fatties…)







And this was our side dish. I can’t exactly remember what it was though! I do remember that it was delicious and amazing…


Afterwards we went to go get ice cream. They all Baskin Robbins here 31 flavors. Apparently both names are interchangable in the states (since they advertise having 31 flavors apparently), but in Japan everyone seems to just refer to it as 31 flavors and won’t know what you’re talking about when you mention Baskin Robbins… Funny though, since it says Baskin Robbins right on the logo too!

They had really cute display stuff.



I got matcha ice cream since it’s my favorite!


That was the end of it for today! I found out it costs me 300yen to go from Cocowalk all the way to my bus stop… sigh…

Classes so far…

Of course, one of the main reasons I came to Japan was also to study!

I’m taking 17 credits here, which really doesn’t seem like a lot, but amounts to about 8 classes over here! Most classes meet once a week, for 90 minutes. I knew about this prior to coming here from my Japanese friends, but it’s actually a lot harder to adjust than I thought it would be… In reality, I think adjusting to classes was one of the more harder things for me to adjust to…!

I was placed into Japanese 2, which was where I wanted to be. We picked up right where I left off in the States in our Genki textbook, and moved onto the second book of the series. I have three teachers for Japanese, who alter everyday. I thought it would be troubling, but there’s a really smooth flow everyday! There’s a bigger language barrier here than there is in the States (obviously), but my classmates and I are able to pick up on everything quickly (or if not, we help each other out!). It’s really enjoyable, and so far I’ve aced every single quiz! Can’t really say that about our first big quiz though… One of the most trouble aspects for me is that I unintentionally reply in short/casual form to my professors. Back in the States, I would avoid using short form as much as possible since we had first learned it and I just could barely grasp using it quickly. Here, I use short form a lot at home with my host mum, so it just carries over into class…

Besides Japanese… many classes were more or less of a letdown. There are several classes I’m taking that are some of the best, but the majority seem to be pretty… subpar… One professor even completely changed the syllabus on us when more than half the class dropped out…!! It seemed like she was blaming us for the change too, saying how she couldn’t stick to her original syllabus since she had planned it to work only if she had the original amount of students who signed up… A certain political class I was looking forward to the most seems like a reiteration of my Intro to International Politics class, sans focus and important information/views of each political theory…

But no more of that negativity!

A class that I didn’t anticipate taking was Japanese encounter with Christianity. It overlaps a bit with my history class, but goes way more into detail about Japan’s history with Christianity. I’m not very interested in religion, so I thought it wouldn’t be a good class to take. I decided to take it since I decided to drop another class with the previous professor, and still needed credit. Something I’ll never forget is when I came into this class for the first time and the professor handed out questionnaires to the students who just entered the class and told us “Please be honest about why you’re here. If you’re here because (so-and-so) class was terrible and you needed the credit, just write that. I know that feeling.” It was probably the first thing that made me decide that this class was probably going to be the best.

The professor is really what makes this class as amazing as it is. He’s bright and hilarious. Just by looking at him, you can tell his passion about the subject, which really makes the class a whole lot easier to sit through. He makes us laugh and is honest about a lot of the things he has to deal with. He feels more like a friend and makes the whole atmosphere very comfortable. When we finally started class, we started off learning about Christian theology, since many of us don’t have a background in it. It ended up being a lot more interesting than I thought it would be! Even though it’s the latest class I have, it’s something I always look forward to.

All in all, I do miss my classes at New Paltz. Mostly, I just can’t sit 90 minutes straight through a class. Around the 40 minute mark I always end up looking at the clock…! I honestly thought once a week classes would be better and easier, but now I know I definitely would much rather prefer 40 minute classes that meet several times a week.

There are some classes that I continue to go to because I simply need the credit, but then there are also some that are genuinely engaging and that I definitely take something from every time I leave.