►01: Pre-Departure

Well, I can’t say this is going to be an exciting entry.

As of right now, I’m still sitting in bed, nothing’s packed and I haven’t really thought much about moving. It’s pretty relaxing, I have to say. Though documenting all of this doesn’t really make a great impression of me, nor this blog. But what can i say? I really am still sitting at home.

It’s going to be a week before I leave, and honestly the hype comes and goes. Sometimes I’m excited and drag my hands down my face like “oh my god I’m actually going to [South] Korea, hasta la laters family” and other times I wonder why I’m even awake. I haven’t left the country in years, the last time was about eight years ago to China, give or take a year. And my earliest memory (and practically only memory) of being on a plane was when I threw up. I was a wee child, so I don’t know how accurate that still is despite having  gone on planes after that. But a memory’s a memory and I’m sharing.

I suppose I should sound a little more enthusiastic about this trip, and talk about all the things I want to do, but I don’t want to ruin all the surprises for this blog. A little goes a long way, show don’t tell, and other miscellaneous sayings I learned in English. They all fit pretty well with the situation, and I’m going to have to write so I guess it’s appropriate. I think I’m more worried about the airport than anything, what if I lose my luggage? That would be the worst. But I guess I’d have to have a suitcase to lose first.


Crossing the bridge when I get there seems like a pretty good way to deal with these things.

Sightseeing in Nagasaki: Mt. Inasa and the Confucian Shrine

Since my trip to Korea, the past couple of weeks have been kind of boring. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s true. I’ve been focusing on school and doing a little bit of sightseeing around Nagasaki in my free time.
One of the first things I heard about when I got here, was the incredible night view of Nagasaki City from Mt. Inasa. I even brought a package of post cards and half of them were images of Nagasaki City from Mt. Inasa. So naturally I thought that I would have to experience this myself. I went with a few people and we climbed maybe a quarter of the mountain. We hadn’t planned on climbing it at all actually. We had originally wanted to take the ropeway up because it’s free and because it’s kind of hot here. But we ended up taking a bus halfway up the mountain instead.

The view did not disappoint!








When I first got here, during Orientation, there was a presentation on this history of Nagasaki. There are two things that I took away from that presentation. The first being that there is a long history of Chinese culture in Nagasaki, as China was one of the few countries that were allowed to trade with Japan during its period of isolation. Second that there is a great Catholic influence (there are several churches and other Christian sites). We have yet to hit all of these sights in Nagasaki, but we’re working on it. We did however get to see the Confucian Shrine, Chinatown, and what was the former Chinese settlement:










Golden Week (Nagasaki Ship Festival and Seoul, Korea)

I’m actually the worst at updating this thing because I keep meaning to update but then I always land up forgetting. So here’s a post, so I can catch you guys up on the last couple of weeks.
So the spring semester in Japan is from April until August. So while everyone else is done with school, I will be here all summer. Which is totally cool, but that means I’m gonna be posting throughout June and July!
During the last week of April, there was a festival in Nagasaki where there would be all different kinds of ships from different countries. It’s really pretty at night when the boats are all lit up. On Monday and Tuesday (April 28th and 29th) of that week, there were supposed to be fireworks signaling the opening of the festival. So a few friends and I went down to the harbor to see the ships and the fireworks on both nights. The ships weren’t very big but they were definitely impressive. They had all different kinds of ships, from places like Japan, Korea, Russia, and even America! Although I didn’t go on any of these ships (because I have an irrational fear of ships and boats) I heard that they were really cool on the inside. The whole experience was really cool because I got to hang out with some cool people, eat some great food, and meet a few new people. And plus, fireworks! Who doesn’t love those!
And I even managed to catch a few pictures of the festival:







From May 1st to May 7th, we had a few days off because of Golden Week (a holiday in Japan), so a few friends and I decided to go to Seoul, Korea. I was super excited because besides Japan, I hadn’t really traveled outside of the US. And here I was, in just a few months, traveling to another country in Asia!
It was honestly a great experience. I didn’t know what to expect when I first got to Korea, but it went beyond what I thought it was going to be. Seoul is a larger city than Nagasaki, so it was almost refreshing to get a change of scenery. We did a lot of things there, like trying new foods, shopping and sightseeing!
I had never really tried Korean food before (like maybe once or twice), but it was really cool to try different kinds of Korean food. The kimchi was amazing. But it was also pretty cool because they had things like pizza and Taco Bell (which I know aren’t very exciting, but after being in Nagasaki for so long, with only Japanese food really available, it was pretty great).




I also got to ride the subway quite a lot in Korea, which was pretty cool. Their subways are nothing like the ones in New York. They’re actually really clean (or so they seem) and pretty new-looking. I don’t ride the subway often in New York, in fact I avoid it unless I absolutely have to, and so I was a little nervous about riding it. Especially since I know absolutely NO Korean whatsoever. But it was actually very easy to figure out and a lot of the signs were in English.
We saw a lot of really amazing things while we were there. But two things that I need to mention are the Deoksugung Castle and the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple.
The castle was so impressive and absolutely gorgeous:
















The temple was also really cool to see. Especially since on the days that we visited we actually went on a holiday celebrating Buddha’s birthday! So we got to see the temple on one day and then the festival on the following day! My friends and I even made a wish that they hung on a lantern at the festival!
Here’s some of the pictures:













Overall it was a really cool experience and I would advise anyone who is planning on studying abroad to try and travel as much as they can. I don’t think I would have ever had this experience had I not already been studying abroad!



In a State of Disbelief

In less than 10 days …

I really cannot believe I will be going to South Korea. Every time I get an email about the English Village in Dankook or about my arrival, it reminds me again – I am really going to South Korea.

It feels weird to me because South Korea is a place I have been wanting to go to since high school, approximately 5 years ago. Just a year ago, I was telling everyone that once I go to South Korea, I will never come back. Of course, it was a joke and I never knew I would be going so soon. Plus, my mom would never let me stay in a foreign country, alone, for a long period of time. Actually, I am really surprised with how supportive my parents have been on my decision of studying abroad – though I am pretty sure they have expected this from me anyways.

As I count the days till my trip, I am both excited and nervous to be going on an international journey. I have never been abroad alone before, especially to a country where I do not know the language. But this will be a learning opportunity for me and I will keep you posted on my study abroad in South Korea!

안녕, V.

Nagasaki (with a little bit of food, too)!

I’ve lived on Long Island for most of my life, and in New York for all of it. I’ve been to other places, but not really outside of America or even off the east coast for that matter. So when I first arrived in Japan, I wasn’t really aware of how much of a different lifestyle is lived here. Starting with the fact that Nagasaki’s environment is completely different from New York’s. When I left New York it was snowing. I had my winter jacket, a scarf and boots. But when I arrived I was incredibly surprised by how warm and beautiful it was.  I guess you can consider Nagasaki to be a tropical environment. Its only April but I have found that the weather is usually sunny and warm, although it’s supposed to be very hot and humid during the summer.

I was absolutely exhausted from being on a plane for over fifteen hours when I first arrived. It was just after 10PM when I landed and nearly midnight by the time I arrived at the hotel. So being here didn’t really phase me until the following day, when we took a bus from Fukuoka to Nagasaki. That day was the first time that I interacted with the people in Japan. The language barrier is (and probably will be for the rest of the time I’m here) always an issue. But it’s not even just the speaking part that I found difficult, but the use of a completely different writing system (they have three different alphabets that are constantly used in signs and on menus and other things). I am constantly embarrassing myself because I don’t quite understand what people are saying to me!

Another thing. The food, obviously, is completely different here. But I don’t think anyone realizes just how different until you actually get here. Like everyone who has never been to Japan would think that our idea of sushi is what sushi really is. It’s not at all. Learned that the hard way. And I’ve found that the Japanese seem to have a strange love of mayonnaise and ketchup that I don’t think I can match to be honest. I like most of the food, but some of it I could do without. Two things that I absolutely cannot eat based on taste alone are mushrooms and fish, which for some reason seem to be included in absolutely every dish in Japan. I’m exaggerating of course, but trust me there’s a lot of these dishes here. The dorm’s food and the school’s food are okay, kind of like school food in general. But from what I can tell you about the restaurants here, the food is pretty great. I even had Champon/Chanpon (I have no idea how it’s spelled to be honest) which is a pretty big deal and had a pretty interesting history in Nagasaki. It was really good! I’ll talk about it more in a future post.

Bonus! Here are a few pictures that I did manage to take before eating.







I’ll do another post on food at some point, once I get more pictures. I don’t usually take pictures of my food before I eat it, but I guess I should start. But until then, thanks for reading!

Hello from Nagasaki, Japan!

First of all, I’d like to formally apologize for not posting sooner. I unfortunately forgot to bring a charger converter with me, and I only recently got one.

So I guess that means I’ve got to catch you guys up on a lot of things. I’ve been here for a little more than three weeks now, which may not seem like much time in the grand scheme of things (I’ll be here for about four months total), but I’ve done a lot of activities so far!

I’ll start with the months before I arrived in Japan. I left New York on March 25th (and arrived the next day on March 26th, got to love time zones!). That means that I had a little more than three months to prepare for my study abroad experience, go on an emotional roller coaster, and say goodbye to all of my friends, family and my home. I was really nervous to leave, but I was also really excited to experience something new.

In the months before my departure, a lot of people asked me why I had chosen to go to Japan. To be honest I didn’t know how to answer that question. As an Asian Studies major, academically it made sense for me to want to study abroad in Japan. And I’ve always been interested in the culture and arts of Japan, so why not. But to be honest I think I’m the type of person who just throws herself into things without thinking about it, and then just figures it out as she goes along. And I think that’s what I’m doing here.

I’m not experienced when it comes to travelling. I went to Puerto Rico with my family once, but that’s about as far as I’ve travelled. So I hadn’t really ever left the country before, let alone gone anywhere without the comfort of family or friends. I took two planes. The first was a little over twelve hours, and took me from JFK in New York to Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan. The second flight took only a little more than an hour and a half, and took me from Tokyo to Fukuoka. The next day all of the new students took a bus to Nagasaki, which is where I am currently. From the moment we arrived in Nagasaki we were thrown straight into orientation for the next two weeks!

I was extremely unprepared when I first got here. I didn’t pack until the night before my flight. Let me tell you that was such a mistake. Not only was I extremely stressed out, but I forgot so much stuff! My suitcase was 52lbs, but I still had to have my mom send me a package with important stuff as soon as I got here!

Not only was I unprepared physically, but I could barely remember any of the Japanese I had already learned (and I’ve been taking Japanese at New Paltz for at least three semesters, so that should’ve counted for something). I mean, I had brushed up on my Japanese a little here and there throughout February and March, but not nearly as much as I should have. I was a bit of a mess when I first got here, because I could only remember a few basic words and phrases. But I think I’ve got the hang of it now that I’m getting used to everything. The language barrier has to be the hardest part of studying abroad (but only in places where they don’t speak a language that you know). I’ve embarrassed myself on more than one occasion, but I think that’s just a part of learning a new language. Besides that, everyone is willing to help you when you put in the effort. I’ve made a bunch of new friends, learned a bunch of new things in Japanese and am really excited to experience new things that I never thought would be possible!

So I guess that’s it for now, but I’ll keep you guys updated on things in Japan!

Last Month and Beyond

The climax of my trip was during this month. Time went by fast and I was already at the last month. By then, I knew I needed to wrap up things I have not done.  One of which was travel. I completed my exploration of  Tokyo after going to Odaiba with my Canadian suite mate that month. We wanted to go somewhere together before I left.

A smaller Statue of Liberty at Odaiba
A smaller Statue of Liberty at Odaiba

I went outside of Tokyo four times this month as well. First, I took the bullet train to Osaka to visit my friend who goes to New Paltz for a few days.  Then my senior from high school stopped by Tokyo for four days. We went together to Mount Fuji on one of those days but never got to climb the mountain because it would require us to stay there for a night and I still had school. Then my suite and two people who from the unit across from us went to Yokohama together. We checked out the Chinatown there and somehow ended up riding a roller coaster by the end of the day. Finally I revisited Kawagoe to meet the friend who picked me up from the airport. I biked with him around Kawagoe, met his childhood friends, and went into the hot spring with him.

View of Mt.Fuji from Level 5

View of Mt.Fuji from Level 5

Another thing I had to do before leaving was basketball. One of my friends made a basketball club at the new campus. By the time the club was approved and formed, there was less than a month left of school. During that month, everyone was busy with their finals, so we could not play most of the time too. At least there was one day that we got to play some full court games with the team from the other Meiji campus.



During the summer in Japan, there are Hanabi Daikai or firework festivals all over Japan. I attended the biggest one at Sumidagawa with my yukata that I bought from Donki. We waited for hours until it began, and when it did, it rained soon after. It was a memorable day for me, but terrible for some of my friends. The train station was closed and we had to walk to the next train station.

I had less than 4 hours of sleep on my last two days. I spent a lot of time packing those two days too. I bought an extra small suitcase and still could not fit everything I had.  For my last meal in Japan, my unit and the unit across from us ate at a nearby Indian restaurant together. Before leaving, I locked up my bicycle so that I would always have something else in Japan besides my friends. I think of it as a proof of my existence there. One of my friends I met in Japan drove me to the airport. Thanks to him, I was able to spend a little more time with my friends. We were stuck in Tokyo traffic until we got to Chiba though.

So that ends my story in Japan. It took me a long time to get home because I had a 7 hour layover at Los Angeles. I still remain in daily contact with all my friends from dorm.My summer vacation has just begun, but it will end in two weeks. It makes up for my long winter vacation since school started later for me. Even though I will come back as a junior in New Paltz, I still feel like a sophomore. I have not seen my friends at New Paltz in half a year. There are some lost times that I need to make up for.

One last thing. Before leaving I saw a poster saying  “Tokyo: Olympic 2020 Candidate city.” Then I came up with the idea that if Tokyo is chosen to be the site for the Olympics in 2020, we should all meet again then. But now it does not matter if Tokyo is chosen because we will meet wherever the Olympic will be held. By then we will all be working and doing what we each aspire to become. As for me, I wanted to become a lawyer. Now I want to become an international lawyer.




The Day I Crossed Into North Korea

Contrary to the title of this post let me make a disclaimer: no, I have not defected to North Korea; however, I did have the privilege to step a few feet into North Korean territory (while escorted by the toughest looking South Korean/U.N soldiers you’ve ever seen in your entire life) during my trip to the DMZ. For those of you who are unaware, the DMZ stands for the “Demilitarized Zone,” which serves as a no-arms 4 km wide territory that just so happens to be the border between the Republic of Korea (aka ROK/South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka DPRK/ North Korea). The trip started with the touring of excavated tunnels North Koreans dug under the DMZ going into South Korea under the ruse of being a “coal mining shaft” (in reality, they were built for impending NK  invasion plans, which were foiled upon their discovery in 1974). The trip 300 meters underground (which could be accessed via a trolley system or walking down a very steep ramp) was certainly not for the claustrophobic. The other major component was traveling to the JSA, the area within the DMZ known as the Joint Security Area (specifically “Panmunjom” –a complex of U.N and North Korean buildings that overlap the technical boundary of each country, also the location of the infamous Panmunjom Axe Murders in 1976). The shuttle ride between each area was surprisingly the only “nerve racking” component of the trip; perhaps it was due to the “WARNING: ACTIVE MINEFIELD” posts that outlined the wooded areas to each side of the road we were driving on? Panmunjom itself seemed more of a ghost town–one that had North Korean guards on the opposite side of the border, glaring at you through ridiculously large binoculars. We were escorted by our UN/ROK guards into a UN-controlled building that historically housed [failed] South-North Korean reunification efforts/peace negotiations. Then came my venture into the communist North–simply by standing on the far side of the building, I had entered the land of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un (some buildings exist on each side of the border, this is how I technically entered North Korea). Of course, relaying this experience to my mother (via Skype) earned me a scolding, but who at New Paltz can say they have been to North Korea? At least one person can now.

Pictured: (Top Left) Yours Truly accompanied by a ROK solider during my “border crossing”;  (Top Right) Panmunjom, blue buildings are controlled by UN, building in the center is the North Korean headquarters of Panmunjom; (Middle Left) UN Guest Badge, sadly I was unable to sneak away with it as a souvenir (I was NOT going to go against the UN soldiers who looked like they could snap my neck with one taekwondo kick); (Middle Right) UN Consent Form, essentially a contract stating that I was aware that I could be kidnapped or killed by NK soldiers at any time and my family could not sue the UN over my death, fun times right?; (Bottom Left) DMZ Sign, self-explanatory; (Bottom Right) Wall of Well-Wishes,  a series of ribbons with notes from separated family members on SK side, peace advocates, war veterans, etc.

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Pohang: City by the Sea and “Love Motels”

Just an hour north of the aforementioned historic Gyeong-ju lies the city of Pohang, a destination for many tourists (not of the Western variety mind you) that exudes a unique charm. The beach of said city was surprisingly clean (I for one am accustomed to the litter-ridden sand of Atlantic City, Virginia Beach, and the like). As I said in my previous post, once you exit the Seoul metropolitan area and head southeast, you encounter Koreans who have little experience with (Western) foreigner encounters; Pohang was no exception to this rule. Having braced ourselves for negative if not quizzical glances from the locals, my group was not all too surprised that when walking by outdoor seafood restaurants our presence would make the locals literally stop eating their food and stare at us (mouths still agape from chewing their food). Not to be deterred, a few of us headed toward a patio restaurant that had a direct view of the ocean/beachfront. The moment we stepped onto the pavilion, the other patrons started. . . cheering. If only you could have seen the confused looks on our faces as the restaurant erupted into whistling, cat calls, and laughter–I think it was a positive response, seeing that our table was given free drinks thanks to generous diners.

Above (Left-Right): Friend and I on Pohang Beach; Pohang City

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Above (Left-Right): Pohang Pavilion, had a walkway that led to the pavilion which was quite a few yards into the ocean; View of Pohang from the Pavilion

As the night went on, a select number of the group opted to stay on the beach for the entire night (in other words they decided to not sleep and catch the bus back home at 10am); and since I have not the endurance for such shenanigans, some of us made our way into the city to find a cheap hotel. Something we couldn’t help but notice when we would pass a hotel was the fact that the parking garages had these ropes dangling from the top, obscuring the view of the cars inside. love motel garage(The above photo is a stock image I found on Google, it was too dark to take a picture of the actual garages that we saw, but they had the same coverings).

We immediately asked our coordinator (of the English Village, who planned the trip and accompanied our group) what the deal was with the garages. She plainly stated that the majority of hotels in Korea are “love motels” aka the place that you take your significant other for. . . bonding. Seeing as that many young Koreans still live with their parents until they themselves are married, the purpose of the motel makes sense, but that didn’t clear our confusion as to why the view into the parking garage was obscured. Apparently, “love motels” are where you take your mistress, and the obstructed garage view ensures that any passersby would be unable to recognize who you were fooling around with. This emphasis on privacy was further demonstrated when we went to get rooms (not for funny business, the rates were very cheap compared to American hotels and we were too tired to look elsewhere) and the welcome window was completely blacked out save for the money slot. The speaker box that you spoke through also distorted your voice (creepy much?). To add to further strangeness, with room purchase you received your key, two toothbrushes, a razor, and a . . . ahem . . . contraceptive. The hallways leading to the rooms were adorned with vending machines that dispensed. . . ahem. . . “adult toys;” I think it is safe to say that love motels are not where vacationing families make reservations. A really interesting (albeit slightly creepy) feature of the rooms was you had to insert your key into the wall as you walked in (note that the keys were traditional keys that had large pieces of plastic attached, the latter of which you slid into a wall crevice) and boom lights suddenly go on (and then dim for mood lighting. . . ). Needless to say, I avoided touching all surfaces that I didn’t need to touch, slept in my clothes, and refused to use the provided bathrobes/ shower gels (thankfully I brought my own soap). I think the experience was fascinating considering the general “hush hush” vibe regarding sexuality in Korea (the maximum of PDA you see is holding hands, even then my students said it could be “scandalous”). So the next time you ever need to slink away to a private location with your mistress, you could book a 14-hour flight to Korea and settle into one of the many swanky (and sketchy) love motels the country has to offer (for just $40 a night with a beach view!).

Gyeong-Ju: Ancient Temples and “Foreigner Celebrity Status”

I was fortunate enough to travel (5 hours) southeast of the Korean Peninsula to the wonderful cities of Gyeong-ju and Pohang (the latter to be described in a later post. . . trust me, the stories are worth the wait). Around twenty other English Village teachers as well as our wonderful coordinator were also in for the once-in-a-lifetime journey (though I suppose I could and should go back to see the sites I missed). A bit of back history of Gyeong-ju: the area is known as a historical site that was once the “cradle” of the famous Silla Kingdom (dating 1st century BCE to the 10th century, CE I believe) and it is also home to absolutely beautiful Buddhist temples, royal gardens, excavation sites, and equally stunning works of Korean architecture. The night in Gyeong-ju was spent in a “pension,” a traditional Korean lodging guest house (luckily, ours was furnished with a modern kitchen and bathroom, while sleeping was done as tradition–on the floor, which was surprisingly comfortable).

Something that I found endlessly amusing while in Gyeong-ju (as well as Pohang, but more on that later as previously mentioned) was the shock and awe a large portion of people had when they saw foreigners who were not of Asian descent (while Gyeong-ju and Pohang are popular tourist sites, they are primarily popular with Chinese and Japanese tourists, there are very few Western tourists). I cannot count the amount of times a Korean (most of the time a middle-aged woman) would approach me or another person in the group, stare intensely, raise their camera, snap a picture, and then zoom, they run away faster than you would figure to be physically possible. Some simply gawk, but it’s always the Koreans who try to “discreetly” capture the strange looking foreigners on film that always elicit a chuckle from yours truly. Being in the eye of the [Korean people] paparazzi isn’t as bad as Hollywood chalks it up to be. . . *Note that this phenomenon rarely occurs in the Seoul metropolitan area, Koreans there are much more accustomed to seeing/interacting with foreigners than their southern brethren are*

A noteworthy change in pace here in Korea is the fact that the English Village teaching program is over and I have already begun taking classes (a rather late update I admit). I miss seeing my students on a daily basis immensely, however we keep in constant contact (thank you Facebook and Kakao Talk [a very popular Korean messaging system/ social site]) and make lunch/dinner plans at least once a week. It is incredibly strange to shift gears from teaching to being the student (an adjustment that I have yet to fully grasp, I sometimes wake up in a panic because I forgot to plan my lesson for the day, only to remember that I am no longer responsible for that sort of planning).

Below (left to right): The Pension; Water Basin Outside Buddhist Temple, supposedly the water’s taste tells each person about their soul. . . . it tasted quite sour. . .; Buddhist Temple (pictures prohibited. . .  shhhhhhh. . . DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT ENDORSE TAKING “ILLEGAL” PHOTOS, BUT EVERYONE ELSE IN THE TEMPLE HAD CAMERAS FLASHING, AND TO MY CREDIT I TOOK THE PHOTO COVERTLY. . .  ERM. . . I MEAN I TOOK THE PHOTO OUT OF RESPECT, YA KNOW, FOR FURTHER APPRECIATION?. . . please don’t report me to the South Korean government. . . )

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Above (left to right): Excavation Area, complete with interior display of recently discovered [and polished] jewelry; Temple on a Lake; Closeup of Ceiling Tiling