Golden Week: Japan’s Most Anticipated Holiday

Author: Emily Nielson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

Golden Week is something that I first heard about from my mom. Essentially a pre-summer break, Thursday and Friday combine with the weekend to create a marvelous mini vacation for Japanese people. Everyone seems to have big plans for this holiday, and the crowds everywhere testify to that.

I spent a good part of Golden Week doing homework, but I did manage to go outside and experience some new things thanks to the invitation of friends. Mason, my former roommate, invited me to Kyoto for a barbeque hosted by her friend’s restaraunt. We enjoyed a wonderful variety of food, including grilled beef and pork, corn on the cob, shaved ice, and takoyaki. Beef is especially expensive in Japan, as there is little space for farmland, so this was especially tasty. Takoyaki are spherical golden shells made of batter that’s filled with octopus, grilled to one’s liking. I also tried whale-and thought of Finding Nemo the whole time. Whale has the consistency of beef and the taste of fish, which was a little unsettling, but perhaps that’s just me.

Adding another event to my cultural bucket list was watching Japanese men carry mikoshi, which is a kind of portable Japanese shrine. Wearing traditional white robes and headbands, they carry the shrine for a short distance to honor deities. According to Mason, they believe that the gods become bored sitting in their shrine, so they jostle around the mikoshi as much as possible. Spectators gather to watch them hauling the shrine. When the men took breaks, some of them offered mini cans of Asahi beer and tea, although the beer was strictly reserved for the men doing the heavy lifting. Ironically, many people took smoke breaks in between hauls, and I eventually got a bad headache from the air.

After making several loops around the neighborhood, the men finally returned back to the temple. Several men took turns beating the taiko drum, applause following each round. Finally finished, all of the participants were rewarded a bottle of sake and a whole pack of beer! They all seemed really happy.

It always interests me as to how much Japan enjoys honoring tradition yet also welcoming, or at least showing curiosity in, innovation and the latest trends. Holidays like this often give us a glance into what was once a norm in the lives of a people. It makes me wonder what the U.S. will look like in a few centuries, and what holidays the whole world could partake in.

Working, Learning, Growing

Author: Hannah Purkey 

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

As college students, we generally intern at some business, hospital, school. I personally have had two internship experiences  since coming to college. They are great opportunities to learn, grow, and truly see if you have an interest in a specific field. Although I experienced all of these things, nothing could have prepared me for my time interning in Costa Rica.

The amazing organization that I got to intern with is called Fundación Mujer (Womens Foundation). This organization itself works to contribute to the social and economic development of people in Costa Rica. They focus on working with refugees from other Central and South American countries. While interning at the foundation, I worked with a woman named Laura. She is in charge of running the education programming and development for the people wanting training. My main jobs were to assist in these education programs, help with the job fair logistics, and simply learn more about the company.

Women talking to different companies the Refugee Job Fair.

To better understand the need for this organization, I want to share a little bit about the story of immigration into Costa Rica. Immigrants make up over 10% of the population of people in Costa Rica. Since the 1960s this percentage has been continually growing. In the eyes of many Central and South Americans, Costa Rica is a secure place to be. Their economy is very stable and their government is kind to people seeking refuge. The highest number of people wanting to come into the country are from Nicaragua and Colombia. Because of the economic situation of Nicaragua, many people are coming to Costa Rica seeking work. It is in CR that they will find a lot of job availability  within domestic work/agriculture, higher wages, universal health care, and higher education standards. It is important to note that Nicaragua is a good country too. People do not want to leave their home country; but sometimes it is needed. To add on, the immigration of Colombians to Costa Rica is mostly due to people seeking refugee from the long standing Colombia Civil War. Some of these Colombians are leaving their country so they can save their own lives. Learning about the amount of refugees that live in Costa Rica has allowed me to appreciate this organization even more.

My personal experience with Fundación Mujer has been educational, eye-opening, and hard. I have learned so much from working with immigrants. I’ve gotten to hear their stories, hopes, triumphs, struggles, and dreams. In this process, I’ve learned so much about the real situations of different countries. This experience has also been eye opening because Costa Rica has a very different view on immigrants. Fundación Mujer believes they can add amazing things to the communities of Costa Rica. They are raised up, supported, and loved by this organization (and other organizations as well.) I have never seen this kind of support system for these types of people. Because of that, my eyes have been open to the resources and support these people really need. On top of all of this, everything I did with this organization was in Spanish. Although I am confident in my Spanish language abilities. I am lost at least 30% of the time. Because of this, interning here was hard, but in a good way. It pushed my language abilities to a level I never knew I could reach. All in all, this internship experience taught me a lot about the life of immigrants and what they need to be successful in a new country.

Me at one of the job fairs.

La Mar y Las Montañas

Author: Gabi Neuman 

Location: Granada, Spain

If you don’t speak Spanish, the meaning of this title is the sea and the mountains—in my opinion it flows better in Spanish with that lovely alliteration.  Last weekend I was fortunate enough to experience both of these aspects of nature on Friday (because we normally don’t have Friday classes!!!) and then Saturday, which was appropriate for Earth Day I’d say.  Granada, being part of Andalucía, is in southern Spain where some of Spain’s highest mountains are located, yet it is also only an hour drive to the closest coast.  It’s the best of both worlds, if you ask me.

On Friday, three of my friends and I took a bus to the coast of Granada around 9am and arrived in Nerja around 11am, a tourist coastal town close to Malaga.  After dealing with 2 months of straight rain, our first beach day was a major step up from being stuck inside all day every day.  We made it to the center of the town and found a brunch place that over looked the Mediterranean Sea (as you can see in the photos).  After finishing our second breakfast of the day since we had all already eaten at home, we headed for the beach.  In Nerja there are supposedly two beaches—one large one, or what you would typically think for a beach, and then a smaller beach with beach chairs to rent.  Being that we couldn’t find the large beach and we were standing right next to the small beach, we decided to venture down to the small beach where we rented chairs for the day and chilled for about 6 hours.  Once we were on the bus back to Granada, we unanimously decided that it was by far our favorite day in Spain thus far.

The next day, Saturday, we had a hike with our program and our intercambios.  Quick description of what an intercambio is.  Through the Central College program we partner up with about 7 students who attend the University of Granada (local Granadinos).  During the semester we go to places throughout the city with them such as an open air market, out for coffee, and our last activity which was a hike up through the mountains.  None of us knew where we were going so we did about 3 circles through the touristy part of the city and then proceeded to hike up past the Alhambra—the most famous site in Granada.  A side note about Spanish girls vs. American girls going on a hike: usually Americans are prepared to sweat since it is April in Spain and things are starting to heat up, especially when you’re going on a 4 hour hike.  This means that we wear sport shorts, t-shirts, no makeup, and our hair is up and out of our face.  Spanish girls are the opposite.  They have long leggings on, their hair down, perfect makeup, and if they were wearing a t-shirt they were one of the rare ones.  That being said, I’m convinced that Spaniards don’t sweat, so they can get all primped up for a hot and sweaty hike.  Just another cultural difference if you ask me.  Moving on…we started at 9am, walked past the Alhambra, meandered through a field of sheep (and sheep poop), and made it to the top of the mountain by around 1:00pm where there’s a park that the majority of people drive up to.  After eating lunch and playing a game of “Detective”(which is pretty fun but I would recommend playing it in your first language). After Detective, we headed back down the mountain which took about a third of the time as it did getting up.

All in all, I’m thankful for the weather change and that it actually looks like spring here so that I can experience the Granada that the rain wouldn’t let me see.  It’s a gorgeous city with lots of nature surrounding it that stretches from la mar to las montañas.  The best of both worlds.

My First Time in France

Vlogger:  Nicholas Kwiecinski

Location: Reutlingen, Germany

Social Customs in Japan: Courtesy as a Result of Collectivism

Author: Emily Nelson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

Japan is known for its courtesy. As a student living here, there are many examples of this. Every morning when I leave the dorms, several guards are stationed out front, greeting people as they enter and exit the premises. This is less for security than it is for giving directions, but nonetheless, the human interaction is still nice. When speaking to someone who you are serving or who is of higher rank than you, more polite language, called keigo, is used. And of course, bowing is very much still alive in Japanese social customs: The lower and longer you bow, the more respect you give. As someone who has now been living in Japan for a while, I would like to share my own experience with mannerisms here, as a (kind-of) Japanese person, if you will.

Most people here are very polite, as expected. There are few instances where I’ve come across anybody disrespectful. As a country that is arguably more collectivist than the United States, Japan values social relationships and harmony more. In the past, as someone who has been very fed up by rude people back home, coming here is almost like a breath of fresh air. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to question whether this is really better. Being respectful to others is a social expectation, and therefore most people follow it likely because they don’t intrinsically want to, but because they feel they have to. How many people are genuinely happy to be so agreeable all the time? While there are certainly people who are, others are may be acting. So are relationships really valued more in a collectivist culture, or are they simply the result of social conditioning? Maybe a mix of both? It seems that to gain social harmony, Japan has given up some genuineness in the process. It appears that each society chooses what it finds more important, genuineness in more individualist cultures or harmonious relationships in those emphasizing collectivism.

Seen at 7-Eleven. Japan really knows how to market to people.

I’ve alluded before to my appearance, or looking native enough to be addressed in Japanese. While I appreciate this, as it gives me the chance to practice speaking, it also sets off some minor alarm bells in my head, and not just because I don’t know how to say a lot of things. But why, you may ask? I had to ask myself the same. This is what I determined: Because I appear to be Japanese, it is expected that I adhere to the social rules and present like a citizen of this country, which holds more collectivist than individualist values. However, that’s not accurate of myself, as I’ve been removed from my country of origin for many years now, living in an area that encourages personal achievement more. This study abroad trip is the longest I’ve ever spent in Japan, and the first time on my own. As a result, I feel a constant social pressure to be more Japanese, and therefore more socially acceptable, even though my appearance does not match my experience. This was brought to my attention by a friend, who stated that I seemed too concerned about rules here. I think, however, that we’re all concerned about rules, it just depends on which type of culture we grow up in and our relations to them. Nonetheless, I do agree that I am overly concerned, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this!

Regardless of my opinion on these topics, I think that this is certainly a testament to the benefits of studying abroad. It certainly helps one understand their place in the world and how their home has shaped them. In a new place, one’s upbringing stands out clearly and invites more understanding to one’s identity as they adapt. I hope this helped you understand differences in perspective as much as it did for myself.

Cherry Blossoms!

Disclaimer: This writing is influenced by a work I am reading in psychology class called Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind by Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov. The interpretations I present are in part due to me learning about individualism/collectivism in this book.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

It’s that strange time during my study abroad experience that I feel like I’ve been here forever and that I just got here all at the same time.  Being that it’s the middle of April, I’ve been in Spain for about 3 and a half months and I have just under two months left.  I just got back from Paris last weekend and I leave for Germany and Switzerland in about a week and a half—needless to say life is moving along very quickly and I’ll be back in the States before I know it, which blows my mind.

At the beginning of the semester or even more towards the middle during February and up until mid-March, I focused a lot on what I miss from home whether that be food, people, my bed, or whatever else, and I’m pretty sure that’s a normal process to go through at that point of one’s study abroad semester.  However, now that I’m closer to the end rather than the beginning of my journey here, I’ve noticed myself thinking about the things I’ll miss when I go home.  Here’s a quick taste of what some of those things might be:

  • The plethora of stews that Carmen makes (with many ingredients I never would have eaten in the U.S.)
  • Fresh oranges
  • BREAD (every day for every meal)
  • Walking everywhere (not when it’s raining, but nice weather is starting to make an appearance)
  • Seeing the mountains on a daily basis (the highest mountain in Spain is in Granada)
  • Having more down time than I’ve ever had in my life
  • Meeting new people from different countries (I’ve had close to 40 international students and professors stay with my host family throughout the semester)
  • Being able to travel to foreign countries for an extended weekend
  • Not having class on Fridays (that’s going to be a hard one to readjust to next semester)

There are so many things I miss from home right now, but when I go back to the U.S. I know there will be things I wish I had taken advantage of or appreciated more when I was abroad.  There’s so much I’ve already done in this short time, so much more to do, and a ton left to learn and appreciate about where I am now.  Whoever came up with the phrase, “Time flies when you’re having fun”, sure knew what they were talking about and I hope I take advantage of the small amount of time I have left.

***Hope you enjoy the pictures of my time in Paris, France—it was a blast***

Visiting Melbourne

Author: Maria Clemens

Location: Newcastle, Australia

During my mid semester break, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Melbourne, Australia. This was by far one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. As a person who generally prefers the outdoors and parks to urban areas, I still really enjoyed my time spent there. I went with a few other friends who are studying abroad from Valpo and we stayed in a hostel called The Nunnery. This was a very unique hostel because it was a building that used to be a convent but had been redone to host travelers. The layout of the building was somewhat maze-like and quite interesting. There was an adorable little courtyard and the rooms were small but quaint. The sign over the entrance is in the picture below.

We only spent a few days in Melbourne, but they were pretty packed. Our first day we made our way towards the Botanical Gardens downtown. Along the way we passed by the coolest alley that was full of graffiti street art. It was so amazing to see the culture of the city in such an artistic way. The coolest thing about the alley was that new graffiti was added all the time.

As we continued along our way we also stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance. This was a cool experience because the shrine was similar to some of the monuments in Washington D.C. but specific to Australia’s soldiers and veterans. The building held a lot of history and emotion which could be seen in the displays and the people that were there visiting.

Finally, we reached the botanical gardens. This was by far the most amazing park I’ve been to in a city. The diversity of the plants was phenomenal. It took us a full two hours to walk around the entire park! We saw so many beautiful flowers and trees. One of the coolest aspects of the park was the fern alley. This was a small trail in the middle of the park that had vegetation from New Zealand. It was so green and lush it was incredible. I never would have thought it was possible to see so much plant life in the middle of such a booming city.

Next, we journeyed on to the National Gallery of Victoria. This museum is known as one of the best art galleries in all of Australia and it definitely lived up to the hype. There were so many unique art pieces in the museum. One of my personal favorites was an interactive exhibit by Yayoi Kusama entitled Flower Obsession. There was a small apartment recreated and furnished in the museum and filled with red flowers. Everyone that walked through it was given a red flower sticker and asked to apply it somewhere in the exhibit. This resulted in rooms covered in red flowers. I’ve attached a picture of myself sitting in one of the rooms below.

After leaving the museum, we headed back home quite exhausted from the long day. The rest of our time was spent touring around the city and enjoying the lovely Australian weather.




Semana Santa—Tradition or Thought Process?

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

This past week in Spain was Semana Santa or Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  To say that Spaniards take their celebrations during Semana Santa lightly would be an extreme understatement.  The entire week is a vacation week, with processions taking place every day through the streets and crowds surrounding those processions in a swarm (think the size of Fourth of July parades but with tiny, narrow cobblestone streets…and no candy being thrown to onlookers).

Just to describe the process a little bit (which won’t do it justice, but anyways) each city or town has their own processions which consist of a group of men carrying a massive float that contains statues of Jesus and his crucifixion or the Virgin Mary, a large amount of flowers, a canopy covering the statues in some cases, candles, gold, and any other items that contribute to the enormous amount of weight.  There are about 6 rows of men manually carrying the float and there are even more men under the float that you can’t see.  From what one Spanish girl told me, each man can be carrying 100 pounds or even maybe even more, which is distributed just on their shoulders without any padding to help with the immense weight.  The float is preceded by a group of men and women whose faces and heads are covered with large pointed hats as they carry candles and also children and young people who swing the incense holder, leading up to the float.  The float is then followed by a band playing solemn hymns.  All in all, the processions are an amazing spectacle and a great opportunity to  to experience while being abroad.

While Semana Santa seems to me to be one of the most important traditions Spain has to offer, for some it also seems to be just that—a tradition.  Although the basis of the processions is to commemorate and celebrate the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection and reflecting on what that means, many seem to participate in the tradition as part of their culture and only for that purpose.  They remember their roots and history, appreciating the art and tradition but not taking in the reason behind the processions and why it is they are celebrating.  In all honesty it’s a little sad to me, coming from a Christian home and background where Easter is one of the most important days of the year, especially in the church, and makes me question the value of traditions and important religious celebrations like Easter and Christmas—am I celebrating with a purpose or just because it’s how it always has been?

Experiencing Semana Santa here in Spain has not only caused me to observe and question the cultural values of the Spanish, but also my own.  It has given me the opportunity to look beyond the surface of what we consider culture and delve into the meaning and actions driving that culture, whether that be traditions like Semana Santa in Spain or Easter in the United States.  This constant stream of learning seems to be a pattern of mine while being abroad, and hopefully I continue it during my next few months here.

So What About that Tico Schedule?

Author: Hannah Purkey 

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

I have gotten a lot of questions about what a typical day in Costa Rica is like. Fair question right? After three months, one would think I could answer this question with ease. The truth is it differs every day. The structure of my semester has been very different than anything I have experienced in Valpo. Here’s a glimpse of what my day looks like!

Costa Rica Part One:

The first months of my time in Costa Rica were based more around a typical class schedule. My days went something like this:

6:00 A.M.  – Wake up to the warm sun shining on my face and get ready

6:34 A.M. –  Start riding my bike to the train stop (I had this down to a T)

6:43ish A.M. – Get on the train to go to the University of Costa Rica (transportation here runs on Tico time, that means the nonchalant attitude Costa Ricans (Tico’s) have about being (not) on time.)

8:00 A.M. – 1:00 PM Spanish Classes. We were in very small Spanish classes with people from all over the world!

Image may contain: 9 people, including Hannah Purkey, people smiling, people standing

A picture of everyone in my Spanish Grammar class!

1:00-3:00 P.M. – Eat lunch and go back to Santa Rosa (the neighborhood where the program is based)

3:00-5:00 P.M. – History of Costa Rica class or hangout with our host family time (depending on the day)

Image may contain: 3 people, including Hannah Purkey, people smiling

I always look forward to spending time with my host sisters!

5:00-9:00 P.M. – Homework, dinner, and more family time.

9:30 P.M. – Bedtime! I go to bed much earlier here than I did at Valpo!

This was more or less my weekly schedule before Spring break. The second awesome part about this study abroad program is you get to do an internship! The following is what my schedule has looked like since Spring Break.

Costa Rica Part Two:

7:00 A.M. – Wake up, get ready, and catch the train!

8:30 A.M. – Arrive at Fundacion Mujer (the place where I am interning.)

8:30-1:00 P.M. – Help out with data input, talk to refugees, assist in workshops, and more!

Image may contain: Hannah Purkey and Kyra Tessmann, people smiling

Kyra and I after our first day!

1:00 – 2:00 P.M. – Eat lunch with co-workers. This has been some of my favorite moments at my internship site so far! I love learning and hearing about people’s work and lives here!

2:00 – 4:00 P.M. – Head home or work more (depending on the day.)

4:00 – 9:00 P.M. – Spend time with my host family, dinner, homework, and more.

9:00ish P.M. – Bedtime once again!

Here’s a quick note about Tico Time: Costa Ricans run on a different kind of time system. Sometimes things take twice as long and sometimes they take no time at all. And it is all NO big deal. People do not worry much about time which makes mandated time grids (like above) hard to follow.


These are rough outlines of what my time has looked like here in Costa Rica. Everyday is very different, but each day is full of lots of learning and growing!

The Greatest Gifts

Author: Emily Nelson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

Last week, I was on Spring Break and had many opportunities to travel. In particular, I visited my aunt in Yokohama, a port town and Japan’s second largest city. Every time I’ve returned to Japan, I’ve always ridden the ferris wheel by the water and toured near the seaside. That day, we took a cruise called the Sea Bass, the sun glittering on the water. While traversing the sliver of ocean, I talked with my aunt. We’re able to converse well, as she takes weekly English classes. Curious, I decided to ask her if she uses English a lot at her job, to which she responded in the negative. I then inquired as to why she learns it at all, and she responded, “Oh, your existence.” This answer was completely unexpected to me; I was and still am so touched.

I suppose that I always assumed there was a better reason that my aunt has been learning English for the last 20 years. It’s common knowledge that learning another language is very difficult, especially when learned later in life. But the fact that my mom’s sister decided to take it up just for me is mind-blowing. I can’t imagine all the countless hours of dedication she put forward for my sake.

There is often speculation as to what love is, and I believe that real love requires action. Granted, it should be attributed to the giver’s ability and the situation, but anyhow, the word “love” is so ambiguous, but in this case, it carries so much personal value to me. I cannot think of anything else but that word to describe this situation. Perhaps that is what makes love more tangible-sacrifice. It begins with a feeling, but it is much more. Perhaps love’s presence is rendered visible by service, by sacrifice.

Of course, this is only one speculation of how love works. One could write endlessly about the topic, but I have comfort in knowing that I truly learned a small piece of it this day. One of my favorite phrases regarding love is, “We accept the love we think we deserve” (Stephen Chbosky). I think of this statement frequently, as it says so much in so little space. It suggests that the love we choose to reciprocate is a direct reflection of how we think of ourselves. Our perceived self-value is directly transposed into what we accept from the outside. I think this is why love can teach us so much about ourselves. When love is personified in action, it seems to multiply, creating something so much more valuable. I don’t think I can really describe what this valuable thing is, but I’m okay with not completely understanding.

I take comfort in knowing that my aunt has done so much for me, even being thousands of miles away for most of my life. She was the best aunt she could be, given the circumstances and my needs. And what do I do now? I welcome it with open arms and an open heart. And I’ll keep learning for her, too.

« Older posts

© 2018 Valpo Voyager

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑