Tori in Spain: Dear Elvira

January 11, 2017

This semester, I had the privilege of taking a class called Public Health and Social Justice with an amazing professor named Dr. Elvira. I really liked her from the beginning because she challenged us to question all of the assumptions that our society is constructed on and is a warrior for social justice. She pushed us to think very deeply, which is something I love about my classes at U of R and was not sure I would find in Spain. A couple weeks into school, I emailed her to see if she would be interested in attending the European Public Health Conference with me in Vienna this semester. To my surprise, she messaged me back and asked if I would be interested in presenting at the conference and joining in on her research.

Throughout my time in Madrid, Elvira was a constant support for me. She and the other two students that were researching with us became some of my closest friends abroad. After our abstract was accepted by the Global Health and Innovations conference, we had to record a video presentation for the next round of competition, and Elvira and I realized that we had done it wrong the night before it was due (claaaassssssiiiccc). Due to the time difference, we had until 6am to turn the project in, so we rushed to school at 10pm to get working. We stayed up until 3am to finally submit the video, getting more delirious every hour. She kept joking that she couldn’t speak English after midnight, and when we were almost done we listened to the song Breaking Free from High School Musical together (she had never seen it!) because we were finally breaking out of the closed university. Everything is funny at 3am, and we bonded deeply that night.

When my laptop and most of my belongings were stolen, Elvira selflessly lent me a laptop to use until the end of the semester. She didn’t even hesitate. She had the means to help, so of course she would. Just one more way to lay down her privilege and love someone, something she hopes to do with every action in her life. I think she succeeds.

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One of my attempts to make Tortilla this winter break!

Elvira showed me the best tortilla Espanola in Madrid (Las Rosas, es la verdad, este sitio tiene el mejor tortilla del mundo), a dish I have tried to replicate 3 times since I have been home.  One night she, Marcus, and I went out for Indian food and talked for 3 hours about faith, gender roles, family, animal ethics, responsibility to society, what we are created for, and fertility. She told me she had never felt the need to have kids because fertility is much bigger than the mere ability to bear children. Fertility is about helping things grow, investing in ideas and people that will change other things of import. Although she has never been pregnant, Elvira is one of the most fertile women I know.

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Good food, good conversation

One of my hardest experiences of my time in Madrid was leading a BocaTalk run one night, and getting verbally berated by a homeless man who was fed up with the rich trying to fix his situation without understanding it. I felt so ashamed and confused, and she was the one I came crying to. I was so upset because I knew he was right, I would never understand, and I knew my stupid sandwich and “sacrifice” of 2 hours sitting on the street would do nothing to solve his lifetime of struggle. I felt like I deserved the emotional violence I suffered at his hands due to my privileged position in society that I had truly done nothing to earn. I was frustrated because there were a thousand things I wished I had said, and a thousand more I could never communicate in Spanish. She reminded me that no matter what, no matter how deep the injustices of ones past or the level of poverty a person is experiencing, no human never has the right to rob dignity from another. Acts of violence, emotional or physical, are never deserved, regardless of the levels of inequity. I walked out of her office with a greater sense of peace in my heart, knowing the truth that I did not deserve what had happened to me, but also understanding what I symbolized for that man (power, wealth, privilege) and desiring to change the oppressive forces that have pushed him down to where he sits.

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Dear Elvira,

I am so thankful to know you.

Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for looking for ways to surrender the power and privilege you have been given in every moment.

Thank you for demonstrating deep humility and selflessness to me.

Thank you for reminding me that it is not my fault that I was born into the privileged position I hold, and thus, I do not deserve abuse for that position.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on when I could not take the injustice I am surrounded with and when I felt guilty for not doing enough.

Thank you for teaching me that life is an adventure, and I don’t ever have to ascribe to societies ideas of who I should be.

Hasta pronto amiga, estoy agredecida para conocerte.

Besos,

Tori


Naomi at Akita Week 17: Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara!

January 9, 2017

I’m going to briefly go over each day in Osaka. I just want you all to know that I had a wonderful time there; it was a great trip to end study abroad. Isabella and I even made it out to Nara and Kyoto as well with the hour-long train rides. I’m so excited to share my trip with you all! Okay, here we go…it may be a lot but just bear with me.

DAY 1
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So, the first day we got to Osaka we arrived at our Airbnb place at around 4pm. We unpacked and rested for a bit before heading out. Since we didn’t have the whole day we decided to walk around our area. The Shinsaibashi shopping arcade was only a 4-minute walk away so we decided to head there. Isabella and I were both pretty hungry and ended up finding the Luke’s Lobster place that was recommended as one of the foods to try in Osaka on Facebook. Oh my gosh…I don’t even know how to describe how delicious this lobster sandwich was…it was drenched in butter and the sandwich was just filled with fresh lobster. My mouth was watering…man, now I want it again.


After walking a little longer, Isabella and I ended up in Dotonbori. We were pretty surprised since we weren’t expecting everything to be so close in walking distance. But look! This is the running man I was talking about in my first post! Apparently it’s not an actual person but just an ad created by Glico to inspire and motivate athletes. It was so surreal being in Osaka. I always look up the city online and see pictures of it on Google images. I always thought the huge displays of food and the flashing lights were super cool so actually being there and seeing it…wow. Isabella and I stood on some benches and took sooo many pictures.


You know we had to get some たこ焼き (takoyaki). I mean, Osaka is famous for this food. Isabella and I were mesmerized watching the two women cook the takoyaki, putting the octopus in, and flipping the balls around. It was a true art form, really. Let me tell you, it tasted delicious. I’ve eaten takoyaki before in Tokyo and Okinawa and it does not compare to takoyaki in Osaka. Man, this was only the beginning of all the good food we ate during our trip.


After eating takoyaki, Isabella and I walked around even more and bought some お土産 (souveniers) for our family and friends. Then, I made her try だんご (dango), similar to mochi, covered with a sweet sauce. THEN, after walking around even more we got pretty hungry (again), so we decided to eat ラーメン (ramen). There was this one outdoor restaurant that seated only about 15 people at a time. There was a very long line but ラーメン is a very important food to Isabella so, of course, we were both willing to wait in line for about 30 minutes. It was well worth it. The restaurant even allowed you to top the ramen with unlimited kimchi…Isabella and I both really like spicy food so you can imagine how much we piled on.


I thought the lighting everywhere was pretty cool. There was one street lined with lit up trees and it was beautiful. There were also several street performers playing holiday music. Man, I still can’t believe Christmas is so soon.

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Isabella and I ended at the river at Dotonbori. It took me so many tries to take this picture. Kevin messed with my camera and changed the settings, forcing me to learn how to take more creative pictures. So, I have to mess with the settings in order to figure out the correct aperture, ISO, and what not. I’m grateful he did that for me but Isabella had to wait for about 5 minutes before I could get some good pictures. I actually yelled out “KEVIIIIIN” while taking pictures, making Isabella laugh but also roll her eyes. Oh man.

DAY 2
We took several trains to Nara solely to feed some deer. We didn’t eat until we got to Nara (it took us about an hour to get there) and guess what we ate? McDonald’s!! I know we should try eating all the Japanese food we can but let me tell you, there’s nothing like some Japanese McDonald’s. I got the エビフライ (shrimp burger) and man, mouth watering, again.


I was surprised to see how big Nara Park really was…I mean there were temples and shrines everywhere, some of them even classified as UNESCO world heritage sites. I tried taking a picture of the five-story Kofuku-ji but it was almost impossible. That’s the best picture I could get and still, the first story is cut off a bit. Isabella and I walked for a bit until we finally caught sight of one deer. Isabella immediately started freaking out. When she got close to one and tried petting it for the first time she actually jumped. She was terrified but after we bought deer snacks sold at the stands, she felt comfortable petting and feeding the deer. Isabella found out online that the deer can actually bow so she had some of them do that before feeding them. Also, after feeding one deer we wanted to go feed a different one but the deer would refuse because it wanted more food. One ended up even ramming its face into Isabella’s butt. I couldn’t stop laughing.


After Nara, we headed back to our area and went to the Kuromon Ichiba Market, trying even more delicious food. Originally, we wanted to try sea urchin and clams but decided against it because it was a bit pricey. Instead, we tried crabmeat mixed with corn and melted cheese. We also bought some Toro sushi…oh man, I’m sorry I keep saying that but wow, my mouth was watering once again. You all just need to go to Osaka. They have such a variety of delicious food. Isabella did most of the research on food so she told me that we had to find quail egg stuffed octopi. I was so eager to try it when she first mentioned it to me a couple weeks back. When we finally found it we decided to eat the octopi tentacles first. After we both ate the head in one bite and WOW, the egg taste was overwhelming…in a good way, of course.

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After the market, we walked to アメ村, an Americanized shopping area. My friend Ami, the one who visited me in Akita, recommended the area to us. Once again, we were surprised by how close it was by foot. We ended up walking into several stores solely for the music. It was nice hearing American music again. In Japan, you’re allowed to drink in public so we did that and ended up sharing a pizza later that night. Isabella had been craving pizza for a while now. Well, and pasta…just any Italian food in general.

DAY 3
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On our third day, we headed out to Kyoto to Arashiyama. My mom’s friend recommended this place as she used to live in Kyoto. We had to take several trains to get there – about an hour ride again. Our friends from AIU, Annabelle and Chris, came to Osaka as well and decided to meet up with us there. So, Isabella and I walked to Lawson to buy some riceballs and instant pho to eat breakfast before they came.

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When Chris and Annabelle finally arrived we started making our way to the bamboo grove. It’s a popular tourist destination, as the walkway is just surrounded by long bamboo sticks. It was beautiful. I bet pandas would be in heaven if they lived in Arashiyama. Afterwards, we walked around the area a bit more, passing more UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as temples. We decided to head to the bridge and found ourselves next to a river. There were several trees lined up next to the river. I bet during the fall the color of the leaves look absolutely beautiful. Despite it being December, some of the trees had orange and yellow leaves clinging on.


After Arashiyama, we made our way to Iwatayama Park…the monkeys. We had to climb up thousands of stairs to get to the park, as it was secluded from civilization since monkeys just roamed around the area. I’m telling you, after this trip I never wanted to walk up stairs again. Anyways, when we finally got to the top we found ourselves surrounded by monkeys. Some of them even started fighting around us. I thought one of the angry monkeys was going to run into me – thankfully, it didn’t. There was a feeding area where people had to go inside and feed the monkeys through cages. It was only 100yen for a bag of either peanuts or apple slices. Isabella fed some monkeys and even fist bumped one of them. Another monkey grabbed Annabelle’s phone but it was too big to go through the cage so the phone was saved!

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We started to get a bit hungry so we rushed over to the Nishiki Market via train. Thankfully we made it before closing time. We tried some black sesame mochi, fried vegetables, and matcha ice cream. I found this well-known, yet secluded, soy milk doughnut shop. This is a cool display I saw in the market. I waited for this guy to move so I could take a picture of it but he stood there for about 10 minutes. My lack of patience got to me though so here’s a picture of the guy standing in front of the display!

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To end our day, we headed to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine! We passed only about 5 people while walking through the gates. Going at night was definitely the move, despite having to change my settings on my camera for 10 minutes. We wanted to walk all the way to the top of the mountain but we realized we did not make any movement on the map after climbing up stairs for 20 minutes. We were all very tired from walking around so we went to a local restaurant and ate some ramen, which was delicious by the way, and headed home!

DAY 4


WE WENT TO UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ON OUR LAST FULL DAY IN OSAKA! It was super cool. I felt like a kid again. Isabella and I did research beforehand and discovered that going on more than 2 rides at USJ was nearly impossible due to how busy the park gets. Knowing that, we decided to head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to ensure we would get on the ride inside Hogwarts. We waited in line for about two hours – this was after entering the park about 30 minutes after opening hours. No worries though, I brought a deck of cards with me so we played war while waiting in line!


Here are some pictures of what we ate and rank at USJ. I don’t know what I was expecting from Butter Beer but wow, it was sweet and tasted like caramel. We got a hot and cold one and just shared both drinks. Of course, we had to make sure to get the moustache going on. We also ate chocolate filled matcha churritos, turkey legs, and this chowder…I forgot the name of it. All the food was very delicious. I know it’s typical to eat turkey legs at carnivals and theme parks but this was actually my first time trying one and I gotta say, I regret never buying one before.


Altogether, Isabella and I made it onto three rides. In addition to the HP ride, we rode the Flying Dinosaur and this Jurassic Ride, similar to Splash Mountain. I saw the waiting line was only 30 minutes for the Jurassic Ride so I dragged Isabella along even though she was adamant about not getting wet. You wouldn’t believe our luck. We were placed in the first row so of course, we got soaked!


I didn’t know this till later at the park but apparently the Christmas tree there holds a World Guinness Record for having the most lights on an artificial tree…yeah, something like that. There was a performance before the lighting of the tree and I felt like the entire park had come to this one area just to see the tree. I could not move an inch without rubbing against someone else. The lights on the tree kept changing colors after it was lit. There were fireworks. It definitely put us in the holiday spirit.

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After USJ, we headed back to our area to show Annabelle and Chris Dotonbori. It was around 915pm when Isabella decided she wanted to go to the small animal café we had passed the first night we got there. It closed at 10 but she really wanted to go. Chris and Annabelle were both down to go. Tristan decided to stay back and find some food – vegetarian options. Well, you wouldn’t believe it but for about 10 minutes we sprinted through the shopping arcade, through Dotonbori, and through several crowds. I almost ran into some people as the streets were crowded. I was in the lead so Isabella followed me while Annabelle followed her. Chris couldn’t run as fast because of his heavy shoes and backpack but thankfully, we never lost him. We finally made it to the café, ordered our strawberry flavored drinks, and played with some animals. It was crazy holding a hedgehog, chinchilla, ferret, rabbit, rat, and rabbit. The woman working there brought a closed hand over and told Isabella to open her hand but Isabella ran behind me knowing there was something bad in her hand. I held my hand open instead and she placed a baby rat in my hand. It was so cute with its small tail!

DAY 5


I have to say, this Osaka trip was one for the books. I’m pretty sure I like Osaka more than Tokyo. Osaka has more to offer with food and UNESCO World Heritage Sites…also, Kyoto and Nara are easily accessible by train so you have even more to see! I was upset to say bye to Chris, Annabelle, and Tristan. They stayed in Osaka for another day and flew out from there to go back home to America. Isabella and I headed back to Akita before heading back home. The Colorado Crew were the first people I had to say bye to so it started to hit me that study abroad was indeed coming to an end. What a bittersweet feeling. Isabella and I headed back home to Akita and got ready for our departure our following day. I will be writing my last post soon, writing about my last hours in Akita and the travels back home to Okinawa. Anyways, Osaka was a great time and a great trip to wrap up study abroad! If you’re ever in Japan, please do yourself the favor and go to either Kyoto or Osaka, and make sure to take the day trip to Nara.

By the way, look at my cool socks that I bought in Osaka! All sushi!


Olivia in Scotland: Hello, Goodbye

December 29, 2016

Hello everyone!

These past few weeks have been crazy, full of finals, reunions, journeys, and farewells. I even traveled from Edinburgh to Paris and back to Edinburgh again before returning to the United States. Before I write one last post reflecting on my time abroad in general, I wanted to take this time to tell you about how my final weeks have been.

Finals: Honestly, it was very difficult to muster up the motivation to work when there were so many places and, more importantly, people I wanted to see. I had one final exam on Saturday the 10th and spent the following week working on my two final exam essays for my English seminars. My solution to the problem of my academic burnout and the need to spend time with friends was primarily to see people during the afternoon/evening and then stay up late at night working on my essays—it was a weird schedule, but it worked for me. I finished my last essay with 12 hours to spare, and I have to tell you, it was a great feeling.

Reunions: In addition to wanting to spend time with all the friends I’ve made here in Edinburgh, I also saw a few friends from home during my last two weeks. I met up with a couple fellow Spiders on Monday and Tuesday of my exam week. It was wonderful to see these friends and start getting excited about being back on campus. In the midst of all my mixed emotions about returning home, it was helpful to remember the great things and people I have waiting for me back in Richmond. In addition to these Spider friends, on that Wednesday night, my best friend Taylor from my hometown arrived here in Edinburgh to visit me!

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Hot chocolate + reunion with an old friend = huge smiles 🙂

Journeys: After I finished my final essays late on that Thursday night, I got to spend the next few days showing Taylor the sights of Edinburgh. It was great having a friend in town during my last full days in the city because it always gives you extra motivation to go out and really see the city. Here are some  of the highlights from those few days:

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We went to see the Scottish National Ballet perform Hansel and Gretel–it was AMAZING!

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I introduced Taylor to Indian food for the first time ever! There is a lot of good Indian food in Edinburgh (which I’m really going to miss back home). You might not think it from her face here, but she loved it as much as I did. 

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We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia, which the Queen used to use to sail around the world before it was retired in 1997.

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We visited Leith, the norther part of the city that borders the Firth of Forth. It was a beautiful place to see one of my last Edinburgh sunsets.

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I finally had a full Scottish breakfast! This is a signature thing to do in Scotland. This one featured haggis, a tattie scone, a grilled tomato, toast, beans, sausage, a fried egg, and mushrooms. It was quite good!

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I got to climb up Arthur’s Seat one last time with Taylor on that Sunday morning. Spectacular views of a spectacular city ❤

After all our Edinburgh sightseeing, Taylor and I flew to PARIS together on Sunday night! We had two full days there and saw some absolutely beautiful things. This was our first trip to Paris for both of us, and it was incredibly surreal to be walking around Paris with such an old friend. I’m so glad we got to have this trip together. I could talk about this trip for a very long time—we saw a lot in a very short period of time, and it was truly amazing to go somewhere that you’ve heard about and seen in the movies your entire life. Here are just some of the highlights from that journey:

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Notre Dame, a.k.a. one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Its beauty is truly awesome. 

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Freezing, but we did the thing—we saw the tower, waited in line, and went up!

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The Palais Garnier, also known as the Paris Opera House! I have dreamed of going here for years because it is the setting of Phantom of the Opera. On Box 5, there is a sign calling it the Phantom of the Opera’s box. I pretty much died of happiness. 

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I spent my last morning in Paris walking alone by the Seine near Notre Dame. There were pink fluffy clouds floating along that you can see here, and it looked just like something out of a movie or off of a postcard. 

Farewells: On the Sunday night before Taylor and I flew to Paris, we attended my final Sunday service at my church in Edinburgh. It was a carol service and it was very special. I had the privilege of being involved in the music for it, and it was nice to participate so much on my last Sunday there with the people I have played music with this semester. I could hardly believe as I sat there that I might never see the people in that room again on this earth. As bittersweet as that service was, however, I know that I will see those people again eventually, in the next world if not this one.

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Some of my closest church friends whom I will miss very much. The three of us actually performed an a capella version of The Little Drummer Boy at that last service, which was a really fun way to end our time together. 

Saying goodbye to my friends and to this city was difficult. It was odd to be bidding these friends farewell even as I was also being reunited with several friends from back home. I felt so torn between the two worlds. I wish it was possible for me to combine both of them and have all the people I love in one place—if only the world worked that way. Even with my final trips of the semester, I felt as though I had to say “hello” and “goodbye” in the same breath to the places I was visiting, like Paris. In any case, though, I feel so blessed to have made such wonderful friends in Edinburgh and to have seen so many beautiful places, and I am also excited to spend time with my family and see my friends back in Richmond again.

Actually, it was so hard to say goodbye to Edinburgh that I almost failed to do so. Remember that post back in the beginning of my time abroad where I mixed up a lot of dates and times and had to switch trains and all of that with my trips to London? I’ve been pretty honest about my travel mistakes on this blog. Well, I made the biggest travel mistake yet the other day: I missed my flight home. Yep. Just imagine the heart attack I had when that happened. Thankfully, and I still don’t know how, the United airlines staff switched me to the exact same flight the following morning and didn’t even charge me anything extra! I was absolutely astonished but so happy about it. It was extremely stressful, but it did give me an extra day in the city and allowed me to go home on the same flight as one of my closest study abroad friends from Edinburgh. All in all, I’m actually glad that it happened.

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I got to spend time with my friend Gianna on that extra day in the city, and because we were on the same flight home, we even got to hang out briefly on the American side of the Atlantic. I was glad to have some surprise extra time with such a great friend. 🙂

And on that note, I’ll close this whirlwind of a post. Stay tuned for one last reflection on my time abroad. Till next time!


Naomi at Akita Week 16: Finals

December 29, 2016


Isabella invited a couple of us to come over around 10pm since she was making a huge pot of stew. The stew came out soupy but it was still super 美味しい (delicious). It was a very chill night. We became pretty nostalgic knowing that it was the last week of classes. Isshin started playing the guitar and we sang some songs together, including Sorry by Justin Bieber and Closer by The Chainsmokers. I found out that Isabella bought the guitar on the “AIU Buy & Sell” Facebook page for only ¥1000. I was surprised considering Isabella doesn’t play the guitar; she said she always wanted to learn though which is why she bought it. Turns out Isshin wanted the guitar too but someone had beaten him to it. He found out it was Isabella when we got to the room HAHA!


I’m really going to miss my Japanese classes – JPL300, Reading, and Kanji. We all had such a great time joking around and attempting at understanding Japanese grammar. Our JPL300 teacher never spoke English so it made us try harder in speaking Japanese. We all struggled together with the exams, ポスター発表 (poster presentation), and endless amount of homework. I’m feeling sentimental just writing this all down. I’m most likely never going to see any of these people again but we all became a family. It was nice meeting so many people that shared the same interest as me in learning Japanese. Man, what a great semester.


Isabella and I decided to get dinner together at the AEON mall as a goodbye, although I’m going to see her again next week before I actually leave Akita, thankfully. We got McDonald’s for dinner…I was planning on getting the エビフライ (shrimp burger) but when we got up to order Isabella pointed at the Mega Mac picture. She told me I should get it and I felt up to the challenge so I ordered the burger with four patties in it…oh man, I was so full. And to top it all off, Isabella practically forced me to help her finish her food. I ate four more chicken nuggets and finished up her fries. I couldn’t walk afterwards. After McDonald’s…oh, by the way, I don’t know what it is exactly but McDonald’s in Japan is so good. Compared to the states, it’s more flavorful. Like I said, I don’t know what it is but man, I love Japanese McDonald’s. Okay, so after McDonald’s, we took プリクラ (sticky pictures) together! I look so funny in the pictures with my big eyes and weirdly shaped heads. I love taking these pictures though because you always turn out looking super girly. Also, you get to design the pictures and write/draw whatever you want on them. We walked around the mall some more, looking in shops, and ended up buying some Mister Donut. Oh, and Isabella asked a random mom to take our picture in front of the Christmas tree. We’re trying to get in the holiday spirit so you know.

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This is a funny story. Annabelle found a bug in her room; apparently it jumped on her hand while she was writing her paper. She immediately freaked out and started messaging everyone to come to her room and kill it. No one was willing to do it because everyone else is also afraid of bugs. I asked her if it was a cockroach before going over to kill the bug for her because if it were a cockroach then I wouldn’t want to kill it. Cockroaches creep me out…along with centipedes. Anyways, when I walked in her room, I found her standing 6 feet away from her desk (where the bug was), staring at the bug to not lose sight of it. I immediately started laughing. I took some tissue and killed it. I held it up to her to show her that the bug was harmless but she started trying to get into the suitcase and wow, I laughed so hard tears started rolling down my face. Turns out the bug was a stink bug and it actually started smelling a bit.


This past week has just been snow…everywhere. I don’t have boots so walking around has been quite the struggle. To top it off, my shoes have holes in them so my toes are basically frozen by the time I get back inside from walking outside. The snow looks very beautiful though. I couldn’t believe it when I woke up one morning and walked to my morning Japanese class. I was in awe.


Sandy and I got lunch together at the restaurant near campus as a goodbye lunch (I’m also going to see her again next week before I leave though, thankfully). I never thought to go to the restaurant because I have a meal plan on campus. All students from AIU get a discount from this restaurant though so that was nice! Sandy was craving meat so she got pork cutlet with a small bowl of udon. I decided to follow and ordered pork cutlet with egg. The egg was still bubbling when it got to the table and it was absolutely delicious. Sandy enjoyed her meal so much she literally said “yum yum” after every bite. You know, after knowing her for this long, I still don’t know her age? She won’t tell me. She said she’s going to wait until we say bye to each other to tell me….oh brother.

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Well, this post isn’t as eventful since it was just finals week. Many people are leaving tomorrow to go back home or go on trips before they leave Akita. Next week is finals week but many students were able to get their finals pushed up, like me. I was able to move up my International Trade final to this week; thankfully all of my other classes had finals scheduled for this week. Since I have another 6 days till I leave Akita, Isabella and I decided to take a trip to Osaka! We leave tomorrow morning and will be there till the 21st. We come back to Akita on that day and leave the following morning. So, I’ll still be able to see my friends when I get back on the 21st. I can’t believe this semester has come to an end. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh? I’m trying not to get to nostalgic and upset about leaving Akita…yet. I’m going to enjoy my time in Osaka – sightseeing, shopping, and eating good food! I’m super excited! I also definitely have to buy some birthday and Christmas gifts for my mom, Tyler, and Patrik. Like I said, Patrik is going home to Okinawa with me this winter break. They all have December birthdays….can you believe it?


Tori in Spain: The Dream that was Morocco

December 29, 2016

Last January, Sara sat in my room looking up all the beautiful places in the world she wanted to visit while abroad the next semester. I still had not decided whether I wanted to stay or go, but she was all set. One of the places she showed me was a place called Chefchaouen in Morocco, better known as the blue city. When I finally committed to studying abroad and started planning out where I wanted to go throughout the semester, Morocco topped my list. I think I was attracted to it simply because it was different, and that excited me. I was incredibly curious about what it would be like, but (I am embarrassed to admit) definitely had some preconcieved notions about what a Muslim, African country would entail.

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It was nothing like I expected. Every Moroccan I met was incredibly proud of their country and their culture. They were friendly and did not try to take advantage of tourists, but rather, were so excited to share their love for their country. I was overwhelmed by their generosity. Every day of our trip someone gave us something for free, whether it be a pomegranate, an almond honey dessert, or some amazing pastries. Everyone warned me not to go to Morocco without a professional tour group, because it is “dangerous, chaotic, and everyone tries to take advantage of tourists.” Comments like these fueled a little bit of pre-trip anxiety, but when I arrived my anxiety dissipated due to the amazing people I met.

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Our taxi driver from the airport was the first Moroccan we met, and he was phenomenal. He told us that after he meets people, he immediately considers them friends and will do anything in order to help them. He added us on Facebook and told us to come to him if we needed anything during our time in his country. As we roadtripped through the Moroccan countryside, we sang Heroes at the top of our lungs together and had a great time jamming to music while soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.

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Sunset our first night in Morocco from the roof of our hostel!

We spent our first night in Chefchaouen, a little blue city nestled in the mountains in North Morocco. We watched the sunset over blue roofs and gorgeous peaks from the terrace on top of our hostel, and were in awe of the beauty of God´s creation and the tranquility of the town we had the privilege of exploring. We went to an amazing restaurant for dinner and had an amazing meal of tagines (shrimp, lamb, goat, and kebab), goat cheese platters, traditional moroccan bread, and spicy roasted eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Our waiter was awesome and so funny… when it came time for dessert he took our menus and asked if we trusted him. We said yes, and he brought us the best yogurt dessert I have ever had in my life. It was fresh yogurt with berries and honey and lots of other stuff I couldn’t identify, and it was amazing. Our three course feast cost the equivalent of 5 euros each, which made that yogurt sundae taste even yummier. We left and resolved to return for lunch the next day.

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Fresh goat cheese, bread, eggplant, and spicy tomatoes for appetizers!

We spent our sunshiney Saturday morning on the terrace of our hostel, and then wandered the many tiny, meandering streets of the Medina. We hiked up to an old Spanish mosque that overlooked the city, and met some goats and other farm animals along the way. I naturally thanked them for providing me which such good cheese the night before. On our way up, a guy was washing and cutting fresh cactus fruit, so I got to try some! It was super sweet and refreshing.

The views from the Mosque were incredible. As I looked over the mountains and little blue town, I was hit by the truth that I was standing in another country that, although different than my own, was still created by God and for Him. My friend Michaela and I sang “Holy spirit you are welcome here” from the top of the mountain, and it was a beautiful moment in which I was certain that God was alive and moving in Morocco, as well as everywhere else in this big, beautiful world.

That evening we returned to Tangier and met some awesome people in our hostel who were full time students in Morocco. They showed us around and came out to dinner with us. Abdul is Muslim, and prayed for our meal before we ate soup, chicken pastries, and traditional cous cous. It was a really cool moment. On the way home we came across an outdoor concert of band from Cameroon. It was one of the most joyous musical groups I had ever seen, and working up the courage to sing and whirl around with Sara to their fun music will forever be one of my favorite memories. The band sang of hakuna matata and celebrated the beauty life by dancing and wiggling with abandon. It was a precious moment.

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The only thing that was strangely absent from this memory, were Moroccan women celebrating life along with us. There were very few women in the crowd, or even on the streets in Tanger. This made me a little sad, because from an outsiders perspective, it seems as if Morocco is still an extremely patriarchal country. However, I was grateful to learn that the origins of women wearing headscarfs come from a verse in the Quran that suggests women should be praised for their morality and intelligence rather than their beauty. There is a lot of value in that.

The next day, half of our group headed out, while Eker, Emily, Sara, and I stayed. We decided to head to a little beach town called Asilah about 45 minutes outside of Tanger for the day. It was an enchanting day consisting of lots of bartering, yummy food, and great company. We hoped to finish it off, by watching the sunset over the Atlantic. We saw sun sinking below the buildings while we were in the center of the city and ran to the beach quickly enough to catch the vibrant, firey globe ducking under the horizon, leaving the sky strewn in pink and purple. It felt like a dream as I twirled around, mesmerized by the reflection of the sky in the water.

My family was at the beach in South Carolina the same weekend, so it was crazy to think that we were playing in the same ocean on different sides of the world. The second we were able to tear ourselves away from the sunset, we turned around to be greeted by the largest moon in 70 years.

The next day our taxi driver picked us up to go to the airport, but on the way he look us to his favorite pastry shop in the city and bought us traditional Moroccan wedding cookies. He told us of his love for his wife and kids, that his family was everything to him, and I saw 2 girls in headscarfs skipping and dancing alongside the road. I couldn’t imagine a better ending to a better trip. Marruecos, te amo. Gracias por todo.

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The whole crew!


Week 15: 焼肉 Family Dinner

December 15, 2016

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After our Japanese reading class, I asked Patrik if he wanted to go to the convenience store with me to just buy some hot coffee and hang out for a bit. We both didn’t have anything after class so he agreed. Of course, we stopped in his room first so he could drop some stuff off. As we were leaving his room, he told me to put my hand out. I did as I was told and he dropped some peanuts into my hand. Surprisingly, I’ve never eaten peanuts with the shell. I’ve always eaten peanuts from jars that were already de-shelled. He had to show me a trick on how to crack them open. Apparently everyone back home eats peanuts all the time around Christmas…his mom even sent these peanuts to him all the way from Slovakia. We ate them while walking to the convenience store and they were delicious. I’m going to have to ask my mom to buy some peanuts for us to eat on Christmas!

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Isabella surprised me with box of Wasabi Kit Kats from Tokyo. I remember trying one in high school; my friend’s mom had some and had us try it. I thought it was the most interestingly delicious Kit Kat. I always talk about it around Isabella and Annabelle because they’re obsessed with finding different types of Kit Kats. Well, while they were in Tokyo they found a store with several different types of Kit Kats, one being wasabi, so Isabella bought some for me. I had her try one too and she even admitted that it was good! I gave Patrik one as well and he liked it too. I don’t know how to quite describe the taste because it takes just like wasabi but the Kit Kat is also very sweet. I love it.

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This week, I went to my last RCOS activity with Patrik, Isabella, and Annabelle. We all decided to sign up for one together. I know Patrik and I have already gone to two together but we thought it would be fun for Isabella and Annabelle to experience hanging out with Japanese elementary school students. We arrived at Nangai Elementary School pretty early so the man in charge told us that we could walk around and explore the school. At the moment, the kids were doing work and cleaning around the school. Everyday the kids have to clean the floors, bathroom, classrooms, and well, basically do housework in the school. I snapped a picture of a couple of kids wiping down the basketball court floors. There were several other kids washing the floors. They would look up at us and see that we were international students and scream “HELLO” and “NICE TO MEET YOU.”

Instead of playing games with the kids, like Patrik and I did at Omagari Elementary School and the kindergarten, the children asked us questions in English. Each student had a sheet they had to fill out after asking us what our favorite fruit, sport, subject, country, food, and animal were. They sat in groups of four so we would each sit with a group then move onto the next group after about 10-15 minutes. The kids were surprised when I answered with Okinawa Soba for my favorite food. I explained to them that I used to live in Okinawa and they were very shocked. At the end of the interview, the kids were allowed to ask us any questions they wanted to until the time ran out. One of the groups asked me what my favorite Japanese word was and I answered with 時差ぼけ (jisaboke), which means jetlag. I learned this word for one of my vocabulary quizzes in Japanese class this semester and I don’t know why, but I love the word. You wouldn’t believe this, but after saying 時差ぼけ the children immediately asked me what that word meant. I had to have the teacher explain to them the meaning of the word. I guess I didn’t know what jetlag meant when I was in elementary school either? Who knows? Anyways, we all had such a great time interacting with the children, even Isabella and Annabelle, who don’t know much Japanese. It was a fun last RCOS event!

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After Nangai Elementary School, Isabella, Annabelle, Kevin, and I wanted to go to the mall to go grocery shopping, so we decided to eat dinner at the food court there as well. Patrik stayed on campus to eat dinner so I bought him his carton of milk from the grocery store. He always drinks a carton of milk after drinking and partying since it apparently helps prevent hangovers. I should probably start doing that…well, Isabella, Annabelle, and Kevin all got dinner from Pepper Lunch. This fast food restaurant serves the steak in a sizzling plate so you have to cook the steak yourself once you sit down. I decided to get udon because they had some spicy special and I love spicy food so, of course, I had to order it. After we ate, we shopped around in different stores, went to the pet store to see the cute puppies, and went to an ice cream shop. Annabelle and Isabella are obsessed with the matcha ice cream they serve. I also bought Kevin a 6-pack of beer to thank him for letting Patrik and I sleep over in the Airbnb they rented in Tokyo. He started drinking one of the beers immediately after I bought him the back. It’s legal to drink alcohol from a can in public in Japan; Kevin loves to take advantage of that rule.


Remember the ポスター発表 (poster presentation) I mentioned before? Well, we had our presentations on Friday. An elementary school even came to watch us present some of our posters. I was very nervous but thankfully, I was able to memorize my speech! I did mess up a couple of times but my message still came across so no worries. At the end of our speech, we are supposed to ask 何か質問はありませんか, which translates to “are there any questions?” I had a couple of people ask me about 5 questions and oh man, I loved it. I love talking about Okinawa. It made me even more excited to be going back in just a couple of weeks for winter break! Don’t get me wrong though, I’m also very upset that I’ll be leaving Akita soon.

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For her flower arrangement class, Isabella was allowed to create her own flower presentation. When I first saw it, I jokingly said it looked like Easter. Unfortunately, I never took a picture of the flowers while they were alive so here is a picture of the dying flowers. I opened the curtains and let the lighting in and I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty cool picture despite the dying flowers.

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For dinner on Saturday night, Patrik told us about this all you can eat 焼肉 (yakiniku) that costs only ¥2000 per person. It was a 15-minute walk away from the mall, which we were all dreading considering the amount of snow on the ground. By the time we got to the restaurant, our hands were freezing so we used the grill in the middle of the table to warm up our hands. I was so surprised with the amount of food available to us. Not only did they have a large selection of meat, they also had regular food (spaghetti, ramen, udon, meatballs, fries, etc.) and many different types of sushi. They even had a dessert section where you could make your own crepes and cotton candy. It was a beautiful sight really.


Nils and Kevin decided to take the fish from the sushi and grill some of it. Kevin ended up liking it so much that he came back with about 20 pieces of squid sushi and grilling it. Kevin doesn’t like rice so he ended up stacking the rice from the sushi in a bowl. Don’t worry though, it didn’t go to waste; Griff ate it all with his meat. Oh, I forgot to mention that there was an ice cream section as well. They had matcha flavor and oh boy, Griff went all out. He LOVES match flavored ice cream. I’ve never seen such a happy boy. All of us got full after about 30-40 minutes of straight eating. I couldn’t sit up straight. We all sat at the table and talked while letting our stomachs digest. Patrik’s crazy self kept getting more and more food though. Every 5 minutes he was sitting back down with another dessert. He really wanted to get his money’s worth.

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Here’s a selfie Patrik took of all of us. What a great last family dinner. I’m not going to lie though the walk back to the mall was probably the best part. The guy and I all had a snowball fight. We were trying to form alliances but kept going against each other. The girls were all the way in the front trying to avoid us. One minute they were next to us…the next minute they were 100 meters ahead of us. We ended up catching up to them and hitting them with snowballs.


Isabella and I decided to do laundry at 1am just to get it out of the way. We needed to change so I broke my ¥1000 bill in the vending machine and bought hot coffee for me and hot milk tea for Isabella. The snow was beautiful so we walked outside for a bit while sipping on our hot drinks. The picture above is of Isabella concentrating on the snowflakes attaching to her eyelashes. I couldn’t stop laughing because it looked like she was staring off into the distance…we were laughing so hard. Oh brother. Sleep deprivation is a wonderful thing.

15403156_10210866845014487_103781612_n.jpgThe snow just keeps piling up. I still don’t own any boots so I’m walking around with my slip on vans. Did I mention that my vans have holes in them? There’s only two weeks left here though so I think I can manage. I should probably buy a pair of boots before I return to Richmond though considering it snows there too. Oh man. Well, last week of school starts tomorrow then I’m off to Osaka. I don’t think it’s hit me that I’m leaving Akita yet. It’s hard to believe that I’m never going to see most of these people again. 11 more days and that will all be over. I’m so used to walking around, going to class, and grabbing meals with friends. It probably won’t hit me that I’m leaving until I set foot into the airport. I’m really going to miss this place.


Week 14: 東京 and Owls

December 12, 2016


For our JPL300 class, we have to create a poster and present on any topic that interests us for 5-7 minutes in Japanese. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty nervous about this because speaking in only Japanese for that long of a period…man, I have to start practicing soon. Patrick is presenting on テレビゲーム (video games) and I’m presenting on 沖縄 (Okinawa). We worked on our posters in Isabella’s room Tuesday night. We started at around 9:30pm thinking it would only take an hour but ended up working on it till 1am. We didn’t mind though because we enjoyed working on it and listened to some music on the speakers – hip-hop/rap, hard rock, and EDM. We all have very different music tastes. In my presentation, I’m talking about Okinawan foods (goya chanpuru and Okinawa soba), the pretty beaches, and the Orion Beer Fest. I had some extra white space so I decided to draw on my poster. I was really proud of my Shisa dog that I drew (on the right of the title). I did copy it off a picture on my laptop but considering how horrible of a drawer I am, I thought I did pretty well.

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I’m not 100% sure if this is correct or not but Patrik told us that Pac-Man originated from a missing pizza slice. Apparently the man who created Pac-Man was out eating pizza, took a slice, and thought of the character’s shape right there. Patrik also said the man said to himself, “everyone likes pizza!” so everyone would then like Pac-Man. I couldn’t stop laughing when Patrik was telling us this because he sounded so animated when imitating the creator of Pac-Man. Like I said, I don’t know if this is true or not so don’t take my word on it. I still think it’s pretty cool and worth mentioning though since I didn’t know about this.


I mentioned earlier that Patrik and I went to an elementary school in Omagari to play with the kids. Well, this past Wednesday morning, Patrik and I went to a kindergarten in the same area. We each had to introduce a game to play with the kids. Patrik chose musical chairs and I chose Duck, Duck, Goose. There was one girl who was chosen as the goose who could never run fast enough to get into the new sport. After about the fifth time of her being tagged, she started crying. She cried later on as well when she couldn’t get a seat in musical chairs. Poor girl. After we played our games, the kindergartners showed us their own game. The all sat in a circle with cards sprawled out in the middle. Each card had a hiragana character in the corner. The kids would have to grab the card with the hiragana character the teacher read out loud. It got pretty intense. The kids would all just jump into the middle of the circle looking for the correct card. I was afraid some of them would bump heads. Sometimes multiple kids would jump on the correct card at the same time and because the teacher couldn’t tell who got it first, the kids did Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who would rightfully win the card. With every disagreement, Rock, Paper, Scissors was played. I thought it was adorable and smart. I think even older kids play this game to come up with a settlement.


When Patrik and I went to the elementary school, we were given the same small lunch as the kids. We were expecting the same thing again this time but in kindergarten, instead of the school supplying the food, everyone brings a bento box from home. In Japan, making bentos is a hobby. Many people, usually mothers, get very creative when making bentos. For example, one girl had a bow shaped sausage and another girl had a crown shaped boiled egg. Patrik and I even got our own bentos and wow, they were delicious. It had a variety of vegetables and meats in addition to the rice topped with an umeboshi (dried sweet plum).

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We headed to Tokyo this past weekend and before doing so, Patrik wanted to bleach and dye his hair gray. I helped him bleach his hair Wednesday night and dye his hair Thursday night. There was some leftover bleach so Patrik and I decided to put some in my hair, only a little though. It didn’t really do anything; I guess my hair is too dark. My left hand is a bit purple from the dye. Weird, huh? The hair dye also came out purple on Patrik’s hair instead of gray. Well, some parts are gray and other parts are purple!

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So, this past weekend, Patrik and I went to Tokyo! I told my mom that Patrik, Isabella, and the CO crew were all heading there to visit for the weekend. My mom then offered to buy round trip bus tickets, just as long as I don’t miss class! I took the bus with Patrik to and from Tokyo. We both couldn’t sleep on the 10 hour bus ride both ways. I just listened to music and practiced memorizing my speech for Japanese. There was a guy on the bus who talked to us during the stops. He was visiting his grandma in Akita and going back home to Tokyo. Of course, Patrik and I talked in our broken Japanese. At our last bus stop, the guy asked us for our ages and he was surprised that I was 20 and Patrik was 22; he thought we were older. I asked him for his age expecting to hear 23. Instead, he told us that he was 19! I was shocked. Right before we got back on the bus he took off two bracelets and gave one to Patrik and I. Now we have matching bracelets! I was so happy.


Patrik and I arrived in Tokyo at around 6am. Patrik had to go to the NHK TV Station at 12pm because he was invited to participate in a shooting. So, I decided to hang out with him till he left then I would go and meet up with Isabella and everyone else. We walked all the way to the Shinju Shrine (Sandy told us to not come back to Akita unless we go to this shrine). I was very shocked when walking to it because we were just surrounded by trees and green. I didn’t expect there to be so much nature in the middle of Tokyo. It was a pretty big shrine as well. There were tourist groups walking around and people taking pictures everywhere. Patrik and I threw our coins and prayed. Then we washed our hands with the water scoop. Afterwards, we walked to Harajuku and looked around. Patrik tried Mos Burger for the first time – Japanese chain fast food restaurant. Many Americans don’t try it because the name sounds unappealing but the Mos burger is actually very delicious. Anyways, Patrik ended up leaving and I walked all the way from Harajuku to Shinjuku instead of taking a train. It was about a 45-minute walk. My feet were in so much pain.

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Isabella and Annabelle were keen on going to the Owl Café so after I met up with them at H&M, we made our way to the café. It was ¥1800 for an hour…I thought it was quite expensive but these goofballs really wanted to go. When I walked in I was surprised to see 10 owls, all different kinds. The guy working there spoke broken English so I was able to hold a conversation with him with my broken Japanese as well. He put owls on all of our heads, hands, and shoulders. One of the owls looked so animated – you can see the owl on Isabella’s shoulder in the picture above. It’s eyes were just beads…Isabella kind of looks like it in that picture! The guy working there told me that he had never been to America but was going next summer for his wedding. Vegas!


On Sunday, we all slept in a bit after a night of going out so we woke up around lunchtime. Isabella found this recommended ramen restaurant called Ichiran so we made our way there. There was a line outside but we didn’t mind waiting. When we finally made it inside we were shocked to see that each chair was closed off. You basically got your own stall to eat your ramen; if you’re anti-social this place would be perfect for you! When ordering our ramen, we were asked what spiciness level we wanted. It went up to 20 but 10 was the recommended high. Isabella LOVES spicy food so of course, she put down 10. I saw Patrik put down 10 as well so I had no choice but to put down 10. Patrik likes spicy food but he doesn’t handle it well. Patrik and I were seated next to each other but Isabella and Annabelle were seated elsewhere due to lack of seating. I’m not kidding when I say Patrik and I were breaking a sweat. We stripped our jackets and hoodies off. Patrik drank 4 cups of water within 2 minutes. It was pretty great. He couldn’t finish so I finished the rest of his ramen for him. Afterwards, we waited outside for the girls. It was freezing outside but we were still so hot from the ramen that we just stood outside in our T-shirts.

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After Ichiran, we decided to go to Asakusa. I know I’ve gone there several times but Patrik, Isabella, and Annabelle had never visited before so I insisted on taking them. I didn’t think it would be difficult to figure out the train system but it was…it took us a good 30 minutes till we could figure out where we had to go. Please, never rely on me for directions.

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We were so relieved when we finally made it to Asakusa! Annabelle was so happy to see all of the shops. She wanted to buy all the souvenirs she could find. Isabella and Annabelle both bought some snacks while walking down the street. Patrik and I split a 6-pack of postcards. It was nice just walking around. Diane, the friend I visited the last time I went to Tokyo, met up with us at Asakusa. I was extremely happy to see her again, especially since the next time I see her will probably not be till later next year. We walked up to the temple and threw our coins and prayed. Afterwards, we stopped at a convenience store to buy some drinks. I was in desperate need for coffee and Isabella was in desperate need for a warm drink. Unfortunately, she has been sick for the past coupe of days – sore throat and runny nose. Hopefully she gets better soon, especially with finals coming up!

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After Asakusa, we headed to Shibuya to show everyone the Shibuya crossing. We weren’t hungry for dinner yet so we shopped around. Diane ended up buying some yoga pants from Bershka – she’s starting to work out more at a gym near her apartment. Isabella and Annabelle didn’t find anything. Patrik and I don’t care to shop as much so we just talked and walked for the most part. It started raining a bit so we decided to look for a restaurant. Again, we are an indecisive bunch so deciding on a restaurant took a while. Diane found a building with restaurants on three floors so it was easier for us to choose from that.

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The five of us had to squish into a four-seater booth. It was pretty tight but we all wanted to sit next to each other. I was very happy that everyone had the chance to meet Diane. It’s funny thinking that I have friends from study abroad that have met my high school friends AND my mom and brother. Sometimes I feel like study abroad is such a temporary thing and you meet people that you will never see again. But, for me, it’s more than that. I know that Patrik and I are going to be friends for a looong time. I mean, he’s coming to Okinawa with me this winter break. He’s going to see where I grew up and meet my friends from high school. It’s like my study abroad life and my actual life are coming together? I don’t know…it’s hard to explain but it’s a very nice feeling. I’ve made friends that I know I will see again and meet up with. Even Isabella and Annabelle. I’m sure I will see them again in the states. I do have an aunt living two blocks away from their school.

Well, there’s only two more weeks left of school. Time is ticking.


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