Hirakatashi Escapades

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After a long week of classes, my fellow Marshall colleagues/friends decided to have a night out at Hirakatashi-eki. We ventured the walk and found ourselves at a nice restaurant: Doma Doma. I enjoyed grilled potatoes with some type of a creamy squid dipping sauce and margherita pizza. The pizza in Japan is in fact different from Pizza in the US, but is nonetheless delicious.

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The crust was chewier and there was not nearly as much pizza sauce.

After dinner, we went to karaoke. It was my first time at karaoke, so I was a little apprehensive. The purpose is not to be a good singer, but to have fun with your friends; We did just that. After 3 hours of singing, we contemplated watching the sunrise at the river near Hirakatashi-eki, but found ourselves much too tired to stay. It was the most fun I’ve had on a Friday night in a while, thanks to great company.

Saturday, I decided to do things around my room like cleaning and catching up on sleep. That night my friend Shelby and I went to a local restaurant chain named Seven Gods.

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Seven Gods gets its name from the Seven Gods of Fortune in Japanese mythology. It has a cozy atmosphere with an extremely friendly and bilingual staff. The staff and other Japanese patrons were eager to learn about my friend and I, as well as help us with our Japanese conversation skills. The owner had us write down our name and hometown on a paper then pin it to a map of the US in the restaurant. I highly recommend this restaurant for exchange students in the Kansai area.

Sunday, my friend Michael and I decided to venture around Hirakata and grab dinner together. Our nostalgic selves ended up walking across town to find KFC, but it was worth the walk.

10690190_865820396763887_8858068466587305825_n  *photo credit Michael Haverty

Since KFC is in a bigger neighborhood, we also found some cheap places to do shopping at a later date. My favorite being Daiso. Daiso is a hyakuen (100 Yen) store, which is the Japanese equivalent of the US dollar store. In my humble opinion, the hyakuen stores in Japan offer more variety and slightly better quality that the dollar stores of the US.

Monday was day of respect for the aged, but was also Michael’s birthday. We met up with our friends Yukino and Yuki, who came to our university last year for study abroad. We got lunch at the italian restaurant on campus, then went to Karaoke again.

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Yukino had to go to work, so Michael and I went grocery shopping at a supermarket near the station. We got steals of deals on food, for example: I bought peanut butter for ¥150, which everywhere else I looked it cost about ¥350. For now it’s back to the bump and grind until my next adventure.

Also, here’s my friend Michael’s blog on Tumblr http://xmaikerux.tumblr.com/

He takes lots of awesome pictures, as shown above, so his blog is more than worth a look.

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A Saturday in Umeda

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This past Saturday, my friend and I decided to travel to the big city: Osaka. More specifically, we spent our time downtown, AKA Umeda. 

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I did not realize how big Osaka is until traveling from Hirakatashi Eki (station). Hirakatashi (where I live) is in the outskirts of Osaka, and takes between 20-30 minutes to get to the Kyobashi station. Kyobashi is significantly closer to downtown, but still we had to switch from the Keihan line to the JR Osaka Loop to get downtown without walking excessively. We had trouble trying to find where to buy our JR line tickets; As usual the answer was right in front of us (or the ticket machine in this case). 

It rained most of the day, which was no surprise. Yet, neither of us thought to bring an umbrella. My friend ended up purchasing one and graciously sharing with me. 

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Though it was rainy, a lot of the streets we walked were covered, with the exception of crosswalks. We walked around taking in the streets until we found a relatively cheap place to eat. Unfortunately, our goal of finding cheap food lead us into a sleazy bar where they try to scam foreigners. The servers were bringing us food we did not order, and my friend and I were getting irritated quickly, because we had been warned about this kind of behavior. After telling the servers twice we did not order the food they kept bringing, we decided to cash out and leave ASAP. It’s something to worry about here, because if we were to drink at a bar like that, they typically try to take advantage and overcharge for things not ordered. (I am not downtalking Japan in ANY way; I love it here. It is just a cautionary tale.) 

Brushing off one of the few bad experiences I’ve had here, we tried to find an arcade and instead found ourselves at a Pachinko Casino. I guess it is technically an arcade for adults, that is more complicated and wastes more money. 

 

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We wanted to see what all the hype was about since Pachinko is a pretty big deal here. An attendant helped teach us how to play and took us to what he said was the “easiest” game. It was still way more complicated that a skill crane. We played a few games, but neither of us were much into it. We mostly watched how intently the others were playing.  Players were able to redeem tokens for prizes, like an arcade, but instead it was items such as jewelry, alcohol, message chairs, etc. Before we left the same attendant offered to take our picture in front of the Casino’s logo, and he walked us outside. (He was so nice and patient with us!) 

Afterwards, we went to a nice restaurant to grab a drink before heading back home. What a day! 

 

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I hope to go back to Umeda in the near future and learn the streets, though I’m living rather frugal for some bigger trips as well. 

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Questions or Comments?

Leave them below or email me at lucyjw3@gmail.com

 

First Week of Classes- It’s Hump Day!

A rainy Monday kicked off the semester, and thankfully my schedule on Mondays allow me to finish at noon. So with all the free time, what better to do than errands?

I recently moved into the same room as a fellow classmate from Marshall, but moving caused my address to change. When my residency changes, I have to make another trip to city hall and get a lovely stamp proving where I live and that I live there legally. 

After the rainy ride to city hall, I stopped by the grocery store near my seminar house called Top World. Food in Japan can be pricey if not adventurous, though I’m sure the same applies for food that is local in any region. Rice, noodles, and fish are typically my go to foods at the store, as they are relatively inexpensive. I like to buy vegetables to put in the mix as well, but I have not bought any fruit yet. The apples and peaches are huge, but there are usually about 2 per pack and can be rather pricey. 

On the way back to my seminar house, I made a first attempt to ride my bike while holding my umbrella; I failed. A lot of locals are able to do it and make it look easy, but it was not easy steering down the narrow streets for me with one hand. Though I did not wreck, I ended up walking my bike back. I finished the day with some boring chores around my room and cooked. The first day of classes at Kansai Gaidai was then in the books.

Tuesdays are not so laid back compared to Mondays. My first class is at 9AM; My last class ends at 6:10PM. The classes are not back to back, but it still makes for a long day. I’m currently registered for: Level 3 Japanese Speaking, Level 3 Japanese Reading and Writing, Intercultural Communication in Japan, Japanese Business and Society, and Mind in Yoga, Buddhism and Daoism. My classes have been enjoyable thus far, but I know Japanese Reading and Writing will be the most challenging for me thanks to all the kanji. 

Now it’s Wednesday, another easy day (and hump day). Other than my 2 classes, I plan to study kanji most of the day. I look forward to traveling this Saturday and cannot wait to share my experiences, so that helps me stay motivated through the week. Until next time!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about my time here, please leave them below or email me at lucyjw3@gmail.com

My Trip to City Hall

Once I arrived in Japan I was issued a Resident Card, which I have to carry with me at all times. Well it turns out, I still was not completely legal until I registered my card with City Hall. Registering my card is also a University requirement. Today, I finally made the trip to city hall with my fellow classmates from Marshall.

City Hall is near the Hirakatashi City Station: a short bus ride from campus that costs about $6.00 round trip. My friends and I easily found City Hall, then were done within a few minutes. We also visited the ginkou (bank) so I could exchange money. Exchanging money was slightly more difficult, but together we knew enough Japanese to accomplish what we needed. The workers were also extremely helpful and polite. 

After we were finished with our errands, we decided to explore the area and find some place to eat. We stopped at a little restaurant named 私屋.  

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This is the machine where we inserted yen and pressed the button for what we wanted. The machine printed tickets with what we ordered, then we gave our tickets to the server. She kindly brought us cups of water and our food, which was ready very quickly.

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My kanji skills are nowhere good enough to know for sure what I was eating, but it contained tofu, a little pork, some vegetables, and broth. I added ginger, soy sauce, hot pepper, and the egg. Itadakimasu! 

 

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After we finished, we rode the bus back to Kansai to complete a few more errands. On the way back to our seminar house, I showed Michael and Kiersten the short cut, which also has a Shrine we stopped by. After asking a local if it was okay to take pictures, we entered the shrine and enjoyed the serenity. 

 

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I will enjoy riding by this quaint shrine everyday. For me, it is a humble reminder that peace can be found anywhere if I choose to find it. 

See more cool photos at https://plus.google.com/photos/108391115129100094050/albums/6052559836539079777

My Travel Experience to Japan

I reside in West Virginia, so the trip to Japan was rather long. There are some major airports in my state, but it is significantly cheaper to drive a couple hours to Columbus, OH. (About $800+ cheaper)  

Once in Columbus on Friday at 9AM, my flight was delayed. It was later cancelled at 10:30. My entire plane route had to be rerouted, because I paid for a ticket that was with a different airline in Japan. I left my family at 10AM, so I sat in the airport all day until my flight for LA departed around 5PM. I was extremely frustrated, as well as mentally and physically exhausted once I arrived in LA. After LA, I had a layover in Honolulu which mostly made up for the fact I was arriving almost a day later than I had intended. I did not get to see much of Hawaii, but I’ve finally been (even if it was only 2 hours). Then about 8 hours later, I landed Osaka jet lagged and glassy-eyed.

Finally thinking my bad luck was over, my luggage was torn and broken all over at the baggage pick-up. At this point, all I could do was cry. Maybe that’s immature, but sometimes a good cry can make somebody feel better; and it did. After recollecting my frazzled self, I bought my bus ticket to Hirakata-shi station. From there I got a taxi, and made it to my seminar house. Once settled in, I knew my bad luck wouldn’t last forever. 

This is my third day in Hirakatashi, and I’m having the time of my life already.  

Traveling can be very stressful at times, and I would hope nobody went through as much trouble as I did. My best advice to staying calm is sit back and let the ocean carry you; it’s not something you can control. A little fish said it best: Just keep swimming. 

What would you like to read about in my blog? Let me know in a comment below or email me at lucyjw3@gmail.com

Some Basic Steps for Beginning a Study Abroad Adventure

Studying abroad is a prodigious opportunity, but there are many steps I had to take before my trip to Japan became tangible. Hopefully these steps I took will give those seeking to study abroad an idea of what it takes; If studying abroad isn’t on your agenda, that’s okay. I assure I will have more entertaining posts in the near future.

1. Decide why you want to study abroad, then choose a location.

 

Deciding where to study abroad can seem intimidating. There are exchange and direct programs for nearly any country, but answering ‘why’ will help narrow the choices. Why do you want to study abroad? “To enrich my education experience” is an answer that will not suffice. Reflect on this question before anything else, because everybody will ask. Realizing why you want to study abroad and what experiences you want to have will help you select a destination.

 

These are the main two study abroad programs my university uses:

http://www.kiis.org/go/index.php and http://www.isep.org/

These are obviously not the only choices, but offer solid examples for locations and programs that are typically offered abroad. Check your university’s study abroad office and website for information; Attending study abroad fairs and international festivals are also great ways to get started.

2. Talk to your study abroad advisors and academic advisors

 

Speaking with your study abroad advisor will help personalize your study abroad experience. Most advisors will have thorough info regarding your program of interest and will be able to help you select a program that will suit your current major. He or she will also be responsible for gathering some documents and information, so it is advisable that you know how to reach your advisor by more than just email. I started speaking to my study abroad advisor my second semester, but I did not go abroad until three semesters later. Getting information early and knowing what to do = on time applications and less stress. (Trust me, it’s already stressful enough the closer you are to departure.)

3. Choose a program and university that best fits your needs and interests

 

Choosing a university in another country is a big and exciting decision, but keeping your goals in mind is also important. Wasting time abroad can put you behind schedule for graduation, so try selecting a program that seems like the credits would work with classes you need for your degree. I chose a few universities with Business and Japanese courses so that once I came home, I would get credit for my time overseas. Most universities will not have an exact course list and descriptions for when planning to study abroad, but they usually have older course catalogs to sample what type of classes are offered.

4. Get your passport

Begin this ASAP. I cannot stress that enough. I already had my passport from previous trips overseas, but a passport is definitely the first thing to acquire. The sooner you have everything, the better. (Making copies of your passport once you receive it is also a good idea. A lot of documents require copies of it.)

5. Apply for selected program.

You will typically need: a copy of your passport, physician approval to study abroad, multiple copies of your official transcript, ID photos (typically $10 at your local pharmacy or post office), multiple letters of recommendation, the paper application to study abroad and various other forms that the program may need. My application required mostly basic information/documents listed above and 3 letters of recommendation. In respect of my professors, I asked them 3 weeks to a month in advanced if my professors would mind writing a letter of rec for me. If you ask too far in advance, professors will usually forget; They have many other students and tasks to juggle. Yet too close to the deadline is surely going to make them mad. Feeling the irritability of a professor due to lack of responsibility is not a fun experience, and the professors tend to take those students less seriously. So be punctual for your own sake. Because I had to have multiple letters of recommendation for scholarships that I applied for, I emailed my professors asking them to save the letters of rec they write for me. This way, they only had to change a few words around to accommodate me.


6. Anticipate acceptance letter,  and start applying for scholarships

Apply to anything and everything. Every scholarship I applied for, I received. This gave me about $16,500 in scholarships for the year. If you are doing an exchange program, it is usually cheaper than to just directly go to the university and pay. You also do not have to be officially accepted to apply for scholarships, but only to receive them. Talk to your professors and advisors about scholarship info as well; They always know where the best and most prestigious scholarships are.

7.Upon acceptance, Apply for study abroad insurance, Visas, Look/buy a plane ticket and Get your ISIC card

If you receive an acceptance letter, congratulations, but the paper work is far from over. The university overseas should mail a Certificate of Eligibility. Once that has been received, apply for your visa. Getting an  ISIC will help you find discount plane tickets, hotels, shopping and more. I saved over $800 on my ticket by booking with STA. (http://www.statravel.com) Study abroad insurance is required and necessary if anything were to happen. Insurance plans are available through ISIC, but the company I used is Insurance for Students. I’m not sure which is cheaper, but the insurance through ISIC is more widely recognized so I recommend it over other plans. Any other documents you may need to collect, always do it ASAP. The sooner the better, because the last few weeks before leaving can seem extremely stressful if underprepared.

8. Submit scholarship documentation

Some scholarships I applied for and received are: The Morgan-Stanley Bridging Scholarship, The Bridging Scholarship, The Gilman Award, and one locally funded scholarship- The Kimbler Award. The first two are only for students studying in Japan, and the documentation is fairly simple. Sign a Terms of Agreement paper; Mail it back; Receive a check in the mail a couple weeks later. The Gilman Award is only available to any student that receives the Federal Pell Grant . The paper work is much more tedious, because it is a government funded scholarship. My other scholarship also only required a signature.


My point of this blog was to encourage you to take care of your study abroad paperwork and details quickly. These are only the main steps I went through, as this can be a long process. Study Abroad is possible, even if you aren’t wealthy. Applying yourself is highly important to make the trip affordable. But, the pay out is worth all of the trouble, promise! If you have additional questions that weren’t covered in my blog, I encourage you to post a question here or by my email (lucyjw3@gmail.com).

 

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About My Blog

Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog.

First things first, my name is Lucy Ward. I’m a junior at Marshall University with double majors in Japanese and International Business and a minor in Music Performance. My Japanese studies have led me to my passions for traveling and learning. So in less than 2 weeks, I will be departing for Kansai Gaidai University.

I did not know what study abroad opportunities would await me once I entered college. I attended study abroad fairs for many semesters. Though I accumulated a collection of pamphlets for many destinations, Japan was the most prominent. I expressed my interest in study abroad to all of my Senseis (“Professors” in Japanese). My desire grew stronger to leave for Japan, so I ultimately decided on studying abroad the entire year. 

Personally, studying abroad for the year was not an easy decision to make. I had worried about finances, but maintaining long distance relationships with my family and friends is potentially just as stressful. There are also a lot of emotions involved; My comfort blanket is being snatched away. There are many challenges to overcome and tasks to finish prior to studying abroad, but I stay optimistic by thinking of the day I unboard the plane and my dreams will become a reality. 

So that’s what brings me here. My hopes are for this blog about my study abroad to educate and inspire other students to pursue their own journey across the ocean. Sharing my experience with everybody is a privilege, and if nothing I hope to at least entertain. Getting here was not easy, but it is possible. 

Up next post….How Many Steps are There Before I Board the Plane?

My Life Abroad

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