Last week in Munich

This will be my last week in Munich. A little sentimental? Yeah. It is indeed a very nice city to live and study in. In the less than two months here, besides the Carl Duisburg Center where I have language class, the place that I visited most frequently is the library of Monumenta Germaniae Historica inside die Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. I have collected many documents useful to my research there. The routine life between three spots –  the Carl Duisburg Center, die Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek and home -makes me feel as not a guest but someone from here. Now I feel a little intimate to the city, to its life rhythm.

So, for the last week, let me simply put some pictures about my ordinary life of Munich:

63963487208266479

Outside Carl Duisburg Center

2

The community where I live

1

On subway

4

The reading lobby of the MGH Library

 

Auf Wiedersehen, München!

Week 5: Museums and Parks

I’ve had a good time in Beijing so far, and I feel my Chinese has improved a lot in the mere month that has transpired, but I sometimes can’t help but feel frustrated and discouraged with how frequently I have trouble communicating. After living here a month, I feel I understand pretty well how most common interactions should go: ordering food, bargaining, etc. And yet I am still often struck speechless by how little I understand of what someone has said in their super-rapid Chinese. It goes without saying that Chinese is a very difficult and exotic language for a speaker of English, but this is of little consolation when you’re struggling to understand someone. It may sound cliche, but I honestly the best way to avoid feeling defeated is to take heart in the small victories, the times when you understand something you couldn’t previously that are proof of improvement. I trust that simply given more time this frustration will slowly occur less frequently.

This week proved to be another fun weekend of exploration and adventure around the city. I had some free time during the week, so after classes concluded I packed some water and walked to Yuanmingyuan, also known as the Old Summer Palace. Unfortunately it was overcast all day, so my photos weren’t the most brilliant, but I’ll attach a couple nonetheless. This park is easily the largest I have visited thus far. It used to be a massive palace complex that was destroyed by a European coalition force in the late 19th century. All that remains of the buildings are the foundations, with a few exceptions, but the park is nevertheless beautiful. It features a large lake in the center and the surrounding lands. I didn’t venture as deep as I might have because I was forced to leave at the parks closing, Which I find unfortunate: who knows how many nice, particularly beautiful spots may have been hidden deep within the park?

_IMG_1551 _IMG_1554 _IMG_1556

That Saturday, a group of students were planning to go the Summer Palace, perhaps the most famous park in Beijing. I had planned to go with them, but unfortunately overslept and by time I woke up they had already left. So I decided instead to visit the Beijing National Museum, one the best museums in the city. I had also planned on visiting the Beijing Capital Museum, but I ended up staying at the National Museum much longer than I expected. The museum is located on the east side of Tiananmen Square, right near the center of the city.

_IMG_1566

Entry was easy and free, and the museum was huge, hosting an array of exhibits. I started with the largest exhibit, the one about the history of China from prehistoric times up to the fall of the Qing dynasty and found of the Republic of China. After slowly meandering through this exhibit I feel my understanding and appreciation for Chinese history is a little better. Afterward I wandered through the several other galleries the museum hosted, for example, ancient Chinese coinage, history of Chinese script and calligraphy, ancient jade artifacts, porcelain artifacts. Here too time forced my departure: I ended up staying just about up until closing time (which was 5 o’clock).

SLA Post-Program Reflection

1. Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.

What insights did you gain into the language acquisition process? How did you engage and understand cultural differences. Did you meet your goals for language learning that you articulated on the blog before you started your program? Why or why not?

The language acquisition experience I have gained from this past summer is indeed quite different from my coursework at Notre Dame. Studying French where it is spoken made my learning more continuous through the entire six-week period, for there existed a much less obvious division between in-class and after-class time. More importantly, however, I have benefited from the advanced B2-level course for various linguistic nuances that I could not have picked up before this program. To make it short, therefore, the one-piece language acquisition takeaway from this summer experience is to be immersed into the language as often and continuous as I can.

Six weeks in Paris may still seem too brief for me to truly gain a deep understanding of cultural differences. However, the seemingly trivial details in everyday life such as late dinner time and Sunday store closures also reflect interesting French culture. Yet I have benefited most in cultural awareness by living with my host family, who not only provided me with delicious home dishes but also engaged me in interesting cross-cultural dialogues.

Looking back on the learning goals that I have set up before departure, I believe I have made progress in all of them. While it is hard to determine if I have truly “accomplished” these goals, especially without a systematic evaluation, I have during my stay corresponding experiences that give me confidence to assume my progress for all the four goals listed in my first post.

2. Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall.

What insights have you brought back as a result of this experience? How has your summer language study abroad changed you and/or your worldview? What advice would you give to someone who was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study?

Before all I consider the diversity of Francophiles that I have observed as the most impressive and important insight I gained from this experience. As I have already mentioned in my previous blog entries, my class at CCFS shows an extremely interesting mix of people. We have a senior lady, foreign embassy employees, undergraduate and graduate students, a guitarist, housewives, etc. Ridiculous as it may sound, I have never had a full awareness of the huge world of Francophiles before this summer by insulating myself with the undergraduate class setting at Notre Dame.

Moreover, this perception of a fascinating diversity in people who continue their studies at various stages of life is more than encouraging. While cliché has it that studying is a lifelong thing, this SLA experience is indeed what allow me to put a human face onto these words; and thus I obtain a renewed confidence and passion to continue learning and thinking beyond my undergraduate years and even beyond my formal academic life.

As for advices for future SLA applicants or who are simply planning a summer language study, the most important thing I would say is “Do not hesitate to go abroad!” There are numerous ways that one can spend a summer, but language learning in a foreign country would be no doubt among the most rewarding ones.

Where do you go from here? How will you maintain, grow and/or apply what you have learned? How might you use your SLA Grant experience during the rest of your academic career and post-graduation. How will your SLA Grant experience inform you as you move forward academically, personally and professionally?

In the nearest future, I hope to continue my pursuit of proficiency in both written and spoken French. Hence this semester I am taking a French writing course to compensate for the relatively less training on this side during the summer. I also plan to have at least one French course for each of the semester remaining till graduation.

This improvement in French is crucial also for my academic pursuit, most visibly in that I hope to conduct research on the period around the French Revolution, a project which will very likely evolve into a senior thesis. Being able to access original versions of primary and secondary sources would thus be invaluable for me.

Apart from the more pragmatic plan for improving my French, however, I think this experience indeed builds up my confidence both in speaking the language and exploring in-depth a foreign culture. As an international student, I have had similar experience when coming to Notre Dame for the first time; however, this summer I had a more conscious observation of myself going into a new cultural environment. Thus I would hesitate even less in the future why my studies or work would require me to move into a whole new environment. In addition, I have always aspired to work for international organizations such as the United Nations, where the knowledge of French and English would both be crucial to expand my professional boundaries.

 

Signing Off

Well, this is the last hurrah. I’m sorry, but there are no pictures for this time.

It’s been quite an unforgettable time these last few weeks in Brest, and while I’m sad to leave my new friend(s) and host family, I am so excited to start my semester at Angers.

If I could share perhaps the most important thing that I realized about language learning, it’s that immersion is immensely important. I feel that a huge difference has been made in my speech, comprehension, and reading having spent so much time only using French. In fact, I imagine the same courses that I took would have less efficacy had I taken them say in the United States or another non-French speaking area. Such is the importance of the immersion in my books, just my two cents (and there’s a Euro coin for that here strangely enough, I don’t see why but there is).

As for cultural differences, I thought the ones I had to deal with were quite easy to manage if one had an open mind. There were big examples, like the bathing suit controversy I had, to smaller things like when we ate, what was acceptable to say, and how to interact with strangers. I found that just being a friendly, outgoing, and most importantly willing to learn American was sufficient to get by and have people like you.

To recap, my goals were to speak confidently, express myself with greater sophistication, read more quickly, and better understand the grammar and style of French writing. I would say that I can do all those things, and this became particularly evident when I introduced myself to my host family here at Angers and we immediately had a lengthy dinner featuring many fluidly flowing conversations about myself, my aspirations, and my opinions.

Yet, I am hesitant to say that I am fully ready to accomplish my overarching goal of writing on some aspect of French history. As I mentioned in my grant report, while certainly the SLA was vastly helpful, it was not the entirety of my plan, as I am spending a semester in the ND Angers program. Further into the semester, I think I will more fully know if I am truly ready to produce significant academic writing using my French.

When I reflect on the SLA Grant overall, I realize how much I took for granted back home. The daily things in my life from a car, to AC, late night snacks, and ESPN are so much more precious to me now knowing what it’s like without them. Also, like a LOT of people smoke in France, so having mostly fresh air back home is another thing I miss. This summer abroad has also changed my worldview of Europe. I really thought that everybody liked America in Europe, but that is not the case. In lieu of the universally agreed upon great nation and promoter of democracy, some people here had more negative views like environmentally wasteful, politically meddlesome, and culturally ignorant. To each his own.

And so to advise any potential applicants or study abroad folks who end up reading my blog, I would say prepare for a time where you don’t have a lot of the same things like back home, and people don’t necessarily think the same way as you. But those aren’t huge things, you can get over it really quickly.

Lastly, to build on my summer, I will be studying abroad in France for a semester as well. I hope that by my return, I can then use this combined experience to write scholarly works using my French language skills. I am not certain on the historical writing, as this experience really showed how much of a ways I had to go before mastering French, but at the very least I plan to pursue a supplementary major in French as well. Thus, if not used for history, I will at least have gained conversational fluency with a second language to be used for other academia. Further down the line, I believe my French skills will be useful for building my marketability and value in my intended future profession as a lawyer. Not just on in a linguistic/academic sense, but spending some time in France has imparted valuable personal/professional insights on culture which will also be invaluably useful.

I thank you, valued reader of my blog, for keeping up with me so far. Its over now, and so I say, Cheers to you, Good Night and Good Luck.

Traveling is so much fun

August 28, 2016

I just spend the last three weeks traveling around Japan. Next week, I will be starting my fall semester at Nanzan University in Nagoya. Here is a layout of my travels:

Hakodate -> Sapporo -> Nagoya -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Tokyo -> Fujiyashida (near Mt. Fuji) -> Kyoto -> Nagasaki -> Nagoya

There is no way I can talk about everything that I did, so I am going to give a small description of my time in each location.

Hakodate, southern tip of Hokkaido: Here, while living with host families, I participated in my summer language program, the Hokkaido International Foundation, from June until August.

Sapporo, central Hokkaido: Here, I just boarded a flight to return to Honshu, the main island of Japan.

Nagoya, south, central Honshu: Here, I met up with my father and his two friends so that we could travel together. I intended to update my visa while I was there, but it did not work out.

Kyoto, central Honshu: Here, I spent 3 days exploring the temples and shrines of Japan’s old capital. It was amazing. My Japanese abilities shone through with the amount of interaction I was able to have with locals. Because of this, a friend and I were able to go to a specialty bar and carry on a conversation with the bartender.

Osaka, in between Nagoya and Kyoto: Here, I met up with a friend and ate the city’s famous dish, takoyaki (balls of dough and octopus)

Tokyo: Here, I explored the city and soaked up the Japanese city experience from Shibuya to Shinjuku to Akihabara. I parted ways with my father and welcomed my cousin to began traveling with me from that point. Again, I met up with the friend from Kyoto and we went to another bar, where we had an even better conversation with the bartenders. This is the true fruit of my language learning.

Fujiyashida, in the middle of nowhere: Here, my cousin and I visited a beautiful, moss covered forest that is famous for the amount of suicides that occur in it. It was creepy but definitely worth the trip. We stayed in a hostel.

Kyoto: My cousin and I returned to Kyoto so that she could see the sights. We had a great time and stayed at a wonderful hostel.

Nagasaki, a port city on the southern island of Kyushu: Here, my cousin and I visited many of the Catholic sites. Because Nagasaki was the Japanese center of Catholicism, it has many beautiful and historical churches. Unfortunately, most of the Catholics of Nagasaki were killed by the atomic bomb in 1945, but much was preserved and the Catholics there persevere. It was a wonderful town to visit. I loved it.

Nagoya: I then returned to Nagoya to await the start of the fall semester. And then it is now. I am catching up on some work, updating my visa, and relaxing on the only real week of summer vacation that I get. I cannot wait to get back to school! Nanzan University sounds wonderful!

Here are some pictures of Nagasaki:

14040034_1414402228577010_2749269523888167528_n

14040202_1414402015243698_6208923730742419643_n

Thanks for everything! Signing out.

In the end

August 6, 2016

Well there is it. I took my final exam yesterday, and I am leaving tomorrow. I cannot believe how far I have come since starting this program. My ability to communicate with and listen to Japanese has improved faster than I could ever imagine. Thank you to everyone who supported me during this time. It was difficult, but extremely rewarding.

So, anyway, let us talk about the last few weeks. One of the coolest things that I was able to do was explore an abandoned Japanese fort with my host mom. Because she is a Hakodate history expert, officials pretty much let her go wherever she wants. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Also, I presented my independent research project. While I learned lots of things about Japanese Catholics and the history of Japanese Catholicism, the most shocking discovery I made regards the current state of Catholicism in Japan. While it has a rich history and historically had many adherents, because of the persecution it experienced in the past, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (the center of Catholicism in Japan), and the ravages of modernity and secularism, the Catholic population is dying out, especially in less-populated areas like Hakodate. It is truly a very sad thing. For example, Hakodate has three Catholic parishes but only two priests. Because of this, every Sunday, one of the parishes must go without Mass. I ask that everyone add to your intentions the areas of the world that lack liturgical resources. We often take for granted the rich and plentiful access we have to the Church in America and Europe. Hopefully, as the Church becomes prominent in the China and Africa, more and more place will be blessed with access to the sacraments.

I intend to write my final post while I am traveling over the next few weeks. I have decided that would give me a lot of organic interactions with Japanese people to write about next time. So there you have it. The next time I post, I should be somewhere in the south of Japan. see you all soon.

13934838_1404870436196856_6891122179398549029_n

This blog site won’t let me upload any of my best pictures because the file size limit is too low! How unfortunate!

Drawing to an end

July 23, 2016

I have been at my second host family’s house for two weeks now, and everything is going smoothly. My parents are still wonderful, and my roommate helps me with my homework.

As part of the program, every student is required to do an independent study project. For my project, I am conducting interviews of local Japanese Catholics to see how Japanese culture and language affects the practices of Catholics of a non-Western country. So far, the results have been fascinating. The project should conclude before I write my next post, so I will share my conclusions next time.

Beyond this, I am mostly doing homework and studying. On occasion, I have the opportunity to go out with friends. It is always a blast to be able to wander around a Japanese city with the ability to communicate with the locals. So far, this has been the most fun part of learning Japanese. I cannot wait to improve even more so that I can communicate more effectively and efficiently.

Here is a picture of me in my yukata:

13669765_1391580594192507_8086247858760540559_n

And here is a picture of me making melon pan:

13686676_1392290014121565_7933352164481405146_n

 

Midpoint: Travels to Xi’an

And with the passing of our trip to Xi’an, we have officially reached the halfway point of our studies in China, which I find strange to think about. On the one hand I am eager to rejoin friends and family in the US, but on the other there are so many things here in China I haven’t yet seen or experienced, and there are so many things here that are simply nonexistent in the US. I suppose you could say I feel bittersweet about being halfway done. It makes me all the more want to make the most of my time here, because I don’t have much of an idea of when I might return.

That said, this past weekend was without a doubt my favorite weekend thus far. Thursday, after finishing the midterm exam, we all went to the dorms to pack and prepare for the weekend ahead. We went to Beijing’s western train station so we could board the over-night train that would take us to Xi’an. We had the nicer soft-sleeper tickets, meaning that the bed were soft and the rooms were a bit nicer, as opposed to the hard sleepers, which are more crowded and less comfortable. There were four beds to a room, two sets of bunks directly across from each other. The program bought whichever tickets were available, which meant that some rooms were entirely filled with Notre Dame students, some were partly Notre Dame students, and a couple people were alone in that respect. I happened to one of those few. I was the only Notre Dame student in my room. However, what I thought was going to be a boring and lonely night took an interesting turn. Soon after I moved all my things onto my bed, a small Chinese family, composed of a man, his mother, and his young daughter, entered the room. With my limited Chinese and his limited English, we were able to have some interesting conversations. His mother was also very kind, sharing some of their snacks with me. His 3 year old daughter seemed very smart for her age. She already knew a handful of English words and expressions, and also had an interest in natural history, so that night I learned such Chinese words as ‘fossil’ and ‘dinosaur’. Additionally, they were all natives of Xi’an, and gave me recommendations for food and drinks to have in Xi’an, as well as places to go. At the end of the train ride, we exchanged emails and he even invited me to have a meal at his house, should I return to Xi’an. So I guess if I go back to Xi’an anytime soon, I might just have a place to go! Here’s a picture of me and his daughter taken on the train.

_IMG_1561

After pulling into Xi’an that next morning, we first checked into our hotel and then set out for Xi’an’s most well known attraction: the terra cotta soldiers.The soldiers are located a little ways outside the city, amidst the hills that surround the city. The soldiers were impressive. Before us lay a number of rows of intersecting pits, each containing rank after rank of clay soldiers. The most incredible part, at least for me, was not how many soldiers there were, but the ridiculous amount of detail and work that went into each one. Literally every soldier was unique. And when they set out to build a clay army, they did just that. There were soldiers of varying ranks, distinguishable by their attire. The army had its share of slaves, foot soldiers, archers, field officers, foreign conscripts, horsemen, you name it. There was even a separate pit that depicted generals and officers having a meeting. The levels of detail was truly unbelievable.

_IMG_1472_IMG_1483

Later that evening we returned to Xi’an proper to attend a performance. Going in, we really had no idea what to expect from the performance. We knew it was based off poem or story from the Tang dynasty era, one of several dynasties that made Xi’an their capital. The performance took place just after sunset, while the sky was just turning gray. And it was soon evident why they waited until after dark to begin. The performance wasn’t a play in the usual sense. The actors had no dialogue, just a narrator speaking in an archaic Chinese, of which I could understand scarcely a word. Instead, in a way it was a dance performance on a huge scale. The set was huge, very wide and it extended deep towards the mountain behind it, at whose foot it was strategically placed. The music was excellent and the dancing was enthralling, but the most impressive part was the huge and varied amount of special effects used to help tell the story. I’ll attach some pictures that will hopefully illustrate my meaning.

_IMG_1488_IMG_1491_IMG_1493_IMG_1494

The next day we had another favorite event scheduled: biking along the city walls of Xi’an. Unlike Beijing, whose walls were demolished a few decades ago, the walls of Xi’an yet remain, and have been for the most part restored, so they are smooth enough to bike on. It was very interesting (and tiring) to bike through a significant portion of the city. In addition to old bell towers and other assorted old buildings upon the wall itself, you could also make out other landmarks within the older part of Xi’an, like Buddhist temples and pagodas that once dominated the skyline of the old city, before the advent of skyscrapers.

_IMG_1504 _IMG_1520

Afterward we went to an area of the city called ‘Muslim Street’. Xi’an has a decently large number of Chinese Muslims, and this area surrounds the mosque and is a huge marketplace, dotted with Muslim restaurants. It was fun to spend some time exploring the winding streets of the marketplace. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but all the food we ate in Xi’an was great. The Xi’an cuisine seems to have been influenced by the Muslim population, as there was no pork and it was dominated by beef and lamb. Just as in Beijing, I wasn’t always aware of what exactly I was eating, but it was all delicious.

The remaining destinations in Xi’an were a Buddhist temple and the Small and Large Goose Pagodas. Unfortunately the larger pagoda was being renovated, but even still you could tell they were impressive structures. And although most Buddhist temples share similar elements, I appreciated the peacefulness in the garden of this particular temple, and they were nice to explore.

_IMG_1527

Sunday morning we made our way back to the train station to catch our bullet train back to Beijing. It had been a particularly full and exhausting weekend, but also particularly interesting. I wish we could have stayed in Xi’an a bit longer and become more familiar with the city.

India 2016 Reflection

1) My studies in India affirmed by belief in the power of language to form meaningful connections and convey more powerful messages across cultures that go beyond simple words. I have always loved learning languages because I feel that they connect me to cultures and realities outside my own, but the experience of speaking Hindi in India with citizens in their cities, places of worship and homes actualized and went beyond these hopes and sentiments I had about cross cultural connections. Actually, in my language study, my professors made me aware that I have a lot of bad habits when it comes to grammar, and that there were some key concepts I was failing to grasp in comparison to my fellow students who have also been studying Hindi in college. While this program certainly helped me grow in these places through in class work and in face to face conversations, it also made me realize the limitations of my knowledge, and how much more I still have to learn to achieve my goal of being a fluent speaker.

2) What I found to be most rewarding about my trip was moments of spontaneous and casual conversation with Indian people. Within Indian communities a a culture of welcoming and hospitality is very visible and people were always eager to ask what I thought about India and how I felt about the culture and people. The experience is very humbling and I very much enjoyed being able to engage with Indian people and talk about their work, families, and homes.  I very much want to grow in my Hindi language skills so that I can return to India with the skills to be more engaged and immersed in the communities I feel so fortunate to have lived in for such a short period of time. Something that I found very inspiring was that many people of various social classes were multi-lingual, speaking Hindi, English, as well as a regional language, and these encounters motivate me to persevere in my own language studies. I would highly encourage someone considering applying for the SLA grant to apply, and would encourage people in their respective host countries to be both proactive in seeking opportunities to wrestle with the language but also taking the time to listen, blend into the background, and watch how people speak to each other, their mannerisms, greetings, tone, expressions, and all of the other small habits belonging to a different language and culture.

3) Upon returning from my study abroad, I look forward to progress in Hindi through independent study and my current task is to find a rigorous and challenging program to take up in the fall. I will maintain grow and apply what I learned through my program and assignments as well as continue contact with my summer professors for advice on Hindi language and Indian culture. While on my trip, my classmates referred me to many good resources such as a door into Hindi and some youtube channels, which I think will be very helpful in clarifying grammar questions, which I found to be my greatest language challenge on the trip. I hope to use my SLA grant experience to pursue a critical language scholarship program grant through the US government, which allows for intense language study in India. My long term goal is to tie in my studies in economics to research on India’s rapid growth and development.

New Host Family

July 9, 2016

Everything is going very well! I recently moved into my new host family’s house. Instead of a standard Japanese suburb like my last family, I am now living right on the ocean in a small fishing village section of Hakodate. The view from the window during meals is remarkable!

13939343_1397011270316106_7789956569701714575_n

My new host mom and dad are in their seventies, but they are very active! My host mom still hikes Mount Hakodate regularly. Also, she is a licensed chef in Hokkaido. All the meals are amazing!

I miss my previous host family, but, luckily, my new family is extremely nice and fun. I am looking forward to spending more time with them as the program proceeds.

The homework is still difficult, but I am now living with a roommate who is in a higher class than me. I hope he can help me with some of the more difficult concepts.

13659211_1381652585185308_440318462433275548_n