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:


Outside Carl Duisburg Center


The community where I live


On subway


The reading lobby of the MGH Library


Auf Wiedersehen, München!

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:



Thanks for everything! Signing out.

India 2016 Reflection

1) My studies in India affirmed my belief in the power of language to foster meaningful connections and to convey powerful messages across cultures. I have always loved learning languages because I feel that they connect me to cultures and realities outside my own. 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 realize 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 class work and 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 Indians. Within Indian communities a culture of welcome and hospitality is very visible and people were always eager to ask what I thought about India, the culture, and the people. The experience was very humbling and I very much enjoyed being able to engage with Indian people and talk about their work, families, and homes.  I hope to grow in my Hindi language skills so that I can return to India  and 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. Further, I would encourage people in their respective host countries to be both proactive in seeking opportunities to wrestle with the language while also taking the time to listen. When you seek to blend into the background you can better watch how people speak to each other, observing their mannerisms, greetings, tone, expressions, and all of the other small habits unique to a different language and culture.

3) Upon returning from my study abroad, I look forward to progressing in Hindi through independent study. My current task is to find a rigorous and challenging program to take up in the fall. I will maintain and apply what I learned from 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. I think that these 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.

Back in the US, thinking of Japan and my Host Family

I can’t believe that I am already walking on the right side of the sidewalk again, and handing store clerks my credit card with only one hand instead of two, and throwing trash in public outdoor trash cans instead of having to carry it home. After 8 weeks, I felt like I was really starting to get the hang of Japanese culture! I was finally automatically using the Japanese filler “ano” instead of “um”, and was getting used to using all my new grammar in everyday speech, and now I can hardly imagine what it will be like to try to continue studying the language without it surrounding me all day every day!

That said, I’m really excited to continue learning, and I hope to eventually achieve a high  level of proficiency! I am determined to find my way back to Japan, whether I can get an internship there, or possibly find a job there for a little while, or go there between graduation and grad school with the JET program for teaching English there. I really want to be able to use my Japanese in the future, and be a link between Japanese and American cultures. This program has really changed my life, and I am so grateful for the opportunity!


Above is the nighttime view from Mount Hakodate, overlooking the city with the ocean on either side. It’s the most famous sight in all of Hakodate, and I remember taking a trip to the top of the moment with my host parents on the last night. This picture is very sentimental!


Also, near the end of the program, my host parents symbolically welcomed me into their family by christening me with my own kanji name. My name in Japanese is アリソン (arison) which has to be written in the Japanese phonetic syllabary used for foreign names. Japanese people use the borrowed Chinese characters, kanji, to write their own names. So, my host parents found me kanji that have the correct pronunciations for my name and gave me my own Japanese name: 愛里孫 (a – love; ri – home, son – granddaughter). Basically every Japanese person has their own stamp with their name that they can use to sign formal letters or artwork; it’s often given to them on their 20th birthday, and is an important cultural symbol. My host parents generously had a stamp made for me with my new kanji name. Below is a picture of my stamp (center) alongside my two host mothers’. I will treasure it forever!


I will be missing Hakodate for a long time! What an incredible experience! I can’t wait to return!

More Truly Japanese Experiences

One emerging trend in modern Japanese culture is the concept of animal “cafes”. These are little shops that let you pay by the hour to play with a particular type of animal – the various cafes include all kinds, ranging from cats to owls! Originally created Tokyo, where it is difficult for many residents to own their own pets, these animal cafes have spread all over Japan, and I had the opportunity to visit a couple of them and experience this neat piece of Japanese culture for myself. These cafes fit right in with Japanese Kawaii culture! It was a lot of fun – I wish they had some of these back in the US!

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Above I am visiting a dog cafe, which consisted of a large room full of poodles, beagles, and a golden retriever! The customer just sits down on the floor, and dogs come running over looking for pets. The dogs love the attention, the people love the dogs, and it seems like a win-win set-up! They only allow a certain number of people in the room at once, of course, and the line was far out the door. Turns out this is really popular!

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Next was the rabbit cafe! In a room full of the most adorable rabbits I had ever seen, you could sit on a stool and pet a rabbit in your lap, switching rabbits every 10 minutes. Another great idea for a business!! I wouldn’t want the responsibility of owning a rabbit, but being able to play with them for an hour was a lot of fun. I can see why the Japanese really like their animal cafes!


Finally, another great cultural experience I had was the kickoff to the annual Hakodate Port Festival, which was a brilliant fireworks display. Summer festivals are a big deal in northern Japan, where the winters are long, and generally the whole town becomes involved somehow, whether it be in the parade, selling festival food, or visiting the street stands and the events. Most people wear Yukatas (summer kimonos) to festivals, and I got to wear mine and be a part of the fun. The fireworks were spectacular – I learned Japanese firework shows are always long, dramatic, and impressive, and this one was no exception! The following day I walked through the street stands observing the festival food – including colored chocolate-covered bananas on sticks, shaved frozen fruit (frozen fruit through a shave ice machine – amazing!) and yakisoba (a fried noodle dish). There was a also a huge parade (with 10,000 people in it!) featuring lots of squid dancing – Hakodate’s signature dance. This was an amazing experience for the last week of my stay in Hakodate. I hope that someday I have reason to wear my Yukata to a festival again!

Blog Entry #8 July 15, 2016 Post-Program Reflections

Blog Entry #8

July 15, 2016

Post-Program Reflections

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, the Summer Language Award (SLA) Grant Program showed me that language learning must be fun if I am going to excel. For me, fun means applying my learning directly to real-life situations in front of me. Learning Tagalog helped me gain insight into the way Filipinos think and understand themselves, others, and even foreigners like myself. Before I began my language program, I wanted to establish a base in the Tagalog language that I would be able to continue to grow and build upon during my internship. I am happy to say that I have been able to establish this base, and it continues to grow stronger through my interactions with colleagues and affiliated CRS partners.

Because my time in the Philippines is only just beginning, my insights are continuing to grow and my worldview is constantly evolving in this beautiful country. I think the biggest insights I have had so far are about communication style and culture. Where the United States has a strong verbal communication style, the Philippines has a very strong non-verbal communication style. So much is communicated without talking, so many questions answered without ever actually being discussed. As someone who is a verbal processor, and has been described as ‘communicative and expressive,’ these cultural adaptations have been difficult for me and I look forward to continuing to try to understand a culture that is so different from mine. I have learned that I need to spend just as much time observing what is happening as I do trying to learn Tagalog. Culture is another foreign language entirely, and one that must be studied and practiced just as the spoken language itself.

I plan to continue to use my intercultural competency in the work place at my internship, and through my personal relationships with others. I look forward to continuing to study Tagalog throughout the course of my internship. Upon returning from my internship I will have one final semester in my Masters program where I will write a Masters Thesis paper for my Capstone Seminar focused on the role of religious leaders in peacebuilding efforts. Understanding Tagalog will allow me to synthesize the research I have collected within a deeper cultural context and continue to engage with contacts made in the field.

The Catholic Relief Services Peace Governance for Transformation in Mindanao (CRS-PGTM Philippines) is one of the leading models for grassroots peacebuilding in the world. Numerous Kroc alumni and faculty have worked and conducted research with CRS-PGTM, Philippines. Understanding Tagalog will allow allow me to form relationships with local communities for today and also lay the foundation for future professional peacebuilding experiences. I thank Summer Learning Abroad Grant Program and the Center for Languages & Cultures at the University of Notre Dame for making this opportunity possible for me. As we say in Tagalog- Maraming Salamat! (Thank you very much!)



Blog Entry #7 June 30, 2016 Change is Coming

Blog Entry #7

June 30,2016

Change is Coming

This afternoon was newly-elected President Duterte’s inauguration, in Quezon City, Philippines. As I navigated my way through the Quezon City traffic, I was struck by the irony of the situation. I was on my way to board a plane to Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, where he had served as mayor and earn the reputation for being able to ‘clean things up.’ At the same time, Duterte was about to begin his inaugural speech in Manila. Duterte’s campaign slogan ‘Change is Coming!’ is one that is plastered on the side of buildings and jeepneys, and worn on people’s wrists in the form of plastic bracelets. Although I may not agree with all of Duterte’s policies, I found myself embracing this idea that ‘Change is Coming!’ as I leave Manila and head to Davao City to begin my internship with Catholic Relief Services.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to have studied at His Name SALT, a faith-based language school with a long history of teaching Tagalog to foreigners. I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn about Filipino culture through my host family and friends from language school. I am very excited about the prospect of using the Filipino language to engage my co-workers and make my way around the city. I don’t know all of the adventures that await me when I arrive in Davao City, but what I do know is that change is coming my way, and I look forward to embracing whatever comes next. Aalis na ako, Manila (I am going now, Manila!) Kita tayo Davao! (See you, Davao!)

*Photo courtesy of Reuters/ Erik De Castro.




Blog Entry #6 June 18, 2016 Pakikisama

Blog Entry #6

June 18, 2016


Pakikisama is a word that can literally be translated to ‘to get along with,’ but I like to think it means ‘keeping the peace.’ Pakikisama is a Filipino cultural value that has no comparative value in the United States. If I had to describe it from a westernized mindset, I would use the words, ‘don’t rustle any feathers,’ or ‘don’t be the odd man out.’ For me, this is what pakikisama is- keeping a low profile and refraining from being the one to ‘call things out.’ Understanding how to keep the pakikisama and making a strong effort to do so, has proven essential to earning respect and friendships here in the Philippines.

Filipinos are communal people. They look out for eachother, they care about eachother, and they are always seeking the good on behalf of eachother. There is no such thing as ‘I’m going to do what is best for me.’ It is always about doing what is best for the greater common good- doing what is best for others. When Filipinos make decisions about how to spend their money or their time, they do it always thinking first about how their decision is going to affect those who are closest to them. The concept of ‘entitlement,’ or ‘this is what I deserve,’ does not exist. If it does you are going against the social grain- and ignoring the pakikisama.

As someone who is pursuing a masters degree in International Peace Studies, I am very interested to see how the concept of ‘keeping the peace’ intersects with the intricacies of peacebuilding work here in the Philippines. I look forward to continuing to explore the concept more through my work in Davao City, Philippines.



*Photo of Rizal Park in Downtown Manila, Philippines.

June 13, 2016 Blog Entry #5 You are staying in Payatas?

June 13, 2016

Blog Entry #5

You are staying in Payatas?

‘You are staying in Payatas?’ Since arriving in Manila, I hear that clarifying question everyday, multiple times per day, asked with sense of surprise. Payatas is known for the ‘Smoky Mountain.’ Smoky Mountain is the nickname that has been given to the largest garbage dump in Manila- that is constantly burning off the toxic waste fumes. Besides being a dumpsite, it is also home to over 30,000 people, including my host family.

My first day in Payatas, my host mom (Ate Jane) told me we were going to do ‘outreach’ with her church- delivering school supplies to 50 kids who were living on Smoky Mountain. After the church service I walked with Ate Jean and her eldest daughters to Smoky Mountain. I was surprised to find that the entrance to Smoky Mountain was just 50 feet from where the home was located. Hundreds of families were living in the low-level slums surrounding the towering Smoky Mountain. As we played with the children and handed out school supplies, load after load of foul-smelling dump trucks rambled through the narrow street, kicking up dust and leaving behind small remnants of trash and waste.

As we walked home I realized that the only thing differentiating my family from these families was a short fifty feet. But that fifty feet meant a gap in education, money, time, and food. It was these same things which separated my host family from the rest of Payatas, and separated Payatas from the rest of Manila and the Philippines.

While I had never experienced a place quite like Payatas before, I had also never experienced the same strength, love, generosity and faith as I did in Ate Jean’s family. I found the strength with which Ate Jean passed through life nearly incomprehensible. Her daughters were overflowing with love- even when I burned dinner. They were so generous- offering me my own room while all five of them slept in one room. They were also very patient with me as I struggled to pronounce new words in foreign Tagalog. All four of them were like the little sisters I never had.

I think above all else, I was amazed by the faithfulness of this family- always offering up prayers of gratitude for their safety and health. And what touched me even more- they were always offering up prayers of gratitude for me. So when people asked me, ‘You are staying in Payatas?’ I had a response in mind that I continued to use for the duration of my stay. ‘Oo, sa Payatas,’ I would reply quietly, smiling, ‘sa pamilya doon.’ (Yes, in Payatas, I have family there.)


*All names have been changed to protect identities.

*A birthday card from one of my host sisters. ‘Ate’ is a term used that implies ‘elder sister.’

Blog Entry #4 June 11, 2016 Parra, po!

Blog Entry #4

June 11, 2016

Parra, po! 

Manila is home to every kind of transport imaginable and it is also home to an overwhelming amount of traffic. Since arriving here, I have experimented with pretty much every form of transportation available- plane, train, subway, taxicab, private car, tricycles and jeepyneys. A tricycle is a motorcycle with a small carriage attached to it, situated low to the ground. I have decided that the tricycle provides just the right balance of thrill and danger, all from inside a comfortable enclosed little space. The jeepney, however, is really my public transportation of choice.

For 7 pesos minimum fare, I can share a ride somewhere with nearly 25 other passengers. Waving a jeepney down is kind of like waving down a taxi- except that most of the time it’s not even necessary. There are informal designated stopping points for jeepneys along sides of the roads. They are notable because there are usually clusters of people waiting at certain corners. When I board the jeepney I have to step up, and crouch down low, to avoid hitting my head on the low ceiling of the makeshift bus. Passengers sit across from each other, but always peer past one another, through the small, open windows on both sides of the bus. Many passengers ride with hankerchiefs covering their mouths, to avoid having the sand and dirt enter their nostrils and mouth.

Once we have all squeezed our hips onto the small, short ledge on the bus, loose change starts being passed from hand to hand. ‘Bayed, po!’ says the person who is passing up their money. This is a sign that someone is paying their fare. The people who pass up his money say things like ‘bayed, daw,’ to indicate that they are passing on the fare for another person… and so it goes with each new person that enters the jeepney. One of my hands usually grasps the metal bar just above me, to keep from losing my balance when the ‘dryber’ takes the turns too quickly; another one stays free to help pass along the fares. My backpack usually sits on my lap in front of me.

When it is time to get off, the words are simple, ‘Para po!’ which means, ‘Stop sir.’ By asking someone to stop I am letting them know it is mine time to get off, and on to my next destination. The jeepney is perfect form of public transportation because there is a sense of social accountability and responsibility. The fare is the same for everyone and it is up to the passengers to make sure everyone makes their payments.

*Photo courtesy of blog, Best Tropical Vacation Hot Spots: Modes of Transportation in the Philippines, written by Dee Yuzon. Posted November 18, 2013, accessed August 20, 2016.