Oh Hakodate!

I’ve been in Japan about two weeks now and I love it. The scenery is gorgeous and the town is full of culture. Although I love Japan, it is so different from what I ever imagined. I always assumed that I would just visit Japan and just feel right at home, no issues. However, that is not the case. From the moment I landed I find myself often comparing the things I see here in Japan to America. Living in a country like the USA, I think we often take for granted just how much diversity is encompassed within our country. It was not until I came to Japan that I realized and began to appreciate this fact. In Japan, the largest population of people is of course Japanese people. In America, although there are varying proportions of races, I still feel that I often encounter people of many races on a daily basis. It seems like something so simple but it really has made me appreciate the diversity within America. It also had another effect though. It made me want to know various Japanese people personally. In a country full of similar faces and same races, I could not wait to see what really makes up their individual personalities. And so, although I tend to be an extremely shy and awkward person, I wanted to push myself to talk more to Japanese people, starting with my host family. So far, so wonderful!

And So The Journey Begins

Ever since I was a little girl, it has always been my dream to visit Japan. With all the daily hassles of going to school and taking care of my siblings on my own, I always found solace in indulging in Japanese pop culture. However, as I’ve grown older that love for Japan has transformed into so much more. I want to learn and experience so many things in Japan. I want to talk to locals and participate in local festivals and events. I want to get to know people and their stories.

And so, the moment has come. The wheels of the plane begin to move, slowly picking up speed. I can hear the gentle shaking of the airplane windows. I close my eyes and imagine all the possibilities in Japan, the people I’ll meet and most importantly, the things I’ll learn. As the plane’s speed edges closer and closer to flight I close my eyes, hold my breath and really take in the moment. I listen to the roar of the turbines and the excited chatter. I wait patiently until I finally hear it: the rush of wind signaling flight. Here is where my journey begins.


During our two-month study abroad in Japan, not only did we learn a lot of new vocabulary and grammar points, we also went on cultural excursions outside of Kanazawa. One of the main sites that we visited was the Kagaya Onsen in Notou, or the Kagaya Hotspring. Kagaya is a hotspring hotel that is one of the most luxurious throughout the country, and even many Japanese people have never had the chance to visit. I felt very privileged to be given this opportunity to stay there for a night, but at the same time I wondered if this experience would really draw me closer to the Japanese people.

The hotel was as expected; right when we got off the bus, there were beautiful women dressed in kimonos welcoming our arrival. The red carpeted floors and wooden pillars gave it a very oriental atmosphere. But, the chandelier that cast a dark orange light on the modern-styled sofas and grand piano gave it a western touch. It had been a while since I have ever entered a place as dazzling, yet intricately designed as such. We were soon given our room keys and were allowed to visit our room for the night. The room was completely Japanese, with its Tatami and paper sliding doors. Later, a lady came in and gave us each a different colour Yukata (a dress similar to a Kimono) and helped us put them on.

Dinner was another extravagant ritual. We were invited into a large tatami floored room and given our own seats. The food that was served was traditional Japanese food included sashimi and tempura. During our meal we were also given the chance to watch Japanese Wadaiko (drums) and various different traditional dances.

But, the most unforgettable experience was the Onsen. I have never been to a natural hotspring before, and this was the first time. Taking a bath together with people I didn’t know was very awkward, but the Onsen itself was very relaxing. I would really like to go back to Kagaya again in the future.

Post-Program Reflection

To be honest, I couldn’t think of how much I would progressed before I came to Tours. I was crashed by the fact that I couldn’t even speak full sentences when I arrived in the airport. Frustrations grew as my host parents made an obvious effort to understand me as I did to them, yet both attempts failed. Everyday I struggled not to speak in English but people around me always chatted in English. It was so tempting to talk at ease, but I chose to challenge myself to the fullest extent. I would say I talked shamelessly in class: no matter I knew the answer or not, I kept talking (sometimes I didn’t even understand the question). At the beginning, my prof had to stop me from diverting the topics, and I was ashamed by her telling me that “tu n’as pas compris la question.” But I was not discouraged; rather, I was amazed. I perceived the change of me confronting my instincts/the need of self-respect, and forcefully had my brain work in another way. Therefore, at the end of the sixth week, when I was buying the souvenirs for my friends, I could talk with the shopkeepers for hours, and they commented me that my French was “presque normal” (close to normal). It was a undeserved compliment, but I was immensely proud of the progress I had made during these six weeks. As a Chinese student, it was not easy to learn English either. However, I has learnt it for years, so the challenges are very different. And I never pushed myself to such a limit that I once questioned if I was even in madness. Besides language itself, the six-week experience also gave me a deep appreciation of French gastronomy, culture, and the French way of thinking. It was truly like a dream: I lived in France for six weeks, did everything I dreamed to do.

Last Week in Tours

It is my last week in Tours. And I would not call it a good week.

On Tuesday, when my host dad was repairing the wall in the garden, the drill hit something on the other side of the wall and pierced into his left hand.  I did not see the whole scene, but when they came back to the house, my host mom was pale. They went to the hospital immediately and my host dad came back quickly with his right hand wrapped in bandages. Therefore, we did not talk much during dinner. However, what I learnt from my host dad was that the health care system in France covers all the cost. I was amazed by the system because it was so different from the ones in the States and in China. My host brother is entering his last year in med school, he told me that the examinations for med school were competitive, and they took a “grand examen” at the end of the school year. He had taken five already, and once he finished with the sixth one, he would work in a hospital depending on his scores. As a med student, he told me the other side of the health care system. When he “fait un stage” (internship in France), he was somehow irritated by those who exploited the system. “People just went in without any problems, they just wanted to ‘waste’ the money of the tax payers, and they did that,” he complained.

On Thursday, my host mom had a liver problem so she went to the hospital for a quick operation, which, of course, costed her nothing. However, she did not have the strength to talk with us, so my host dad jokingly commented that they were both handicapped.

On Friday, it was the final day. When the class ended, I said farewell to all of the classmates, and wished them a bright future. It was a bit sentimental. When I wondered about the town with my friends for the last time, and when my host parents drove me to the train station, knowing that it was probably the last time I  could see them, I couldn’t help but cry. Anyway, no matter how enjoyable my summer in Tours was, it had to end. Everything has an end. I have to come back to Notre Dame and continue mon école, but it will stay in my memory forever.

Au revoir et bonne chance mes amis!

Post Program Reflection

As I finish the course this week, I am trying to assess how much I have learned and how much I have improved. I realized that even with moving up to the Intermediate course, most everything I did grammar-wise was a review. I didn’t learn any new tenses or structures. At first, this felt disappointing.  I obviously wasn’t at the Advanced course level, however, I felt as if by not learning new grammar I had somehow been cheated out of material. However, in conversing with native speakers, I am understanding most of what they say and rather than needing sentences translated to English, I just need them to be said slower.  In my responses, I don’t need any more advanced structures to have a conversation understood by both parties.  While I am nowhere near fluency yet, I am able to hold conversations for long periods of time. I didn’t miss out by not learning any new grammar.  Rather, I cemented the structures I had been taught and can now use them with ease and without mixing up tenses.  Before moving on to Intermediate Irish at Notre Dame, this is exactly what I need.

The lack of new grammar relates to one of my goals at the beginning of the summer “advance by the equivalent of one semester at Notre Dame.” Because of the lack of introduction of new grammar structures, I can’t say that I have advanced by the equivalent of one semester.  Academically, I would not be able to enter into Intermediate II rather than I.  However, I don’t consider this a failure because I am a more well rounded conversationalist and have so far exceeded some of my other goals. One of my other goals was to speak only Irish in my host family’s house, and although conversation in our rooms upstairs was mostly English, I was one of the only people who made an effort to only speak to the bean an tí in Irish and to initiate conversations with her.  (Secretly, I think I was her favorite).  I was able to converse without resorting to English most of the time.  I also would speak with her mother who was around the house all the time. My final goal was to initiate a conversation with a native speaker and speak only in Irish, and this was accomplished a couple of times in the summer, between speaking to my bean an tí and her mother and also to the native speakers in pubs.

On the right is my bean an ti, Maire, and her mother. I will miss talking to them in Irish each afternoon and evening!

This course has inspired me to start looking into Irish language night courses in Dublin while I am abroad this next semester.  Between just my semester at school and the SLA program, I felt like I had lost so much vocabulary and conversation ability.  I don’t want that to happen again before my next semester in January. I had always planned on joining an Irish language club to keep up some conversation skills, but I want to take it a little bit further and continue learning.  I feel that if I take a class, I can push myself to correct the mistakes I keep making, rather than continuing at my level likely making (and possibly cementing) grammatical mistakes.

The biggest question I have had to answer about my choice to spend a month doing an SLA is “Why Irish” (Besides, of course, the questions “Irish is a language?” or “Isn’t that called Gaelic?”). The answer to that question isn’t so much about defending the usefulness of a language that is primarily spoken in rural Ireland and which I likely won’t be directly using in my career.  Studying this language was about experiencing the cultural value of a language. Every person I met in Carraroe could speak English.  Learning and speaking Irish at home, at church, at the shop, and at the pubs was a conscious choice that they were making.  They use the Irish language because it is an important part of their identity and they host students and help them learn Irish because they believe it is an important part of the country’s identity.  I have such a greater appreciation for language as more than just a means of communication and rather an expression of identity.

Pictured here are all the people in our house. The Bouncing Castles sign was the closest thing we had to an address.
All of the Notre Dame students in our program


Cultural Excursion: Notre Dame de Paris

Paris, the capital of France, is also the capital of history, arts and literature. I had already written a blog on the national day and the world cup in Paris, but I think it is necessary to write another one specifically for my cultural experience in this city. 

  1. Notre Dame de Paris in general: Bearing the same name as our university, Notre Dame de Paris enjoys its renown as the epitome of gothic cathedrals. I paid the visit of this grandiose architecture when I came to Paris for the first time. Coincidentally, my friend Elaine Chen (Yanlin Chen), who happened to be another SLA recipient, was in Paris at the same weekend. As I got to the entrance of the cathedral, a long queue has already formed. By the entrance, I could already see the flying buttress, and the stained glasses reflecting the rayons of the blinding sunlight. When we got into the cathedral, there was a French mass going on. We weren’t able to comprehend so we chose to walk around and appreciate the beauty of the interior. Besides some little chapels dedicated to various saints, an exhibition on the history of Notre Dame de Paris was held at the ambulatory. The great monument was completed (mostly) in the second half of thirteenth century, and therefore set the standard of a new architectural style—-gothic. However, during the French Revolution, when the poor rallied against emperor and the catholic church, the monument was destroyed as being the symbol of catholicism. In nineteenth century, thanked to the great French writer Vitor Hugo, who was inspired by the decrepitude, who wrote the book Notre Dame de Paris (Hunchback at Notre Dame), bringing the once splendid architecture back to the public attention. Thus, the restoration of the cathedral took place in nineteenth century.
Notre Dame Cathedral at first glance
A closer look at the statues of biblical figures

2. Flying Buttress: one of the most outstanding features of gothic cathedral is their flying buttress. Before the gothic period, the romanesque style dominated. Since the romanesque architecture mainly used the walls and the vaults to sustain the whole construction, its wall was immensely thick so as to bear the force of the vaults and ceilings. As a result, the vaults had to be perfectly a semicircle made by wedge-shaped stones, otherwise the distribution of weight would be uneven, and thus leading to the collapse of the vaults. However, the gothic architect invented the flying buttress, which sustain the whole architecture from the outside, allowing the monument reached a greater height. Moreover, the delicate carvings on the flying buttress made it not only practical, but also an important decoration of the architecture as well.

Flying buttress.

3. Stained Glasses: The stained glass is another creation of the gothic style. Due to the thick walls, the romanesque architectures were not able to apply much decoration on their windows. In fact, they usually had tiny windows. However, flying buttress freed the wall from the burden of sustaining the weight, allowing novel inventions on the windows.

Quid dulcius est Urbe?

I have had a wonderful, surreal summer at the Living Latin in Rome program, and I am grateful to the Paideia Institute, the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, and all of my donors for making it possible.


I thought that I loved Latin before this trip, but now my soul is thrumming with the words of the ancients and indelibly marked by the places they inhabited.  I feel so lucky that I was able to recite Horace at his villa, salute Cicero at his grave in Formia, rave with the Sibyl in her cave in Cumae, and act with Plautus in an ancient theatre in Ostia.  The ancients are alive for me as never before.


My skills of Latin sight reading have improved as well.  I’ve translated a fair bit of Latin in my day, but before this summer I never felt like I could read it.  Now I can read Latin, or I am well on my way to that point. Every day of this program I was handed a page of Latin and asked to sight read aloud, in front of people, alongside supportive teachers and colleagues who were struggling right along with me.  It felt so much more organic than a regular university class with a handily glossed page of a textbook that everyone in the classroom has pored over the night before and looked up an English translation of online.


Latin has also become more organic for me through the spoken Latin component of this program.  Many people have asked me why on earth I chose to spend my summer speaking Latin, and now I have so many answers.  Discussing texts in Latin allows you to maintain ambiguities and nuances that can’t be preserved in translation.  Speaking in Latin, just like speaking in any other language, helps you develop better reading fluency.  Also, it’s just fun, and it furnishes a handy fact about oneself to use in icebreaker games.


Though of course I have grown exponentially as a classicist,  I have grown more as a human being. My world has expanded so much. I usually live in a dorm and am able to circumnavigate my globe, my Notre Dame bubble, in an hour.  Now I have lived with and come to love three classicist roommates with wildly different backgrounds and ideologies, shuttled myself throughout a city whose language is no longer the one I speak, and figured out how to work an Italian washing machine.  I feel so much more capable and grown-up. 

My immersion experience has been one of beautiful words, passionate people, and intense learning, and I will never forget it.



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

The pace of the summer program was fast. However, the faster I learned the material, the faster I forgot it as well. It was difficult to retain the information, and I am a bit nervous about the upcoming placement exam. I did learn a lot new grammar though-an equivalent of a year’s worth at Notre Dame-so I hope to employ this new material in everyday speech during Japanese class. Although my teacher and host family complimented me on my improvement, I am struggling to see it. However, comparing myself from first year to now, I can see that I have reached milestones.

One thing I have realized is the number of 作文 3rd year students write. I first found it to be a nuisance, but it has greatly helped with my usage of grammar and vocabulary. Although I do not enjoy writing them, I do appreciate their assistance.

2. Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall.

It was irreplaceable. I met a lot of people that have grown every dear to my heart. And I miss them immensely. I will never forget this experience.

It was my first time riding an airplane to a different country. And although I was very homesick the first week, Hakodate was absolutely beautiful and calming and I grew to love the program, the people, the city.

3. How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future?

After graduation, I plan on applying for the JET Program. If accepted, I will teach English in Japan for a duration of one to two years. I am still unsure of what job I want to do, but I thought the JET Program will be ideal because I love children, Japanese and Japan. In addition, the time period will help me plan and think of the future. At least I hope so.

La France est un pays laïque // Secularism in France

A review of my fifth week in tours, France

“L’État chez lui, l’Église chez elle // The State to one side, the Church to the other” – Victor Hugo

I arrived to France with the notion of Catholicism being the major influence on the culture. To an extent, I was right: there are more churches in Tours alone than in some dioceses in America. Lucky for me, I don’t have to walk too far Sunday morning to find a mass, which gives me a few extra minutes for my grasse matinée (essentially, sleeping in). France is a country that is extremely proud of its history, of which the Church plays a major role. Feast days are the basis for many of the national holidays and Sundays are a day of rest when just about everything is closed. However, religion itself is considered a very taboo topic. So much so that it’s illegal to wear any religious sign in a public place which gave way to a scandal a few years ago: a Muslim woman was forced by police to take off her hijab she was wearing at the beach. This is a representation of the extremes of the “secularism” which presented itself as religious intolerance in the wake of terrorist attacks.

La laïcité was a common topic of discussion in class and was explained by my teacher to be one of the greatest achievements of the French society inspired by the spirit of the Revolution and the Lumières which rejected the influence of Christianity (specifically Catholicism) because it was embedded into a monarchy that the French were not too content with. This mentality seems to rest as a protective measure against any possible chance that the same situation could resurface. For example, in public grade schools, any possible reference to religion is banned. If you want your children to be able to express a religious identity, they have to go to a private school (usually Catholic).


This engrained practice of secularism makes for a very different perspective of faith from the one that we have in the states. It seems to me to be more of a freedom from religion than a freedom of religion. This may be too much speculation of this cultural observation, but I think it’s the negative connotation that comes with religion that results in a 80% professed Catholic with only 5% among them who practice and attend mass regularly. France has some of the most elaborately decorated and architecturally complex Churches, but when Sunday comes around, a lot of them are very empty.

I know this can be a controversial topic, but it plays a huge role in France’s culture. So on a lighter note… I took advantage of this second to last week in France to bike a grand total of 24 miles to Villandry, a chateau along the Cher river which has some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. Being in the Loire Valley, I’m fortunate enough to have easy access to many chateaus by bike, train, or bla-bla car (which is a ride sharing program). Like the many churches, the numerous chateaus are an important part of France’s patrimoine (heritage) and frequently have vineyards, as well. History and wine, what’s not to love about French castles??


À la semaine prochaine ! // See you next week!