Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Visit to the Local French School


Last week, I had an amazing opportunity to visit a local French school for a day and can hardly contain my excitement to share with you all that I learned! My visit even made the local newspaper! Fair warning: This post might get a little lengthy!
First off, I want to acknowledge that there are numerous differences between French schools and U.S. schools. The grade levels are the most apparent and difficult aspect for me to remember! Because it would be extremely difficult to try and explain, I have provided a lovely chart created by FrenchCrazy.com to help! The school I was invited to would be considered a "college" which is absolutely not the same type of college as back home! I had the opportunity to talk to three different classes and got to observe a debate team meeting, as well. I spoke in English since the students were in their English class. They asked me all sorts of questions, and I did my best to answer.
Some questions focused on me, personally, such as "What is your greatest fear?" or "What is your happiest memory?". Other questions focused on my opinion of environmental conditions such as "What do you think about Global Warming?", "Do you recycle?" and questions involving eco-friendly habits that take place (or do not take place) back home in America. One of the most popular questions seemed to be "What do you think of Donald Trump?" The students seemed very interested in the political arena of American politics, and I don't disagree that that particular topic is presently a topic of intrigue, but I can't recall ever being genuinely interested in anything political in my middle school years. 

The French students may have learned a few things about my home-country, but in turn, I learned so much about France as well. For example, recycling would almost be considered mandatory with how commonplace is actually is. You would be considered odd for NOT recycling. This seems bizarre for someone like me who has made an effort to be more eco-friendly but has never owned numerous trash cans for paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, and other products.  

Also, the students taught me about the language requirements in the French public school system. It's normal to begin learning their native language
(French)in the first years of schooling and soon after, they are required to begin studying their second language (typically English), BUT by the time they are in high school, they are learning yet another language! Before "graduation" (obtaining their BAC), they will be familiar with or fluent in three different languages! It's an amazing concept!

Because I needed a few tips from the experts, I asked the students for suggestions to improve my immersion in the French culture. They provided me with a list of traditional dishes to try, as well as French movies and music artists to look up. They gushed about their favorite singers and recommended which ones to avoid. I wanted to share the lists with you as well, for curiosity's sake. Before I left, the students presented me with little gifts and homemade desserts. They set me up to look like France's biggest fan (which, of course, I am!) 

In just a few short days, I will have reached the halfway point of my stay here in France, and while I miss my family and friends back home, I already know that it will be hard to leave this lovely country and its wonderful people. I only hope that the second half of this adventure will be just as wonderful as the first!

A bientot! -Albrianna

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Tale with a Twist(ed Ankle)


I'll spare the morbid details (and pictures) of my previously discussed ankle injury, and will instead acknowledge what affects injuries and illnesses can have on a person who is living in a place he or she is unfamiliar with.

I managed to twist my ankle stepping off of a curb while on my way to complete a group project that involved touring through the city of Caen. It was at a completely inconvenient time, but I do not think injuries or illnesses care enough to come about when the time is convenient for anyone, that is to say if there is ever such a time.

It took a solid four days of hopping around and cringing with each painful step before the swelling managed to go down and the bruising became minimal. I was recommended to visit the doctor, but being in an unfamiliar place with only basic communication skills, I was unwilling to seek out help from a professional
. Even with my injury, I tried my best to complete the group project, though sadly, the lack of time and endurance to walk though the entire city on a sore ankle made my work sub-par.

My injury affected many things: my performance in the group project, my mobility when undergoing daily tasks, and especially, my spirit. I was forced to ask for help from friends. This is especially difficult for me because I like to remain independent. When I feel as though I do not have control, I grow anxious and easily annoyed at myself.

My injury served as a reminder to slow down and swallow my pride just a bit, and the entire time, I was thanking God that my ankle was only twisted and not broken. I could not imagine enduring the rest of my time in France with a broken ankle! Metros would not be easily navigated on crutches!

I am blessed to say that I have not had to deal with any long-lasting sickness while here, though my neighbor and friend has. She is a study abroad student like myself, and for almost six weeks she was fighting multiple illnesses. I witnessed her painful coughs and listened to her sad tales, all the while almost positive that, had I been in her place, I'd be dreaming to be back home in my big bed with family tending to my needs.

It is scary to think of having to rely on strangers when one is in a foreign place, but while traveling allows a person to be independent, it also forces one to be dependent as well. In a vulnerable state as injury or illness puts us, it is nice to be reminded that help is available if one is willing to ask. Through the past week, I've reminded myself that everything I experience here, good or bad, is a part of my grand adventure abroad.

A bientot! -Albrianna

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Japanese Things That America Needs

I love America. It's my home. But sometimes, America could be better. And some of those improvements can come from Japan. So here's a completely, 100% opinionated list on Japanese things that America needs!

Fish Shaped Soy Sauce Dropper

If you ever bought grocery store sushi back in the US, you know the struggles of opening the soy sauce packet without it flying out of the packet and onto your shirt or all over your hands. Here, in the homeland of sushi, grocery store sushi (which is amazing by the way) comes with this fish shaped container filled with soy sauce. All you do is unscrew the little, red cap with no fear of it going all over the place. Then you can evenly distribute the soy sauce to all the sushi pieces, instead of the one soggy piece of sushi and the other one dry. Having this simple device back home will solve a lot of grocery store sushi struggles.

May or may not have bought sushi just for this picture.

Disney for Adults

Japan is obsessed with Disney. I'm ok with that. I, too, am obsessed with Disney. Back home, the Disney Store caters to kids. Costumes, dolls, light sabers, and other (mostly) kid only items fill the store. Heck, my mom even went to Disneyland recently and couldn't find a Rapunzle t-shirt there that was for someone my age. Here in Japan, the Disney Store is filled with items not just for kids, but for adults as well. In fact, there's not a costume in sight in the Japanese stores. They are filled with phone cases, train card pass holders, dishes, jewelry, and many other items catered towards an older demographic. It's a very nice change. Needless to say, I have some new Disney stuff now.

Tsum tsums galore! They even have Japanese exclusive heres, like the Rescuers! 

Public Transportation

American isn't know for it's public transportation. I don't even know how to use the bus in Knoxville. Hirakata City, my home for the semester, has a population that is less than Knoxville, but yet the bus and train system is better than Knoxville's. It's nice to be able to go to other cities, like Osaka and Kyoto, whenever I want via the trains. The bus is a great way to get to one end of town to the other in record time. Imagine being able to cross America by a bullet train. Going to New York to LA would be faster than by car. It'll be a great, cheaper, faster way to explore America.

The Keihan line takes you to Osaka and Kyoto!

Heated Toilet Seats

Now, I know this list is 100% opinionated, but I will argue with anyone how disagrees with me on this subject. Heated toilet seats have saved my life. You don't know what you're missing until you experience it for yourself. Japanese toilets also come with a range of buttons on them, from a perfume button to a bidet button. The plain ol' American toilet just isn't going to cut anymore. This is just something you'll have to experience to believe.

There's a button for everything next to the toilet.

Real Japanese Restaurants

Japanese restaurants in America are one of two things- sushi or hibachi restaurants. Japanese food is so much more than those two types of foods. There's the Japanese savory pancake, okonomiyaki. There's the ever popular ramen. There's yakisoba, fried noodles. In other words, there's a lot more to Japanese cuisine than what's present in America. I would love for these unique foods to showcase themselves in America. Sure, maybe fried dough ball filled with octopus (takoyaki, my favorite food so far) might be a little much for the average American, but I think they have place here. After all, we like our fried food here in the South!

Ramen is delicious when not out of a packet.

Various Flavors of Kit Kats

As my roommate knows, I really like Kit Kats. In Japan, Kit Kats are extremely popular. They are usually used as a gift to students taking exams due to the name being close to the word for good luck. Their popularity resulted in many flavors, some normal, some not so normal. I've had everything form sakura with soy bean to ginger to green tea. So why does America need so many Kit Kat flavors? From an economic standpoint, I think having multiple flavors would bring in more revenue for the company. Cookie and Cream Kit Kat bar would do really well in the US if it exists. Also, I would just like to have them. They're really good. My favorite so far are the sakura with soy bean and pistachio with raspberry.

Kit Kats in picture: Butter, Green Tea, Strawberry Maple, and Pistachio and Raspberry.
Butter was surprisingly not bad. Definitely tasted like butter though.

 A rare find: Sake Kit Kats. At first, I thought it was sake that tasted like Kit Kats. 
It's actually Kit Kats that taste like sake. 

Starbucks filled with Sakura

For a limited time, most popular chains in Japan introduce a sakura, or cherry blossom, flavored good. McDonald's has sakura McFlurries, fries, and soda. But the best sakura flavored food item comes from Starbucks. This year, they released a Sakura frappiccihno and latte. They are the best thing I've ever had from Starbucks. It's incredibly creamy with a very subtle cherry flavor. It's very sweet, but so good. If this was back home, I would drink it everyday. My waistline would hate me, but the taste is worth it. I'll miss it once I come home. If you every come to Japan around sakura season, be sure to check out all the sakura flavored foods!

It's so pretty too!

I know this post was a little different from the others, but I had midterms this week and didn't really do much besides study. But good news! Next blog post will be about my spring break in Tokyo! Be on the look out for it!! See you guys then!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

L'amour est une Porte Ouverte {Love is an Open Door}


A recent incident involving an unexpected curb and my susceptible ankle has caused me to delay in posting.

While all of my previous blogs have centered around a particular theme, I thought I might now reflect on my time here in France. In doing so, I hope to preserve a few valuable impressions that I have had. I could begin from one of many paths, but I choose perhaps my favorite of all: My impression of the language.

French is considered one of the romance languages, and while I think that one can find something admirable concerning any language, my dreamer heart chooses to capitalize on one particular word: inspirer. "Inspirer" is a french verb that translates to "to breathe in, to inhale". Another more expected translation for English speakers is literally "to inspire." I think it is absolutely amazing that such a word is capable of dual meanings. To consider one meaning in light of the other is to capitalize on the former. This is one tiny detail that makes up the cause for my love and admiration for such a language as French.

Despite the stigma of French being a "romance" language, I have had much difficulty learning the language. (I believe I love it more than it loves me!) My bilingual and multilingual friends have assured me that learning a new language comes with its share of hardships, but my love for the language causes me to become impatient and frustrated with myself. Despite this, I have managed to dream twice in French! Until recently, I had no idea that such a thing was possible! This intrigues me and encourages me to study French (and other languages) even more.

Another gem of the French culture is the accessibility of coffee! My coffee-loving heart can hardly contain it's happiness at the site of coffee vending machines! In the U.S., I have never seen a single coffee vending machine. The machines here in France charge approximately .80 euros for a hot coffee beverage and the like (hot chocolate, cappuccino, etc.). Aside from this, every restaurant I have dined in has not disappointed with their quality of coffee.

I have had only a few encounters with the French culture that have been uncomfortable or difficult to comprehend. Lack of personal space is a big difference for me. Bisous are often expected when meeting up with friends or acquaintances. (They are light kisses on either side of one's cheeks!) Also, I have not managed to finish a full meal while holding both my knife and fork at the same time which is an expectation I am not accustomed to. Despite these minor details, I remain adamant about learning and growing in the French culture daily. I love the knowledge I have been exposed to by traveling and the people I have met along the way. This love has exposed new ways of seeing the world and opened new and exciting doors for me to explore beyond. I have 88 days remaining to do so, and hopefully, time after graduation as well!

A bientot! -Albrianna Jenkins

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

College Differences in Mexico and the U.S.

Education is an important aspect in most countries, and Mexico and the United States are no different. However, there are many differences between the education system in the United States and that of Mexico. Contrasts can be found in the amount of years, structure, culture and context of the educational systems. Let's take a look at important differences in the schooling of these two countries.
One difference is the way school discipline student. For example in Mexico we have very strict and long schedules. Our classes start at 8 am and end at 3 pm. Also, all students have  4 to 5 classes each day. In the United States, it´s surprising for me how flexible you  can make  your schedule, and how much freedom you have in making it. For example, sometimes I have two classes each day or have some days completely off.
The other big different are the professors. Most professors I have at Maryville College are friendly and will help you out. Most of the professor at Maryville will have office hours where they will help you solve any problem you have in their class.  In Mexico most professor just teach class. The Department Chair evaluates projects and homework, so the grading structure is very different than here. If you did not do so good on a homework or project assignment most professor will  indicate what the student did wrong, so the student can learn from their mistakes and leave the class with the best understanding possible.

My home country university system
Covenant stone 
might not vary that much from the United States’ system, but there are so many little things that make a difference. Maryville College might be different than what I am used to but change is always good. I am loving my stay here and would not trade this new experience for anything.  The experience I am gaining being in a college away from home is unique. I am learning how to be independent, how to interact with so many different cultures and amazing people.  

An Athlete's Experience Abroad

My name is Alex Willard. I am from Clinton, Tennessee. I am a senior at Maryville College, where I am an Accounting/Finance major with a Sociology minor. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I have played four years on the football team, I have been a resident assistant for three-years, I held the position of treasurer for the residence hall association and have been co-chair peer mentor. Through academics and these organizations, Maryville College has challenged me to search for truth and grow in wisdom. It has also challenged me to expand my comfort zone and experience things that I would have never dreamed of experiencing before arriving on campus.

            Although growing up I had an itch to go abroad, it never crossed my mind during my first two years in college. Maybe this was due to my schedule being filled by countless hours of practice? Or maybe it was because I was scared to leave my comfort zone? Anyways, hearing MC students talk about their experiences influenced and pushed me to see what the hype around the study abroad program was about. Since football season was during the fall, off season workouts were in the spring and I had to work to pay for school during the summer; I was limited in when I could go abroad. This left one option for me, J-term. As I began to look for opportunities that fit my time table and one that would challenge me on many levels, one stuck out. The 18-day J-term trip to Ecuador!

            Ecuador was a trip that consisted of traveling around the entire country, moving every two to three days. It was also one that consisted a lot of physical activity such as: hiking, walking, carrying your heavy bag from place to place and adventure activities. This is where I think being an athlete helped me succeed while being abroad. Not only was I in good shape, but going abroad allowed me to use my teamwork skills and allowed me to use my knowledge of overcoming adversity. I had to rely on others to help navigate the terrain and even the language barrier. I found myself in unknown territory and had to use my athletic training to stay positive and be courageous.

            Finally, while Maryville College prepares students for many aspects of life, I truly believe it is hard to prepare students for trips abroad. During my 18-day trip, I experienced different cultures, languages, many foods and tradition. I also gained the experience of feeling like a minority. This trip provided me with an opportunity to expand my views and to help me better understand social and sustainability problems from a worldwide perspective. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Viewing the Plum Blossoms!

Japan loves its flowers. The sakura, or cherry blossom, is their most well know. The pink petals are everywhere here. The chrysanthemum is a sign of the Emperor and graces all Japanese passports. The past month, I learned about another famous flower in Japan- the plum blossom.

In late February and early March, the plum trees bloom right before before the cherry trees, earning their own special festival and reconition. The one of the best places to see these beautiful flowers is in Kyoto. So that's where I want last weekend, all by myself!

The place in Kyoto to see the plum blossoms is Kitano Tenmangu Temple. As one of the most popular temples in Kyoto, it can get pretty busy there. This was especially true this weekend. Kinato resides as a home of the Teniji, a scholar turned god of education and thunder. Since it's the break between school years for Japanese students, students from around the area come to temple to bring good luck and good grades into the next school year. 
                  The front gate of the temple.                     People line up to ring the bell, asking for luck.

The wooden plaques in the back are for posting wishes.                   A cool bridge!

                                          Teniji is often shown with bulls. 

Along with being a place for good grades, Kitano Tenmangu also houses a thrift market once a month where you can buy traditional good, like kimonos, street food, and other Japanese goods for cheap! 

In February and March, for a mere 700 yen ($7.00), you can walk around the plum trees all you want. The temple boasts over 2,000 plum trees. Legend states that when Teniji was a human, the plum trees followed him from his exile on the island of Kyushu to Kyoto.  As a result, most temples for Teniji have plum blossoms. As the largest temple for Teniji, Kitano Tenmangu has the most plum trees. 

The flowers come in shades of pink and white!

Not only does the ticket include access to the garden, but it also includes free tea and rice crackers at the tea house. Thanks to a kind, old lady I was able to figure out how to get the tea. To match the theme of plums, the tea tasted exactly like umeboshi, or sour plum. It was surprisingly salty, but very good nonetheless!

The rice crackers were good too!

In an addition to the plum trees, on February 25th, the temple hosts a public tea ceremony with members of the local geisha community in Kyoto. I unfortunately didn't make it, but my friends thoroughly enjoyed it! 

Though I didn't know about the plum trees, I'm so glad I went to see them. It was great to go by myself and look at them at my own pace. If you're ever too early for the cherry blossoms, don't feel like you're missing on the beauty of Japan! The plum blossoms certainly are beautiful agains the traditional buildings of Japan. 

See you guys in the next post!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Anxiety Transcends Cultures


I've talked a lot about my time here in France, but I conveniently omitted my moments of duress! This can be a big part of traveling abroad, and so, I feel obligated to share at least a brief overview of the very real fear I have felt and the very extreme anxiety I have gone through.

Grocery shopping has never been a fun task for me to accomplish, and so, I tend to put it off (like this week) until there is nothing edible in my room except the tub of butter in the fridge. (This is a true story!)

I remember the first time I went to Carrefour, which is equivalent to a Walmart back home. While checking out, I managed to set off an alarm and was greeted by a rather intimidating (though very polite) french security guard. I fumbled to find the words to say, completely unable to recall a single bit of french in this instant. I was mortified, even after the encounter. I now coach myself through grocery shopping situations with mental pep talks.

Aside from grocery shopping, there have been two other major instances that I can recall in which I panicked, even momentarily. On my recent trip to Bordeaux, I almost had my wallet stolen out of my purse. I thought I got stuck in the subway metro machine, but as I forced myself through, I came out to find my crossbody purse unzipped. Lucky for me, my wallet was still inside! I eyed the guy who had been close behind me, knowing he was the culprit. After that, I became paranoid when anyone got too close to me. Sometimes fear works in your best interest!

My last high anxiety encounter is one that has happened most recently and is one that many college students can relate to: Test Anxiety! I have taken a few minor tests in various french classes so far, but Grammar was not one of them. As the most difficult of all my classes, I knew that the test would be one to study hard for, and so, two weeks before, I began to prepare. Over our break, I took the testing material with me on the trip to Bordeaux, and I studied while on the train. I stayed up until 3am the day of the test trying to right everything in my mind, but I ended up confusing myself more than anything. Even now, as I wait for the results of the exam (which I will find out tomorrow), I can't help but mentally kick myself for having made obvious and easily recalled mistakes.

There are many other occasions in which I have experienced some negative emotion, but whether it be fear, anxiety, or inferiority, the good emotions have definitely outweighed the bad. I love my life here in France and would suffer through numerous grocery trips just to stay even a day longer than the 97 I have left. I am not and will not let my fears get in the way of experiencing my time abroad to the fullest.

A bientot. -Albrianna

Monday, March 6, 2017

Traveling the UK: A Summary

How one travels in the UK depends a great deal on where you are there. Here is a list of the types of traveling that you might do if you spend time in the UK.

1) Ryanair

Image result for ryanair plane

Ryanair is the company that me and Jesse went through whenever we had our adventure in Newcastle and Dublin. It is a small company that allegedly hires mostly new pilots and thus has a kind of bad reputation. The flights that we had from Newcastle to Dublin and then from Dublin to Bristol were fine in my opinion since I had my music and on the flight to Dublin, Jesse and I were asked to do the emergency seating since we were able-bodied and able to assist if needed. I'm grateful that I didn't have to assist since my panic reaction is to freeze, but it was nice to have some extra leg room. The flight to Bristol actually separated us for a while, but again it wasn't a huge deal. Beyond the seemingly constant ads, it was a fine flight since I could listen to my music and watch the Irish countryside become the English channel and then the British countryside and Bristol.

2) Cross-Country Buses

Image result for megabuses ukImage result for national express buses uk

These buses were the way that I mostly got around whenever I was in England for a couple of reasons. If you couldn't guess, Megabus is fairly cheap for the routes that they take you on and while National Express does a lot of the same routes, they were more expensive. I wouldn't be able to tell you precisely the difference between them, except for that National Express had a few more direct routes, but otherwise, they were perfectly fine. The Megabus that Jesse and I took for Newcastle took us on a kind of convoluted route because the main road was jammed up and didn't stop as often as we would have liked (read: more than once), but the seats were comfortable and it had decent wifi. So, not terrible.

3) Intercity Buses

Image result for buses uk

This is where the stereotype of the double decker buses come in. Most of the time, if I needed to get around Plymouth I would just walk since it wasn't that far and it was easy to navigate once I knew what I was doing. But if it was a bit further out, or if I was in London, I would take the buses since they would reliably take me wherever I needed to go. The bus drivers were courteous and during my first bus ride out to the church that I was thinking about attending while I was in the UK, the bus driver actually helped me with the stop since I wasn't entirely sure which stop it was and I didn't want to inconvenience him. He let me know when he came to the stop and while he wasn't the guy that I got on the way back, it definitely made me feel more comfortable.

Overall, traveling in the UK isn't hard or terribly expensive so long as you know what kind of traveling you're doing and what your comfort levels are as you embark.