February 26, 2010

[In Japan] This Could Happen to You

This post will kick off a week of student perspective on study abroad. Jonathan Beltz shares his experience in Japan (complete with several pictures below!) with this post and next week Ron Iacone will share his top ten travel tips for traveling in Europe.

Student Profile:
A senior majoring in International Studies East Asia and minoring in Japanese. Beltz spent a year at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan for the 2008-2009 year.

Standing at a crossroads – wearing a Doraemon costume, a popular Japanese animation character, on Halloween night standing in the busiest pedestrian intersection on Earth – Shibuya

Jonathan's Experience in Japan:
At the study abroad office they told us we should jot down our experiences from the previous year abroad while they are still fresh in our minds. The advisors told us this because we can’t simply make the statement “It was awesome!” to a potential future employer while they interview us. I have already overused that “one-liner” to plenty of friends and family as I am constantly asked about how study abroad went. So I’ve finally devised a response that I feel I can give anyone: potential employers, future study abroad students, family and friends, and anybody else.

[In Japan] this could happen to you. You could find yourself on the last night train home closer to someone you don’t know than you have ever been to someone you do. You could lose yourself on the winding roads through the city and suburbs only to finally find sights and experiences you never imagined. Like scenic views of the setting sun silhouetting the great Mt. Fuji or seemingly simple scenes, smells, and sounds of festivities and music carrying far on into the night. You may make a true friend out of more people in one evening than you ever did in one month “back home.” You will talk to or be talked to in just about any language by just about anyone. Through this you will leap over communication boundaries of great heights even without words, often times simply with the use of expressions and gestures.

For me, the most defining moment of my many defining moments throughout the past year in Japan was actually centered around a whole evening spent not in Tokyo but during which I was visiting a countryside village secluded by mountains and with a history far more significant than its size and location. This was the village of Iga, the origin village of the way of the ninja in Japan. Late at night with the sun down and darkness filling the sky, my friends and I were (after a long day of sightseeing) in a hurry back to the station in hopes we wouldn’t miss the last train – much earlier than the last trains in Tokyo. In need of a bathroom we stopped by a kind of large mom-and-pop shop for souvenirs and knick-knacks. It being out of tourist season it was actually a surprise to find a place even open at all, especially considering the time. There an older man invited us in and his wife showed us the way to the bathroom, both of them all smiles showing the whole time – most likely quite happy to see foreign tourists. By the time the last of us had finished with the bathroom the wife was seating us with tea and some snacks while the husband began talking to us, asking questions, and telling the history and stories about some many old items in a display case. Eventually he came to the point of asking us if we would like to see some other, more fascinating items. When we agreed he began by telling us a story.

Sometime during WW2 his father’s or his grandfather’s company warehouse was burning down and the few people there, including his relative, were forced to grab whatever they could in one armful and run out. A part of this relative’s armful were three swords, pulled from a box of nearly fifty just like them but only similar in age, not make. The swords passed down ending up in the possession of the man we were now talking to. But he warned us that just holding one of these swords would make us tremble in knowledge of its awesome history of power. In other words, that one sword in particular was nearly four-hundred years old and used in a battle which defined the history of Japan to this very day. It was certain by the spotting of rust and nicks and still, in some places, razor sharp blade, that this sword had been used to do a number of killings including the removal of heads. The man allowed us each to hold the sword. At least for me, it sent shivers down my spine and throughout my body. After looking through a few other older weapons and things, including some 17th century blunderbuss-style rifles, we took our leave in the interest of time. But just looking back at this picture brings tears to my eyes because it reminds me not just of that defining moment in Japan, but of all of my other defining moments there.

So to my fellow future study abroad students I say: This could happen to you! You could find yourself holding a piece of history a hundred years older than your own home country of the United States. And to think that in that burning warehouse there were nearly fifty of these!

In my near future, just after graduation, my greatest hope and desire is to return to Japan to work in translations or interpretations for a company in Tokyo. Of course this may be tough to do. English teaching jobs may very well be my best bet and easiest to find. Regardless, much of what I have learned, not just the Japanese language, will aid me in the process of future employment either in Japan, or some other country in the world. I have shown myself my true ability to adapt to most situations and will be able to demonstrate this to employers as well. Furthermore, I have just begun working as an intern in the Office of Education Abroad so that I may have a significant, more direct effect on others who wish to study abroad in the future. This too will be a new and interesting experience for me, something which nowadays I am always on the lookout for.

Standing on Mout Fuji after a long night of climbing; overlooking the vast surrounding scenery of forests and lakes – a truly moving experience.

Pouches made from the bodies of frogs hang in front of a colorful array of souvenirs and sake in this Okinawa tourist shop.

Standing at full draw participating in kyudo: traditional Japanese archery.

Geared up in traditional attire, here I take part in the strenuous act of carrying the portable shrine in the local festival or “matsuri”.
Last but certainly not least, just a few of the millions of vending machines throughout Japan willing to stake their claim on any nook or cranny on any alleyway or street imaginable.

February 24, 2010

Websites of Interest

www.newseum.org - one of the best museums in DC! Get a glimpse of what the newspapers around the world are saying and see the startingly sparse distribution of free press around the world. It also has one of the best, unobstructed views of the Capitol (if you visit the actual location).

www.theunexpected.co.za/ - from The Economist, this site is a unique look at Johannesburg, South Africa. From the eyes of ten contributors comes a peek into life in this vibrant city from the perspective of an artist, ecologist, environmentalist, satirist, futurist, idealist, optimist, philanthropist, scientist and urbanist.

www.vbs.tv - check out some alternative approaches to covering stories, places and events - including a rare look into North Korea.

It wouldn't be right if there weren't also a few links of interest about global UNC Charlotte. Here's how to jump into a real international experience while in college:

http://oip.uncc.edu - this is our office's main page and if you look through the links you'll see a host of programs available to the campus community to engage with a global perspective. Coming up next is our 5th annual International Women's Day Celebration! The International Festival is the longest-running tradition at UNC Charlotte and will be held on September 25 so mark your calendars, now.

http://www.edabroad.uncc.edu - visit this site for information on how you can spend part of your UNC Charlotte experience in another country.

And check back here regularly - we'll be posting stories, advice and experiences from students at UNC Charlotte about their global experience.

Where else do you go for international news, commentary, tips or advice?

February 19, 2010

International Film Series: What would you do at 10-years old if you knew what you do today?

Do you remember what it was like to watch the interactions of the adult world as a child? Life on a much grander scale but with a simpler understanding. In the film, Mutum, Thiago sees the world with curiosity and wonder, despite the difficult realities of his family. Living in rural Brazil on a struggling farm, he sees a world colored by his parent’s unhappy marriage and his father’s abuse. Despite this context, he continues to try to understand the world of the adults in his life – his mother, father, uncle and grandmother – until an event one day forces all the complexities to the forefront. He and his brother Felipe attempt to reconcile the kindness of their grandmother and the harshness of their father in the adult world that is not yet their own.

Consider who you were and where you were when you were 10 years old. Knowing what you do now, how would you have acted differently? As an adult looking back, what do you miss about your 10-year-old self? What are you glad has changed?

Faculty, staff and students are welcome to the screening of the first film in the Spring 2010 line-up for the International Film Series. Mutum will be shown on February 25, 2010 from 4:00-6:00 PM in CHHS 281. A post-film discussion will be facilitated by Ms. Xanda Lemos, a graduate student in the Latin American Studies Program and lecturer of Portuguese.

February 12, 2010

Help for Haiti: One month later

By: Sayde J. Brais

On Jan. 12, 2010, the world watched one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world get practically reduced to rubble underneath one of the worst earthquakes in the region in more than 200 years. It is one month later and the devastation surrounding Haiti continues.

Haiti occupies an area approximately the size of Maryland, in which almost all of its over nine million residents are of African descent and speak Creole and French. Today, most of its capital, Port-au-Prince, lay in ruins. With a history of political instability, corruption, and severe poverty (an estimated four out of five people live in poverty and of those, more than half live in abject poverty), this earthquake has only added to the turmoil.

Almost immediately following the quake, initiatives all over the world began—some by well-known individuals like award-winning singer/song writer and Haiti-native, Wyclef Jean, and many by those just trying to make a difference. UNC Charlotte students along with community members participated in Haiti-focused initiatives. Some simply walked around collecting spare change while others launched full-blown projects. The Iota Rho Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated set up a table in late January to encourage donations of water bottles toward disaster relief.

Coming up is the “Dance 4 Haiti: Dance-a-thon” event presented by the UNC Charlotte Student Alumni Ambassadors on Saturday, Feb. 13. This event mirrors a traditional walk-a-thon but dancing will take place instead starting at 6:00 PM in the SAC Salons.

Also, The College of Education (COED) joined hands with Samaritan's Purse and University City Church to start the “Haitian Children’s Relief” initiative. From Feb. 1-19, donations will be accepted on the lobbies of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of COED. Donations can include new socks, shoes (no name brand), and underwear.

Students with the English Language Training Institute (ELTI) will be collecting hygiene kits in partnership with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program. Anyone interested in contributing should bring a Ziplock bag with the items listed below to the ELTI offices on the 2nd floor of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS). Items to include in the bag are: 1 hand towel (16x28 inches), 1 washcloth, 1 wide-tooth comb, 1 nail clipper, 1 bar of soap (bath size in wrapper), 1 toothbrush in original wrapper and 6 band-aids.

Every initiative, donation, and any time spent can help Haiti. The country has a lot of work to do to bring itself back from a disaster of this caliber, and any way we can support them will get them on the track to rebuilding their beloved nation.

If your group is coordinating an initiative to assist with earthquake relief in Haiti, and it’s not mentioned here, feel free to post a comment to let others know.