Thursday, November 20, 2014

Down the road..

Wow.. So I haven’t written in a while.. But that’s because I’m truly enjoying Spain! There has been so much going on, I’ve been a bit busy to write. So here’s what has been up with my study abroad:
The first couple of months, I was having trouble assimilating with the culture and truly enjoying it, I was just thinking about home and how much I miss it and everything I didn’t really like about here; I guess you can say I was at a “depressed”/homesick stage. It was a subtle depression just caused mainly by homesickness and some problems that were going on back home that I had no control over! But basically I just wanted to stay in my room all day and not do anything, my roommates knew each other from back home so they would always hang out and sometimes I felt left out, etc. I was just pretty antisocial at times. I felt bad about that, because I really wanted to enjoy everything and I was momentarily happy! But I still felt this weight on me. Another thing, since I’m studying abroad in Europe, you better believe most other students studying abroad are doing a lot of traveling! Most of my friends pretty much had almost every weekend booked to travel to different countries, cities, and such. I did not come here planning nor budgeted to travel, but once you see everyone else traveling you realize how easy and economic it could be! But since I did not plan to travel I did not have enough for my budget, and only being able to choose one country to travel to instead of 10 (per say), I was disappointed. That had me down for a long while as well, being mad at myself for not planning better, etc etc. But after 2 weekends of traveling to two different cities in Spain, I realized how tiring it gets to travel every weekend and how much you miss sleep! So little by little I started to make peace with not being able to travel and am actually very happy with it now, because I’m in MADRID! I need to explore here as much as I can and try to get more assimilated, since I am living here and all. Also, many of my friends that have been traveling all these weekends have told me they wish they didn’t because they realize that they have not spend any time here and wish they had- so that made me more happy with my decision/circumstance.

Everything was starting to look up! We received a new housemate from Guatemala who is doing her Master’s here and she’s only 3 years older then me. We got along from the second we met, and I showed her around much of Madrid and we quickly became very close! She is the reason I started going out, and she has mended any tension that has been going on with us other housemates, and she is just like me! We have many of the same interest therefore we like to go to the same places, meet great people, and have many laughs. I think that’s what I needed- good company that made me feel less alone. So since then I have also started becoming closer to my other housemates, going out more, doing what I have to do to get what I want!

My new housemate Lucia!
One of my happy places! Parque Del Retiro

In that sense, there are about 7 little cafes/ work places in my street alone that I have been wanting to visit. I have now visited most and am so happy I did! It may not seem like a big deal but it is just something I’ve been wanting to do since I first got here and never brought myself to do it. But now I go on a daily basis to do homework, and honestly it is my happy place and one of the things I’m going to miss the most when I leave. I also have a passion for music and have been meeting so many musicians here and planning out jam sessions and going to jazz clubs and having so much fun! It has relit my dreams to sing in public cafes and such. I am truly grateful for that! 

On another note, I did travel to one other country and that was Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I am so glad I chose that as my place because it was truly magical! Everything about it was so beautiful and not really what I expected! So many friendly people and beautiful sights to see; I would love to go back. I think it is also just the trip I needed to really appreciate Madrid because when I came back I felt like I was home. 
I am totally loving this city and am so happy to be here and really think this is going to be a life-changing experience! It is bitter sweet to leave and I think many will agree when I say just when you’re getting used to it, you have to go! I am excited to see me family for the holidays though but I feel like I have made a family here too and am gonna miss it!!! 
Singing at a jazz club

p.s: What Kri and Melissa say about the stages (honeymoon/enchantment, homesickness/irritability/anxiety, assimilation/integration, etc)  is totally true! But the length of each stage depends on the person! Just try to make the best out of every phase.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lamogi Guru Guru (Northern Uganda)

Greetings from Gulu Uganda!
My name is Leissan Sadykova, I am in the diplomacy and military studies program and I am studying abroad in Uganda as part of the SIT Uganda: Post-Conflict Transformation program.

My adventure in Uganda is winding down.  There are only three weeks left before I board the plane back to the US, so I only have about two and a half weeks left in Gulu, Uganda.  Last weekend, my host family and I went, as well as my friend Lindsy, went to the village to climb Lamogi Guru Guru Mountain in Amuru District.  This is a historical site of the Lamogi Rebellion between the British colonizers and the Lamogi people.

The hike was very intense and not something I’ve ever done before.  We were literally climbing on rocks, swinging on vines, and crawling through caves.  There were bats everywhere.  We had an “older man” (ladit in Lwo) lead us up the mountain.  This man, I would say, is around 65/70 years old, and he was showing us up in his climbing skills.  The view was absolutely beautiful, definitely worth the effort.  

(Pictures are out of order).

My host family in my host dad's forest

In the family hut:

Kids' interaction with a mzungu (munu): 

Sugar cane - a road-trip snack:

Starting out the hike, all smiles:

Half-way up:

Ladit (a respectful way to address an elder in Lwo - the local language) leading the way!


Ladit showing us up, crawling through caves:

Literally climbing up the rock:

Made it to the top!

The family hut:

Dad inside the hut:

View of Lamogi, from the top:

Monday, November 3, 2014

On Being an International Student

I don’t know where to begin.
Japan … oh Japan.
I’m not going to lie, I was so scared coming to Japan by myself. I mean, I wasn’t (and still am not, unfortunately) conversational in Japanese, I’m probably going to offend people, I’m going to get lost, I’m going to be lonely… I had so many of these thoughts on my mind. The first culture shock I had wasn’t even in Japan – it was right before boarding my Hawaiian Airlines flight and realizing that everyone else was Japanese except for me.

More culture shock was in store for me when I actually arrived on Japanese soil, of course.

In sum, these were my initial reactions:
-          Oh my god, everything is so clean and modern and efficient
-          There are so many people!!
-          I stick out SO much
-          The food. Yes.
-          Public transportation system = another big yes

Somehow, though, I got used to all of these things fairly quickly within the first month of being here. My social anxiety of being the only white person in a crowd of Japanese people disappeared and I figured out how to use the train and metro. I don’t really cook here though… 7-11 bentos, my school’s cafeteria, and the gyudon place in my neighborhood are my primary sources of food.

And although I’m living in Tokyo (Tokyo, actually, is both a prefecture AND a city), I’m living in a really quaint residential section called Nerima. It’s filled with a few vintage clothes shops, a Showa-era themed izakaya that I hold dear to my heart, Western-style dessert shops, cafes, restaurants, a farmer’s market…everything I need is in walking distance. And the atmosphere is so unique... it’s so peaceful somehow and everything feels safe. I just love how it feels like a small town, yet if I want to be in a more city environment, I can get there in 20 minutes or less by train or metro.

Soon after my arrival, I met the other international students who would attend my school, Musashi University. There were people from England, Iceland, Russia, and France, as well as the other students from America. My loneliness faded in no time. The program for international students at Musashi was very very welcoming. I was pleasantly surprised. They arranged activities (such as going to the Edo Tokyo Museum, a calligraphy workshop, etc.) for all of us to do together before school started. (I secretly wish HPU would have something like that for the international students… do we?)

The Japanese students at Musashi are also really lovely – there are actually quite a few who speak very good English! (And I envy them!) I just really wish I could reach out to more Japanese people, so from this point on I’ll study Japanese more diligently instead of indulging in nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can drink specials).

Again, though, I have to stress that the language barrier is sometimes really difficult for me to handle. I really want to improve my Japanese, I really want to reach out to the Japanese population more, I want to be able to read the signs!

The main point I want to make here is – although I’m having a good time here and sometimes it feels like I’m on vacation, being an international student is not easy. And because of this experience, I look back on the international friends I’ve made at HPU and start to understand them a little more. What is easy/normal for a citizen of one country might be completely strange for a person from another country. I think that once I return to HPU, I want to be more involved with the international community and help them adjust to life in Hawaii, if that’s possible.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From Hawaii to Soonchunhyang

하와이 에서 순천향 까지
Hawaii eso Soonchunhyang kkaji

Annyeong Haseyo! (Hello)

The Seasons
계절 (Kyejeol)
            When I first arrived in the 'land of the morning calm', on a chilly February night. The deers were still frolicking and the snow covered the ground.
            When school started, spring was in the air and so were the cherry blossoms. It was a sight to behold on the campus' Phoenix Field, when a light breeze would knock thousands of these gentle flowers, showering over all the people who passed.
            The Summer kicked in way too soon and without the cool trade-winds we're so use to back home and the abundance of beaches, Korean heat was a nightmare in the countryside abode I called home away from home. Then came the armies of spiders, the swarms of mosquitoes, and the song of cicadas.
            Now its fall, the creepy crawly bugs have all but disappeared along with the heat. Instead, all the greenery in the mountains, in the trees, on the ground have rusted away with the season. With the rain and the ankle-biting, chilly wind; slowly, all the leaves will scatter across campus. Winter is coming.

Soonchunhyang University International Global Village C/O Spring 2014- Final Day

Statue of Chinggis Khan in Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
요약 (Yoyak)
            It’s been a while since I've written, nearing Day 250 (nearly eight months) since I've left Hawaii. Still can't believe it’s been only that long, it feels like I've been living in South Korea for years. With the seasons changing, I've seen the departure of many close friends from the spring. Looking back to the summer, traveling from East Asia to Southeast Asia, it was all memorable, life-changing, even enlightening to travel independently, and experience things I never would have imagined before. It kept me in good spirits and the optimistic thought that I'll see my friends again, one day in my travels.

The Sights in Korea
한국의 명소 (Hanguk ui myeongso)
            Soon after my return to South Korea, it was one trek after another across the peninsula in dozens of cities, towns, and villages from the DMZ and the border city of Panmunjeom, to the many districts in Seoul, the far-away Everland amusement park in Jeondae, the southern seaside port of Busan, the ancient capital of Suwon, the weekend beach get-away in Daecheon, and the historic Hanok village in Jeonju, among countless of other crazy places.

The English Camp
캠프 (Yeongo Kaempu)
            My adventures did have a toll on my wallet, having to relieve myself of a month before the start of the fall semester, I worked at the English Summer Camp with the university as a camp counselor/teacher's assistant. Those were my fondest memories, working with Korean children who were so cheery, uplifting, and not the troublesome punks I use to work with back in the islands. Every one of them, victorious champions when it came to team competitions at the camp, they worked as one, and I was so proud of being with them every day while teachers come and go each week. I was probably the first foreigner they've met for, and I had gained their trust immediately, truly felt like a big part of their lives. It was through them, I adopted the Korean name of 대성 (Kim Dae-Seong), Dae-seong meaning "great sage". As the camp came to an end and it was time to say 'goodbye', the kids sent me many hand-made gifts- from a traditional paper fan to origami pieces, their little drawings, and their little notes about wanting to visit Hawaii in the future. :') 

Team Yellow-2 “The Lemoncrazies” on the Last Day of English Camp

            It's the halfway mark, seven weeks into the semester and eight weeks till the end. I've made many new friends and kept in touch with the many old ones who've left- from the spring (former suite-mates, exchanges, students, and the international friends scattered across the globe).
The Lotus Lantern Festival in Insadong, Seoul
                       At Panmunjeom, the UN-administered border of North and South Korea                       
Let's Go and Travel
여행하고 가자 가요 (Yohaenghako kaja kayo)
I still have a few more things left on my Korea Bucket List:
         Buy a Gaeryang Hanbok (Korean traditional robes)
         Hike Mount Seoraksan (the highest mountain range in South Korea)
         Travel to Gyeongju (Kingdom of Silla in the east, known for temples)
         Travel to Jeju Island (the 'Hawaii' of Korea, a vacation paradise)
         Do a Temple-Stay at Yongjusa Temple in Hwaseong
         Walk around Nami Island (many Korean dramas filmed in the winter)
         Tour Cheongwadae (the 'Blue House', Korea's White House)
         Chill at a cat or dog cafe (just because)

For the next installation of my Korean adventure, hopefully I'll write up a brief review of my university's hometown, Sinchang; focusing on the many food options. Till then, Kevin Tangonan signing out.   

~ 건배 (Geonbae), Cheers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sawaddee kha!

Mahidol University International College Overview

Mahidol University International College, often referred to as "the IC" around campus, is merely a cluster of buildings within Mahidol University in Salaya. The university itself is quite large, with several canteens in different faculty buildings and an almost infinite number of spots to eat, study, or relax. There is a restaurant in the IC called the Herb Garden and small cafes where hotel management and business students can work and receive training. I have heard estimates of about 20% international students and 80% local students, and it certainly looks like it, but don't quote me on that. The campus is beautiful! Mahidol actually has other campuses: Bangkok Noi and Phayathai, which house medicine (and hospitals) and other sciences including dentistry and pharmacy. It's a huge university that seems to only be making more strides this year. My roommate, who is Thai, says Mahidol is ranked #1 in the country this year. I'll take her word for it!
On the edge of Mahidol University's campus
I'm taking mostly elective classes considered to be lower-division at HPU, but as a senior, I believe you can still challenge yourself in any class to keep up your academic momentum. MUIC's extracurricular life is actually quite active. I stopped by the Writer's Club, Photo Club, Muay Thai Club, Volunteer Club, and Art Club. There's definitely something for everyone, and it's possible to create a new club or group. Several guys in my dorm have even organized informal football (soccer) games.

Daily Life

I had a surprisingly easy time adjusting to the local culture, though it took a while longer to get accustomed to things like transportation and the language barrier. Personally, I found the culture to be familiar in many ways because I have lived in Hawaii and the Philippines. Lots of rice and noodles, and I was not too surprised by the amount of spiciness in the food. However, it's easy to ask for no spice, or just "nitnoy"--"a little"!
Because Salaya is not a huge city like Bangkok, you might notice here how incredibly kind and accommodating the locals are to non-locals needing help. The only downside is that outside of cities, it can be difficult to communicate as not as many people speak English. Fortunately, signs and menus do have English and photos; in a pinch, you can simply point, nod, and hold up numbers on your fingers, but it feels better to practice speaking Thai when ordering, asking for directions, or telling the taxi driver where to go.
A tuktuk in Bangkok's Chinatown
Transportation is a bit tricky at first. The taxis start at 35 baht (~$1). It's easy to compare taxi prices to the U.S. and think it's a great deal, which it is, but buses and minivans are cheaper; the caveat is they require some time to get used to. Mahidol actually has shuttle vans that can take students to various malls and into Bangkok for free. Be wary of tuktuks in cities like Bangkok and Pattaya; in the latter city, you could be charged upwards of 100 baht for just a few minutes.
The Green Park neighborhood's spirit houses
Everywhere you go, you'll be reminded of two things: the royal family, and Thai Buddhist practices (including animism). In shops, outside of establishments, and even along the roads, there are photos of he King and Queen with ornate frames, sometimes with flowers or other decorations. There are also small areas in each shop or restaurant, sometimes on a shelf or a small platform on the floor, where the owners will place offerings in Buddhist fashion. Finally, in every house--even my dorm's neighborhood--you'll find small spirit houses with similar offerings of food, drinks, and flowers to the spirits of the land. Thais believe that each part of the land, from homes to large, empty fields, is home to a local spirit/guardian. (Learn more about spirit houses on

Green Park Home

In front of Green Park Home
I may be biased, but Green Park Home has to be the best Mahidol dorm! It is small but very cozy, with a central common room where it is easy to meet and simply hang out with international and Thai students alike. I felt a great sense of tightly-knit community from my very first day here, even though I moved in later than everyone else. We (try to) have daily workout sessions, occasionally go out to eat together, or just have a chill movie night in. We consider our housekeeper as more of a "house mom"; she's very sweet and funny, knows us all by name, and even cooks for us. Just a minute's walk out of the Green Park neighborhood are several restaurants, cafes, street food vendors, and a 7-Eleven (there has to be at least one 7-Eleven per block in Thailand...). A five-minute walk brings you to Image Mall, which has not only shops and restaurants, but also an open market on the weekends where you can buy produce, clothing, and other goodies. While the dorm is a 10-15 minute drive to the university, there is a regular shuttle van every weekday. It is also near the main road, making it easy to catch a taxi, bus, or minivan to Bangkok. Because my roommate is a local Thai, she has been extremely helpful when it comes to finding out the best places to find groceries, shop more cheaply, and overall just getting around daily. I think I chose the right dorm!

Even More Traveling Plans

Phrayanakhon Cave in Hua Hin
It seems as if the Green Park community is in a perpetual state of planning the next trip. My next adventure will take me and a few others to Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong (Lantern Festival) in November. I'm very excited, as not only will we experience this beautiful once-a-year festival, but we've also booked a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, a famous elephant sanctuary which allows visitors and volunteers to feed and bathe elephants that were formerly exploited for elephant rides. I know it's very popular for visitors to ride elephants in Thailand, but knowing that I can hang out with and learn more about elephants in a responsible way is more than good enough for me! After the elephant sanctuary, we're heading 2-3 hours north to Chiang Rai to  visit perhaps the Mae Kok River and the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) before heading back to Bangkok.
This weekend is actually the very first weekend I've spent at home in Salaya. I've already taken many weekend trips with my fellow Green Park residents. Our previous destinations included: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Koh Larn, Ko Chang, and Hua Hin. Each location is quite unique, rich in history, and has an adventure of its own; Salaya itself has a couple of historical sites. I'll share more about these places  in the next blog!