Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I'm Coming Home a Mermaid. Blame France.


Here in France, the days are finally getting warmer, and the school year is coming to an end. I have only two exams that stand between now and the freedom of summer break (and Italy!!). While this is exciting, I am also sadly watching each day slip by, knowing I must leave this country soon and head home.

I admit, it feels strange to call the U.S. "home" when, for the past few months, Caen has been that place for me. I feel like a real-life mermaid, not completely belonging to either country, and yet, my heart resides in both. (Here, I could honestly break into the "Part of Your World" song and find it perfectly fitting.) I've already practice-packed and decided what to keep and what to donate. There are many things I'd like to take back with me, and while I may pack some souvenirs and take with me all the memories and the growth I have undergone, some things just can't fit into my rolling suitcase.

The glorious baguettes and exceptional coffee would be impossible to pack. For one, by the time I touched down from my nine-hour flight, it is quite possible that the lovely morsel of fresh-baked goodness will have become stone-hard and considered a weapon by the U.S. customs. Concerning the coffee, realistically, I would have downed it as soon as I bought it.

The friends I have made here absolutely make this list. If they could even fit in my luggage, I would've considered taking them with me (even facing an extreme weight-limit surplus charge when boarding). I am so thankful that social media exists, so that I don't have to truly leave them here!

 There are also certain French values I'd love for the U.S. to adopt: the appreciation of art, education, food, and traveling, the intolerance of fake friends, and the importance placed on living happily.

This last quality was one that I found to be quite difficult. I came from a calendar-oriented life to a life of cute cafes, numerous dogs, and many places to sit down and just breathe. I am not saying that every aspect of adjusting to France was easy. Even now, I feel restless at times, but the culture has shown me the value of being happy in each moment. Why else would so many cafes, public pianos, macaroons, park benches, and pretty fountains exist here?

It could be easy, in this state of living, to imagine a whole long life ahead of me, a future of infinite possibilities and uncountable adventures. That could even be true, but recent events have shown me the reality of life-life and death. My Maryville College community lost a truly amazing soul only a week ago. I lost a fellow Bonner-scholar, a bright shining light on the campus, and an example of someone who seemed to love life with his every breath. Xavier Sales impacted many of our lives and our hearts. His smile was the most genuine and his laugh, the most contagious. He spread love and respect, and all the way from France, my heart mourns for him, his family, his friends, my college community.

I will return from France a changed person, that mermaid. I am torn between two worlds, but I am more appreciative, more understanding, and more excited than I have ever been to live life as happily as I can. I admire Xavier's way of giving love and respect, and I hope more of that shows in me as well. This post has made my heart heavy, but my heart is also full and for that, I am the most thankful.

 A bientot. -Albrianna

Monday, May 8, 2017

Food for Thought


First, I must announce that the new president of France will be Emmanuel Macron and not Marine Le Pen! You, as an American or person of another nationality, might be wondering "Why does this matter?" and to that I will answer: It matters because what is happening on the other side of the world DOES matter. Even if you are unable to see the events, even if they don't directly affect you, it matters to be aware and informed. Of course, I cannot claim to be informed of the political events of every country in the world, but it doesn't hurt to look at the world outside of our own backyards every now and then.

I was talking to a new friend that I had the privilege of meeting during my trip to the U.K. about the United States and our lack of knowledge about the world outside our borders. Of course, I can only speak for myself when I admit that before traveling to France, I had no idea which little dot on the map was really the country. Even within the U.S., I'm not sure I could label every state on a map (Trust me, I failed my 5th grade U.S. geography test.)

What I mean to point out is that traveling broadens the mind, the heart, and the soul. It allows you to become emotionally invested in the world outside of your own four walls. It is possible, even, to tap into your curiosity and empathy without purchasing that oh-so-expensive plane ticket! Find a pen-pal. Support a charity that helps in foreign aide. Recently, there was a French man named Jerome Jarre who began the hashtag: #SaveSomalia. This spread awareness about the drought and famine in the country. Good things can happen when people are aware of the need. To be aware, one must be watching, reading, and updating.

I shared in my last blog post my newest goal to go to Italy and as of today, I have booked all necessary flights, train tickets, and hostel stays to do so. I have only 35 days remaining to spend on this side of the Atlantic, and I will live each one to the fullest. A few of those days will be exam days, as I finish my semester here at UniCaen. One of the days will be spent at a French music festival. I will have a few days in Italy, a few days in Versailles, and the very last will be spent in Paris-the city that now owns my heart.

As a concluding thought, I leave you with these wise words of Mark Twain:
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

A bientot. -Albrianna Jenkins

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Meeting My Home Visit Family

The weekend after spring break I finally met my home visit family! Now, a home visit family is different from a homestay family. The home visit program is only available for those living in a seminar house/dorm. This way, those living in a dorm can experience having a family in Japan and see how family life works in Japan. Due to spring and winter break, I wasn't able to meet my home visit family until two weeks ago. It was great to finally meet them!

Before officially meeting everyone, I met my home visit sisters in Umeda station in Osaka. Riko is a fellow Kansai Gaidai student. In fact, all the home visit families have one student from Kansai Gaidai. Riko is a sophomore here. She has a little sister, Rui, who is nine and a younger brother, Sho, who is fifteen. Riko and Rui were there at Umeda station to meet up with me.

After about 15 minutes in trying to find each other in the train station, we finally meet up with each other and head towards Hep5, the shopping mall with the ferris wheel on top that I talked about in the beginning of my blog posts. Here, we ate a little dessert at the Gutatama Cafe, or Lazy Egg as it's known in the States. Riko and I both had this delicious cake, while Rui had a hot chocolate with a design on it.


After our little sweet break, we moved on to the Sky Bridge Buildings across the street. The two buildings are connected via two escalators. It's pretty thrilling! On the roof, there's a magnificent view of Osaka.







It's now time for dinner! We take the train for about an hour to the local train station. Riko's mom met us there and drove us to their house. It's a lot smaller than my house back home, but it's perfect for Japan. Out of necessity, most houses are small. After taking off my shoes, they showed me their living room. Instead of a couch, they have a heated, plush carpet type mat. The dad and brother were sitting there waiting to met me when the mom was just a couple of feet away in the kitchen. I sat down and tried my best to talk to the rest of the family. Sho and Riko are the only ones who really know English, with the mom and dad knowing only a few words here and there. Rui is still too young to learn English in school.

In Japan, the culture revolves around gift giving. If you go on vacation, you are expected to return with a gift for friends, family, and even coworkers. That's why a lot of the stores in Disneyland had boxes of food and souvenirs, or omiyagai. So to follow this gift giving culture, I gave my home visit family two gifts. One was a tin of chocolates from Disney Sea. I knew that if nothing else, Rui would love it. The second gift was much more special. I give them a little carved bear from Dollywood. It's a link both to my family, since my Papa To (grandpa) was a carpenter, and to my home, since it was from Dollywood and a black bear. I tried my best to explain this in Japanese, though Riko jumped in a couple of times to explain better.

After giving my gifts, we had dinner. Mom, you're going to be so proud. I had a salad and ate it all. I really don't like salad. In Japan, it's extremely rude to not eat everything on your plate. This led a wonderful conversation about salad dressing. They use Japanese mayo for dressing. It's a little different than our mayo. The family was shocked when I said we use honey mustard for salad dressing. I mentioned McDonald's to describe what honey mustard was. This then led to a everyone trying to mimic how I say McDonald's for about five minutes. In Japanese, McDonald's is pronounced almost like it's MacDonald's. So everyone around the table just kept on trying to say Mc instead. We also talked about my family. While talking, the food was so good. It was really nice to have a homemade meal that I didn't make. There was even a dish with potatoes! The mom asked what I liked and was very impressed when I said I liked basically all Japanese food, including raw fish.

Following dinner, I was invited upstairs to Riko's room. I was very surprised, because traditionally, you don't invite people up to their rooms. I was very honored. The four of us, the kids and I, entered the room and played card games. They wanted me to teach them some American card games. Me, being the big gamer I am, was thrilled!! So I taught them the number one card game in America, Go Fish. It's a simple game. Since my Japanese is not good enough to explain, I ended up explaining in English with Sho and Riko understanding, and then translating for Rui. We all had fun with the classic card game! I found out that they call Jack, Queen, King, and Ace, by numbers such as 11, 12, 13, and 14. They then teach me so Japanese card games and also perform a magic trick for me. It was fun sharing games from each other's cultures.

I had such a fun time meeting my home visit family. They were so opening and welcoming for me, which I very much appreciated. I can't wait to meet them again this coming month!!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Takarazuka and Hanami!

Last weekend was filled with Japanese cultural experiences, both niche and mainstream. These experiences have definitely helped me feel more in tune with the culture around me!

In my Japanese pop culture class, we studied about a form of theater called Takarazuka. In takarazuka, all the actors are played by females, including the male roles. These actresses train in a takarazuka school for two years in their teens, before being able to perform on stage. Most of the shows performed are musicals, which makes it very impressive when you hear a female singing lower than most males. 

An interesting aspect of this theater is that the main male and female roles are played by the same actors until those actors retire. The main male character is called the Top Star. She will continue being the Top Star until she decides to retire. Another interesting thing is the interaction between the actors and fans. Takarazuka audience is primarily female. These female fans form clubs surrounded by one of the actors, with the biggest club usually going to the male Top Star. Before the show, the Top Star waits outside the theater, and the leaders of the different fan clubs will come up and hand her gifts. 

Fans waiting to take a group picture with the Top Star.
Fans waiting for other fan members

Taking a picture on the famous stair case in the theater

The show that we watched was the Scarlett Pimpernel. It's about an Englishman who uses his secret identity as the Scarlett Pimpernel to rescue French aristocrats during the French Revolution. The premise of a secret identity where he refuses to kill anyone eventually inspired the famous character Batman. The musical was well performed with engrossing music. The fact that the male characters were female made it that much more impressive.

If you ever come to the Kansai region of Japan, I highly suggest you go to a Takarazuka musical. It's honestly quite stunning.

The next day brought about a much more traditional cultural experience, the famous Japanese Hanami.

Hanami literally translates to flower viewing. And that's exactly what you do. Durning the peak of cherry blossom season, usually about a week or two after they bloom, you go to a park filled with sakura (cherry blossoms), sit on trap or blanket, and then eat, drink, and enjoy the flowers. My seminar house hosted our own hanami where we went to a local park. It was filled with locals eating and drinking. Kids were playing soccer and badminton. There was even a surprise performance for everyone at the hanami. A group of performers did several Okinanawian dances. Even some of my friends joined in!

Okinawaian Dancers
Locals enjoying the hanami in the park

So much food! Ranges from traditional sweets to donuts!
Friends drinking and eating

Reminds me of people singing folk songs at TN festivals!

Dancing with some locals!
Next up are the drummers!

After dancing, drinking, and eating, we all decided to take pictures with the cherry blossoms. Here, we experienced the generosity that exists in Japan. See, there was an old man with a nice camera going around and taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and the performers. He also started taking pictures of us. He took a picture of my friends and I in front of a sakura tree and printed that one off for us. He would show us his pictures on his camera so we could take a picture of it. Well, about a week later, he shows up at our seminar house. Of course Otoosan is really worried. If a local come in, it usually means we were too noisy or something bad. Turns out he printed off all the pictures of us, made enough copies for those in the pictures, and dropped them off us we could all have them! I was amazed! He went through the time and effort to give us forgieners the pictures he took. They're really good pictures too.  It's just amazing that he was willing to go through  that for all of us. I'm definitely framing the picture when I get back.

Unfortunately, the cherry blossoms only last for a short amount of time. A week later, most of the sakura are no longer in bloom. I can see why the Japanese love them so much. They are so beautiful. Apparently, they also like them due to their blooming time. When sakura start to bloom, it also corresponds to when the new school starts, when new graduates start to work, and other types of beginnings. The blossoms represent a new beginning. And as the Japanese students start college, hopefully I will have a new chapter in my study abroad.

Paris Holds the Key {to my heart}


With today being the second of May, both my feet are firmly in the last full month that I will be spending abroad (at least, for now). I've spent the past week studying for upcoming exams and daydreaming about the remaining adventures I have planned. This past weekend, I joined a friend for a lovely weekend in Paris and took in the city like a true tourist.

If you haven't been to Paris (or a big city like Paris), you probably won't know that pickpockets are a very real threat, the tunnels under bridges are often smelly, and the vendors selling little trinkets as souvenirs are spread out about as far as Starbucks locations are back home. All this, I say with a smile because my heart, like many others' I am sure, was captivated by the beautiful city of lights and love.

I saw the sites, each one more awe-inspiring than the last. I walked along the Seine at nightfall, keeping my eye on the golden monument in the distance that was lit up against the black backdrop of sky. I held my breath and waited for the lights to sparkle as they do once every hour, like that of a Christmas tree, and then my heart would flutter inside my chest. La Tour Eiffel, an attraction I had once considered (potentially) overrated, beckoned to me, and I fell for her charms. Over and over, the entire weekend, I felt within myself a feeling of absolute content.

I enjoyed a crepe in the quartier of Montmortre, an area known for its creative buzz. I stood on one of the many steps of the Sacré-Coeur basilica and watched a street performer entertain the crowd. I sipped red wine while enjoying a boat tour on the Seine River. I tried escargot and canard (snails and duck, both of which are delicious). I sat in the park as the sun set and listened to the
humdrum of people around me. Yes, I, along with many other unsuspecting travelers, was swept up in magic of such a place.

Paris is a big expanse of buildings and shops, avenues and boulevards. The metro can be confusing, and the people can be closed off. All that is true, but for the first time in my life, I, a small-town East Tennessee girl, looked in the face of such a place and thought "I could definitely live here." That is, of course, extremely optimistic considering I saw a nice flat for rent at 5,000 euros per month. Regardless of such a realistic fact, Paris gave me the magic of hope to dream big and bright, as big and as bright as their beloved tower.

In 41 days, I will leave this country that I have called home for the past few months. I will leave behind friends that I have made and my favorite little coffee shop, Keys and Co, but I will not be saying "Au Revoir", but rather, "A bientot", which is to say, "See you soon." -Albrianna

Monday, May 1, 2017

Touring Tokyo Like a Tourist

Most of my time here in Japan, my goal is to be a local. Live like a local, act like a local I don't want to be a tourist. But sometimes on your study abroad experience, you just have to be a tourist. That means embracing all the tourist attractions and acting like the American you are! And that's exactly what my friends and I did! For five jam-packed days, we took our bags and made our way to Tokyo for the ultimate tourist experience.

(Warning: This is a long post!!!)

Day 1

The adventure starts with actually trying to get to Tokyo. There's a couple ways to get to Tokyo, airplane or shinkansen, or bullet train. The shinkansen is more expensive, but we figured this is an experience. When will we ever ride it again? So we make our way to Kyoto and hop on the shinkansen! It's a four hour ride to Tokyo, but on the way, we get to see the landscape of Japan. 

We make our way to through the insanely busy station in Tokyo and eventually reach the district where our Airbnb is located. Fun Fact! Apparently Airbnb is illegal in Tokyo. We didn't know that until after our stay. Anyways, we walk down the road towards the Airbnb, and we realize we are located near the Tokyo Skytree! In Tokyo, there's two main towers where you can view the Tokyo skyline- Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo Skytree. It was a nice surprise!

After some time, we finally find the right building for our Airbnb. It was a surprisingly nice room given the price. Another group of friends arrived to Tokyo before us. They arrived to their room and were in horror. They had a squatty potty. And the window looked right out to a concrete wall. We were relieved to find a very normal toilet and shower in our Airbnb.

Since we arrived in Tokyo around 4 p.m., the only thing we had planned was the Robot Restaurant. The Robot Restaurant is THE touristy thing to do in Japan. Located in Shinjuku, the place for Japanese nightlife, the Robot Restaurant is a dinner and a show, though dinner is optional.  This place is so touristy that there were no Japanese people in the audience. There's nothing more Japanese than giant robots right in your face fighting each other. It's insane. I highly recommend going to the Robot Restaurant if you're ever in Tokyo. 




After the Robot Restaurant, we had back to our room for a nice early morning. That's because we're going to... 

Day 2


Who doesn't like Disneyland? No one, that's who. With one of my friends never been to Disney before, and another friend and I loving Disney, it was only natural to make plans to visit Tokyo Disneyland. To ensure we had tickets, we woke up at 6 a.m. and made the two hour train ride to Disneyland. We entered the gates, and it's just as magical as Disney World, with a few differences here and there. Right off the bat, Main Street has a glass roof. This was Godsend since it decided to rain all day long. There were also branching sides as well, instead of the straight street in Disney World. 
Even the train was Disney themed!
They had a marching band playing classic songs. The glass roof made it dry!

You could buy Mike Wazowki melon bread!
A trip to Disney is never complete without a picture in front of the castle!


Throughout the day, the differences continued, but it was still just as fun! For example, all the rides are in Japanese. But that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy them! We rode Star Tours, located in Tomorrowland, twice despite the Japanese voice acting. However, the Philharmagic definitely felt off with the Japanese. In this attraction, you basically go through all the popular Disney songs. So instead of hearing "A Whole New World" or "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" in English, it was all in Japanese. Also, Goofy in Japanese just doesn't sound right.

Perhaps my favorite difference was Cinderella's Castle. In Tokyo Disneyland, they don't have the meet and greets with the characters, like they do in the American parks. As a result, they made in addition to Cinderella's Castle where you can go inside and go to the Throne Room. It was truly unique. 
Queen for about 30 seconds

Another fun fact about the park is that the food in both Disney Sea and Disneyland are not theme with the area. Instead, it's just basic Japanese food. We found this out the hard way when we went to Frontierland, knowing that one of the restaurants back home was a Southern style restaurant. In Japan however, this restaurant featured curry. Definitely not the biscuits and fried chicken we were expecting. 

Despite the rain, my friends and I had a great time! We had a great cultural moment observing something so similar, but seeing it in a different culture’s eyes. Even how people act and dress at Disneyland is culture. At the park, everyone was with someone. Going to the park alone is not a thing here. And the reason why we knew that was because every group or couple matched. I'm not talking about the "Reeve Family Reunion" matching T-shirts and khaki shorts. Nope, I'm talking about either matching uniforms with matching ears, fashionable outfits based on Disney characters, even the makeup and hair were matching. It certainly made our little group feel out of place at times.

Our day at Disneyland ends, however, that doesn't mean we're done with the park yet!

Day 3

Next day, Disney Sea!! 

We get up a little bit later this time, but we still make it 30 minutes after the gates opening. Disney Sea is a completely unique park that you can only find in Japan. All the rides are only found in Japan, with the exception of Indiana Jones, Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, and Magic Carpet ride. The theme of the park revolves around different ports around the world. The areas are Mediterranean, Mysterious Island (from the book by Jules Verne), American Waterfront, Agrabah, Lost River Delta (themed around a jungle), and an underground section dedicated to the Little Mermaid. With the park sitting right on the sea, this theme is perfect for the area. And thankfully, there was no rain today!! 

King Triton's Castle
Atlantica is all underground!

You can even see Ariel's Grotto!
And our lucky continued throughout the day. Jenny, one of my friends, knew what all the popular and must rides were, so we were able to get Fast Passes for the biggest rides. The most popular ride at Disney Sea is definitely Journey to the Center of the Earth. It operates much like Fast Track in EPCOT. Instead of a 180 minute wait, we only waited for 45 minutes thanks to the fast passes! It was intense, but I could totally see why it's one of the most popular rides. 

                               The mountain in the background is Mysterious Island. It's where you can go to the Center of the Earth!
Inside Mysterious Island. Here you can explore 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea!

My favorite parts of the park is the fort that sits right below the mountain for Journey to the Center of the earth. Here's a picture of it, so you can see for yourself. 


It's really striking as one of the first things you see in the park. It's also completely explorable!! Another favorite part is Agrabah. The area is dressed to the nines in mosaics. It's really stunning. And the double decker merry-go-round allows you to see the full area.


After spending the full day there, we head back to the room for some much needed rest.

Day 4

After two days for intense walking, waking up early, and staying up late, we decided to sleep in this day. Today is another packed day. 

First stop, Akihabara. In other words, the Geek Holy Land. This area in Tokyo is famous for its hundreds of shops dedicated to anime, video games, figurines, and many more geeky items. And it certainly holds up to its name! Lining the streets were cramped stores filled with anime and video game merchandise. There were claw machine games that held figurines and stuffed animals. There's also cafes around this area. There's the infamous maid cafes, but there's also the Final Fantasy Cafe and Square Enix (created of Final Fantasy games) Cafe. Unfortunately, we couldn't get reservations for the cafes, but we were allowed in and could take pictures of the interior. Much money was spent in this area.

After a long day in Akihabara, we make our way to another famous district in Tokyo, Harajuku. Harajuku is the fashion district in Japan. This is where the crazy fashion styles of Japan can be found. There's also plenty of stores to be found in this area. Unfortunately, we get there late enough that most stores were closing. Despite Tokyo being bigger than NYC, it doesn't mean that the stores stay open until midnight like they do in NYC. The stores in the biggest shopping center close at 9 p.m., just like they do in little Hirakata. So with our trip to Harajuku cut short, we made our way to our next stop.

In my opinion, we saved the best for last- Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower can be done in either the day or night, but I highly recommend going at night. The night view of the city is specular. The inside was decorated with lights to resemble the cherry blossoms just coming into bloom. 

I could talk more about the view, but I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

The lights were added to mimic sakura blossoms!

Day 5

This day was one of my friend's last days here until she had to leave for another trip. So today was all about hitting up the areas she wanted to hit up! Today was a temple run day. The first temple we hit was a local temple near our Airbnb. Since it was a local one, it was nice and peaceful. Then we went to Meiji Shrine, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. This temple is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, perhaps one of the most famous and well beloved Emperors in Japanese history. Located next to the hustle and bustle of Harajuku, the giant park gives a real contrast to the rest of the city. The forest like park gives a real sense of peace. 

It looks like my driveway! Just a lot bigger.

After going to Meiji, we went to the most controversial temple in Japan, Yasukuni Temple. Here, the temple houses memorials for Japanese war heroes, especially for WWII. However, some of these war heroes are declared war criminals to the rest of the world. There's also the issue of Koreans being dedicated as war heroes. Many Koreans were forced to fight for the Japanese, resulting in their families wanting their family members removed from the shrine. However, all the people held in memoriam here are also declared kami, or gods. This makes the matter a little more complicated. Doesn't mean it's right, just means it's a little complicated. Regardless of the controversy, the temple was very beautiful. 


After a quick trip to the Pokemon Center in Tokyo, my friend makes her way on her own little adventure. Thus, it's just Jenny and me. We head off to be as we prepare for another great day in Tokyo. 

Day 6

For our last day in Tokyo, we meet up with a very special person, Funa! Funa was a foreign exchange student at Maryville last year. Since she lives in Tokyo, we thought this was the perfect time to meet up! It's really great to see your friends in their home. Funa took my friend and I through Ueno Park, a giant park used for the famous cherry blossom viewings and filled with temples, a zoo, and a couple museums. We also stopped by a store and got panda bread! As we toured the temples, it was great catching up with an old friend. Unfortunately, the weather started to become very cold, leading us to cut our visit a bit short. But it was great to see her again!

After Ueno Park, my friend and I went to the Capcom Bar located in Shinjuku. The Capcom Bar is a basically like a cafe based around famous Capcom games, such as Mega Man, Monster Hunter, Resident Evil, Phoenix Wright, and Street Fighter. Since my friend loves Monster Hunter, she mostly ordered from that menu. I ordered a bit from the Mega Man (or Rock Man in Japan), Monster Hunter, and Phoenix Wright menu. It was definitely a great way to end our trip!

Day 7

As we make the very long journey home, we are beyond tired. We spend five, jammed packed days in Tokyo. Here I was worried that we wouldn't have enough things to do, but we still didn't see everything we wanted to see. Tokyo is definitely a must see, but you have to remember that it doesn't represent all of Japan, just like NYC doesn't represent all of the USA. The giant city made me miss little Hirakata. I was so happy to be back. As fun as Tokyo is, it didn't feel like home like Hirakata does. Being a tourist is fun and all, but living here is what's really fun.