A Self Titled Life- Some Time (Day 6)

We explored a city called Nara today. Compared to Osaka and Kyoto, it was a more residential area. It was quieter and had a slower pace to it. When we got to the city we walked down this street full of shops and visited two different temples. The first place was Kofukuji temple. It had a gigantic five tier pagoda and when I tried to get a picture in front of it, I looked like an ant. Just a teeny weenie tiny little human. What’s really crazy is that it was built and restored BEFORE the thought of America even existed.


See what I mean? Peanuts. The entire temple didn’t even make it into the picture.


One of the streets in Nara. Really cool place.














Before climbing the stairs to the temple grounds, there was a cemetery and each headstone had a cup of tea in front of it.


There was another purification station at the temple but tell me this doesn’t look like Mushu from Mulan!














The pagoda was honestly a really impressive structure.

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Serious. Very serious people.


The temple of  Kofukuji. There are a lot of orange temples in Japan.












The second place we visited was the shrine of one of the biggest Buddhas in Japan. Let me tell you, it was enormous. The temple was called Todai-ji and for the record, seeing a giant Buddha was the entire reason I was stoked for this trip. It was mammoth. The temple itself is the largest wooden structure in the world. Basically, there was nothing about this temple that wasn’t impressive. The statue of the Buddha was probably taller than a football field. I’m going to put some pictures but they’re not even close to how incredible it was. I’m telling you- if you ever make it to Japan, you have got to make it apparent to see the temple of a thousand Buddhas in Kyoto and the Buddha statue in Todai-ji temple in Nara. Point, blank, period.


The largest wooden structure in the world was renovated to be 33% smaller than the original. Believe me, you would never know.

This was my favorite. My entire life has led up to this Buddha.


This is the scale of the actual buddha’s hand on the statue.















I cannot get over this Buddha.


Even the decor statues around the Buddha were incredible.













Nara was such a chill place that these two enormous structures just rest in the middle of the city. That seems nuts to me to just live by these incredible places and see them everyday. Okay, but the equal best/worst part of this city is the deer. Yeah, the deer. Probably hundreds of deer run amuck throughout the city. I’m not kidding, people buy biscuits and feed the deer. They pet the deer. They take pictures with the deer. They get bullied by the deer when they run out of food. Then the deer go wild and shred your bag to get into the food you didn’t even know you had. Besides the dirt, aggressive behavior, and mass amounts of poop, the deer are just grand.


The deer booked it into the streets and the cars slammed their breaks. There are powerful creatures ruling Nara, without an iron fist (deer don’t have thumbs.)


Throughout all of Japan the sewer heads have been so intricate. Nara included.













I seem to be a little angry about the deer- I’d say we aren’t friends. I tried to pet a deer and I was almost died in the process. It’s like the episode of Spongebob when Gary hangs out with Patrick to get the cookie in his shorts. “HE ONLY LIKED ME FOR MY SHORTS.” That was my day with the deer.


I worked up the guts to pet the deer, and it tried to kill me.


I’m not kidding when I say that beast gnawed a hole through my bag..and my heart.













I’m really banking on there being no deer tomorrow. Although, when we were standing in Nara park all of a sudden ALL of the deer just took off together in a herd towards the forest. It was like a combination of an olympic marathon and the stampede in the Lion King. Truthfully, if I never see a deer up close again, I wouldn’t be too upset about it.


They sell shampoo in bags at the drug store.


Just hanging’ out with the boyfriend.




Maybe it’s because I think regular cemeteries are cool, but the cemeteries in Japan are a whole new level of amazing.











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These guys were slamming these huge wooden hammers into this green candy dough while chanting. The candy has an acquired taste and it’s one that I don’t have.














Stay weird.


Current snack- peanut butter and crackers

A Self Titled Life- Make Up Your Own Steps (Day 5)

Hi. Guess what? So much has happened today I don’t know where to even begin. I’ll start with an edit from yesterdays blog. I have made an incredible amount of friends and met so many new people but I did not mention everyone in the blog post from yesterday. I kind of felt bad about that. I also didn’t mention my FAVORITE part of the symposium which was when I found out Manami (our partner) listens to Paramore and Fall Out Boy. I’m aware these could be average facts for most humans, but for the human, (me) they’re game changers. Manami and I are now best friends. It happened. It’s real. She might not even know.

I'm going to throw away all of my clothes and pack my suitcase with these candies. You don't understand. I'll be bringing so many home.

I’m going to throw away all of my clothes and pack my suitcase with these chocolates. You don’t understand. I’ll be bringing so many home.

I have no idea what we are doing but I really love this picture.

I have no idea what we are doing but I really love this picture. Taken across the tracks of the subway station.











Moving swiftly along. TODAY we did some pretty incredible things. First, we went to Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto which was like a temple trail. I’m not entirely sure how to explain this without being incredible disrespectful but there was this orange temple and then smaller ones all around it. Then you could follow these trials that slowly worked itself up a mountain with more private and serene temples. I guess they could be compared to checkpoints on the way to the top. What was really cool was the bamboo growing in the forest alongside the trail. We actually never made it to the top but what are you going to do.

A lot of the walking paths i the beginning of the trail were under these tall orange beams.

A lot of the walking paths at the beginning of the trail were under these tall orange beams.


The opening building to the Fushimi Inari shrine. The color was so bright, I loved it.


After a tsunami hit Japan, people from around the world sent paper cranes and they were hung around the walls in one of the shrines.

People could make wishes to the whomever then believe will hear their private wishes.

People could make wishes to the whomever they believe will hear their private wishes.

Before you enter the shrine you are asked to purify yourself with these instructions.

Before you enter the shrine you are asked to purify yourself with these instructions.

This was the purifying station.

This was the purifying station.

The architecture was incredible. We didn't even make it inside before we took a million pictures.

The architecture was incredible. We didn’t even make it inside before we took a million pictures.

The water was so cold..or maybe that was the purification working.

The water was so cold..or maybe that was the purification working.









































After that we took a train to a different part of Kyoto to see the temple of one thousand Buddhas. This was easily the most amazing thing we’ve seen on this trip. You have to take your shoes off at the door and put on slippers that the shrine provides for all the guests. You walk into this long room and there are seriously no less than a thousand gold statues lined up for what goes on for what seems like 70 miles. They’re all a little bit different from the one next to it, but the rustic look and the detail is incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen before. The first thing that immediately popped into my head when I saw them was the chess game in the Harry Potter movie. Totally different, but that’s the vibe I got. In front of the rows and rows of statues, there are I think 12 different stone statues of the deities with descriptions of where they are believed to have come from and what they symbolize in the Buddhist religion. Some of the statues had crystals for eyes and it made it look like they were living people trapped inside stone cases. (A little like Mr Krabs when he’s trapped in the ice in The Spongebob Movie.) Anyways, in the middle of the 12 statues there is this enormous Buddha that looks like it is floating in the air. It was easily two stories tall. The entire thing in unable to be described with pictures or in words. If anyone wants to ever see it, I’ll just have to bring you back to Kyoto. It’s worth the flight, I swear.


In both the temples I was so intrigued by the way beliefs brought people from all walks of life together.


The slippers we wore in the shrine. If anyone walked past my boots I took off they probably died on the spot from the smell.














While I loved the two places we were able to explore, my favorite part of this day was afterwards when we were lost on the train So we board a train back to Osaka (where the hotel is) and until we get off the train, I honestly had no idea if we were even heading remotely in the right direction. Long story short- 4 hours later we made it back home. It was supposed to be a thirty minute trip. Between you & I, I thought I was going to die in the Japan train station. I could see my end and I’m lucky to be alive. You’re lucky I’m dramatic, otherwise this blog would be all about facts. The thought bores me.

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In the Kyoto train station there was a Christmas celebration with a massive tree, music, and a holiday lights show.

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This tree in the Kyoto train station was probably over 8 eight stories tall. We kind of stumbled along this display unintentionally. I’m so thrilled that we did though.

All in all, it was a good one. I’ve been throwing around the idea, in my own head, that I could see myself one day living in Japan. It’s such a stunning country filled with the kindest people. I don’t have to take into consideration the fact that I dress differently because I would stick out anyways so why try to avoid it. I do think there are a lot of things in the culture and society that would clash with my own personality and beliefs. Honestly, who knows. Right now my number one place to live is Africa where I can ride a giraffe all day, everyday. THAT would be the life.

I shouldn't be invited anywhere professional. I'm just not cutout for the serious life.

I shouldn’t be invited anywhere professional. I’m just not cutout for the serious life.

MY FAVORITE SNIPE OF THE TRIP. Even in spiritual places, cracks are invited.

MY FAVORITE SNIPE OF THE TRIP. Even in spiritual places, cracks are invited.











Get ready for whatever lies ahead tomorrow.

Stay weird.


Current seating arrangement- tucked in bed.


Marissa’s Japan adventure Blog post #2

Day 2: Osaka

Everyone. is. so. nice. SERIOUSLY EVERYONE. Take our waitress for example- I asked her how to say “water” in Japanese and because she wasn’t too sure of her English, she found someone to help her and she drew a picture to explain it to me! She really went out of her way to try and help me, something I’ve noticed many people here do, especially in Osaka. We are also having a difficult time with the trains here because everything is basically written in Japanese characters… and no one in our group can read any of it. Problematic, yes I know. Every single person I have asked directions from on the trains can’t speak a word of English, yet they all go completely out of their way to try and help you! We have had people walk us right over to the platform we needed because they couldn’t figure out how to say it in English. Slightly different from the train stations in New York, huh?!

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Now today was the day we got to actually meet the Japanese students, so needless to say I was pretty excited! In all honestly, I was kind of nervous as well, because I didn’t know what they thought of our students, or Americans in general. As a culture, Japanese people are pretty polite and they are not blatant at all in what they say (generally unlike many Americans). Sometimes this is kind of nerve-racking because you aren’t sure whether they actually like you or if they are just being nice… I am much more equipped to deal with people who tell it like it is I think! However, I could not get over the overwhelmingly positive response we got from the Kansai students!! It was such a relief. They aren’t really a hugging kind of culture… it is actually part of their culture to bow when they meet people. But after we introduced ourselves formally they came running over to meet us and hug us! I physically couldn’t stop smiling because it was such a warm feeling. Everyone was also so excited to talk to us and practice their English!

With some of the Kansai students today at the university!

Kansai University

Kansai University

Ally and I were invited to stay and have dinner with the students on campus, and they were so awesome that we ended up staying for two hours talking, getting to know one another and our cultures, and just having a good time. Best part of the day? The Kansai students wrote my name for me in Japanese characters!! What I didn’t know is that there are actually two different ways to write it in Japanese, and a third way to write it in Chinese Kanji. (what they call the characters.) So here is a picture of all three! COOL RIGHT?!?! They made my day!


It was pretty incredible to see how infectious all of the smiling and laughing was as we got to know each other and the different things about our cultures. It really goes to show that no matter what language you speak, some emotions are just universally understood! Stay tuned…


Marissa Sarbak

A Self Titled Life- Find the Words (Day 4)


The symposium was today so we headed over to the University at about 9 am. (I’m getting really good at using the subway. I probably could get to somewhere really cool then get lost and never find my way home.) The symposium went well and we had about seven Kansai students present with us on stage. The audience really took an interest in the student responses and thoughts on our personal COIL experiences. I think our participation might have really influenced some of the other attending professors to participate in COIL themselves, which I love. I mean without COIL I wouldn’t be sitting next to Marissa on a hotel bed in Japan typing this blog post. (For the record, Marissa is only pretending to type hers next to me.)

Made it to the University! Its pretty beautiful.

Made it to the University! It’s a pretty beautiful place.

At the Symposium with Maho and Marissa.

At the Symposium with Maho and Marissa.











Thats a fine looking crew.

That’s a fine-looking crew.


List of the student presenters at the symposium.

List of the student presenters at the symposium. It’s no big deal.






I felt like a very big deal. My name tag paper was even taped to the table. (I did steal it. I'm bringing it home)

I felt like a very big deal. My name tag paper was even taped to the table. (I did steal it. I’m bringing it home






After the presentation we took a tour of the University with some of the students in the class we worked with. The campus is so big compared to Oswego and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s winter in Japan but it’s about 50 degrees and most of the trees look like it’s fall, so the campus is full of color. We passed by students outside who were interpretive dancing in a group on the sidewalk. Also, there were students with their instruments just jamming in front of one of the buildings. Kansai has around 27,00 students. I feel like if most of the Japanese students didn’t commute like they do, the lines for the showers would take about thirty-seven years.

The holiday drinks at Starbucks are unique in Japan too. (Also apparently they are really very sweet.

The holiday drinks at Starbucks are unique in Japan too. (Also, apparently they are really very sweet.

PAULINE AND MEG. I FOUND A MCDONALDS. too bad its in Japanese and  I couldn't read it!

PAULINE AND MEG. I FOUND A MCDONALD’S. Too bad it’s in Japanese and I couldn’t read it!


We left the University and headed down to the ShinSaiBashi-Suji which is an ENORMOUS outdoor shopping mall. The beginning of it looks like the Time Square of Japan. There were these Christmas lights that hung from the beginning of the street all the way down to the end. By the time we got there I was wearing these high heel dress shoes. (Let me give you some background info- I don’t wear heels. That’s enough background.) The problem was that I couldn’t buy a cheep pair of shoes to change into because most shoes come in three sizes- small, medium, and large. So it’s safe to say I bought no shoes. Also, most of the traditional Japanese clothing stores have sizes called feminine and male. It’s just one size for each. So again, I bought no clothing. But that’s okay! I bought two cool pairs of socks and a blueberry face mask. We put the face masks on and we looked like we are on our way to our Blue Man group auditions.

ShinSaiBashi-Suji was incredible. Almost better than New York.

ShinSaiBashi-Suji was incredible. Almost better than Time Square in New York, but not quite.

I had sushi for the very first time tonight with Sophia! If I'm going to have it anywhere, might as well be in Japan!

I had sushi for the very first time tonight with Sofia! I figured if I’m going to have it anywhere, might as well be in Japan!

This donut is the reason for my existence on this earth. It was some some sort of salted caramel nut slice of heaven.

This donut is the reason for my existence on this earth. It was some sort of salted caramel nut slice of heaven.

These boots were in a sm, md, lg store and they made me think of Hayley Williams. So naturally, I took a picture.

These boots were in a sm, md, lg store and they made me think of Hayley Williams. So naturally, I took this picture.

The international gang. (left to right) Maho, Jenni, Marissa, Me, & Sophia.

The international gang. (left to right) Maho, Jenni, Marissa, Me, & Sofia.













We went to the shopping center with Maho, Jenni, and Sofia which were three of the Kansai Students. (Maho is from Japan, Jenni is on exchange from Australia, and Sofia is on exchange from England.) I truly feel like meeting them was the entire reason COIL should be brought to other classrooms and people. You not only learn about cultures and whatnot, but it gives you the opportunity to meet and create relationships with people you would otherwise never meet. If I never took this class or participated in COIL I wouldn’t have made these friends or learned as much as I did. I’ve taken more away from this single class and this single experience than I have from anything else I have done in my entire educational career. This experience has given me such a wider perspective on the world and a better understanding of the people who live in it. Maybe it’s fair to say it didn’t give me the understanding, but really the curiosity to learn by going places to talk and ask questions. There’s so much to learn that can’t be found on google, which seems insane, but I think it’s true. I said it yesterday but I’m going say it again (because this is my blog and no one can stop me) I am so grateful for this experience. I have international friends that I can talk to and meet up with one day in the future. Or they can come to America and stay with me. If it wasn’t for COIL I would have never had the opportunity to meet these remarkable people. This semester might be finished but I think the doors and relationships that this experience has opened up to me are going to stay with me for a long, long time. I’m hopeful it will be forever.

Did you think I'd forget my favorite day of the week? Happy Sick Ass Sock Saturday- Japan Edition! #SASS

Did you think I’d forget my favorite day of the week?! Happy Sick Ass Sock Saturday- Japan Edition! #SASS Japanese socks are like mittens for your feet.

Every day the nice lady that cleans our room tucks Hillary into my bed. She's probably such a sweetheart.

Everyday the nice lady that cleans our room tucks Hillary into my bed. She’s probably such a sweetheart.












Stay Weird.


Current face smell- Catastrophe Cosmetic Blueberry


A Self Titled Life- Leaving A Key (Day 3)

Today was by far, hands down, no questions asked, my favorite day of this trip. Point, blank, period. We got to meet with the Kansai University students today and they were so sweet and excited to meet us that I just don’t know how to form a coherent sentence about how happy this entire experience has made me. Wow. I’m so incredibly grateful to be here.


There was an entire Christmas village outside of the floating gardens. This was part of the carousel. Unfortunately, Jimmy Darling was’t there. I found out from the students that while a lot of Japanese people do not celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas, a lot of people are enthusiastic about the decorations that come with the season.

He was in the Christmas village. He's adorable.

He was in the Christmas village. He’s adorable.










We started off the day by going into downtown Osaka to visit the floating gardens (spoiler alert- it actually is not even a garden.) It’s a giant building that you ride up in a glass elevator to the 39th floor. When you buy your ticket it comes with a blank silver paper star. It’s actually an ornament and you can write a wish on the back and hang it anywhere in the room. There were easily thousands of stars hanging on the windows, trees, and tables from all over the world. It was like adding your wish to the story of thousands before you. That was a pretty awesome thing.

You get to walk along the floor of the building which opens into a 365 degree open walk with a view of Osaka in its entirety. It was incredible. The view was unbelievable. I really had no idea how enormous Osaka was until I saw it from all the way up there. I’m sure I have a picture or thirty to add but I swear it doesn’t do it justice. Most of the buildings here (at least in Osaka) are modern but also not modern looking. I’m convinced that this city looks like the set of ‘Divergent’. (Again, I don’t have a good enough picture to prove that either.)

This picture just doesn't do justice to the view on the top of the floating gardens. This is just a little section of Osaka.

This picture just doesn’t do justice to the view on the top of the floating gardens. This is just a little section of Osaka.


My silver star in the floating  gardens.

My silver star in the floating gardens.

A little section of the silver stars in the floating gardens.

A little section of the silver stars in the floating gardens.

Amy hanging up the stars with the rest.

Amy hanging up the stars with the rest.

This was the shot while we were coming down the escalator at the floating gardens.

This was the shot while we were coming down the escalator at the floating gardens.



















So after that we made our way to the Osaka Castle, which was stunning. The amount of detail and beauty in the building is honestly breathtaking. We had to hike up to the castle and I was certain I was going to die before I made it to the top. I would have gone out with one of those dramatic lines like “save yourselves” then layed on the pavement with one arm stretched in the air…I watch too many movies.

The Osaka Castle from the walk up to it. The stones and land around the castle is so beautiful. Its also fall here which makes everything look more incredible.

The Osaka Castle from the walk up to it. The stones and land around the castle is so beautiful. It’s also fall here which makes everything look that much more beautiful.

I'm so convinced this city looks like the 'Divergent' set.

I’m so convinced this city looks like the ‘Divergent’ set.

I'm not kidding when I said I took thirty pictures of this castle.

I’m not kidding when I said I took thirty pictures of this castle.


Again, the Osaka castle.













What was really funny is that when we were in the castle there were quite a few grade school  aged students looking around the inside of the castle. Side note- its not really the kind of castle you probably thing of when you think ‘castle’. The inside was totally renovated and it just looked like an ordinary museum. For me it was the outside that I really loved. So anyways, the students all had different color hats on and I was thinking maybe they wear different color hats for different grade levels? Or maybe it has to do with different schools. I have no idea, but its a unique idea to have the different hats. The kids kept staring at us and they were almost mesmerized with how we looked because we look different. If you would wave or smile at them and they would get so excited and giggle. It really was so cute.


A pond outside of the castle. It looked so peaceful.

A pond outside of the castle. It looked so peaceful.

I'm no entirely sure what these are but I thought they were interesting.

I’m no entirely sure what these are but I thought they were interesting.


Some art on the walk to the top of the castle.

The walk towards the castle.

The walk towards the castle.



















NOW the best for last. We visited Kansai University today to meet with the students we’ve been working with for the first time. As we were walking over there, I was so excited to meet them and then when I actually did it blew all of my expectations to smithereens. All of the students were so friendly and excited to talk to us, I felt like a celebrity. They took us on a quick tour of the university and one of the girls interrupted the tour to ask if she could take a selfie with me. I felt like a big deal! Afterwards we got to hang out with the students for hours and have dinner with them. I’ve learned so much about Japan, the culture, the city, and everything else from them all. Things I couldn’t learn from any book. They told us where to go for all you can eat ramen and how to say things in Japanese (including my name). I actually took a picture of it because I would have never remembered how to say everything.

With some of the Kansai students today at the university!

With some of the Kansai students today at the university!

In the box is three different ways to say 'Ally'

In the box are three different ways to say ‘Ally’

Some of the words I learned tonight in Japanese.

Some of the words I learned tonight in Japanese.

They're so sweet i just can't even.

They’re so sweet I just can’t even.





















Most of the students were from Japan, but a few of them were exchange students from Australia and England. I loved talking with them all. Every last second. I came home tonight with 5 Facebook friend requests. Honestly, I loved today so much and I have international friends now. *flips hair* yeah, it’s no big deal.

Found this bridge type thing over shallow water. It was really neat to walk over.

Found this bridge type thing over shallow water. It was really neat to walk over.


Japan has wild cats just walking around. Moral of the story I am moving to Japan.

I'm telling you. Divergent.

I’m telling you. ‘Divergent’.

Tomorrow is the symposium and I am excited to see all of these students again. We’re all set to go for tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to the presentation. Plus, we have plans with our new friends tomorrow night, so whats not to be excited about? I’m really so thankful to be on this trip and just don’t think I can say it enough no matter how many times I say it. Also, Osaka looks like Divergent. I can’t stop saying that either.

Stay Weird.


Current jam- “Little Machines’ by Lights

A Self Titled Life- Sleepless People (Day 2)

Made it to day 2! Its 4:36 pm in Osaka, Japan on December 4. It’s very strange to be around 11 hours ahead of everyone back home. We also kind of lost a day when we got here because of the time difference. On the bright side it’s almost 5 am in New York but I feel like I am pretty adjusted to the time difference. Going home on the other hand and readjusting, is going to be a killer..

These signs are imprinted all over the streets in Tokyo. It seems like a really clean, eco-friendly city to be in. Theres a lot of people but not like New York City.

These signs are imprinted all over the streets in Tokyo. It seems like a really clean, eco-friendly city to be in. Theres a lot of people but not like New York City.

After walking around last night and walking back to the train station this morning, I realized everything is so clean here. The streets, trains, subways, stations, and the people too! Everyone also seems to dress in nicer clothing. Maybe that’s because it’s a Thursday morning and people are on their way to work but nevertheless, there have been quite a few dress shoes and heels. Oh and a lot of black clothing. I should fit in here.


Some of the signs in the Tokyo train station. There actually is a lot more written and spoken English than I thought there would be!


I swear these were pulled right off the set of ‘The Giver’



On the train into Tokyo last night and getting on the train this morning, first of all, there always seems to be a million people. Second, the doors open and this little Mario Cart or Wii game sounding jingle  plays in the stations. Everyone is frantically running in different directions trying to get on the train and off all at the same time and there is the adventure jingle playing in the background. If it had words they would say “on your mark. Get set. GET ON THE TRAIN MORE IT OR LOST IT” I almost want to give the people I’m with a high-five for leveling up in the game of getting on the train and not being left behind. It always makes me think of ‘Home Alone’ when they’re booking it though the airport to make their flight. Also, I sat next to this man on the train  into Osaka this morning and it turns out he lived in Minneapolis for 7 years! I’m not from Minneapolis nor have I ever been there, but I thought it was pretty exciting.


just some casual tubes of cream cheese


I thought this was so interesting. Its cream of pumpkin soup. I didn’t know this even existed.











Besides being impeccably clean, it seems like a lot of the advertising is in the stations and on the subways. Tokyo seems like an average city (comparable to New York City..sort of) but there is so little advertising on the streets and on the buildings. It’s all inside the stations which is kind of interesting. There’s also vending machines on the streets. Just free-standing machines every few feet filled with teas, waters, and other kinds of things.


I’m surprised at the number of Christmas trees and decorations I’ve seen. There was a giant tree outside of the Tokyo train station. Not as big as the Rockefeller tree, but what is?

We’re on the train heading to Osaka (where the students and the symposium is) and the homes that are all along the side of the mountains have an islandy vibe to them. There were also quite a few baseball fields along the way.




Visited a grocery store in Osaka. Melon is like an edible treasure. These cantaloupe were around $30 and there were ones with gold bows in individual boxes for $50.


Rice crispy treat tubes.


There was no way I would have passed up the opportunity to take a picture of the packaged octopus. I wish I could come up with some kind of octopus pun for this caption.


There is dried squid in the grocery store! That’s really cool.











We visited this rad little grocery store (I wish I could remember the name) but they had some of the coolest things in there. It’s so crazy to think how different things are for people around the world. Like in New York how going to the store and picking up a watermelon is no big deal but how for people in Japan, watermelon is a rarity. Or how there is such an abundance and variety of fresh sea food to buy here, as compared to other places that only have a limited packaged variety to choose from. It’s not really ‘how the other half lives’ its more along the lines of you don’t truly understand something until you experience it for yourself. I feel like it’s not until you see somewhere new that you find a new appreciation for it. Maybe it took for me to fly halfway across the world to realize that people aren’t really all that different. Sure we have different cultures, customs, and foods in our grocery stores, but we’re really not all that different as people. As soon as you stop looking at all the little things that make people different, you can finally see that we’re not. There’s a bigger picture out there and its much bigger that I could have ever imagine.


Stay Weird.


Current read- ‘The Bell Jar‘ by Sylvia Plath

A Self Titled Life- Head In The Clouds (Day 1)

Dec. 2, 2014

We’ve reached the 8 hour mark. Well 8 hours and 9 minutes to be exact. There is this nifty little clock that counts down to the time of arrival. Whoever thought of this deserves a round of applause. It seems like a lifetime ago that the we were on the runway in Detroit and the countdown was at 12 hours and 2 minutes until we arrived.

I’ve watched two movies so far ( actually the first was a documentary but details, details) The problem is that I cried through both films. Okay, maybe that’s dramatic. It wasn’t like hiccupy constant whale cries, more like little sniffles and eye rivers here and there. The poor man next to me must think I’m a loony tune which honestly matches the past two weeks I’ve had trying to prepare for this trip. Moral of the story, I guess I can’t argue with the guy. He has some gripping examples to support his claim.

You know, it’s not even fair to say these past few weeks have had me acting like a lunatic. It wasn’t like I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, it was more like I was a chicken born without a head  in the first place. Mass chaos. I can’t argue that it was like the calm before the storm, because it’s actually clear weather. I didn’t think these few weeks would end, let alone I would ever be sitting on a plane on my way to explore and present at a symposium in Japan. That’s bananas.

Maybe I should introduce myself- hi. I’m Ally and I’m using a giraffe neck pillow right now. If you’re going to be reading these blog posts you may want to know more than my name and my wildlife neck support. So here’s 7 facts that have nothing to do with anything at all:

1. my favorite season is winter

2. breakfast for dinner is a top-notch meal

3. my favorite holiday is Halloween

4. cats are fantastic

5. my favorite movie is The Breakfast Club

6. my initials are ACDC

7. 7 is my favorite number

To get into some serious business, the reason I am on my way to Japan is to present at an international COIL symposium that is held in Osaka, Japan. This semester I took Intercultural Communication (COM 422) and we participated in COIL which is Collaborative Online International Learning. We were able to Skype and work on a project with a class of students that attend Kansai University in Japan. At the beginning of the class if someone had told me I would be boarding a plane and meeting the students, let alone presenting at an international symposium I wouldn’t have believe it. I don’t believe that I’m sitting on this plane right now. It’s the real deal. Who would have guessed it?


I think that’s all i have to say for now. Since I won’t be posting this until later tonight or whenever I have wi-fi, I might add some more later. HEY! 7 hours and 53 minutes until the time of arrival!! WE’VE MADE IT TO 7! (which is still my favorite number if you didn’t remember.)

Stay Weird.


Current Jam- ‘White Noise’ by Pvris. The entire album. Highly recommend.

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Sunset over Sydney

I finally made it to Sydney for a five-day vacation with my friend Erica. We left Thursday afternoon for the airport, getting dropped off by my mate Mitch. It was a straight shot to Sydney once we boarded the plane. It was a much-needed vacation since I had two tests earlier in the week, one in GIS and one in Rainforest Ecosystems. We arrived in the famous city after a two and a half hour plane ride from Townsville. And the cool thing about our plane ride was that the entire Cowboys team was on it! They play AFL rugby for Queensland and were going to Sydney for a game.


3 Sisters at the Blue Mountains

Anyway, the hostel we booked had a free airport pickup service so we hopped on the bus to get there. Westend Nomads hostel is located right in the middle of the city with only a 30 minute walk to the bay and the Opera House. We got checked in and headed up to our room where we met our four other roommates. The best thing about staying in hostels is that you meet people from all around the world. The people in our room were from China, Canada, the U.K. and France. Each was here for a different reason for a different amount of time.

The first night consisted of walking across the street to the grocery store to pick up a few things for the week so we wouldn’t have to spend much on food. Coles (which I thought was like our Khol’s) was the store we went to and it was packed, as most places in cities are. We got the basics of PB&J, milk, cereal, juice and chips. We also snagged some fun cookies that were shaped like platypuses, roos, and wombats. The hostel also provided free pasta and rice so we took advantage of that too.


Theater in the Opera House



On Friday, we went for a walk to the bay and took a tour of the Opera House! It was absolutely beautiful and we even got to go inside to see the theaters. I also found out that the outside of the building is covered in over 1 million hand-lain white tiles, 1,056,006 to be exact. Our tour guide also mentioned that that is an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. Also, the Opera House holds events other than operas including plays, ballets, orchestras and the stranger being boxing and even sumo wrestling. It was a wonderful tour that should be experienced if you ever get the chance. The same day we went to the aquarium, wildlife zoo, where I saw a Tasmanian Devil for the first time, and the Sydney Tower Eye which is a very tall tower in the middle of the city that allows for 360 degree views, sort of like the Empire State Building. We went at sunset making everything more beautiful. After that we went back to Nomads to eat and pass out. But, on the way back, everyone was out and about seeing as it was a Friday. We stopped at a little park where there was live music and people playing ping-pong in the middle of it. Tons of others were sitting and walking around enjoying the night.


Tasmanian Devil 🙂

Saturday morning around 7AM we walked to a pickup point for the tour we booked to the Blue Mountains. Sadly, before we left we discovered that our food had been stolen from the communal fridge, forcing us to buy more at the grocery store. I guess that happens at backpackers hostels. We didn’t let that ruin our day though. The bus we took drove to an aboriginal center to start off the tour. Here we watched a traditional dance and learned about different cultures in Australia. Most aboriginals don’t consider there to be 6 states and 2 territories but over 300 states that are based on cultural groups. The show was beautiful and from here we could also see the Three Sisters rock formations. Later we went to Scenic World that had a couple of rides through the mountains. Erica and I walked through the rainforest for a bit too before returning to the bus to head to a little nearby town for lunch. The Featherdale Wildlife Park was the last stop for the day. This is where I saw an Echidna for the first time and well aren’t they just the cutest! There was a Tasmanian Devil feeding, and a buzzard that ate his dinner right in front of me. There were giant pelicans, roos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, dingoes and several kinds of birds. All were either rescued or born in the sanctuary. On the way back to Sydney, our driver drove through the Olympic Park that was used in the 2000 Summer Olympics.


Aboriginal Show


Sydney Running Festival

Sunday we went back towards the Opera House to look at shops and to eat lunch. There was a running festival going on that morning so we cheered on those running through the city. We stopped at an aboriginal art gallery where I got my mother her didgeridoo and shipped it home so I wouldn’t have to deal with taking it on the plane. We ate lunch in front of the Opera House and took in the views of harbor views. We did a bit more shopping and walking around before getting on a ship (it literally looked like a pirate ship) for a harbor cruise. I booked a mast climb on the ship so once in the harbor I was hooked in and got to climb up! It was a little nerve-racking at first but I made it to the top. It was heaps of fun and I could see everything from up there. After the climb, it was open bar and they provided nibblies too. The ship sailed under the Harbor Bridge as well making for a wonderful boat ride. I met a couple from Long Island on the ship who were there on a business trip (they noticed my Oswego State sweatshirt) and one of the deckhands was from Colorado. It really is a small world!


Mast climb on the Soren Larsen!


Bondi Beach art

Our last day in Sydney consisted of taking the ferry across the harbor to go to a marine sanctuary. Most of the sanctuary consisted of tunnels to walk through so that the animals surrounded you. I have only been to a couple of places like that before so it was pretty cool. After that, we headed back towards the hostel to catch a bus to Bondi Beach. The beach was full of people sun bathing and swimming but Erica and I were in pants and sweatshirts because we were so used to the heat of Townsville. The waves were massive here so there were quite a few surfers out. There was a wall with different artist’s paintings on them too. Each was completely different from the one before it but all were beautiful. So we ended the trip with a (cold) beach day and collected shells at Bondi too.

Our plane left Tuesday morning at 6AM so we were exhausted when we arrived back in Townsville, but were warm once again! Sydney was such a wonderful and fun city and is definitely a must if you come to Australia!


Sydney Opera House

Australia in T minus 7 Days

Hi everybody! My name is Kelsey Thomas and I am a senior zoology major with a photography minor and I am studying abroad at James Cook University in Townsville, QLD, Australia this upcoming fall 2014 semester. It has already been a stressful process of filling out an endless supply of paperwork however this last week is going to be crazy! There are still so many things I need to do, such as going to doctors and dentists appointments, verifying my visa (which was not completed correctly the first time), verifying my flight, printing out all necessary papers, visiting family and friends, oh, and packing too. I am just praying that I remember to do everything. Determining what is necessary to bring with me will probably be the toughest part of this whole process! What to pack and what not to pack will be difficult but starting a week early will hopefully give me enough time to look through everything a few times over.

I have to say, I am very nervous about the trip. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely excited as well, but I will be sad about leaving everything behind for the next four months. Learning a new culture and finding my way to classes is going to be stressful at first but I know it will all be worth it in the end. It does make it a little easier with Australia speaking English (kudos to those studying abroad in countries that don’t). I really can’t wait for all of the new memories and friends that will be made in this country. The school looks absolutely beautiful and the town itself looks nice as well, not to mention that it’s located right on the Great Barrier Reef.

Heads up to all of the Biology and Zoology students out there; I picked this school because the man I talked to in the international office said that Australia was the best option for our major. It is so different from what we have here and they do focus a lot on science majors. If you’re looking to study abroad, check out JCU’s website!


James Cook University

Townsville, QLD www.nextstepaustralia.com

Departure is in one week and now I am just counting down the days. I will be sure to keep you all updated on this wonderful adventure!


Thanksgiving and broken car.

ok I’ve got a good thanksgiving story for you all :-p

Welll… let me just start by saying that my car is a 1986 Saab. That should explain a lot.

Anyways, towards the last few days that I was in Oswego, my car started getting louder and louder when one day, i turned the key, and this roar came from the engine that was completely new to me. I was running late for class, so i was like, “oh well, I sound like a race car for today.. no big deal”. I’m used to things happening to my car, and a loud engine did not seem very out of the ordinary, since my car is old enough to legally drink in any country.

Later that day, I called my dad and he said there was something wrong with the exhaust system most likely, probably the catalytic converter. he said, “just make it home to Buffalo, and ill fix it when you get here”.

When I got home and my dad had a chance to look at my car, he informed me that the entire catalytic converter was now missing from my car’s ensemble. Of course I had no idea when or where I lost it, which probably angered whoever was driving behind me at that point.. :-/ He told me that he would have to order a new one, and that wouldn’t come until around christmas time. So he decided he would just attach the two pipes underneath my car so that it wouldn’t be loud anymore, and I could go back to school and deal with it until christmas… sounded like a plan to me.

After a very filling and refreshing thanksgiving break, I began the journey back to Oswego. Everything was going great and I was on the Ontario parkway around Brockport. Low and behold my ever-so-exciting car decided to yell at me again, fist softly whining, and eventually crescendoed into the roar much like the one before. Except this time, when I took my foot off the gas I heard clunking and clanking underneath my car, which I concluded to be the pipes dragging on the pavement. To say the least, i was extremely frustrated and upset; mostly at my father, who claims the name “mister fix-it” and thinks he can repair anything. Lucky for me, I have an aunt in Rochester with an extra car who was gracious enough to let me switch it with the race car. At the moment, my poor little Saab is sitting in my aunts driveway, awaiting repair and my return for christmas break.

Of course also at this time it was beginning to snow/slush, and I was trying to make it back for practice at school at 5:00. to make a long story…still too long, i got stuck behind a bunch of grandmas and got to practice 30 minutes late.

So, whats the moral of this story? I’m not really sure except that you should probably give yourself lots of time to get back to Oswego in the winter time, and you probably shouldn’t own a 1986 Saab. Although I love my little race car, it throws a lot of curve balls at me, and every trip is an adventure. other than that, I had a great Thanksgiving! My exchange student from high school from Germany goes to school in the US now, so she flew in for a visit which was really nice, and naturally we both ate way more food than our swim coaches would like to know. :-p

Hope everyones Thanksgiving was as exciting as mine, I’ll get back to you soon!

<3 Leah