Archive for the ‘study abroad’ Tag

A Study Abroad Winding Down

Classic ICE night

Classic ICE night

Random Observation/Comment #206: There’s always a level of sadness during transitions.  I’ve found that I’m always looking for excitement, yet I deep down yearn for a conservative state of equilibrium.  No matter how much I reject these routines, I desperately cling on to creating a new familiarity.  When you’ve grown accustom to the freedom and the friendly faces, it’s hard to let go and move to that next phase.  It’s hard to say good-bye – and not to Germany or the lifestyle of vacations, but of newly found friends.  I could come back to Hamburg, but it would definitely not be the same without the people that has made this trip incredible.

As I mentioned in the beginning of my writings about Hamburg, I had created an interesting group of friends from different countries throughout this 5 month study.  Their openness to mingle allowed the single Chinese American loner to tag along and par-take on their adventures.  From birthday parties to ICE nights, we lived the life that all college students would envy.  We made excuses for our stupidity and, honestly, would do it again in a heartbeat.  I think I speak for all of us when I say that this trip has been an eye-opener in so many ways.

I’ve already written about the Hungarian group [] that left just last month, and I already miss them so much (especially Sushi).  With the exception of the people who lived in my apartment (who I posted last entry), I present my small little tribute.

The (North and South) American group includes Matt, Matt, Dave, Francisco, Fernando (it’s okay that he’s from Brazil and dresses better than all of us), and Sarah (it’s okay that she’s from Canadia).  Their weekly Tuesday ICE nights basically represent the essence of their trip.  Any questionable activity is usually validated by the fact that we’re studying abroad and we should do this because we can.  It reminds me of that speech about how we’re privileged with the opportunity to party, so we must do so to fulfill those lost dreams of the less fortunate.  If we didn’t take advantage of our situations, we might as well stay satisfied as minimalists.  Needless to say, this group knows how to have a good time and the fluency of broken English slang really reminds me of home.  It’s a nice comparison because now home will always remind me of Reeperbahn.

The Spanish group includes Marta, Elena, and Diana, all of whom have been absolutely wonderful and a pleasure to party with.  It’s interesting how their Spanish fiesta spirit perspiring on the dance floor is actually palpable in the air.  I can tell they’re exhausted by the end of the night, but they could easily go until morning.  It’s this type of enthusiasm for just dancing instead of heavily drinking (although that usually follows) that keeps a separate charm.

The Finnish group includes Sakari, Maria, Miia, Leena, and Mai.  I’ve grown accustomed to their absolutely mind-boggling language – I just take it as a nice gurgling sound, and I just smile whenever they look over.  It seems the ladies prefer mixed drinks and hockey more than anything else in the world.  In fact, watching a hockey game with some redbull vodkas would be a recipe for a wonderful summer afternoon or third date.  I’ve mostly met up with this group in more chill atmospheres, like 2PM beers at the park or 4PM beers during a picnic.  A pre-game bottle of vodka mixed within a coca cola bottle starts the night, and a group of fun-loving Fins with a smile on their faces, finishes it.

The Misc group is placed within this section for the more random conversations that are not necessarily related to any group party scenes.  Marchin and Phillip are interesting engineers with a similar passion towards improving the world.  Together, we form a normal engineering group with the normal engineering view of parties and basically all activities.  We’re always thinking about something else in our multiprocessor brains, but we follow the flow of partying to observe and occasionally intervene in some social experiments.   I think we find it awkward, yet enjoyable, but I’m sure we would rather be doing some calculations and estimation applications to everyday things.  It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who calculates the total price of shopping lists or random traveling distances and costs on the spot (and then get a sense of satisfaction when the estimations are close).  Steph is a wonderful photographer with the Canadian friendliness underneath a fierce tiger (I’m just assuming from all of the pictures I take of her).  She’s doing her best to explore Europe and share it in whichever artistic way she can.  I give her kudos for picture taking and sepia tone.  Scott is allergic to fruit, which I still can’t get over.  Cecilia – oh Cecilia – by weekday you’re a dedicated student and friendly smile, but by weekend you’re rocking out in some random country in Europe to pure metal/core.  It’s always the innocent ones that transform into the crowd-surfing, stage diving (if you’re lucky), air punching, two-stepping wild animals in the pit or swaying at the front.  I’ve missed those days, and we definitely need to see a show together sometime.

Socializing with these interesting characters from every corner (of the flat map taped to my apartment wall) helped us each peer into our own futures.  There’s so much more freedom in this world than we were fooled with the high school 9 periods a day and college scheduled classes.  Yes, we have to adjust to other people’s times to be organized, but your free time is where you grow.

In essence, what we decide to do with this free time defines who we are.  Without the willingness to connect with people, explore our interests, and constantly question our environment, we are just breathing, eating, and shitting with a set routine.  I’ve learned what it means to live here in Hamburg, and I know that everything I do from here forward is to support my new goals.

I want more than anything to return to Europe and visit all the travel acquaintances I’ve met on this journey.  In almost every country in Europe, we’ve grown contacts for at least a cup of coffee and a day of exchanging stories.  For these offers, I am the most grateful.  I hope all of you know that you have the same luxury for New York.  Please feel free to ask.

~See Lemons Miss Being Abroad

Why Study Abroad?

So close, yet so far.

So close, yet so far.

Random Observation/Comment #196: This blog has been around for a little over a year and I am glad I have kept it consistently updated about random things for this long. It’s has been my greatest success in side projects and has led to so many more different ideas that keep myself enjoying what life has to offer.  It took some time, but I stepped back from a brainwashed cookie-cut path that everybody “should” take.  It doesn’t mean that I could have read some book or even my own thoughts about this and skipped the whole phase – rather I feel that living this brainwashed life and then suddenly traveling abroad and seeing it unravel, is part of this enlightenment experience.  Without those torturous all-nighters and unforgiving professors, I would not have developed the work ethic and curiosity/thirst for knowledge.  There are so many topics that I like reflecting on, but the past year has been looking for that career.  It’s a difficult choice and all of my research has been recorded to help me make that decision.  Studying abroad and testing each dimension of preferences really provided the perfect “experimental setting.”

I was asked to write something about studying abroad and I realized that everything in my past year of writing has been in some way connected to finding myself in another country.  I guess I could relate it specifically to my project involving artificial intelligence research and applications, but I think my intentions for this traveling experience is clear: I am finally on a vacation – away from the stress of deadlines for 8 professors, each with a tight lock on my schedule and subsequent social life (or lack thereof).  I can easily list the advantages of utilizing the resources for the robotics applications in Osaka University and Hamburg University, but I think this is quite obvious.  Most people are given a choice of countries they would prefer to study abroad in.  Everyone has that one that they’ve always wanted to go to.  Mine was always Japan because of the technology advancements and Otaku lifestyle.  Because of this intrinsic interest in this country, I made my dream come true and worked with some of the most brilliant students and professors I have ever read about (let alone, meet).  Their accomplishments made me salivate and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  After studying abroad in Japan, I was not finished with exploring the possibilities abroad.  I found the contrast in work ethic and hierarchical political structures between Japanese and American methods to be so significant that I was curious how other countries compared.

From my social psychology class, I learned about a few of the major differences between cultures, and I found Germany to be one of the most interesting.  Their attention to detail and punctuality made me wonder how a research position would compare.  My conclusions will be more concrete after I finish my time here, but it has definitely been different.  There is a level of freedom, respect, and trust between the teams and it’s a wonderful mixture that allows for achieved deliverables and actual results.  Excuses are ignored and what matters is the product.  The separation between work and social life is very clearly defined and I feel an overall reduced pressure in this environment.  In Japan, I was afraid that my work would disappoint them so I spent weeks trying to achieve some perfection.  Here, I seem to have a good time completing the project, while eventually reaching the same amount forward.

So, that’s what I found to be quite obvious about research and actual work (yes, obvious).  What’s not so obvious is the method of fully utilizing the study abroad experience to broaden your views of the world.  For third year college students, a summer abroad studying experience is never about the material you create in this new environment.  There is no way that a single summer course or 10 weeks of research can change the world.  What’s important to realize is that, although the world has not changed, this experience can change the world you see.  Whether it’s the comparison of lifestyle or different types of people, each person has a different aspect of life that becomes clarified by their abroad experience.  I can’t say which one yours will be, but I’m sure that an open-mind and the willingness to openly socialize with everyone will provide enough fuel to find your answer.

I have never met someone who has been to a study abroad program that said, “Oh, that study abroad program was horrible.  I had a terrible time.”  And even if there was an opinion similar to this, at least they know that being away from home and meeting new people is outside of their comfort zone.  It’s about using this time to learn more about yourself and how you present yourself.  It’s also about making new friends and growing connections.  There’s always someone unusually interesting in a group, and their shy nature requires that ice to be broken before they reveal those opinions that could change your life.  By immersing yourself away from home in a new language and new customs, you increase the chances of meeting someone with a different attitude and perspective towards life.  I think this is the value of learning about other cultures through these first-hand experiences.  (Plus, there are no alcohol restrictions).

~See Lemons Study Abroad

Study abroad is all about Diversity



Our apartment's diversity map (and Ilona's head)

Our apartment's diversity map (and Ilona's head)

Random Observation/Comment #177: Visiting Germany, I would expect to see a large number of Germans; however, the majority of my friends have been from everywhere but Germany.  The major countries I’ve noticed are Finland, Sweden, Turkey, Hungary, Spain, Italy, and the States.  Since I’m living in this international dormitory world, I suspect that I was roomed with fellow foreigners, but I didn’t expect the complete lack of German presence in my nightlife and regular adventures.  I mean, there are a few, but their English is good enough to pass as Americans.  It’s not that I’m complaining, though, because the people I’ve met are wonderful and interesting in their own way – I’m just slightly surprised.


Groups initially form through common backgrounds due to their language comfort.  Interestingly enough, I haven’t met a Chinese student in the entire dorm.  I think they’ve been hiding from me.  Not to worry, though, I tend to drift towards odd crowds when I’m traveling.  Even when there were fellow Americans from Rhode Island or Boston (I think they’re both the same size so it’s valid to group them), I did not feel attracted to follow their crazy ways.  It might be the case because they live on another campus, but instead, I hung out with the Hungarians and the Turkish purely by majority influence.  I was pulled towards the group of abnormally attractive Hungarians girls, but mostly drifting based on the events I considered more fun. 

Although there is a small group separation, we all seem to mingle fairly well.  The nomadic ones from each group would tag along with different people based on personality similarities and differences.  At least for me, I rather spend time with people that I could not meet in NYC.  Yes, I know I could meet people from a range of diversities, but their attitudes would unfortunately still maintain that American twist (which is quite hard to explain).  I’m more interested in having the option of drifting between groups so I can just be myself and not necessarily push for conversation.  There is an inexplicable natural flow to this group formation tendency.  We all want to be a part of some type of comfortable group, but at the end of the day, we’re all hoping our connections are broad enough to be invited to events.

I celebrate this diversity, and I hope others appreciate the differences in culture and customs.   The interesting part is that we all come from the same generation, so there exists an age-based culture that crosses through any political or national boundary.  You can consider it pop-culture directly influenced by mainstream media or Inter-webs.  Either way, we can speak about common topics and relate to the issues that have shaped our personalities.  After all, we’re all human.

The best part is that we’re all in the same situation – we’re studying abroad in a new environment with a mouth-full of independence.  It’s college, but upgraded with foreign languages, unusual customs, and translated alcohol labels.  For me, it’s a taste of that “college life” that teased me while I over-credited and melted my brain with an overload of information and a lack of sleep.  There just seems to be so much more free time now, and my choices shift from “I must” to “I should” to “I might” to “I’ll do it later.”  As the essence of procrastination explores new boundaries, I am happy to say I’ve enjoyed wasting time with those in a similar situation.

Every single person I have met in Germany and on this trip have been fascinating in their way.  It’s most probably my weird way of thinking that makes them interesting even if there qualities aren’t as noticeable (to themselves or anyone else).  It’s this more optimistic view on people’s personalities that makes meeting people a little more cheerful.  Well, whatever method that works to keep me a little social will be exploited.  Am I having fun yet?

~See Lemons Study Abroad

Yay, pictures of shoes!

Yay, pictures of shoes!