Two Years and Counting

Two Years and Counting

It’s crazy for me to think that I’m coming up on one year since I studied abroad in Austria, and almost two years since I went to Japan. I looked forward to going abroad so much that it’s hard to believe I’ve finished all of my undergraduate time abroad.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m done traveling–the idea of going to grad school abroad, or even just moving abroad once I graduate and finding a job in a different country, is definitely at the top of my list of possibilities! But in honor of these anniversaries coming up, I decided to write a post about the everyday things I miss the most about studying abroad.

Speaking Another Language

Since I returned to the US I’ve continued taking language classes in both Japanese and German, but it really can’t compare to the exposure of using that language every single day, over and over again. For example, in my everyday life I have two opportunities to speak Japanese: when I talk to myself and just decide to do it in Japanese (which, yes, I do a lot, and probably makes people who pass by me think I’m crazy), and when I ask my phone what the weather is going to be, since I still have it set to Japanese.

But when I was in abroad, I was constantly thinking in and using my German and Japanese for everything from mundane tasks, like paying at a convenience store, to much more intimidating ones like filling out my Austrian residency forms and giving directions to taxi drivers. Even if I wasn’t always thinking 100% in that other language–I just don’t have enough vocabulary to do that, especially in Japanese–constantly being ready to recall vocab and accents to speak the other language was what helped my language skills grow so much, and was also a ton of fun for me. But in the US, I don’t have to do that because everything is in English.

Milk CoffeeI remember very clearly how I would prepare Japanese sentences and vocab in my head in anticipation of whatever I was about to ask someone. Near the end of my trip, I was drinking an iced coffee and thinking that I would have to do that more often in the US; I’m more of a tea drinker overall, but in Japan there were vending machines on every corner that sold delicious milk coffee for about $1.50, and I really liked it. (This may have been partially due to the cute cans that it often came in.) I thought to myself, “I could go to Starbucks on campus and order coffee, but I’d have to think of how to ask for them to also add milk to it. Hmm, that could be hard, how would I say that…? Wait. English. I’ll be speaking ENGLISH. I can literally say, ‘Can I please have some milk in it too.’ Wow. Imagine that.”

The Food

Red Bean Ice CreamI’m pretty sure every student who studies abroad will agree with this one. Once you come back, it’s great to have your “normal” food again, but pretty soon you really just want to eat the things you took for granted while you were abroad. I even miss the foods that I didn’t initially like, but now seem so iconic of the food I could find while abroad. I particularly miss the roasted chestnuts I could buy from street vendors all over Graz and the cheap convenience store onigiri in Kyoto. So convenient. So delicious. So definitely not available over here. Sigh.

The Architecture

Dublin CostaTake a moment to picture a regular chain coffee shop in your head. If it’s anything like my local venues, it’s in a generic strip-mall style building, probably with a standard taupe-colored exterior. Not so in Dublin! Whether it was to preserve the historic center of the city or just that space is such a premium downtown, the local not-Starbucks was housed in a gorgeous copper-domed building complete with stone coats-of-arms and Greek-style pillars.

Walking to the university campus in Graz every day, I would often take detours down side streets just to admire the beautiful architecture all around me. It was surreal to realize that the centuries-old buildings with such incredible exteriors held regular businesses like H&M, grocery stores, and gyms.


I’m sad that my undergraduate study abroad programs are over, but I know that I’ll be living abroad again in the near future. I love experiencing so many aspects of other cultures, not just the ones listed above, and I can’t wait to see what new experiences I’ll have in the future!

If you’ve been abroad, what are the everyday things that you miss now that you’re back?


Global Engagement Day: Fulbright

Global Engagement Day: Fulbright

The Fulbright Scholarship is one of those amazing opportunities that I read about before college and thought, “Wow, wouldn’t that be an amazing opportunity? But I have no idea how to apply for something that prestigious!” I am so thankful that being a GEF means I have so much support in my application process, because Fulbright would be my #1 choice after I finish my undergraduate degrees.

This year’s Global Engagement Day included a session on Fulbright and the Peace Corps. While I don’t think the Peace Corps would be the best fit for me, I was glad to attend the information session on Fulbright. Hearing from someone who received a Fulbright Scholarship themselves was both helpful and encouraging, since it made the possibility seem all the more attainable.

My current plan is to apply for a graduate-study Fulbright in Germany, which is one of the leading countries in both physics and the European Space Agency. One of the career goals I have considered is to work for ESA someday, so getting a head start by studying in Germany would be a great opportunity. And even though a lot of science graduate programs and research in Europe are actually conducted in English, I would be able to speak German in my everyday life.

I’m really excited to work on my Fulbright application in the coming months, and hopefully to make it through the application rounds!

OU German Club Spring 2018

OU German Club Spring 2018

Once again, this semester my involvement in the OU German Club was very low. Unfortunately, I had a class that met every week at the same time as Stammtisch, and my physics courses took up so much of my time that I wasn’t able to attend as many extra events as I wanted to.  But luckily for those of us with conflicting (and insane!) schedules, the OU German Club has a very active presence on Facebook, and constantly shares various articles and videos relating to European current events and the German language.

One of my favorites this semester was an article from Der Spiegel, which in February reported our very own OU Physics & Astronomy department’s breakthrough discovery of the first confirmed exoplanets outside of the Milky Way (you can read the article here). I actually hadn’t heard of this discovery yet, so my first time reading about this great accomplishment was actually from a German article. What a great way to continue connecting my majors!

I am very hopeful that next semester I will be able to participate more in Stammtisch, but in the meantime, I am glad that our OU German Club provides opportunities to stay involved throughout the semester.

Cruising is Not a Crime

Cruising is Not a Crime

I must confess: this spring break, I… went on a cruise.

Yup. A cruise. A giant floating hotel lumbering through the Caribbean while its passengers sunbathed and drank fruity drinks with little umbrellas.

Was this the sort of intercultural experience that I have praised so much in my previous blog posts? Did I throw myself into a different culture and come out of the trip speaking a new foreign language? No, of course not. But that doesn’t mean that going on a cruise is an inherently bad choice of travel.

The great thing about cruises is that they are suited to wide range of people. Anyone traveling with a lot of small children, or with someone who is has a disability, will find that a cruise ship is a very accessible and safe environment. It can also be far less intimidating to people that don’t have a lot of experience traveling, since they know that the cruise itself takes care of logistical details. Because of that, people that aren’t able to fully immerse themselves in a traditional vacation are still able to visit foreign countries with cruises.

Of course, not everyone that goes on a cruise falls into this category. My family travels a lot, and we are all very willing and able to jump right into a different country for a more immersive experience. But for a small vacation like spring break, a cruise was a great option for us.

I will always advocate for people to have immersive experiences in foreign countries, but the reality is that many people, especially in America, are unwilling to do that. Our country is so huge physically that leaving it can seem monumentally difficult and intimidating. In that case, any experience that gets people out into the world can only be a positive. The exposure that people have to other cultures, even as diluted as it is from a cruise vacation, is still better than never connecting to anyone beyond our borders at all.


2018 Puterbaugh Festival

2018 Puterbaugh Festival

Es war eine von die Höhepunkte mein Semesters, Jenny Erpenbeck bei dem ersten Tag dem Puterbaugh Event zu treffen.  Ich habe Aller Tage Abend letztes Semester für German Culture and Thought mit Dr. Lemon gelesen, und ich habe das Buch sehr interessant und gut geschrieben gefunden.  Obwohl ich habe es auf Englisch gelesen, es war für mich wirklich aufschlussreich zu hören, wie die Autorin selbst eine Passage auf Deutsch gelesen wurde.  Frau Erpenbeck hat auch meine Kopie Aller Tage Abend signiert, was ich aufregend gefunden habe.  Es war auch sehr interessant zu sehen, wie viele Leute zu diesem Event gekommen haben; normalerweise erwarte ich weniger Anwesende an solche Events, aber es freut mich sehr zu sehen, wie viele Leue in Norman deutsches Literatur lesen wollen.  In die Zukunft hoffe ich noch ein Buch von Frau Erpenbeck zu lesen.

Sie können Aller Tafe Abend (The End of Days auf English) hier finden:

Iceland’s Christmas Monsters

Iceland's Christmas Monsters

Most people have heard of Santa’s more terrifying European counterparts, like the Austrian Krampus or the French Père Fouettard, but did you know that Iceland has its own cast of winter monsters?

Modern Iceland is one of the few European countries whose residents still believe (to some extent) in the existence of elves and fairies, known as the Huldufólk. (I heard a great explanation for the continued belief while traveling in Ireland, where certain trees are still considered “fairy trees” that should never be touched: the fairies might not be real, but my grandfather and his grandfather and his grandfather never touched that tree stump, so why risk it?)  And wouldn’t life feel more magical and mysterious if we all believed that there were still creatures out there that we didn’t know much about?

In Iceland, this continued belief even goes so far as to alter building projects and road work, since the Huldufólk don’t like people to encroach on their land.  But their presence in modern Icelandic culture is one of the things that makes this isolated country so unique and beautiful.

In particular, several of these beings relate to the Christmas season, so what better time to learn about them?

GrýlaGrýla is a giantess from the Prose Edda, the 13th-century compilation of Icelandic mythology and legends written by Snorri Sturluson and one of our main surviving sources of Old Norse.  Over time, Grýla became associated with the Christmas season, when she finds misbehaving children and turns them into stew.  She is also the mother of the 13 Jólasveinarnir, or Yule Lads.

The Jólasveinarnir are usually depicted as more innocent mischief-makers, Actors portraying the Yule Ladsalthough in some early legends they kidnapped children just like their mother.  Today, though, children leave out an empty shoe for the 13 days before Christmas; if they had been well-behaved, they would receive a small present or candy from one troll each night.

Grýla also owns  Jólakötturinn, or the Yule Cat, a huge black cat that also likes to eat people.  One Icelandic tradition is that anyone who finishes all of their work for the year receives a new piece of clothing to wear on Christmas; the lazy people who didn’t finish in time and had to wear their old clothes would then be eaten by Jólakötturinn.  A 1987 song based on Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem tells the legend of Jólakötturinn (see the video below).

Iceland’s rich tradition of folklore includes many other fascinating characters.  I’d love to learn more about other Christmas legends; can any of them compete with Grýla gruesome family?

Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan

Given the relatively low number of Christians and European immigrants in Japan, it may be surprising that the country has its own thriving Christmas traditions.  Although Christmas doesn’t have the same religious connotation as it does in other countries, it is quite a popular holiday in modern Japan.

Traditionally Styled NengajoChristmas falls right in between several other national holidays in Japan, namely the current emperor’s birthday (天皇誕生日, Tennō tanjōbi) on December 23 and New Year’s (正月, Shōgatsu), which spans December 31-January 4 and is arguably the most important holiday of the year.  The end of the year in Japan traditionally involves gift exchanges and time with family, as well as a letter called a nengajō (年賀状) similar to a family Christmas card in the US.  Therefore, it was very easy to incorporate some Christmas themes into the traditional Japanese end-of-year celebrations.

Roppongi Christmas Lights: staples of the season like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and holiday lights are popular in Japan.  However, Christmas Eve receives far more attention in Japan: it’s a romantic holiday like Valentine’s Day in America, where couples spend time together, stroll through the decorated public light displays, and have dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Japanese Christmas CakeChristmas Day in Japan famously involves Kentucky Fried Chicken, thanks to a 1974 marketing campaign advertising “Kentucky for Christmas!”  Also popular is Christmas Cake, a strawberry sponge cake known around the world because of its inclusion on the Apple emoji keyboard 🍰.

Overall, Christmas in Japan is one aspect of the festive end-of-year season rather than the major holiday celebrated abroad.  Nevertheless, Japan has a thriving and unique set of holiday traditions not too different from what we see in the US and Europe.


SPS/German Club Crossover

SPS/German Club Crossover

As with the past two years, I have remained a member of the OU German club.  I really like its style of casual meetings where students can practice their conversation skills, but as I’ve gotten more and more experienced with German, I’ve struggled to find partners at these events who can carry on a full conversation with me.  And unfortunately, my busy schedule doesn’t always allow me to attend the Stammtisch events.  That’s why this semester, I was really excited to help organize the second annual Society of Physics Students and German Club crossover event!

There has always been a strong correlation between physics majors and the German department; for those who don’t already start out in both departments, a majority of students seem to choose German to fulfill their foreign language requirement; many then go on to add a minor or second major in German.  It’s always fun to walk into the study rooms in the physics building and hear people practicing their German skills together.

This year, we were lucky enough to coordinate with Dr. Schwettmann, a German professor in the physics department.  He gave us a tour of his research lab and a lecture of fun and simple physics demos, all conducted in German.  Afterwards, a physics student gave a presentation on his recent internship in Germany.

Historically, Germany has always been at the forefront of the physics world.  It’s always really fun for me to combine my two majors, and an event like this helps me find other people who are interested in both languages and physics!  But beware: as Dr. Schwettmann told us, German has some false cognates for common physics terms: German “Impuls” is English momentum, and English impulse is German “Kraftstoss”!

In the future, I hope that these two clubs can continue to host crossover events.

German Opportunities Fair

German Opportunities Fair

Once again, this year’s Germany Week included multiple really helpful and exciting events.  Aside from Trivia Night, the German department also collaborated with experts from across OU to hold the German Opportunities Fair.  Students could get information on studying abroad in Germany, applying for a Fulbright in Germany or Austria, finding an internship through Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), or continuing to graduate studies in German at OU.

As far as I know, none of the other foreign language departments has a similar all-encompassing event where students can explore so many options at once.  And since many professors required students to attend at least one of the Germany Week events, many students came to the Opportunities Fair.

Personally, I enjoyed talking to both professors with expertise in various programs and students who had completed the internships I was considering.

Here is some more information on the various programs discussed at the Opportunities Fair for anyone interested!


DAAD/German Academic Exchange Service: federally-funded grants for study abroad and research abroad programs.  The DAAD RISE program offers STEM summer internships across Germany, where undergraduates assist a graduate student on their research topic.

Fulbright in Germany: funding for a year of graduate study, independent research, or work as an English teacher abroad.  Fulbright programs are offered around the world, although different countries offer slightly different programs.

OU Education Abroad: exchange programs for undergraduates through OU.  German language proficiency depends on which country and program you choose.

OU Master’s Degree in German:

Germany, Making Choices: Trivia Night

Germany, Making Choices: Trivia Night

Just because the OU German department is small doesn’t mean we don’t have fun activities each semester!  This year, OU  hosted Germany Week, a series of events designed to promote the language and department.  One of those was a German-themed trivia night, where teams of 8-10 students worked together to answer five rounds of questions.

One of the reasons why this event was such a success was the variety of topics and difficulties covered over the course of the event.  Although most students were German majors or minors, the questions weren’t about German vocabulary or grammar, making it easy for students of all levels to cooperate.  Some questions related to famous historical figures like Goethe and Beethoven; others covered modern German television and music; a bonus round asked us to name all 16 states on a numbered map of Germany.  In the end, all of the teams had extremely tight scores; my team won by only two points.

Overall, this event was a great example of how a small department can host a really exciting and inclusive game night.  I really enjoyed spending the evening with my German professors and classmates, and coming home with a bar of Ritter Sport chocolate is always great!  In the future, I look forward to attending more German-sponsored events like this one.