千里之行,始於足下 (A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step)


I arrived in Beijing the afternoon of February 13, and was met by stinging smog and smothering crowds, two of Beijing’s most distinctive characteristics. I had three things on my mental to-do list that scrolled through my head on repeat: Find a bathroom. Buy a SIM card. Get a taxi. The first was easy; the second proved impossible, after over an hour of searching; and the third was deceptively easy (I later figured out I had been charged about 8 times what I should have for the cab). But I arrived at my hotel complex by late afternoon, and, after wandering around for quite some time trying to find the correct building, I collapsed into my first bed in China.

My first meal in China.

Find food. Since I hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours, I stepped back out into the gray China dusk, intending to walk towards the main road until I found something to eat. Thankfully, I ran into a little cafe right across the parking lot from my hotel. I sat there a long time, reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child while I ate. It was such a relief to submerge myself in English, my to-do list momentarily empty.

When I started making tomorrow’s to-do list back in my hotel room, though, I lost it. Complete breakdown. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, was completely overcome by loneliness. I was in the largest, most-populated country on earth, and I knew not a soul. I hadn’t seen anyone that looked like me or spoke my language in 24 hours, and everyone I loved was asleep half a world away. By the time my parents called soon after, when they woke up and saw my texts, I was just lying on my bed shuddering and gasping. Their comfort and reminder of God’s protection was just what I needed, and when we hung up I went to sleep for a long time.

Armed with mask, I go.

The next morning, I put off leaving my room for as long as possible. The breakdown of the previous night had pushed me a little further away from denial, but inside the room I could still pretend I was wherever I wanted. Outside the room, denial would no longer be an option. Stepping into the hotel hallway and closing the door behind me took a measure of bravery I have rarely used.

Register, find food, buy a SIM card.

The greatest victory of that first day was discovering that I would, in fact, have a place to live for the next four months. After being unable to register for housing on the Peking University housing portal in mid-January, I had tried unsuccessfully for a month to contact PKU about my housing situation. On the PKU campus, after roundaboutedly arriving at the international student office,  the director viewed my online profile with a surprised “What? You haven’t checked into your dorm yet?” Indeed, I had a room!

After registering, I received a list of tasks in addition to my student card. As I was wandering about trying to complete these to-dos, I ran into a group of five or six international students, mostly from Australia, who were on the same mission. Together we checked off a lot of the things on the list, and then we ventured into one of the on-campus canteens (dining halls) for the first time.

After dinner, we had nothing to do, and so we decided the best time to try out the Beijing public transportation system was at 7 p.m. in our group of foreigners with limited English. Continuing in the study-abroad spirit of throwing oneself headfirst into uncertain situations, we descended into the bowels of the Beijing underground and, upon seeing a picture of the Forbidden City at the center of the subway map, decided where to go.

I have to say, after a day and half of feeling quite thwarted by the country I had once anticipated loving, it was very encouraging to visit Tiananmen (the entrance to the Imperial City), a place I’ve wanted to visit for years. It was a reminder that, despite the challenges of getting used to this new life, everything I looked forward to in China was still waiting for me.

And challenges there were. I won’t bore you with my to-do list every day, but here’s a snapshot: it was the same. Every day. For the first few days, at least. Each day, I would get up and try to complete each task one-by-one, and each day I would hit a new obstacle. Before bed each evening, I would think, “What should I do tomorrow?” And then I would look at my list, and be like, “Oh, same as today, just trying everything I’ve failed at so far, cool.” I learned quickly that everything in China takes four times longer than you think it should, at least for someone unfamiliar with the processes, geography, and language.

Dinner with my new friends

There were many good moments, though! I continued hanging out with the group of people I met that second day, and we added more to our cohort. Little by little, I started crossing things off of my to-do list. By the time Nate arrived a few days later, it felt like I’d been in Beijing for several weeks.

Classic couple-in-Beijing mask selfie

The first weekend, PKU gave the international students a tour of the Forbidden City. Here’s my funnest fact: the bricks laid out on the ground covering the entire palace grounds are the original bricks from when the palace was built. Knowing that I was stepping not just on the same ground, but the same exact bricks, as dynasties of historic Chinese emperors was pretty exciting. The architecture of the Forbidden City was, of course, beautiful.

Tuscany refused to take a photo with this friendly fellow.



My first week in Beijing was definitely up-and-down, but by the end I had already learned so much about how to live in China.

One of my new friends had her own Tuscany-style travel companion. The two of them became phast phriends: the ‘phant and the phrog at the Phorbidden City. ?

Germany is so much.

I’ve been here for a little more than a week and I feel as though I could ramble on for ages. My first impression of Stuttgart was from above as my plane made its approach in the dark. I couldn’t see much, some lights of course, but not that and very few rose up from the ground. I could have almost mistaken it for a sprawling suburb. This impression carried over into the next day as I hurried after my host family in a sleep-deprived haze while they tried to introduce me to their hometown. Honestly, it wasn’t until several days later when I was given my transit pass and had to navigate the city on my own that I began to comprehend my surroundings. Stuttgart does not have the size and grandeur of New York or Paris or London or Berlin. Nor does it have the quaint medieval architecture that sprawls in various forms through Europe. Stuttgart was severely damaged during the war and as a result, its modern buildings lining the streets reflect the city’s place in Germany and in Europe as the seat of automotive manufacturing. If you look at the Porsche logo you will see in the center a black horse on a yellow background. And just above that, lightly etched: Stuttgart. Stuttgart was built in a valley and once used to raise horses, to prevent enemies from observing the proceedings. Now, Stuttgart fittingly produces horsepower, housing the headquarters of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz flanked by plants for Audi, Bosch, and other car and car part manufacturers. The automotive industry was honestly the first thing I understood here. From the cars on the streets to the logos on jackets and the names on buildings, it was easy to understand the automotive companies provide life to southwest Germany. Rather unfortunate that the first thing I understood wasn’t the transit system or the way restaurants work, but to be fair there is so much to absorb that I scarcely knew where to begin. Which, if you’re wondering, is why I’m writing about cars and not castles. I’ll save the later for next time. ?

Kyungpook National University Spring 2017: Study Abroad

Wow I can’t believe it’s already nearing the end of May! It seems like just the other day I was planning my trip, scouring the Internet for tips and ideas for my semester at KNU. This post will be a semi-informational guide for students planning on coming to KNU and if anybody actually reads this and has questions, please feel free to comment below and I’d love to help answer your Qs.

Ok so following my typical approach; let’s start with…



It ain’t cheap. I’d definitely save up a good amount of cash if you want to eat decently (aka not rice everyday). Like most University of Oklahoma exchange students at KNU, I received the housing and food scholarship from the university. Unfortunately, the food at the new dorm (there is a difference between the food at the old dorms and new dorms, I’ll explain in another post) is quite frankly, Absolutely terrible. If you can eat spicy foods, it won’t be as bad but the quality of food is just rough.

Now that said, one can eat pretty cheaply and in large quantities for nearly 5000₩ and there are some fruits you can find at a market near the old dorms. But I just want it to be known that most international students (including myself) underestimated the amount of money they would spend on food, because they expected the cafeteria food to be eatable. If you are not receiving the food scholarship, DO NOT BUY THE MEAL PLAN. I know many of my European friends did this and essentially wasted hundreds of euros on food they couldn’t physically stomach. Additionally, the food at supermarkets is more expensive than the market foods and you can’t buy any food to prepare because neither of the dorms have kitchens. So when you’re preparing a budget, know that food will take up most of your budget. In the next post I’ll write about some of the best/cheapest places to eat near campus and Downtown.


In South Korea

So leaving Daegu can be pretty cheap or pretty expensive. It all depends on where you go but going to Seoul can range from 17000₩ to 47000₩, one-way. The price to Seoul varies depending on how early you buy the ticket and whether you take the long train (3.5-4 hours), the fast KTX (1.5 hours), or the bus (3 hours). The bus is usually the cheapest and the ride isn’t uncomfortable at all (they even stop midway for 15 minutes so you can go to the bathroom and whatnot).

Going to Busan (from what I’ve heard) is very cheap and only an hour or so, around 7000₩ one-way, and other to other cities is pretty cheap. I really love going to Seoul but always have limited time to travel due to work on Friday so I spend a buttload of money on the KTX ticket ;/ You can buy train tickets online here:


Leaving South Korea

Leaving the country can be a bit costly, depending on where you go and how far ahead you plan. Going to Japan will be around $140 round trip from Busan/Daegu– again the price depending on how early you plan your trip. Don’t try and buy your ticket for May 5th (if you’re there in the spring) because everybody and their mother will be going there!!!!

Going to Vietnam and Thailand is also quite cheap, but check the season (monsoon/high or low travel season) and remember that for Vietnam most people need visas (super easy to do online, will write about it another post). Going to Jeju (still in Korea) can actually be quite cheap and flights should be booked through http://www.jejuair.net. Google Flights is my favourite site to find the cheapest tickets from Korea.

In Daegu

Traveling within Daegu can mostly be done be bus, subway, or taxi. Taxis are SO cheap here (in comparison to the US) and a taxi from the campus to downtown will cost around 5500₩ and they take cards. All the taxi drivers only speak Korean though so download Google Translator or a map of where you want to go before you get in. If you’re going out to party (not that I ever did that), just keep this in mind because the bus stops running around 12. The bus is pretty easy to figure out but can be confusing at first because not everything is entirely translated into English like in Seoul. Take the 410 or the 706 to go downtown from North Gate (it’s around 7 stops).

You don’t have to but it’s easiest to buy a T-money travel card for the buses, which can also be used in the subways in Daegu and Seoul. It’s annoying to whip out the 1400₩ for each bus ride when you’re in a crowded bus with the typical crazy Korean bus driver. You can buy these cards at a 711 or CU at North Gate. When it comes to the subway in Daegu, because there is no stop near the uni I rarely ever used it. It’s good to get around to different parts of the city if you just want to explore or go see the other universities in the area (Yeongnam).

Here is a picture of the KNU taxi card you get in your welcome packet but I thought some students may want it before they come just in case:




Clothes here can range from very cheap to very expensive. Again, it’s all about what you’re looking for but if you’re not the typical Korean size (aka size Small, small arms, and slender) you may not have much luck. My French, Moroccan, and Polish friends found it very hard to find tops and jeans that fit but my Malaysian and Japanese friend did not find it that hard. For guys, I’m not sure how difficult it is to find stuff in “European” sizes but for all, just know there are UNIQLO and H&M in downtown if you really need to get some clothes. I’m 5’5” and an American small but my long arms and bum really restrict me from buying anything here. In Seoul, there is more variation but the range of sizes (or lack thereof) is still pretty restrictive. In Seoul, Hongdae and Myeongdong station are great places to buy clothes, accessories, and shoes.


Shoes here are dope. Obviously Nike and Reebok will be more expensive than they are in the States, but there are so many sales that this isn’t always true. Here in Daegu, the fashion is a little more on the conservative side but there are still plenty of options. I would recommend buying fall/winter boots at home though, because the booted heels here are not that comfortable and a little on the expensive side (take this with a grain of salt though because I was here in February-June aka probably not the best time to be looking for boots).


So, the dorms are what actually worried me the most before I came and I’d say with good reason. Firstly, the rules of the new dorm Chumsung-gwan were not told to me before I came:

  1. The dorm elevators are separated by gender.
  2. The dorm floors are separated by gender and boys can’t even go on girl’s floors.
  3. If you arrive after 1 am, you get “penalty points” so 2 points each time you use your card key between 1:00 am–4:59 am. Now, they don’t really count the exchange students’ points and I know that for a fact but the administration kind of scares you into coming before 1 am in the beginning.

***The old dorm buildings are separated by gender and I believe they may count the penalty points more***

Now the cost of the dorms wasn’t really a factor for me because I received the dorm scholarship, but I believe it’s not too expensive for a semester at such a good uni with pretty decent facilities. I believe it is around $1000 with the meal plan in the new dorms but I honestly am not entirely sure.

Things You’ll Need to Buy for Your Room:

  • Comforter: Prices can range from 30,000-70,000₩ and it depends where you buy it. My roommate bought hers from the Small Gate market but I got mine from Emart. Hers was more expensive and better quality, but for 4 months I would spend just the 30000₩.

  • Bottom Blanket Thingy: ok so here they don’t really use sheets so you won’t be able to really find them. What you will find is this kind of thick quilt-like thing that covers the mattress. I bought a mattress topper that had a cover on it and it was actually a lot better because the mattresses here are like rocks (it was 30,000₩ from Home Plus). If you really want sheets, you should bring a set of twin sheets.

  • Pillow(s): I bought a bigger pillow for 15000₩ and a small one for 10000₩ from Emart.

  • Light Blanket: I don’t know why I needed this but I just did. It cost around 10000₩ from Emart.

  • Trash Cans: You can actually find some leftover from the semester before but they’re usually disgusting. These cost 1000₩ from Daiso.


*~*~*~* QuiCK DAISO PlUg ~*~*~*~*

Ok so if you’re as broke as I am, you want to get everything as cheaply functional as possible, Daiso is the place to go. Daiso is like the hybrid between the Dollar Store and Target, and they have the coolest stuff and mostly everything is under 5000₩. I would recommend getting trashcans, hangers, umbrellas, water bottles, mirrors, hooks, nail polish remover, makeup remover wipes, snacks, mini rugs (if you have holes in your floor like I did), little souvenirs, mini Korean flags, desk organizing stuff, cleaning supplies, plates, utensils, school supplies, toilet paper, bathroom soap, shower curtain–


*Other than clothes, bedding, electronics, and fresh food



So hit it up! There is a Daiso at Small Gate, North Gate, and Downtown. I’d recommend taking a big empty backpack to the one in Downtown because that Daiso is the biggest and you’ll most likely be taking the bus. I say this because the Small and North Gate Daisos will be ransacked the first few weeks lol.

I ended up spending around 300,000₩ total on my room, but you may spend less or more.

Summer in Stuttgart

Hey, guys!

It’s been a while but I have some exciting updates! After months of forms, waiting, more forms, tons of web research, and three thousand signatures, I’ll be spending this summer in Stuttgart, Germany! I may have exaggerated the process a little bit, it’s just hard to be patient when you’re excited. ? Anyway, Stuttgart is in southern Germany and I will be heading out in only a little over a week, which is crazy to think about.

In Stuttgart, I will be taking intensive German classes to build on my two semesters here at OU, as well as a course on international business. The international business class looks particularly interesting since it includes expeditions. Stuttgart is known as the home of the automobile and houses the headquarters of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. To my understanding, my business class will analyze the operations of these companies and take field trips to their headquarters. Classes are every day but we get out early on Fridays which means it will be easy to explore Stuttgart and the surrounding areas. I am going as an exchange student through the University of Stuttgart and they are placing me with a host family for the duration of my stay. I’ve emailed them a little bit to arrange a few details, but I’m excited to get to know them this summer. I will be the fifth exchange student they’ve hosted but the first from the United States.

A major reason that I came to OU was the availability and accessibility of study abroad programs, but now that it’s coming up, I can’t help but be a little nervous. I’ve never left the States before and spending weeks by myself in a different country is a little daunting. Fortunately, I will have my host family and the University of Stuttgart to help me adapt and I can’t wait to overcome my trepidations and enjoy the first of many adventures to come!

Kyoto 5.7.17

My Dearest Friend,

It seems that this semester will be busier than last. I cannot believe I’m already a month into the semester, and I am only now having time to write you. The beginning of the semester was stressful because of drama, problems with my schedule, and a more intense workload than last semester. My classes are substantially harder but my Japanese does not appear to have kept pace. I will get through the semester, but it will be extremely stressful.

There is good news, however. For one thing, my English classes this semester are much more interesting than last semester. They’re more challenging, but I’m learning a lot. Two of them are politics classes, one regarding theories and one specifically focusing on Japanese politics. I’ve never really studied politics, but it’s an important topic to be familiar with as an international studies major and I’m really enjoying those classes.

Also, I finally had the opportunity to visit Osaka. As silly as it sounds, I had lived here, half an hour by train from Osaka, for 7 months without visiting. However, a couple weeks ago I finally corrected that mistake. I spent the weekend hanging out with some students in my program who are studying business at the Osaka campus of Ritsumeikan. We went thrift shopping, visited Osaka Castle, and then had dinner downtown. All in all, it was an awesome experience, and I had the privilege of sharing it with some amazing new friends.

That’s about all that’s been happening for me. Summer is coming and every day is warmer. It’s still comfortable for me, but several of my friends from further north are already concerned about the coming heat. The flowers are mostly gone, but the city is green again and the various bugs are all coming back. I saw my first spider of the season yesterday. Kyoto has these large, penny-sized spiders that live absolutely everywhere. I’ll try to send you a picture later, but many of my friends are terrified of them. I’ll admit they’re creepy and all too common.

Good luck with finals and the end of the semester. I wish the best to you all, especially those who are graduating in the coming month. Have a great break. I’ll try to write again soon.



I’m Sorry, That’s Not German… Is It?!

I'm Sorry, That's Not German... Is It?!

Before I came to Austria, I heard warnings from several people that the dialect would be strong, that I would struggle to understand anything. Luckily, I also had a slight advantage: most American universities teach a variation of High German from Berlin, which is pretty extremely different from Austrian German. But I actually had more exposure to Bavarian German: I lived there with a host family for a month in high school, and when I worked as a translator for two young German boys, they spoke Bavarian German, and this is quite close to Austrian German.

The problem is that it’s not quite the same as Bavarian: it’s like someone took that accent, intensified it, talked only with a couple of marbles in their mouth, and then decided to just cut out half the words. But don’t worry about it, it’s still technically German, ready set go!

My first day in Graz, I actually felt really proud of myself. I met my assigned buddy from my new university, and he took me on a tour of the city. I told him right away that I would prefer to speak in German so that I could become more fluent, and he was happy to oblige. We walked all over the city, toured the campus, talked about our majors, and I had no problems aside from the occasional vocabulary question. He had a bit of an accent, sure, but it was hardly different from what I’d heard in Munich. I just had to convince my brain to flip all my German switches for the next five months and I’d be golden.

Then we ran into one of my buddy’s friends. And I swear they started speaking another language. Except it wasn’t another language: THAT was Austrian. After their conversation ended my buddy told me that guess what, he’d been speaking super proper High German this whole time, except that’s not how people talk to each other unless they’re in an academic or formal setting. No, I would usually be hearing the unintelligible jibber-jabber he’d just used with his friend.

Oh. Well then.

Thanks to my pre-semester German course, where our teacher like to go over some slang and expressions every day, I’ve managed to adjust enough to the dialect.  But sometimes I still feel hopelessly lost, usually when another student uses common slang with a heavy accent.

For example, in class we went over this tiny dialogue:

“Ich bin heute müde / I’m tired today.”

“Ja, ich ohnehin auch / Yeah, me too.”

Except that nobody actually says that last part like that.  They shorten the “ohnehin” into just “eh,” but then the collective Austrian public decided that the rest of the sentence was still too long so they say just “i e a.” Pronounced “ee ay ah” with complete sincerity, like three vowels is an acceptable substitute for a complete sentence.

Other times I understand the general meaning just fine but have to figure out from context what words are strictly Austrian. It took me a long time to realize that here, “net” is actually “nicht / not,” as opposed to “nett / nice.”

Overall the dialect has been a lot of fun; I smile whenever I hear words like “a bissell” instead of “ein bisschen” and “zwo” instead of “zwei.” I buy “Zwetschen, Marillen, and Paradeiser” in the supermarket instead of “Pflaume (plums), Aprikose (apricots), and Tomaten (tomatoes)”. I’m not sure how far I’ll get, but my goal when I return to the US is to be able to speak like a proper improper Austrian, marbles in my mouth and all. I think that would be really entertaining, although my professors might say otherwise!

Mexico Arrival- 1/10

“Ladies and gentlemen, damas y caballeros, welcome to the ground.” That’s how the pilot of my plane to Mexico announced our arrival in Puebla, after a rather abrupt drop at the end of a three-hour flight in the smallest jet I’ve ever been on. It was so small that, even though American Airlines normally allows two carry-ons, everyone had to check their second carry-on. If you’re planning on flying into Puebla, make sure your smaller carry-on has all your valuables: if you have to check your laptop, it’ll be returned to you in several pieces.
We met all of our professors, our fellow students, and our student coordinator at the airport. While the last of our cohort made their way through customs, we exchanged the first of our money, and learned a trick for converting pesos to dollars. The exchange rate is currently about 19 or 20 pesos to the dollar, so you take the price in pesos, drop a zero, and divide the result in half.

My first impression of Mexico was of the giant van that took us on the forty-minute drive from the airport, in Huejotzingo, to Puebla proper. (Puebla is both a city and a state, somewhat like New York.) Eight people and all their baggage were crammed together in the van, but it was a good way to start to chat with people.

We finally arrived at the student apartments, where everyone else was living and my host mother waited to pick me up. I’m the only student this semester who’s staying with a host family rather than in the apartments. I decided on a host family because it would be easier to practice my Spanish when Spanish was my only option. Plus, it’s several hundred dollars cheaper than the apartments, and your host family cooks you breakfast and dinner every day of the week. I’m always budget conscious and never have time to cook, so it was a no-brainer for me.

Otsu 3.31.17

My Dearest Friend,

Spring has arrived in Kyoto and with it comes a new semester. It feels like so long ago that classes ended, and yet I had so many things I’d planned to do and haven’t done. However, I have accomplished a great deal since I last wrote. I’ve been working hard over the break on my Japanese. I’ve learned over 300 kanji and become somewhat more comfortable conversing in Japanese. I actually feel ready for this semester. I was so scared to start level four after I finished in January. My teachers had warned me to study hard lest I fail, and I took them to heart. After six weeks of hard work, I finally think I’m ready.

The break hasn’t all been work though. The new SKP students moved in a few weeks ago, so I’ve had the opportunity to make a host of new friends. I’m glad. The new students are very cool and I’ve had a wonderful time getting to know them. Just yesterday, a group of us went down to Otsu on Lake Biwa for the afternoon. The weather was beautiful and the lake was incredible. Lake Biwa is the largest lake in Japan, and it really seems like a tiny ocean. I could have sat by the lake and watched the water for hours. I wish we could have stayed longer and seen more, but Otsu is only a few towns away so we can always go back.

Now it’s time to study a bit more and enjoy this last weekend of freedom before classes begin on Monday. I’m excited about my classes and the adventures this semester will bring. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. I will try to write again after the first couple weeks and tell you how my classes are going. I hope you are doing well too. I miss you.



Houston 2.24.17

My Dearest Friend,

I’m so glad I got to come home and see you and others these past couple weeks. Last semester was long and I needed my time at home resting more than I can say. However, as I sit here on the plane headed back across the Pacific, I’m more excited than ever to resume my adventures in Japan. I have so much left to see and do, and I don’t want to waste the rest of my break or the upcoming semester. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to fully enjoy it.

While I was at home visiting, I had a frustrating realization: I don’t have many stories from my time here so far. I could talk a bit about my classes and how difficult they were. I could also talk about my general impressions of Japan and Japanese culture. Outside of that, however, I didn’t have much to say. Most of my stories ended up being stories about other people, some of which I hadn’t even witnessed. How did that happen? I know a few reasons. First, experiences don’t usually make good stories without other people in them. I’ve explored a bit and seen some places, but I usually end up going by myself. This is excellent for collecting pictures but isn’t great for stories. Also, a lot of the time people are hanging out together, there’s alcohol involved. We’re all legal, so it isn’t a problem, but the party nature of most international student interactions decreases my chances both of being involved and recounting stories of it later.

I’m not really sure what to do about this dilemma. As much as I’d rather travel Japan with a few close friends, I don’t always feel like I have that option. I don’t tend to have much success planning excursions or events, and I can’t control whether or not I’m invited to come along when someone else has planned the trip. Most of the interactions I am invited to are nights out and the like. These are fun and I try to go occasionally, but allowing them to make up all of my stories paints both my time here and myself in a bad light.

I’m trying to find opportunities to make memories that I can share, but it’s difficult. Hopefully I’ll do better this semester than last, but that doesn’t set a very high bar. Wish me luck. I’ll try to write again soon.