April 29, 2015

Blog 2: First Lecture and Tioman!

Blog 2: First Lecture and Tioman!

This week, I received my student visa pass, so I official became a citizen of Republic of Singapore! From now on, every time I cross borders, I can skip all the usual formalities and instead enter Singapore by scanning my fingerprints.

In addition, this week was the first time I had to go to the lectures. I am currently registered for four courses: Service Marketing, Global Business Strategy, Management and Organization and Intellectual property rights.

Compared to the students in the Netherlands, the local Singaporean students are very dedicated and motivated to score high. I went to the library on Tuesday morning at 10:00 AM to study and pre-read some lecture material before class. After the lecture, which ended on 17:00 PM, I went to library again to do homework and met the exact same students I met in the morning.

The lecture materials are not very difficult. The level of difficulty and workload can be compared to the one of at the HVA. However, the most annoying, or I should say difficult thing, about some of the lectures is that some teachers have a very strong Singaporean accent. I need to concentrate very hard to understand some of the lecturers. Funny thing that they tend to say “Lah” at the end of their sentences. .

On end of the week, 20 exchange students and me went to Tioman. It is a small island 51 kilometers from the east coast of southern Malaysia. To get there, I to go by bus and by ferry. The ferry ride was one of the most horrible experience in my life. The waves on the sea were four to five meters high and I got seasick because of it. The duration of the ferry ride was three hours long and I threw up several times.

There are five stops on Tioman Island. We booked a Chalet at the third stop. Five of us felt so sick that we got out of the ferry at the first stop. Before we got out, the captain told us that i is possible to take a taxi to our Chalet. Once we got out, we quickly found out that it was not possible! There is no road for any vehicle to ride on. This meant we had to walk two hours through the jungle to get to our Chalet! So we did. The jungle is actually very beautiful and it was more of an adventure for us to get to our Chalet. During the trip through the jungle, we saw many animals we usually see in the Artis. We saw crocodiles, monkeys, snakes and even sleeping bats. After around 2 hours walking in the Jungle, we finally arrived at the Chalet, while the others were relaxing at the beautiful beach. We surfed, partied, hiked, played games and many more!

In general, this trip was very relaxing. The people on this island are very friendly. The citizens greet you every time you walk by. Also, I don’t feel that these people know what stress is. They are so happy all the time. The manager of our Chalet did not even work a lot. He sometimes cooked meals for us and then taught us how to surf. He even partied and drank with us in the evening. This was the best first trips after being in Singapore.

April 27, 2015

Karuta game and fun times with students of my Japanese university

I participated in a Japanese card game called Karuta which was organized by the Center for International Education of Seinan Gakuin. It took place in the gym of the campus and many Japanese students were present. The gym is a large building that consists of three floors and the game was played on the top floor of the building.
Groups had to be made for the game consisting of international exchange students and Japanese students of Seinan Gakuin. My group consisted of three Japanese girls, a French guy and an American girl. I noticed that there were many Japanese girls for this event and I wondered why... Anyway, for every game round, an international student and a Japanese student had to team up to find the Karuta cards that belong to the poem which the teacher reads out loud. To make things more difficult, my leg was tied by a cord to the other student’s leg and we had to hop on the same pace to reach the area where the cards lie. It was really funny because it felt like you could trip at any time and it looked stupid. Luckily the area’s surface was made of Tatami mattresses, so I did not have to worry about hurting myself too much if I would ever had to fall, which I did not!
The teacher started the game by reading a Japanese poem in English and Japanese and told the students when to find the cards. It was sometimes difficult to understand the poem because the teacher pronounced words with a strong Japanese accent. My team did its best but we unfortunately did not end up in the top 3. At the end of the game the teacher took a photo of all of us holding the Karuta cards which we had to find. It was a fun game.
It somewhat looked like this but with bigger Karuta cards that lie much farther away from eachother!
After Karuta we had a party at the dormitory (I-House) where I live, which was also organized by the university. Here we could meet Japanese students that were also playing the Karuta game. It was fun to chat with them and to get to know them. They seemed a bit shy at first but when I asked them several questions they began talking more. Most of the Japanese students had a major in either English or French and wanted to practice talking in another language with exchange students I guess. However, it was fun and we talked about what kind of music they like, hobbies etc. Also, it was my chance to practice my Japanese speaking skills. :)
Furthermore, in the evening I went to a restaurant with Japanese students that played the Karuta game and the exchange students. The place was just a 10-minute walk from my dormitory. It was an affordable restaurant and there were low tables where I could sit, just like how the Japanese people would sit in a proper way, called Seiza. Well, this felt very uncomfortable after a few minutes because my feet started to hurt. I wanted to order something but I could not read the menu, so I asked other students which dish is delicious. A student from my group said that Chicken Rice is delicious so I ordered that one. Indeed, the Chicken Rice was super tasty and consisted of fried chicken with mayonnaise, bowl of rice, bowl of soup and a piece of radish. After dinner we went to an Izakaya, which is an all­you­can­drink bar where people can drink until they drop for 2000 Yen (around 16 Euros). Even though I am not fond of drinking alcohol I was going to try some drinks. At each table of the Izakaya there was an electronic menu. And in order to order a drink I had to use a touch pen and select a drink in the picture. I could hear a voice telling me in Japanese which drink I had chosen. In the end the Izakaya became really noisy and people became drunk, it was time for me to go home.

April 21, 2015

Blog 1: Off to Singapore!

Blog 1: Off to Singapore!

That’s me! The guy on the right eating squid on stick and drinking avocado juice from a plastic bag. My name is Arvi and I had one of the best experience in my life when I went to Singapore for a student exchange. I needed to share these experiences and will write about the amazing 16 weeks in Singapore in the upcoming weeks. This blog is about my arrival in Singapore.

Please fasten your seat belts, we are ready for take off! Ready for an amazing experience of a lifetime, leaving behind my family, friends and country. This student exchange focuses on Asia and mainly on the business and economic side of Asia. That is why Singapore was the right choice for me to go on exchange to. Singapore is the center of Asia and right on the equator, making it the economic hub for other Asian countries.

Then I finally arrived in Singapore, Changi Airport. After all the formalities at the border, my first expression when I arrived in Singapore was the hot weather. During the first week, it hardly rained and it was around 27 Degrees every day. However, the air is very humid and I sweated a lot just by a 100 meter walk. This is my first mistake happens in Singapore. I had to take a cab to go to my hotel. When the taxi driver helped me to load my luggage into the car, I walked to right front door and accidently opened the driver seat. The driver seat happens to be on the right side of the car. This is also very confusing when crossing the roads. I am used to look left when crossing the road, while here, you have to look at your right.

The day after, I took a taxi to my condo in Bukit Batok, where I stayed with my roommate. The condo has a swimming pool, a tennis court, a gymnasium and basketball field.

Me and some of the exchange students immediately went to the city to explore the amazing sights of Singapore and tasting the food. You have to think of squid of a stick or drinking juice of out of plastic bag., exploring the modern/asian culture, climbing the highest buildings and ending the day with having a relaxing drink in Clarke Quay.

The third day, I went to the explore the campus. The campus is bigger than the size of Bijlmer with several different facilities including a swimming pool, gymnasium, tennis court, football field, sports center and even a stadium. Currently, there are over 3000 people living on campus. In addition, because the campus is so big, I had much trouble finding the right classroom for my first lecture. Fortunately, the local students are very polite and helpful and even walked with me to the classroom. From then I knew, the upcoming weeks will be the best experience in my life!

When Customer Service Fails Badly @Schiphol

No, I am not sufficiently informed, sorry, Schiphol!
When bad things happen, my very optimistic side immediate compensates by telling me that there MUST be a lesson to be learned here.
That lesson is not always obvious, as in this case.

Mom's Phone is Lost!
It was sad but true that last week, coming into Schiphol airport, late Monday evening, my mother accidentally left her mobile phone in the bathroom just in front of passport control.

Also true that she didn't realize it was missing until we were out of the airport, and at my house, and not until she was about to fall asleep, which did prevent her from falling asleep, but did not seem urgent enough to warrant waking me up. The next morning, when I asked my mom how she had slept, (she was visiting me and sleeping in the spare room, which I'm sure is less comfortable than her own bed at home), she informed me quite calmly that she couldn't find her phone.

Seeing as I leave my telephone all over the house, and regularly 'lose' it - I was not overly concerned at first. We searched the regular places, our suitcases, extra duty free bags, etc. The level of anxiety began to rise somewhat, but seeing as my mother is not as addicted as I am to her phone, nor as addicted as my 18 year old daughter, we first had our breakfast, and then began to discuss it again. At this point, my teenage daughter yelled down to us from the darkness of her bedroom:

Mom's phone is found! (Almost)
"Read the Gran chat, Mom!"
"What?" (I don't hear well from behind walls, and floors).
"It's been found!"
"Grandma's phone."

I quickly picked up my own phone and checked out our family chat on Whatsapp, the "Gran chat."

A shower of relief spread through me, and I showed my mom the text.

"Great news!"
"Wow, people here are so honest," my mom replied.
"Yup," I said, proud to finally defend the Dutch people, the country I have taken as my 'home' for the past 14 years.
"So, where is the Lost and Found?" mom asked.

Ah! A simple enough question, one might think.
Think again.

Let's go get it!
This is where the story gets very complicated.  So far, I've done my best to simplify it. It is, after all, a simple question of "I lost it," "It was found," "Go pick it up." Right? Wrong.

My mom was going to go home the next day, so it was crucial for her to get her phone back before then. We had a whole 24 hours to contact Lost and Found, go to the airport (a 15 minute drive from my house in Amstelveen). Easy peasy, you might say?
However, you saw the email at the beginning of this post, right? That was from today - the 21st of April. The chat message was from last week, the 14th of April. So, did we get the phone or not?

Here is the chain of events:
1. Monday (April 13th) we flew into Schiphol from London and left the phone in the bathroom.

2. Tuesday morning (April 14th) at 4:00 a.m. it was found and brought to a person named Robin Dutch Immigration/Police at the airport. Robin contacted my sister via my mother's whatsapp on her telephone - and said he would give it to the Lost and Found. That was a smart move, Robin!

3. Tuesday morning at about 10:00 a.m. we contacted Schiphol Lost and Found, via a form on their website, as there was no direct phone number for Lost and Found.

4. After receiving a standard email answer that it would take them 7 days to get back to us, we initiated phone contact to Schiphol Service Dept. (Remember, my mom was leaving the next day, so we didn't want to wait 7 days to get what we already knew had been found!).

5. We were told that my mom's phone was not 'yet' in the Lost and Found and no, we could not come to the airport to try to identify it ourselves, we must wait for an email from the Lost and Found. (Just wondering - how many readers can actually live and breathe without mobile phone access for more than a few hours?).

6. Tuesday (the 14th still), we were on the phone off and on all day, to no avail. Customer service ranged from polite to irritated. The answer was invariably 'We cannot help you until the object is identified by Lost and Found.' and 'No, you may not come to the airport to look for it yourself.'

7. I started using my twitter account: @studyleaks to contact customer service, thinking that the public nature of it would speed up finding a solution. After all - the phone HAD been found. It wasn't really lost! We were contacted back quickly via Twitter, but again - no solution was found.

8. Tuesday night we went to bed without retrieving the phone. My mother's flight was at 13:00 the next day, Wednesday, April 15th, and we were determined the get the phone back before she left. We knew it was at the airport. We knew Robin had 'touched' it, and, after all - how many Robins worked the night shift at Immigration? "We have 1300 employees in Immigration and Police working at Schiphol," we were told. We cannot possibly find Robin."

9. Wednesday morning we woke up and called Schiphol again. This time, we got Diederik. He was more than sympathetic, and yes, he had heard 'our story' already from his colleagues. He put me on hold for quite some time, and when he finally came back on - he said two wonderful things: 1." I am sorry for keeping you on hold for so long." 2. "We have located your phone - it's at the Information Desk in Terminal 2. You can pick it up now."Thank you Diederik!

10. We went to Schiphol and picked up the phone: See pic!

Happy end!
So, here's the positive to all of this:
The customer service dept at Schiphol does answer their inquiries within 7 days (exactly!). Sadly, they don't always get their answers correct.

It seems that only if you really really want to get something, you can. So, I have again reinforced the fact that determination, assertiveness and actively pursuing my goals does pay off in the end.

One final positive note - I work as a corporate coach, always open to new opportunities. To me, it seems like the Schiphol Service Dept. could use a tweak!

Why not contact me for some assistance in honing your internal communication skills? audrey@synquity.com  - www.synquity.com

April 19, 2015

Choosing my courses in Japan

Before the courses started at my university, I had to go to the CIE office located on my university’s campus to choose my own set of courses. CIE stands for Center for International Education and the staff is very friendly and helpful when asking questions regarding Japan or the university.  Luckily for me, there were courses about the Japanese culture which I am interested in. The courses which were mandatory are the language courses and orthography. The orthography course seemed really challenging to me because I never had to study Kanji or had to write in Kanji at HvA. I did not want to choose the other courses which were business and IT related courses for beginners because I already followed these courses at HvA. It would be better to choose courses that I could not choose at HvA in my opinion.
So I have chosen the courses which were Pre-Intermediate Japanese, Japanese Orthography and Reading Skills, Traditional Culture of Japan, Calligraphy, Japanese society through Manga and Anime and Japanese Linguistics. After having chosen my courses, I also asked whether I could join a club on which the staff gave me a club book. There were many clubs such as the kendo club, kyudo club, music club, pottery club etc. It was interesting to see a variety of clubs and I wanted to join the kendo club but the required equipment was very expensive and that was a letdown for me. Also, there were flyers which promoted a kimono try-on activity which seemed fun to do.

After that, I went on exploring the building and I had to find a machine in order to activate my university’s insurance.  The machine was in the Japanese language only and it was super confusing but soon enough other exchange students had to activate their insurance on the machine and one of them was proficient in Japanese and helped me. J I like that the exchange students help each other out when in need which makes living in Japan so much easier. 
Seinan Gakuin campus

April 10, 2015

Orientation day

On the orientation day of my university in Japan, I and fellow exchange students had to wake up early because Japanese students would guide us to the campus of Seinan Gakuin. The walk from my dormitory to the university is short and takes 5 minutes which I found very convenient.
We had to gather in a computer room where teachers introduced themselves, gave lots of information about the university and said that we would be guided around the campus. After the introduction, a  Japanese student who studied abroad guided us around the Seinan Gakuin campus and showed us the library, computer rooms, campus convenience store and the gym. Unfortunately, it started to rain and we were unable to go to other places since no one had an umbrella. So we quickly went to the cafeteria which is located just outside the campus to eat and drink. There was a display with plastic food replicas in the cafeteria, so you know what to expect when ordering a dish. I ordered udon noodle soup because it the plastic show model looked delicious. Also, it was fun to talk to other exchange students and to hear what they think about Japan.
Plastic food replicas at the cafeteria

In the afternoon, I had to take a Japanese language test that would assign me to a Japanese class with a certain level. I found the test very difficult because there were lots of Kanji! I expected that there would be hiragana written above each Kanji but that was not the case.  Moreover, I had to use a Japanese keyboard which has different design compared to the keyboard I am used to. For example the space bar and backspace bar were very small. Many exchange students found the test too difficult, especially those that did not understand Kanji. The result of the test would be sent by e-mail later on the day, so in order to kill time I went to a convenience store of the campus. The convenience store at the campus sells all kinds of items that students need such as lunches, magazines and school books. While checking out the products, I felt that some Japanese students quickly stared at me and I felt like a lost alien.  Anyway since I needed money for groceries I had to find an ATM cash machine. Upon finding the cash machine I had to select options on a touch screen which was a bit confusing at first, luckily I could change the Japanese language to English.
In the evening, I went to the supermarket to buy food. Once again I found the products in the supermarket interesting and how it differs from The Netherlands. I bought a bentobox that included rice, fish and vegetables, very convenient for a student. Moreover, I realized that Japanese food and drinks are of course much cheaper in Japan than in The Netherlands. A small bottle pack like Yakult cost me around 1,50 Euros in Japan whereas in The Netherlands it would cost me around 5 or 6 Euros. Or a box that consists of 12 different types of sushis is around 4 Euros compared to 8 Euros in The Netherlands.

Furthermore, I received an e-mail from the university that I would be placed in the Pre-Intermediate Japanese classes. I would have been disappointed if my result would be Beginner level after studying Japanese more than a year.   Therefore, I was very happy with my result and relieved!

April 6, 2015

Ever in doubt, do art!

I got a new journal, but unsure which words to share on the pristine new sheets of paper, i hesitated.
Then it came to me to do some sketches for a painting.
Those sketches became the art.
Start low threshold, let it go.
One line follows the next.
Never expect perfection.
Be vulnerable.
Be real.

April 1, 2015

A start of a journey ~ exchange in Japan

Hello, I am Lis, a student of the course Trade Management Asia at the Hogeschool of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. I will share stories about my life during my exchange in Japan(spring semester 2014) as a student of the university Seinan Gakuin which is located in Fukuoka. Fukuoka is the capital city of Fukuoka Prefecture which lies in the south of Japan. I will try to post one or two stories about my life in Japan each week on this blog. Furthermore, this blog post will be about my journey from Incheon Airport, South Korea to Fukuoka Airport, Japan and the arrival at my student dormitory!

So unfortunately, my flight did not go directly to Japan. I had a stopover in South Korea and needed to stay at a hotel near Incheon Airport for the night. The next day I left the hotel as soon as possible after eating my breakfast because there was nothing else to do in the area. When I arrived at Incheon Airport, I immediately checked my suitcase and received my flight ticket. The lady behind the ticket desk spoke in both Korean and English to me which left me a bit confused and surprised as to why she talked in Korean to me. Anyway… after I went through customs, I headed towards the gate which takes me to Fukuoka City. I had to wait for quite a long time to board my flight and I was very thirsty, but I held out because I really did not want to miss my flight!

When I boarded the plane, traditional Japanese music was playing and my seat was next to two Japanese children, which gave me the feeling that I was getting much closer to Japan. I was very cheerful because my dream which was to visit Japan was finally becoming true. Ever since my teenage years I admired the Japanese culture and loved to know more about it. During the flight, jetlag hit me and I had to take a nap only to wake up for the food and drinks that were offered. The flight was short and took one and half hour.

Upon my arrival in the afternoon at the airport of Fukuoka, I observed the Japanese airport employees because their white masks grabbed my attention. Also, it struck me that I have not seen people wearing these masks in Incheon Airport in South Korea, which is pretty close to Fukuoka. I guess this may be a cultural difference. Japanese people wear these masks so they do not infect others with their illness. Anyway, I had to get through customs and to do so I had to answer a custom form which consisted of many questions such as if I brought any dangerous stuff, the place where I would live in Japan and for how long etc. Finally after leaving the customs area, two students of Seinan Gakuin were waiting for me to pick me up. It was a Japanese and French student that both lives in the I-House, the student dormitory where I will reside in. The students of Seinan Gakuin guided me to the student dormitory and in the mean time gave me bits of information about Fukuoka. Also, it was funny and cute to see many of posters with drawn characters on the way to I-House. I think that most people in the Netherlands may find this childish but I like it!

In the I-House apartment I met the residents whom were also new students and students which have already stayed in Fukuoka for one semester. The Japanese student that picked me up from the airport guided me through the I-House and explained everything into details which was very helpful! My room was situated on the first floor, it is small but luckily it has a toilet and a sink, the only downside is not having an own shower. I would have to go to the second floor where the shared shower rooms for females are located, which was something to get used to.

Furthermore, in the evening I went to Sunny’s (a supermarket) with a few I-House residents. In the supermarket I became a bit lost because everything was in Japanese,however, the residents of the I-House helped me in translating what kind of food something was. It was interesting to see many typical Japanese products that are not available in The Netherlands such as meron pan (melon bread), a sweet roll which has the shape of a melon.

For dinner I bought a sushi bento box because I was very curious as to how it would taste in comparison to sushi in the Netherlands. The sushi definitely tasted much better than the sushi in the Netherlands. After dinner it was time to sleep in my futon~

 I hope you enjoyed my story.