Sapporo: a long way from Virginia

This summer, I was the only recipient of the Freeman foundation at Davidson who went to Japan, which was amazing, yet terrifying.

When I first learned that I had gotten the grant, I didn’t know where in Asia I wanted to go. Well, I had a vague idea, primarily either South Korea or Japan because I like K-pop and anime (which are totally valid reasons, right?) The reason I ended up in Japan was that I found a job there before I found one in South Korea. It turns out that if you want to teach English in Asia, you have to either a) have graduated college, or b) be planning on staying for over a year. Since I didn’t fit either of these requirements, finding a job was quite difficult, but I managed to find a private school in Sapporo that needed English teachers.

So now I had a destination, and I started to get really excited. Before this trip, I had never traveled by myself. And on top of that, I had never been out of the country (because, let’s be honest, Canada doesn’t really count). I started researching everything I could about Sapporo, and made a list of places I wanted to visit (fun fact: I left the list at home), started looking at Japanese fashion and norms to make sure I wouldn’t stand out too much.

As the time till departure approached, I came to some realizations. The first was that I really didn’t know any Japanese. Most everyone else with this grant had studied the language of the country they were going to, even if it had only been for a year. I, however, had never had any formal education in Japanese. I’d taught myself the alphabets (because Japanese is fun and has two), and had learned some basic phrases. This really wasn’t enough.

I was also terrified for Jet Lag. This phrase needs to be capitalized because it is big and scary and awful.

My first flight wasn’t the long one, but from Richmond to O’Hare. That flight was at 6:00 in the morning, so I was already off to a bad start. I couldn’t sleep on this flight because I was too nervous (I was leaving the country!!).

When we landed in O’Hare, I was intimidated. The place was huge. I struggled to find my terminal, but that wasn’t a huge problem, as I had a four hour layover. As such, I convinced myself to keep the panic to a minimal, and found breakfast, AKA a bagel with cream cheese and coffee.

While consuming said circular bread, I realized that the wifi was only free for 30 minutes, and it was quite possibly the worst wifi I have ever encountered. I was planning on downloading some songs for the flight to Tokyo, but that plan was nixed when iTunes wouldn’t work even when I was connected to the “internet”. So once I finished my midmorning snack I carried on to the human loading zone for my flight. Conveniently enough there were plugs under the chairs, so my phone was at full battery the whole time, which was clutch, since I had nothing better but to watch Parks and Rec.

The flight itself wasn’t as bad as I had expected. It was a pretty mixed bag of Americans, Japanese, and other Asians who had a connection in Narita (Tokyo) and then were flying home. I don’t really know how many people were on the flight, but I would guess close to a hundred? The plane itself was one of the new Boeing 787s, which was amazing. About 30 minutes after we departed, all the windows dimmed, so the cabin was dark pretty much for all of the thirteen hours, even though it was daylight the whole time (because time is weird).

Flying over lovely Hokkaido

The entertainment section was also nice, because on the back of the seats is a screen where you can watch movies (I watched Hidden Figures, Moana, and Harry Potter 6&7), play games (chess), and charge your phone. It was beautiful, but not quite enough to keep my mind off the fact that I was flying over the middle of the freakin’ Pacific Ocean.

The most frustrating passenger is clear, however. There was some old man sitting behind me and holy heck. His snores were so, so loud. Even at almost full volume, there were times I could hear him over the movie I had playing. That made napping virtually impossible.

And like that, we landed in Narita, and I touched foreign soil! Well, figuratively. I was literally just on concrete and linoleum the whole time, but you get the point.

If I thought O’Hare was big, well, I think Narita has it beat. When we left the plane, I followed everyone else, and picked up my luggage (because I had to re-check it for my domestic flight). There was some minor panic when everyone else’s stuff was appearing and mine wasn’t, but it got around the conveyor belt eventually. Then I had to go through customs. That went smoothly enough, and I communicated primarily through hand gestures and “arigato”. Once you’re finished with customs, which was pretty calm and quiet, you go through a door and bam! You’re hit with a wall of color and sound and it’s madness. I had no idea where I was going, I didn’t have my ticket for my connection to Sapporo, and I needed to check my luggage. I ended up spying someone from my flight and following him. We weren’t going to the same place, but he conveniently had been walking in the direction I needed to go. I found the place to check my luggage, and realized there were multiple airlines, all waiting to check my luggage. Well, I didn’t know what airline I needed, so I stood there with a dazed look on my face, and some kind lady came up to me, asking me what I needed help with. She pointed me in the right direction, my luggage got checked, and I got my ticket. She then tried to point to a map and show me where I needed to go. I knew I would forget as soon as I walked ten feet, and told her “Oh, I’ll just find it on my own.” The worried look she gave me was priceless.

While this is the Sapporo airport and not the one in Tokyo, you get the right idea.

Well, after much wandering, I did find the domestic flights. First, however, I found a mall. That’s right, a mall. There were many food options, lots of kitschy airport things, and some really expensive things, too. I settled on matcha chocolate, milk tea, and some kit-kats. Dinner of champions.

Re-fortified, I headed to the domestic terminal. It’s really tucked away in a corner, since most people who fly domestic are Japanese and can read the Japanese signs and don’t need brightly colored English translations, but I’m not salty.

When I went into the domestic flights terminal, I had to go through security again, which was much more lax than its American counterpart. I wasn’t sure of the procedure, so after I put all my carry-on items in a bin, I wasn’t sure if I also needed to remove my shoes. As such, I started slowly walking towards ~the other side~. To not look like as big a weirdo as I felt, I began sauntering/dancing. Okay, maybe that made things more awkward. But it made the Japanese customs workers laugh, so that made me feel better. And it turned out I didn’t need to take my shoes off, which was nice, because I hate lacing sneakers.

The flight from Narita to New Chitose (Sapporo) was nothing remarkable (mostly because I slept pretty much the whole way). However, the adventure from the airport to my hotel was fun. The biggest problem is that I stand out like a sore thumb. I have blue/green/grey eyes. I don’t really dress like the Japanese. I don’t have the same body shape as Japanese people. I had a big, red suitcase. So I was pretty self-conscious about myself. This wasn’t just me being paranoid, because when I was on the train going into the city, I heard some of the guys say something about “Doc Marten style,” and were looking not-so-discreetly at my feet. So, yep, I was a conversation starter. Yay.

Yeah. Sapporo is way bigger than I expected.

I exited the train, and knew that my hotel was nearby. After all, that was the main feature I was looking for when I booked it. However, due to Jet Lag, I made a wrong turn. There were parked cars along the way I had just come, so I didn’t want to turn around because then they would know I was lost. So I decided instead to walk around the block. Keep in mind that I had a very confused look on my face and was toting around a huge piece o’ luggage. Everyone I passed gave me the oddest look. One old man stopped, looked at me, waited for me to say something, but I just kept on going, because I knew I couldn’t communicate with him. Was this rude? …Maybe. But I found my hotel, so everything worked out.

Speaking of being rude, apparently people don’t make eye contact, or interact with each other at all. I’m from the South, I’m used to the whole, “Southern Hospitality” thing. So when I pass people on the street, I smile, I nod,  I say hello, I make eye contact. Turns out people don’t do that here. I’ve tried, believe me, but they just look down when they pass by me, or elsewhere. Which means I’m gonna have to make a major shift in my behavior.

So yeah, the first few days definitely had some culture shock to them. But I was excited to start work and explore Sapporo, both of which I got to do plenty of in the coming two months.


Crushed Goldfish and A Semi-Crushed Ego

On my flight from London to Doha, I sat behind a very active (read: rambunctious) five-year-old Qatari boy. His mother and I chatted in broken Arabic as he loudly chomped on Goldfish crackers. During our conversation, I realized that Kathmandu was going to be way out of my comfort zone. This would be the first time since starting school at Davidson that I would not actively be studying Arabic and the first time I would live in a country outside of the U.S. that wasn’t in the Middle East. I had spent the previous summer learning Arabic in Amman, Jordan and the spring semester of my sophomore year in Beirut, Lebanon, where I would return after my time in Nepal. It feels strange to write that my comfort zone is the Middle East, but it’s true. Living in Nepal was going to be hard. I didn’t know Nepali and barely knew anything about Nepal’s history–I was going in as ignorant as the foreigners I had made fun of in Lebanon a few weeks earlier. “Why would you bother coming to a country without learning the native language first?” I had learned my first lesson of the summer without even stepping foot in Nepal: I was a huge hypocrite. Despite my mediocre efforts, I could not memorize all of the basic Nepali sayings provided by a quick Google search during my flight to Kathmandu (I did, however, learn how to say “Hello, my name is…” and “thank you” which did earn me some ~cool girl~ points in the office). With crushed goldfish in my shoes, I made my way through the Tribhuvan International Airport. I was greeted by a familiar face, Melech, and a girl in a red shirt. Melech, a Davidson student on the same program, had arrived a few days prior and came with Eve, our program director, to pick me up. We put my bags in the back of the taxi and headed towards my home for the next two months. On the way back from the airport, Eve explained the layout of Kathmandu and gave a brief overview of what the next two months would look like. We’d have a seminar every week to talk about Nepali history, the current political climate, voluntourism, and our roles as foreign interns in Nepal. In addition to our seminars, we’d be working a full-time internship at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal. Upon arrival at the apartment, Eve let Melech and I know that we’d have our first seminar over dinner in a few hours. I walked into the apartment feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I put my bags down, emptied the goldfish out of my shoes, and took a deep breath–this was home now.

Fueled by an incurable jetlag and a recent obsession with fitness Instagrams, I decided I was going to run my way around Sanepa, the area in Kathmandu where I was living. I noticed a few things on my morning runs:

1) everyone in Sanepa seemed to be awake and fully functioning by 4:30 am

2) there were dogs everywhere

3) a thick layer of dust and car exhaust covers the city around 7:30 am

4) I was very out of shape

Running gave me the ability to explore Kathmandu in ways I wouldn’t be able to since I was working full-time. The weekends were reserved for tourist-y activities and outings with friends at their favorite restaurants, bars, and cafes. On my morning runs, I could zigzag in and out of the back roads–seeing hidden street art, passing by people walking to the temple, and saying hello to the kids outside of their parents’ corner stores. I became a familiar face to my new neighbors and learned how kind-hearted they were—shooing away dogs who had started chasing after me and offering me water and food when I was red, tired, and sweaty. I would soon come to learn that openness and generosity were not characteristics exclusive to my neighbors, but rather that this was the Nepali way. Within my first few weeks here, I already feel loved, welcomed, and at home. I can’t wait for the rest of the summer and I’m so incredibly lucky to be living here.


Street art (1/3)


Street art (2/3)


Street art (3/3)

In an attempt to practice my Arabic over the summer, I frequented the only Syrian-owned restaurant in Kathmandu (and I believe Nepal). My coworkers came with me to try Middle Eastern food for the first time. Here they are enjoying zaatar w jebneh and chicken shawarma!

Jakarta, Indonesia Part 3: Connecting with your “Inner Source”

I first learned about YCAB while watching an Indonesian talk show featuring Veronica Colondam, CEO of YCAB. Her talk really inspired me and I wanted to intern at YCAB to experience first-hand the inner-workings of the organization. Naturally, one of the things I was most looking forward to during my internship was getting to meet Veronica Colondam in person. Turns out, when I first met her, she asked me to accompany her to two of her talks over the weekend and be her assistant for the day.

One of the highlights of my internship was listening to Veronica Colondam speak to a group of young high school and college students. While addressing the topic of being a true leader, she referred to a book written by Otto Scharmer titled Theory U. The book brings up the point that in order to bring about transformational change, we need to not only focus on what we do or how we do it, but also explore who we are and understand the inner place from which we operate. The idea is that successful leadership comes from being able to connect with your “inner source”. Her talk provided me with a fresh perspective on leadership. To be a strong leader for others, one needs to first establish a strong spiritual anchor within. This spiritual anchor can provide a purpose to the things that we are fighting for, and it helps us persevere when challenges come in the way.

Veronica Colondam speaks on being a true leader

Spark Indonesia members after the talk by Veronica Colondam (college students interested in social entrepreneurship)

Throughout my internship, YCAB was more than just a workplace where I was exposed to a professional setting, but it was also a nurturing environment where I found inspiring mentors and formed valuable friendships. I engaged with people who understand and share my passion for service. In a classroom setting at Davidson, I learn about theories of change—but working at YCAB allowed to me to go beyond understanding theories; I learned how such theories are implemented into different programs that impact individual lives. All in all, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to intern at YCAB and work with people who share the same vision of touching deeper into people’s lives.

Fellow YCAB Interns

Farewell with fellow YCAB interns

Last but not least, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Freeman Foundation for making this treasured experience possible. Truly, my two-month internship allowed me to grow both personally and academically in so many different ways.

Internship at AmCham China: Beijing Post 2

I arrived an hour early to my first day of work at the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China, or AmCham China. I arrived at 9, the doors didn’t open until 9:30, and I wasn’t expected to arrive until 10.  I was given a brief tour of the office, introduced to the other interns—all of whom were Chinese—and I was shown to my desk. I sat there for a while, nervously refreshing my email every few minutes.  After about an hour, I got an assignment: polish the English for an event advertisement. It was only about 6-7 sentences, so it didn’t take long. That was my only assignment that day.

My official role was to provide support for the company’s Training and Professional Development services and its lecture events. This meant preparing advertisements for the events, calling attendees, managing each event’s budget, facilitating the check-in processes, and taking notes at each event.  

By the end of my internship, I had helped to run about ten events, some more general professional development events and some programs more tailored to an attendee’s specific line of work. I also helped to facilitate events with a few speakers, such as David Dollar from the Brookings Institute and a prominent Beijing executive coach named Gao Lin.

The most valuable part of this internship was getting to connect with so many people working in Government Affairs roles in the commercial sector, a career path that I was highly interested in when entering into this role. A lot of our training sessions were tailored to Government Affairs practitioners who worked for consulting firms or American MNCs operating in China. After this experience, I’m more interested in exploring experiences in other sectors.

Pictured with the US Ambassador to China at AmCham’s Annual July 4th Party. 

AmCham’s lobby.

My Chinese business card to use for collecting Fapiao and exchanging contact information with members of the Chamber.

Jakarta, Indonesia Part 2: Working with Rumah Belajar Students

At YCAB Foundation, I had the opportunity to work with both the Partnership and Program Development Teams. One project that I was particularly invested in was a partnership program between YCAB and Danone Indonesia. Danone wanted to fund a nutrition-oriented program for YCAB’s beneficiaries, so YCAB was in charge of designing a nutrition intervention and education program based on the needs of its beneficiaries and some criteria provided by the funder.

Several YCAB Partnership Team members

The first task assigned to me was needs assessment. My mentor, who is also the head of the Partnership Team, helped me to think through the logic of developing a program, and one of the first things she encouraged me to do was to figure out the various potential stakeholders of a nutrition-oriented program. I decided that in the case of nutrition intervention, potential stakeholders would include children, teachers, parents, as well as expecting parents. Reaching out to parents and expecting parents can come in the form of training and education, which can be provided through community events or directly given at the homes of YCAB beneficiaries on a weekly basis. Similarly, teachers can also be trained to integrate nutrition education into the curriculum. The stakeholders that I was most interested in, however, were the children themselves. As an intern, I had direct access to the Rumah Belajar (Learning House) students, so I set out to observe the students’ eating habits during snack times and interview them to get a better sense of their daily eating habits in general.

I found that there were many issues involved with the students’ eating habits. First of all, there are two groups of students that attend Rumah Belajar: the morning students that come from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the afternoon students that come from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. After interviewing the morning students, I quickly found that many come to school without having breakfast. At first, I thought that this problem would be less prominent for the afternoon students, but it turns out that the majority of the afternoon students also come to school on an empty stomach. Both morning and afternoon students are given a 30-minute snack time in the middle of their school hours, and based on my observation and conversation with the students and teachers, I found that the students can be grouped into three categories. First, there are students who come to school with pocket money, ranging from Rp. 5,000-10,000 (approximately  50-75 cents). These students end up buying snacks from street vendors, but none of these vendors serve healthy options. Most students rotate between buying cold sugary drinks served in a plastic bag or meatballs that are mostly made of flour. Second, there are students who pack their own lunch, and these packed lunches are very modest, often consisting of rice and egg or rice and a small portion of fried chicken. Lastly, there are also students who neither bring pocket money nor packed lunch, and spend their snack time simply playing or chatting with friends. Other problems that come up frequently during interviews include having less than 3 meals per day and the absence of milk consumption.

Rumah Belajar students during snack time

At the end of my internship, I compiled the results of my observation and interviews, and presented them to my mentors at the Partnership Team. I also provided them with suggestions for program components and different types of interventions that can be considred. For example, I suggested some improvements for the clinic located at Rumah Belajar. I noticed that the clinic operates on a treatment-based approach, but does not emphasize prevention and health promotion. Therefore, I suggested that the clinic can offer workshop days where students are given vitamin deficiency check-ups and nutritional supplements. Working on this nutrition project with YCAB also led me to do more personal research on the relationship between nutrition and educational outcomes. I learned that nutrition and education are very much interconnected. When working to improve education, it is not only important for us to consider the information and skills we teach to students, but also the nutrition we supply so that students can perform optimally. Although I did not stay long enough to be able to fully participate in the long-term project with Danone, I was glad that that I can contribute my knowledge in Public Health to the team, and I am very much looking forward to the implementation of a nutrtion program at YCAB.