Let’s start my Wild Wild Midwest Journey

You can watch so many TV Shows and movies about American college, research campus life and American culture. Have so many people that come up to you suggesting to do this, or try this food – but nothing can prepare you for that moment you step off that plane, drive into the gates that say “Welcome to Western Illinois University!”

Currently it is 4pm on a Wednesday, approximately 7am Thursday in Australia and I am over looking the north side of the campus from room in Thompson Hall on the 14th floor… The view is absolutely stunning in it’s simplicity. There is a baseball field and a softball filed behind it that reads “The Fighting Leathernecks”, the school’s team name and a water tower with the school’s name on it, amongst dense bush and wide sparse roads. It’s one of the first things I noticed when I entered out of Chicago city – every town’s name is printed on a 10 foot water tower no matter what area. The campus is perfectly groomed as well – no matter what corner I turn, beautiful purple and marigold yellow flowers are featured in gardens, in front of lecture buildings, not to mention statues of “Rocky the Bulldog” the University’s mascot, painted in various purple and gold patterns.

It has taken me a while to get over the feeling of being overwhelmed by just how larger and wide the campus is – directions are not my forte and rely solely on another exchange student from Bulgaria to guide me to where the international orientation activities are. Knowing me, I will most likely just get the grasp of different buildings just in time before I have to depart…

Slowly people are starting to move in which is daunting and exciting as it means that this exchange experience is becoming real, with classes starting in 5 days. I have already met a few American students with some confusing Australia with New Zealand, and believing that Australia is quite isolated from the rest world in terms of pop culture- I was asked if  I knew what Forrest Gump was…

I am excited to start this journey, see what I learn and in 6 months reflect on who I become over my time in America. Let’s go, Western Illinois!

 

Work hard ~ Adventure Harder!

We finally finished up our quarter at the beginning of June and needless to say we were all itching to get out and see some more of Japan. APU usually gives you three days of break and since this year it was tacked onto a weekend, we had a good solid five days of escapism. Everybody was doing different things but most of us were centred around Osaka so we planned to meet up in various places while away. The Sunflower Ferry from Beppu to Osaka is an overnight transport ship that docks near AP4 so we booked tickets to head out in the evening after our exams. The trip takes 11 hours and it is a pretty good deal if you are a student as you can get a cheaper rate and an upgrade to an actual bed through the campus Co-Op. The ship itself has a great all-you-can-eat buffet and even its own onsen onboard. A bunch of us were going at the same time so we met up and spent the night playing cards, over-quoting the Titanic movie and having a few drinks to pass the time.

The sailing gang, our cute cabin & the Sunflower Ferry docked at Osaka

When we arrived in Osaka, we went our seperate ways. Some of the gang were heading to Kyoto, others to Universal Studios and I had managed to wangle my way onto the 1st International Natural Hazards and Disaster Management Conference which was being held at the Hyatt Hotel near the port. Yes, I know, Universal Studios sounds like so much more fun but I was so pumped to do something related to my degree and I had an absolute blast. I was the only non-speaker there so I was a little nervous at first, but everyone was really nice and I made lots of new contacts. The range of speakers was huge and I got to listen to talks about disaster management from a variety of fields and countries which was fantastic.

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Some of the conference speakers and I sneaking in a group pic 

Representing Aus, some of the fab speakers I met & me (for some reason) with a mic bugging people with questions

The conference lasted three days which meant I also got to stay in the Hyatt for that time as well. As already established earlier in this blog, I’m a little obsessed with good showers. Combine a walk-in power shower with a giant adult sized bed and a panoramic cocktail bar on the fiftieth floor, and I was in heaven.

Digging the kawaii vibe in the Hyatt bathrobe, doing back to school prep work with margaritas and a killer view (the best way to study), taking in the lightning over Osaka

When I initially arrived in Osaka, I had the whole day free before the conference kicked off so I spent it running around on a mad mission to see as much as I could of the sights. It is a beautiful city with so much to do and I wish I could have spent more time there. I spent the morning exploring Osaka Castle and the surrounding walls and shrines.  Then I headed the Osaka museum which gave a great account of the history of the city. After that I was on a mission to find the infamous coffee in a cookie-cup that had been doing the rounds on Facebook. It took a little while but (as a severely caffeine obsessed individual) it was worth the trek. That evening I met up with one of the girls for some sushi and got to try sea urchin for the first time which was very cool (and delicious).

The sights & delights of Osaka

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The infamous ‘Ecospresso’ Coffee in a Cookie-Cup! #muchjapan #muchdelish

The conference finished early on the Saturday so I jumped the Shinkansen to Kobe for a little afternoon detour before i headed to Kyoto that evening. I only had a few hours so I headed straight to the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation institute which houses the memorial museum for the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. The Kobe Earthquake was the very first natural disaster I was ever taught about (and pretty much the only thing I remember from high school geography!). Back then I did not know the spark of interest I felt would spur a journey of international travel, study and hopefully (gods-of-student-loans willing) a dream career. The centre is fantastic, managing to be both humbling in the face of nature’s terrible power and inspiring through the stories of amazing community resilience and bravery. The staff go out of their way to make it a super fun and interactive experience so I definitely recommend it.

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The Kobe Earthquake museum – It also lights up blue at night!

After a few hours getting lost in the museum, I was back on the train and heading up to Kyoto. It was pretty late when I arrived so I checked into my capsule hotel and then went for a wander down the backstreets for something to eat. After grabbing some street food from a random hole-in-the-wall vendor, I (shockingly) happened upon a traditional whisky bar and spent a little while sampling some scarily expensive but very delicious Japanese single malts. Once remembering to remind myself I was not in fact one of the travelling businessman that I was drinking alongside but a student with a slightly less stretchable bank account, I quickly made haste back to my hotel to get a few hours shut eye.

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Variety is the spice of life…

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed at 05:30 to head to climb Mount Inari. The infamous Fushimi Inari shrine walk has been on my bucket lists since forever and I wanted to make sure I arrived before the (equally infamous) crowds did. At this stage, it is safe to say I was regretting the drinking choices from the night before but I managed to get to the entrance temple by 0700 and start the climb to the top. Thankfully my efforts were  rewarded with a beautiful serene climb in a surreal yet amazing setting. It takes  about 60 minutes to get to the very top of the mountain, making time to visit the many of the shrines that line the way. It’s a little bit of a hike when your legs aren’t used the steep steps (or you have been in a whisky bar the night before) but definitely worth the effort. It truly was an amazing experience.

Some of the amazing views from the climb

I started back down from the top about 8:30AM and already the crowds were starting to build. By the time I reached the ground, it was wall to wall with people. If you want photos without hoards of tourists getting in the way, I definitely recommend an early start. I rushed back to my hotel to check out and then made the journey back to Osaka. That afternoon, I met up with the gang, who’d had a different yet equally fab time on their various adventures. We caught the boat back to Beppu and arrived home 0700 on Monday morning, just in time for school. A dumping of bags, a very quick shower, an even quicker downing of coffee and before we knew it, we were already back on the bus up the mountain ready to start the new school quarter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bon Voyage, Safe Travels and Enjoy the Adventure

The time has come to say goodbye to our newest group of CSU Global adventurers.  In Session 2, 2017 we will see 17 students from across our campuses as well as our online cohort make a new home with our exchange partners for the next few months.  From USA, Canada, UK, the Netherlands and Norway these guys are going to have the most amazing time of their lives.  Follow some of them throughout their experience and get inspired to take of on your own international study experience.

Add an international edge to your degree by studying on exchange, participating in short-term programs, attending conferences, volunteering or completing your workplace learning at one of many international destinations. Enhance your competitiveness as a graduate in the new global marketplace and have fun at the same time.

Full details are available on our website .

Oh Tokyo… damn you’ve got some wicked style

A throwback ‘Ohayo’ from Tokyo! ❤

It’s been a week and a half since we returned home from the big smoke and already we are longing to be back there again. I can’t tell you how much I love Tokyo! It’s so busy and crazy and energetic; you can’t help but get swept up the madness.

Last time I wrote we had just arrived in Shibuya and I was smashing down a Starbucks reading to begin some adventuring. We finished school on the Friday and took the bus to Oita Aiport that night, arriving at Narita just after 10PM. Got to the hostel at Shibuya around 00:30 and stayed up until the very wee hours eating and drinking in a local late opening restaurant. I have to say I dig the hostels in Japan. Most follow the capsule vibe and have pull across curtains which is great for some extra privacy. They also have towels, sockets for your chargers and lockers for your important stuff. Then there is the shower… Oh the shower… I think I died and went to heaven, I swear.

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Shibuya Crossing ❤

I have to admit AP4 showers are a little lacklustre however I was under the impression prior to coming to Japan that we had communal bathrooms, so I was eternally grateful to find one in my room and will not complain about it. Saying that, it is admittedly a bit rubbish. The bath (like everything in Japan) is tiny, and also weirdly deep so it feels like you are clambering into a trench when you get in. The water spray of the shower itself could be best described as going ‘out’ rather than ‘down’, and it’s practically an art form to be able to arrange the taps so not to boil your skin from your bones. This mental test does wake me up first thing however and I don’t need to share the experience with other people from my floor, a fact that I count my blessings for every morning. Anyways, long story just as long, I was very excited to find a proper power-shower in the hostel lol (easily pleased hey?)

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Our super kawaii AP4 bath 😛

I digress.. where was I? Oh yes. So we were super happy with the hostel and it was only a 15 minute walk from downtown Shibuya and great coffee (and not Starbucks thank god). I spent Saturday morning down at the Tsukiji Fish market which was fantastically busy and exciting!. There was so much delicious food to eat and crazy seafood to look at while you try to keep out of the merchants way.

Some delicious treats at the market!

After the fish market, I went to the royal palace and then went in search for something to eat. After a little walk, I saw a queue coming out of a restaurant and (being British and innately obsessed with queuing), I joined it. The difficulty was that when I got to the front of the queue, you had to pay before you went in and the pictureless menu was only in Japanese. Thankfully, I was saved as someone walked passed the door with a tray so I was able to point to his bowl and gesture that I would have the same. Still unsure what I ordered, I was ushered to a kitchen area and given the most enormous plate of noodles I had ever seen, a bowl of spicy looking sauce and an egg. Turns out I had ended up in a stand up noodle bar which was famous in the area. There aren’t any seats so you just shuffle into a spare space at the bar and slurp to your hearts content. It was delicious and once I had a very full stomach and messy shirt, it was time to get on my way.

The slurp-ier you are, the better it is! 

Met up with the gang again that evening for dinner and cocktails in Roppongi, followed by a cheeky 3am icecream on the way home. The next day I was up early and happened upon an awesome coffee shop in the backstreets of Shibuya. Funnily enough I ran into three Melburnians in there; I don’t know how we do it, it’s like we have a sixth sense for good espresso no matter where we are. Went to visit the Meji Shrine and walked up to Harajuku for an afternoon of delicious snacks and crazy clothes shopping. Favourite purchase has to be the psychedelic fluro dinosaur and laser-eyed cat t-shirt. Much Japan.

Met the guys again later that afternoon and we made the long weary trip back to Narita airport, before back home to Beppu. Once home, we were officially in finals week so there was no more putting off the work for holidays. Most of our group reports were due and exams were dotted over the last few days of the quarter so the last week has been spent holed up on level two for some desperate cramming. Since most of the house is down there together, there was lots of impromptu late night trips for coffee and icecream and plenty of sleep deprived banter to keep us going through the night!

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Back to Beppu!

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Level 2 study dungeon isnt too bad!

Anyways, I’ll leave it here. Best get back to studying I guess 😛

Off to Osaka at next week so I will check in again after the weekend. Until then, wish me luck with finals; providing I can stay awake, all should hopefully go okay (caffeine gods willing).

Have a great weekend!

xo

Ni Juu Kyuu… or bust

It’s official! I am in the last year of my twenties! Lord, I cannot believe I turned 29 on Monday. I finally dragged my way out of my week long death cold just in time for assignment deadlines and finals week prep so I put the birthday celebrations on hold. The gang were having none of it however and gatecrashed the war room (aka my desk) with a cute card, cake and flowers. Bunch of bloody cuties they are. I guess a girl only turns 29 once after all.

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The rest of the week has been pretty chilled. I am back up in the early AM doing terrible Yoga again which was my new ‘old age’ resolution to myself.  We have a sea wall out the front of AP4 that you can walk along and so I set my mat up there in time for sunrise and do some stretches. I now have a few fisherman friends who wave to me (and laugh at my silly posing) when they put their boats out in the morning.

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We went to Oita on Tuesday night to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 which was fab. Any night that ends in Chris Pratt is always fine by me! One of the lads bought a BBQ from Hirose so we had that on the beach on Wednesday evening; felt just like home!

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All I have really done since then is study. As Rhianna says, all we do is work, work, work, work, work…. Well, actually that is not strictly true. We also do spend a large portion of our time having a little too much fun so occasional adulting is sometimes required. This week however I was in study mode, cranking out 3-4am finishes which was great fun… The mysterious coffee Gods have thankfully refilled the coffee vending machine downstairs FINALLY; saved my life on a number of occasions this week I tell you.

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We are almost into our final week of first quarter which is complete madness. I can’t believe we have been here two months, it is going so fast. The semester is split into two quarters so some classes will only run for eight weeks, whereas others will go for the full time you are there. You must take a minimum of eight credits (4 classes) and there is no limit on the maximum. I am taking 20 which is ten classes, four this semester and six the next. You choose all your classes in the first week via the infamous ‘Click Wars’. I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive when I heard about this. Exchange students are the last people to pick their classes and there are only a certain number of spaces left so it really is first come first serve. They bring you all up to the school and sit you in a computer room facing a big red clock that is counting down in an ominous fashion; kind of like every doomsday clock you have ever seen in any disaster movie. Once it hits zero, all 83 of us had to log in and select our classes. Even more helpful is that you can only pick a class one at a time so you have to keep logging in which only adds to the stress. Once the hunger games is over, you have one week to drop and swap with other students. There is a Facebook page devoted to connecting people that want to swap classes with each other. The key to surviving Click Wars is to always have back ups. I had a few up my sleeve so was able to get everything I needed to cover my credits. There are a number of tricks that really helped us out so if you are reading this post as you are going to APU, don’t hesitate to hit me up with an email and I will give you the 411 of surviving APU’s own educational hunger games.

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Classes themselves are different. I am a distance student so actually going to class (as opposed to sitting in my pjs with my laptop) is a new experience for me. I am loving the class content so far. I am taking a lot of environmental science classes which I haven’t done before so it is really interesting. Considering I haven’t actually sat science in about fifteen years, some of it has been a little challenging but nothing that an extra strong coffee and Professor Google hasn’t been able to sort out. The home work so far has been fairly manageable but we wait with bated breath for finals next week! I will write a little more again about the classes and APU soon.

Anyways, I have much more to tell you but I am currently in Tokyo finally celebrating my birthday!! I flew up from Oita airport last night with five of the gang and we are staying in Shibuya hostel which is fab. Having a sneaky coffee break while I digest the biggest and most delicious bowl of noodles I have ever had eaten before I return to the chaos of the city that never sleeps. Will let you know how the weekend goes next week! Until then, have a good one!

Sian xo

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Waking up at Shibuya Crossing

I get by with a little help from my friends

If you reading this blog as a guide to what to expect on your student exchange, I can’t emphasis enough how much fun you are going to have; it truly is the best decision I have ever made and I have had the best experience over the last few weeks. I wanted to write this entry as I feel it is important to let you know that there will be the odd occasion when you may feel a little disconnected from life here or back home, and that is okay. Sometimes, it is when you are first arriving and finding your feet, or when you are feeling under the pump during the exam period, or perhaps it is during times when you would be celebrating events back home. It is totally normal and the important thing to remember is that you are not by yourself… like trust me, it is impossible to be alone in this place! You can’t even go to the laundry without bumping into someone shuffling around in their PJs. Your AP crew is your family while you are on exchange, they are all in the same situation as you and it is important that you take care of each other.

So, as I am choosing to write about this, you can guess I had a bit of a rough week.

It started great. We had got a whole bunch of people together for a karaoke trip last Saturday and ventured out en mass into Beppu. Unfortunately, it was Golden Week (a week of public holidays in Japan) and Wei Wei’s knocked us back. It turns out they prefer to keep the rooms for Japanese people only during this time, and as much as we tried to respect that, it did feel a little unfair considering that a lot of the rooms were free. As it happens, we had an even better night playing ‘AP4 Eurovision’ down at the beach until the early hours. The night ended with a cheeky 0500 trip to Maccas to eat brekky while the sun came up before we made it into bed. I woke up a few hours later feeling surprisingly fine for a Sunday morning, did my homework and sorted out myself for the upcoming week like a proper champion.

I should have suspected my bounce back was too good to be true. I woke up on Monday with an annoying sore throat. Tuesday, I had itchy ears and a voice that rivalled Barry White. By Wednesday, I was a flu-y mess. Call it penance for a weekend enjoyed too much I guess. I had also been perhaps a little too smug about my avoidance of all the colds that everyone else caught when they first arrived, so much so that I had kept half the house going on the supply of Codral I’d brought from home. So when it was eventually my turn, it hit me hard. Unfortunately, I had given away my last two tablets only the week before and was therefore left to the mercy of Japanese cold and flu medication. Japanese meds aren’t particularly strong here. Not like back home where it dries out your face in seconds and gives you a much needed kick in the butt to keep going; so it took a few days for me to really start fighting the bug off. I spent most of the end of the week sweating to death in bed, forcing myself to drink tea (which I hate) and taking long hot soaks in the world’s tiniest bathtub, all the while trying to go to class, do homework, communicate with group project participants in a non shirty manner and torturing myself endlessly that my CSU assignment deadline was looming and I was still a long way off finishing. I was also completely sleep deprived as, every time I would lie down, my whole face would block up and I couldn’t breath so I was getting the odd hour kip here and there propped up against the bed head. Then, on Thursday night, I had a scare from back home involving my little brother. Everything turned out to be fine but in my fragile, sleep deprived, cold inflicted state, it was just one thing too many. I was tired, sick, emotional, missing my family and feeling totally miserable, and so I hid out in my room to avoid dealing with anything or anyone else.

The reason why I am telling you this is because feeling a little out of sorts happens to everyone at some point and we should be honest about it. Otherwise you think that no one else ever feels the same way you do which makes people feel even worse, even more disconnected. Of course, when you disappear, people will always come and find you. My beautiful housemates weren’t having any of my self imposed exile and, while respecting my need for some time out, hooked me up with tea, chocolate, hugs and trips to the pharmacy, just as I had done for them in the weeks prior. Finally, the medication began to work and, after a solid and much needed twelve hour sleep last night, I was ready to face the world again this morning. I hit up Starbucks with a friend for a good chat and giggle over coffee and finally began to feel like my old self again. Tomorrow, I will return to the world in time for the much anticipated Sunday morning breakfast and Eurovision house sleep over in the lounge; a perfect reintroduction to AP4 life if there ever was one.

So this week was a minor blip in an otherwise fabulous experience so far. I wasn’t expecting it and had never really felt home sick before  when travelling so it definitely knocked me about. I am so unbelievably glad to feel better and get back to enjoying my APU experience, especially the upcoming trip to Tokyo next weekend. I sincerely hope you do not experience anything similar but if you do, it is okay to take time out and look after yourself. It is also important to keep an eye out for those who might also be having a harder time adjusting or experiencing a few off days. AP4 quickly becomes your family and the more you look out for each other, the quicker and easier you get through the harder days.

Anyways, this is about as serious I ever get so consider this my one and only ‘adulting’ post amongst the tales of adventure, study and wayward night time adventures.

 

I shall leave you with some of my ‘lessons learned’ for the week;

  1. Sometimes you will feel disconnected or out of sorts and that is okay
  2. Taking time out to regroup is a good thing, just don’t isolate yourself too much
  3. AP4 is your family while you are away; take care of each other
  4. Learn the kanji for ‘cold medication’ and ‘painkillers’ – trust me, it will help
  5. Always keep a secret stash of codral as a back up (just in case)
  6. Your student exchange is a whirlwind of emotions and experiences, take it all in your stride and enjoy the journey!

Love ya’s

xo

 

The Rough (as guts) Guide to Beppu by night

Twas the night after Karaoke and all through AP4 House, not a student was stirring… probably because they all went to bed at 6am and are still in bed either sleeping or severely regretting their lifestyle choices this morning. I am the latter and it is with this thought, as I sit in my pyjamas trying to avoid making eye contact with the To Do list on my wall, I thought I would tell you a little about the night life here. Beppu is a smaller town but that does not mean there isn’t lots of fun to be had. Nights out are the way you make friends fast and I totally encourage any newbies here to try and get out on as many of the organised events that happen during the first few weeks as possible. Six weeks in, our week nights are usually spent eating together at the house and group homework sessions so by the time the weekend comes around, we are ready to get out and have some fun!

Drinking is not allowed in the common areas at the house so we usually meet in one of the rooms for a ‘pre-game’ gathering, before heading out into town after 10PM. Being on the central fourth floor (and being as old as I am, the only person with actual wine glasses), my room is usually volunteered as tribute. It’s always a good start to the night as you get to see with people from other floors who you may not see on weekdays; sharing music from our countries, playing card games and catch up on our school week.

Karaoke is one of our favourite ways to spend a night out here in Beppu. Wei Wei’s is our usual venue although there are many places to choose from. You can rent a room for three hours at 10,000 Yen and so the more people that go, the cheaper it is per person. It is also BYO food and drink which helps support the ol’ student bank account. We usually chuck out a message on the House Facebook page a few days before and are never in short supply of people wanting to attend. For many of us, public singing is not really our thing but, since there is always around 20 – 40 of us in attendance and group singing is encouraged (and usually unavoidable), you have the luxury of never really having to hear your own voice. They take Karaoke super seriously in Japan and the song selection is endless. Part of the fun of karaoke with an international crew is that you get to learn the words to songs you know in other languages. There is a rather amusing video circulating somewhere of us enthusiastically attempting 99 Red Balloons in German and fully butchering La Vie en Rose in French. Apparently I gave a rather exuberant rendition of Men at Work ‘Land Down Under’ last week although my memory of the performance is admittedly a little hazy.

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Getting set up for Karaoke 

Across the road from Wei Wei’s is a little bar that we often frequent on the weekend called Pirates. Pirates follows the Japanese drinking tradition of ‘Nomihoudai’ in which you pay 1000 Yen for three hours of ‘all you can drink’. None of the drinks are particularly strong but it is always a great night of cards, laughs and banter, and regularly a precursor for a night of dancing!

Drink up me hearties Yo Ho!

If you ever grew up in a small town, you will recognise BSB; the Beppu Social Bar. Every town has a place like it. It’s that ‘club’ that you swear you will never go but somehow you always end up there dancing to really bad music at 3am. It isn’t the worst place in the world and it does serve a purpose by providing somewhere to dance in the wee hours, but it does allow smoking which I absolute hate in bars. Having grew up in a time when smoking was prolific in drinking establishments, I was suddenly reminded why it was so great when the laws were passed to ban it. If you stick close to the DJ booth, you are usually okay and it is a good venue to get together with your gang and dance the night away!

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Some of the gang take a break from dancing 

So that is the main contenders for places you will probably frequent the most if you find yourself in Beppu. Definite pros to the place are that it is very safe. We always make sure that we travel together at night, no one is ever left behind by themselves and everyone always has an escort home, but you definitely don’t have the same harassment that you would back in Western bars which is refreshing.

In addition, the walk home from town takes us past 7/11 so therefore a stop for ice cream is always in order. I will talk more about 7/11 and our house’s icecream addiction in an upcoming post relating to the wierd and wonderful shopping in Japan (trust me, its awesomeness needs its own segment).

Finally, as we are right by the beach, there is always an opportunity to watch the sun come up before bed. It’s total madness and you have to ensure there is a non-school day the next day, but its worth it just once if you can managed to stay awake. The sunrise from Mahatogama Park next to AP4 Building is truly stunning (especially with an icecream).

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Early AM shot in the land of the rising sun

So I should probably leave you here, get dressed and start adulting; that homework isn’t going to do itself after all (damn it). For the purposes of balance, I’ll give you an introduction to APU and my start to school life here next. I start week four of classes tomorrow, can’t believe it has already been that long! Have an excellent end to your weekends and wish me luck with my productivity, I certainly will need it.

Xo