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Postcards: From Beloit to Belgium to Japan with Phong Tran’14

March 25, 2013

Name: Phong Tran’14        

Hometown: Hanoi, Vietnam.

Where are you studying abroad? At Vesalius College in Brussels, Belgium (fall) and at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka, Japan (spring).

What are the three most important things you packed in your suitcase? Why? Camera. Pen. Umbrella.

One of the most valuable things I always have with me is my camera. It’s a Nikon D80; a bit heavy, but I love it. Photography is one of my favorite pastimes, and I love to be able to document my experience abroad: the emotional, the amazing, the touching, the silly experiences, all together. Not only can I share them with my family and friends, those pictures are also the proof of one of the best chapters in my life.

I also bring a pen because I like writing. Sometimes I write postcards on trains, or random stories in cafés, or for exams in class. Having a pen is very handy.

And an umbrella because you never know when it’s going to rain.

Phong postcard 2 

What is the most unexpected thing you have encountered so far during your off-campus study experience? That YouTube is a surprisingly useful cooking guide.

What is your favorite place in your host city/country? Right now I am in Japan, and it’s a stiff contest between Osaka and Kyoto. Both of them are just 20 minutes by train from my place. Osaka is one of the most bustling cities in Japan, and Kyoto is just amazingly gorgeous with all the temples, shrines and history. I guess it would be Kyoto for now.

Phong postcard 3 

In Belgium, it’s Bruges, an hour by train from Brussels. It’s a very pretty, quiet and scenic city. Some call it the Venice of the North.

What is the best meal you’ve had abroad? Waffles in Brussels and takoyaki in Osaka. I like snacks.

What do you miss most from home/Beloit? Intramural soccer every week. And my friends from Beloit, too. And Sunday dinner at La Casa Grande or Palermos.

What is the biggest difference between Beloit and your host city/university? Similarity? In Vesalius, students (pictured below) do not live in dorms, so there is not as much after-class interaction like in Beloit. The student body is way smaller, too (they have roughly 300 students in total).

Phong postcard 4 

In Kansai Gaidai, there are a lot of students, way more than at Beloit, so there are more different clubs and activities.

However both of them have the same liberal-arts academic style as Beloit, such as small classes, focus on class discussions, etc…

What has been your proudest/most exciting moment abroad? There is no one most exciting moment because each of them has a special value to me, like when I was at Vesalius College, I took a class about European history and we traveled to different cities to learn things hands-on. Or the time I was doing a backpacking trip across Italy, knowing just “buongiorno” and “grazie.”

But I can say that one of the best experiences of my studying abroad is to be able to meet up with other Beloiters (the picture below is with his host parents from Beloit, Dave and Jan Knutson, in Germany) or sometimes exchange students who once studied in Beloit. It was always special when I met up with them. They always talk fondly of their time in Beloit and how they hope to be back one day, and that made me realize how special a place Beloit is.

Phong postcard 5 

When I was in Europe, I was able to meet up with Rogerio Lopez and Peter Englert (spring 2012 exchange students), Lena Hannemann and Maarja Roon (fall 2011 exchanges), Athenais Ropero (2010-11 exchange), Juliette Garnier (2011-12 exchange), Kristof Huszar (spring 2011 exchange) and my ex-roommate Alejandro Quevedo’14. So far in Japan I’ve been able to meet up with Yuka Meseki’12 and Tomosuke Katsuya‘11 and I will with others when I go to Tokyo for my spring break.

What is one song from your host country that you think everyone here should listen to? People here sometimes ask me why I decided to go to Japan, and I always told them the same story. When I was younger, I once listened to a song call Suteki Da Ne, from a video game called Final Fantasy X. There was no English version of it, and it was so beautiful to me that I decided to study Japanese to understand it. One thing led to another and here I am, in Japan. So I think "Suteki Da Ne" (Isn’t it beautiful) is something I’d recommend. Also, another one is "Kimi O Nosete" (Carrying you), a very good song as well.

What will you bring home as a souvenir? The best souvenir I have is all the interesting stories that I have during my time abroad. And also my magnet collection. I make it a point to get a magnet from each city I have been to during my time abroad. I’ve amassed quite an amount.

Phong postcard 1 

You’re already studying abroad at Beloit. Why did you decide to go abroad a second (and third) time? Since I’ve been studying abroad for a while, I’ve come to realize that it brings education to another level because studying abroad does not just mean studying. It means living in a totally different environment, experiencing a new culture, having to deal with new challenges every day, being thrown out of your comfort zone all the time, and I think that is one of the quickest ways to grow as a person, not just academically but also intellectually and culturally. And you get to make a lot of new friends.

What effect, if any, has your status/identity as an international student had on your study abroad experience? It is an interesting subject because when people ask me where I come from, my answer has rarely been short because I’ve lived in quite a number of places and I’ve developed different layers of cultural identity for myself. What it means is that I am able to relate to many different people and I’ve become more culturally competent. Also, telling people that you are an international student is a great ice-breaker.

What was it like to transition directly from one study abroad program into another? What have been some of the biggest challenges and benefits? I do not find much of a problem transitioning from one study abroad program into another, to be honest. I think it is because I have had the mindset that I would be going straight to a new culture when I got to Japan from Belgium. Because I did not go back to the U.S. or Vietnam during the holiday, I did not suffer a reverse culture shock or have to re-adapt myself, which I think is a good thing.