Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Remembering My First Study Abroad: Photos from 2005

Last week, I undertook a massive file purge of an old hard drive. It is amazing how one’s drive tends to mirror the state of one’s office… In my case, this means a creative disarray of folders that was once painstakingly organized according to a complex system that I no longer remember! But among the files, I found a treasure trove of old photographs from my very first study abroad in Japan, when I was an undergraduate at Ursinus College (slideshow above).

It was fun reliving the memories of friends met and places traveled over the course of 2005 to 2006. And my, how things have changed from that very first adventure! I remember when two volunteers picked up a very jet-lagged 19-year-old version of myself from Narita Airport to help me find my new dormitory and my university in Mitaka. They kept throwing me softballs–what is your favorite music? favorite movie? favorite food? I remember nodding along, trying to wrap my mind around the barrage of syllables that felt simultaneously foreign and familiar. Every so often an English loan word would grab my attention like a shining beacon until the rolling murmur of the language swallowed it whole once again. I remember feeling a combination of excitement and nervous anxiety about what that year would hold, like any student starting out on a study abroad with only a beginner’s knowledge of the language. But the shock and trepidation wore off quickly, and I began traveling. I found myself venturing to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, investigating Japan’s natural features, and making my way to exhibition openings and basement galleries, often with friends and sometimes alone. It was a year that built character and sparked a love of art, travel, and photography. It also taught me about the challenges that my own students face upon departure.

I used to bring a little Canon point-and-shoot camera with me everywhere I went. This is something that remains the same today, even though I am now dragging around a beast of a DSLR. But here are some glimmers from that year before I had ever decided to go to graduate school and devote my professional career to the study of Japanese visual culture.

Greetings from Hokkaido, Japan

Leaves are just starting to change on the Hokkaido University campus.

Leaves are just starting to change on the Hokkaido University campus.

This post is long overdue, but greetings from Hokkaido, Japan!  I was barely back in California for two weeks after researching at the Smithsonian before I re-packed my bags for a year of research abroad. I am very fortunate to be the recipient of a University of California Pacific Rim Research Program Advanced Graduate Fellowship for my dissertation research in Hokkaido, Japan. I am studying at Hokkaido University until September 2014, and today marks my second full week of classes. Aside from my research here, I do have quite the course-load. In addition to my Japanese coursework, I am auditing two undergraduate classes (Ainu Language and The State of Ainu/Indigenous Studies) and I am partaking in one graduate seminar in the Japanese History department in the Graduate School of Letters. (I am presenting my dissertation research in Japanese on the 3rd of December — I have a lot to prepare!) It has taken me a little while to set myself up, but I am loving Hokkaido. I visited here to do some preliminary research in 2011, and and I must say that Sapporo is one of my most favorite cities. I might change my tune come the winter (and temperatures are already starting to drop here — very different from a “California” autumn), but the people and scenery have been wonderful. As I continue to get settled, I will start doing research in the archives here on campus in addition to using the library and local resources. Looking through their Northern Studies Collection, it quickly became apparent that this is by far the best place to carry out this research. All the books I have been struggling to secure through ILL are within an arm’s reach.

A dramatic photograph of the Hokkaido University Museum (北大総合博物館)

A dramatic photograph of the Hokkaido University Museum (北大総合博物館)

Being here as a research student (in comparison to an undergraduate study abroad student) has also been enlightening in different ways. I meet many other international students here through my language courses. There are a fair number of Master’s and Ph.D. students here doing language work from various disciplines, 6-month and 12-month research students, and 12-month study abroad students creating a fairly diverse community. Although I have been back to Japan every other year since my own undergraduate study abroad, moving here is quite different from short research trips. I am not going through the “honeymoon” that many students experience upon arrival, but it is exciting to see so many glowing faces. (After all, I vividly remember my first trips to the conbini, hyakkin, and karaoke!)  I’m learning to balance new experiences and new friends with my fairly strenuous work flow.

Speaking of which, back to the dissertation. But I will try to post some upcoming events that are happening here at Hokudai in the near future, including several happening this weekend.

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