How to stay out of Foreign Jails and What to do if Arrested

This is an article sourced from, written by Dan Harris and posted on March 1st, 2021.

Source: Read the original article here.

Yesterday, in Americans, Australians, British and Canadians Are Being Singled Out in China and I’ve Got Proof I wrote how the CCP singles out people for arrest on criminal charges based on their nationalities.

In response to that post, I got the following email:

I am an Australian citizen and you are right that we are being singled out for criminal prosecution in China now. We are also being singled out for other discriminations but I will save that discussion for another time. I want to leave China but I cannot afford to leave now. Is there anything you suggest I do to protect ourselves from arrest?

My response was that I would put it in a blog post and so here goes.

When my two kids did their foreign study I stressed to them that they would be bound by the laws in the countries in which they would live and visit and that the U.S. Embassy can do very little to help them if arrested. I also talked with them about various things they should not do. The below is a similar list for China and for anywhere else in the world. The following is intended to increase your odds of avoiding legal snafu in a foreign country. Note that some of these things do not apply to all countries. Note also that some of these things may not be a crime (or a big deal) in your country, but they can be a crime and a big deal in other countries.

  1. Driving without a local drivers license.
  2. Driving a motorcycle without a motorcycle driver’s license.
  3. Leaving “home” without your residency permit and passport.
  4. Living or habituating illegally.
  5. Letting your visa expire; overstaying on your visa.
  6. Working illegally/Working “under the table.”
  7. Participating in an “under the table” deal in any way, shape or form.
  8. Carrying or doing drugs, even if it’s just a plant you picked off the side of the road.
  9. Buying counterfeit products.
  10. Attempting to bring back large quantities of counterfeit goods to your home country.
  11. Soliciting prostitutes.
  12. Mouthing off or being generally uncooperative with a police officer or other government official.
  13. Criticizing the country you are visiting.
  14. Criticizing the government or the leaders or the royalty of the country you are visiting.
  15. Criticizing the flag or the national anthem of the country you are visiting.
  16. Taking pictures of military exercises, crime scenes or police activities.
  17. Taking pictures of a government installation.
  18. Bribing a police officer or official.
  19. Using an unapproved GPS device.
  20. Providing information on or discussing protests or other police activities.
  21. Conducting or operating a business without ALL of the necessary permits and licenses and approvals.
  22. Not paying all of your taxes.
  23. Importing something into the country that is not supposed to be imported into that country. This includes things for your business that might be perfectly legal elsewhere or even perfectly legal to use within the country.
  24. Doing business with a country with which you are not supposed to be doing business.
  25. Selling something that foreigners are not supposed to be selling.
  26. Conducting a business in that foreigners are not supposed to be conducting.In some countries what is legal for its citizens may not be legal for foreigners.
  27. Illegally raising funds.
  28. Engaging in financial fraud in. The definition of this can be quite broad in many countries.
  29. Engaging in religious activities.
  30. Engaging in environmental crimes.
  31. Intoxication.
  32. Not paying a taxi ore retail bill, even if a scam. Better to just pay it and walk away than to be arrested for not paying it.
  33. Fighting or loud arguing.
  34. Anything cannabis related. I put this in its own special category because I am always shocked by college students who wrongly assume that it is no big deal everywhere in the world.

Our international lawyers have dealt with or heard of criminal law problems arising from nearly all of the above.

I once came close (or what felt like close to me at the time) to going to jail when I was in high school in Turkey over #15. I attended a well-known private Turkish high school whose student body was less than 1% foreign students. One day, during playing of the Turkish national anthem, one of my American friends at the school slid me and another American friend a note that caused all three of us to laugh. We were called into the headmaster’s office where we were met by a group of worried administrators concerned that someone would report us to the authorities for acting negatively toward Turkey. Fortunately, nobody did.

Many years ago, I went to Papua New Guinea to help a Russian client recover three helicopters from there (I love writing this sentence). Business visas cost around $800 back then and tourist visas were around $50. I was going there for business and so I got a business visa. At one point while I was in Goroka, I met with the Governor of the Eastern Highlands Province who was not happy that I was there at all. He asked to see my passport and I gave it to him. He looked for the PNG visa and was shocked when he saw that I had a business and not a tourist visa. I have no doubt that his plan was to deport me (or worse) for having an improper visa.

My general advice (once again) is as follows (yes, I know this is really basic, but please bear with me).

My advice is as follows (yes, I know some of it is really basic, but please bear with me):

    • Know the law and follow it to the letter. Do not do something just because someone tells you they heard someone else did it without a problem. There are murderers who never get caught, but that does not make it legal nor does it mean you will get away with it. Want to know the law? The best way is to read the webpage of your embassy or consulate or chamber of commerce and to talk to people at your embassy or consulate. Or hire a lawyer who deals with the applicable laws every day.
    • If it is illegal in your own country, even if just a minor infraction, you should just assume it is illegal in whatever country you are visiting.
    • If you think it might be illegal, just assume that it is.
    • If your country has a system that allows you to register with it before you travel, you should do so. See the United States’ Smart Traveler Enrollment Program here.
    •  Keep a copy of your visa and your passport with you at all times. Make sure everything is current. If the country in which you are traveling clearly does not require this, it is still a good idea to have a copy on you nonetheless.
    • If you are questioned by any government official, be civil. Be respectful. Keep your cool. Tell the truth. If you get caught in a lie you are done. Done. Do not make jokes and especially do not make jokes about the country. Do not act arrogantly. Act respectfully (I am intentionally being repetitive). Make the job of the authorities easier, not more difficult. Just remember, the people in front of you are doing their jobs (or seeking a bribe) and no matter what you do, your actions that day will not advance democracy or human rights or any other ideal one iota. Even government officials in authoritarian regimes are human beings with at least some small bit of discretion. Your job is to give them a reason to cut you a break. This does NOT mean paying a bribe, which has the very real potential of getting you in worse trouble than being deported.
    • If nothing seems to be working, ask if you can call your embassy, your consulate, your lawyer, your joint venture partner, a local friend, or anyone else you think might be able to help you.
    • If you think you might have visa issues down the road, deal with them now. Start your application, find the right lawyer, talk to your embassy or consulate. Whatever. Just do not wait.

If you ever get caught or are accused of committing a crime in a foreign country, do not make light of it in any way. This means you do not complain about the law. This means you do not talk about how what you did is legal somewhere else (like your home country) and this means you seek to hire a top-flight criminal lawyer as quickly as possible, even better if that lawyer has experience representing foreigners on criminal matters. This also means you should immediately contact your home country’s embassy or consulate to let them know that you are being held.

It also does not hurt to remember that foreigners in most countries are more likely to get caught, more likely to get arrested, more likely to get prosecuted, and more likely to get a stiffer sentence than a local.

I welcome any additions to the above. 10

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10 Reasons Employers Love Graduates who Studied Abroad

This is an article sourced from posted on September 13, 2019.
Source: Read the original article.

Studying abroad is not only a fantastic driver of personal development, it’s also a way to make new friends from all over the world and a means of traveling while completing your studies. It’s a highly marketable experience that you should parade before all potential future employers.

Here are 10 reasons why employers love international graduates:

1. Broad, global experience

When you study abroad, you’re taking in twice the knowledge. The textbook may teach you more or less the same curriculum as it would at home. But the people you’re surrounded by, the culture shock, the everyday occurrences that strike you as odd or different – those are all forms of ‘teachers’ you wouldn’t be exposed to at home, safe inside your comfort zone. Learning about the world hands-on, as you do abroad, is just as marketable to potential employers as what you learned from Powerpoint slides or assigned readings.

2. Enthusiasm

Just the fact that you got on a plane and saw another part of the world puts you leagues above your competition. A desire to travel and experience other corners of the globe shows you’re thirsty for knowledge and new experiences. Employers like to see such enthusiasm in the people they bring to the team.

3. Cultural awareness

‘Culture’ is a very loosely defined term and may apply to many aspects of the job you’re seeking. Employees may come from different cultural backgrounds; potential clients may be based abroad, and have different cultural customs; and your job may have its own particular work culture. The ability to absorb and adapt to new cultures is highly desirable, as is cultural sensitivity, often demanded of people when they study abroad.

4. Problem solving skills

Living abroad throws all sorts of new and unforeseen problems your way, and chances are, if you completed your time overseas, you learnt to resolve most of them. From seemingly petty problems like smoothing over cross-cultural issues with roommates, to more substantial ones like dealing with a foreign government’s bureaucracy, being abroad isn’t always a walk in the park. Problem solving is a skill employers look for in a strong applicant, so navigating these issues abroad gives you a great bank of experience to draw from and talk up during your interview.

5. Self-sufficiency

During your time abroad, it’s likely you had to fend for yourself a bit more than you were accustomed to back home. Being much further away from friends and family naturally begs you to become more self-sufficient. You’ll need to learn things as you go; pick up and carry on during hard times; even learn to boil pasta far away from your mother’s helping hands. Your employer will appreciate this autonomy, as it shows you’ll be capable of managing and completing tasks that come your way.

6. Advanced social skills

Unfortunately, airlines these days set a pretty firm size and weight limit on luggage, and all your friends and family won’t fit inside. Going abroad means having to form a new social circle. When you start a new job, you’ll need to be aware of appropriate social behaviour, mingle with new colleagues, impress your boss, and generally mesh well with the team. But you’ll be able draw on all the social skills you picked up overseas!

7. Adaptability

You’ve already adapted to a whole new culture, schedule, university requirements, possibly even a new language. Adapting to a new workplace shouldn’t be too hard for you, and employers will be grateful for this.

8. Fresh perspective

Studying abroad opens your mind in ways you could not have imagined before. Even in seemingly similar cultures, there are differences that may never have occurred to you had you stayed in your sheltered bubble throughout university. Gaining a new perspective abroad will help you be more creative, see opposing sides and consider decisions from different angles in the workplace.

9. Appreciation of diversity

Your decision to study abroad demonstrates that you understand the importance of diversity – both cultural diversity, and on a more personal level, that of diversifying your academic experience and views. Hopefully you’ll also be able to appreciate diversity in the workplace, and even come to expect it for a company to thrive.

10. Ability to take risks and use initiative

Just the fact that you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone in the first place shows your capabilities. And making the move abroad takes initiative – the opportunity didn’t just fall into your lap; you actively sought it out. Employers recognise that in a prosperous company, employees should be willing to show initiative and, to a certain extent, take risks.

It’s no surprise that employers are eager to hire individuals with international experience. Market your newfound skills well, and it shouldn’t be difficult for your worldly, well-rounded self to land the job!

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Enrollment by Country: Academic Year 2018-2019

CountryAY 2018-2019
New Zealand15
South Africa6
Graph of Enrollment by country for Academic Year 2018-2019.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, 364 students studied abroad.

A total of 29 instructional and research faculty taught and/or conducted research abroad through the UHM Study Abroad Center for Fall 2018, Spring 2019, and Summer 2019.  These faculty members represented the following departments: Accountancy, American Studies, Anatomy, Biochemistry and Physiology,  Architecture,  Asian Studies, Communications, Curriculum Studies, English, Ethnic Studies, Geography, Hawaiian Knowledge, History, Information and Computer Sciences, Information Technology Management, Institute for Teacher Education, Language and Literatures of Europe and the Americas, Law, Music, Pacific Island Studies, Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, Social Work, Theatre and Dance.

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Staying Safe Abroad for LGBTQI+ Students

Staying Safe Abroad for LGBTQI+ Students

Written by Dave Landry Jr.

Studying abroad is an incredible and life changing adventure for many students. The number of students choosing to participate in study abroad programs increases year after year with Europe being the top pick among students.  The academic and career benefits of studying abroad are overwhelmingly positive. As the world becomes increasingly more interconnected thanks to social networking, companies are looking for more students with experience living abroad or those with international experiences. Through study abroad programs many international students gain academic knowledge for their field but also career knowledge that can help propel them after graduation. Students studying abroad need to prepare not just for their new classes and university but also their living situation in a whole new country. Students must consider safety precautions while living abroad and LGBTQI+ students in particular have to consider some unique sets of precaution. Here are some things to consider while studying abroad:

  1. Research The Country: According to research, more American “millenials” who identify as LGBTQI+ feel more accepted in their communities than previous years. Although acceptance seems to be growing in the United States, other countries around the world might not be as LGBTQI+-friendly. As a student abroad you should be conducting research about the country you will be moving to and its culture anyway, but you want also want to make sure you look into the  LGBTQI+ culture that exists in the country as well. You can often find country guides online that list the various safety risks in various countries as well as acceptance rates. Finding out your host country’s norms and styles of behavior can help you gain acceptance within the community you are studying in as well as help you learn more of the country’s culture in general.
  2. Learn the Lingo: In addition to learning the host country’s language you also want to learn vocabulary and slang related specifically to sexual orientation as they will always differ. Learning the positive and negative connotations of the jargon can help you maintain correctness while speaking as well as show awareness. Knowing these terms can also help you gauge who might be the right people to foster friendships with while abroad.
  3. Find Safe Havens: Learning the safe places in a community for an LGBTQI+ person can take time and for students going abroad it means really stepping out of their comfort zones. As a student going abroad you’ve already taking the brave step of trying something risky but exciting. For LGBTQI+ students abroad the added risk of being able to express themselves in a completely different space and culture comes into place. Try to make friends in your host country that know the lay of the land to find our which places might be riskier for those part of the LGBTQI+ community.
  4. Join LGBTQI+ Groups on Campus (or start one!): Joining LGBTQI+ clubs or groups on campus can not only direct you to great resources in the area but also make new friends at your university. However, keep in mind that campus activity will depend on the country you are living in and what kind of university you are enrolled in. American universities tend to emphasize campus life and university pride by having many on-campus student activities. However, not all universities around the world have that same higher education culture. You might find that there are few groups or clubs on campus or none at all. Keep this in mind while researching your university but also think about starting your own group if one does not already exist. This can help you meet new people as well and have another activity you can add to your experiences.
  5. Make Friends: Making friends for any student studying abroad is a necessity and especially making friends with locals. While being friends with other international students has the added benefit of sharing that similar experience of being away from home, making friends with locals can help you learn first-hand about the country you are living in as well as the culture and customs. Remember, people from the country can tell you authentically much more than any guidebook can and of course making friends while studying abroad can help you build friendships that last.

A crucial part of having a fun and successful study abroad experience is safety. This goes for all students but especially for LGBTQI+ students as acceptance various so greatly among countries and cultures. Keep these tips in mind while abroad to ensure a safe experience but do not forget to have fun and enjoy this exciting educational opportunity.

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Job Hunting in the Digital Age

Job Hunting In the Digital Age: Reputation, Resumes & Video Interviews

Written by Dave Landry Jr.

As you pursue your studies and plan for your future, you need to set yourself apart from the pack.

One way you can differentiate yourself from the competition is by highlighting your study abroad experience at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Study Abroad Center.

According to one organization, the number of U.S. students who studied outside of the country for credit during the 2013 to 2014 school year climbed 5.2% to 304,457 from 289,408, which represented less than 1.5% of all U.S. students were are enrolled at post-secondary schools in the country. So your study abroad experience will put you among a relatively small group.

Also take into account that in this digital age, your online reputation matters a great deal since everything you do online leaves a footprint that employers can follow — and you don’t pictures and forum posts to overshadow your study abroad experience.

Consider this, for instance:

  • 75% of recruiters will conduct online research of candidates
  • 70% of recruiters have rejected candidates based on what they found

While there are things you definitely need to avoid doing online, there are things you can do to create a digital footprint that will interest employers and recruiters for all the right reasons. Whether it’s a great resume on your LinkedIn page or an enticing video interview, you can demonstrate to decision-makers looking to fill positions that you’re an ideal candidate.

LinkedIn + Resume

According to International Student, there are lots of benefits to studying abroad. One that you should be particularly mindful of is that it can lead to more career opportunities since future employers will take note of your openness to immersing yourself in other cultures, your language skills, and your well-rounded education.

You can make it easier for them to find out about you by getting yourself a LinkedIn profile and by filling in the sections thoroughly. Be sure to highlight the fact that you did study abroad. Combining the power of LinkedIn with the power of a great resume will help you leapfrog over the competition.

Video Interview

In this digital age, you need to be prepared for the possibility of video interviews. Whether the video interview is for a job opportunity or for a business school interview after you take your GMAT exam, you’ll want to talk up your experience studying in another country.

Once more, your decision to study abroad will give you a competitive advantage over your peers who did not choose to do do. Make the most of it, and you’re sure to come out on top.

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Some (Not-So-Secret) Secrets to Securing Scholarships for Studying Abroad

Have you always wanted to study abroad, but thought you could not afford it? This post is written by Spring 2016 in Seville, Spain participant Catherine Gardiner, who was awarded three scholarships (that we know of!) which would cover a big chunk of her study expenses. Read on to find out how she did it!


Is money the only thing keeping you from studying abroad? That’s what initially hindered me from even dreaming about studying in Spain. Without a steady income, there was no way I could afford a European adventure on top of my tuition and other living expenses.

But I decided to indulge and attend an information session, anyway. What the heck?  Window shopping is always free, right? In that initial meeting, as the study abroad advisors explained the expenses related to studying abroad, I realized just how attainable an adventure like this really is. To spend a semester studying in Shanghai, China, for example, is $19, 543 cheaper than studying at UHM. Here are some other comparisons:


Cost of Attending UHM*

Cost of Study Abroad Program**


Shanghai, China $ 26,834.00 $ 7,291.00 (Fall 2015) $ 19,543.00
Machida, Japan $ 26,834.00 $ 9,771.00 (Spring 2015) $ 17,063.00
Paris, France $ 26,834.00 $ 17,096.00 (Fall 2015) $  9,738.00
*Based on resident rates to include tuition, fees, books/supplies, meals, housing, and personal expenses for 2015-2016. See UHM budget.
**Cost includes school tuition, housing, excursions, health insurance, meals, textbooks, ground transportation, and UHM study abroad and student visa fees.  Round trip airfare is not included. See respective program online budgets for further breakdown of costs at

Had it not been for the informational meetings and encouragement from the study abroad advisors, I would not have applied to study abroad in Spain for the Spring and Summer 2016 terms. Furthermore, I would not have searched for and secured the scholarships which are covering nearly all my travel expenses.

As I have sought numerous scholarships, there are a few (not-so-secret) secrets that have helped me to obtain a surplus of awards.  Here are the highlights:

Money doesn’t grow on trees. You’ve got to work for it.

Your parents were right. You have to honestly work to earn a pretty penny—even (if not, especially) scholarship money.  Reading the list of requirements of a scholarship application might make you cringe at the amount of work involved: application forms, essays, recommendation letters, oh my!  But think about it: even if you put in ten hours into applying for a $1000 scholarship and you win, that’s $100 an hour.  That’s about what an orthodontist or underwater welder makes per hour. Plus scholarship money is untaxed income.  So roll up your sleeves and work to make your application and essay really shine.

Write an Essay that’s Outstanding and Stands Out

Simply from the application form, you’re not likely to stand out from the other hundreds of applicants with similar grades, extracurricular activities, and volunteer experience. This is where the essay is so important. It’s your chance to show the review committee the person behind the application—why you’re passionate about this study abroad program and why it’s vital that you receive the scholarship.

To do this, answer the essay completely and try to show how their investment in you will be compounded because of your study abroad experience. How will it affect your outlook, your future and, more importantly, your community at large?

Make sure you review your application meticulously before sending it.  Your professionalism, attention to detail, and overall effort can be the difference between being the recipient of an award and being second best.  I usually ask my family, esteemed peers or professors to read over my essay for both grammar and content before pressing “Send”.

Apply, apply, apply!

You probably won’t obtain a scholarship for every application you send in, but the more scholarships you apply for the higher your probability of attaining money and financing your experience.

Generally, I try to apply for as many local applications as I am eligible for, because there are usually fewer applicants and therefore less competition.  There are also thousands of national/international study abroad scholarships you can find by searching online search engines or scholarship websites.

Here are some of my favorites:

I’m getting ready to pack my bags this month and head to Spain—an experience that I had originally thought was out of reach. My radical shift in thought—from not thinking I could afford this experience to paying for nearly all of it through scholarships—is due to the persuasion and support of the study abroad advisors.  I hope that what I have written can be the encouragement you need to realize that study abroad is totally attainable! As the Spanish say, “Si se puedes” (you can do it!).

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Spending the night in an Internet Café

Rodney McGary | Machida, Japan | Spring 2015

You may have read the title and thought, “What the heck?!” Well, that’s one of the many convenient things about life in Japan, you can camp out in a net café overnight if you miss your last train or bus home.  As for me, the idea of doing this circulated in my mind before arriving, but I never intended to stay out and miss my last train. Instead, I wanted to go out at night with the express purpose of staying in one of these net cafés. Anyway, one night I went out to an International Mixer-type Meetup way out in Yurigaoka. Little side note, if networking is one of your goals while studying abroad or you want to make friends with people who aren’t students I highly encourage you to create a Meetup account because there are countless Meetup groups in Tokyo that suit any and all interests. With that being said, I had such a good time talking to different people, practicing Japanese, drinking, etc, that I left later than I should have. Luckily the trains were still running when I left the Yurigaoka. Upon arriving at Machida station, I made the foolish assumption that buses would still be running at 1AM (insert face palm here).

Collage of a Japanese Internet Cafe storefront.Another important thing to note is that most buses and trains shut down around midnight or earlier in Japan, which a city-born kid like myself found a wee-bit inconvenient, but it is what it is. Fortunately, there are 24-hour Internet/Manga cafés everywhere, including Machida. I made my way to the nearest one, Café B@gus. When checking-in, you’ll be asked to choose from a few rooming options, which included room/booth with: leather chair, leather reclining chair, flat sleeping surface, and leather reclining massage chair. I opted for the massage chair because I really was in need of a massage and it wasn’t too expensive. As for pricing, it varies according to the kind of surface you get and the duration of your stay, which ranged from 3 hours to 24 hours (I think). For the reclining massage chair for a little over 5 hours it only ran me about 13USD. After checking in, I was given a key to my space and told I can enjoy all the free ice cream, soft drinks, and manga as I pleased for the allotted time.

My spot was upstairs in a section with 7 cubicles complete with chairs, desk, and computers (with door), which made it look like a proper office (but instead of working you sleep and relax). After throwing my things down and removing my shoes, I went downstairs to the hot food vending machine that offered: thick fries, hot dogs, fried chicken, yakisoba, takoyaki, fried rice, and onigiri for just 300 yen. After selecting yakisoba, I got myself some ice cream from the machine while I waited 110 seconds for the machine to heat my food then dispense it. For something that dropped from a vending machine, the yakisoba was actually pretty good (and piping hot). Since I didn’t have much time to waste, as I just wanted a little sleep, I wolfed down my food and along with some strawberry coffee from a different machine upstairs. After finishing my food, a few minutes were spent fiddling with the controls on the chair to get a position for optimal massage comfort. It felt great and all, but trying to sleep in one position with your back firmly pressing against a large massage ball in the spine of the chair isn’t an ideal way to get a good night’s rest. I managed to find a position that wasn’t too bad and rested until I heard someone’s mobile alarm clock go off.  The person who set the alarm was completely oblivious to the annoying “beep-beep” which continued even as I was leaving with cubicle four minutes later.  On the way out, all that was left to do is turn in the key, then I was on my merry way home.  However, the buses on Sunday morning start running a little after 7, so I rode the train from Machida to Fuchninobe (just two stops), footed it home, changed into my jammies, and got a proper (day’s) sleep.

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Life in a Homestay

Rodney McGary | Machida, Japan | Spring 2015

A quintessential part of studying abroad for some would definitely be doing a homestay for the duration of one’s program. After all, you get daily exposure to the language and an up close perspective of life in the host country.  Homestay may not be everyone’s cup of tea as I’ve learned in conversing with other students at Obirin who chose to stay in the dorms instead. A couple of common concerns from those who chose dorms over homestay were worries of having a curfew and having to do chores. It is true that some host families will impose a curfew, which may bog down your social life a bit, but in my experience there was no such thing. As for chores and cleaning up, that’s just a part of living in a house, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Homestay situations and environments can vary greatly. You could end up in a house that’s thirty minutes or more from school. You could end up in a brand new house with an elevator in which you have an entire floor to yourself. You could end up in a modest house with small children and a dog. My point is that when choosing to do a homestay, it’s important to be open-minded and flexible in order to get the most out of it.

View of the front of a white and dark gray two-story Japanese home.Student's homestay bedroom with a desk, dresser, and bed.When I received my homestay assignment, I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a nice house that was located just minutes from the school. One of my initial concerns was whether the interior (furniture included) of the house would be accommodating to my height (I’m over six feet tall). Lo and behold everything was all right, I never bumped my head on anything. However, I did notice that dinner table chairs, tables, and sofas in the house were unusually low to the ground, but it never posed a mortal threat to me so I’m not complaining. I ended up getting situated with a two-person family consisting of an older married couple that spoke next to no English. To my surprise, there was also another international student in the house as well from a mainland university. Honestly, it was nice having a fellow countryman there with whom I could share experiences and converse freely.  This was especially welcome since the host family had no children in the house.  Lucky for us, our host family did not impose a curfew, as that would have been a bit inconvenient and restrictive to social activities. The rules of the house were nothing excessive or unreasonable. We just had to make sure we cleaned our rooms once a week, took care of the garbage on the designated days, no showers past midnight, and other small requests. In general, things went swimmingly well. However, I think it’s worth noting that you’re almost certain to run into a problem, either due to miscommunication and/or cultural differences. For instance, both my homestay brother and I caught heat for improper washing of the winter futons as neither of us were familiar with futon cleaning at the time. Nonetheless, that episode was not an evictable offense as my mother later told me that there’s always been some issue that has popped up with prior international students who have stayed there so it wasn’t a big shock. This couple seems to be veteran in hosting international students, so I’m sure they’ve experienced a lot and know how to handle situations. With them not speaking English, it made us make use of our Japanese. I found it quite convenient that a couple of my textbooks and other useful materials were already in my room courtesy of the previous occupant.

A homemade Japanese meal of croquettes, salad, rice, and miso soup.

A homemade Japanese meal of curry rice, salad, and strawberries.One of the best things about doing a homestay is all the awesome, homemade food I got to eat! For nights I was in the house, dinner was either provided or we took a trip to a local restaurant. Breakfast at my homestay usually consisted of salad, a cup of yogurt, and a juice of some kind. Dinner varied greatly from curry rice to yakisoba and quite literally every other Japanese food you could think of. Eating with the homestay family was always a treat and economical.  One more thing I’d like to highlight is that staying in a residential area in which locals will at least see you regularly enough can potentially afford you the opportunity to get to know your neighbors, thereby opening up a whole new box of possibilities. For instance, my host brother and I ended up befriending our neighbor who also attends Obirin. She lives with her mom, little sister (also a member of a budding idol group), and little brother. Every so often we’d link up to cook, eat, and play video games together. There was even one time my neighbor and her mother took me into Yokota Air Force Base, something that only people who have base access can do. If given the opportunity to do a homestay in Japan again (or any other country for that matter) I’d definitely do it!

Student sitting around a small table with Japanese friends eating hotpot together.

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Friendly Circles

Rodney McGary | Machida, Japan | Spring 2015

A vitally important part of studying abroad in Japan (or anywhere really) is making friends, particularly with locals.  Since Obirin has been operating its Reconnaissance Japan Program for over 20 years now, they definitely know how to make international students feel welcome and integrated with the local student population. On the first day of orientation at Obirin, you’re placed in a cluster with other international students and you all get acquainted over a welcome lunch. Within your assigned cluster are a few “Global Supporters” who there to answer any questions you have about Obirin, Japan, or anything you want to know.

Students having an animated discussion while standing around a meeting table. Students learning another language from a fellow international student.

Based off my experience, most of them speak English reasonably well and are quite friendly. During the initial orientation phase of the semester, it’s possible that you’ll come in contact with persons representing one of the many school clubs (“circles” as they’re called at universities in Japan). In my opinion, there’s no better way to make friends at Obirin than by joining a circle because you’ll be surrounded by people who share the same interest and passions as you, whether you’re into dancing, martial arts, sports, anime and manga or other things, you’re certain to make some Japanese friends with whom you share common interests. In being apart of such circles you can become connected to on-campus social events, cultural events/activities, and even more friends (both on campus and off).

A white board welcoming students to a cultural exchange.
There are few circles at school that specialize in promoting intercultural friendships and learning. Early on, I was nabbed by such a group called 世界の友達 (Sekai no Tomodachi). I really like this circle because there’s a diverse crowd of people who can share their respective cultural practices and languages. Best of all, the primary language used within the group is Japanese! Another benefit of joining circles is the opportunities to hear natural Japanese amongst young people and using the Japanese you learn in class as well as picking up some more. If you’re serious about improving your Japanese, then joining a circle is definitely the way to go. At Obirin, there are similar circles to the one I’m in, such as Ichi-go Ichi-e and Global Supporters. Groups like these help to create friendships amongst members by: throwing various parties, hosting fun trips, doing  cultural events, and eating together during the week.

International and Japanese students posting for a photo at a restaurant dinner table.
All in all, I’d say it’s pretty easy making friends at Obirin, as there many active circles on campus and many Japanese students here are eager to have foreign friends. You’ll be embraced all the more if you can speak Japanese or at least make a decent effort to try.

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Getting Around in Tokyo

Rodney McGary | Machida, Japan | Spring 2015

A silver and blue commuter train in Japan.

Riding trains in Tokyo is by far the easiest way to get to anywhere you want to go in the city as they are incredibly convenient. Now, when you think of Tokyo trains, what kind of things come to mind? A seemingly infinite network of trains spanning across multiple prefectures? Claustrophobia-inducing crowds during rush hour? Super fast and clean trains? If any of these came to mind straightaway, you wouldn’t be wrong! As a student coming here, this is a topic that I suggest you mentally prepare yourself for beforehand. I must say that if you’re from a big a city like me and already accustomed to life in a metropolis, adjusting to Tokyo trains is a piece of cake. However, for those of you who have limited to no experience with city trains, dealing with trains here may be a bit of a shocking and hectic experience (that can be overcome nonetheless).  Based upon my experiences thus far, I will do my best to explain the transportation here in simple terms.

An interior and exterior view of crowded Japanese commuter trains.

First off, there are 158 train lines serving the greater Tokyo area. Overall, I’d say that you’ll probably only be using a small handful on a regular basis (depending on how much of the city you want to see and how often you go). Luckily your commute to and from school won’t be very complicated. For homestay students, you’re generally not situated far from school. Just a quick train ride anywhere from 2-5 stops, then you arrive at Fuchinobe Station where you take the free shuttle to Obirin campus. If you’re lucky like me, you could get placed 15 walking minutes from campus 😉

The route map of the Odakyu Train Line.

As for getting around Tokyo on the trains, it may seem overwhelming at first, but there are maps posted at every station with information in both Japanese and English. If you can read a map, it really isn’t as complex as it seems (trust me, it’ll all make sense when you get here). However, in this grand age of godlike technology, I can’t neglect to mention that there are some free apps available to help you navigate the trains. Most of my Japanese friends here use the NAVITIME for Japan Travel app. Even the most directionally-challenged folks will be just fine with using this app.  Tokyo train stations are quite large and have a multitude of exits and transfer points and certain stops. There are also signs everywhere in stations that can easily direct you to the proper exit or transfer point, but sometimes contending with crowds whilst finding your way out can make the process a little daunting.

Route maps for two different train lines.

I’ve found that transportation here is a bit more expensive than what I’m used to back in America and requires stricter budgeting, because travelling long distances in the city can stack up in no time. For instance, me going to and from Yokohama to hang out (from Fuchinobe Station to Sakuragicho Station to be exact) cost 550 Yen each way, amounting to 1020 Yen (roughly $8.50 as of May 2015) both ways. The cost of your trip will be determined by the distance you travel each time. The further away you travel from your start starting point, the more you will have to pay. At every train station, above the ticket dispensers, is a map of train lines and alongside each stop is the price you have to pay to travel to each individual stop.

Train route map of central Tokyo.

This brings me to my next topic: paying for the transportation! When I first arrived, I paid for train tickets using cash. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket machines that are usually located near the gates. These ticket machines may seem a little intimidating, but the interface can be switched to English with the push of a button, which can ease the situation a bit. In order to figure out how much money to put in the machine, simply locate your destination and price on the overhead map, and then insert your money. The machine will dispense your ticket along with change. From there you insert your ticket into the entry gate, the gate spits it out on the other end, then you take the ticket. Please be sure to hold on to the ticket as you’ll need it to properly exit the gate at your destination stop. Aside from paper tickets that need to be purchased for every single ride, you have the choice of getting either a Pasmo or Suica card. I think Suica would be your best bet because they are valid on all lines and buses at all times. Suica cards can be purchased at any train station and  recharged at the aforementioned ticket machines in increments of 1000, 5000, and 10000 Yen. In order to pass through the entry and exit gates, you scan the card over the card reader, which allows you to pass and displays your balance on a small screen. The Suica card is not only used for the trains and buses, but you can also use it at station vending machines and some casual dining restaurants!

View of an empty train track and passengers waiting for the train to arrive.

In my experiences thus far, the train stations are always clean, orderly and safe. On train platforms people line up at designated spots that align perfectly with the train doors when the train arrives.  The oh-so-well-known Women Only cars are available during weekdays only at designated times that vary from line to line.  As for crowded trains…it’s not like that all the time, I would say it’s like that in the evenings and on Saturdays.

A sign for the

Just a small note on buses, they too are incredibly convenient, but just like trains, the further you travel the higher your fare. Each stop is announced well in advance as well as being displayed on a monitor at the front of the bus. Instead of pulling a string, you press a stop button, letting the driver know to let you off at the upcoming stop. One thing I have noticed is that buses will charge double the fare after a certain time. For instance, a trip from Machida Station to my house usually cost 248 Yen, I was charged nearly 500 Yen when it was close to midnight. I am not complaining, though. After all, I got home without incident.

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