Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Differences between Japan and the U.S.

Japan, I came here on the 13th of May 2015 and every day I have been here has led me to experiences I would not have been able to obtain anywhere else. The contrasts between the foods, transportation, people and culture between Japan and the U.S. is astonishing to say the least.
Almost everyone has heard of the humongous portion size offered at American restaurants. In comparison, Japanese food is always tailored to satiate a person only until the next meal of the day. The presence of “Combinis” (Convenience Stores) literally on every street and major intersection truly makes these shops live up to their name. Although there are supermarkets similar to those in the U.S., the convenience stores really take it up a notch by allowing a person to pay his rent, buy a bus ticket and get a readymade hot meal.
In the academic setting, there is a stark difference in the student-professor interaction. Methods of communicating with professors in the U.S is, in general, much more conversation friendly and relaxed than with professors in Japan. As in many other Asian countries, Japan also has an academic structure where the all the professors and staff are authority figures and must be addressed with an honorific at all times.
Making friends is radically different between the U.S and Japan. In Japan, most of your friends come from the lab you work in and a large chunk of your time is spent with them. Usually parties include all your peers from work. This is something that is almost never observed in the U.S, as most people have separate relationships at work and at home with most people never mixing the two. Friends in America are made by participating in sports clubs or activity groups and usually not in class.

Housing was a topic that was very interesting. Most houses in Japan are very small with enough room space for just one person to live and is comparable to a studio flat in the U.S. The prices, however, are very expensive for the area provided and large part of the income goes towards paying rent.
Public Transport, this is by far one of the best things about Japan. The trains are always punctual and depart exactly to the minute with a system that connects the whole country. The same can’t be said for public transport in the U.S, where, apart from major cities, it is almost non-existential (that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just more expensive) as cars are the major form of transportation from state to state.
Customer service is in a whole other level in Japan. The customers are revered and are always given high priority with all interaction occurring with a smile on their face and utmost politeness. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, they will try their hardest to communicate and provide all the available options for the best possible outcome.
Overall, Japan and the U.S are both amazing countries, each having their own customs, cultures and quirks. There are plenty of things to see and do in both countries and both places definitely need to be visited by everyone!
Goutham Thangaraj 
Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Co-lead Orientation Workshop Presentations: “Making Friends with Americans” and “Communicating with Your Academic and Research Adviser”
Country of Origin: India
Master: Engineering

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer Internship Experience

Being a student can be one of the most gratifying times in a person’s life. Of course, a student is expected to perform well in her coursework and show up to classes from time to time, but she is mostly in charge of her own time and she only needs to be concerned about herself.

On the other hand, getting a grown-up job is quite another matter. Once a student graduates from the leisurely world of theory and education, she must face and live up to the no-nonsense demands of the “real world.” An adult professional often does not control her own time because of her work engagements, and she has to take responsibility for people other than herself.

It is no surprise then that the transition from being a student to getting a grown-up job presents a significant challenge. One makes the jump from roaming around campus freely and worrying about getting a B- to being stuck to a work post 9 to 5 and panicking about a telephone call to a difficult client. Doing a summer internship while one is still a student is a great way to ease this difficult transition. It allows students to become comfortable in a professional environment and learn the basic skills of a trade, while being short and cursory enough so that students do not have to be completely overwhelmed by the weight of the work.

A summer internship can help any aspiring professional, but it can be especially beneficial for an international student. Working in a professional capacity offers unique challenges to an international student because she must quickly adapt to rules that are different from those in an academic institution. In doing so, she will gain deeper insights as to how the English language is used in a professional context, what Americans value in life, and how to interact with people who have diverse needs and objectives. She will also have the opportunity to develop genuine connections with the people that she works with, which in turn will provide her with valuable information and knowledge about the profession, as well as enough guidance and camaraderie to sustain her throughout her life.

For my first summer internship in the United States, I am working at a legal aid office in downtown Ann Arbor. It is part of a larger non-profit organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals. The office offers free legal representation and advice to survivors of domestic violence in Washtenaw County. The work mostly concerns divorce, child custody, and personal protection orders and the office works closely with a local domestic violence shelter. Since everything is free, the office is full of people that need assistance.

Having a background in victim advocacy and public interest law, I had wanted to pursue this line of work since before I started law school. After much research and consideration, I learned that employers in this field view someone with a demonstrated interest in public service and volunteer work as an ideal candidate. I also knew that my command of English conversation was not fluent and natural enough to impress employers. So I decided to volunteer at the local domestic violence shelter twice a month from the beginning of law school. This experience gave me much knowledge about victim advocacy and social services in America as well as an opportunity to practice impromptu conversation. It also allowed me to meet like-minded people in Ann Arbor and eventually even helped me find and get accepted to my current internship. By the time I interviewed for this internship, I had a basic idea of what the work would entail and could express myself clearly.

As for the location of my internship, I had planned to stay in Ann Arbor during the summer after my first year. This was because I felt that I had had enough adventures already, having grown up in South Korea and come to the United States just to attend law school. I wanted to stay in beautiful summer Ann Arbor and enjoy the peace and calm of being in a familiar place. I am glad that I made this decision because the past two months have been just that – peace and calm. I keep regular hours at the office from 9 to 5, go to yoga or to the river for kayaking or standing paddle-boarding after work, and have enough time to catch up on reading for pleasure. The Ann Arbor summer festival and Art Fair have been treats as well.

My experience working at the legal aid office has taught me many useful skills so far – conducting client interviews, drafting motions, filing documents at the courthouse, and getting a personal protection order against someone. Most importantly, I learned about professionalism. To me, professionalism means the following – being timely, dressing appropriately (no more yoga tights!), writing formal letters, handling difficult phone conversations, getting along with coworkers, and being a reflective professional. It has not been easy because there was a lot to absorb in a short period of time, but I have gained so much. In addition to my newfangled office skills, I have acquired diligence, a professional vocabulary, patient mentors, awesome friends, and confidence in myself. Overall, I love my summer internship so much that I want to continue working there as a volunteer even after the summer ends.

Nayoung Kim
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
J.D. : Law
Country of Origin: South Korea

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Coffee Shops in Ann Arbor

During the semester, I try my very best to be a morning person. Before the 9 a.m. class, I find contentment in sitting at the back of Espresso Royale on State St. for an hour or two. While sipping hot black coffee and witnessing the last hint of darkness ebbing away, it gives me the chance to go through class materials, or simply clear my mind. By the time people start to line up at the counter, I am ready for the day.
Being a college town, Ann Arbor values its coffee culture. You may wonder why people here seem to be constantly high-powered, part of the reason is that they do enjoy a caffeine buzz. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, in another word, a psychoactive drug. This heterocyclic aromatic organic molecule is structurally similar to adenine and guanine that are contained in our deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Due to its structural similarity to adenine, caffeine is able to compete with adenosine, block adenosine receptors, and subsequently relieve drowsiness induced by adenosine accumulation in neuronal synapse. This is only one of many mechanisms that caffeine acts on human body. As a biochemist, I always find it intriguing that our body is built upon gazillion molecules, and even the simplest structure can trigger off enormous physiological effects. Like normal psychoactive substances, caffeine has its lethal dosage. After all, nobody is likely to empty 50 cups of coffee within 24 hours, it is rarely treated as a threat. Besides, the richness in aroma, and the perfect balance of bitterness and acidity are powerful enough to strip away your last doubt in your cup of ambrosia.
Whether your preference is a romantic Parisian cafe or a straightforward Italian espresso bar, Ann Arbor gets them all. It is no easy task to pick a favorite coffee shop. Everyone has a few favorites based on quality in beans, brewing method, atmosphere, and of course neighborhood. I will list my few, but it leaves to you to exploit yours.
Espresso Royale on State St. is the cafe where I can get schoolwork done. It is spacious, the lighting is soft but not dim, and the size of the table definitely makes me thrill. In my opinion, it is one of those places where you feel detached even among a noisy crowd. The loud music blends into people’s conversations, and eventually becomes a single background. The only thing you can hear is your own thought. In terms of coffee, I have to say it is not the best. Nonetheless, they serve fast, the atmosphere is irreplaceable, and the price is cheap and cheerful. Besides, as I mentioned, it is a wonderful place to spend an early morning.
Not everyone adores Espresso Royale’s dusky atmosphere. Many people prefer Starbucks for a study break. There are four Starbucks at four convenient locations, and thus all of them are full of people, homework and laptops. Since I tend to get impatient while waiting for my green mermaid, Sweetwaters on Liberty St. comes before Starbucks on my list. Sweetwaters has a rather different menu from Starbucks and Espresso Royale. Apart from normal espresso drinks, it serves a much wider range of brewed coffee and tea. For me, a good book, a sofa by window and a teapot means a pleasant weekend afternoon.
If we set aside schoolwork for a minute, the best cafe should eventually come down to serving the best coffee. Comet Coffee is a small coffee shop hidden in Nickels Arcade. They brew beans from all over the world, which are different in terms of flavor, but equally excellent in terms of quality. The delicate elements in flavor are fully expressed by the Japanese pour-over technique. Even for a non-coffee drinker, it is easy to distinguish a good cup of joe from those served by chain cafes. Lab is quite similar to Comet Coffee. They use more imagination on creating interesting drinks such as Lavender Honey Latte, whereas Comet Coffee’s menu is more down to earth. Personally, the name “Lab” gets me sentimental about the time I spend at lab. Last but not least, I have to recommend Zingerman’s Next Door because of its good coffee but even better bakery. Chocolate eclair, carrot cake, buttermilk cake, drinking chocolate, gelato...
On a normal Michigan winter morning, inundated by the crowd rushing to classrooms, you are not the only one who needs something more than motivation to power through the day. A good cup of coffee gives you energy on studying, but also adds joy to meetings and friends gathering. Sometimes, it is also a loyal companion to daydreaming, just as sung by Ella Fitzgerald in Black Coffee:
Black coffee
Since the blues caught my eye
I'm hanging out on Monday
My Sunday dreams to dry...

Written by Qian Hou
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Country of Origin: China
Undergraduate, Biochemistry

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Greyhound Experience

When I first heard Greyhound was from my aunt. She always used Greyhound to travel all over US. Then I know more clearly in a workshop held by International Center last year that Greyhound is actually a kind of transportation in North America. I hadn’t had the chance to try until my friend in Cleveland invited me to come over staying for weekend.

Logging in website and buying tickets is super easy. All you need to prepare is credit card to pay online. I always bought the cheaper tickets because I have clear travel plans. If you are not sure you can buy refundable ones which cost much more. After purchasing online tickets Greyhound website may require a printer to print at home or print on the day of departure. I chose to save as a PDF form and when I was in library or somewhere having a printer, I’ll print them out then. The reason for doing so is that I felt a bit rush if I didn’t prepare my tickets in advance.

Sometimes there may be more than one ticket because some transfers could happen along the way. For example, I went to Cleveland to see my friend four times in all. When I purchased tickets, the website will indicate there is one transfer in Toledo. This means I have to get off in Toledo and went on another coach (which also means bus) in order to get to Cleveland. On Thanksgiving holiday in 2014, my friends booked tickets to Chicago online on Greyhound website, we have to transfer in Kalamazoo instead. It can be time consuming since transfers will take time. I would recommend using Greyhound as a tool for travel. However, if you’re in an emergency or you don’t like waiting in bus stations, airplane is the best choice.

The longest trip I took was during Christmas when I was planning to visit my aunt in Toronto. After I applied for Canada visa I bought tickets to Toronto. It took me eight hours travelling from Ann Arbor to there. Greyhound is usually on time, except there might be some unpredictable situations causing delay. I have to say again Greyhound can be cost-effective, but not so time-saving.

Staying on Greyhound is cozy. But there is one trick about station in Ann Arbor, don’t believe anything said on website about location. Just go to Blake Transit Center, the station is right across the station of Route 1, 2 and 4.

Kun Zhao
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
M.A: Sport Management
Country of Origin: China

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Where Should I Buy My Groceries?

Ann Arbor’s grocery scene may not be as vibrant and diverse as those in bustling cities like New York, or Singapore (where I’m from), but it is more than sufficient to meet a university student’s basic needs. Most people I know depend primarily on Kroger as an economical supply of food but there are various other supermarkets worth visiting too.

In my opinion, Kroger and Meijer have the best prices around for the meats and produce you’d typically find in an American grocery store. The quality of items there is middling but they offer a good variety and will suffice if you prefer to get all of your groceries and other household necessities in a single place – without burning a huge hole in your pocket. However, do note that their ethnic offerings are exceedingly limited and slightly overpriced.

If price is your main concern, or if you are feeling adventurous and keen to try new foods, you may want to check out the various ethnic supermarkets in Ann Arbor. Way One Market is one of my go-to places because of its location and price. They may not have kale or arugula or beetroot – ‘foreign’ vegetables that I became acquainted with after my arrival in the States – but they have Chinese spinach, Kai Lan and many other leafy vegetables that are staples in any self-respecting Chinese’s diet and that you’d never find in a Western supermarket. Of course, Chinese and Western cooking utilize many similar ingredients – pork ribs, chicken thighs, broccoli, lettuce etc. – and these usually tend to be cheaper in Chinese food markets than Western ones. In general, you can get much more food for you dollar’s worth in an ethnic supermarket than an American one. Hence, do consider stepping out of your comfort zone and venturing into ethnic territory (not only the Chinese, but the Korean, Indian, Polish etc. food markets near our campus) if you truly want to stretch your dollar or enjoy a more diverse culinary experience.

Trader Joe’s, off Washtenaw, is another economical option too. Their snacks, cookies and chocolates are simply delectable, and their prices are even more so. Notably, their selection of cheese is also unbeatable for the quality, cost and astounding variety. However, I would think thrice about purchasing their fresh produce, fish or meats because those tend to be overpriced and of dubious quality.

Bulk bins were a novelty to me when I first arrived in the States. You’d generally find them in a typical American supermarket and these are another great way to save money on food, while adding variety to your diet. Because you’re only paying for the amount you take, you’re free to take as much or as little as you want. You can try new foods at minimum risk – by being able to purchase the exact quantity you desire, you need not worry about wasting the remaining 4.99kg if you eventually find it distasteful. Neither do you have to embark on an eating frenzy to finish it before it expires.

I was delighted when Lucky’s Market opened early this year because it has a good number of bulk bins offering a dazzling array of confectionaries, nuts, grains, condiments and spices at a very reasonable price per pound, in addition to the typical supermarket finds. By The Pound is a small store on South Main Street that specializes solely in bulk bins. It has an even more extensive selection of bulk bins containing all the typical bulk bin fare, and much more, at more than reasonable prices. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at Lucky’s or By The Pound, you can also check out The People’s Food Co-op. I believe it is slightly pricier per pound as compared to most other places. However, if you only need a small amount or a sample size of a particular item, it might ultimately be more cost-effective to get it at the aforementioned co-op.

There are a handful of other grocery stores in Ann Arbor that I’ve not touched on here. If you have the time and fancy, you may want to slowly check them out to discover which ones are best for your needs and budget. Who knows, your ordinary grocery shopping experience may also be transformed into a cultural immersion of sorts!

Christie Chan
Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
B.A: Psychology
Country of Origin: Singapore

Monday, June 22, 2015

LeaderShape Experience

About a month ago I went to LeaderShape as a participant. I signed up for it pretty early, but I was worried sick for what I might run into in an activity that was totally new for me. Everyone who had experience told me to relax, “Just go, it’s great.” Carrying my worries and excitement, there I went.

I met a friend in one info session of LeaderShape so we agreed to “stick together” during that week. However, we got split up on step one—we were not in same dorm. I was afraid I didn’t have much to say or share with my roommates so my friend and I went to staff Sarah and asking for exchange. Sarah said to us this “random” assignment of roommates was actually strategic so there was no room for negotiation. That was when I realized this was time for me to step out of my comfort zone.

The first day was very tiring because I can’t go to sleep so I ended up getting up early. When I lay on bed I couldn’t get rid of the thought that this could be my milestone of life, which turned out to be true. Everyday was filled with knowledge and busy arrangements, everyone including coordinators were all experiencing “sleeping deprivation”. I was starting to be fonder of my pillows, but everyday when I woke up thinking about how exciting I will become since there was still so much to learn, and eat!

Trey, a strong and tough woman, ignited us to learn how to understand leadership, how to use what we have known into real life scenario. I played a few games which really test our community as LeaderShape participants in “difficult situations”. I met my “high five buddy” there and we shared our thoughts, daily life, personal interests and even our dreams for entire week. I joined a family cluster for deep thoughts sharing, perspective exchanging, and life stories. I had a new motto echoing theme of LeaderShape, “Now that you know better, do better.”

What really caught me was my family cluster. Family clusters were designed as a form of “discussion group” but at same time much more than that. Our group shared our life stories which really gave me a new idea about how others were living even though we were all students in U of M. Telling stories really brought us closer and it really provides us a more open space for discussing topics, or just talking things. Our group had so much selfies when we were in LeadersShape community. We even cried at the night before departure. After our session we set up email group and Facebook group where we share life experience almost everyday because we really missed each other. We’ll have a reunion when we all got back to Ann Arbor.

If anyone asks me about how was it when in LeaderShape I would definitely answered, “Just go, it’s great”. What’s more attractive? I gained weight for 10 pounds even if there was no relaxing moment. Because the food in LeaderShape was the champion of the best!

Kun Zhao
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
M.A: Sport Management

Country of Origin: China

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spring-Summer Time in Ann Arbor

While winter in Ann Arbor and Michigan in general can be a harsh, horrendous time that will encourage you to never leave your house or apartment to traverse the long or short route to work or class, the spring and summers here at Ann Arbor are surprisingly pleasant and beautiful. Granted, there is the occasional light snowfall (gasps!) or chilly days that occur throughout the spring and summer, so don’t stow away your jackets just yet, and always, always be prepared for the weather in Ann Arbor! Other than that, experiencing spring/summertime in Ann Arbor feels like you’ve been transported to a different state/country altogether, and you’ll be blessed with warm, sunny days most of the time. In this article, I attempt to discuss and share with you several activities and fun things to do during the spring and summer that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of.

1. Outdoor sports!
One of the most exciting experiences I had during my first spring at Ann Arbor was kayaking down the relaxing Huron River. It was my first time kayaking, so you bet I was feeling nervous and anxious, however, the route was surprisingly easy, and it was definitely a fun and exciting experience! The Argo Canoe Livery and Gallup Park Canoe Livery provide different routes of varying difficulties and charge similar prices that I think are very reasonable for such an exciting experience. Definitely consider kayaking or canoeing if you’re into trying something new or if you’re trying to cool off on a hot sunny day! This wonderful weather also offers opportunities for various outdoor sports that you can enjoy, such as playing Ultimate Frisbee in the Arb or Palmer Field, playing tennis at the courts provided at Palmer Fields, or even playing soccer at Mitchell Field and many more! Whatever you choose, I’m sure that you’ll have a great time as I did when you enjoy the nice weather and camaraderie with your friends or people you meet with during this time of year!

2. Outdoor activities!

The good weather brings countless opportunities to experience and enjoy being outside of your apartment not bundled up in countless layers of clothing. One of the things I highly recommend doing is taking a trip down to the Nichols Arboretum, colloquially known here on campus as the Arb. Being shrouded in greenery and flowers during the springtime, it’s a great place for a jog, playing Frisbee, having a picnic or just taking a leisurely stroll to enjoy the beautiful scenery and landscapes. They also often have events here such as the Peony Garden Bloom Season, where you are able to experience the beautiful flowers that bloom in the flowerbeds in the Arb during this time of year. Another interesting event that happens during the spring/summertime in the Arb is Shakespeare in the Arb, where you’ll be able to experience a mobile play by Shakespeare performed by University of Michigan students that moves audiences through the Arb for different scenes. It will certainly be a very unusual and interesting experience. Another thing that’s worth going to during your time here at Michigan is the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. It’s a huge event that occurs throughout the summer, and features many musical performances, food, movie screenings and more! It’s definitely something to look forward to if you’re here in Ann Arbor during the summer.

3. Food Fiesta!
If you’re a huge foodie like me, you’ll certainly enjoy these events! During late May/Early June, the Ann Arbor Main Street Area Association hosts Taste of Ann Arbor that is a community event that highlights most restaurants located in the downtown Ann Arbor area. Many restaurants located near the main street area take part in this event to promote their food products, and enables visitors to have a quick bite and try many different kinds of food for a reasonable price. Another event that many people (especially students!) enjoy is Ann Arbor Restaurant Week that takes place twice a year, once during January and another time during (you guessed it!) June. Restaurant week allows visitors to try food at various participating restaurants for a fixed price, and offers a one to three course menu, depending on the restaurant and if you’re going for lunch or dinner. I find that restaurants participating in restaurant week offer really good deals for the meals that they provide, and it also provides you with an opportunity to try out several fine-dining restaurants without burning a hole in your wallet! So, save a date in your calendar for restaurant week if there’s a restaurant that you’re dying to try out but it’s too expensive! Lastly, don’t forget to check out the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown for fresh food and local produce!

I hope that you’ll find my suggestions and ideas useful and that you’ll be able to occupy your summer with these exciting events! Don’t forget to keep exploring and discover more fun and exciting things to do, and welcome to Michigan!

Teck Sheng Tan
Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Major: Psychology
Country of Origin: Malaysia