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Gap Year Abroad

54 posts categorized "Kathryn Kurtz"


Sketchbook 21: Nyhavn

From here, where am I going?

Well for starters, I'm going to Copenhagen and Berlin for a couple of weeks to visit my boyfriend and to study the architecture before classes start at Cornell. I've already learned some basic Danish, like:

"Mit navn er Katie og jeg er nitten år. Jeg kommer fra Amerika. Glad for at møde dig"

(My name is Katie and I'm nineteen year's old. I come from America. Nice to meet you), 

"Jeg kan lide at tegner bygninger fordi jeg vil være arkitekt",

(I like drawing buildings because I want to be an architect).

"Jeg vil lære arkitektur på Cornell Universitet"

(I will study architecture at Cornell University)

My boyfriend's been teaching me and so far, I have to say it's pretty easy to absorb.


After that, it's time to get busy and go to Cornell for architecture school. I plan on visiting Japan again sometime in the future, maybe for the 2020 Olympics! I'm sure I will find a way to incorporate my knowledge of Japanese into my job as well. If anything, this gap year taught me that being open to change is a good thing.



The End

They say all good things must come to an end, and my stay in Japan certainly did, with tears and promises to see each other again.




So how did I change in these past nine months? I guess you could say I lost 15 kilo, lost a boyfriend, gained a new one, cut my hair, and learned to speak Japanese but that's only the tip of the iceberg as Dr. J would say.

IMG_1166 What really happened was I gained confidence and inner strength in myself, as well as patience and respect for a new culture and new living situations. And of course my Japanese improved a whole lot as well.

So did a gap year change my life? Yes. But not in the way I thought it would. I'm more secure in myself and my identity than I was before.


It took getting away from the loud, craziness of America and some serious alone time to figure some things out, but I'm better off now than I was at the beginning of the year.

I learned how to take care of myself, pay bills, manage budgets, balance schoolwork and friends and traveling, as well as find a little time for myself. If anything, this year was invaluable for that.

But the biggest thing I'm thankful for was the chance to meet so many different amazing people from different parts of the world, and for the chance to gain two new amazing families in Japan.






I'm thankful to my friends at Intercult and CIEE who made this experience amazing. I wish them the best of luck with their studies as well.




I have so many amazing memories and experiences here.











And while I'm back home in the grand old USA...


The sheer inpredictability of Tokyo will always beckon to me. It's a place I've called home for the past nine months, and I think I will always find home in it.


I end this post with my final video message. My Japanese has improved by leaps and bounds, thanks in part to my ever-patient host family and my encouraging friends. I'm so grateful to all the amazing people I met there, and I hope to see them again in the future.



Sketchbook 19+20: Kimono

My host mother gave me some souvenirs handmade from different obi, so I drew the patterns. Also, at the Kyoto Kimono Fashion show, I drew my favorite kimono from the show and demonstrated the tied obi from behind.



Sketchbook 18: Kyoto Trip

These are sketches from photos I took at Kyoto and Nara. I drew Kinkakuji and Toudaiji.


Sketchbook 17: Shrine

My host family took me to the shrine that their family has gone to  for generations. It was in the countryside and about a three hour drive from Matsudo, Chiba.


While we were there, the family prayed and had talismans blessed for the new year. It was a very interesting experience!

Sketchbook 16: Manga

These drawings were for my gap year presentation on manga, or Japanese comic books. Here, comics aren't just for kids. In the train, salary men read them and middle schoolers trade magazines of them. There are many different genres, and at most bookstores, an entire level is usually dedicated to just manga. You can also usually rent manga from video rental shops. 


I made a mock cover and character list using CIEE students as characters, using watercolor and ink. Normally the coloring process is either digital or colored with copic markers, but I don't have my design computer with me, nor do I have the money for copic markers.



I also made a timeline, mimicking the styles of famous mangakas from different time periods to show the progression in drawings over time.


Finally, I had a diagram detailing the supplies it takes to draw manga, as well as the process. First a rough draft in pencil, then clean pencil lines, then an inked draft, and then applied screentones for shading. Since I don't have access to screentones again due to the prices (and I usually just add them digitally anyway), I used pencil to mimick the effect.






CIEE took a day trip to Nara on May 26th. This is a picture of Toudai-ji, the temple I've most wanted to see here in Japan. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and contains a statue of a large, golden buddha. There is also a hole in one of the large pillars, and I watched, amused, as schoolchildren squeezed through, posing for a photo. It's a tradition at the shrine, and it is believed that after coming out of the hole in the pillar, the child will be blesssed with wisdom from Buddha.

Sika deer, like at Itsukushima Jinja, rome the complex, sometimes looking a little lost.


The deer are sacred and tame enough to be petted, but also will become agressive if they think you are holding food. It was said that the gods rode into Kasuga Shrine on the back of a deer, and little ornaments and souvenirs are carved from their antlers.


At Kasuga Shrine, there was a traditional wedding. The bride's hood is called a wataboshi, and serve to hide the bride's horns of jealousy, selfishness and ego that the Japanese believed would emerge during the ceremony, and symbolizes the new wife's obedience to her new husband.

After lunch, petting deers and browsing for souvenirs, unfortunately it was time to ride the shinkansen back to Tokyo. They say that Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan, but Nara is indeed the spiritual heart of Japan.



Standing outside of Kyoto station in the sunlight, the glint from the glare of glass is distracting. For a major station in Kyoto, the design of the building contrasts with what is Kyoto, and seems something that would better belong in Tokyo. But this is the struggle that modern Kyoto faces- to preserve the old way or bring in the new?

Kyoto, after all, is the traditional capital of Japan. Geishas, handicrafts, and temples are what first comes to mind, not large skyscrapers and monsters of glass and steel. We traveled to Kyoto on May 24th by Shinkansen. Because the bus system is incredibly reliable in Kyoto, we were free to do as we wanted.

I visited Kyoto back in 2009 when I was in Japan for the first time. I stayed in the Hotel Okura, grabbed a map and my little sister, and trekked across the city. Navigation was pretty easy since the layout of Kyoto is relatively simple, unlike Tokyo. I also met a Maiko, or a geisha apprentice.


So this time, even though I revisited some of my favorite temples, I tried to see some new things. I revisited Kiyomizudera (which was under construction) and Kinkakuji. But I also went to Fushimi Inari, the fox shrine with rows and rows and rows of torii gates. I also saw a kimono fashion show, which had free entrance. 


Later, after dinner, we made our own sensu, or Japanese folding fans. My design was inspired by the designs of Kyo-yaki or Kyoto-styled pottery.

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Afterwards I went walking out with some friends. Kyoto at night lights up from the shopping streets and rows of small lights, making it seem almost magical. I walked by several handicraft stores. Although Kyoto has changed from the past, it still retains its roots and culture through the people.


Sketchbook 15: Ueno

The seasons are changing. No more are the cherry blossoms, they've long since dropped from the trees.


Instead we have leafy greens sprouting, casting shade. Bugs are starting to sleepily emerge. It feels like summer. And it's only just become May.

I went with a classmate for a walk around Ueno.

"I heard it's supposed to get to 40˚Celcius," he mentioned. "In Denmark, this is as hot as it gets." It was 25˚ Celcius.

"It gets that hot, I suppose," I said, thinking back to when it was August in Kasukabe a couple of years earlier. "But what's the worst is the humidity. Like walking through soup."


Across from the park, I could see a temple, popping up against the city skyline. 

"Only in Japan can you see this sort of thing," I mentioned. "A temple, something from hundreds of years ago, with skyscrapers behind it."

It's a contrast, this neverending fight between new and old. We strolled past Ueno towards Tokyo University, or Todai. A Japanese university, with Japanese gates, but with neo-gothic styled buildings.

"Do you see this?" I pointed towards one of the solid stone doors to a lecture hall. "It doesn't match the rest of this building. Did something happen?"

We then stumbled upon the Yasuda Auditorium, covered in blue plastic and under construction. There, on the wall surrounding it were photos of the original auditorium and history.

Many of the campus buildings were destroyed in an 1923 earthquake and subsequent fires. They were rebuilt, but parts of the original facades were preserved.

Architecture is history. It tells a story, one brick at a time, of a time period, of a disaster, of a culture. And we, as humans, will only keep building, rebuilding, recovering as time goes on.


Sketchbook 14: Tokyo Station

This took me three days to complete, due to the elaborate yet tiny windows.




One of the reasons why I love the architecture of Tokyo Station is because it's the perfect example of why I love architecture: it transcends cultures.

The Meiji Period ushered in rapid industrial growth in Japan, and modernization was tied to European countries. Trade and culture flowed since Japan's ports were no longer closed to the world (thanks in part to America's Commodore Matthew Perry). In a way, Emperor Meiji was similar to Peter the Great of Russia. His idea of modernizing Japan was adopting western-style dress, and of course, infrastructure. So it is no surprise that Tokyo Station, planned in 1908 to be the hub of transit in Tokyo, would be based off of western architecture.

And this is precisely why I find architecture so incredible. That the technology and design can pass seemlessly overseas, despite differences in culture. Without a doubt, Tokyo Station displays an elaborateness and ostentaciousness that Japanese architecture, famed for its simplicity, lacks. Even the brightly colored temples were borrowed in design from China. Yet it is still beautiful and can be appreciated for its beauty by a culture that inspired minimalism.

You don't need language or words to interpret design. Design speak for itself and, different meanings for different people. I only can hope that someday I'll get to have a part in this cultural diffusion.


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