Category: Stories from International Students (page 1 of 2)

Ofuro Culture, by Ikumi Amano

I came to Castleton from Doshisha Women’s College in Japan as an exchange student. When you hear about Japan, what do you associate it with? There are some unique culture elements in Japan, but today I want to introduce Japanese Ofuro culture. Ofuro means bath in English. I remember the moment when I arrived at Castleton University, I was surprised there was no bathtub in my dorm.

First of all, Ofuro has been part of Japanese daily habit since 350 years ago. According to Naito who is a writer of the Japan Times, “Japanese take a bath five times a week in summer and six times a week in winter” (Japan Times, 2001). This aspect of culture is brought by Japanese characteristic weather and natural features. Japan is rich in water. Also, Japanese summers are hot and humid compared with Europe. So we can pool water and we take a bath to clean our sweaty body. In addition, modern technology can make hot water easily.

Almost all Japanese houses have their own bathtub. The size of the bathtub depends on the building. In general, bathtubs have enough room that person who is 5.2ft can relax.

Some people who aren’t Japanese think it is enough to take a shower only. However, I really want you to know that there are a lot of benefits to soaking in a bath. For example, it provides us relaxation effect. Also, it can get rid of fatigue and stress. Hot water keeps our body warm in winter. If you have children, bath time is a good place to communicate with your children. These examples are just a small part of the advantages.

These day there are many kinds of items in Japan for enjoying bath time. Some people put a TV on the bath wall and enjoy watching it. Others turn off the lights and light an aromatic candle.

I really miss Ofuro because more than half a year has passed since I started only taking showers. I’m planning to soak in the bath for at least an hour when I go back to Japan. It used be to difficult for people who have a tattoo to go to Japanese hot springs because tattoos represented villains such as yakuza or gangsters in Japan. However, thanks to increasing foreign tourists, there are some hot springs recently welcoming those who have tattoos. So I recommend visiting the famous hot springs when you come to Japan. You will definitely love it!

A child enjoying watching TV while soaking in the bath


A bathtub with aromatic candles


Japanese common type of bath room

Just press correct button, we can supply hot water into a bathtub automatically and also can change the hot water’s temperature.
We usually set the temperature from 104 degrees F to 109 degrees F.

When People Bark, by Steffi Eunice Ramos (Global UGRAD, Philippines, Spring 2019)

I am here in Castleton, along with three others, for the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program of the US Department of State. The program has two components: (1) academic, and (2) cultural. While I am here to immerse myself in American culture, I find it also fitting to share bits and pieces of the Philippines, an archipelagic country in the Pacific that has a close, but also controversial, relationship with the United States since the Spanish-American War.


As of the latest count, the Philippines is composed of 7, 641 islands and has a population of 104.9 million, composing 175 ethnic groups. It is also a reservoir of languages with 134 Philippine languages and hundreds more local dialects, according to the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language). These numbers speak of, and all contribute to, the cultural diversity of Filipinos—furthered by various influences such as our Arab and Chinese trading relations which could be traced as far back as the pre-colonial period, and colonial experience from 3 different groups (Spain, US, Japan) spanning almost 4 centuries.


I could share a lot about the Philippines given the immense cultural diversity present in my home country, but I choose to focus on one figure in the streets of different cities in the archipelago: an ever-present but often unrecognized figure in the Philippine urban jungle.




Worldwide, dogs bark. In the Philippines, people do too.

Down the chaotic streets of cities in the Philippines, alongside large buses, private cars, and taxi cabs, a conspicuous and anachronistic mode of public transport makes its way through—the Philippine jeepney. Usually painted with bright colors and adorned with glaring accessories, the jeepney is a post-WW2 innovation which has become a cultural symbol as it earned its spot as the “King of the Road” in the Philippines.

(KING OF THE ROAD. A jeepney is a post-WW2 mode of public transport endemic to the Philippines. If NYC is known for its yellow taxi cabs, jeepneys just might be that for the Philippines. Image from:

(SABIT. In certain places, even the top of jeepneys are occupied by passengers just so they would reach their destinations. Some even cling on to the outside railings, notwithstanding the scorching heat and polluted air. Image from:×478.jpg)

Beside these jeepneys waiting for passengers are the jeepney barkers, people who earn a living using their loud and booming voices. In the hustle and bustle of streets and roads in the Philippines, the jeepney barkers’ voices standout. Ironically, these same people are those who are not heard that much in terms of occupational identity. Worse, barkers generally have a negative image, an image which hides what might be one of the last altruistic roles in the Philippine urban jungle.

(Photo from:

So what does a jeepney barker really do?

They are the people who would convince you to ride a jeepney going North when you’re really headed South. They are the people who will convince you to ride the jeep even if only half of your butt can sit because in their minds, “onsehan yang jeep oh, sampu pa lang kayo diyan sa kanan at kaliwa, o usog usog nalang po tayo diyan sa kanan sa kaliwa” (“The jeepney can accommodate 11 even people per side, you’re just 10, please move your butts, move, left, right!). They probably have not taken into consideration that people’s sizes differ.

Generally, jeepney barkers earn a living just by yelling and yelling and yelling to attract passengers. Occasionally, they would wave their hands to attract more passengers. Others would have other unconventional tactics (or even antics) to attract people. Seems simple right?  Interestingly, there seems to be an unwritten code of ethics among jeepney barkers.

Since the barkers technically work for the jeepney drivers, they need to accept whatever amount the jeepney drivers gives them—or in some cases, throws at them. It’s basically a voluntary contribution—a donation at that. There’s no written contract that stipulates how much the driver should pay the barker. May that be a mere one peso coin (0.019 USD) or twenty peso bill (0.38 USD), the barker has no choice but to be thankful for the small amount given. And who knows, when a relationship with the driver is built and maintained, the small amount given can gradually increase.

Also, it is interesting to note that jeepney barkers know the concept of personal space. While they are attracting passengers to ride the jeepney, they make sure that they don’t touch the passenger—even the slightest tap on the shoulder could have repercussions. My friend got the chance to interview a jeepney barker based in Manila (the capital of the Philippines) for a documentary. The jeepney driver shared that he was once accused of “chansing” (inappropriate touching) when his hand accidentally touched a woman’s arm. While this may be a gray area, the jeepney barker stressed that since then, he made sure that his hands wouldn’t touch a passenger.

It is also interesting that jeepney barkers go out of their way to help passengers carrying heavy baggage who want to take the jeepney. While their jobs are mainly focused in attracting passengers to ride the jeepney, barkers actually go out of their way to assist the passengers—especially the elderly. They do this without asking for anything in return—and rarely do we see passengers giving them incentive for their good deed.


(Photo from:


On the other hand, it is also important to note that there are people who view jeepney barkers in a negative light.

People may consider being a jeepney barker as a destiny for the lazy people—those that would prefer shouting all-day in the polluted streets under the scorching sun. There is a certain perception that jeepney barkers are those who do not have anything better to do, or worse, those who not interested in doing anything else. Barkers are perceived as the people whose skills are enclosed to merely the memorization of jeepney routes and jeepney capacity.

However, is this really the case? While jeepney barking is perceived as the occupation of the hopeless and the desperate, there are some jeepney barkers who prove otherwise.

In a pre-production research for a documentary being produced by a friend, I got to talk to a barker stationed in a mall’s transport terminal. He shared that he is an electrician and that he resorts to jeepney barking when he has no customers. He also shared that more often than not, his takehome pay from jeepney barking is even higher than what he earns as a freelance electrician.

This story shows that jeepney barkers are not those lazy people the society portrays them to be. Instead, the story of the barker I got to talk to and several other stories gathered by my friends show that it is precisely because of their industry and diligence that jeepney barkers chose this occupation—regardless of the societal prejudice that comes with their job, they continue to do so just so they could provide for themselves and their families.

For jeepney barkers, their lives depend on their voices. But it also important that they are given their own voices—a voice that everyone would listen to not just because they are shouting endlessly in the polluted streets of the metro. There is a pressing need for them to have their own voice in the society.

The streets of the urban jungle scream of excess labor. The presence of jeepney barkers, alongside other occupations in the streets, show that there are many unemployed and underemployed Filipinos who continue to dream for a better life. While there is no better employment opportunity, they resort to working as barkers or something similar so as not to waste time.

In a larger picture, the presence of jeepney barker—something “only in the Philippines”—mirror the apparent lack of opportunities especially for those who do not hold a degree. The presence of jeepney barkers and other street-based occupations mirror the plight of the ordinary Filipino—the simple goal of eating three times a day, with something to pair with rice, the Filipino staple.

But more than anything, the presence of jeepney barkers in the Philippine urban jungle also mirrors the “diskarte” (closest English counterpart I could think of is strategy) and the diligence of Filipinos just so they could have food in the table. The presence of jeepney barkers remind us that even the seemingly most menial jobs are meaningful jobs. While they may not have offices nor promotional opportunities, jeepney barkers exemplify the willingness of Filipinos to do anything and everything just to ensure that their families are given their basic needs.

As long as there are mouths that need to be fed, and as long as no better opportunities come their way, jeepney barkers’ calls and voices will continue to be heard in the hustle and bustle of the streets of the metro. As long as there are Filipinos would be willing to shout all-day for food and other needs, then jeepney barkers will continue to exist.

Worldwide, dogs bark. In the Philippines, people bark, too—and their presence shows two sides of a coin. It shows the lack of employment opportunities, and the increasing wealth divide in the country. It shows the plight of the ordinary Filipino caged by dysfunctional labor systems. But it also shows the persistence and diligence of the ordinary Filipino. It shows the Filipino resilience amidst societal inequalities. Barking in the Philippines provides sustenance for many families. While this may not be glamorous, this is what they need. At least for now.


Film Studies Student in the News

We love seeing our international students in the news.  Madelaine Kopischke, a junior film studies major from Germany, attended the 2018 Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association National Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana this spring to present her video essay to a panel of scholars from around the country.  Way to go Madelaine!

For more information about Madelaine and her work at this national conference, read the article in The Castleton Spartan .


Community Advisors Making a Difference

Ben (Australia), Frank (China), Mitchell (USA)

Did you know that at the end of your first year at Castleton you can apply to be a Community Advisor, or CA? A CA at Castleton is similar to what other universities call a Resident Assistant or Advisor (RA). As an on-campus job, it meets the F-1 visa employment regulations. CAs are assigned to a residence hall floor of 30-50 students. Their main job is to keep the residencies safe, but also to organize fun and interesting programs for the residents. The job is demanding, but it pays a stipend and your board (room fee) is waived. The job is also very rewarding.  Just listen to what a couple of international CAs have to say.

Ben Mrowka, CU ’19 (Australia)

I enjoy being a CA because I am able to connect to a huge amount of students and I am able to contribute to the CU community. I am learning a great deal from the job, and I will be able to use this knowledge about leadership, making tough decisions and being a role model for any job that I find myself in. Dealing with people will always bring its challenges but through this position, I have found myself improving and learning every day.

Zijie (Frank) Wan, CU ’20 (China)

What I like about this job are the social aspects, friendships, and responsibilities. It has been almost a year since I became a CA, and I have already learned a lot from this experience. Becoming more outgoing and social might be the most obvious change I have undergone. I really enjoy the feeling of hanging out with CAs and residents, because it makes me feel bonded to them. It is like having a family in the United States!

Paolo Loli, CU ’17, Community Advisor

International Spartans Help Make History on the Slopes

Paul Rechberger, National Slalom Champion

Earlier this month, the Castleton’s men’s and women’s alpine ski teams competed in the USCSA National Championships at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, New York . The women’s team finished third place overall, after finishing second in the slalom and third in the giant slalom. The men achieved a four-way tie for first place overall, and were just .04 seconds away from a first place finish in the slalom. Congratulations to Li Aunes (Sweden), Linn Ljungemo (Sweden), Oskar Eriksson (Sweden), Jan Klindic (Croatia), Paul Rechberger (Austria), and Anton Smith (Sweden)!


Castleton’s Women’s Alpine Team

Castleton’s Men’s Alpine Team (left side)

Reflections from a First-Time Skier

Emily and Monica

By Qin (Emily) Wang, Castleton student from China

I want to share with you some of my recent events. Last weekend I with Monica and a friend went skiing in Pico. This was my first time skiing. I took an introductory course, but I still don’t quite know how to slow down and stop. I couldn’t control the acceleration and it was really terrible! Then the coach kept saying “make your pie” but I couldn’t think and only shouted “I have no pie!!!” And I have to say that the fall is really very painful😢

(Editor’s note:  Ski instructors will often use the term, “pie”, to describe a snowplow, which helps to control a skier’s speed. The stance looks similar to a piece of pie, with tips together and tails apart. This term was unfortunately lost in translation for Emily!)

Learning to Ski at Pico Mountain

Rain? What Rain?

The Snow Tubing Group at Killington Mountain Resort

Winter in Vermont has offered us a bit of everything this year–a deep freeze (“The Arctic Bomb”), serious snowstorms, a January thaw, and rain! February 10th was one of those rainy days.  However, that did not discourage a small but spirited group of international students to keep their plans to try snow tubing at Killington Resort. Pictured above, this all-female group from China, Germany and Japan, were soaked through when it was over.  But the smiles captured here show the rain did not dampen their moods!


After the first run


Back up the hill

By Miki Kumeda and Nanako Okamachi,  Students from Japan

We, the international students, held the International Festival on December 7th.

We introduced each country’s culture to students and professors by serving traditional foods and showing performances. We had really a great time!

For more information about the International Festival, see the article in the Castleton Spartan newspaper.


Adventuring in Switzerland

By Jocelyn Forrest, Sophomore Student from British Columbia, Canada

(Editor’s Note:  In May and June, Jocelyn traveled to several European countries to see and learn about new places and to reconnect with current and former Castleton students along the way.  She wanted to reflect on her experiences by writing a series of stories for the blog.  This is Jocelyn’s second of three stories.)


I don’t have much to say about Switzerland since I was there for just over three days, and I only visited one place.  However, I can tell you why I fell in love. I first fell in love with this country when taking the train from Zurich, a main city of Switzerland, to Interlaken, a small town and my desired destination. Almost the whole ride I was entertained simply by the mountains that stood a short distance away from the train’s view. It was hard not to look.  When I arrived in Interlaken, I was in awe. It is completely surrounded by mountains. I compared these mountains to tall buildings in big cities- that’s how close they were. The only difference being that you can hike up or take a cable car up any of the mountains. I arrived in my hostel in Interlaken late at night and it was hard for me to fall asleep because I was too eager to begin adventuring Switzerland.

Interlaken is built on a narrow stretch of valley, between the emerald-coloured waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, and it has old timber houses and parklands on either side of the Aare River. In addition to its surrounding mountains, it has dense forests, alpine meadows and glaciers, making it an easy and desirable attraction for adventure travelers. Many travelers go there to do adventure activities offered such as paragliding, skydiving, canyoning, mountain biking, hiking, white water rafting, bungee jumping, paddle boarding, snowboarding, skiing and more. My first day I rented a stand-up paddleboard which took up the first half of my day. After that I went canyoning, which is the sport of exploring a canyon by engaging in such activities as rappelling, rafting, and waterfall jumping. It was by far the best thing I did in Switzerland and one of my favourite memories of Europe.

Later that evening back at the hostel it was karaoke night. Balmers Hostel is one of Europe’s first and most famous hostels. It has pool tables, ping pong tables, a life-size chess board, an enclosed backyard with hammocks, a bar, and a club. The atmosphere is amazing and the staff is great. Each night, there is a different themed party. This particular Tuesday night it was karaoke and it was a blast. People from all over the world got up to sing whatever they wished. I even got on the floor with two other Canadians to sing the Canadian national anthem and everyone was really into it!

The next day, I went white water rafting with a group of 40 people, which I had booked through the hostel. We rafted on emerald-coloured glacier water along mountains and small villages. The two-hour rafting trip ended with an opening to a beautiful lake and we settled there for a while. Switzerland isn’t as hot as Italy, but it was still hot for a Canadian, so jumping into the lake felt amazing. While I was there, the temperature was around 26-28 degrees Celsius.  Therefore it was a bit hotter than I was used to but not too hot, another reason I really liked Switzerland. For the remainder of the day, I relaxed on a hammock and walked around Interlaken. That night, it was beach night at the hostel and this was one of my favourite nights in Europe. I met people from Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Nova Scotia, Switzerland and the U.S. for a total of just fewer than 20 people. We exchanged travel stories and desires.  I learned a lot from them.

It was during these moments in talking to other travelers when I was reminded how important it is to travel. My destination before Switzerland was Amsterdam, which I absolutely loved, but on the last day there and en route to Interlaken, I had a lot of fallouts and hit a breaking point of feeling homesick. But this feeling ended when I arrived in Switzerland because it was very similar to home. I’m from British Columbia, Canada, which is surrounded by mountains so the scenery in Switzerland brought me comfort. Also the people I met in Switzerland were very relaxed and kind people, like Canadians. Switzerland is in my future as I hope to play pro hockey there once I graduate from Castleton and if that doesn’t work, I will go there anyway because sky diving from atop the Swiss Alps is on my bucket list. To end this, I will finish with this quote I stumbled upon: “Switzerland is a place where they don’t like to fight, so they get people to do their fighting for them while they ski and eat chocolate.”

Jocelyn Forrest

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