How It Feels… to Perform for the Emperor of Japan

Published by Style on the Hill

Two years ago, KU student Annette Jardon performed for the emperor of Japan at the International Student Competition at the National Olympic Stadium. This is what it feels like.

The stadium in Tokyo erupted in applause as the Nepalese pianist finished his performance. As he left the stage, I walked onto it followed by the backup dancers the competition organizers had provided me with. I was wearing my everyday American clothes to showcase my culture, which made the fuzzy bunny ears and giant maroon bow the costume director had given me to look “cute” feel strange, but I didn’t have time to question it. This was it.

My whole body felt warm in the spotlight’s glow. As I looked out into the audience, I couldn’t see anyone past the first row of seats filled with other international students who were performing. But I knew he was out there somewhere — the emperor of Japan.

I hadn’t known the emperor would be here until we came to rehearsal earlier that day. There had been gossip that he could make an appearance, but I’d thought it was just that — gossip. But when we walked into the stadium, we passed him on the way to the stage.

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Published on my personal blog

Perhaps the most striking part of my move to Pennsylvania was the realization that it is not always sunny in Philadelphia. As I took the train from the airport, I watched the dark clouds roll over the city and felt like someone who was left out of an inside joke. I reminded myself that every place has its gloomy days and tried not to let it get me down as I grew closer and closer to my new life, one I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from. The sun was bound to come out soon, anyway.

It rained for three days after. I’ll admit it: after the second day, I chuckled to myself.

Why Philadelphia? I get asked that a lot now, once people stop laughing over the fact that I’m a Kansas girl. One thing I’ve learned from traveling is that no one knows what to do with a Kansas girl. Once I met a bartender in New York whose eyes grew round as he exclaimed, “Hey, I grew up on a farm, too!” In Italy, I met a couple from California who snorted out laughs and said, “But how did you end up here?”

More often than not, my home is the place Americans forget about. The sunflower state, the breadbasket of the country, the heart of America, that little square on the center of the map like a doughnut hole, inconsequential and often left out. Or, perhaps more importantly, the backdrop of exactly one famous film that would forever scar the world’s perception of it. Nearly every “Where are you from?” is followed by a “I have a feeling you’re not in Kansas anymore.” I always force a laugh out of politeness, or perhaps because I’ve heard it so often it’s almost become humorous in itself. I have become the East Coast’s Dorothy, the lost little girl in a foreign land. Everyone seems to wait expectantly for me to click my heels together and return home.

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Growing Up in White America

Published on my personal blog

I like to joke that I grew up in the whitest part of America, though sometimes even I’m unsure of how much truth lies in my own words. I once met someone from Chicago who laughed when I told her where I was from. “Do you guys even know what diversity is there?” Then, with a wry smile, she joked, “Am I the first Black girl you’ve ever seen?”

I laughed and shook my head. Of course she wasn’t — we both knew that. But the more I thought about it, the less funny it became. Something about what she said itched deep under my skin. I’ve never been able to shake away the feeling completely.

When I think about my childhood neighborhood, I can’t remember one Person of Color who lived on my street. All I can remember is the Asian man who lived a few blocks away who kids made fun of because he didn’t celebrate Halloween. I grew up going to the school that was known for having the most diversity in the district, but there still wasn’t very much at all. My classes were overwhelmingly white and full of overwhelmingly white ideas. I remember a boy once jokingly made a KKK hood and paraded through the halls wearing it. Someone in my history class once wore black face as part of a presentation on civil rights. When a new club called “Young Educated African Americans” started meeting, students asked why there wasn’t a club for white people. These actions and comments hardly seemed to phase anyone.

Was it because we were young? To an extent, I believe that’s true. I don’t think any of us truly understood the weight of the things we did. We grew up in a school system that taught us racism ended when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, the same school system that didn’t teach us about Japanese internment camps or Native American history. We grew up with parents who never taught us better, maybe because they were never taught better; we were stuck in the cycle of living in white America.

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Five Tuscan takeaways

Published by The Florentine.

After staying in Florence for a while, it’s natural to inadvertently return home with a set of new customs that don’t quite fit into your home culture — perhaps answering the phone with a curt “pronto!” or greeting confused friends with kisses on the cheek. And then there are the customs that don’t come quite as naturally but that you still try to integrate into your everyday life, if not for any other reason than because you simply like doing them. I happened to do a lot of the latter, because living in Italy made me realize how stressful, fast-paced and altogether unhealthy my American lifestyle could be. Here are some of my top takeaways from Florentine culture that made me feel healthier, happier, and just a little more Italian that I was before.

Turning everyday moments into experiences

On one of my first days in Florence, my friend and I were walking out of a local alimentari when she asked if we could sit down. As we settled into a bench alongside the street, I looked over at her expectantly. Instead of readjusting her shoes or searching in her bag for something, she simply gazed out at the street, smiling as she watched the passersby.

When I asked her if everything was okay, she smiled at me. “Of course,” she said with a shrug. “I just wanted to take a moment.” When she noticed my surprise, she added, “Americans never take the time to soak everything in.”

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Interning in Florence after studying abroad

Published by The Florentine

Many of us have been there before: you studied abroad in Florence, fell in love, and are looking to return to the Renaissance city. Luckily for you, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There are a multitude of opportunities for young people, whether it’s returning for another degree, trying out au pairing or, if you’re looking to clean up your professional persona, getting an internship.

I took the third route. A year after a magical study abroad experience, I got an internship that allowed me to travel and work in Florence. I got on the plane, starry-eyed and ready for a study abroad 2.0, an illusion that ended soon after I stepped onto the dark cobblestone street. That’s when you’ll learn your first lesson as an intern: your first step into the “real world” won’t have the safety nets you didn’t even realize you had as a student.

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re searching for your own dream internship near the Duomo.

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