My Journey In Japan, Part One

(NOTE: This is one of those blog entries that I probably should’ve started working on much, much sooner. Perhaps one could consider this a testament to the amount of adventures I’ve been having as of late?)

As I write this, I’m not currently in Oswego. Or in New York State. Or even on the North American continent.

Nope, right now I’m in the middle of a semester abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata-shi, Osaka, Japan. I’m only halfway through the semester, and I already have found it to be the most worthwhile experience of my entire life. This is the realization of a dream I’ve had since I was in middle school (and probably even before that), and is the culmination of over a year and a half of diligence, hard work, and perseverance.

Eleven years in the making, and I'm finally here...

Eleven years in the making, and I’m finally here…

 

 

I’ve got so many stories to tell about my adventures thus far in Japan that I’ll need more than one post to talk about them. But first, let’s talk about two things that have been fundamental in making this even possible in the first place: choice and responsibility.

This is my senior year. I plan to graduate in May, which means I have a little over a semester and a half before I’m expected to go out into the “real world” so I can “make something out of myself.”

As a Creative Writing major, I get a lot of comments from people asking me what I plan on doing after undergrad with that kind of degree. These comments often have a somewhat derogatory tone to them, as if I’ve somehow wasted all my money on something completely worthless.

Now, this is the part where you’d probably expect me to say something along the lines of, “The Creative Writing major is actually super-versatile, thank you very much,” and then drone on and on about how I could be a technical writer or a PR manager, both of which are rather profitable jobs.

Fortunately, that’s not what I’m gonna do. Instead, I’ll tell you the absolute truth.

The truth is, I don’t know what I plan to do outside in “the real world.” I sure as hell don’t want to spend my life rotting away inside a cubicle at a job I hate just because somebody else told me to. That’s not me; it’s not my kind of environment. Sure, it’s secure, but it’s also boring as hell. As Joseph Campbell (whom I’ll probably get to talking about in a later post) once said, “There is no security in answering the Call to Adventure. Nothing is exciting if you already know what the outcome is going to be.”

Now, where does Japan come into all of this?

Well, it’s simple: I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was a little kid. Over the years I’ve heard a variety of people say a variety of things about the variety of reasons why it would be impossible and/or stupid to go to Japan.

“It’s too expensive.” (Nah, it wasn’t really.)

“Someone like you wouldn’t survive a week over there.” (Try eight. And counting.)

“You’re too stupid to get into a university over there.” (Honors Program with a 3.3 GPA.)

“What’s the point? You’ll just end up owing boatloads of money over nothing.” (See below.)

“Stop being irresponsible, Tom. Just graduate and get a job like everyone else. Worry about Japan later.” (Again, see below.)

Well, if this post is any indication, in the end I didn’t listen to them, and I’m so glad I chose not to. The truth is, this semester abroad wasn’t just the best decision I’ve ever made, but the most NECESSARY, as well. I’d been exposed to too much cynicism to that point, and I needed to break free.

[*cue minor tangent*]

You see, I hate cynicism. It’s probably one of the worst qualities to find in a person, as it more or less translates as a sign of laziness and apathy (which are two equally terrible character traits). I especially hate when I hear my fellow classmates back home (many of whom are juniors and seniors) whine and moan about how “the last four years have been worthless” and “I still don’t know what I want to do with my life” and “[Insert name here]‘s got a degree in [Insert Liberal Arts major here], so he’s gonna be flipping burgers when he gets out of here.”

Here’s the thing: people who say that kind of stuff seem to have missed the point of college; they act like all they need to do is attend class during the week and party during the weekend and they’ll somehow magically figure out who they are and what they want to do. They neglect opportunities like study abroad or clubs and organizations, saying that they’re just a waste of time. School is work, and to them, work should always be separate from play.

And then when they realize they were wrong, they blame it on their parents and other adults who told them that getting a degree was the only important part of their college education.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

See, the thing that so many of those cynical students seem to forget is that college is about learning to make your own decisions, as opposed to following the will of someone else. Thus, whining about how you gained nothing from college is a sign that you didn’t learn how to think for yourself. That’s a skill you often can’t fully learn how to use in a classroom setting; you can only apply it there. You have to learn about yourself and the world around you by actually getting out and being there.

[*end minor tangent*]

Which is where I turn once again to my experiences in Japan. I’ve known for a while that I probably won’t become a full-time writer; for one thing, it’s been hard to come up with something original, and for another, I have a rather short attention span that makes writing for significant length of time somewhat difficult. (Which is why it’s actually kind of weird that this post is as long as it is…)

[*cue another minor tangent; don't worry, kids, it's all relevant in the end*]

But I do know one thing: I love stories. I love telling them, I love reading them, and I love learning about how they work. And I also love games; playing games, talking about games, and learning the science behind games.

And I know that I can take these two bits of knowledge and tie them together. And I know that by tying them together I can see the world from an entirely different perspective. And from that perspective I can find things to do and make that can change the world as we know it. Things that take my creative writing and cognitive science backgrounds and turn them into the impetus behind a force of good.

Knowing that, I feel there’s only one choice I can make, because I have a responsibility to myself (rather than to the people around me) to do something extraordinary with my life.

And the best way I can think of is to pursue cognitive video game studies in graduate school.

[*end minor tangent*]

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Man, does that Tom Kline likes his tangents. But trust me when I say that this all ties together rather nicely.

Because when I first came to Oswego as a freshman, my parents and high school teachers had already told me that I had a responsibility to study what interested me, because in doing so I’d learn to appreciate the gift of choice that came with that opportunity. And so I became a Creative Writing major and Cognitive Science minor, and somehow ended up in Japan.

There, we’re back on track.

Now, having finally come to Japan, I’ve been rewarded for my self-faith and conviction by being granted so many other opportunities while being here. My birthday, September 19th, was the day of the Jugoya full-moon festival in Kyoto, and I got to go to a celebration at Shimogumo Shrine. That night, the full moon was said to be the prettiest full moon of the year (in contrast to a similar festival in May, which is said to be the most powerful full moon of the year).

It was a great night.

 

What’s more, I spent the next four days in Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show 2013, which was an industry expo similar to E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo, held every summer in LA). Unlike E3, however, the last two days of TGS are open to the public.

The ticket for TGS 2013

 

While I was there, I got to play a bunch of crazy games that might not even come out in America.

 

This guy was from a Sega game for the Nintendo 3DS that had something to do with fighting using Japanese yen. I barely understood what was going on. At the end of the demo they gave me a box of tissues that looked like a 10,000 yen bill. Japan, people. Video games.

And my favorite part of the trip was getting to meet a bunch of independent game developers. These are two-and-three-man studios who come together to make games on their own terms, free from any corporate meddling. They often make more avant-garde games with interesting mechanics that in turn can influence the rest of the games industry.

Here’s me with the guys at VisionTrick, who are working on a game called Pavilion for the PS4 and PS Vita. There’s an interview with them that I’ll post soon. They were pretty awesome.

Rickard Westman(left) and Henrik Flink (right) of VisionTrick Media. Talking to these guys was really, really cool.

 

And here’s me with Henry Fernandez and his brother, who are working on FluffEaters, a mobile game for Android and iOS devices. An interview with them should also be going up in the near future:

Me with Henry Fernandez (aka Henry Kun), left, and his brother (whose name sadly escapes me at the moment…), right. These guys were also really cool to talk to.

It’s great to talk to these developers because they operate on a more easily-approachable level; they make games, but they’re not Shigeru Miyamoto or Cliff Blezinski (from Nintendo and Epic Games, respectively). You can go up to them and talk about game design and playing games without feeling like you’re speaking to a suit (or, in the cases of Miyamoto and Blezinski, a legend). In a way, these guys are artists who are making their dreams come true by creating something unique for others to experience and interpret and learn from. They could’ve gone and become businessmen, rotting away at a job they hate, but instead they decided to do something awesome with their lives.

Thus, we’re not really different at all: I love games, they love games. I’m in Japan at the Tokyo Game Show experiencing the insanity that occurs within, and so are they. And most importantly, I’m here because I never gave up on my dream, and neither did they.

That week alone was one of the greatest and most life-changing periods of my entire life. And none of it could’ve happened (or at least, not to the extent that it had) outside of Japan. If I hadn’t made the choice of going to Japan now while I’m still an undergrad, I’d be letting down so many of the people who got to where I am today.

But that, friends, is a story for another time. Until next time, stay tuned for more coverage from the Land of the Rising Sun!

Leadership Skills – A.K.A. How to be a Good Community Member

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.

-Henry Ford

You may not have known it at the time, but when you decided to come to SUNY Oswego, you entered into a sort of social contract. By making the choice to pursue a higher education degree, you have made the choice to be part of a community. The  community you and I belong to is called SUNY Oswego. The most important part of your end of the contract is your obligation to go to classes and do the work for them, but there is another part of that contract which may not be so obvious: being a valuable member of your community at large. The college has multiple avenues for being active in the greater community, but there is one common thread which holds them all together: you. Without student members of the extracurricular organizations and offices, there would hardly be anything to write home about at this school. And while you may not think your role in whatever group(s) you are a part of is particularly important, it most definitely is. If you take these bits of advice and try to behave more like a leader in your organization, you might see it spring to life and gain more influence and credibility in the community at large.

1. Confidence is key.

We’ve heard it a  million times, but it can’t be stressed enough. If you know what you are talking about (or at least act like you do), people are more likely to listen and believe. But this isn’t about just being outgoing for no reason; I mean to say that if you work hard on something, it will show in the way you talk about it. So, sometimes it isn’t enough to talk the talk if you don’t have something good and tangible to back it up.

2. Dedicate time.

This appears to me to be one of the most common problems facing young student leaders. It is very difficult to set aside time for something when the first thing you learn about college life is the breadth of opportunities and activities available to you as a student. But if you can hone in on a few things and really set aside the hours for them, you will soon find people looking up to you and appreciating your effort and dedication to your club or activity.

3. Organize.

If you can find some solid, meaningful, and well-defined goals for your time here at SUNY Oswego, you’re already two steps ahead of the competition. A good way to do this is to start big and work your way down. Find a few broad goals for yourself and compartmentalize them into smaller, more specific tasks, and keep working your way down more and more until you have found yourself in the possession of a set of tasks that are very easy and not stressful individually.

4. Enjoy what you do.

Most importantly, don’t force anything upon yourself. If an activity is not naturally part of your life, you might find yourself often unmotivated to pursue it. This may seem like common sense to some, however I can say from personal experience and first hand observation that it is very easy to feel the need to do something simply out of obligation to friends or maybe because you feel forced to. The trick is to enjoy helping others in the ways that you most easily can afford to.

Hopefully some of these tips stick with you throughout your college career, and hopefully I have helped you make some connections in your mind on what it truly means to be active and a good member of your community. This is an important skill set, one which will greatly enhance your personal and professional life – after all, that’s what we’re going to college for in the first place, right?

Time Management-How to Successfully Get Your Work Done on Time

Sometimes, your classes can get the best of you.

 

Have you ever put off a huge project until the last day before it’s due? Ever let your homework pile up over the course of the week? These two things can work together to make you feel overwhelmed, stressed, and buried in work. Contrary to popular belief, a pot of coffee and an all nighter are not the solution to this problem. This bolg post is aimed at time management, seeking help in topics you may be struggling in, and how to survive the semester without stressing over being behind in classes.

 

When it comes to time management, there are many courses of action you can take to help keep organized and work in a productive, timely manner. Here are a few methods you can use to help manage your time:

  • Make a schedule for yourself!-When a professor assigns a project that is due in a month, it may be a good idea to utilize all of the time that you have been given to complete the assignment. This usually means that you’re expected to put a lot of work into the assignment. In order to keep on track, make a schedule for yourself. Use a loose leaf piece of paper, calender, etc. to remind yourself what part of the project you should be working on at a given time.
  • Buy yourself a white board!- This is a must have for any college student. A great idea is to keep the white board on the wall next to your bed so you can see whatever reminders you’ve written yourself as soon as you wake up. That way you won’t forget about an assignment that is due. Plan your week out on the board–it will be extremely helpful!
  • Have a smartphone? Use it!-There are some great features in most smartphones that can work wonders when it comes to managing time. Most phones have a notepad, which can be used to write notes to yourself regarding a project or homework assignment. Another great feature is the alarm. Set alarms for yourself to remind you that you should be doing your work. That way you won’t get distracted by whatever you may be doing and lose track of time.
  • Buy a planner!-Planners are a great invention–especially for a college student. Use them to keep track of all of your assignments and their due dates. This way, you can get things done before they start to pile up.
  • Others- Other great ways to stay on track include leaving sticky notes for yourself, or having a trustworthy friend remind you to stay on track.
Sometimes for a student, procrastination occurs because they do not understand the material in class. If this is the case, and you are struggling in a class, here are a few methods to help you bring up your grade and do better on exams, homework, or papers:
  • Office Hours-Most professors on campus have open office hours–which is a specified time on a given day where they are open to students who may wish to come in and seek help on a project, paper, homework assignment, or seek additional instruction in a specific area. Usually office hours are posted in a courses syllabus. If not, consult your professor to see when they are available. This is a great way to establish a good relationship with your professor as well as receive one on one help with whatever you may be struggling with. Professors are always happy to help!
  • Tutoring Services-  SUNY Oswego’s Office of Learning Services provides numerous resources t students who wish to seek extra help with their classes. A great service provided is their tutoring service. If you visit the OLS office (Located in room 171 in the Campus Center), you can request a tutor to help you. Tutors are available for most lower level courses, as well as upper level courses. These tutors are usually undergraduate students, graduate students, or professors who make themselves available to help you.
  • Need someone to proofread your paper? Go to the WRITING CENTER!-Located on the third floor of the Penfield Library, the Writing Center is a great service offered to those who wish to seek help with a writing assignment. If you wish to have somebody read over your paper and help you improve your writing skills. To make an appointment with a writing tutor, go to this web address and follow the instructions. http://www.oswego.edu/academics/support/OLS/wc.html
  • When studying, DON’T CRAM!-Spreading out study sessions over a period of time before your exam will help you to retain the information better. Study one portion of the material at a time. Cramming is stressful and ultimately is not a good way to study. Taking breaks between study sessions is healthy and gives the information time to sink in.
  • Study with a group of friends- Sometimes, working in a group is much better than working alone. If you have a big exam to study for, study with a group and take turns testing each other on the material.
  • Go to the library!-If you feel as if you may be studying in a distracting environment, go to the library to do your work. There are plenty of places in the library that promote productivity and help you to focus on your work and your work alone. For me, just being at the library makes me study harder and focus more.

 

Wait, what month is it?

When I started Graduate School in late August of 2012 graduation seemed distant. Now, in the midst of my second semester, it seems to be coming up quicker than I thought. Though most people will explain Graduate School programs in years, 1-3, in the grand scheme of things Graduate School is only 4 semesters. When you break that down, it’s easy to lose track of time when you think of how the semesters themselves get fragmented with school work deadlines and, before you know it, it’s the end of the semester. 5 months flew by and you can barely remember what you did. This made me think about what was important to me, what I needed for professional development, and what I just needed to do to survive.

It was a hard decision to stop doing certain things that I had become accustomed to doing here at SUNY Oswego for the last few years (I received my Bachelor’s Degree from here, too.) I realized that in order to stay sane it was important that I did things that I wanted to do for me and stop thinking about the big picture 24 hours a day. Professional development is important and taking time out to do that is something everyone should do. However, sacrificing happiness now for future happiness wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. So I changed it. I left some things behind, adopted a new attitude, concentrated on a few things instead of a handful, and opened my self, and my schedule, to new experiences. One of the most important things that I’ve picked up along the way is that personal development, learning more about who you are, will help you in the long run when developing yourself professionally. With a more relaxed schedule no longer filled with the stresses of simply too much to do, my spring semester has slowed down in comparison to the fall of 2012. I take my school work one day at a time and leave enough time for me to relax, go nuts, enjoy food, favorite sporting events, and well- anything else I want.

The semester ends when?!

Like most students on campus, I’ve been as busy as ever juggling  jobs and classes, relationships and hobbies, and most of all… me time. This also means that I neglected updating all of you with how my semester was going. So, here it goes. It’s been a long one. It’s interesting to see how far I can push myself and it’s really rewarding when the grades that come back reflect the work that’s been put in. Graduate school is no joke, but at the same time I feel that this is where I’m supposed to be and that I was prepared for the work. Civic Engagement is going well, we were super busy until the election and now we’re planning for next semester, which is just as time consuming. The Women’s Club Hockey team is off to a decent start, not where we usually are at this point but we picked up our play as of late. Coaching teaches me a lot about leadership roles, professionalism, the game of hockey, and myself. Right now we’re 5-3-0 with a few games left this semester to improve that quite a bit. It’s something that I love to do, though it’s really time consuming. On a lighter note, being a graduate student means no finals! it also means that there are only 8 days left in my semester. Definitely thankful for that. Well, hope all of you are doing well. I’ll try to get on this more often to keep it updated.

The beginning of a new semester

Well, here we are. The start of a new academic year. For me, it just seems as if something else has simply begun on top of what I normally do. But, for ambitious individuals who aspire to one day be employed full time making good pay, it’s what needs to be done to meet that goal.

I knew it wouldn’t get much easier after graduating from undergrad last May and now that Graduate school is in full swing with two jobs, 3 extracurricular activities, bills, and the desire to have some kind of social life, I don’t expect to have a second for myself until after finals.

So far, I’ve been busy working with Civic Engagement, shameless self promotion here (check out my Rock the Vote Blog here http://sunyoswegocivicengagement.wordpress.com/) to get the word out about the election, how to vote, where to vote, and everything else that it encompasses. It’s been a great experience and I know that it will help me in the long run.

Graduate classes already seem to be a huge step up from Undergrad. It’s the natural progression, everything I expected it to be. More work, more reading, more attention to detail, and did I mention more work?

It’s a different style of history being in a classroom versus in a museum;the feel for history isn’t the same. In a classroom  it becomes a more intellectually dense experience listening, digesting and analyzing, and in a museum the information comes at you using different senses, you’re inside of the history.

I like being back in academia. It’s a much different pace than the private sector or even the government side of the economy. There’s a certain sense collaboration, even if there hasn’t been a meeting to designate who’s doing what. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of different professionals on campus and everyone has advice and is willing to lend a helping hand in the events or activities we have planned, or are trying to plan.

It’ll be a fun semester and I’ll keep this as well as my Rock the Vote blog updated regularly.

Another great opportunity

This is my first entry as a SUNY Oswego blogger and I am happy to be a part of a great tool in communicating ideas, events, and anything else that we have on our minds. I’ll start my journey as a blogger on this site with a little introduction;

I’m Jon Zella, I’m a Graduate student studying History: Museum Preservation here at SUNY Oswego. I recently graduated from SUNY Oswego with my Bachelor’s Degree in History and a minor in Italian, Buon Giorno. I am also the graduate assistant for Civic Engagement, I work as an interpreter at Fort Ontario State Historic Site, I’m the Head Coach for the Women’s Club Hockey team, Director of Athletic Affairs in Student Association, I write for a hockey blog called the Checking Line mostly about the Buffalo Sabres,  I play the drums in the Avondales and Burning Bridge Street, and now I write for this blog.

Though the above paragraph makes me seem like someone who might be high-strung, I’m generally a pretty calm person. Keeping busy allows me to stay focused and everything gets done, even if it’s at 2am. I enjoy being social, speaking to others; the exchange of ideas and culture is something I’ve always enjoyed.

I also run the Civic Engagement Word Press which will cover a lot of what I’ll be up to this academic year. I will do my best to blog on this as well and keep those interested in the loop with what I’m doing and how my year is going.

Let’s Catch Up

Wow

It has been a while since I’ve really gotten into the flow of  things. Not to worry I am back and fully functioning. Took a much needed break. You know how hectic things can get for a college student. Hopefully to the demise of you the reader (just admit you miss me). With so much time passing , comes so much news.

This past semester I went through a lot. I grew a lot , I experienced a lot. I am grateful for it all , maybe not while it occurred or soon after, and truthfly there are issues I am still trying to resolve. However my new outlook has led me to be grateful for it all. Rain, sleet, Oswego sized snow days and sun. Whatever the problem I may be experiencing in the end will be worth the journey.

Success has found its way to me this year. This past spring semester I was inducted into the Lambda  Pi Eta National Honor Society of Communications. It was a pleasant surprise because although it has been my goal since day one of Oswego to receive academic recognition I never set out for this one in particular. Which made the induction and initial nomination that much more of an honor. I learned that when you take care of your business , stay focused on the goal at hand, the blessings will come. Also it never hurts to be able to send your parents a quick picture of you holding a Honor Society Certificate , all dressed up, with a great big smile with the caption “Hey mom just in case you thought I was going to Thirsty Thursdays every week.”

So all in all there has been a lot to occur. My birthday was exactly a month ago to the date( old & gray) , I received stitches for the first time (a lesson learned from that!), celebrated BSR (woop woop!), became Mr. BSU(check me out), My niece is 7 months and teething (poor baby sister).

As hectic as that may seem. I am still busy at work up here in Oswego. I’m taking summer classes, looking for employment, working on a possible intership/shadow position, and experiencing all that Oswego has to offer in the summer time (besides allergies and a sinus infection).

Rest assure though , we will be in touch!

-Kwame

The Triangle of Life

Man, this may be the most accurate portrayal of school college. When I use to play the “you only get 2 games” I always got fustrated because I could never decide which I wanted. Yet here I am , again always stuck trying to decide between the three. Could this have been the source of my recent frustrations?

Maybe, but chances are it has more to do with these 4 major classes I am taking and trying to stay afloat in. Whatever the reason , it all leads back to this triangle. There has been a lack of consistency on my part this semester. At times, I’ve laid under the covers and said “rest!” then only but a few times, I have decided to go out and party and or drink(soda) all night long. Truest in its location however right at the top, hanging over my head has been the reminder that I want those great grades (not good). At times this has meant I went beast. Just running all around, staying up till all times of night, making a home of the library. Mostly though I have stressed myself to miserable levels and abandoned my promise to self to make sure I am taking time to enjoy life a little.

The sad truth (to me at least) about this triangle is that there is no one right way to approach it. In my eyes there is only room for one other choice. Getting good grades are not an option, nor should it be optional . But again to each their own, “Live let Live”. This leaves the conundrum of choosing between sleep and social life. For a couple of weeks I decided to choose sleep but that did me no good. It left me tense and ready to blow over like a pressure cooker. You see if you do what is required of you academically, you owe it to yourself to take a few moments if not hours to just enjoy the simpler or more carefree parts of life. Beware however it comes with a price, that price being precious time outside of your twin size bed  and head under the covers.

So I guess there is no way to truly win or to come out successful is there? I’m lost and still trying to figure it out. Maybe you have the answer though. If so , don’t act stingy share it with the rest of the world!!! Me 0_0!

Journalists: be prepared to get your world rocked…

That’s what they should warn journalism majors before they start their program.

Be prepared to get your world rocked, because you will write something that you think is really good and then your editor will rip it to shreds.

I’m still getting used to having my work torn apart by editors, and I’m a graduating journalism senior. Such fun!

I suppose getting harsh reviews is supposed to help you do better and build up your work as well as strengthen your skin against criticism, but sometimes I’m a big softy.

I just wrote a blog post for my internship, and I thought it was pretty good. It was about new bills on the floor of the House of Representatives that seek to cut off funding for family planning and reproductive health. I sent my blog to my supervisor, who proceeded to strikethrough nearly everything I wrote. Case in point:

Talk about rocking my world. She told me my writing was still good, and it laid a framework for what she edited into the new blog post. But still, less than 10 percent of what I originally wrote was intact! I survived an editorial run-in.

It just goes to show you that no matter what sort of confidence you may have about a piece, it is still subject to the editor’s appeal. Just a reminder that I shouldn’t get overconfident in my writing, as well as I should prepare myself more for constructive criticism.

Real life 101 note: you may think what you wrote as a journalist is the cat’s meow, but just remember, you’re writing for an audience, and if your editor doesn’t like what you wrote – don’t take it personal when they completely scrap your work. It’s just the life as a journalist after all.