A Dolores local is on an adventure of a lifetime studying abroad in Nagasaki, Japan.
Victoria Stevens, 21, is learning the Japanese culture and language as part of the International Studies program at Fort Lewis College.
The senior is five months into a yearlong assignment taking courses at the Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies.
Stevens talked with the Cortez Journal via Skype from her dorm room near the campus. The trip satisfies her dream to travel and study Asian culture.
"A lot of my friends are Asian, and my boyfriend's family is from here. Traveling with him at first helped ease the culture shock because he is bilingual," she said.
Learning the language has been very difficult, but she is making progress and gave an example, speaking in convincing Japanese to say hello to her friends and family in Dolores and Cortez.
"It's an extremely hard language, and the classes are fast-paced. I study a lot, but there is time to explore and experience the culture," she said. "People here are very welcoming."
Arriving in Nagasaki on her own lugging two suitcases, the intrepid traveler made her way to the university, but after making many wrong turns realized she was reading the map upside down.
"The streets here are very confusing. A man pointed me in the right direction, and a woman who spoke English helped me with which train stop I needed to get off at."
She has since settled in and made friends. A pop culture class is especially interesting. Takarazuka Revue, a female version of the male-based Kabuki theater tradition, is all the rage right now.
Kabuki is a theatrical art in which male performers decked out in elaborate face paint and costumes act out scenes in silence while a single narrator tells the story.
"Females are not allowed to do Kabuki, so the Takarazuka was established," Stevens said. "They sing and dance, dress up, sometimes as men, and perform European plays."
She's still trying to get a ticket to either type of show. The unique performances have the biggest fan base in Japan.
On New Year's, Stevens and a group of colleagues ventured out to a Buddhist shrine for a unique tradition. Saki is served to warm 108 participants, who stand in line and each ring a bell once.
"They believe there are 108 sins in the human soul, and each time the bell is rung, it breaks one of those sins," she said.
The food is excellent, Stevens said. For just 2,500 yen, or about $25, diners are seated on the floor around a fire grill and cook up as much meat as they want.
"For an hour and a half, you can order whatever you want on the menu," Stevens said. "You cook it up yourself!"
Champon is a special dish in Nagasaki, and includes noodles, cabbage, octopus and beans.
"It's a random mix of things the original settlers would put together for a meal," Stevens said.
On a more somber note, Stevens visited the Peace Park and Bomb Museum documenting the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki during World War II.
"It was sad and uncomfortable, but I felt it was important to visit and gain perspective on their experience," she said.
Stevens would love to have an international career, and wants to continue a live of exploration.
"My dream is to travel. I hope that by studying here it will give me a boost to get a job I want," she said. "If I get a job in America, and they have a company in Japan, I could transfer there because I have experience with the language and culture."
Whether it is immersing herself in language studies, wandering through the woods discovering a hidden temple, or going to a softball tournament in a huge stadium overlooking the ocean, Stevens is living large in Japan.
And while she does get homesick (her mom will be visiting soon) she says the experience is life-affirming, a first step toward becoming a world citizen and a life of diversity.
"Traveling abroad makes you realize you can survive and adjust in another country without friends and family or anything your used to," she says. "It has helped me to grow as a person, and has given me confidence that I can handle the challenge."