Our Jasper Nation: Finding A Home Away From Home

For Robert Hurt, a junior chemical engineering major, “home” can be a lot of different places.  “Home” could be Manhattan College, where he now spends most of his time.  “Home” could be Tokyo, Japan, where he graduated from high school and his family currently lives.  “Home” could also be Vienna, Austria, where he lived from age two to fifteen.  The question of where “home” is really is not that simple to answer.

When Hurt was fifteen, he moved with his family from Vienna, Austria to Tokyo, Japan, in response to the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. Hurt’s father works for the International Atomic Energy Agency, a subsection of the United Nations. The agency works with member states of the United Nations, along with partners around the world, to promote peaceful, safe and secure use of nuclear technologies. “I didn’t expect to move… it was like all of a sudden, this happened we got to go,” Hurt said.

At the time he moved, Hurt was a sophomore attending a British International school in Vienna.  “I speak German, but most of the people in Austria, and a large percentage of the people in Europe, speak English,” said Hurt.  It wasn’t until Hurt joined a baseball team in Austria that he really had to learn German. “In school everyone spoke English so I didn’t learn German properly until the last two or three years,” Hurt said. Hurt completed his final years of high school in Japan, at an American School.  While his upbringing stretched from Europe to Asia, “my dad is American [and] my mom is Filipino so I had an American upbringing,” Hurt said.

Photo Courtesy of Robert Hunt
Photo Courtesy of Robert Hunt

Hurt is the second youngest of four boys, “one of them is 22, one of them is 24, the youngest one is 16,” Hurt said. Surrounded by brothers, Hurt spent a lot of time outside.  “I’d always be outside playing with my brothers… so we’d make friends with all the neighbors…when I was younger there was this big dirt hill behind our house… I was ten [and] we would always play on the dirt hill after school,” Hurt said.  “When I got older it was really close to ride our bikes to the [Danube]… it was only like five minutes,” said Hurt.  Climbing the dirt hill in the backyard eventually turned into hiking in the Alps. “We’d go hiking there sometimes… that was always a lot of fun,” Hurt said.

In Vienna, Hurt lived with his family within the city limits, though at one point it was considered the suburbs of Vienna. “They have some suburbs but it’s a small city.  We lived in the actual city… we lived by school,” Hurt said, “that used to be the suburbs of Vienna but it kind of had expanded so they’re building a lot more houses.” Hurt remembers his neighbors as being tolerant of his brothers and him, “I’m sure having four boys in a house makes a lot of noise but they didn’t complain very much about us,” Hurt said, with a laugh.

While a lot of time was spent exploring the outdoors, the inner city of Vienna was also close by.  “Everything was really close in Austria [and] it was very easy to get around places,” Hurt said, “we usually biked.” For trips into the inner city, the train station was only a ten minute walk from Hurt’s house, followed by a ten to fifteen minute train ride right into the middle of the city.

Even though Hurt did not notice the historical significance of many of the landmarks in the city he grew up, he now has a knowledge and appreciation for it. “I didn’t know any of that stuff growing up… I learned it when I got older and started caring,” Hurt said. In Austria, a lot of things have a rich historical background. “I just didn’t notice it when I was younger… when I was older I started realizing… oh wow this church was the [St.] Stephen’s, that, during the Ottoman Empire… if they took this they took Vienna… stuff like that,” Hurt said, “It was interesting in that aspect… I mean it’s the same thing in Italy. In Italy it’s even more… every single thing… you can’t throw a stone without hitting something.”

Living in Austria meant traveling to other European countries was easy.  Growing up, Hurt visited Italy multiple times, along with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland.  Traveling was easy via highways and the Autobahn. Driving to Italy took a couple of hours, and was even close enough for school trips. “We went to Florence in eighth grade… we took an overnight train there it was amazing,” Hurt said. “Austria is also great for skiing… two of our school trips were ski trips.”

While Tokyo is very different than Vienna, Hurt spent his time there doing similar things as he did in Vienna, both exploring the city and the spending time outdoors. In Japan, Hurt lived close to Shibuya Crossing, “the high buildings and lights and everything… it’s like the Times Square of Tokyo,” Hurt said, “a lot of my friends lived around there so we’d all just kind of congregate there… I liked that place a lot.” Like New York, Tokyo is a massive city, but one that Hurt describes as very clean. “It’s actually clean which is weird,” Hurt said. Like both Vienna, and New York City, in Japan you can get anywhere via public transportation. “I know in New York it’s really good but in the US as a whole a lot of people are used to driving everywhere… my family doesn’t own a car in Japan… we just take the subway everywhere,” Hurt said.

In Japan, Hurt lived in an apartment with his family, in a community that he shared with many of his classmates. While Hurt was able to communicate with his other classmates, since he attended an American school, it was difficult to converse with others outside of his community. In Hurt’s experience, not much English is spoken in Japan. “You need to know little bits [of Japanese] to get by, but in general I didn’t know very much.  I learned very minimal.” Hurt said, “I took Spanish in Japan, so I can speak Spanish but I can’t speak Japanese… it was hard to socialize [since Japanese is] just a completely different language.”

Our Jasper Nation
Photo Courtesy of Robert Hunt

While there was a language barrier, the people of Japan did share their culture with Hurt, during the time he spent there. “In Japan, people really go out of their way to help you… they are just extremely polite, as a whole,” Hurt said, “in Japan there is like zero crime.  Someone got stabbed and it was like the top news for months. Like someone in the whole of Japan got stabbed and they couldn’t stop talking about it.” Also, “nobody steals stuff… kids when they’re younger are taught, if they find money on the ground, to bring it to a little police station in Japan, called a Koban,” Hurt said.

Even though Hurt had visited the United States before deciding to attend Manhattan College, “there were a lot of things I wasn’t aware of.  I mean I used to come here a lot. Not New York, I’d never been to New York, but the U.S. in general,” Hurt said.  Most of what he knew about the U.S. was based on what his dad told him. But even what he heard about New York did not prepare him for what the city would actually be like. “Everything you see is like, wow that was from a movie. Like, I’ve only heard about this. There was that whole kind of awe aspect especially freshman year,” Hurt said.

There are even differences in higher education that Hurt has noticed. “The school system is actually really different in Japan,” Hurt said, where in Japan, “you try your hardest to get into college…once you’re in college you’re set up with a job as soon as you leave college [and] you can relax a lot more.” In the US, Hurt has noticed a much heavier focus on securing both internships and a job, well before graduation. In Japan, “they don’t have to worry about that much…they can do internships if they want to go somewhere else but… if they get into university, certain universities, they will automatically get a job with this company, or this company,” Hurt said, “so it’s different in that sense.” A difference between college applicants in the U.S. and Austria, is that “in Austria…you have to take Latin if you want to go to college,” Hurt said.

Hurt followed in the footsteps of his older brothers when deciding to attend college in the United States, and since middle school, Hurt knew he was destined to become an engineer. “I come from an engineering family, so I was going to do engineering,” Hurt said, “both my older brothers are mechanical [and] my dad was a physicist.”  Even though he knew engineering was in his future, “I wasn’t sure about chemical engineering when I came here, I almost switched to mechanical,” Hurt said.  But after a lot of research the decision was clear. “Chemical just seems like a lot more fun,” Hurt said. Eventually, Hurt is hoping to take his love of chemistry and engineering to a career at ExxonMobil.  “I like to move around so I don’t know really what to do with my life after this… I’d like to move,” Hurt said, “but I’m not too picky.”

Since Hurt’s childhood was split between two countries, there are pieces of each that he misses. “I find myself missing Austria more and more as time goes on,” Hurt said, and he hopes to visit soon. “I haven’t been back since [moving]… my family actually went there but I was working over the summer so… they went without me,” Hurt said.

Though he does miss Austria “I miss the food in Japan,” Hurt said, “Japanese food is so good… a lot of it is sushi but it’s not the same type of sushi.  I call this American sushi, and it’s really good, it’s sushi too but there it’s maki sushi. Maki is the one with rice and a piece of fish on top.” While Hurt enjoys what he calls American Sushi, the main difference that he notices is that the ingredients to make sushi, like fish and rice, are extremely fresh in Japan. Even though Hurt has adjusted to the cuisine of New York City, there’s even more to miss in Japan. “My family still lives there, so I miss that,” Hurt said.

For anyone interested in visiting Japan, Hurt’s top things to visit include:

  1. The Great Buddha of Kamakura – an over forty-foot bronze statue of Amida Buddha, on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. The statue is near the seashore, and the train that you take to reach the site, allows visitors to look out over the ocean.
  2. Shibuya Crossing – a famous intersection that is outside of Shibuya Station. “Literally at one time there are thousands of people crossing,” Hurt said, and “there is shopping and little shrines everywhere.”  The shrines are for either Zen Buddhism or Shinto.
  3. Fish Market – the world’s biggest and largest fish market, where Hurt has the most fun. “It’s like an hour away and you have to get there really early in the morning to see the fish auctions,” Hurt said.
  4. Mt. Fuji – Japan’s tallest mountain that has worshipped as a sacred mountain. “You don’t even have to climb it.  I haven’t even climbed all the way to the top because that’s a full day trip and I just haven’t had time to do that, but just go there… it’s really cool,” Hurt said.
  5. Yokohama Chinatown – Japan’s largest Chinatown known for its cuisine offered at both food stands and restaurants.
  6. Any shrine – symbols of Japanese tradition and culture. Shrines are “literally everywhere,” Hurt said, “there are some really big ones… on New Year’s everyone goes to the shrine and they pray… it’s a family time.” Specific shrines worth visiting include Auy Shrine or the Meiji Shrine.