お久しぶり

I’ve been extremely busy with school and making friends that I’ve been forgetting to post anything here. Basically, I’ve been socializing with people from all over the world, getting to know the customs of different countries and also learn a lot more about where I come from and how other people view the United States. Also, all of my classes–except one–are taught entirely in Japanese. One is particularly fun and intriguing, and it’s also my hardest class: 日本事情, or in English: Current Events in Japan Seminar.

So far, there’s only been three weeks of classes, and this is my favorite class. We learn about Japanese culture, customs, and national issues, and then we compare them to those of other countries. To give a bit of perspective, I’m the only American in this class. There are a lot of Chinese students, some French and Korean students, a student from Taiwan, England, and Canada. Being the only American, I often get called on to explain the difference between Japan and America, and I do so in Japanese. There was a funny time when I had to explain that there are no 和式トイレ (washiki) in America. Washiki are the toilets that everyone who comes to Asia freak out about–often described as a hole in the floor–where one is required to squat instead of sit down.

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Anyways, I mainly just wanted to post some pictures of what I’ve been up to recently.

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Also I’ve been having such an awesome time that I forgot that I own a fish.

 

April 3rd, 2017

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I’ve only been in Japan for less than a week, and I’ve already experienced so many ups and downs of studying abroad. There are so many differences between American culture and Japanese culture that are amazing, but some that are also really scary and hard for me to internalize.

Some of the awesome things that I’ve observed:

  • Amazing customer service in restaurants
  • You don’t have to pay tips
  • Reliable public transportation
  • Vending machines conveniently located EVERYWHERE!
  • Friendly natives who are extremely willing to help foreigners
  • Very cheap food and necessities

However, the negative differences are a bit more complex, so they aren’t things that I can list. Most of these things are hard to explain and just sound like personal insecurities that I should just stop thinking about. I just feel like no matter where I go, it will be hard for me to feel like I fit in. In America, I’m considered very different because of my skin color. I don’t feel like I could ever blend in apart from my personality. In Japan, I’m recognized by the same thing, but it’s a bit better since it’s obvious that I’m a foreigner. However, in the Philippines, I look the part, but I don’t speak the language. I actually had an experience in the Tokyo-Narita airport where some Filipinas asked me if I was as well, but they did this in Tagalog. When I said that I am, but I can’t speak the language, I could feel the air shift to a more negative atmosphere, and I felt that they were judging me for  not knowing.

I’m also having a hard time coping with the beauty standards of Japan. Just like the Philippines, it is considered beautiful to have fair skin and to be very thin. I’ve never really felt like I’ve ever fit the beauty standards of any country that I’ve been to, since I’m dark-skinned and not extremely thin. No matter how many people tell me that they think I’m beautiful, it’s just impossible for me to feel like I am. This is one of the things that I need to work on, so I’ve decided to be as active as I possibly can while I’m in Japan.

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Other than that, I’ve been utilizing a lot of coping mechanisms to deal with depression overseas. It’s a bit easier to do since I’m a new place with beautiful scenery, which is one thing that really helps me relax. I have a lot more that I could talk about, but I think I want to keep this relatively short.

I’ve Arrived!

So I’m finally in Japan! I’m currently staying at the Toyo Hotel in Fukuoka, which is really cool because I can already see the differences in Japanese culture by just being here. The rooms in this hotel are just for one person, so I can have my privacy and embrace my inner-introvert. It’s actually pretty nice since I needed to get some rest after my day of flying from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Tokyo, Japan, and finally arriving in Fukuoka, Japan. I experienced really bad jet lag when I arrived, and I also had an extremely bad head ache, so when my peers were exploring the city, I was in my room dozing the evening away. Normally, something like this would bother me since I feel like I’m missing out; however, I thought of it as taking time for me to heal, since I really didn’t want to have a headache anymore, and I really didn’t want to feel nauseous every step that I took. Also, I have all day today to explore the city of Fukuoka before we leave for Nagasaki, so I’m not worried at all.

Another cool thing that happened to me was getting lost in Translation. The minute I arrived to Tokyo, I had to get cleared for immigration, go through customs, check-in for a domestic flight, go through Japanese airport security, and figure out the airport’s bus system, since it was primarily in Japanese. The cool thing about this experience is that I definitely know more Japanese than I give myself credit for, but I still don’t know much Japanese. I don’t see this as a bad thing, though. It’s just an observation that truly shows me how hard the language is, which is marvelous to me.

But the most important thing is that I’ve made it. After the months of hard work and confusing paperwork, I’m finally here. I can’t wait to see what this experience has in store for me.

A Note to All

I’ve had a hard time trying to come up with things that I would like to discuss in this post. On one hand, I’m four days away from my departure date, and I’m so excited that I can’t express my words in coherent sentences. On the other hand, I’m really terrified and exhausted because I just moved across the country and my departure date IS so close. I’ve also been trying to write a new post for about two weeks now, and nothing has been motivating me to finish this post. I’ve thought about discussing how I’ve gotten to this point in my life where I’m ready to travel the world, but I couldn’t find the right words to describe this accurately. I’ve considered writing about how I plan to face my challenges abroad as a person who is dealing with depression, but I feel like that is too dark of a topic to tackle when I haven’t even left yet. But then it hit me: the point of having this blog is to think critically. Whether I think critically about some weird experience that I’ve just had, or whether I think critically about what to write, I’m practicing something that will really help me during my travels. I’m reflecting upon my life, analyzing the things that didn’t really make sense to me and observing my growth from a time in the past in comparison to who I am now. Reflection is the key to not letting my trials and tribulations ruin a wonderful experience, and instead it allows me to let these hardships help me grow even further.

Appreciate the Little Things

On Friday morning I woke up at 7:30 in the morning to go hiking with one of my friends in Golden, Colorado. As we were hiking along the South Tabletop Mountain trail, I took in the scenery around me and realized that in about a month, my surroundings would change significantly. I realized that the snow-topped mountains to the West wouldn’t be there anymore. I realized that the distant skyline of Denver would be thousands of miles away from me. It was quite a humbling feeling–although it was also kind of scary–to know that I’d be moving thousands of miles away from home for the second time.

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For those of you who don’t know, I made the decision to move to Colorado when I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time in my life. I distinctly remember my dad telling my sister and I that we would be going to Colorado for a ski-trip, but I was extremely resistant since I was happy where I was at the time: I had a lot of friends in my 5th grade class, I loved my teacher, and I certainly didn’t want to miss out on interesting tales from the time that I was absent. Basically, I was the type of ten-year-old who wanted to remain where they were, and any threat of changing normality scared me.

After much persuasion from my dad (and the fact that I really didn’t have a choice in the matter), I reluctantly agreed to go to Colorado. We arrived at the Denver International Airport early in the morning and went to pick up our car rental. After a quick lunch in Denver, we headed towards the mountains via 6-West, and eventually I-70. Our car climbed through the foothills and finally we were surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the mountains stood tall above us. I had never seen such an amazing view in my entire life, and that’s all it took.

From that day on, my heart knew where it wanted to be. I changed from wanting to stay in Mattawan, Michigan for my entire life to wanting to explore the world around me. And as previously stated, that small experience was what motivated me for seven years to find a way to live in this beautiful state. There was much more to the world than a small town in Southwest Michigan, and I wanted to take advantage of that.

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Now here I am, eagerly awaiting my departure to the next chapter in my life, just as I did three years ago when I was moving to Denver. I get to fulfill one of my life’s dreams yet again at such a young age, and I couldn’t be more grateful. But it goes to show that even the smallest things can influence one’s passions, motivation, and life-goals. Whatever those experiences may be to you, I hope you take them and hold them dearly to you. I hope they give you the strength to push you through the dark times and shine in the good. Although they might be small things to everyone else in this world, it can mean the world to you, and that’s what truly matters.

In the Meantime

I have never traveled to a foreign country by myself. Ever. In the past, I’ve always had my parents to accompany me, protect me from cultural differences that I was unaware of, and plan activities to do in the places where we traveled. While the absence of these accommodations give me much more freedom as opposed to in the past, it also implies many challenges that I will have to face during my time in Japan. How will I handle the culture shock when I first experience it? Who will explain the differences between American and Japanese culture to me when I’m off campus or exploring? What should I do to make as many native-Japanese friends as possible? The possibilities are endless; however, with help from my university’s Office of International Education (OIE) and some personal research, I’ve attempted to minimize the fear of being on my own in a foreign country and emphasize the importance of my experiences abroad.

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-Insert stereotypical picture of Mt. Fuji-

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve typically experienced Japanese culture through–in my opinion–extremely biased lenses. And the reality is that I cannot fully experience another country’s culture unless I immerse myself in it. This obviously isn’t as easy as it sounds, but my school has been extremely wonderful by providing tips specifically oriented towards travelling to Japan. Here are some interesting things that my adviser with the OIE pointed out to me:

  • Before leaving the US, bring a gift for the people that I will meet at my dormitory. A food-item that is specific to my region of the United States will probably be the best gift to get.
  • Be prepared to have an encounter with a 置換 (chikan–lit. a molester, pervert). If someone touches you, grab their hand, raise it in the air, and yell “置換!”
  • Start doing research on the things that you want to do, like visiting tourism websites and researching festivals that will happen during your stay.

Not only have I consulted with my OIE, but I have also been speaking to a Japanese-native through a language-exchange. We’ve been able to talk for hours about a variety of topics such as fun things to do in Nagasaki, college-culture in America, festivals I’ll be able to attend during study abroad, and much more. It’s such an amazing opportunity as I’ve been able to learn more about the culture through his first-hand experiences, and I have also been able to practice actually speaking in Japanese. I feel that my ability to express thoughts in Japanese has increased dramatically, so I wonder how this will translate from studying Japanese in America to studying Japanese in Japan?

I’ll end this blog with some tips that I think will be helpful for prospective study-abroad students.

Tips for prospective study-abroad students:

  • If you’re interested in a language-intensive program:
    • Find a tutor (if you go to DU, the library has some awesome tutors) and have conversations with them in the language that you’re learning
    • Find apps that can provide you with language-exchange; HelloTalk is a great app for that
    • Practice with students who are also learning your language
    • If your school has a culture club for the country you’re travelling to, try going to one of their events
  • Thoroughly research the culture and customs of your host country
  • Do all of your paperwork and documentation as soon as you possibly can: there’s a lot more than you think
  • Be open-minded

*Obviously, there are a lot of other things that you can do, I just can’t think of them right now lol

A little bit of exposition

So this is my first blog post! I’m so excited and I have so many things that I want documented. The first of them being that I’ve booked all of my flights to and from Japan! Luckily, my school (the University of Denver) has a wonderful scholarship program that pays for visas and plane tickets. It’s called the Cherrington Global Scholarship, and as previously stated, is the reason why I can afford (kind of) to go abroad.

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This is Nagasaki, Japan, which is where my host university is located at.

Just a little background: I’ve been studying Japanese since I was 10 years old. What first inspired me to learn this language was a manga that my sister purchased: D.N. Angel. I remember being fascinated by the “backwards” orientation of the comic and by the unique character names that I had never seen before and didn’t know how to pronounce. From then on, I’ve been so enamored by Japan’s vivid culture, which is why I started teaching myself at such a young age.

By age 11, I was able to read and write in ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana). Until high school, I would have my mom buy me Japanese dictionaries, textbooks, and workbooks. Obviously, this wasn’t enough to get by, so by the time I entered high school, I started taking online Japanese classes. I took two years in high school and eventually lost my passion by the time I was a junior.

I distinctly remember entering college and trying to decide on what language I should take since DU requires one year of language studies. My thoughts were scattered everywhere: should I take Japanese again since I already studied it for two years in high school? Or should I study a different language and learn about a different culture? Maybe French? German? Eventually, I decided to take Japanese again, mainly because I thought that it would be easy and I would get my year of language studies studying something that I already knew. I had no idea that this would reignite a passion that I had long forgot about: my love for Japanese culture.

Currently, I’m in DU’s third-year Japanese class called Conversation and Composition (JAPN 2600). I’m also on the executive board of the デンバー大学の日本文化会 (University of Denver Japanese Culture Club), where we hold events teaching our members about Japanese culture, eat Japanese food, and actively participate in Japanese traditions such as 書き初め (first writing of the year). So, as one can imagine, I’m excessively excited to be travelling to the country I’ve been fascinated with since I was ten.

From here on out, I will be documenting my experiences pre-study abroad, during study abroad, and post-study abroad. I’m thinking that the majority of my posts will be similar to diary entries, and some may be formatted like a story. I will also be attempting to write some blog posts in Japanese, but I’ll provide the English translation as an amendment at the end of my posts. However this goes, I can’t wait to log everything that I go through, and I’m so excited for everyone to read my posts!

-Lexie