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.
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