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.
Anyways, I mainly just wanted to post some pictures of what I’ve been up to recently.
Also I’ve been having such an awesome time that I forgot that I own a fish.
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.
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.
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.
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
*Obviously, there are a lot of other things that you can do, I just can’t think of them right now lol