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.