Category Archives: Tokyo

Mt Koya and Nara, Part 2:

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The futons (a traditional Japanese bedding, it’s kind of like a really thick sleeping bag) that Rengejoin Temple provided us was surprisingly comfortable (but then again, after a night sleeping on a bus, the group could probably sleep anywhere!). And at 6:20 AM as promised, we were woken up to attend otsutome (Morning Prayer) as requested by the monks of the temple. After breakfast, we would head to Okunoin, the largest a cemetery and sacred area in Japan with over 200,000 gravestones and memorial pagodas!

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, the thought of visiting a cemetery sounded rather depressing, and not quite what I would consider a tourist attraction. While funerals are still depressing, it seems as though Japan follows a more “circle of life” belief.

For instance, along the path in okunoin, we saw many Gorinto (five tier Stupa).

For instance, along the path in okunoin, we saw many Gorinto (five tier Stupa).

Our guide explained to our group that the shapes of the five tiers represents the five elements taught in Buddhism. The cube at the bottom represents earth, the sphere represents water, the pyramid presents fire, the hemisphere represents wind, and finally, the jewel shape at the top represents void. Japanese Buddhists believe that when we die, our bodies are not destroyed, but rather our physical bodies will go back to their original, elemental forms.

In addition, we also saw many little statues wearing bibs. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I ask our guide, who explained that they were statues of お地蔵さん (Ojizo-san), who is believed to watch over and protect children in the afterlife.

The bibs are placed by parents who have lost children, with prayers that Ojizo-san would watch over and protect them as a surrogate parent.

The bibs are placed by parents who have lost children, with prayers that Ojizo-san would watch over and protect them as a surrogate parent.

We then stopped by a well to check on our life expectancy.

Apparently, if you don’t see your reflection in this well, you will die within 3 years.

Apparently, if you don’t see your reflection in this well, you will die within 3 years.

Then we entered the Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the place where Kobo Daishi is said to remain in eternal meditation.

It is said that Kobo Daishi entered his eternal meditation in 835. Twice a day, monks ritually offer meals to Kobo Daishi at the mausoleum as seen in this picture.

It is said that Kobo Daishi entered his eternal meditation in 835. Twice a day, monks ritually offer meals to Kobo Daishi at the mausoleum as seen in this picture.

This was actually the first museum I’ve ever been to where we were allowed, and encouraged to touch stuff, so I was quite thrilled. There were thousands of lanterns and miniature statues of monks. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the museum. At first, I always thought this was an annoying rule since so many famous places in Japan did not allow photographs, but recently I’ve been embracing it. There is something nice about occasionally disconnecting myself from technology to truly appreciate the moment in front of me, instead of trying to share it with friends via pictures consistently.

On our way out, we tested our strength and connection with Future Buddha! In this little stand, there is a heavy rock, which is said to be as heavy as our sins. Those who are able to lift this rock, and bring it to the second level, will apparently be closer to the Future Buddha, and will be welcomed to his paradise.

Joshua's face of victory as he completes the challenge!

Joshua’s face of victory as he completes the challenge!

I suppose the idea is that if you are a hard worker, it would probably show in your arm strength. Personally, I’m not very superstitious, but it was interesting to hear about superstitions of other cultures.

As we visit more historic sites and hear more about Japan’s culture, superstitions, and religion in person, I realize that our there is so much about Japan that is simply omitted from textbooks. The more I explore Japan, the more I realize how little I know about the country! And the more excited I become to learn more about it!

Fuji Forest and Onsen Adventure!

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After carelessly missing the bus for the Hawaiian Spa Resort, and a typhoon canceling the Hachijo-jima Island Boat Trip, I was determined to attend TUJ’s Fuji Forest Adventure no matter what. I had done zip-lining in the past while visiting a famous tourist attraction in China, but I had never done one that was combined with an obstacle course. It certainly was a combination that sounded entertaining and adventurous to me!

Of course the day of the trip, it rained, but it didn’t stop our group from having our adventure! However the rain did make it troublesome for those who came unprepared.

I made the mistake of wearing a jacket that wasn’t quite waterproof. Ming made the mistake of wearing pants that weren’t quite long enough.

I made the mistake of wearing a jacket that wasn’t quite waterproof. Ming made the mistake of wearing pants that weren’t quite long enough.

The course was already pretty difficult and required a lot of upper body strength and balance if you didn’t rely on the zip-line. The rain only made it that much harder and colder! I didn’t have much trouble with keeping my balance, I was thoroughly defeated by the weather! Half way through the course, I caved and brought gloves and a rain coat after realizing my jacket was completely drenched.

After losing his balance, Gabe cheats a little and grabs hold onto the zip-line to complete this course. Meanwhile, in the background, I “Tarzan swung” into a net.

After losing his balance, Gabe cheats a little and grabs hold onto the zip-line to complete this course. Meanwhile, in the background, I “Tarzan swung” into a net.

Fortunately, we were always attached to something, so it was very safe.

Ming faces her fear of heights, and takes a leap of faith into a net!

Ming faces her fear of heights, and takes a leap of faith into a net!

Not to mention a lot of coordination.

One of the adventurers got his leg stuck in the ring and had to take off his shoe in order to escape!!

One of the adventurers got his leg stuck in the ring and had to take off his shoe in order to escape!!

Even landing was quite tricky! We were supposed to pivot our bodies forward or sideways so we could use our feet to slow down our landing. However, we often ended up backwards and landing on our backs instead.

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The thrill of zip lining made Kayleigh completely exhausted.

Epic high fives on the last course!

Epic high fives on the last course!

After a tiring but exciting adventure, the onsen was exactly what we needed!

We all rushed to the warm bus, and were instructed to take off our shoes at the entrance of the bus. I was already quite used to taking off my shoes upon entering a house since we do this all the time in most Asian cultures; however, I had never did it upon entering a bus though. But considering how dirty everyone’s shoes got from our adventure, and Japan’s culture regarding cleanliness, it made sense.

Upon arriving at the onsen, everyone rushed for food. We were all expecting it to be pretty pricey, since it was at an onsen. To our surprise it was not only very affordable, it was very delicious!

Nothing like ramen after a tiring adventure in the rain!

Nothing like ramen after a tiring adventure in the rain!

I always thought that paying for food in Japan would be expensive since their diet has a lot of seafood, but it doesn’t seem to be to the case. Not to mention, workers in Japan don’t accept tips!

The onsen had a lounge for those who wanted to take a nap, chat with some tea, or get a massage.

The onsen had a lounge for those who wanted to take a nap, chat with some tea, or get a massage.

To be honest, I completely forgot that in Japan, people don’t wear anything at onsens, and packed swimming trunks. Upon entering the male’s locker room, and seeing everyone naked, I was once again reminded that there are a lot of things that are completely different in Japan. Surprisingly, being completely naked wasn’t as awkward as I expected. After the first few minutes, it felt completely natural. It was definitely a refreshing experience!

Teaching My Children-English Camp in Japan

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As I mentioned before, I was picked to be a participate in an English camp and it will definitely be an experience I will always cherish.

(Find out what training was like in my previous posts)

TUJ student, Anthony, encourages the YN students with a smile :)

TUJ student, Anthony, encourages the YN students with a smile :)

Teaching the lessons was new for me, but when partnered with at least one other TUJ student, we always bounced ideas off of each other and got the activities finished. I learned that if the lessons are fun, the students are more likely to want to learn and participate, so we got the students involved as much as possible. For example, for the Olympic Games lesson, after the students finished one of the worksheet activities we had 3-5 of them come to front of the class and when we gave them an Olympic sport, they would model it. As an alternative, we would model and the students would have to tell us which sports we were acting out. It was something that made the rest of the class laugh and put them in good spirits because it was fun (and who doesn’t like fun, right?) so they participated more.

We got the students to speak more English with a game of Pictionary.

We got the students to speak more English with a game of Pictionary.

We also rewarded the students whenever they conversed with us in English. Each student was given a card with 10 circles and each teacher was given stickers. We gave the students stickers only if they approached us and spoke English. However, this couldn’t be a simple “Hi, give me a sticker.” They needed to engage us in conversation by asking us questions and talking about themselves. These Q&A sessions mostly took place during mealtimes and in between classes but it was about more than giving them stickers. It gave us an opportunity to bound with the students. I met a student who absolutely loves Elvis Presley and the Jackson 5 despite only being 15 (Yep, good music has no age limit). I also met students who enjoy the same anime and movies as I do. I got to know a lot of the students and we shared a lot of the same interests.

Overall, I think all of the TUJ students came to the consensus that during these two days, it really felt like we were celebrities. Crowds of students would surround us to ask us questions and take pictures with us. During the last day, there was time set aside for picture-taking before everyone was free to leave so once finished, a fellow teacher and I started to make our way back to the main building where our luggage was. Within five seconds, three students came up and asked to take pictures with us. We finished and two seconds later, another five students approached us for the same thing. At some point we decided to run and after managing to get five feet closer to the building, SURPRISE, more students and more pictures. Once finished, we ran while saying to each other, “No more student. No more students. No more students!” Despite our short-lived celebrity status, we had the chance to write short personal messages of encouragement to the students and I truly felt like I was their 先生(teacher) . 私の心は幸せでした。(Watashi no kokoro wa shiawasedeshita = My heart was happy.)

私の学生が大好きです! (I love my students!)

私の学生が大好きです! (I love my students!)

I’m extremely glad I got to participate in an English-teaching event while in Japan. I think it has furthered my desire to want to teach here after I graduate. As a teacher, I became a different person. The quiet, reserved person that most people know me as became loud and animated for her students. The students at Yamato Nishi High School were wonderful and I feel like even though it was a two-day event, we really bonded. I see so much potential in them and I hope to see them again in the future. However, if I don’t, I still wish them all well in whatever they pursue.

Yamato Nishi High School English Camp Training Session-Day 2

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While Day 1 of the training sessions focused on introductions and providing the participants with an overview of the English Camp, Day 2 provided more in-depth explanations and a chance for us to ask questions, strategize, and learn from the advisors and each other.

We were given a tentative schedule for both days, which also informed us of what classes we would be teaching, what times we would be teaching, and who our teaching partners/groups were. Seeing as how most of the students didn’t know each other, we did the next best thing to try and match names to faces; we called out names and looked around to see who answered. Yep, that’s sure fire way to find your partners.

Half way through the session, we separated into our topic groups and each advisor reviewed their lesson plans. For my group, we went through each activity, from introducing the Olympic Games to giving feedback at the end of the class period. Our advisor, Jeff Hulihan, walked us through each worksheet as if he were teaching the high school students himself. He gave examples of how he would model or demonstrate things for the students and encouraged us to do the same in order to make the lesson more understandable and to get the students to participate more. This was a new lesson plan created by Jeff, so what I really appreciated was the fact that he gave us room to adjust the lesson plan if we needed to, as long as we didn’t veer off topic (since we only have an hour for each class). The lesson plan is made for us, but it feels nice to have some wiggle room in the delivery.

Jeff Hulihan, Academic Coordinator for AEP, demonstrates how he would teach the Yamato Nishi High School students.

Jeff Hulihan, Academic Coordinator for AEP, demonstrates how he would teach the Yamato Nishi High School students.—“The main thing is to always be active. Walk around, give praise, suggest answers and encourage the students.”

The Olympic Games group! Ready to go!

The Olympic Games group! Ready to go!

Finally, it was time to learn about the Halloween and Picture Drawing lesson plans for the second day. AEP instructor Danica Young reviewed the Halloween lesson plan, which consisted of yes/no questions, crosswords, conversations, etc. For parts that seemed to lack excitement (like The Story of Halloween, which we are to read to the students), she told us to make it fun and dramatic. By doing so, we will create a fun atmosphere in which the students are more likely to enjoy the lesson rather than feel like they’re sitting through a lecture. When it came to the picture drawing lesson plan, Ashley and Carly, two students who participated during previous years, told us about their experiences, including which activities worked and which ones didn’t, how they adjusted their lesson plans, etc. From this, both participants and advisors learned something new. For instance, the pairing method stated in the lesson didn’t work for their classes last year, so Ashley and Carly adjusted it to instead make groups of four and found that worked better. It’s always beneficial to hear from those who have gone through the process before and have a clearer idea of what we can expect as new participants.

AEP Instructor, Danica Young, teaches the participants how to make a seemingly dull lesson fun.

AEP Instructor, Danica Young, teaches the participants how to make a seemingly dull lesson fun with a little enthusiasm.

Today concluded the teacher training session for the Yamato Nishi High School English Camp. All that’s left is the actual camp on the 26th and 27th, where we will finally put our teachings into practice. I’m hoping to apply for the JET program after I graduate and this is a great opportunity to gain some first-hand experience on what it’s like to teach English in Japan. Although this is only two-day event, it will give me a glimpse into what I can expect in the long-run.

Odawara Castle

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Since our boat trip to Hachijo-jima Island was canceled because a typhoon was forecast to interrupt the trip, a group of friends and I planned a backup trip to Odawara Castle to experience a more traditional side of Japan. For the most part, areas in the Tokyo Prefecture are very modern with the exceptions of spots of shrines placed throughout the city. Odawara Castle is probably the furthest outside the city we have been thus far. Considering that it was more than two hours away from campus, the trip was pretty inexpensive (only $13 one way).

Odawara Castle has a long history as a strategic headquarter in the late 15th century. My host mother explained that a Shogun wanted to unite all the clans in Japan and form a peace treaty; however, the Hojo clan refused to conform.

"The Three Dragonscales"is the emblem of the Hōjō clan. Apparently Zelda's Triforce symbol came from this design.

“The Three Dragonscales”is the emblem of the Hōjō clan. Apparently Zelda’s Triforce symbol came from this design.

Eventually, the Hojo clan was defeated in a large siege around the 1590’s by a large force under the command of Hideyoshi. Apparently, the story of Hideyoshi is well known and quite popular throughout Japan is seems to be a timeless story. Our visit to Odawara Castle certainly made me realize how little I know about Japan’s history. It was certainly interesting to learn about the history of another country, and to retrace the steps of mighty feudal lords.

As you enter the site, you are greeted with sakura trees on one side, and construction on the other side (they are still excavating the outer castle). The original castle was largely destroyed by the Meiji government in 1867 (with the exceptions of its stone walls and moats), however the restoration process began in the 1930’s. Nowadays, the interior of the castle is used as a museum, and the surrounding area has become a popular location for sightseeing and experiencing traditional Japan.

Speaking of experiencing traditional Japan, the location had a site set up where you could rent and wear kimonos or real samurai armor!

Ready for combat!

Ready for combat!

This has got to be one of the most unique experience I’ve had so far in Japan!

Unfortunately, since the inside of the castle was a museum, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. However the museum had countless historical artifacts, beautiful pieces of art, and weapons with interesting stories of romance, revenge, and heroic feats. We were allowed to take pictures at the top of the castle though!

I'm ON TOP OF A CASTLE!!

I’m ON TOP OF A CASTLE!!

There were also a lot of gardens and markets around the area!

A very pretty looking bridge!

A very pretty looking bridge!

We stopped by a famous restaurant that was recommended to us. The food was surprisingly affordable despite its exotic appearance! The drinks on the other hand were not (it was 600 yen for a cup of coke!! And refills aren’t a common thing in Japan!) It might be a little too adventurous for some friends back home, but we figured this was a once in a lifetime experience.

I guess being in Japan has made us all open up to new experiences.

I guess being in Japan has made us all open up to new experiences.

 

Anyway, I would definitely recommend Odawara Castle to visitors who would like to experience a bit of feudal Japan! We all had a great time, definitely got a lot of cool pictures!

Through the Doors and Into the Classroom-A Look Inside My TUJ Classes (Part 1)

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You may be thinking, “It’s been a month already! So, what’s it like being a student at Temple University Japan?” Well, look no further friends because I’m here to give you some answers (Well, as many as I can for something in my major). I’m currently taking four classes: Introduction to Visual Language: Drawing, Ideology and Social Change in Japan, Korean Elements I, and Japanese Elements II. This will be a two-part post so for this portion I’ll be focusing on the first two classes. First up, drawing.

Introduction to Visual Language, Drawing:

I’ll be honest, I had my reservations about taking art classes in Japan (let’s just say it’s not really the first place I thought of when thinking of the visual arts), but I registered for drawing and I’m glad I did.

Taught by Kaoru Sakurai, the class has about 15 other students that are divided into two groups, the intro students and the intermediate students. The intro students work on the basics like value, shading, texture, proportion and perspective, while the intermediate students work on building upon what they learned from the intro level with the addition of color.

Kaoru Sakurai teaches the intro students about using a grid in order to draw subjects with proper proportions.

Kaoru Sakurai teaches the intro students about using a grid in order to draw subjects with proper proportions.

Two students hard at work trying to draw objects in perspective.

Two students hard at work trying to draw objects in perspective.

This is the first time I’ve taken a proper drawing class and I was surprised at my first assignment, which focused on shading and tone values.

I know it's not perfect (especially the cube), but it turned out a lot better than I thought it would.

I know it’s not perfect (especially the cube), but it turned out a lot better than I thought it would.

Although the two levels are split during the studio sessions, both come together for Critique Day. Everyone gathered in one room and as the professor called two students at a time, they displayed their first three assignments on easels. Each said which drawing was from which assignment and what they thought their strengths and weaknesses were. Then the floor was open for the rest of the class to provide any constructive criticism before the professor gave his input. The intermediate students have gone through what the intro students are going through now so it was really appreciated that they were able to give the intro students advice on what helped them overcome their weaknesses.

Two students place their assignments on display. Why is this making me nervous as if it were my own work?

Two intro students place their assignments on display. Why is this making me nervous as if they were my own works?

An intermediate student approaches to take a closer look at an intro student's work before critiquing it.

An intermediate student takes a closer look at an intro student’s work before critiquing it.

An intermediate student explains her works to the class and with her ends the first day of critiques. Day 2 looks to be promising!

An intermediate student explains her works to the class and with her ends the first day of critiques. Day 2 looks to be promising!

Because the class is relatively small, critique day for the intro students ended early and we were also able to critique the works of an intermediate student. To me, the drawings were very impressive and evidence that they were from someone coming into their own style. I don’t know if it’s too much to hope I can reach for that level of skill yet, nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the semester will bring.

Ideology and Social Change in Japan:  

First things first, the assigned and supplementary readings for the class are challenging, but I find them interesting so I don’t mind. During classes we discuss the readings, our feelings on them, and Dr. Kyle Cleveland engages us in debate about how we view the issues. For instance, one recent topic that was brought up was whaling in Japan and last week’s class proved to be very intriguing.

Guess what class? Next week you're having a debate on whaling! Come prepared!

Guess what class? Next week you’re having a debate on whaling! Come prepared!

The class started with a screening to open up the floor to the topic of the day’s debate, whaling in Japan. The class was then split into two groups, those who were in favor of whaling and those who were against it. As this was not to be a debate based upon our personal preferences, Dr. Cleveland had the students count off by twos to decide who would be on what side. Both groups were given 15 minutes to prepare their arguments and counter-arguments to as many points they thought the opposition would bring up. After constructing several sound arguments (all of which were supported by previous assigned readings, in-class screenings and lectures), it was time for the debate. Both sides were ready and raring to go.

Following Robert’s Rules of Order, one person from either side spoke at a time and only brought up relevant points pertaining to the topic at hand. Those against whaling gave their opening statements, listing concerns like individual health from mercury poisoning, the inhumane ways in which the whales and dolphins are killed and the efforts taken by the Japanese government in order to keep the whaling process a secret. With the gauntlet official thrown, those for whaling responded with just as much passion. The two sides went back and forth during the debate, focusing on several different aspects of whaling that were noted by Dr. Cleveland.

Both sides working in order to make sure they can present and defend their argument at the end.

Both sides working in order to make sure they can present and defend their arguments.

Pros vs. Cons of whaling. Write your main arguments on the board.

This looks to be a most interesting debate.

The debating portion of the class concluded and the professor posed a question to everyone. He asked, “Is there anything that would make you switch to the other side?” Some were dead set on not changing their minds while others were willing to switch only under certain circumstances. Whatever the positions taken, I think what was important was that we were able to 1) choose a side and support it by using facts from creditable resources and 2) listen to the opposition’s argument in order to take into consideration all sides and not be limited to our own perspective.

Beyond the debate, I find the way Dr. Cleveland teaches and engages his students to be effective. The points he includes in his lectures are made clearer by his use of personal anecdotes, whether they are humorous or horrifying. Even if some of the students tell their own anecdotes, he asks them questions about it, finds a way to relate it back to the lesson and moves on to the next point.

A fellow student relates whaling to her experience in the rodeo.

A fellow student relates whaling to her experience in the rodeo.

Some students think he is a tough teacher, but I see him as a teacher who wants to bring out the potential in his students by challenging them. For instance, at times he plays the role of devil’s advocate in order to debate with his students and get them to clearly and efficiently explain their perspective.

There are certain things these two classes have provided me that I don’t think I would have gotten if I were to take the same classes at my university. For example, in my home university, all critiques come from the instructor so it’s nice to learn from fellow students as well as the professor. Taking an Ideology and Social Change in Japan class while in Japan has a different feel to it. I’m actually in the country that we’re taking about and it’s made me more aware of the culture that I and many others have romanticized because of anime, technological advances and such. It helped me gain a more realistic perspective of Japan and furthered my understanding that Japan is so much more than those things.

Language Partner Program-A Step Towards Bridging the Language Gap

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Being in Japan has made me realize how important it is to actually learn the language. When in Japan, Japanese ceases to be something you can say you “kind of knew” based on several words or phrases in order to impress your friends and becomes something that needs to be studied in order to operate in daily life. I’ve taken three semesters of Japanese at my home university, but being in Japan has forced me to lift my head up from my textbook and finally put those skills to practice. Almost every day I hear different words and phrases, said in different dialects and with different inflections and gestures. If anything, it has reawakened my desire to perfect my Japanese.

Knock knock! Who's there? TUJ's Language Partner Program! Time to improve those communication skills!

Knock knock! Who’s there? TUJ’s Language Partner Program! Time to improve those communication skills!

That being said, I wanted to take advantage of Temple University Japan’s resources and registered for their Language Partner Program. During registration, you fill out your basic information (name, birth date, program, etc) and your preferred day and time slot (the sessions were to be 50 minutes long.) However, there was also a section for you to include your hobbies and interests. I filled in the usual: listening to music, dancing, cooking, watching dramas and movies, writing short stories, etc; but there were two words I found myself including in my list, “Japanese” and “Korean,” (both of which I am studying.) I clicked the submit button and it was all up in the air from there. I received the confirmation email within an hour but nothing was concrete. There was no guarantee the school would be able to find a partner for me, but a girl can dream can’t she?

The next day I got the email which began with, “After considering your schedule, we are excited to announce that we have been able to match you with a language partner.” YAY! They were able to find a language partner for me! Scrolling further down, I discovered I was partnered with Shiwoo Moon, a Korean student. I was ecstatic and nervous at the same time (Is that even possible? Oh well.) I would be able to perfect my Japanese (and possibly my Korean as well) from a fluent speaker. Perhaps, if things go well, the partnership could turn into a friendship. Just as the rainbow started to appear over my optimistic thoughts, the nervousness hit me. The information that was provided in the email didn’t specify anything beyond the fact that Shiwoo Moon was also a student at Temple University Japan. Yes, we had the commonality of being students in the same school, but the session would essentially be yet another instance of having to meet someone new, with the only difference being that it would be in a foreign country. (Can you feeling the anxiety levels raising? Because I sure did.)

The 29th came and it was time to meet my partner for our session. Of course I was nervous to begin with (so nervous that I showed up 30 minutes early), nevertheless, I couldn’t turn back. Once Shiwoo arrived, we were taken to a small nearby room that was close to the OSS office, given water and told about what others had done, just to give us an idea of how to proceed. Some partners met to focus solely on getting homework assignments done, some worked on grammar and some worked strictly on speaking, but it was up to us to decide what we wanted to do. And so, with our 50 minutes officially started Shiwoo and I exchanged our awkward greetings (to be honest, I think I was the only awkward one in the room. It felt like we were being set up on a blind date at first.) Since I am still taking Japanese Elements II (I will elaborate on what that is in a later post,) he started speaking in Japanese, but I understood most of what he said. If he said a word or phrase I didn’t understand I would say, “(insert Japanese word/phrase here) てどういういみですか” or “What do you mean by (insert Japanese word/phrase here)?” He would clarify what I didn’t understand and I would answer him in Japanese as best as I could. I really thank him for being patient with my broken Japanese.

While going back and forth in both English and Japanese, Shiwoo and I talked, laughed and above all else, learned more about each other. I was the first film major he’d met at TUJ and he was rather impressed to learn that I cook Korean food on a regular basis. Although he currently lives in Saitama with his family, I was surprised to learn about Shiwoo’s time before coming to TUJ. He went to middle school in Long Island, New York, without knowing any English. He told me about how he struggled, couldn’t make any friends or even participate in class because he didn’t know what anyone was saying let alone had the English skills to speak to anyone. After joining the track team, he started studying English in order to communicate with his coach and teammates. From that point on, he kept on studying to improve his English. I think this was where we bonded. I was going through something similar so I asked him what kept him motivated to improve his language skills and he replied, “I keep challenging myself. I like that feeling when I accomplish something.” I knew that feeling as well and I was inspired again.

Even though we only had 50 minutes to talk (which seemed to fly by once we got more acquainted), my initial meeting with Shiwoo was very helpful. He left me with some much needed words of encouragement and hospitality, “I know what’s it like to be in a country and not know the language at all, so if you need me, I can be there to help you.” (ありがとうございます先輩! Thank you senpai! T_T).

Our meeting came to an end and we were kicked out of our room, but we exchanged information and added each other on LINE so we could keep in touch. In those 50 minutes, I managed to meet my language partner, improve my conversational Japanese, increase my motivation to keep studying and gain a new friend.

Nothing like a picture to capture the formation of a new friendship :)

Nothing like a picture to capture the formation of a new friendship :)