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.
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.