…begins with a single step. Or over 5000 miles with a single plane ride. Regardless, it has been a whirlwind of madness in only a couple of days. Although I have been abroad before, it is the first time that I have gone by myself, and to top that off, I don’t speak the language at all! I understand that for some people, this sort of uncertainty is frightening and might dissuade them from studying abroad, but don’t let it stop you! There is so much to be seen and there are so many different people that you will encounter.
Prior to leaving the U.S., I was all gung-ho and enthused about just the concept of being in Japan, but it wasn’t until during my flight there, that I was realized the magnitude of being in a foreign country for a whole semester. All the concerns and anxiety I had conveniently bubbled up inside and intermingled with my excitement, which, in all honesty, felt like a whole lot of nausea. However, I was fortunate enough to be seated next to an extremely cheerful pair named Enzo and Michelle who were on their way to Indonesia to give humanitarian aid on behalf of their church. Hearing their enthusiasm and positiveness about their own trip despite also being unfamiliar with the country soothed my own concerns. Towards the conclusion of our flight, I was surprised and warmed when they asked if they could pray for me as I embarked on my journey. Although I lay claim to no particular religious affiliation, I was touched that they would extend their thoughts to me. It reminded me that this was part of the reason I chose to leave the comfort and safety of home. I had been looking forward to meeting strangers and forging tenuous threads of relationships in the hopes of making new friends and fond acquaintances, and unwittingly, it happened on a plane of all places. Most people, for the most part, ignore their stranger seatmate in favor of solitude, and I admit guiltily that I normally would do the same. Somehow, that wasn’t the case this time, and I would like to think of it as an omen of good things to come. Regardless, in a world that grows ever so more interconnected, I hope that maybe our paths will cross again, but until then, they remain a happy memory.
Upon arrival in Tokyo in the late afternoon, I confess to be unimpressed with everything, but that can be chalked up to exhaustion and jet lag. The day after, was an entirely other story. The walk between Kitazono Women’s Dorm and the subway station was lined with stores and restaurants with people hurrying to their respective locations and bikes weaving past pedestrians as vehicles squeezed their way through narrow roads. It was a charming mix of modern and traditional with the adorable lanterns and blinking signs to entice shoppers. I think that even after four months are up, I will still be enamored with the streets of Tokyo.
As a longer term visitor, we had to register ourselves at the local ward office which comprised of another load of paperwork and a great deal of wait time. Luckily for me and a couple of other girls that I met, the minutes flew by because we met a cute old Japanese man who gave us little origami Santas and then asked if we wanted to learn origami, an offer that we promptly accepted.
Of course, we didn’t understand him, and he probably knew we didn’t but he kindly continued to interact with us, using gestures and pausing every so often to check if we were following his neat folds of the colorful square pieces of paper. Not to mention, one of the employees there was accompanying him and assisted in translating some of what he said. According to her, he was 92 years old and would come into ward office every day or so (It might have been every week but I can’t remember unfortunately) to give her origami. When I asked him if I could get a picture of him, he agreed and even adjusted his hat for the camera, which I thought was the cutest thing ever.
My impression so far is that people here are incredibly polite and disciplined. Everything runs smoothly like well-oiled cogs in machinery, because everyone cooperates with each other which is very different from the chaos back in the States. I think it is probably a great example of how Japan is a collectivist culture, focused on what is best for everyone versus the U.S. which is highly individualistic and focused on what is best to further oneself. The longer I stay here, the more I appreciate the way of life in Japan.
Spring 2016, here I come!