On First Adventures, Studies, and Vulnerability

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It feels fitting to start this week’s reflection the same way I’ve started my abroad experience: vulnerably. Even in Tokyo, Japan, where I’ve found that most people will quickly accommodate non-native speakers, I feel hyper-aware of every misstep I make, and every time I’m unable to reply to a cashier or waiter’s simple question. Even generally, I feel a little bit clumsier, constantly fumbling with my Yen coins or weaving through the rush-hour crowd more awkwardly than usual. It almost feels as if my body is reflecting my verbal incoordination – which doesn’t seem all that unbelievable. For an American who has seldom left the States, and never on her own, this first chapter of my stay feels a lot like rediscovering the senses. Despite all this, I’ve found that little has slowed down the adventure. It’s amazing to consider how, just within the past week, the most incredible experiences have occurred while in this most vulnerable state.

Just within the first few days, a group of friends and I visited Shibuya a couple different times. On late Thursday afternoon, it was a trip to Tokyu Hands (AKA one of Japan’s largest department stores, AKA a world of treasures), Shibuya 109, and general exploration. On Friday night, it was the site of my first experience with Japanese karaoke, as I sang “Total Eclipse of the Heart” from a room overlooking a busy Shibuya street.

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I snapped this image from Shibuya Crossing, as I walked it for the very first time.

Saturday was an unofficial TUJ excursion to Jōgashima Island, where I first experienced Japan outside of its capital city. I watched the sun set over Mt. Fuji, took breathtaking ocean photographs, pet some friendly cats, and had seafood tempura udon at a small, local establishment.

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Jōgashima had a winding path high above the rocks that we followed for hundred of meters.

On Sunday, I attempted my first solo trip to a local supermarket, over a small highway and through some quiet residential neighborhoods by the Musashi-Kosugi dorms. With some anxiety-inducing effort (trying to talk to locals on my own for the first time), I succeeded in buying a stamp to mail my first letter home, and some other goods.

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I encountered much fewer English signs navigating the more residential area around Musashi-Kosugi by myself.

However, among all these new, outside experiences, the first few days at school have felt significantly more familiar. As a Western university, Temple’s courses and classrooms closely resemble the style of those at home. Yet, of course, I never forget where I am. Many of my new peers at Temple Japan are native to the country, or otherwise not from the United States. During an orientation welcome party, I met some new students who had never left Japan before. One explained that one of her main reasons for attending an American-style university was to further improve her English. Sitting in my Development & Globalization class today, pouring over a heavy and lyrical Galeano reading, I thought about how this would all seem impossible to most American students – to jump headfirst into a foreign classroom setting, with all its expectations and difficulties, learning language while also comprehending material.

Inspired and affirmed by this effort from my peers, I hope I can do the same in all my courses, language and otherwise, as I pick up steam in my exciting new environment.

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About Ariel Kovlakas for Temple Japan

Hi there! My name is Ariel Kovlakas, and I’m a senior majoring in Communications (Media, Culture & Society) and minoring in Sociology. As a student at Fordham University's Manhattan campus, I’ve been grateful to live in a hub of opportunities and experiences that have never failed to expand my worldview. In a very real way, my time with TUJ will be a defining and final chapter in my undergrad career, as I’m heading out into the world directly after my abroad experience. And what a way to go – studying in Tokyo, Japan with Temple University. As (extremely) excited as I am, I’m even more grateful to participate and record my experience. I’ve always had a passion for Japan (its food, art, architecture, festivals, you name it). My hopes are that the more I explore Japan, the more I’ll be able to uncover about myself and what comes next.

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  1. Pingback: Tradition and Modernity: Festival Observations and More | Temple University Japan

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