Tag Archives: study abroad

Pre-Japan Musings: Preparing to Go Abroad

Standard

My decision to apply for Temple University Japan’s summer semester was an easy one. I’ve had a very personal, very lifelong aspiration to study in Tokyo, but my home university was offering in Japan nothing for anyone outside of the Photography Department. When I heard about Temple University Japan through a friend of a friend, a program that offers an entire range of classes, I jumped at the opportunity and investigated. I was more than eager to jump through the many hoops to get the OK from two separate universities, because it’s led me here: graduating college after finishing one last summer semester abroad with Temple University.

This next stage – preparing for the educational, cultural, and personal experience of a lifetime – has been an even greater pleasure. I currently live and study in New York City, but I would not make the mistake of expecting the same atmosphere from Japan’s capital city. My first time away from Western culture will be a singular experience.

One of the first things that I did upon my program acceptance was contact an author who I’d met previously, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) in 2016. Kate T. Williamson’s book, A Year in Japan, details her time studying Japanese visual culture in Kyoto on a fellowship with illustrations and handwritten observations. I remembered how I had expressed my own hopes for visiting Japan, and the simple but thoughtful inscription she made to me when I bought her book:

To Ariel- So nice to meet you today at the Sakura Matsuri! I know you will have your own adventure in Japan soon! With very best wishes, Kate”

I received an email back almost instantly, with congratulations and a long list of suggested places to visit and observe in Kyoto, Tokyo, Okinawa, and Osaka. On April 29th, I attended Sakura Matsuri again, meeting back up with Kate. It felt particularly rewarding for her inscription to come true, and to receive another in her latest book.

williamson_inscription

Kate T. Williamson’s latest inscription for me – as well as a glimpse at a postcard she created and A Year in Japan.

Between the five classes I took up this past semester, I’ve began to study basic Japanese. This has included marking up a Basic Japanese Conversation Dictionary, and a Japanese Hiragana & Katakana guide for beginners. I’ve found the language app Memrise to be particularly fun and helpful in a pinch, especially on the NYC subway. As for this summer, I’ve enrolled Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students. Studying daily in the States has given me a healthy head start, and complements my research on culture as well. One of my major sources of this has been Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. Common and uncommon cultural topics alike, travel guides, reviews, and even videos comprise the content that Tofugu’s produced since 2008. The more that I prepare, the more excited I become to study media, culture and sociology in Japan. My experiences inside and outside of the classroom, including the many TUJ excursions and volunteer work I intend to take up in Tokyo, will leave me well-informed — and well-equipped for keeping this blog.

A couple months ago, a professor of journalism who has traveled around the world gave me the highest reassurance about a lack of concrete postgrad plans – once I explained my upcoming enrollment in TUJ. “There’s almost no use in planning in what comes after,” she said, “Because this will define it for you.” Once going abroad, many students are transformed. My hopes are that, over the course of the program, and hopefully as I blog and inform, I can discover what comes next.

On Leaving Japan, My Second Home

Standard
My last selfie in Japan: me fresh from a night's stay at the 9hrs capsule hotel. I stayed here the night I arrived in Japan and I stayed here again on my way out.

My last selfie in Japan: me fresh from a night’s stay at the 9hrs. I stayed here the night I arrived in Japan and I stayed here again on my way out.

Packing up all of my cumbersome suitcases and stuffing souvenirs into over-sized carry-ons opened up a bubble of time for me to reflect on the four months I spent studying abroad — my first adventure overseas. Living, laughing, and learning in Japan made up the busiest few months of my life; I was constantly scuttling about, getting on and off subway trains as I went to classes and taught some of my own with the superstar instructors at a Japanese high school. My faux leather planner was full of circled dates for extra activities and potential meet-ups with friends and family. The short, dirty blonde hair you see to the left framed the face of a girl whose brain previously swarmed with plans of trips and visits to cool destinations in Tokyo, many of which, of course, never happened. All students who get the opportunity to study abroad go through this, I’m sure of it. Our schedules quickly become packed, and the places and events that hovered at the bottom of our wishlists turn into adventures unrealized. I had several of these stragglers that didn’t make it into my study abroad scrapbook, but even with all that was on my plate, I was able to make the most of my time in Japan, my second home.

The experiences I have had in Japan blessed me with amazing new opportunities and helped to build a stronger me. The brave young woman who boarded a plane bound for Japan in January was very different from the braver and bolder one who stepped off a plane in New York, late April. I never expected to learn more about my self and my soul, but I did along the streets of Tokyo on my morning walks to class. I didn’t anticipate meeting inspiring new people and making new friends, but it happened in a Japanese high school in Kanagawa. There is so much I owe to those who made it possible for me to study overseas, but at least I was able to give a little back through my internship.

My suitcases ready to roll around the airport and leave for America. (The other cart should say "Goodbye, Japan.") 😞

My suitcases ready to roll around the airport and leave for America. (The other cart should say “Goodbye, Japan.”) 😞

Because these experiences helped me grow and I became attached to life in Japan, leaving it was an event akin to leaving behind a beloved stuffed animal in a hotel as a little kid. I was sad, frustrated, and a little over-dramatic, but I knew that it wouldn’t be my last time there; if the map of my future plans uncurls its paper edges the way I hope it will, I’ll be stepping the streets of Japan again soon. I also knew that I’d become the “back in Japan” kid for many years after my return to the States, but I’m more than happy to be that kid. I did my family proud by realizing my dream of visiting Japan, but more than that, I did myself proud, and that is what we should all seek to do.

I hope that the students who read these blogs and dream of studying and exploring in a new places, get the chance to do so. Make the most of your college years while you still can, and plan to travel!

Cross Cultural Understanding Tour

Standard

Honestly, it’s still hard for me to believe that I’ve been in Japan for almost fifteens weeks. Looking back, it feels like it was only a few weeks ago that I was getting on the plane to Japan, feeling both nervous and excited to begin my new adventure. I honestly still feel like a tourist when exploring areas off campus, which brings us to this week’s blog post!

The Saturday right before finals, my friends and I decided to sign up for a guided tour around Akihabara to explore and feel like tourists once more before some of us return to the US. The tour was hosted by Hosei University’s Cross Cultural Understanding (CCU) group. The group was created in 2012 to promote cultural exchange among Japanese citizens and those from overseas. Their vision is “Spreading Japanese Culture Overseas.” Their group occasionally hosts free guided tours around popular destinations in the Tokyo prefecture, so for future study abroad students, I definitely recommend attending one of their events! It’s always a fun time, and it’s a great way to get to know local students!

I went a little early to make sure I didn’t miss the event, and I found an unusual sight:

Just a man....walking his....ducks?

Just a man….walking his….ducks?

Just when I thought I was getting used to the things in Japan. But then again, I don’t think this is a common sight in Japan either.

Anyway, the CCU group was pretty easy to find since they had a cosplayer in their group.

My new friends, Chamomile and Frank! Chamomile is cosplaying Christa from Attack on Titan, an anime that has recently become popular in Japan and the US. Frank, isn't cosplaying, but he looks like he could be!

My new friends, Chamomile and Frank! Chamomile is cosplaying Christa from Attack on Titan, an anime that has recently become popular in Japan and the US. Frank isn’t cosplaying, but he looks like he could be!

We begin the tour by visiting Superpotato, a famous retro video game chain throughout Japan. It was well-hidden in the upper levels of another store (when searching for stores in the US, we tend to simply search horizontally. When in Japan, you also have to search vertically!)

Following Superpotato, we visited Kotobuyiya and Manarake, two popular stores in Japan for your anime products.

Apparently anime-themed food is a thing in Japan!

Apparently anime-themed food is a thing in Japan!

Then, we visited Busoushouten, a very small but fascinating replica weapon store. The cosplayers and role-players of the group excitedly rushed in, searching props. However, once everyone got in, it was very difficult to get out!

For our next destination, we visited Gachapon, a capsule-toy vending machine specialty store. The store has over 530 Gachapon machines! For 100 Yen (about a $1) you can capsule toy of almost anything!

Next stop, Don Quijote! Don Quijote is a discount chain store that carries a wide range of products from groceries to clothes to toys and much more. Our guide told us that Don Quijote tends to keep very late shopping hours (lots of them are open until 3 or 5 AM, some are even open 24 hours!), which is very rare in Japan, where most places close up by 9 or 10 PM. The closest thing I can probably compare Don Quijote to is Walmart. Okay, maybe a very cramped Walmart with multiple floors. The business plan is very similar, but for some reason, it feels completely different.

Showing our Christmas spirits in Don Quijote!

Showing our Christmas spirits in Don Quijote!

Afterwards, we visited Taito Station, a popular arcade chain in Japan!

Group Picture in front of Taito Station!

Group Picture in front of Taito Station!

The original plan was to play some arcade games together, but the girls convinced everyone to take purikura together.

My current purikura collection!

My current purikura collection!

These were all taken at CCU events! The first one was from their Harajuku tour! The other two were from this tour! This particular Taito Station let their customers borrow cosplays to take photos for free!

I think the one of the greatest thing about studying abroad is how it broadens your perspective on the world. At these tours, you get to meet lots of amazing people with different perspectives, and explore places you simply could never find in the US. At these kinds of events, you can really notice and appreciate the differences between other cultures. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to truly immerse myself in a manner that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was simply visiting Japan, and I am truly grateful that I was given this opportunity!

Welcome to Japan! Now What? TUJ Study Abroad Student Orientation!

Standard

August 26th was the day that began everything. I arrived in Japan at Narita Airport and was officially on Japanese soil. My heart was ecstatic, but unfortunately, my body was exhausted from the 13 1/2 hour nonstop flight it had just been through. Nevertheless, I had finally made it to my destination. I was in Japan.

After making my way to the Kitazono Women’s Dorm and getting a good night’s rest (or a much needed coma really), I realized I had to overcome another obstacle: Temple University Japan Campus Study Abroad Orientation. (Insert intimidating thunder and lightning here.) Dun Dun DUUUUUUN!

Welcome to Temple University Japan Campus (^_^)

Welcome to Temple University Japan Campus (^_^)

Various TUJ staff members gave presentations throughout the orientation, including Dr. Kyle Cleveland, the Study Abroad Coordinator, Jonathan Wu, the Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Wataru Nishida, the Chief Information Officer and through the wonders of technology (aka the Iphone), Mariko Nagai, the Study Abroad Academic Coordinator. After each speaker approached the front to give their words of wisdom to the group of curious (and let’s not forget jetlagged) new arrivals, one question was asked: “How many of you are from the main campus?” (It was asked seven times to be exact and yes, I counted!) Apart from this little icebreaker, the information that was provided was extremely helpful. They covered topics such as the procedure to add, drop, or withdraw from a course and the different timeframes allotted for each, emergency and crisis procedures (have to be prepared from those earthquakes and typhoons after all), different student government and semester activities, and getting settled in Japan.

20140827_115825

Chief Information Officer, Wataru Nishida, encourages the study abroad students to not just “live in” Japan, but to “experience” Japan.

20140827_120538_LLS

Chief Operating Officer, Paul Raudkepp, reviews emergency and crisis procedures. We must keep the children safe!

The two-day orientation was filled with humor, useful information, the Japanese Language Placement Test (for those registered for a Japanese course level higher than Japanese Elements I) and good pizza (thank you Japanese Dominos), but at the end of it all we were left with memorable comments such as:

“Your experience is largely dependent on what you make of it.” -Dr. Kyle Cleveland

and

“Take a risk and experience anew. If you want to go to an onsen, take off all of your clothes and go to an onsen. There are so many things waiting for you, but you have to experience them.” -Wataru Nishida

Reflecting back on it now, they made perfect sense. Think about it for a minute. We all made the decision to take the initiative and fill out the application to study abroad. We all applied for the Japanese Certificate of Eligibility and student visas. We all bought our plane tickets, boarded our planes and are now in Japan! Now there are two options for what can happen and they are both dependent on the individual. It can be the most wonderful experience in a person’s life if they can have an open mind, allow themselves to relinquish the control they are so used to having, and delve into a world they are unfamiliar with or it can be an utterly miserable one, where each day becomes torture to get through until the day they board the flight back home. I don’t know about you but personally, I’ll take door number one, please and thank you. So I say make an effort to learn the language, explore the country that you are in, and let yourself really experience it because let’s be honest; no one else is going to live your life for you so why not take that leap and make the most out of it?

Pack your bags!!

Standard

Image

For those interested in studying abroad, I thought that it might be a good idea to give you some tips on how to pack for your exciting trip overseas. If you’ve traveled abroad extensively, or if you’ve studied abroad before, maybe this post won’t be so useful, but if it’s your first time keep reading!

Obviously you need to bring clothing. You want to pack somewhat lightly, but you also want to pack what you need. In my case I packed three types of clothing: the clothes that I tend to wear again and again, the clothes that I haven’t worn in a long time, and clothing that is easy to mix and match and pair with other things. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you. I chose clothing that I tend to wear again and again because I knew that I would wear it a lot while overseas. I reached all the way into the back of my closet and dusted off some clothing that I haven’t worn in ages so that when the time comes to leave Japan, I can simply throw those articles away, thus leaving extra room in my bags for the things that I’m bringing back. And I made sure to pack clothing that goes with just about anything so that, even though I only packed a few pieces, I wouldn’t feel like I was wearing the same thing again and again.

Of course Japan has shopping as well, so you can always pack super light and buy a new wardrobe while you’re out here! And clothing prices vary. There are high-end boutiques which can be quite expensive, ‘foreign brands’ such as H&M and Forever 21, and even thrift shops, so how much you spend on clothing all depends on you!

Image

Image

Image

But. . . . .shopping may be more difficult for some than others. Specifically if you are rather tall or if you are plus sized. In my case I’m very tall, so pants and long sleeved shirts were out of the question. (Although somehow I was able to find a pair of harem pants that fit!) To my surprise, maxi dresses and over-sized clothing are popular right now in Japan, so I was able to stock up on some dresses, skirts, jackets, hoodies and sweaters. If you’re a taller or bigger person, I suggest shopping at American stores, or looking for clothes labeled one size or free size (they tend to fit everyone). Also, if you are a lady or gentleman with big feet. . . . .forget about it. Women’s shoes stop at 8 and men’s shoes stop at around 10 (I believe). So stock up on shoes! I brought sneakers, flats, boots, flip-flops, slippers, and heels. Just a little something for every occasion. I also suggest that you brings a pair of hiking shoes in case you plan to climb Mt Fuji like I did (the shoes get ruined by the terrain, for the record) and rain boots for the rainy season. I also suggest that you bring clothing that is easy to transition from one season to another, or clothing that can be layered.

You may also wish to bring your own toiletries. For towels and toilet paper, you can find that here pretty cheaply, but if you prefer to have a specific brand of toothpaste, bring it with you. And while your at it, throw in some deodorant, if you want to stick with the roll-on kind. The only DO that I’ve found out here is the spray on kind, and it’s just not to my liking. And ladies (guys. . now is the time to look away) bring your feminine products. You may have issues finding certain products because this society is a  ‘one size fits all’ type of place, so there isn’t much variety in the ladies department.

(Guys, you can come back now)

Umbrellas, notebooks, paper, and cleaning supplies can be found at the hyaku yen ($1 store) out here so no need to weight down your bag with that extra stuff, and Japan has some good makeup as well, so ladies, maybe bring some eyeliner and mascara to start, the rest you can find out here cheaply!

I wrote about this on the ‘Dealing with Distance’ post, but bring some of your favorite snacks, the kind that you cannot live without! Japan has some pretty tasty snacks, but sometimes it just doesn’t do it! And if you have any specific hair, body wash, or lotions that you simply cannot live without, bring them along for the ride as well!

Another thing that I did (which may seem kind of weird) is I brought all of my holey socks, and bought some cheap underwear from Walmart. Why you ask? So that when my time in Japan comes to an end I can throw them out, creating even more space in my bag for all of the goodies that I’m bringing back!!!

OK, now you should be ready for your trip!! I can’t really think of anything else, so I hope that this was helpful! Until next time!!