Study Abroad Japan: A student’s perspective
I signed up for the Green River Study Abroad Japan Program because of my love for Japan, the fascination of their culture, the beauty I saw in their language, and pure curiosity I had toward what life was really like there.
For as long as I can remember, since just a small girl, I've always been inspired and intrigued by anything Japanese and it's been my dream to visit the beautiful country someday. I never thought that day would come so soon!
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I signed up for the program. I started the experience with an open mind, ready to soak up new knowledge and experiences. When the day came for orientation attendance, the excitement that I'd been unable to contain the months prior escalated. I felt little flutters of anticipation in my stomach as the teachers explained the classes we would take and how our program was going to work.
There were nerves too, but they were overpowered by the thrilling thought of studying in Japan. Seeing all of the other students sitting in the room with me made me realize that this adventure was really going to happen - it wasn't just a dream anymore! At the time, they were just my fellow classmates; I had no idea how much of a bond would grow between us over the next few months.
After orientation, time passed exceptionally fast. Before I knew it, we were all on the plane headed toward Japan. The entire flight I couldn't quite grasp that what was happening was actually real. However, as soon as I felt the plane descending over Narita Airport it all set in - we were in Japan.
I couldn't contain my excitement as my classmates and I pushed our faces toward the window, gazing out at the foreign, yet somehow familiar, terrain. Even though our feet were now on Japanese soil, I still had a hard time believing this wasn't a dream. I had heard of how kind, helpful and polite the Japanese were, but that still didn't prepare me for how surprisingly calm and easy the process of navigating the airport and going through customs was. It was so strange how hospitable everyone and every place was. Over time it became normal, just another part of everyday life.
In the beginning, being greeted with a wave and a smile from a stranger on the street to school would catch me by surprise, but by the second month I was returning the gesture and found pleasure in greeting the crosswalk guards every morning.
Nobody warned me about the humidity and climate, either. My breath was stolen not only from the fascinating culture but also by how thick the air seemed compared to that of Seattle. I had anticipated the fall weather I knew from home as we were visiting September through November; it didn't occur to me that their fall might be a little different (warmer) than ours. There were many days late in October that felt much more like our summer days!
One big thing I thought was going to be an issue while I was in Japan was the language barrier. I had studied three quarters of Japanese in the States, but still didn't have enough knowledge to hold much of a conversation. However, through my weeks of Japanese life I realized how easy it was to get around without having that knowledge. Sure, knowing Japanese was going to make things less troublesome, but I learned that even some of my classmates who didn't know any Japanese got around just fine. A lot of the people in Japan are intent on helping you and most know some basic English. They're very excited to practice it, too. Not only that, but there was a fair amount of signage that had English as well.
During our stay we had Japanese students (called campus mates) who were assigned to us to share the culture and show us around. I couldn't have asked for a better program as I've made so many new, lifelong friends through this. I was nervous at first, but everyone was so kind and welcoming.
My campus mates took me out many times into the city for sightseeing and fun dinner experiences. One of them even took me to a cosplay event as I had expressed my passion for the activity. I was hoping to practice my Japanese through this process, but the Japanese students were set on using us to practice their English! I was assigned four campus mates, each one of them wonderful people. But the Green River students and I socialized and befriended each other's campus mates as well, expanding our circle of friends. It was great to be given this opportunity to meet some of the students at Kogakuin University (where we stayed and studied). Everyone has made such strong bonds. I still stay in close contact with my campus mate friends; three of them have even come out to Seattle to visit us!
While in Japan, I took photography and creative writing classes. I believe that studying photography and creative writing in a foreign country only enhanced my stay and pushed me to dive deeper into the culture to discover things that I wouldn't have discovered on my own. Both classes really opened my mind to the little things I might have otherwise missed in the culture and surroundings.
In both our photography and creative writing classes, we were strongly encouraged to take inspiration from our surroundings and experiences. A lot of the creative writing exercises involved us really tuning in to our surroundings to write a piece based on our sights, sounds, smells, experiences, and things we've learned.
For photography we were given specific assignments that were to be taken on our weekly field trips to popular cities and locations in Japan. For example, we were to take photos based on our perception of consumption during our field trip to Meiji Shrine and Harajuku.
We traveled to Japan with two Green River instructors: Patrick Navin and Avis Adams. The relationship I had with my teachers was great. I feel as if both Avis and Patrick were perfect for this program. They both provided so much help to all of us while keeping us on track with our classes.
I felt like our whole group was a big family, to be honest. Patrick and Avis kept us occupied with our school work, kept us together, and while our field trips were packed full of activities that had us on our toes, we still had the time and the ability to do our own thing and explore. The relationship between my classmates and our teachers held an air of professionalism in class but we all had a deeper, friendlier relationship as well.
As for our two Japanese professors, they were both friendly and easygoing. One of our Sensei was much more "by the book" and would only speak Japanese with us, yet was still a little laid back and very kind. Our other Sensei had my classmates and me always looking forward to class with his upbeat personality and easygoing and fun learning exercises. We even got to sing traditional Japanese music in class.
I was heartbroken to leave Japan when our 10 weeks were up. I'm sure my classmates will agree that I was a mess of tears as I said goodbye to everyone and the beautiful country that I had called my home for the 10 weeks of my stay. I missed my family, of course, but Japan had been so perfect for me. I didn't want to have to part with the culture, my new lifestyle, and the people who lived there. But I miss the people the most. I've been blessed with so many new friendships that I cherish. I also really miss the polite and organized culture of Japan - it's so different from America!
I had been warned about the "reverse culture shock" I'd receive upon returning to America. I never believed it would happen, especially since I hadn't experienced any culture shock going to Japan. Boy, was I wrong! While I am taking winter quarter off from school, I view even little things like going to the grocery store differently. First of all, the transportation is different. In Japan we were on foot most of the time, if not standing on the train or bus. I had become so accustomed to walking everywhere that just driving the car to Fred Meyer made me fidgety. I wanted to be on my feet. Shopping for groceries was a totally different experience as I realized my smiles to fellow shoppers and little nods of hello would not be returned. Strange to be back in the groove of things, but it really is so interesting to experience just how different our cultures are.
I love the respect that everyone has for each other in Japan. The importance that everyone places on each other's well-being is just so mind-blowing and inspiring.
Some of my favorite things about my studies in Japan also included our weekly field trips out into the heart of Tokyo. We went many places: Harajuku, Shibuya, Mt. Takao, Tsukiji Fish Market, and so many more.
Not only were we exposed to these grand, culture-rich places, but while we were there, we were on "missions." There was always an assignment to fulfill while out on the go and it was a great way to keep my eyes open to every opportunity to learn and absorb something new.
My other favorite thing about my studies in Japan was the campus mate program. I learned so much through my campus mates and they really helped me experience Japan to the fullest!
My experience abroad in Japan has truly opened my eyes to how big (and beautiful) the world is; it's given me a new view on both Japanese and American culture and the differences in between. I appreciate different aspects of both countries that I hadn't really considered or known about before embarking on this journey.
I've gained a new sense of independence and confidence from having to navigate in a foreign world and socializing through a language barrier. It also has created in me an even stronger desire to further educate myself on Japanese culture. Now I'm even looking at attending a college in Japan!
Every fall quarter, Green River students have the opportunity to study abroad in Japan at Kogakuin University. Through this 10-week program, students earn 15 Green River transfer credits in Digital Photography, Creative Writing and Japanese Culture. Find more information here.