For my spring semester of Junior year in college (spring 2019), I decided to study abroad in Japan for those 4-5 months; it was probably the best decision of my life. The process of being accepted to even study abroad let alone in Japan is a very long and strenuous process involving many forms and over a semester of preparing for the trip (ideally you should start planning for it a year beforehand). Japan is a special case because in my school they require the most prerequisites to studying abroad. You must take a full year of the language and maintain a 3.0 GPA, with having no blemishes on your academic record; and if you do that’s an extra essay you need to write explaining your situation. Even THEN there’s certainly no guarantee you’ll be accepted, but thankfully I was. The school I applied to go to only offered one spot for students from my school, I believe 1 or 2 other students were gunning for the same spot as me, but thankfully I was chosen the sole acceptant to attend 桜美林大学 (Oberlin University) on the outskirts of Tokyo.
I arrived late March at Narita airport in Chiba prefecture, which is on the complete other side of the Tokyo prefecture, so I started my Japanese life with a 1:30-2 hour bus ride to the other side of the world’s largest metropolis. It was certainly a lot to take in; Tokyo was unlike any city I’ve ever seen or visited before. Visiting Japan was always a kind of dream of mine, ever since I really started to enjoy Japanese art and multimedia (manga and anime in particular) which are in abundance in Japan. I very much enjoyed the culture and the friendliness of the entire population; the Japanese are amazing hosts, but what I didn’t expect to fall in love with was the language. Japanese as a language has zero fundamental similarities with the English language. As I explained in a previous blog post of my own, English is a Latin-based language that comes from a low-context culture, and Japanese is non-Latin based language that comes from a high-context culture (see The True Impact of One’s Native Language). Learning Japanese was like an extremely fun puzzle to me, which made learning it a much easier process than probably most people experienced. I picked up new phrases everywhere I went, I even learned the word for stop 止まれ because it’s painted on the roads before stop signs.
I’ll never stop raving about Japan’s transit system for as long as I live. The amazing intricacies of the train system, how seamlessly it works, and how on time it always is is a super-human feat of human engineering. I don’t think a train I was waiting for was late once, and it makes wandering around any city and adventuring out of your comfort zone so much easier. You need to master the transit system first, which is exactly as hard as it sounds. Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world; it sees an average of 3.5 million people every day. Shibuya, Tokyo, and Osaka terminals are no slouches either. Once you think you’ve mastered on the train stations, one of the other big ones will trip you up; it’s inevitable unfortunately. For non-Japanese speakers, so long as you have a good foundation of English and/or Japanese, you should be able to get around relatively easy. Especially in Tokyo, there’s what’s called Romaji (English Characters) under most Japanese phrases on signs and important messages to help get the message across. On the newer trains there’s a television above the exit doors on the train that shows your next stop, your route, and other things that flip between Kanji, Hiragana, English, and Korean. EXTREMELY useful and a great idea to help foreign travelers not impede locals in their daily trips to work.
I met so many fantastic people studying abroad. I made friends with many local Japanese students and some local food vendors that I visited frequently. Beyond just the locals, I made friends with people from Korea, China, Mongolia, Czechia, Italy, Turkey, Germany, Thailand, England to name a few, and many other students from the US. The experience definitely changed me as a person; so much that I can hardly recognize the person I was before my trip abroad. It’s very hard to communicate the essence of studying/living abroad because you experience things you never would have dreamed about experiencing; you meet people you never would have thought about meeting; you do things you never would have dreamed about doing. The best way to experience something is to go out there and do it yourself.
So, what are you waiting for?