Now that I’m in my final year of my undergraduate program at Binghamton University, everything is quickly becoming nostalgic and bittersweet; even though it’s only the first month of school. I’m finding myself trying to help and give back as much as I can, as fast as I can, from volunteering more to joining more clubs, to giving advice — so, so much advice. At just 20, I feel inexplicably old when I catch myself pouring advice to people who have just joined the clubs I’ve been in for years or are taking the classes I’ve taken, and the things I try desperately to pass on range from a variety of topics. Always bring a phone charger in your bag. Write down everything because chances are you’ll forget otherwise. You might think you can wake up for 8:30 classes with no problem just ‘cause you did it in high school, but trust me, you won’t.
All this aside, undoubtedly the one thing I advise anyone and everyone at this university to try is to study abroad.
I have been interested in Japanese language and culture since I was very young; my piano teacher was Japanese and would often bring me back souvenirs and explain their history or purpose, sparking my interest in Japan for the first time. Ever since I had the opportunity to learn Japanese in my high school, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. I didn’t know when, and I sure didn’t know how, but I wanted it so badly. In fact, one of the reasons I had chosen to come to Binghamton University is precisely because BU offers a Japanese major as well as its own study abroad program in Japan.
This summer I was honored to be accepted into BU’s first “Japanese Contemporary Art Animation” program that took place in Tokyo. The reason I applied to this program breaks down into two very simple things: I love art, and I love learning about Japan. But even saying it simply cannot encompass the depth of passion I feel for both of these things; I will unflinchingly jump at any chance I get to do art and to learn about or travel to Japan. This was the second time that I have humbly received the opportunity to study abroad in the country I grew up fascinated with, and from my experience the wonder, excitement and rewards of going to another country to study never diminishes, and never leaves the heart.
My first study abroad was also in Tokyo, but in the fall semester prior to this summer. As such, this time around I was able to experience Tokyo in the summer, which is as different as being in a separate city altogether. The humidity and unrelenting heat, the deafening cries of cicadas, the rush of cool air that greets you when you enter a 7-Eleven or any コンビニ conbini, or convenience store, are all nostalgic. I can’t help but smile while I think back on the comforting flavor of miso soup, the finished plate stacks of 100 yen conveyor belt sushi and the bliss of biting into a ガリガリ soda-flavored ice pop to cool off. Summer festivals, or お祭り omatsuri, with their hanging lanterns glowing against the purple-dusted evening sky, crowded food stalls and taiko drums beating heavily, are etched into my memory with fondness. And the glittering, ever-bustling, flickering rainbow hues of neon lights and signs that makes up Tokyo’s night skyline brings wistfulness at the thought of only being able to see this sight the next time I can come back.
The sights and nature alone in Japan are enough to make anyone fall in love with being abroad, but if I were to talk about the people and the studies, I could go on for page after page. For this program specifically, I was able to learn so much about Japanese animation, and not the mainstream animation that many people may assume at first. Seeing artists put so much work, thought and creativity into their films inspires me to push the limits of what people confine “art animation” into and find what I as an artist am capable of creating and portraying to my audience. Although I had been to Tokyo once before this trip, I was fortunate to see a variety of museums and art exhibitions that give insight into the minds of Japan’s artist youth and an insight into what pressing issues society is struggling with — after all, art is the channel and voice that speaks out on all kinds of problems and dissatisfactions. It was fascinating to see the creative processes of some of Japan’s famous artists of the past and the rising contemporary artists of today. Through this study abroad program, I was able to once again, formally, understand that art can be found anywhere, and even contemporary designs have more historical and cultural influences than they may appear to have at first glance.
When you study abroad, you engage yourself in the global community by interacting with people who hold contrasting beliefs, ideals and dreams, and by doing this you learn more about just how diverse our world is but also just how alike we are. Connecting yourself to a global community in and of itself is fulfilling. There is something so magically moving about meeting people and making friends abroad. These are people who live thousands of miles away, who are born and brought up in completely different ways, who walk different roads and eat different foods and speak different words, but these are all people who will know you, who will hold you in their memories. These are people who are separated from you by borders but are connected to you by heart. Studying abroad is rewarding because of these kind of realizations. It is when you see this bigger picture while abroad, and then reflect on this bigger picture when you come back and are studying in Bartle Library at 2 a.m. when you receive a message from your friends back in Tokyo wishing you luck on your finals; It is when you learn how one country’s job hunting process is affected by past social customs and affects not just future employment but also society’s culture itself from a discussion over a casual ramen dinner; It is when you are in the airport and your new friends give you a framed photo of the group you came to grow close to in such a short amount of time. To me, this is what ultimately makes studying abroad priceless.
I encourage every student at BU to try to study abroad because it is, truly, an unforgettable and life-changing experience. There’s learning in a classroom, and then there’s learning in a classroom in a country on the opposite side of the world, in a language completely different from your native tongue, with people who are brought up with different cultures, societal standards and customs, different lifestyles with influences that have affected those lifestyles. It’s not a concept of “here and there,” but rather “here and the bigger, much much bigger ‘here’” than we’ll ever truly comprehend if we do not go out to explore and experience for ourselves.
March 14: Priyanka Das, English and Japanese Studies major, studied on the Japanese Contemporary Art Animation and Beyond during summer 2017, as well as at Kokugakuin University during fall 2016.