In the summer of 2018, I studied Japanese language in Japan for six weeks. At first I had very realistic expectations of my time there, mainly concerning feelings of loneliness and the inability to make friends. I had also never traveled abroad before let alone traveled on a plane, so I was equally stressed about that as well. However, when I arrived at the airport in Toronto where I would be taking a twelve hour flight to Tokyo, all I felt was calm. I was on a mission, a journey, and nothing and no one could stop me.
When I arrived in Japan, I was actually underwhelmed. I realized that I had some sort of fantastical expectations of being in a new world, on a new planet, but it was the same. The sky was the same, the grass was the same, the people were still humans despite the language barrier we had between us. I was humbled by this realization and had no idea what was in store for me in the next six weeks.
When I arrived in Akita, where I would be studying, I met two students from my program at the hotel we stayed at the night before the program began. We spent the morning together and instantly became friends. After that, making friends was probably the easiest part of the program. Because all of us were in the same boat and were interested in similar topics and activities and subjects, we all got along really well. These people became my family and I knew I could go to them about anything. I knew that we would form a bond that would last well beyond the program.
When it came to my cultural experience, however, as nerdy as I got, I eventually became uncomfortable about the certain customs and cultural norms that the natives exhibited. Certain things started to bug me like the way you have to wear slippers in your room, or the way the McDonald’s was prepared, or the way the food tasted. Now, I miss all of those things. I hold them dear to me and would give anything to experience them in the same way again. But that’s just how it is to study abroad. When I came home, I experienced similar discomfort. For example, people in America tend to dress so casually or show a lot of skin, whereas in Japan people are always dressed fashionably, even in the countryside where I studied.
In summary, I had an amazing time in Japan. I made lifelong friends, and I experienced freedom and happiness that I never thought I could. I experienced culture up close and I got the chance to actually speak the language with native speakers in real life situations. I learned not only the Japanese language but I learned so much about myself and the world around me.
I miss Japan. I miss being able to speak Japanese in everyday normal life. When I came home my mind was all in Japanese and nobody understood that. Nobody understood what I had experienced and that was stressful, but it was worth it because of the beautiful experience I had, the friendships I made, and the person that it made me. I am so thankful for my study abroad experience and hope to do it again in the future. To anyone wondering whether or not they should study abroad: just go for it. You will not regret it. Give yourself a chance to discover who you are and who you could be.
Hannah, a Japanese Studies major, studied at Akita International University in Japan through SUNY Oswego in summer 2018.