Participation in Critical Language Scholarship: Japan summer of 2012
When I first arrived in Japan, I had no idea what to expect. I had heard from various teachers and from past participants that the CLS program would be tough, coupled with long hours of intense studying and memorizing. I took the advice to heart and knew I would arrive at some difficulty, but I didn’t realize how energy-depleting speaking in another tongue would be. It seemed like every day I was walking in a haze, so tired I could barely think straight, and all I wanted to do was to stop thinking and take a break or even scream in English.
The first meeting with my host family was a disaster. Not only was I jet lagged, but it was the also the first time I spoke Japanese outside of a classroom controlled setting. I was so nervous and my language skills were so rusty, I couldn’t even answer the simplest of questions (for example, どこから来た？Where are you from? Or even 何年生？-What grade are you?). It was pretty silent after a while and I ended up going to bed early because I couldn’t say anymore.
At times I felt like an idiot, other times I felt like I was being judged as an idiot because my language skills were equivalent to a 5year old. It was incredibly frustrating that I couldn’t fully express myself or say what I wanted to say. I’ll admit, in the beginning, sometimes I wouldn’t eat or go to the bathroom when I needed to because I didn’t know how to ask in Japanese and it was too stressful to try.
But…that was just the first week. One day, I was with my host mother exploring a famous temple when I realized, that we were actually having, and holding, a conversation! In Japanese!! It was then that I realized, it’s not impossible to speak Japanese, I can actually do it. Sure enough, every day after that my host mother would always say “すごい！毎日すごしずつ上手になる！” Amazing! Every day you’re getting a little better! It was such an amazing feeling that I couldn’t stop talking. I spoke so much that my host parent and friends had to constantly tell me it’s time to go home, or time for bed. It was like a switch turned on in my head!
I enjoyed Japan, there are so many places to go, so many things to see, so many foods to try. But the people were what made Japan special. There was just so much to learn from one person that I could talk for hours just to one storekeeper! And it was so refreshing to meet genuinely nice people that were actually curious to talk to me as well.
My proudest moment was the last day of the program. We had a farewell party were everyone involved in the program was allowed to attend. My host family was very excited because I told them that I would be making a speech during the party. I wanted to challenge myself and to see how much I actually improved in these last 2 months. I spoke in all Keigo, one of the most challenging and most respectful forms in Japanese and expressed my thanks and gratitude to everyone involved. I will never forget my host mothers face as she began to cry from the overwhelming joy of seeing me accomplish my dreams. I went from the worst Japanese speaker in the group, to the most improved in that one speech. I am eternally grateful to CLS for giving me this opportunity to learn a language and experience a place that has been my goal since I was first acquainted with Japan in seventh grade.