My education in Japanese language and culture both began in Freshman year at Villanova. With each semester of study, I found myself increasingly more interested in absorbing the history behind the language and more fascinated with the ancient culture and its progress towards modernity. At the end of Sophomore year, with the help of my teachers, I decided that the best way to expand my knowledge of the culture and gain proficiency in the language was to study abroad in Japan and experience my book-knowledge first hand. That was one of the best choices I made in my four years of undergraduate study.
Stepping off the plane was like stepping into another world. My dorm was situated between rice fields and hidden family shrines quite juxtaposed with a busy city center with shopping malls and night clubs which were situated at the end of the block. I attended Kansai Gaidai University, located near Osaka, taking Japanese spoken and written language, East Asian Peace and Justice, and modern Japanese history courses. I had language classes every morning and spoke to friends and teachers in Japanese daily. I could note my progress with pride as I grew to understand the students’ conversations in the halls and could answer with alacrity and accuracy. Upon my return, I surprised even myself, as I would rattle of stories to my little sister in Japanese as if it were my native tongue. Aside from language exposure, my courses afforded me time in a Japanese prison, time with the Budaku homeless community, and a lecture with a Hiroshima Atomic Bomb survivor. These experiences opened my eyes to the importance of human life and community.
I also took full advantage of the endless opportunities present in a country I had yet to explore. With my Swedish roommate, a boy from Turkey, and two Japanese girls who lived in our dorm, I went on a trip almost every weekend absorbing the ancient temples of Nara while trying to steer clear of the hungry deer, shopping in the fast-paced and __flashy_ Tokyo, and seeing the monks sing their morning prayers at temple after coming home on the train at 5am from a night of dancing. Once of my most memorable experiences was climbing Mount Fuji from the bottom and reaching the top two days later to watch the sun rise above the clouds. With my university speaking partner’s grandmother, I learned the art of Tea ceremony and the proper way of wearing a kimono. Also, I was exposed to a number of different foods: okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes), hormone (cow lung), and azuki (bean paste candies) to name a few. I can recall countless stories and wonderful international friendships many of which continue to today. My experience afforded me opportunities of independent growth, cultural immersion and an excellent education both in and outside of class.