Japan and I

Four years ago, when I was entering Villanova University as a freshman, I was presented with a choice. As small as it seemed at the time, it was one of the most important choices I would make, affecting the next several years of my life. That choice: what course would I take to fulfill my foreign language requirement? Feeling a little adventurous, I enrolled in “Introduction to Japanese.”

Nihongo Novice

At first I struggled. As opposed to our 26-letter alphabet, Japanese kana has dozens of characters! My anxiety was soon replaced by intrigue and a disciplined study routine, however. The engaging lessons of my senseis revealed to me that many Japanese characters were based on picture drawings, and I was exposed to various Japanese customs, foods, and games. Furthermore, my classmates were a dozen students who had all been brave enough to choose to study the reputedly difficult Japanese. We were all enthusiastic about learning such a cool and unusual new language – it was the most tightly-knit class I had ever been a part of, and I am still friends with some of those people today. Suffice it to say, by the end of my first semester I was hooked on Japanese.

Being Taught in Tokyo

Over the course of my four years at Villanova, I had the fortune and opportunity to be able to study abroad in Tokyo twice. Through two separate programs, I studied at two of Japan’s most highly-recognized universities – Waseda and Sophia — for six weeks and six months, respectively. Japanese courses in Tokyo presented me with the most intensive language study programs I have ever been exposed to. At Waseda, I took two courses – one comprehensive course and one on kanji, Chinese characters that have been adopted by the Japanese reading and writing system. Classes were conducted in Japanese with quizzes or tests each session. To wrap up the courses, I was required to give presentations, speaking only in Japanese, in each class. I had similar experiences at Sophia, although I also had the chance to take some non-Japanese courses taught by international faculty. Being able to study a foreign language inside a classroom and then to go outside and apply it was one of the most rewarding experiences I had over the course of my college career.

Memoires of a Graduate

While difficult at times, one of the most pleasing and enlightening challenges I encountered in Japan was balancing “work” and “play.” When I think back about my time in college, of course I remember my friends and my dorm rooms on campus, but what really shines in my memory are the experiences I had in Japan, especially while traveling. The old samurai village in the northern province of Akita, the beautiful waterfalls nestled in the mountains of Nikko, the impressive fortress-like Osaka castle, and unparalleled fireworks shows at Yokohama and Kamakura – these are the memories that stand out for me. I could have spent my time, comfortable, at home in the US; instead, I ate grilled eel in Nagoya and visited the hot springs in Kakegawa. I joined a Japanese racquetball club and learned a new sport in a foreign land, and one day in Tokyo I made a friend of a random English-speaking Japanese stranger who happened to be passing by and stopped to help me as I tried in broken Japanese to communicate with a bewildered policeman. I count myself extremely lucky to have had such experiences. By refusing to do the easy, comfortable thing by staying home, a whole new world of adventures was opened up to me.

Looking to the Horizon

Four years ago, entering college, I would never have imagined that now, freshly graduated, I would be taking a job in a foreign country. Yet here I am, preparing myself to go teach English in a Japan come July. The choices we make in life (in this case college) determine what doors will open for us as we make our journey. For me, studying Japanese, traveling abroad, befriending both Japanese people and those like me interested in Japanese language and culture, and perhaps, most importantly, taking advantage of the chances that I have been given have all impacted me in a very deep way. Someone once said that we are not just citizens of Japan, or the USA, or any other country, but we are all citizens of the world. Becoming involved with and attached to another culture has really helped me to realize how true this is, and it has also given me a sense of how international experience not only helps one develop skills and expertise that are attractive when entering the job market but also furthers one’s development as a mature person — as a citizen of the world!