Majors: Asian Studies, History
Minors: International Relations, Music, Art History
Abroad Program: Sophia University
Where: Tokyo, Japan
When: Spring 2013
Favorite Course: Southeast Asian Politics
Highlight: The scenic view of Lake Biwa from the top of Hikone Castle
Best Excursion: The city of Kanazawa
Favorite Dish: Beef stock ramen with garlic chips, green onions, and raw egg from one specific restaurant in Hamamatsucho
Least Favorite Dish: Natto – Fermented Soybeans
Next Destination: London (I wish!)
Describe your most memorable experience while abroad.
My most memorable experience was my trip to Kanazawa. It is an isolated city on Japan’s west coast blocked from the eastern population centers by the high mountains running down Honshu Island’s center. Our trip started out by barely making our Shinkansen connection. Not an auspicious start in a country where the trains are famed for running on time to the second. But, we made it, and after 45 minutes of the bottom level’s view of a concrete wall (it was a double-deck Shinkansen), we found ourselves in the mountains. After a more disappointing train journey (lots of tunnels – the Japan Alps are very, very tall) our train emerged on some of the most startling scenery I’ve ever experienced. On one side was the ocean. In places the highway running along the train tracks was literally standing in it. On the opposite side were miles and miles of rice paddies, broken only by the odd town or factory. But beyond those were the mountains we spent our morning passing under. The crown jewel was a monumental snowcapped peak (in June!) emerging from the fog, keeping watch over the tranquil country below. And this was only the train journey! Kanazawa was such a pleasant city, I was so disappointed that I had to leave and go back to crummy Tokyo!
Who will you remember most from your study abroad experience and why?
The person who had the biggest impact on my entire study abroad semester was actually the first person I met in Japan. Before leaving, my mom discovered a service that Sophia offers for exchange students where they will send a full-time Sophia student to the airport to meet you and make sure you get to your residence in one piece. Before leaving, I had dismissed this as ridiculous, but after a 13-hour flight I was really beat and glad to have someone waiting for me. After going through customs, I met Erika Takada. She started by announcing that we will take the fast train because she “couldn’t be bothered with the slow local one.” She also insisted on paying for me, above and beyond what Sophia actually tells them to do. So we get on the train and she immediately wants to know my whole story. Why did you come to Japan, what do you study, what do you want to do, the lot. Then she proceeds to show me pictures of all her friends, and scheduling activities for me to do my first week! What? This random Japanese girl who just met me not 10 minutes ago, and we’re suddenly best friends! In short, she has made my time here the best possible. We went on a trip to Nikko together, and she even didn’t mind eating Italian food when I got tired of rice and ramen. She has completely opened her circle of friends to me, and through her I met the greatest group of people that completed my study abroad semester. Seeing her excitement on my behalf while I show her my latest souvenir purchases will never get old. Leaving Japan is going to be so difficult, because she insisted on coming to the airport to see me off saying “I was the first person you met in Japan, so its only fitting that I be the last one you say good-bye to.” I never thought that in a million years the Japanese student picking up at the airport would be one of the best friends I ever could ask for, but as fate would have it, my study abroad would not have been the same without Erika-san.
How was the experience of studying the language in the classroom prior to studying abroad different from the experience of studying the language in and outside of the classroom once you were abroad?
Learning Japanese in Japan in enormously different. While learning Japanese in America tends to focus mostly on vocabulary building, the language program at Sophia is quite intense. Meeting for an hour and half every day of the week is one thing, but the work is challenging too. Grammatical concepts are bandied about one day and then by the end of the week, there’s generally a test. Every. Week. I think that the Japanese perspective is a little skewed as well. I used to hate the textbook I used in America, but it looks like a picture book compared to the Japanese one! The Japanese textbook is full of dense text, usually loaded with incomprehensible kanji with little practical explanation of the grammar. Speaking of kanji, while my American textbook’s kanji lessons were tied to chapters of grammar and vocabulary, the two books are totally divorced here in Japan. As a result, I now know the kanji for things like petroleum, but not the one for right or left.