A personal and raw account on living in Japan, offering advice on studying abroad.
Much to my dismay, after five minutes of incoherent miming, the answer is simply ultimate confusion. I bow regardless and hurriedly go back to hide in my room. I am painfully aware of avoiding being that confused fat foreigner in the way; natural intimidation to feel among the beauty and finesse of the Japanese.
18 months of planning and organising, tallied to thirty hours since I’d left my home, (and my over-emotional mother) I couldn’t quite grasp the fact I had finally set foot in one whole new world. The first instinct would most possibly follow the path of gallivanting through the neon-lit concrete jungle, a belly full of ramen and sake. My bewildered little English self, however, could have murdered a cup of tea and slept for a year (especially amidst the cocktail of jetlag, nervousness and raw fish).
You may have asked those who have studied abroad how their time was, most likely to have been met with the wide-eyed response of how amazing it of course was. This, however, intends to be a more honest account of studying abroad. It is hard. It is lonely. It is expensive. But it is one of the best things you will ever do with your life.
Through my sore and heavy eyes, my first trip on a Japanese train was illuminated with forests of bamboo and the first buds of cherry blossoms.
I’m alone in central Tokyo and about to embark on a 26-week journey studying at Waseda University while conducting my own anthropological research. I claw my way out of the initial disorientation and spend the first week thinking I’d won the lottery. I had arrived in perfect time for Sakura (cherry blossom) season; an experience which should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The power of its beauty sincerely evokes such happiness and astonishment that is sure to leave all entirely speechless. I was soon to find this kind of exceptional experience was actually to become a regular occurrence. Japan is truly full of the most incredible wonders you would have thought you could only ever dream of.
I had taken a guilty salvage of finding some American friends following the first lonely month. Indeed I was here to learn Japanese, to experience its unique and mesmerizing culture, not to speak English over the excitingly cheap beer. This guilt, however, resided as I accepted that moving to the other side of the world by yourself into a culture so alien to your own is a pretty overwhelming experience. As said before, don’t misjudge the difficulty of this. On the other hand, by no means should this deter anyone from pursuing to study abroad. I reminded myself I was there to fullfil my yearning for adventure and would utterly immerse myself by all means possible to have, quite literally, the time of my life.
Upon graduation, I decided to escape the sweltering heat and havoc of Tokyo city to discover traditional life in the countryside. A naturalistic and somewhat spiritual retreat to the five lakes region truly fed my soul some long needed attention. For reason unbeknownst to myself, it also gave me the slightly misguided confidence of attempting to climb Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, standing at 3,776m. An example of experiencing the best and worst time of your life simultaneously. My eyebrows and eyelashes thick with icicles, I was starving and stuck in a typhoon on a wooden floor of the 8th station for 46 hours. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever endured in my life. Yet I had never felt such joy during parts of the climb and descent, and they will remain the most treasured memories I am unbelievably lucky to have ever enjoyed.
I could go weeks without a full conversation in English, I could break down in tears of despair; getting lost, losing things, missing home, miscommunication, the staring, the language barriers, the tiring university workload. Equally, I was the happiest I had ever been. I had never experienced such warmth, kindness and interest from the people I met. I was faced with the most incredible nightlife the world has to offer, the eye-opening and inspiring temples and shrines to discover. I found respite in the mesmerizing calm of feeding koi carp in the many Japanese traditional gardens around me , while unravelling the weird and wonderful variety of cuisine.
Don’t mistake studying abroad as an over-inflated dream, or an idealized montage of the perfect Instagram photos.
It is not easy. Indeed, one is more than capable of googling the obvious advantages of studying abroad, if it were an option one was considering. It is a significant advantage on your CV; learning a new language, self-reliance, independence and greater inter-cultural understanding are all gained through studying abroad.
I believe this perhaps only touches the surface, as the benefits are endless. I feel I could never come close to articulating how incredible time spent studying and living abroad can be.
Living and studying abroad is not for everyone, but there is one thing for sure, for those of you who are genuinely looking for an adventure of a lifetime; who like a challenge. Who want to make life-long friends, those looking to expand their mind into another culture. As well as experiencing the vibrancy and excitement the world has to offer, then studying abroad is for you and is one of the best decisions you will ever make.