During my study abroad program, I was studying at Keio University, a prestigious university located in the heart of Tokyo. I went to Japan with three goals: to raise my Japanese proficiency, to join a band to perform music, and to full immerse in Japanese culture. I am delighted to say that by the end of my study abroad, I have reached all three of my goals and more.
At Keio, I took Japanese classes to further improve my Japanese conversational skills and writing. An interesting Japanese class I took was Honorifics, a special way of speaking in Japanese that varies depending on your listener. Since politeness is an integral part of Japanese culture, honorifics is something that one must master in order to speak good Japanese. In the class, we had to learn the different ways to talk to strangers, friends, teachers, managers, and so on. The practices of different scenarios during class not only improved my Japanese, but also showed me how Japanese, the language, is a vessel that carries the different attitudes that Japanese people carry towards other people. For me, it is mesmerizing to think how much of a culture is embedded in a language.
I also joined a band club at Keio University. Club activities are a big part of Japanese college life, something that American colleges usually lack; it is where people gather after classes to nurture their hobbies, ranging from orchestra to tennis to hiking. To my dismay, some Japanese people have this sense of exclusivity that makes it hard for a student studying abroad to join a club, but I was eventually able to find a band club that accepted me with welcoming arms. Joining a band club has always been my dream since high school and I am thrilled to finally have it fulfilled. Together with the other members of the club, we held monthly performances and occasional road trips. Band club is where most of my friends here in Japan are; through performing together, we not only improve our musicianship, but we also deepen the bonds we have between each other. As a bonus, I was able to constantly practice my Japanese and thus become fluent in it. The experience of trying and eventually succeeding in making friends in a completely strange environment using a different language was especially enriching and has certainly improved my interpersonal and communication skills.
I also went traveling around Japan during vacation with both Japanese students and also other exchange students, visiting all the famous places in Japan. I went to Hokkaido in the north during winter. There we visited Japan’s most famous zoo, Asahiyama Zoo, went skiing, ate a lot of seafood, and saw Japan’s prettiest night view at Hakodate. My friends and I also went to Kyoto and Osaka. Kyoto is a treasure trove of Japanese culture. We visited famous temples and even got dressed in kimono and walked around the ancient capital for a day. We also visited Uji, a town next to Kyoto that is famous for its tea. There, we had a lot of tea-tasting and experienced the traditional tea ceremony.
When school ended, I started interning at a software startup in Tokyo. My work is related to natural language processing, a field that is closely related to artificial intelligence. During this internship, I was able to complete a project that I am proud of. This opportunity led me to consider the possibilities of working in Japan in the future.
This year abroad went past in a flash. It was definitely an academically and personally enriching experience. On top of fulfilling my initial goals, I was able to further my programming skills via the internship and create lasting friendships in Japan. Through my contact with Japanese culture and people, I was able to open my eyes to the fact that the world does not revolve only around the United States; though the Japanese – or any other culture’s— lifestyle and values are different from those of the United States’, they are just as important. We can have a lot to learn if we step out of our comfort zone and experience, or even assimilate, parts of another culture’s lifestyle.
I never had the opportunity to meet Chris Borton, but while I abroad I felt like we are connected through this shared experience. It is unbelievable how he is able to change and touch my life by giving me this opportunity to study abroad through the help of the Chris Borton Scholarship Board. This eventful year is definitely one that I will not forget.