Welcome to the 2014 Spring edition of the Temple University Japan blog. My name is Andrew, and I am a senior studying abroad at TUJ this semester. In contributing to this blog, I hope to encourage potential study abroad students by offering a uniquely informative launching point. I hope you will enjoy this exciting semester abroad alongside me.
Not even two hours into the program, I had an extraordinary encounter at Musashi-Kosugi Station during a long, spiraling walk through its underground routes. Many main stations in Japan have multiple platforms, exits and even shopping and dining options. Three big suitcases in hand, my first trek through a Japanese train station was cumbersome. Uncertain of even which direction to go, I awkwardly dragged my belongings to the side of the walkway and had dug my directions from my pocket, when my luggage tumbled once more into the walkway. Twice now, complete strangers had rushed to my assistance over my toppled bags, once while they flipped over and down an escalator at the Narita International Airport. This time, a friendly commuter rushed over, grabbed the largest bag, and politely asked to see my directions. After a few giggles, they firmly insisted on leading me all the way to the platform, onto the train, to Hiyoshi Station, and then outside and down the street right to into the lobby of the Hiyoshi Men’s dorm. Thankfully the detour was not far from their route home, or else I would have felt even worse for troubling this kind stranger.
I was warned during the pre-departure orientation about culture shock. Coming from Pennsylvania, my biggest shock may have been watching a group of businessmen light up cigarettes in a restaurant one evening. Since my arrival, I’ve struggled to understand the concept of culture shock. Perhaps the prevalence of many major American brands, such as McDonalds and 7-Eleven, have already blurred the lines between home and abroad. Or maybe I have yet to experience the full effects of culture shock, and the symptoms will surface once the novelty of living abroad becomes the mundane of everyday life. So far, I would define culture shock as the inability to deeply relate to non-english speaking locals. I’ve had many conversations with Japanese citizens, but few have progressed beyond simple greetings and transaction-based lingo.
During my encounter at Musashi-Kosugi Station, our communication was, for the most part, non-verbal. Fortunately, signage in Japan often includes amusing but helpful cartoonish depictions of important instructions or warnings. This helps in digesting necessary information, or at the very least pointing to indicate your selection on a restaurant menu. My new friend came equipped a small but useful english vocabulary, while my Japanese was limited to practically one word, Arigatou (which means “thank-you,” a very useful phrase for the situation). From what I have gathered, Japanese is a very difficult language to learn proficiently, and I suspect that not even two semesters of study could have properly prepared me to verbally engage beyond superficial formalities. Therefore, academic study of the Japanese language may be best suited for those deeply dedicated to speaking proficiently. I still can not speak much Japanese, and neither can many of the study abroad students I have met this past week. While most students could get along just fine this way, I have resolved to learn a new Japanese phrase each day, and to put that skill to use during my daily outings. We shall see how that goes next week.