In my Special Topics Japanese literature course on Natsume Soseki, my professor never failed to remind my classmates and me that we are members of the elite, privileged in our pursuit of a higher education. As I awaited my early morning departure to Narita International Airport, her words finally began to sink in. Most of us graduate without realizing how lucky we are to have been able to attend college and better ourselves through communicating with brilliant minds – not all of them close to home. I enrolled in TUJ’s study abroad program with the goal of understanding what it means to be Japanese by living in Tokyo.
This was not the first time I’ve packed the contents of my life into luggage and relocated to a new city. At 23, I’ve traveled and lived in more places than most of my friends, but I was still just as nervous about flying as I was at 19 when I stepped onto my first plane to Montreal. It was a gutsy move: not only had I never left home, but I had never been outside of the country. Looking back, I’m grateful that the challenges of living in Montreal prepared me for life in Tokyo, the city I have always dreamed of visiting.
Picturing myself trying authentic ramen, visiting the Rikugien Gardens from “Norwegian Wood”, seeing Tokyo Tower, and visiting other famed cultural attractions helped me through the 15 hour journey. I reminded myself to keep my expectations realistic, too. Having once studied abroad, I expected my first week in Tokyo might be difficult – how could it not? From the moment I passed through Customs, I knew that I would have to step up my Japanese. GPS and Google Translate have been my closest companion this first week! A major plus: I’ve already discovered that the best part about living in Japan as a gaijin (foreigner) is how eager many Japanese are to help you practice your language skills.
Living in the Takadanobaba dorm is the best of both worlds: lovely residential buildings and the Kanda river are just ten minutes away from dozens of restaurants, boutiques, and bars. The area is known for its population of students who attend Waseda University, and the neighborhood’s lively nightlife and colorful storefronts reflect its youthful population. (Note: the absence of sidewalks definitely takes some getting used to.)
Taking a morning train for the first time on the Tozai line was an interesting albeit slightly claustrophobic experience. Our cheerful student guide, Yuri, led us TUJ’s main campus, a sleek office building ten minutes from Azabu-Juban Station. TUJ’s campus may be on the small side, but it has an incredibly diverse student body. I’m grateful that going to school in a tiny corner of Minato gives me an even greater opportunity to exchange ideas about life, literature, and social issues with Japanese students. Without a doubt, there’s a strong sense of community on campus. Many of us are at least 6,000 miles away from home, and seeing familiar faces in our classrooms and hallways is an added layer of comfort.
For those of you who are curious about studying in a non-English speaking country, but too afraid to make the leap: don’t hold yourself back! I’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs my first week in Tokyo, but the challenges have been a worthwhile learning experience. Traveling and studying in a foreign country is a unique way to reevaulate our paradigms and understand ourselves on a deeper level. I already foresee that my experiences exploring Tokyo and studying at TUJ will open my eyes to cultural and social issues that will shape me as both a writer and a humanitarian.