Its 8:47 a.m. on a Monday and I’ve already spilled coffee on my white blouse. Lovely. As I sit in the crowded dining hall, with the music pulsing through my headphones, I look around at the faces of my peers as they flow in and out of the serving stations. Hidden under each passing face, I sense a narrative lurking. Some eyes transmit longing. A few bear an unknown weight. Others stare back blankly, unsure of how to proceed. Most avoid my eyes, suddenly finding something captivating on the floor to direct their gaze towards. As I pick at my half-eaten watery oatmeal, I wonder how many untold stories exist at Colby. I peer at the girl hunched over next to me, furiously pounding on her laptop keys, avoiding eye contact with everyone. How many students have flown in and out of this dining hall without speaking a word? How many of them have contemplated how they engage with others? How many of them have dreamed of escaping the bubble of our school? How many of them have considered what “escaping” truly means? As I reflect on this past semester at Colby and my upcoming semester abroad, I can’t help but think about what story I will leave in my absence and what story I will return with. I wonder what tale my eyes will tell. To put it bluntly, this semester has been a tumultuous time for me. I have experienced countless racist and sexist incidents on campus and off and it has been difficult for me to come to terms with my position as a marginalized person in this space that I call my temporary home. In all honesty, I need a new environment. I need a reimagined perspective. I need a new lens to approach life’s challenges with. I need Tokyo.
I pause my staring, grab my jacket off the back of a chair, and head towards the exit. An upbeat song pours through my headphones and I begin to mentally prepare myself for a full day of classes. The song’s tempo starts to increase and the morning’s caffeine kicks in as my legs carry me to class. Just before I open the door to my lecture hall, I glimpse a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. Instead of opening the door, I pan my head to the left and see one of my best friends, Beren strutting, down the quad, wearing her bright, red, plaid puffer coat. Confidently sashaying with swagger, Beren pivots to her right and makes eye contact with me. This time, I know the story behind the eyes staring back. A huge grin radiates across Beren’s face as she sees me and it’s impossible not to smile. As Beren makes her way towards me, I notice a long trail of toilet paper stuck to her sneaker. Beren follows the path of my eye and recognizes the embarrassment stuck to her shoe. Upon this realization, the two of us erupt in laughter, doubling over with pain in our sides. A moment of joy at 8:59 a.m. on a Monday morning. I need Tokyo, but maybe it isn’t all bad here either.
To be clear, I’m not expecting my semester in Tokyo to be all sunshine and honey. Although I believe Tokyo will provide me with a reimagined perspective and a new environment to traverse, I recognize that moving there will inevitably come with its own challenges and hurdles that I must face. I know that I will still be a minority in Tokyo and that facing marginalization is not an experience inherently unique to the US. The problems that I encounter at my home institution won’t disappear in Tokyo. Instead, they will manifest in other ways and present themselves in different forms. Thus, my motivation to move to Japan is fundamentally rooted in my desire to grow as an individual and enhance the way I tackle these problems by broadening my horizons and my understanding of the world around me. As I mentally prepare for my semester in Tokyo, I’m bracing myself for four months of wonderment, while holding onto the small moments of joy that I will be leaving behind. Goodbye, sweet toilet paper trail. Hello, biggest city in the world!