After spending four months living in a foreign country so different from home, I don’t think I can condense all of my thoughts into just one post. I’ve been home for two weeks now and I still have a lot of conflicting emotions about my time in Japan. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to study abroad – I wouldn’t change it for anything- but, there were many parts that weren’t easy.
Living in Japan as a foreigner, I was constantly aware of my actions. I felt there was no way to blend in. There are many unspoken, rigid social conventions about how to act in each situation making each interaction uniquely challenging. I always had to be “turned on”, which was exhausting. However, once I got comfortable in a certain setting or felt like I was really understood Japanese culture, it was so rewarding and exhilarating. These moments of clarity made up for the difficulties and confusion I had most of the time.
I really enjoyed the classes I took this semester. They were mostly about Japanese and Asian culture, which was helped me understand my environment on a deeper level. I’m a Pre-Med Biology major, so I don’t typically get to take humanities courses. These concepts are very important for treating and understanding patients, but typically aren’t emphasized in medical training. I’m happy to have gotten more exposure to these ideas.
In addition to the courses, living in Japan teaches you what it is like to be an outsider in a way that no other country probably could. Being treated like an outsider is not an experience white Americans typically have, but it is definitely good to develop that understanding. Learning how to function in a new value system and culture is difficult, but I hope I can apply it to my own environment back home. I can take the extra time to understand others’ experiences in a more complete way am better able to empathize with others in new and strange situations. These are important skills to have for my future career and in life.
I’m also more comfortable with being alone. I’ve always been okay with it -I think it is a key skill for everyone to have- but there is definitely a stigma about it in America. People tend to think it is weird when you want to do things alone, which can make you feel like it is not something worth doing. But in Japan it’s pretty normal for people to go about their days in isolation. While this can have it’s problems when it happens too often, I felt like this was liberating. I was able to dictate my schedule and set my own priorities while traveling alone. I learned more about myself and I will use that newfound knowledge as I go about my regular life in Philly.
I grew as a person this semester. Although this semester came with a unique set of challenges, I am leaving it more confident in myself. I was able to live in Tokyo, Japan for four months and have all these amazing adventures, including traveling to Vietnam and Taiwan by myself. Other obstacles now seem smaller and I’m looking forward to tackling them because I know what I am capable of.