By Emiliee Studley, '13
"The mountainside was a refreshing break from the city," Studley said of a trip to Minakami. "Its solitude and natural settings are just breath taking."
There are times when I am walking through Tokyo, talking to my host-family in Japanese, or ordering local cuisine from a privately owned business, that I truly cannot believe that I’m half way across the world on an island called Japan. It has always been a dream of mine since starting college to experience the culture of Japan, but it has been a challenge to get used to a culture quite different from my own. Even before I hopped on the plane, I had no idea what to expect, and even now, it seems that this country, no matter how long I stay, will continue to surprise me with more things to learn and discover. I chose to stay in Japan for five months but as it gets closer to my time to leave, I really wish I had chosen to stay longer.
On the surface, Tokyo is much like New York or any other bigger city in America. It has crowded streets, Starbucks on every corner, beautiful parks that provide solitude from traffic, and plenty of stores and shops to visit. It is not until you look around and realize that you are one of the few foreigners in the area, or that you begin to interact and engage with Japanese people, that you realize this is not America. I have had several traveling experiences in the past, but it has always been as a tourist. It has been very refreshing and liberating to come to a country to try to live and interact not as an American, but as a citizen.
One of the hardest obstacles that I have had to overcome is the language barrier. It has been hard to not be able to express myself as easily as in English. Japan is surprisingly quite Americanized and many Japanese people speak English very well or are learning to speak it; still, I am here to use Japanese. Although it has been tough, I can already feel myself getting better at the language and feeling less self-conscious. I am now putting my self in situations that might not go as planned, but instead of focusing on the mistakes I have made, I focus more on the successful conversations I have had in Japanese.
In between studying and attending classes, I have had many opportunities to visit within Tokyo as well as more rural areas of Japan. There are times that I can get sucked into the atmosphere of Tokyo and forget that there is more out there, but I am instantly reminded when I take a train ride north and get a glimpse of the mountains and greenery filling up the skyline. Everything I have seen has only intensified my love for Japan and the realization that it has an enriching culture beyond what I could have comprehended. It is truly great to be in an environment where I am learning all the time, whether I am in class learning about Japanese gender studies or out and about exploring the culture of Japan.
Before I came to Japan I knew deep down that I was going to figure out something about my future. Whether that was something as simple as “hey, Japan is great, but I would rather stay in America for the rest of my life” or more specifically figuring out if international law is the field for me. This journey has only expanded my interest in the field of international law and upon returning to Albion College for my senior year, I will finally have a long-term career goal to reach for. There is no doubt that this experience has changed my outlook on life, and I am excited to go back home and share all of my stories. I still have a couple months left in Japan, so until then, Japan is not done with me yet.