Friday, May 19, 2023

Time Flies in Japan: Mistakes and Growth Go Hand in Hand

Nagoya Tower

It is unbelievable how quickly time flies while studying abroad. As of writing it has been about two months since coming to Japan, but it only feels like I have been here for a few days. Although, the journey to get to this point has not been so smooth sailing if I had to be quite frank. 

First and foremost, for anyone who is traveling by themselves for the first time I highly advise them to learn how to use Google Maps properly. It sounds ridiculous, but knowing how to use Google properly will save anyone the stress. Why is this a piece of advice that I am highly emphasizing? Well, it all starts the second I get off my first flight. 

In order to get to Nagoya from Hawai'i there is a layover flight that stops in Haneda, Japan and the next day I would catch a two hour flight from Haneda to Nagoya. For some important background information, I have been on flights before and have had to do layover flights when traveling within the states. Additionally, when I booked my flight and saw that my next flight would not be for the next day I thought it would be the best idea to book a hotel room in the airport's hotel. So needless to say I felt that I could confidently navigate through the airport once I got off that first flight.


And that is probably where my first mistake comes in, which is overconfidence in my abilities. Now if this was a flight within the United States or a country where English is the native language I would have no problem. However, that was not the case since I am in Japan where English is not the native language, I am flying alone and this was going to be my first international flight. So it essentially became a trifecta of disaster waiting to happen and it most certainly was, as fate would have it, a disaster. 

Once I left baggage claim after going through immigration I was now stuck with navigating to the hotel. I thought no worries I would use Google Maps to figure out where in the airport I would have to go and then I would be fine. Now here is a key detail that will come back again: see Haneda Airport has three terminals that are spread out. They are so far from each other, in fact, that there is a free bus system for airport patrons to use to get to each terminal in a sufficient way. 

I was currently at terminal three because that is where the international flights land and when I looked on Google Maps it made it seem as though the hotel was in terminal one, so after about an hour of poor Japanese and figuring out how to get to the free bus terminal I finally got on the bus. At this point I just wanted to get to the hotel and put my bags down since the two luggages I had were both very heavy and one had a broken wheel. But it would not be much of a story if there was no twist. 

Once I was at terminal one and off the bus, I made my way into the building and pulled my phone out again to see where specifically in the terminal was the hotel. But something in my head told me to zoom in closer to the hotel and so I did just that and immediately my spirits had deflated. Remember how earlier it was mentioned there were three terminals and that they were very spread out from one another? Well, while I thought the marker was on terminal one, it actually was in terminal two which was on the further back side of the terminal I was currently at at that moment.

Cherry Blossom
on Campus

At this point, and something I do advise if anyone is in a similar situation, most people would wait at the free shuttle station to catch the next available bus to the correct terminal. However, I did not think of this because instead I decided to go through a long underground tunnel that connected terminal one and terminal two. Which again it would not have been much of an issue had it not also been the fact that I had two heavy suitcases with one of said suitcases having a broken wheel. 

After a few mishaps with poor attempts of communication, I finally reached the hotel and was able to rest for the night. Fortunately after that entire series of events nothing else went wrong, though I did again almost get lost trying to find the pick up area for the shuttle service the school offers to take students from the airport to the dorms. 

Other than the directional challenges, school life has been pretty good. The classes that I am currently in are interesting to learn about especially since a majority of the classes are centric on intercultural interactions. This means how to best understand and interact with those of differing cultural backgrounds. Also at the school there are many opportunities to interact and mingle with students and starting this coming week from when I am writing this the Japanese Language Lounge is supposed to open up. So, I will definitely be checking that out to practice my speaking skills.

Miso Mochi

Even outside of the classroom I have been able to explore and interact with more of the local people. For the most part while I have been here in Nagoya I have been making it my goal to travel to as many places in Japan. Fortunately, some of the excursions the school has offered and hosted has gotten me out of the house. For example, during orientation week we traveled to Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Village which preserves the traditional way of life and has different demonstrations for woodcarving, blacksmithing, traditional dye jobs and much more. Though the reason we were there is because of the miso mochi class that we were taking and I can personally say it was really tasty. But if you do try it do not expect a sweet mochi because it has quite the umami flavor. 

Now while that was an amazing experience, it was the after events that nearly got me panicking. See in Japan and once at the school all of the administration officials advise students to have all of their documents on hand. That includes the residential card (once it is registered at the city hall), passport, and visa. All of these items are crucial to have in case a police officer decides to randomly stop us and ask us for our information. I, being responsible and not trying to get into legal trouble, put all of those documents in my backpack before heading out. On this day in particular it was predicted to rain, but I thought I would be okay with just a rain jacket since it rains a lot back in Hawai'i and I can usually get away with just a jacket. 

However, this rain was heavier than I had anticipated and I decided to search for an umbrella. After looking for a few hours, these two nice women who owned a bookstore/home goods shop gave me an umbrella they found in the back for free. Which was amazing, except for the fact that I and all of my possessions were still soaking wet. And once we got back to the dorms I had finally remembered that all of my documents were still in my soaking wet backpack.  

Outside the Gate of Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Village

Fortunately nothing was ruined and everything is still fine. Afterwards everything up until then I have gotten better with navigating through the country and my passport and other documents now stay inside a nice Ziploc bag. So to end this blog off I would like to give some advice to those who are planning to study abroad in Japan. The least I could do with these experiences is to make sure you do not experience what I did throughout my time so far. 

First, know how to read Google Maps or at the very least learn enough vocabulary that is commonly seen at airports. It sounds like common sense, but like myself and the navigation situation, sometimes being thrown in a new environment can cloud one's sense of judgment. So if anyone is reading this and is like me where when I am stressed I go into autopilot mode, knowing a handful of vocabulary words that are commonly seen at airports will make a big difference. Also learn directional words because those were some of the biggest help for me when trying to navigate through the airport.

Glimpse of the Rain

Second, if anyone who is reading this thinks they can handle the rain, erase that thought process. Buy an umbrella, waterproof passport case, and a nice rain jacket. But if not the umbrella or the rain jacket, at least invest in a waterproof passport case. For if anything happens to the passport or the visa that is attached in the passport then there will be consequences and one would have to take a trip to the United States embassy in the designated city. So if you want to avoid that trip invest in waterproofing or at the very least get an umbrella. 

Finally, double check the condition of the suitcases that one plans to bring for studying abroad. Rolling around two heavy suitcases is not an easy task. So I would suggest before leaving, practice rolling the suitcases at the same time. Although if it is something that one has done then it should be fine, but if this is something that one has never done the practice would help. The practice will not only help one get used to rolling two suitcases at the same time, but it can also show if the suitcases have any issues that need to be fixed like a broken wheel. 

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you in the next update!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Would I suggest a study abroad?

         As someone who doesn’t come from a family or community of people that prioritize the same things that I do in life, completing a semester abroad as a part of my bachelors degree and graduating from university is a major deal. For the majority of my life, the people I’ve interacted with throughout my education don’t come from a similar background as mine (my family, who are immigrants, got me a passport as soon as possible, and I’ve been traveling all of my life). After graduating high school, I knew a classic or expected cookie-cutter education wasn’t for me. After completing a school year abroad in India, this only deepened.

        I changed my plans to study a general business degree to instead learn about international studies and later a dual major in finance. Knowing that I had to complete a semester abroad for me meant a semester that came with a high price tag that I personally felt I had to pay. I’m fortunate enough to receive a 95% scholarship to HPU so school has always been affordable for me, but because of my choice to study and travel, I had to learn about loans and going to banks for the best choice to fund my semester abroad. I feel like I truly invested in myself and my education, which, as expected, had me appreciate it more. I applied to scholarships that helped offset the cost of my semester, but because SIT didn’t have a partnership (only an association) with eHPU, I had to pay mostly out of pocket. I was able to essentially live in three different countries, and become a part of where I was. Some places felt familiar, others foreign. In every country I would (almost instinctively) adjust how I moved financially and socially. Going out and supporting local was entertaining, being pushed as a student was challenging but came with rewards. Now when I compare each city and what I experienced at each of them, I get lingering thoughts that I can reason through. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions and definitely experienced highs and lows, but again was supported throughout the entirety of the semester. 

        It wasn’t until midway through my time in Cape Town that I felt like I was abroad (I hadn’t felt this way the entire semester). On a drive back home we were running through the central business district (CBD) and Table Mountain could be seen for all its glory. I had a moment, my thoughts being “I’m not in Hawaii anymore, I’m not even in the United States”. I’ll never forget the feelings I was going through when it hit me that I was in South Africa and the third and last continent on my trip/semester. I guess that goes to show how well SIT was there for me and my classmates. I feel like every need was met, but like a double edge sword to accommodating groups, there was always somebody that had something to say, and I on the other hand listened and just went with how the program planned to move forward.

        I was just happy to be there.

        I remember having a blast engaging in conversations with people that I never thought I would ever again but were possible because I was a part of a school program. It had been a long time since I connected with individuals from different backgrounds and was able to find commonalities, no matter how different we were and still be so alike. 

        I  like to say that about things that people apply for: you’re going to meet similar minded people or at least someone with something in common even if it’s just one thing. 

        What I’m saying is I am super grateful for the opportunity I took, and like anything there were things that would have been better had things been different, but I think I did what I was supposed to and when I was supposed to. I highly encourage anyone to pursue something that they set their mind to, because the only results that come from doing so are achievements and being happy you did what you wanted to and that you said you would. 

        My semester abroad managed to host a year's worth of an education in just three months. There was so much that I experienced and learned. There were a lot of assignments that we were expected to accomplish and with communication and the expectation to be great from my professors, my peers, and myself, we completed that. I really hope post-Covid that more students take advantage of studying abroad and bring it back. I also feel really sad and disappointed for the class before me in international studies and expected to study abroad as well, but never got to because of the pandemic and life.

        As I complete this reflection, I realize I sound like Dr. Seuss.. but I definitely developed wisdom that can be used for the rest of my life and passed down to others after reading this back.

        I had one goal to record a minimum of one song in each country, and I’m happy to say that I did that! On the last days of my trip in Argentina I re-recorded one song from 2021, in Spain I recorded 3.5 new songs with beats that we made on the spot, and in South Africa I recorded a total of 13 new tracks! 

        After this week only three of us who were in my cohort have graduated (including myself). I’m very excited to see where the next year takes all of us. I met people that I know will make change in this world and that are already doing so. Lastly, I think that me being able to share all of this with you is an amazing thing and definitely not something to be humble about. 

        Thank you to Hawaii Pacific University, and the study abroad program for the opportunity to complete a semester abroad during my bachelors and higher education. I appreciate all that you did for me and continue to do.

To being a global citizen and trotter!