Every year, Greenheart Travel offers scholarships for First Time Travelers. Our goal is for more people to experience the joys of travel and the importance of cultural exchange. Here’s one of our First Time Travel Scholarship winners here to tell us about her adventures at Greenheart’s Teen Language Camp in Japan…. Take it away, Kai!
I’m grateful to have experienced Japan in the way that I did: without any expectations. I truly believe that it’s the best way to go about many things in life. Before I left for Japan, a lot of my friends and family members asked me, “What do you think it will be like?” It was a question I wasn’t able to formulate a response to because I truly had no idea. I don’t think I was wrong to have gone about thinking, or rather not thinking, this way because, as a result, the environment I was in and the people I surrounded myself with never ceased to amaze me.
In the course of a month, I found that saying goodbye to my host family was my most difficult experience in Japan. Many people find it difficlt to adjust to new house rules, but with the assistance of our mobile translators and general interest in each other’s lives, my transition into my new home life was smooth and enjoyable. I found living with them, for the short time I did, to be very peaceful.
My main purpose in having gone to Japan was to begin my language learning journey, and prepare me for college. I’m not completely sure what I want to study in college or do beyond that, but when asked, I tend to answer that I will study linguistics. The amount of Japanese I knew before arriving in Japan was close to none, but I think it only encouraged me to practice more after I arrived there. With the hours each week I spent studying at school along with my exposure out in the world, I felt like I had improved a lot in a very short time. To be quite frank, I had minimal insight as to what Japanese culture was like prior to going. But, beginning to learn the language only encouraged me to also want to delve into learning more about the culture and historical aspects of Japanese life. I guess they’re right when they say that when it rains it pours. I found myself never having days off because I was constantly out learning something new.
My school was very encouraging of this newfound interest, and offered a multitude of activities that introduced other students and me to the rich culture that Japan has to offer. Many of our lessons focused on the localized history of Fukuoka; however, my classmates and I also visited contemporary exhibits (think: Studio Ghibli and Hello Kitty) along with historical museums showcasing Fukuoka’s history and most interesting artifacts. On our many field trips, we also visited well-known temples like Shoufukuji Temple and practiced zazen with the charismatic and helpful guidance of a monk.
If I had to choose one thing I disliked about Japan, it would have to be the weather. Hot summer days are to be expected wherever you go, but humidity has never been something I’ve been accustomed to. My host mother pointed out that I had a daily habit of cursing the weather when I came home everyday. Even though I walk most places in the US, the added humidity definitely increased my endurance. Maybe the weather wasn’t such a bad thing, after all? Regardless of its benefits, the weather remained my worst enemy while I explored Fukuoka.
Fukuoka had a lot of sights to offer, and I found myself endlessly asking questions regarding direction and location while exploring. It’s very easy to make mistakes and get lost while abroad, and I quickly learned that the best investment you can provide for yourself is pocket WIFI. Many of my classmates went about this beforehand, and had little issues navigating their way around the city because they had a GPS on hand. I, unfortunately, did not. On my very first day of school, my host mother walked me to the train station and showed me which line to take to get to Hakata Station. I was on my own with only a station name and a general map of where my school was. After I arrived at Hakata Station, I began my disastrous trek to school by approaching a security officer for directions. When I asked him which direction I should head based on my map, he confidently told me to go west, so off I went.
For the next hour, I found myself wandering deeper into the city and being unable to read most of the street signs. It took everything in me not to freak out when I came to the realization that I was completely and utterly lost. However, with the help of a hotel worker, she pointed me in the right direction. It turns out I was supposed to leave Hakata from the east exit! The relief I felt when I arrived at school and was immediately welcomed by concerned teachers was overwhelming. For those of who are not well versed in the language of their respective language– and even for those who are– do yourself a favor and invest in a handy pocket WIFI tool or an international SIM card. It will save you a lot of trouble.
My interactions with the residents of Fukuoka were overwhelmingly positive, and people were quite accommodating towards me even after misunderstandings. I became close with a couple local students my age, and talking with them expedited my language learning. My host family was very welcoming, and despite initially not knowing their language, we became good at talking by mixing bits of Japanese and English together. One thing, among many, that I was grateful for, were my host parents’ children. Their presence made my transition into a new lifestyle a million times more comfortable. Although they’re quite young, they were very intelligent and quickly realized that I couldn’t fully speak Japanese. This wasn’t a problem, and we communicated mostly through body language and signals to get ideas across. I loved them a lot, and enjoyed being able to both teach them a bit of English and learn from them.
When I came back, my friends and family asked me a similar question as the one prior to my trip, “Was Japan how you thought it would be?” I was again at a loss for how to answer, because I never wanted to place expectations on a place I’ve never experienced. However, now I can say with certainty that I had a lot of fun learning new things while I was there, and hope that everyone with an open mind gets a chance to travel abroad and experience it for themselves.
Thank you Kai for sharing your experience at the Teen Summer Langauge Camp in Japan! Readers can learn more about all Greenheart Travel’s Teen Language Programs on our website. In addition, follow us on social media for updates on when the First Time Traveler scholarship window opens again.