In school, we learn about different cultures through our textbooks, we are shown television documentaries depicting the everyday lives of people thousands of miles away, and we are shown this through the lens of a camera from a person who is lucky enough to experience a different culture for themselves. However, what we were taught in class did not quench my curiosity for the world around me.
Reading, watching, or hearing about the world was just not enough. That is when the idea of studying abroad suddenly struck me. What better way to learn about a culture than living with an actual native family? What better way to learn the customs and languages than actually becoming a student of the country, a citizen of sorts?
One long summer, I agonized over my options before filling out an application. Spain, Germany, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Latvia, and China were all countries of interest. I thought long and hard, but something about these destinations (though all intriguing) were just not new enough for me. Maybe it is because I have been to Europe (Poland in particular) almost every year, but I wished to sail into uncharted territory.
That is when the idea of studying in Japan first entertained me. Japan has always enticed me since childhood, since culture day in elementary school, and since watching Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Now that I am one week into my high school exchange program in Japan, I can say that my overarching goal is to fully adjust to the culture and customs of Japan, which to be honest, has not been easy so far. I face challenges and culture shock daily, but at the end of the day I am glad to have experienced it.
The reason behind wanting to be able to adjust to Japan is due to the fact that I plan to attend university in Japan. A second and just as crucial goal, is to boost my proficiency in Japanese. I came to Japan with two years of Japanese experience, and was able to communicate with my host family and Japanese people at a very basic level. Now, one week in and with the gracious help of my host sister, I can already tell major improvements in my skills.
Already one week into the program, I have seen and experienced quite a lot. The town which I am residing in is an industrial city centered around shipbuilding, and nestled under breathtaking scenery. On my one hour and 45 minute commute by train to school every day, I cannot pull myself away from staring in awe at the raw Japanese beauty. I even had a chance to stand on the top of one of the mountains and watch a sunset.
Furthermore, a major highlight thus far has been the three-day benkyougashuku study camp at Shizotani, which I attended with my school. All of this, has been a warm welcome into the new world of Japan, and I look forward to discovering what else this amazing country has to offer.