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07/20/2016

Confessions of a College Gaijin

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Our time in Japan is comparable to eating delicious cake at a fantastic, but expensive bakery, which for the sake of this metaphor, everyone enjoys. Make the cake any flavor or without eggs so that you too can enjoy it and attempt to decipher this seemingly nonsensical connection.

Everyone wants to eat the cake, some more than others, but you want to eat slow enough to savor the unique flavor. You’re well aware that eating too much is unhealthy and will possibly ruin your life. For the sake of this comparison you are also now a health conscious foreigner. Fearing too many calories and desiring to be fit, you eventually realize that you need to stop eating. Thankfully, you can always come back for more cake next year, month or maybe if you have the cash, week. If you thought, why don’t I just go back for more cake tomorrow, this bakery is only open once a week on weekends. In even more cringe worthy terms, the cake is Japan. I’m going to risk talking in absolutes and say that everyone enjoyed Japan, but it is time to stop indulging and return home. Some of us may never again revel in this flavor, while others might purchase stock in the bakery and eat the cake everyday for the rest of their lives.

This post is a sequel to my Reflections of a College Gaijin blog, but stands on its own stronger than Episodes 1-3 of “Star Wars,” so feel free to squander your time here instead of aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or Snapchat.

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Sophia University is small enough to fit on this page. The short walk across campus to Building 11 is about seven minutes, the same time it takes to eat five pieces of quality sushi. The most memorable feature is the giant billboard in the center highlighting “Mr. and Ms. Sophia Contests.” I can only imagine beauty contests in American colleges leading to certain disaster, but that’s probably because I go to George Washington University were even the slightest off hand comment can spiral into a bloody political debate to the death.

Classes back home felt like “The Flash” creating a vigorous whirlwind on the streets compared to Sophia University’s subtle breeze gently caressing cherry blossoms into the cool spring air. CIEE staff member Darren, the real MVP of the trip, emphasized the commitment behind Intensive Japanese like Gandalf blocking the path of evil yelling “You Shall Not Pass” in “The Lord of the Rings.” But there’s a light at the end of the patronus. Even though no one knew what form their trip would take, we all gained something and unlike most of the cast of “Game of Thrones,” we did not die. With “Pokémon Go” currently unavailable in Japan, a few injuries and “Fox News” cameos were likely avoided.

Walking to the top of Miyajima wasn’t rough, yet I still offered to carry a friend’s bag. That friend happened to be a girl! GASP! Commence gossip. Rumors with less evidence supporting them than OJ Simpson on trial are likely to spread even in college. Japan was a wonderful experience, but neglecting some of the darker aspects of study abroad that more than likely exist in every college experience would be a shame.

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Not everyone gets along and some people cannot be friends: Light Yagami and L from “Death Note,” Pepsi and Coke, and the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Making two friends would be lucky, but I made more than I’d typically see on a Friday night back home. Insert first world problem about neglecting friends to hang out with other friends because there are too many great people on the program here.

Hand me a gavel because I’ll be the first to admit I’m quick to judge, but that doesn’t mean I don’t change my opinion of people once I get to know them. The best advice I can give future CIEE students is to talk to as many people as you can. Some people might eventually act differently because they became comfortable enough to be themselves around you like a not so cute Siamese cat, or removed the mask they wore in hopes of making more friends to show their true colors. Hopefully their actual color is compatible with your zodiac sign.

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Many people make friends with students outside of CIEE, including local and other exchange students, or never even talk to other CIEE students, and that’s daijoubu (okay). If staying in your room and going to Akihabara alone is your idea of experiencing Japan, then proudly do so. There’s no correct way to study abroad, only your way.

There’s still the irritating classmate that asks the teacher a question they’ve already answered and sounds like a plastic from “Mean Girls,” that dude who lifts weights instead of a pencil and cannot for the life of him say anything other than “wakarimasen” (I don’t understand) when the teacher calls on him, the annoying group talking far louder than they realize about something no one cares about, and the ones that fall asleep while playing trendy phone games like “Tsum Tsum.” Everyone studies abroad for different reasons, education not always being one of them.

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Smokers in restaurants that are harder to avoid than crowds of shoppers rushing to grab free samples at Costco, locals attempting to abduct you into mysterious church cults quicker than Tom Cruise can whisk away one million dollars into the intellectual abyss called scientology, and salary men that probably served as templates for storm troopers robotically meandering around Tokyo conspiring to nonchalantly inconvenience you on trains are a few of my other complaints.

In Yelp terms I’d give Japan five stars and $$$. The rest would be unwritten, not to reference Natasha Bedingfield, but because my experience in Japan was drastically different compared to what I’ve known and come to expect. The best explanation is to see it for yourself.

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