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07/20/2016

Reflections of a College Gaijin

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Getting lost in Narita Airport felt like a foreboding start to my time in Japan. However, our stories almost never turn out the way we draft them. My story isn’t anything special. I’m merely a gaijin (foreigner) in college walking the spotless Tokyo streets, spending spare change trying new and unusual drinks and snacks at the konbini (convenience store), and braving rush hour trains just to experience a local festival or landmark. Sure I can continue writing about typical tourism and study abroad activities, but I felt it would be best to finish my blogs with something different. Here’s a small glimpse into a book only I can open. Unfortunately my book isn’t narrated by Peter Falk like “The Princess Bride” or by Morgan Freeman like we all wish, but part of it features pages we all turn.

I was more than just a gaijin in the Japanese sense. I entered the country with little to no experience hanging out in big groups or being excessively social. Happiness came easily enough through a handful of friends a few days a week. Other days, I enjoyed almost every introverted activity from reading to movies to gaming. Japanese culture shock combined with the challenges of basically starting college over to create a tremor that could have easily shaken my life to pieces. Staying optimistic, I slowly walked over to the CIEE staff member at the airport and began a journey far longer than my plane ride.

Jet lag could not stop the excitement of our first morning in Japan and neither could waking up early for CIEE orientation. Random group assignments placed me into group 7 and introduced me to a few of my friends. Thankfully there was not an otaku (A socially awkward person obsessed with something) or weeb (you’re probably better off Googling this one) in sight. The rest of CIEE were on average third years like me. The real difference in years came from our experience with the language. Turns out knowing little to no Japanese in Tokyo does not hamper the experience. Having friends well versed in the language really helps though, so if you somehow happen to be reading this, lack confidence in your language skills and aren’t my mom, make friends to use, I mean enjoy, Japan to the fullest.

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Before starting any group activities we needed to elect leaders. Leadership in these instances almost justifies pushing people around, but also requires unnecessary effort so I abstained. At the same time I forced Ellyn into the position and the almost omnipresent indecisive millennial attitude of our group let me have my way. It didn’t take long for me to paint myself as the villain. Although Ellyn didn’t actively want the role, you can easily tell she cares more than the average person about everyone else, making her a great kaicho (leader). My point isn’t to praise my friend. Understanding your peers is more important when studying abroad in Japan because if you’re like me then good luck attempting to befriend local students when you can only tell them your name, school and country for the first month of classes.

DK House (I tricked many people into thinking DK stood for Donkey Kong) offered the college dorm experience I wanted freshman year: single rooms for privacy, a large lounge to hangout and kitchen facilities to unleash my inner Gordon Ramsay. Other students reading this might quickly write me off saying, but cockroaches! Strict visiting rules! Small dungeon like bedrooms! Hmm, good counter points past Tim. However, keep your room clean and your window closed to avoid attracting roaches. The one time a roach snuck up on me was because I accidentally left my window open all day. Manly screams were uttered. No help came, so after my friends refused my requests, with my favorite refusal being, “I’m just the comic relief,” I shamelessly asked the dorm manager to play grim reaper for me. The visiting hours aren’t really an issue when you realize other people want to rest peacefully at night and pay to stay here, while visitors do not. Feel free to post an angry message on my Facebook wall if I’m wrong about the small bedrooms, but none of us paid to come to Japan to sit in our rooms all day.

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The biggest complaint about the dorm is the fifty-minute commute to school. Trains in Japan are fantastic, except when you’re face to face with a 50-year-old businessman on a cramped train during rush hour. My personal highlight was when a group of people exiting carried me away while all I could do was reach my hand out to friends and make faces as if reenacting the scene in the “Lion King” where Mufasa dies in the stampede. Remember those corny scenes in a romantic anime when a guy bumps into his love interest on a train because of turns or other people pushing? Well, they’re definitely believable now.

Plutonic relationships during this trip were similar to gachapon machines. All of the options were laid out in front of us. We could walk over to any gachapon or interesting person, except you never knew what was inside until you stepped forward and took a risk. Romance is still as mysterious and dangerous as ever, maybe even more so in Japan because of cultural differences. Thought you had trouble approaching a girl/guy in America, well how about approaching a girl/guy that might not speak your language? Can’t say I’ve tried.

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I can only fit so many reflections in one blog post, so I’m cheating the system with a sequel post called Confessions of a College Gaijin. In the meantime, thank you very mochi for reading. The next time someone is angry with you just say control your tempura. Maybe even say udon know me, if appropriate, or what chu tako bout? I’ll see miso out on the next Shinkansen (bullet train).

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