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2 posts categorized "Benjamin Profenius"

06/19/2016

Grab Bag

            This post isn’t about anything in particular. It’s a list of things I’ve done that don’t warrant a post all their own. Together these are the moments that add up to a legitimate abroad experience. For me, rattling them off is a relief from the pressure of feeling I have to make meaning out of my time in Japan, to somehow justify to someone that I’ve thought critically and reflected on what I’ve been given the privilege to do. They reflect the experience better than any musing I could ever muster. Profenius BP5 1

            Cat café: They’re worth it. Some people may not be thrilled about cats. May not be thrilled at the idea of spending money to be around cats. But, if you’re an animal person and feel the lack of personal affection that can only come from a pet, go to a cat café for a professional surrogate pet experience. Therapy animals do some real deal good. In my experience the café aspect is downplayed, and it’s really all about the cats. You can sip juice or tea if you want to, but it costs extra and distracts from the reason you came in the first place.

            Museums: A touristy yet important thing to do. Even if you’re not an art buff, you should frequent at least a couple museums. I’ve gone to several, the names I forget. The trouble with Tokyo museums is that their names are all astoundingly similar, at least in English. Combine the words Tokyo, national, art, of, urban, metropolitan, the, for, and every combination will constitute a museum existing in Tokyo. I’ve gone to museums at different points in my stay in Japan, and each time it is interesting to revisit artistic motifs that are becoming more familiar as the culture at large becomes more familiar. As a bonus, CIEE and Sophia makes going to museums easy. CIEE hooks it up with the free special exhibit tickets. A Sophia student ID can get you in for free, or at least a discounted rate. I’d gone to the Kunisada and Kuniyoshi print exhibit at the Bunkamura museum in Shibuya. Most memorable museum visit, the drawings on the prints and the colors therein vivifying an older Japan, and I paid nothing to do it. The next day I attended an experimental fashion exhibit, one which emphasized efficient production with futuristic design. It was difficult to believe the same culture produced both, and that is the breadth museums can deliver if you choose to seek out what’s on display. Profenius BP5 2

            Conbinis: On the opposite side from the cultural high-brow there is the beloved convenient stores. Everyone in Japan already knows how great they are. I bring them up because someone about to come to Japan will rest easy knowing about how great they are. I was afraid of being left to starve if I couldn’t speak Japanese well enough to order food, or if I’d run out of money. Conbinis are a saving grace, carrying quick food that can actually be called food for cheap. American convenience stores be shamed. One could feasibly live off these places, albeit not the healthiest option. In addition, one can buy concert tickets, pay for health insurance and online purchases, and many other life tasks through them. The staff is always friendly, with the position surprisingly dignified when compared to American convenience store workers. This section isn’t really anything more than a praiseful advertisement, but conbinis have truly smoothed over what could have been some rocky moments in getting acquainted with Japan.

            Sumo: The last and greatest. Any visitor to Japan should make a good attempt at going to see sumo. It is perhaps one of the most recognizable traits of Japanese culture, and it delivers as being one of the most interesting. Though it’s somewhat violent, there is the honor and skill that comes with a martial art. Every step is laced with tradition, and would be interesting to watch even if the wrestlers never squared up in the ring. But they do, and each bout is as exciting as the last. There is a surprising about of pageantry, but it comes with the tradition, honoring the centuries of practice in conjunction with the steadfast dedication it takes to be a wrestler. Sumo combines the traditional with simple excitement more than anything else I’ve gotten to experience thus far. Profenius BP5 3

            And so concludes a brief list of a few things I’ve gotten to do. There isn’t much more to say about it than that. I recommend everything. I recommend also the things I’ve yet to do. It’s all good, and a matter of finding the time to do it all. And pay for it all.

Midterms

            Studying abroad comes with a constant need to compromise. One must always weigh the value of time spent, and it can be difficult to sacrifice a good time for grades. Micro-decisions become ever more significant as time begins to run out, and the thought that the opportunity may never come again makes the decisions all the harder to make.

            When I began classes at Sophia, there was a great anxiety leading up to the first day, when the courses are laid out and the requirements explained. I was not afraid that I’d have to face anything I’d never faced before. Instead I was nervous about holding up my end of the bargain, and seeing what would be required of me to do that. I know I’m not alone in viewing the semester as a prolonged vacation. But vacations aren’t free, and for this one I have to do the study half of study abroad. It sounds ridiculous, but after touring for a few weeks, the prospect can be jarring. Profenius BP4 2

            If I could calm the anxieties of any prospective Sophia international student, I’d tell them to take their typical university course and cut the difficulty in half. This is what one can expect to encounter in general. There are classes that are tough, some easier than belief, but in general expect the difficulty to be about half a normal university course load from competitive universities and colleges. Despite the ease, the classes are surprisingly fulfilling if one decides to take what they can from them. Lectures are more often dry than not, but the material seldom wastes one’s time. This, at least, has been my experience in the areas of literature and philosophy.

            Routine develops. Midterms on the docket. The morning commute. The daily struggle to print. Exams that actually count. First major paper assignments of the semester. The vacation feeling is on vacation, and we’re left to grind out the grind.

            I sense in myself a mentality that may not be exclusive to me. Though I’m still far from going home, I’m beginning to feel a strange draw back towards home. It is less a force than a complacent feeling. My weekends are less full, and I’m less inclined to go out of my way to take on some cultural experience. In a sense I’ve begun to get bored, which comes from acclimation. Granted, there’s still more things to do than I can imagine, and yet when I have a free day the hassle and expense overpowers my will to do them. I can be drained by academic priorities, or lack of sleep, but the complacent marks a turning point in the abroad experience. I’ve become acclimated to Tokyo enough for it to feel like home in the way that we all can feel boredom in our homes. Profenius BP4 1

            Daily inconveniences begin to mean more. I’m less amazed by some things and more irritated by others. I schlepp through a daily grind, and have seen my time management shift more towards responsibilities than to vacation. The vacation itself is making a final subsiding. Midterms and actual pressure have helped facilitate what I see as a crucial part of my experience. What’s developed is the settling of a reality, my life adapted to a new place with responsibilities that are more or less universal. I feel I’ve learned from it, knowing what to expect out of myself and new phases of my life as they unfold. And as my return date grows closer and my arrival farther, I’ve begun to look forward to the fat steak I’ve been promised when I get home.