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3 posts categorized "Homestay"

12/09/2015

One Day Homestay

Having chosen to live in a dorm as opposed to a home stay meant that I was choosing to live a totally different experience, one where I would be on my own almost completely in terms of navigating Tokyo and just living in the city. However through CIEE, I was granted the opportunity of meeting and spending time with a home stay family for an entire day. 

This amazing family encompassed Okaa-san (Mother), Otou-san (Father), and their three children K-san (the eldest brother), H-san (the middle sister) and Y-chan, (the youngest sister). After learning who they were, their ages, and their hobbies, I was very excited; even more so because I would be able to spend time with the kids. K-san is 12, only one year younger than my brother. H- san is a year behind him and Y-chan is only 3 years old. It's been a while since I was surrounded by such small children because most of my family is already well into their teens.

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Prior to meeting the family, I had mixed emotions of excitement and nervous dread. What if I accidentally offend them? What if the kids don't like me? What if my level of Japanese is insufficient for the family? What if I just have a bad experience? These questions haunted me as I rode the train to meet them. However upon arriving, I was able to quickly dismiss those worrisome questions. Despite being half-hour late, thank you Tokyo train systems, Otou-san and H-san met me and led the way to their home. I was able to talk in Japanese about where I am from, how long I have been studying Japanese and what else I was studying. To be honest, it helped a lot that Otou-san also spoke English, kind-of like a safety net for my Japanese at times. Mid-way, Okaa-san and Y-chan met us with high spirits. Together, we walked the rest of the way back to their home.

From 11am to 8pm it was none stop fun, at least in my opinion. The first thing I did was play with H-san and Y-chan. K-san currently plays soccer, so the plan was to meet him for his game later on in the evening, as he was at practice all morning. I helped the girls build a house out of play mats. I don't think I've done anything like that in years. After that, H-san and Otou-san taught me how to play table tennis. I don't usually play sports of any sort, though I am always willing to try. It was quite a struggle at first, and I'm pretty sure Otou-san and H-san were a lot better at it than I was. But it was fun nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Okaa-san was getting lunch ready. We wound up having dipping noodles for lunch. So delicious! It was during then that I learned from Okaa-san that she was starting to learn English. She spoke very little English, so at times we had Otou-san translate. But, that did not discourage me from trying to speak in Japanese. The language barrier turned out to be a great motivation for learning and practicing from each other.

Afterwards, I went with Otou-san and the girls to their school which was literally down the road. There, we were able to make use of the gym and play sports. So, the next game of the afternoon was badminton. Again, I don't usually play sports and I know for a fact that Otou-san and H-san were a lot better at it than I was. Nevertheless, H-san and I competed with valiant effort, counting out loud in Japanese how many hits we could make before accidentally missing, and dropping, the bird. I think our highest was 11, but between her and her father it went as high as 20!

We returned home about an hour later to head out for K-san's game where I at last met the older brother of the bunch. The game itself was an interesting cultural experience because I got to see how the Japanese community interacted with one another in this kind of setting. It made me think about when my brother was on a soccer team many years ago. Unlike America, where everyone is usually screaming and shouting and cheering, everyone here was very quiet until someone scored a goal. Otou-san explained it to me as not wanting to put extra unnecessary pressure on the kids. But, I'm sure everyone was beaming with pride when K-san's team scored a goal. I, too, was very caught up in the spirit of the game. At the end, when K-san's team had won, we left without K-san. Another difference here is that the teammates all return home together. They’re not picked up one by one by their family immediately following a game. I understand it as a way of building strong ties with the team.

On the way back, we stopped for groceries. H-san and I by now had agreed that the cold weather called for some hot cocoa. And so we asked Okaa-san for permission before picking up the sweet Christmas-in-a-cup cocoa. Finally we made it home. In the process of getting dinner ready, I helped H-san fold laundry and then watched the Japanese version of Spirited Away, without subtitles. I was still able to understand most of it!

K-san had returned home just in time for dinner. And what was on the menu?

Sushi

Homemade sushi, where everything is prepared for you and all you have to do is assemble your favorite combinations: Rice, chicken, egg, three kinds of fish, cucumber, with Japanese mayo, seaweed, and soy sauce. First, H-san and K-san taught me how to properly assemble the sushi so that nothing would fall apart. Then, Otou-san showed me his favorite combination. This was my first time having real Japanese sushi, and let me just say that I had zero complaints. It was such a wonderful meal and I ate so much! Usually, a sign of respect is the fact that you ask for seconds, but I enjoyed it so much that I still feel like I over-ate. No regrets though.

After that, I was surprised by my host family's incredible gesture of singing me happy birthday and bringing out a cake of cream puffs for dessert.

Cake

With my birthday being the Monday after, I honestly had no idea that they would do this for me. I wasn't even sure what I was doing for my birthday! But this was incredible. It made my heart melt.

Actually, by the end of the night I found myself almost unwilling to leave. I realized by now that this family had accepted me into their home, into the routine of their daily lives. It made me long for my family, in a good way I suppose. There were so many parallels between my host family and my actual family that I wound up reflecting on it all throughout the day. When H-san and I asked Okaa-san for hot cocoa, watching K-san play soccer, enjoying a family meal, helping with chores before watching TV; these were all little things that made me really appreciate my family even more and hope that I can remain connected with my host family in the future.

I encourage everyone to at least try a home stay experience, even if it's just for one day like mine was.

Wish

 

10/19/2015

Discovering My New Community: School in Japan

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The weekend before my first day of classes, I had the opportunity to go to my host sister’s school festival. I slid my feet into a pair of forest green slippers, tucked my shoes in a small plastic bag, and shuffled in behind my host father. My host sister was about to play french horn in the brass band’s welcome performance in collaboration with the dance club. An upbeat tune filled the air as girls with matching pigtails and colorful tshirts danced around exciting the crowd. Students, family, and friends swayed side to side while clapping along to the beat, acting as a natural metronome. I joined in without hesitation. However, to my surprise, I discovered the musicians still guide the audience in clapping along even in a more formal concert performance. Japan is a group oriented culture, so I interpreted the audience participation as a way of integrating the community. Over the two days of the school festival, I attended four brass band performances -- each with different members, location, and duration of play. All were reminiscent of my brother’s numerous concerts growing up. Music is a universal form of expression which brings people together, so the familiarity was heartwarming and instantly comforting.

We explored everything the four floors had to offer while weaving through groups of giddy girls ranging from preschool to high school. The photo club covered the classroom walls with images depicting everyday life in Tokyo, reminding me of my first exploration of photography in an academic setting in high school. In contrast, the ikebana (flower arrangement) room had a minimalist aesthetic, filled with fresh flowers my mom and grandmother would love. From the windows of the fourth floor we watched the shodo (calligraphy) performance as my host mother exclaimed, jouzu!, or suteki!, in praise of the students’ skill and beautiful work after the completion of each scroll. We also visited the sadoubu (tea ceremony club), where girls were dressed in gorgeous, colorful kimonos as they elegantly carried out this traditional Japanese practice. The red bean mochi (sticky rice cake) and matcha (powdered green tea) were just as pretty as they were delicious. Unfortunately (and fortunately), my attempt to sit seiza (kneeling with the tops of the feet flat on the floor while sitting on the soles) for the entirety of the ceremony was interrupted when I was kindly presented with a small stool to sit upon for my comfort.

What I found most impressive, however, was a design course called Ad School. Students split into groups and worked to design and produce a commercial for Area Benesse (an educational assistance service) with the guidance of a professional, which would then be shown to employees of Benesse and Dentsu (an international advertising and public relations company). On the second day of the festival, the four groups gathered in the auditorium to see who would be announced the winner. There were three awards: Most Popular (determined by votes during the first day of the school festival), the Dentsu Creative Award (which my host sister’s group won!), and the award for the winner as deemed by Benesse. At the end a panel gave feedback and a lot of constructive criticism to the students. I was delightfully surprised by the extent of the students’ success after all their hard work and dedication. It reminded me to uphold the concept of ganbaru, which is deeply rooted in Japanese society, as I start my own schooling. While this directly translates as “to do one’s best,” it more importantly evokes the idea of persevering until the very end, and additionally its sentiment of determination translates beyond the individual to the community as a whole.  

Excited to finally start school myself, I walked from Yotsuya Station towards the main gate of Sophia University. Around me was a sea of black haired students congregating, happy to see each other after summer break. The majority of girls around me were dolled up in full face makeup and heels -- a stark contrast to myself who sports merely winged eyeliner and Birkenstocks, or combat boots. Although I was overwhelmed by the amount of fast-paced, casual Japanese spoken around me, it mentally prepared me for my first class: Japanese. Finding this classroom wasn’t a problem, however maneuvering the elevators was difficult. Not only because you cram as many people (and their backpacks) in as possible, but because the doors close so quickly. I’ve already lost track of the number of times the metal doors have sandwiched me within a few seconds of stepping in the crowded box. Navigating campus itself was easy since Sophia is a relatively small school with around 12,000 undergraduate students. However, the organization of the courses was rather confusing the first week. At Sophia there’s no capacity for class size, which is convenient since you’re guaranteed registration for all your desired classes. Unfortunately, in order to fit all the students, the classroom is subject to change at any time, so it’s important to keep track of your classroom listings on Sophia’s bulletin board.  

This semester I’m taking a Japanese language course, Gender in Japanese Visual Culture, Japanese Religions, and an Introduction to Linguistics course which looks specifically at English and Japanese. My language class has international students from America, Brazil, France, Germany, Guatemala, Jordan, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This wide range creates a rich context for the discussion of cultural differences in our home countries as we learn social norms and customs in Japan. Thus far, all of my time in Tokyo has been a learning opportunity. Navigating unfamiliar spaces, breaking through language barriers, and discerning differences in a foreign land is not an easy task. Just remember -- there’s people in the same boat as you eager to embrace these waves.

10/17/2015

Tokyo, Trains, and Taking Risks: My First Few Weeks as a Study Abroad Student

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After last minute preparations, hard goodbyes, and a 13 hour plane ride I've finally made it. The Land of the Rising Sun -- a land not quite as foreign as it was four years ago. Although my body traveled 14 hours into the future, my mind is still stuck in limbo and reality has yet to hit me. I'm in Japan. I'm constantly flipping between a mix of excitement, nervousness, and some sadness as if my emotions are TV shows not interesting enough to stick with for more than a minute or two. Luckily, navigating Narita Airport came naturally as I meandered through immigrations, baggage claim, and customs -- at least until I struggled pushing my cart back and forth across the airport in a frogger-like fashion to retrieve my pocket Wi-Fi and meet the CIEE staff. 

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Fast forward -- I've now spent three full days in Japan and am exhausted. It’s not jet lag so much as sensory overload. After welcoming us at the official program opening meeting, we took a bus to Naritasan Temple and roamed freely. We got our おみくじ (paper fortune) and I received bad luck. Under travel it read: "Be cautious as things will not go smoothly." This is not what you want to hear after traveling across the globe. 

At 13:00 (I'm still adjusting to 24 hour time schedules) we drove from Narita to Tokyo eager to see campus for the first time. During my homestay orientation I felt confident -- I've already done two homestays in Japan so I knew the basics of what to expect. However, about 10 minutes before we met our host families, my nerves got the best of me and my heart was racing. I've forgotten all my Japanese. Up to this point everything was conducted in English, so aside from the short conversations I had at the airport I'd only uttered はい (yes)、ありがとうございます (thank you)、and よろしくお願いします(please treat me well) as necessary. Mama-san greeted me with a bright smile while apologizing for her little knowledge of English. Without missing a beat, I automatically responded in Japanese reassuring her it's totally fine then quickly added「すみません夏休みがありましたから日本語がちょっと忘れてしまいました。」Oh. It's totally fine. We both laughed and left to find the train station.

I wish I had a picture to show how crowded Tokyo trains are, but I could not even raise my arms to take one. It was that crowded. Let me describe my route to school: Walk 15 minutes to Shin-Urayasu Station. Take the JR Keiyo Line and become familiar with people flush against every aspect of your body. Transfer at Shinkiba Station to the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line. Sit down and take a nap. Or study 'cause I mean that's why you're here anyway right? Transfer again at Nagatacho Station to the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line. Don't get too comfortable (you can't anyway -- you're most likely pressed against the door) because you get off at the next stop. Arrive at Yotsuya Station and walk to Sophia University. Got it? Good, hopefully I do too. Although everything is exceptionally orderly when entering/exiting on the platforms, anything goes once you're released in the stations. Everyone scatters like ants and beelines to their respective destinations. There's still a flow of traffic and if you disrupt that you hinder not only those immediately surrounding you, but practically everyone moving at the time. An excellent example of why I say you should go with the flow.

Takeaway of the day: Fight the annoying voice in the back of your head telling you to not make a fool of yourself. Make mistakes and learn from your experiences.