I am a fourth year university student studying in Okayama, Japan. Many people asked me why I chose to study in a smaller city like Okayama when there are obviously merits to living in a big city (more options for entertainment, more of a cosmopolitan ambience, generally more exciting, etc). However, there is less of an incentive to speak Japanese when there are so many foreigners living in the bigger cities. In any case, my experience living in Okayama so far has been wonderful. In the past four months, I have made many good friends, had some truly memorable experiences and learnt a lot of Japanese!
In fact, I was originally planning to take only one semester of study in Japan, but towards the end I decided to extend my stay to a full year. Truly, I now understand that as an exchange student you cannot really immerse yourself into the culture unless you stay in the host country for a year. I thought long and hard about my decision because it meant that I would not be able to see my family and friends from Australia for a long time. However, I decided that the opportunity was too good to lose. I really want to develop closer relationships with the friends I have made here, improve my Japanese speaking ability, and grow into a more confident and self-reliant person. These are my current goals.
At times, there have been frustrating and difficult moments when communicating with people because of cultural differences. However, I do believe it is important to always try to see the good points when those situations arise. For me, they were not as acute as ‘culture shock’ because this is my second time in Japan. When these difficult moments occur due to misunderstandings, I find that communication is very important. Do not shut yourself off from the people around you. It is best to communicate honestly if you are concerned about something.
Overall though, I can confidently say that the good times DEFINITELY outweigh the more challenging moments during my exchange. It is difficult to sum up all the amazing experiences because there are so many! One of those memorable experiences for which I will be eternally grateful occurred during my first week in Japan. I was on the shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Tokyo and happened to be standing next to an older Japanese lady who, noticing I was a foreigner, began to speak to me in English. We had a good conversation using both Japanese and English and, later, just before getting off the train she gave me her phone number and told me to get in contact with her if I was ever to visit Hiroshima, her hometown. Two months later, I was in Hiroshima for three days and stayed at this lady’s house with her family during that time! I cannot explain just how grateful I was for such genuine hospitality, but this experience is something that I will never forget.
Meeting so many wonderful and kind people who will give up so much of their time to help you have a good experience has really touched me. It has inspired me to do the same for friends and show kindness to strangers. This is one of the most important things I have learnt while on exchange in Japan. I hope to learn many more things while I am here! 🙂
Dressed up in yukata (summer kimono) for sightseeing in Kyoto
In front of A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima