Although I returned home a couple of weeks ago, I am still re-adjusting to college life in America. Perhaps because my host family often cooked for me, I forgot quite a few items while shopping for my usual groceries. Because I did not purchase a phone in Japan, I relied on punctual scheduling and specific meeting places; here, I almost panicked before remembering that I could actually use my cell phone to contact family and friends.
I must deliberately stop myself from nodding vigorously and uttering filler aisatsu during conversation. I started to say “sumimasen” when I meant to say “sorry” once while rediscovering the B-Line bike trail. In conversation, I have accidentally thrown in Japanese words. The time difference between Japan and America is around fourteen hours; I have been dozing off at random, inconvenient times throughout the day, and have had trouble sleeping at night. Could these be the effects of reverse culture shock?! Now I realize how extensively both Japan’s language and culture has become integrated into my daily life, and I remain amazed at the way living abroad can have such a significant impact on behavior.
Having been out of the country for five months, however, I find myself enjoying the day’s ordinary activities and making new realizations about many opportunities I had certainly taken for granted before studying abroad. Instead of riding a bus to campus through city streets, I can ride my bike while enjoying the breeze and smell of grass. Whereas Nanzan University had only one bike area, there is a bike rack outside almost every building at IU. In my cabinet is an endless supply of peanut butter, an item so incredibly rare on the shelves of Japanese supermarkets.
Studying abroad provides new direction for life back in one’s home country. Before leaving for Japan, the study abroad program was all I could focus on. Coming back to IU I feel a refreshing enthusiasm; I am ready to tackle a nineteen-credit semester and am thrilled listening to the babbling of English around campus. Plus, students actually yell across walkways to say “hello” whereas in Japan, students do not normally interact with people outside of their groups.
Looking back at time management and thinking about all of the places and events I was able to experience, I feel that balancing academic responsibility with traveling and meeting friends is important for learning not only the language, but the culture as well. Japanese class at Nanzan may have been relatively intense or strict, but together with the other available courses, time spent on campus was an opportunity to observe, compare, and absorb cultural differences. After immersing yourself in a completely new environment, many “normal” activities may be surprisingly dissimilar once you notice those differences. I now know so much more about Japanese lifestyle and believe all my experiences were possible due to cramming school, travel, exercise, and time for new-found friends all in one day, most days.
Living as a ryuugakusei in a country where not many foreigners reside, I found that one of the most rewarding aspects about studying abroad was the relationships made not only between the Japanese, but with people from all different places around the world. I had not expected to meet so many people with such different backgrounds and unique stories to share. Our paths had somehow all converged and together we navigated our way around a foreign country. Despite the loneliness or homesickness that can, at times, be very real, having people to share the same hardships with was a valuable source of support.
As of right now, I am completely satisfied and relieved to be back in Bloomington. Choosing to study abroad was definitely a beneficial decision, though. I return with new perspectives on cultural, social, and academic lifestyles and plan to use what I have learned abroad wherever I can here—especially in Japanese class! I’ve decided to continue studying Japanese so that I may keep in touch with all of the people I met. I’ve also decided to experiment with more Japanese recipes, such as yakionigiri. Although I may have changed, I am glad that Indiana University has remained the same; being back feels fantastic!