Name: Arlia Delphonse
Location of Study: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture
Program of Study: Princeton in Ishikawa
Sponsors: Liu Family
A brief personal bio:
I am a rising Junior and I study Japanese language, with a supplementary major in Asian Studies. I’m interested in languages and language pedagogy in general. After earning my Bachelor’s degree I would like to attend graduate school (probably studying linguistics).
I like reading and writing, so I am constantly engaged in finding and making stories.
My trip to Japan will be my first time abroad — an important milestone in anyone’s life! I’m excited to see how I grow from this experience as a person.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
I started taking the language in my sophomore year rather than my freshman year, but because Japanese is my major, I must advance as far as possible. Attending this summer program, which covers two years’ worth of coursework, can help me make up for lost time.
A stronger foundation in Japanese will also help me reach my career goals. I am interested in working at a US Embassy and/or attending graduate school in Japan. Or, perhaps I might teach English in Japan prior to returning to the US to teach Japanese.
While I need language proficiency in order to live and study or work in Japan, I will also need cultural proficiency, an understanding of Japanese culture that cannot be gained from classroom experience alone. I need immersion experience in Japan so that I can grow to understand the nuances of Japanese etiquette and social behaviors that differ from my American ones. With that knowledge, I will be a much better candidate for for embassy work and a more qualified English teacher, able to explain differences between Japanese and American culture, and, more importantly, able to gain my students’ trust and respect because I can operate within their culture.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
As I stated in my bio, my summer in Japan will be my first experience traveling outside of the United States. Yet, I am already planning to study abroad in Japan for the entire 2014-15 academic year. So an important facet of this summer experience, for me, is becoming more comfortable with Japanese language and culture so that my academic year abroad will be a little less overwhelming. I will obviously gain some language skill — hopefully two years’ worth of grammar and course hours. I should also get some of the culture shock out of the way, especially pertaining to food and family life. Overall, I am happy to have this opportunity to make my transition to living in Japan smoother and more gradual.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to recognize and read approximately 600 kanji, and to produce at least 400 of these characters.
2. By the end of the summer, I will have experienced various communication situations that are necessary to becoming comfortable with elementary Japanese (including, but not limited to, shopping, going to the bus/train station, and asking for directions).
3. By the end of the summer, I will be prepared to test into Fourth Year Japanese when I begin to study at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, in the fall.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
While studying in Kanazawa, I will have three major opportunities to truly experience Japanese culture and interact with native speakers outside of my main class. First, traditional arts lessons at the Ishikawa International Lounge vary from Ikebana (flower arrangement) to cooking to pottery, and may also include trips to see professionals making art (such as at a Noh theatre performance) and to sites of cultural significance. Next, I will have the chance to attend and even perform at Hyakumangoku Matsuri, one of the major cultural festivals held in Kanazawa.
But overall, the best opportunity that I have to engage with the community is through getting to know my host family. I plan to actively participate in family meals by listening intently and speaking when I can. I would like to attend events with my family and even run errands to the grocery store or around town. I will make a special effort to spend time with any children in the family by playing games and going places with them, as well as joining them in hobbies that they enjoy (sports, for instance).
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Here are some thoughts from my first week in Japan:
In Japanese, jet lag is “jisaboke.” My host dad taught me that word, commenting on how groggy I was at the dinner table on Sunday night.
On our first day, we had a test (our placement test for language classes). The writing test was very difficult, but the speaking test wasn’t too bad. During the writing test I forgot a lot of kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese language) so I was disappointed. But I think the speaking test went well. The professor was very nice, so talking with her was fun.
Speaking Japanese is fun, but between jet lag and having only studied the language for one year, it’s really difficult. For instance, when I left the house on Monday morning I said “tadaima” when I should have said “ittekimasu.” “Tadaima” is what you say when you get home. Also, I am always asking questions. I always ask my host mom. She and my host dad are very kind people.
Here are some things I’ve noticed about Kanazawa; some may apply to Japan overall.
Everyone wears nice clothes. It seems more important to dress nicely/attractively here.
Buses are convenient. In big cities in the US, this is the case, but if it’s not Chicago, buses are never convenient.
Many people ride bicycles. (Especially children going to school.)
People don’t eat when they are walking or when they are on the bus. In the US, people eat all the time.
There are a lot of vending machines. and many of them have different items. The drinks are delicious. There isn’t much soda, but the drinks they have are inexpensive. (At Monday lunch, an Orangina was 120 yen or about $1.20)
Recycling is important. You can even recycle plastic bags! In my hometown, you can’t do that.
Other things that are common in Japan:
– Wearing slippers in the house, never wearing your shoes into the house
-Fancy toilets. When I got to Narita Airport in Tokyo, I thought of them as ‘rocket ship toilets’ because they have a ton of complicated-looking buttons.
-Everyone is on time or early. I have taken the bus three times so far, and each time it came right on the dot (at 3:56 or at 11:23).
Sometimes in the middle of whatever I am doing — eating dinner, talking with classmates, sitting on the bus — I get really overwhelmed by culture shock and I get scared. Already, there have been a few times where I’ve felt that I’m not ready to be here. I could never be polite enough, I keep forgetting words or mispronouncing them, and I never know how low to bow. I know that I will learn from my mistakes, but I don’t want to make mistakes in the first place! In those times when it does get so overwhelming, I tell myself to breathe because about 20 minutes later, I’ll be back to thinking “This is so amazing!”
What’s toughest about speaking is being polite and softening your words. For example, while I could grammatically say “I want this,” it sounds rather blunt. And although I know how to soften that phrase, when I am talking with someone I panic and want to speak faster, so I end up sounding so blunt! I hope that people are understanding since I am learning, but I need to stop worrying about trying to speak quickly.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Week 2: At the beginning of the week, I was not at all confident about my ability to learn Japanese. Here’s something I wrote a little earlier in the week:
“This week has got to be the most frustrating week EVER. It’s my second week of class, so I’m getting settled into the routine of doing homework and such, but I feel like my Japanese is at a standstill! I haven’t found many chances, outside of school-related activities or daily life with my host family, to speak Japanese. I’m getting worried that I’m not taking enough risks in my speaking. I’m shy in the US, so what if I am too shy to properly learn another language?
I don’t have an answer to that yet — I’m hoping that I’ve just hit the biggest wall of culture shock/language-learning frustration, and that soon enough I’ll feel better and my Japanese will have improved without me worrying too much.”
But here’s what has happened since then:
First, a little more on how I’m feeling about the language-learning process: On Wednesday after class, we watched a lecture by a literature professor named Nanyan Guo. She is Chinese and lectured in English about Japanese poetry… poetry written in Japanese by an American who also spoke English, Italian, and Tamil. The writer’s name is Arthur Binard, and he moved to Japan in 1990 with very little Japanese knowledge, but is now a well-renowned writer here for looking at Japanese language through a different lens. He is respectful of the culture but also very humorous, so a lot of Japanese people like his approach.
So, the lecturer, Professor Guo, emphasized the strengths of being a foreigner learning a new language: namely, that you notice things that native speakers take for granted, and these things — wordplay, cultural observations, new phrases — can be taken and shared with native speakers and, if the timing is right, they can be appreciated and discussed. There’s even a Japanese linguist who believes that with the influx of people learning Japanese, foreigners are going to lead the way in making the language more efficient (something I also read about in a book by linguist John McWhorter; because language learners often apply regular rules to irregular verbs, etc, they reveal the ways in which the language is confusing and not user-friendly. If accepted, as often happens over time, these changes make the language more efficient. Cool stuff, eh?).
Overall, the lecture was very encouraging. I have a feeling that the author, Arthur Binard, is a bit of a prodigy when it comes to language, but it was cool to think about how foreigners have some cool opportunities when learning a language. I feel kind of lucky to have an outsider lens through which to learn new languages. I don’t feel 100% better about my Japanese learning — I still think I’m making slow progress, and I worry that I don’t speak enough — but I feel a little more capable of learning the language now. It’s not impossible.
Also, Professor Guo was just really cool. I could listen to her talk about languages all day. She works at a Japanese studies institution in Kyoto, so I think I will try to go there in the fall/spring. Maybe I could work there someday!
For our last hour of class on Friday, all the second-years made makizushi (rolled sushi). We even had a little competition, and out of about 30 people, I came in second! Inside the sushi we put crab meat, cooked egg, cucumber, and avocado. Pretty tasty!
Finally, on Saturday, I went to a folk dance class with some of my classmates. We did some of the same dances we learned for last weekend’s parade and also learned a new dance. Afterward, however, was the most fun: a Japanese woman who works at the cultural center stopped me and complimented me on my hair (I have a curly, curly afro), and asked if she could take a picture! Long story short, I ended up talking with a bunch of women who work or frequent the cultural center — and mostly in Japanese! It was so much fun. My head really hurt last night, but I take that as a sign that I was really using my Japanese! I will see some of these women again at the cultural center, too, so I’m happy to have found new acquaintances and conversation partners. I think I have said this before: the students who I study with are very nice, but we speak English too often! I love these outside opportunities to speak Japanese.
Also, I love that I was so lucky to get this attention because of my hair! I had been feeling a little self-conscious about it, because I would catch people on the street staring and they seemed to think I looked really, really weird. It was nice to hear compliments (of course) and to be able to start a positive conversation, all because of my hair. That’s what I call a good hair day (ba-dum-tsss).
Overall, this week was very busy, and I had some ups and downs about how I’m doing, learning the language (I get that test back tomorrow, I think…). But in the end I am so happy to be here, and I am making sure to relax and have fun, and not stress *too* much about grades.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Weeks 3/4: I’ve been a bit pouty for the past week . Part of it was an exam looming over my head. 3 hours of pain, finally over! It’s nice to breathe again. But, I think it was more than that. I talked to another student today and turns out that homesickness is pretty common around this time — as of tomorrow, I will have been in Japan for one month!
This past week I also had an unfortunate experience in which I was reminded a bit too well that I am a foreigner. It was nothing serious — I was not physically harmed. It just made me shaky. Some woman I didn’t know touched my arm in the department store, because my skin looks different. Not a huge deal, I’ve heard of it happening to other foreigners before, but it made me feel kinda bad. I know that I am an outsider, and I am okay with that, but it made me think of some of the racial microaggressions I have experienced in the United States for being mixed or for being black. It made me sad, because I often joke about how much I look like a foreigner, even though there are Japanese people who look a little like me: mixed Japanese people, as well as immigrants. So, little jokes, as well as experiences like the one that I had in the department store, reinforce these ideas that foreigners or people who look different cannot make Japan their home in the way that Japanese people or people who pass as Japanese can. Again, there are similar problems in the United States.
Anyway, long story short: after being so forwardly branded as a foreigner, I feel like I have regressed a little in my Japanese skills. I still have the knowledge in my head, but I am more cautious and nervous about speaking. Homesickness hasn’t helped that.
To combat these combined discomforts, homesickness in particular, I’ve made a list of some of my favorite things about Japan:
Gyoza: Originally a Chinese dish, these pan-fried dumplings are so delicious! The ones in Notre Dame’s cafeteria cannot compare. Even the ones from the supermarket bento section are good…
Inarizushi: Rice wrapped in fried tofu makes a nice, sweet sushi.
Sashimi: Raw fish. I can’t eat all of it — for instance, I don’t really like the texture of raw cod — but most of the raw fish I’ve tried, I’ve liked.
Fish in general: My host family was worried that they were feeding me too much fish and that I wanted to eat meat. While I do like meat, I actually eat a lot of fish when I’m at home, so the Japanese diet is not so different to me.
Cheap Orangina: This French juice/soda drink is all over Kanazawa. Even in vending machines!!! And it’s actually affordable!!! It’s SO EXPENSIVE IN THE U.S., ARGHHH! I must drink as much of it as I can while I am here.
Cheap manga (comic books): Of course, what’s produced in Japan is gonna be cheaper in Japan than in the U.S. I’ve read one series, Fruits Basket, in English, so I hope that it will not be too much of a challenge to read in Japanese. There are furigana (letters from the syllabary system) next to all of the kanji (borrowed Chinese characters), so the main challenge will be learning new vocabulary.
Erasable pens: Erasable pens that actually erase. Apparently there are highlighters, too.
No jaywalking: Not that I find jaywalking to be an unforgivable crime, but I get anxious in the US when I don’t jaywalk, because I worry that everyone thinks I’m a nerd for waiting for the light. Here, almost everyone waits for the light, and jaywalking is weird.
I’ll keep finding new things I like as I enter the second “semester” of my summer!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Wow, the second semester of this program has been absolutely insane. I have been studying so much kanji and grammar that I hardly remember one lesson before we move on to the next. It has been frustrating — most of us, at this point, wish that we could stay in Japan without having to go to class or do homework.
Anyway, I have done a lot of fun stuff since I last posted!
First, one weekend I went to the Noh Museum with my friend. We got to try on a Noh costume and walk around a bit. It is really hard to see through the mask, so walking isn’t easy.
That same weekend, I went to the Kanazawa International Friendship Festival, which had food an exhibits from countries around the world. Many people asked to take pictures with me and my fabulous hair, and I even met another international student with Haitian parents!!! One Japanese woman came up to us and another Caribbean girl to ask how to do her mixed daughter’s hair. It was a fun bonding experience
Next, last week Friday I went to the local university for the international studies club casual talk event. I met the Haitian girl again and made some new Japanese friends, too. Experiences like these make me feel so much more confident in my Japanese skills. Also, it was nice to finally hang out with Japanese people my age in a casual setting — we had visited the university before, but had to participate in a formal discussion, which didn’t leave much time for sharing funny stories or talking about our own interests.
These experiences have also helped me feel more positive about relations with foreigners in Japan. For every person who treats me strangely — staring too long, or touching my arm — there are so many more open minded people who are happy to talk to anyone who is learning Japanese.
Further, all of these events — learning about culture or just hanging out and speaking Japanese — make me really remember why I started studying the language. My study program here has gotten very difficult, to the point that I don’t enjoy studying for class, but when I think about the language in reflecting on my experiences outside of class, I feel motivated again. This language is beautiful, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to keep getting better and better at Japanese.
I also recently went on a trip to Noto peninsula, where I saw, among other things, a Buddhist temple, a Shinto shrine, and the beach. I also got to experience onsen, the baths! I loved the onsen– I have never felt so relaxed in my life. Plus, afterward we got to wear yukata (summer kimono) and everyone looked so pretty! I definitely want to go to an onsen again… maybe next semester.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Week 7: One week left!
Welp, time has flown by. I can’t believe I’m going home on Saturday. I’ll be sad to leave my host family, my new friends, and Kanazawa… but luckily, I’ll be back in Japan in September, meeting my new host family and more new friends!
FIRST: Big news — my language program had a speech contest, with preliminary rounds for each class level (2, 2.5, and 3) and a final round for the top 6 second years, top 2 2.5-years, and top 2 third years. I qualified for finals as number 5 in my class…. and came in 3rd place in the final contest! I wrote a speech about mixed race people in Japan. It was fun to write, and although I was nervous I had a great time performing it. Plus, as I am a mixed person, I was happy to get to tell people about mixed race people in general! Some other mixed folks came up to me after the speech and said that they liked my speech, so I think I did alright!
Now, back to touristy events:
Last week Sunday, I went with some friends to Shirakawa, a small town in Gifu prefecture known for its weather-resistant but handmade roofs. The town is surrounded by mountains, and although it was raining all day, it was beautiful. With all the foliage and the mist from the rain, I kept thinking of the “Misty Mountain Song” from The Hobbit.
Then, this weekend I went to Pokemon: The Movie XY with some friends. It was a lot of fun — I played the Pokemon games and watched the anime a lot when I was little — and I was surprised at how much dialogue I understood! Aside from the Pokemon noises, I mean (the Pokemon don’t say words, but their human trainers do). It was also good practice for the upcoming exam, because one of the characters was a princess and was therefore addressed with keigo, or formal/honorific language. Keigo is used by shopkeepers, waiters, and businesspeople throughout Japan, but most people don’t know how to use keigo properly until they start job training. It’s really hard to understand as an exchange student! But, usually people realize that you don’t understand more formal Japanese and switch to simpler, polite language.
Overall, it’s been a fun week. There aren’t any places that I feel like I absolutely must go to before returning home. I got to most of those places earlier in my trip. So, now I have plenty of time to study for my final exam!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Week 8: Owari! The End.
It’s not over, who am I kidding? I’ll be back in Japan in September. But my summer program, Princeton in Ishikawa, is over! Wow!
Walking out of the 3 hour final exam was a wonderful experience. I can’t believe that I finished so much Japanese language coursework in one summer. I don’t know if I have even processed all of the new grammar yet — we moved so fast! — but I’m proud that I survived, and even got some sleep. And, judging by how I keep accidentally saying Japanese words when speaking to my American parents since I’ve returned home, I’ve made some decent language acquisition gains, as well.
And while I am lucky in that I get to return to Japan in the fall, it was sad to say goodbye to my friends and classmates.
On the last day, instead of going to class, we had a short graduation ceremony and then a farewell party with the professors and host families. Each class had to perform for the crowd, so my class sang a song called “Sukiyaki” or “Ue wo muite arukou,” meaning “I look up as I walk.” It’s a very famous old song in Japan, and it’s a little sad, but it has a nice lil’ beat and is not too difficult to sing.
After that, we enjoyed some other student performances including violin, a cappella, and dance, and we watched a slide show and teased each other about how we looked in pictures. It was then that I realized just how many great people I got to meet this summer. Will we all keep in touch? No, I wish we could. But, I am so happy to have met everyone. I came into this program nervous as the only student from my school, and I left having made some real friends.
On this trip, I learned a lot about Japan and Japanese language, of course, and I learned a lot about my interests and what I want to do with my life. I’ve been interested in travel for a while, but this, my first trip out of the United States, really confirms my interest. I will do my best to find/create a job that allows me to travel, speak my Japanese, and learn more languages, too. Best of all, on this point, is that now I am confident in my ability to take care of myself when I am far from home (college is a big step, but stepping into Narita Airport felt a little bigger). I also dealt with emotions surrounding being a foreigner in a new country, and learned how to work through these feelings.
I learned a lot about how to make friends, too. I am very introverted so 50 new people to meet and work with was quite an adventure!
In the end, I am so thankful to have gotten to go to Kanazawa for the summer. From language skills to people skills, I learned so much, and I feel prepared to take on a year of study abroad in Japan. Thank you.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Since 2 months is not a long time, I was surprised that, upon returning home from my summer language abroad experience, I found myself missing speaking Japanese. I was even using Japanese words by accident in English conversation because now Japanese comes quickly to my head. I’m far from fluent, but I’m able to respond to simple questions without having to think in English then translate to Japanese.
I also learned a lot about mannerisms while in Japan. For example, it is kind of hard to explain when it is proper to bow, and how low to bow, but after being in real-life bowing situations, I know a bit more about what to do when. I don’t think I’ll ever be perfect at it, but I’m definitely better at it than before.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
My summer language abroad experience was my first time leaving the United States, so it came with some special anxieties. I worried about missing my flights to Japan, about taking the wrong bus from the airport, about getting lost in Kanazawa, about making friends, about being polite, etc. Most of these worries never became a reality (or at least never hindered my experience). And from what anxieties, as well as triumphs, I experienced, I learned that I am a strong and capable person.
Furthermore, while I had worried that somehow I would go to Japan but not improve in Japanese at all, I learned that that is nearly impossible. For one thing, between attending daily class, staying with a host family, and exploring Kanazawa, I would have had to make an effort to only hang out with students from my program to speak English. But from reflecting on my time in Kanazawa now that I am one week into my study abroad experience in Nagoya, I realized just how much Japanese I acquired, and I learned that the human brain is made for language use and acquisition.
Part of what guides this acquisition is the human need for (and appreciation of) interaction. Of course I worried about my relationship with my host family and about approaching other native speakers, but it was not impossibly difficult. Instead of avoiding speaking opportunities, I found myself looking for more and more opportunities every day. I went to organized conversation tables and talked to store owners whenever I could. I talked to people at the bus stop and at museums. My goal in talking to people was not always to improve my Japanese — it was just to have even a momentary connection, or to get an answer to a question — but through this regular practical use of the language, I acquired it.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competencies in the future:
One thing that immersion experience gave me was a better understanding of what makes a good translation. Literally translating phrases usually doesn’t work simply because of grammar, but I think connotation plays a larger role in making or breaking translations. While rearranging grammatical structures can be done with a textbook, translating connotation is best gained through experience using the language with native speakers, normal people. A good translation sounds natural, taking the connotation/associated feelings of a phrase in one language and finding a phrase in another language with corresponding connotation/associated feelings.
After direct experience with good translation as well as awkward translation, I think that I would enjoy a career as a translator. Like many students studying Japanese I read Japanese comics (manga), and I would jump at the chance of a job translating manga into English. I’m also interested in attending graduate school, possibly abroad, and in academia the more languages you speak, the better. With my growing Japanese skills, I can access more scholarly sources and participate in more conversations.
Whatever career path I choose, I know that my summer language abroad experience will have contributed to my success.