Name: Yiwei Lu
Location of Study: Hakodate, Hokkaido
Program of Study: Hokkaido International Foundation
Sponsors: Liu Family
A brief personal bio:
I am from Beijing, China majoring in Chemistry and Japanese. I started out in college having no idea what I wanted to major in and slowly narrowed it down to the sciences, and then Chemistry. I have also been very interested in Japanese literature and pop culture and thus this strange combination of majors is actually perfect for me.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
After graduation from college I am planning to take a gap year where I decide whether I want to pursue studies in chemistry in the form of Pharmacy school or continue improving and learning Japanese. This summer program at Hakodate is the last chance I have to finally decide as I will be a senior next semester. If I pursue my Japanese studies I plan to apply for a position teaching English in Japan. I have already finished a one week TESOL class which helped me obtain the skills needed to become a good teacher. Also the summer program in Hakodate will help me solidify my Japanese major as otherwise I would not have enough credit.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
By the end of the summer, I want to be able to say to myself that I had done my best in talking, exploring, and learning about Japan. Going to Japan is a once in a life time opportunity that I do not want to miss, and thus I want to make the most of it. I want to be on good term with my host family and make lasting friendships with the people I meet in Japan. I also want to significantly increase my Japanese language skills by totally immersing myself into the culture.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Japanese with native speakers in both casual and formal situations.
2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to say I was on good terms with my host family and made lasting friendships with the people I meet in Japan.
3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write and listen at a level of proficiency equal to two semesters beyond my current Japanese level at Notre Dame.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
First of all I plan to attend all of the cultural classes possible, which range from Ikebana (flower arrangement) to traditional dance. All of these sound immensely interesting and are the perfect opportunity to learn more about the culture. At Hakodate there are also weekly chatting sessions with the locals of Hakodate in an uncontrolled environment. This is a change to really gauge my own language level without the help of peers and teachers. Hakodate is a place filled with history and cultural events and I plan to find and attend them. Of course at the same time of doing these events, I will make sure my own studies do not fall behind.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
It has been one week since I arrived to Hakodate and I must say I absolutely love it. I met my host family last weekend. There are 4 people in the family including two kids. A 7 year old girl and a 12 year old boy. The mom and little girl came to pick me up at the hotel we were staying at. Honestly Hana, the little girl, is the cutest. bounciest, little girl I’ve ever seen. She gave me a big hug and handed me a fan she made with the words “Welcome!” written on it decorated with all sorts of pink stickers. I knew this was going to be a wonderful 2 months.
I live only 10 minutes away walking from school so it’s very convenient to get out and about for me. Other kids have train rides ranging from 30min to 1.5hrs. I feel very lucky to live in such a close home. School is definitely a lot harder than it is at Notre Dame. At ND where we might spend 1 day on a grammar point we flash by it in 10min. It’s very challenging, but I love my classmates and teacher. There are events almost every day after class, ranging from cultural to lectures. Last week I had a tea ceremony class and it was an amazing experience.
As for cultural events I have gone to two hot springs already and they really are very very relaxing. I have also experienced Karaoke which is a really fun activity for the weekend. I have also visited bookstores and got excited over rows and rows of stationary and manga. As for tomorrow I plan to go to another one of these bookstores to see if there’s anything I’m looking for and if possible climb Mount Hakodate. It’s been a wonderful week.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
This week was another very cultural filled week. On Wednesday I tried Kendo for the first time. In Kendo the 3 most important terms are, “Men” (for strikes to the head), “Toke” (wrist), and “do” (stomach). After which we were allowed to watch real club practices which were a fantastic experience.
Wednesday night a friend for Notre Dame came to visit HIF as he was a student 2 years ago. We tried to climb Hakodate Mountain but as there are no lights on the mountain path at night we quickly gave up and took the rope trolley instead. It was the foggiest night I’ve ever seen. It was seriously impossible to see further than 5 feet away on the top of the mountain. It was both a good and bad experience just because of how unexpected the fog was.
On Thursday I had archery class which is called Kyudo in Japanese. The teacher first gave us a demonstration. Before the arrow is shot there are many customs and rules to go through first. The teacher looked completely at peace with himself making it a very enlightening experience. One could see the strength in his body as he pulled the string of the bow taught. The arrow went off with a whizzing sound and shot right for the far off target. After, we were given the chance to shoot an arrow as well. After trying the actual bow I realized how hard it is pull the string back far enough for the arrow to even land in the general area of the target. It was a really fun experience even though my arrow went straight for the grass.
Saturday I went to the Botanical Garden in Yunokawa to see the onsen monkeys. Onsen is the word for hot spring in Japanese. The monkeys are kept inside a large enclosure with a small onsen with running water in the corner. These monkeys are famous for jumping into the water during the winter to keep warm but because it’s currently summer I wasn’t able to see that. There was one baby monkey maybe a couple months old that held on to his mother’s back the whole time I was there. It was very cute but I was sort of worried for it as well because the monkeys seemed pretty hostile.
It is now halfway through the Hakodate program and it has been a wonderful experience. I can’t wait for the next half!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Another busy but fun week has passed by. On Friday all the HIF students visited a local elementary school. We were each given a handmade name card beautifully decorated with stickers and origami. The even started off with the kids teaching us the Ika (Squid) dance which is famous in Hakodate. After which we were paired up with the kids and sent off to their separate classrooms. My group had two pair prepared. One was a spinoff of the rock, paper scissors game which is surprisingly popular in Japan and the other was red light green light. The second graders we played with literally gave 110% in all of the games we played. After playing with the kids we made our way to the beach which is conveniently right next to the school. It was quite windy but the view was spectacular.
On Saturday I went to a school festival. School festivals in Japan are a two day event where each class chooses a theme and decorates the class room to fit that theme. There are also events connected to that theme as well. For example popular ones are haunted classrooms where the students will literally make a maze with cardboard, paint it black, and have students walking around in white make-up grabbing and scaring people. I get scared really easily so I’m sure they must have felt satisfied when they heard me screaming. Another popular one is a cafe. There were around 5 and each had very extensive decorations. For example there was a Ghibli themed one and also a Chocolate Factory themed one. Overall it was a very fun experience and I would love to go to another one.
Saturday night was the Hanabi (fireworks) festival so the whole family set up a Japanese barbeque on the veranda and we sat eating meat and veggies, drinking beer, and talking the night away while watching the fireworks. The feeling you get when you are completely at peace with yourself even with the rambunctious noises around you is hard to describe with words, but that’s how I felt at the moment. I feel so lucky to be able to have been able to meet and stay with such a wonderful host family.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
There is only 2 weeks left in the program. My goodness has time traveled fast. This week was another busy one as well.
On Friday after class a group of us went to a Kaiten sushi restaurant which means a sushi restaurant where the sushi is served on a conveyer belt in the center of the room. I asked what the recommendation for today was and the chef said it was live squid. I decided to be adventurous and give it a try and the next few minutes were quite awesome. A live squid is taking out of the tank and first the little fin on the top of the squids head is cut off. Then, as it is still alive the head part is pulled off the tentacles part. This was honestly very strange to see and the shop keeper then placed the still moving tentacles in a plate and placed it in front of us. Even without a brain they were still twitching for a good 2 minutes. The squid such was then served to us and is was the freshest thing I’ve ever eaten.
Saturday morning I had a Japanese sweets class that I attended. The sweets we made were very sweet which is why usually they are served with tea. The hardest part about making the sweets was the color. A bit a food coloring is used but in order to make the sweets look as beautiful as possible an exact amount of coloring should be used. Since we made two of each the exact coloring was tough. This experience was very fun and I’d love to do it again.
On Saturday evening I told my host mom that I sort of missed American food so she suggested making pizza for dinner. She made everything by hand from scratch. From the dough to the tomato sauce, it was all handmade. We made 3 in total with weird and extravagant flavors like pork and kimchi, tuna and fish eggs, and the most normal one sausage. They were all very good though. As we were eating pizza we also sang karaoke at the same time. The karaoke machines in Japan will rate will when you finish singing and for some reason I always got the lowest score. According to my host dad it has something to do with holding the microphone. I hope he wasn’t lying to me haha.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This week has been full of going out shopping for souvenirs. One thing that Japan has that is not that common in other countries is bath salts. In a common drug store there is a complete section dedicated to just salts. This is probably because people in Japan love taking baths, and what better way to spice it up than adding different fragrances and bubbles. I bought quite a few for friends and family.
A store that I have really enjoyed in Japan is called Book-off, and also Book Market. These are second hand manga /anime/character goods stores where they usually sell for much less than the asking price. They even have vintage games from as far back as the SNES. I’ve spent quite a bit of money there and is possibly the biggest reason why my luggage is so heavy.
I went to see the new Pokemon movie last Thursday. Movie tickets in Japan are much more expensive than America. A ticket for an adult is $18 and for kids I think it is around $10. The popcorn and snacks however are a bit cheaper. I got a small popcorn for 3 dollars. Overall though, Japan is still more pricey. The movie was really enjoyable and I was proud that I could understand most of the dialogue and follow along with the plot, even if the movie is for kids.
There’s a lot going on this week; the final test, the good-bye party, and also the Port Festival which I am really looking forward to. Last week here I come!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
The last week at Hakodate is here. I think all of us are trying really hard to pretend it’s not here yet. As we were walking down the hill of HIF for the last time a friend said, “This is the last time I’ll be walking on this tile!!” It was funny and sad at the same time.
All of us have come so far in these 2 months. Our Japanese has improved and we’ve made such good friends as well. It’s hard to believe that 2 months ago we were all fresh faces, confused and a little lost. At the Goodbye party each class had a different performance, from dances to singing to haiku. People started crying and when other people cry you want to cry too. We kept saying that we would visit each other and I really hope that we will.
My little sister Hana has become inseparable from my side since she realized I’ll be leaving tomorrow. It’s really sweet and cute. For tonight my host mom has let me decide the menu and I chose to eat shapushapu which is a dish where different meats and vegetables are boiled in a pot and eaten with sauce. It’s really good. 🙂
If anyone was to ask me about whether or not to go to Hakodate I would definitely say yes. Sure, Hakodate is a small city. There isn’t much of a night life or anything like that but you’ll be so busy you won’t even miss it. The yummiest beer and soft cream ice cream can be found here. Best friends will be found at the bowling alley and the karaoke place. The most beautiful view can be seen from Hakodate Mountain and if you catch the sunset it’s even prettier. A host family experience is very different from a dorm experience. One feels so much more at place and the experience is much more rewarding. Yes, of course I would come here again.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains, my summer language abroad experience overall, and how I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
Overall I think my Japanese skills have improved immensely. My three goals were
1. Speak in casual Japanese
This skill is hard to notice by myself but my host mom has told me that it improved immensely. Mostly because I
talk with my host sister and brother every day this gotten a lot of practice.
2. Do activities with the host parents
Since I was already the 8th student my host family had hosted there weren’t that many activities we did together other
eating together. On one hand I had a lot more freedom to explore the city and this I did very much. The local bus system
is extremely convenient.
3. Go to culture events
I attended nearly all of the cultural events provided at my school and they were all very interesting and fun.
Over these 8 weeks many of my little dreams were fulfilled. Such as attending a school festival, going to a matsuri, going to a maid cafe etc. I feel very grateful to have been given the opportunity to study abroad in my 4 years at college. Before going to
Japan I was wondering what I would do during the gap year I have before applying for Pharmacy school and now I’m pretty
sure I want to spend it in Japan. Who knows, I might even stay there.