My Experience – Q&A

Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.

   After my experience abroad, I know for a fact that my understanding of Japanese has definitely improved. Other than just learning more about the language itself, I now find it easier to understand what people are saying in Japanese (as well as pick up phrases in the anime I watch) and respond articulately. I had fairly low expectations for my goals in traveling abroad, but knowing how much I have actually improved has made me realize my goals were met far beyond what I could have expected. Studying in another country truly does enhance your mastering of a language, as well as further your understanding of the country’s culture, which in turn emphasizes differences between that country and your own. For me, just simply interacting with objects and people in Japan on a daily basis helped me to engage in the country and language.

Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall.

   Japan is the third country to which I have traveled abroad to, but it hasn’t been any less of an impactful experience. In fact, since the city I was living in spoke almost wholly Japanese and little English, it may have been one of the most enlightening study abroad trips I’ve been on. It has made me realize that even if people speak different languages, have varying customs, or just generally act differently, we’re all still the same at the core. We all laugh at what we find humorous and have conversations about the strangest topics. Every time I travel, it makes me remember, bit by bit, that the world is a lot smaller than it seems, even while containing about 7.5 billion people. Anyways, other than the philosophical perspective I gained from the experience, it was a great learning opportunity. For those seeking the SLA Grant or considering studying abroad, I highly recommend going somewhere you know you’ll have an interest in and won’t get bored of easily. Every place has something to offer if you take the time to look for it.

How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future?

   After my study abroad, I planned to take the next level of Japanese language, which is what I’m currently doing. From here, I hope to continue learning Japanese during my time in college, and trying to apply to opportunities that require an understanding of the particular language. A huge possibility I am considering is the JET program, which sends students to teach English in Japan for about two years. Although none of my future plans are set in stone, a possible path I could take includes working in Japan as a teacher if I enjoy my time in the JET program, or working at a company that translates Japanese texts and shows to English. Either way, I hope to integrate my knowledge into my future career, and I have the SLA Grant to thank for allowing me to learn as much as I did and help me find out what I want to use my Japanese for.


四週間、Another Post

Wowie, it has been a bit of time since my last post. Really, the cause of it has been that, since I’ve really only been improving my knowledge of the Japanese language since I’ve been here, there haven’t been too many hiccups in trying to communicate that are extraordinarily different from the ones I’ve already talked about. That, and because since we’re winding down in the second half of the program, there’s been a bunch more work regarding studying for the final tests and presentations. Regardless, I do still have some stories to share in terms of communication difficulties.

Last week, my host family threw a party for another teacher’s birthday. As in usual scenes, I sat at a table crowded with food, with about six adults talking about who-knows-what around me. As they were handing around dishes, one filled with yakitori, or grilled meat on sticks, passed by, and I took a few of the sticks. The older sister I’m staying with asked me if I knew what one of the mysterious meats was, a kind of meat I hadn’t seen before then. I shook my head, and she and another teacher proceeded to tell me it was “riba”, which I couldn’t really understand. It was late in the day after a tiring day of school, and my brain was barely functioning. One of the main differences in pronunciation between Japanese and English is with various letters, such as “l” and “v”. Our “l”s sound like “r”s and our “v” sound like “b”s. So if I was to say “larva” for instance, a Japanese person will most likely pronounce it “raruba”. This did not click in my head, however, and I just went ahead and took a bite of the meat. As soon as it hit my tongue, I had a sudden realization that they were trying to tell me the meat was liver, something I had never tried before and, frankly, never wanted to. That was the one and only piece of liver I ate that night.

Another instance of language misusage wasn’t even from me. It just goes to show you that even those with Japanese as their native language can mess up, which is common sense considering how often we English speakers make mistakes in trying to talk our native tongue. Anyways, after lunch today, the sisters and I went to a cake shop to buy some sweets to eat later in the evening. As the clerk packed up the cakes we had decided on, I inclined my head and said, “Thank you,” in Japanese. The younger sister, who had just paid, said, “ごちそうさま” at the same moment, only to realize what she had said and laugh at herself. The phrase, “gochisousama”, is typically said after you eat and is basically used to show gratitude for the food. She and her older sister laughed it off, even pointing out how I had responded correctly, yet the younger sister didn’t. It goes to show that even if we’re worried to practice a language because we don’t want to look stupid in front of people who can speak it fluently, they make the same mistakes as we do.

The last event I’m going to detail is a conversation that happened tonight. As we ate the cakes we had bought previously and were watching TV, I asked the older sister about how Japanese use keigo, the honorific way of talking. That led to a discussion about addressing teachers and whatnot, and the differences between how Japanese and American teachers are seen in society. Mind you, I couldn’t really offer any sound points because of my lack of Japanese-speaking capabilities, but I could sort of get what she was saying and asking overall. It got to a point though, that after I told her that, in America, teachers in college are addressed differently than those in lower education, she tried asking me something about high school and elementary school teachers. I didn’t know what she was saying, so she brought up google translate, something she often does when I don’t understand her. However, when she said her phrase into her phone and showed it to me, the translation on the screen was “helluva”. I chuckled, knowing google translate had messed up somewhere along the line, and when the sisters asked why I was laughing, I told them simply that it was weird English. The older sister tried looking up synonyms to her previous word and eventually found a correct definition, but I still thought back to google’s mistake and kept cracking a smile. They couldn’t understand why I was still finding it funny, but I didn’t know how to express the reason other than it was funny. This happens some of the time though, so I really only laugh it off and then try to find a more effective way to translate what I’m saying.

Anyways, those are some of the language mishaps that have occurred in the past four weeks. I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I think having an update that’s entirely text and story-based isn’t a bad idea once in a while. Regardless, thank you for reading!

小さい Update

Other than grinding out the homework this past week, there hasn’t been too much excitement in the realm of learning Japanese recently. The relationship of language between my host family and me has certainly improved, and I’m sure it will continue that way, but I’ve been also becoming more acquainted with the area we’re residing in, another asset to having this program centered in a smaller city than, let’s say, Tokyo.

Along with the language classes we are required to take for the program, there is also an assortment of culture classes that are offered for us to pick from. One of these is called “sado”, which means tea ceremony, and I, along with a few of my friends, signed up to attend. We traveled to a local all-girls high school where their sado club brought us treats and green tea to make ourselves.

This was my finished product after stirring. Other than our interaction with the food, we had the opportunity to converse with the students as well. Although my conversation with the first girl to help me fell a bit flat (I completely forgot the word for “country” and she tried asking me where I was from), I was able to upkeep some dialogue with the second girl that stood near me. Her English was incredibly good, and I was pleasantly astounded with how easy it was to talk to her. Her skill in my native language definitely trumps any skill of mine in speaking hers.

Finally, the last event I wanted to talk about was the trip to Onuma Park everyone in the program participated in this past weekend. We barely had to talk in Japanese except when paying for miscellaneous things, so it was relaxing just to walk around and enjoy the nature without being overly stressed. It was a beautiful view (of one I have a picture of below), and I was really glad to walk and row around the small islands.

Saturday night was the talent show of the program, something I’m not sure many of us were looking forwards to, as each class had been practicing a dance they would each perform in front of everyone else. After a filling dinner, my class was up first, but thankfully our robotic dance moves were performed swiftly and we were off that stage before we knew it. After that was karaoke, and although some people were daring enough to sing in Japanese, my friend and I stuck to the basics – songs in English. The trip was overall enjoyable, but I was happy to return the next day.

As soon as I was picked up from the bus which had left from Onuma, the younger sister drove me to the church, where the elder was. We waited for Mass to finish, and that was when I had a bit of an embarrassing encounter. The older sister gave me a “present”, she said, and told me to go thank one of the gentlemen sitting in the pews once Mass concluded. Typical me, I misunderstood and thought I was giving him the origami as a gift of thanks for something I couldn’t remember, when, in actuality, he had gave the origami to me.  So, once I reached him, I held out the origami and said my thanks, becoming a bit confused when he didn’t accept what I was holding. Now, remember, both he and the host sisters were talking in Japanese to me this whole while, so I had a bit of an excuse for messing this up. Luckily, I got the message after a few short exchanges, and he didn’t seem to register my mess-up.

Other than that, my week was pretty mundane. The sisters and I traveled to see the night view of Mt. Hakodate, which was breathtaking and something you could really only experience being there. I’m hoping to return and see the view during the day with my friend. Anyways, until then, thanks for reading!

Second Go-Around

So, this is the second installment of blogging my trip in Japan! This is a bit shorter than the first post, as I’ve been settling in more and picking out the most memorable and challenging events, but I hope you enjoy reading nonetheless!

In terms of communication, it has definitely improved between my host family and me since my last post. There’s been a weird unspoken agreement of using mostly Japanese but utilizing our equal knowledge of Japanese-English whenever the need arises. I think one of the largest mistakes I’ve made thus far was thinking “りんご” meant squirrel (りつ) instead of apple, leading to the faulty conclusion that my host family’s dog enjoyed eating squirrels. Thankfully, I didn’t say this aloud and the misunderstanding was cleared up fairly quickly. Most of the difficulty in trying to speak the language now comes from varying sources, usually when I try to interact with other natives.

At most times within the boundaries of the HIF program, I can understand what is being said through context or practice. During a trip to a nearby temple, however, I found this was not the case. The teacher who was leading us there gave most of us a list of specific words that the monk would be using in explaining the decorations set up and the like. Other than that, they told us to stick by some of the upper level students and have them help translate. Luckily, I’ve become friends with a student from the highest level class and I stuck by her for most of the time. It was really interesting to see the inside of the temple though, and I was able to take a picture while I was there.

As I might have said previously, the older sister I’m staying with works at a kindergarten, and I’ve had some chances to interact with a few of the kids while I was over there. When I was first introduced to two of them, we played with spinning tops for a while until their parents picked them up. This was when I discovered I had even less of a grasp on Japanese than I had thought. At my university, with my current knowledge of Japanese, my professors told us we would be at least able to converse with four-year-olds. Well, they were slightly mistaken. The kindergarteners I was talking with were clearly the better speakers, as I could only mutter sparse words amidst poorly put-together sentences in an attempt to answer their wondering queries. I was grateful to note that they barely noticed I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, too enthralled in the game we were playing.

Another interesting experience I’ve also partaken in has been going to an Italian restaurant. I would say the food tasted authentically Italian, but being that I’ve visited Rome before, I could not say that was the case. Despite this, it was incredibly delicious, and it was a rare meal where I was allowed to use a fork and knife instead of the usual chopsticks. Additionally, the restaurant had Phantom of the Opera playing in the background, so it was a definite 5-stars. Below is the food I ordered, accompanied by a picture of caramel gelato and tea.

If nothing else, interacting with the kindergarten children and eating more of the culturally diverse food has increased my curiosity for what else Hakodate has to offer. Thanks for reading!

こんにちは from Hokkaido

It has been one busy week of traveling to arrive at Hakodate in Hokkaido, the northernmost region of Japan. On Tuesday, June 6, I had a grueling fourteen-hour flight from Atlanta, GA to Narita Airport in Tokyo. Luckily, another student from my class and in the same summer program I am attending was on the flight with me, so it made the time pass a bit quicker. We, along with many other program participants, stayed in the grandiose Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba Hotel the night we arrived in Japan. There, my friend and I met up with a few of our other classmates who had stayed in Tokyo the week prior and were joining up with us for the program as well. They led us through the rail stations to show us Akihabara, one of the main shopping districts in Tokyo. We were able to have our first real Japanese meal, consisting of ramen and oolong tea.

Now, since Tokyo is a tourist city, they cater a lot to individuals speaking English. Therefore, it was not much of a difficulty to get around and ask for help from the natives (who were incredibly helpful). However, this ease with which we could communicate would not be as prevalent when we got to Hokkaido. Due to it being a bit more rural and not as tourist-y, Hakodate possesses less of a presence of English-speakers. Despite this, with the help of peers more skilled in speaking Japanese than myself, walking around and going out for dinner once we were in Hakodate came with relatively no concern. The La Vista Hakodate Bay was our residence for two days while we took our placement tests, until the opening ceremony. Their accommodations were just as wonderful as the ones in Tokyo, and the view from my room was terrific.

Also, apparently the buffet that our hotel serves was voted the second best breakfast establishment in Hokkaido. We were lucky enough to be able to enjoy that as well, and below is my attempt at trying a whole bunch of new Japanese foods.

Once the opening ceremony rolled around, we were all a bit nervous. This was when we would meet our homestay families for the first time, although some of us were able to contact ours beforehand. However, there was nothing to be worried about. Everyone’s first greeting was a bit awkward, but I believe we all warmed up to each of our families pretty well in a short amount of time. This was also when all of the participants split ways.

From here, I met my own homestay family, two older sisters who lived together with their dog about thirty minutes away from where classes would be held. As the younger sister, Masako, went to drive the car around, the older one, Mitsuko, talked to me for a bit. I told her my Japanese wasn’t terribly good, and she understood. Our conversation wasn’t terribly long, but I was surprised we could communicate quite well. She and her sister had been hosting HIF students for about thirty years, and Mitsuko later told me that her parents did it before she started to. After we left the hotel with my bags, we visited the kindergarten Mitsuko works at, which is not far away from the main HIF building, so she’d be able to drive me in the mornings and pick me up later. I met a few of Mitsuko’s coworkers there and since then, at dinner that night and the next day at Mass. Dinner was a bit of a difficult affair, as I barely understood much of the conversation around me and struggled to finish all the food on my plate. However, from what I did comprehend, I was able to sufficiently stay engaged in talking a bit. Additionally, I had real tempura for the first time, and it was very tasty, a norm for the food that I’m taking notice of during my time in Japan thus far.

After a stress-free shower, I headed to bed early to get some good sleep. Today, I woke up refreshed and somewhat ready for the day ahead. After breakfast, we went to Mass at the Catholic Church right next to the kindergarten. I was introduced to many people and got by with simple “Good morning”s and “Nice to meet you”s in Japanese. In Mass, I also understood very little word-for-word, but, from being to Mass so many times in my life, I could keep up with the pace and get the gist of what the priest was talking about. Afterwards, we sat for tea and coffee while chitchatting with a few more people. After seeing someone writing out a letter, I mentioned to Mitsuko if we could go out and buy some postcards for our thank-you letters. One of the gentlemen I had just met offered me a whole pack of some – with illustrious drawings of Hakodate on each – when he heard I was planning to buy some. I was grateful to him for his kindness, and after expressing our thanks, we left to go back to the house. Tonight, the sisters are throwing a party and inviting their friends, and I’m sure that it will be a whole other experience for me in my attempts at making Japanese conversation.

From the time I’ve been here, I have already garnered that it’s going to be quite a challenge constantly interacting in Japanese day-to-day. However, this has also further cemented my interest in learning more of the language and hoping to do well in class, which begins tomorrow. With cultural classes, language practice, and even more community interactions to look forward to, I’m both excited and nervous for what is to come. Wish me luck!