As part of my language University course I spent a year in Japan. Nine months, to be precise. What an incredibly exciting time! I was an exchange student at Konan University in Kobe, where we got to study Japanese pretty intensely and also had some culture classes. Living with a host family was a great experience as well and I love to remember all the nice trips around the area and the country. It’s now almost five years since my return and I am beginning to feel old (haha!) and more importantly I’ve been reflecting on my year abroad.
There are quite a few things I miss about that year. I think it’s normal to miss certain periods of your life, but this might be even more intense for such a year abroad. I believe it’s because you are aware of the time being special, as it’s so limited. So many places have become so familiar during my stay and I loved just going there whenever I wanted. I also love exploring without definite aim, so I got to know some of my local areas quite well. It definitely helped that I was always hunting for those amazing second-hand book shops Book Off. I spent so much time in all the different branches…
Another big thing I miss is the food. Japanese food is just amazing. I’m a vegetarian (no, I don’t mind you eating meat at all 🙂 ) and I’ve never been into fish anyway. So you might think I had a hard time finding anything edible. Think again! I learned to enjoy food much more in Japan. Dinner at my host family’s place could take up to two hours and that was nice. Food is very appreciated in Japanese society. I miss the taste of Japanese food so badly. Yes, I can get some ingredients here, but it’s just not the same. Also my host mother was the best cook ever. During my year over there I felt the healthiest I ever felt in my life. Good times!
Of course I miss the people. And not only my host family. There were many lovely people among the staff at the exchange centre, our teachers, Konan students and other exchange students. My problem is, though, that it takes me way too long to warm up to people. I easily like people, that’s not what I mean. I mean feeling it’s okay to “be me” around new people. I tend to draw back and watch from the side-lines. Fortunately I made friends in Japan, even though it took me some time to feel comfortable showing the quirky side of me. But that’s okay. My second semester class, E-Class, holds a special place in my heart. We actually filmed a Star Wars Tribute film in the end, which is a great souvenir to have. Gotta love a bit of lightsaber action!
So what wisdoms can I share with you guys? I guess that I learned there is always a reason behind what people do. What I mean is that sometimes you get mad at someone because they said or did something that offended you. Or you see someone on the street and have to hide your laughter because you find them strange. Or any similar situation. I believe that usually people have their reasons and as long as we don’t know their story we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. Of course we cannot always ask and cannot always understand. I’m not asking for that, how could I? Hell, I snigger at strange clothes. I’m just trying to keep an open mind for any possible reasons for human behaviour.
For example I once had a situation with my host mother. She is a very calm and understanding person and I admire her a lot. We got on very well during the year. Then once we were just disagreeing on a little something and I tried to tell her my opinion. She didn’t speak to me for a couple of days after. I then asked her what the matter was and it turned out that she felt deeply offended by me. To this day I feel so ashamed of it. I never intended it. It might have been my language, but also my attitude. But that’s where my realisation stems from: Sometimes people say things and don’t think twice, but if they had known what was going on in the other person’s head they would have done things differently. I never meant to offend my host mother in any way, but I did. That shocked me deeply and ever since I try and be a little more careful of what I say to whom and how. Of course it doesn’t prevent all of these situations, but hopefully some of them.
That’s my year abroad musings for today. I will probably write some more about my time in the beautiful country of Japan. I am still longing to go back and hope to do so this year. It would be amazing to visit all of my old favourite places again… I’m happy to have had the opportunity to go abroad and I think I have made the most of it at the time. I definitely learned a lot and I didn’t always realise back then, but reflecting back on it I slowly start to see what that year meant to me as a person and that can be very intriguing.