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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » pre-trip thoughts Japan school study abroad

The Beginning: What to do and why

Posted by maggie on Apr 16, 2012 in Pre-Trip Thoughts
A Japanese ad

     Well, in less than a month I’m off to Japan. Get ready to cry  “gaijin” or “gaikokujin” at the sight of me! (Those are words for foreigner, I’ve heard.)

     What you need to know about me: I’m a dork. I have a short attention span sometimes. I have weird but cool friends and a very awesome, supportive family. My little brother is autistic, and that’s had some ups and downs to it. I love Japanese language and culture, to the point where my casual signature is the name I got from my college Japanese class and I doodle kanji and stuff sometimes when I’m taking notes. For the purpose of this blog, I suppose even that stuff might be superfluous. But still. How can you care at all about what happens to some chick you’ve never met or heard of?

     Here’s how I got into the whole Japanese scene.

      It all started in middle school, when a new friend of mine casually let me borrow her manga book “Inuyasha.” About two years later, I had fallen in love with the series, bought several books, CDs, and movies. On the second movie DVD, there was a segment talking about Inuyasha in Japan, showing clips of the country extensively throughout. Once I finished watching it, I wanted to see Japan for myself, like nothing I had ever wanted in my life.

     And before you shake your head at me, the anime started it, but it’s not the only reason I’m going!

     From then on I took two years of Japanese in high school and another two years (two semesters per year) in college, learning whatever I could about the language, history, mythology, and culture. I started watching shows in Japanese dub, turning off the subtitles so I could hear the words myself and try to understand. I watched Pop Japan TV late night when I was still up, and listened to pop and rock bands, always chuckling at those random english words you find floating in a sea of Japanese. (example: something something something my heart something something). That’s a good example of any given lyric.

      You start to know words like “Kokoro” (heart), “Inochi” (life), “Ai” (love), etc. because a lot of pop songs use them. They’re practically buzz words. I started going to cons, bought magazines, went on a few sites that were all in Japanese trying to read the characters. I bought books on myths and proudly discussed Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa shogunate when they came up in the brief segments of Japan that came up in my history classes. (I’ve forgotten a lot of it now, sadly, but I’m looking forward to a refresher in the culture and history class I signed up to take while I’m there. I hope we get into that stuff.)

     So here I am now. All this to prepare me for someday traveling across land and sea in search of the Land of the Rising Sun.

     And yet…

     Getting ready for this trip, I’m just as nervous as excited, which I suppose is to be expected. I’m trying to prepare myself to step into a land that is drastically different from my own, hoping that confusion and homesickness won’t immediately get to me and ruin any of my time there. I was cursed with an overly analytical mind (it’s not as good as it sounds), and so I’ve already begun to anticipate the bad and good of what I will experience on the trip. I wish I could leave the worries and negativity for when they actually arise, because my Dad is always fond of saying “Don’t be unhappy until something gives you a reason to be unhappy,” and I think he’s right, but at the same time I know luck favors the prepared.

     At the same time, I’m trying not to think about it too much. Is that even possible? To do both? Probably not. The first anime convention I ever attended, I went with a friend who had read all about cons and had expectations as to what they’d be like. I was excited when I got there and couldn’t believe all the stuff I was seeing, but she spent a lot of the trip complaining that it wasn’t like the things she had read at all. It taught me that sometimes having little to no expectations is a good thing. You aren’t disappointed because you didn’t expect anything from the beginning, and pleasant surprises are even better. I will anticipate the trip details about getting around, of course, but when it comes to what I will experience there, I want to leave that up in the air a little bit. I want to be realistic, but still optimistic. I don’t want to presume I know all about Japan, but at the same time go to the country completely ignorant and unprepared. In short, I’ll never be “ready.” I’ll just have to go as I am.

      I am preparing to mess up and cope with it, which is difficult for me even it occurs with English speakers. I hate messing up and looking like an idiot, even if it’s over something small and dumb. But I hope that if I mess up, it’s at least funny and memorable, and the person I confuse won’t look back on me as just a dumb foreigner. I can’t control what they think of me, but I can do my best to be nice and humble about my mistakes.

What I look forward to, as of right now:

  • A collectivist frame of mind. I hate upsetting other people or causing them problems, unless of course they do that to me and are very uncaring. If there is one place where people pleasing will be appreciated and valued, I hope it is Japan. I like working for the good of others and helping others with projects. I hope to be able to help others as they help me and be polite and respectful. Maybe it will be a nice change from U.S. cities. But maybe it will also show me how my people pleasing tendencies do not work, and if so, I look forward to developing a better understanding.
  • A rich cultural history and heritage. The availability of historical sites, temples, festivals, markets, etc. I am open to what Tokyo has to offer, and want to take lots of pictures! :)
  • Anime culture from the source. I have to say that I’ve become a bit bored with American anime culture. If you’ve seen one convention here, you’ve pretty much seen them all. I don’t want to go to cons, per say, but I would like to see where some of my favorite stuff originated. I will definitely be paying a visit to the Studio Ghibli museum, the Pokemon Center, Square Enix Museum, and Tokyo Disneyland if I can help it. It depends on the group’s agenda too, but I will do some solo exploring. Also, are Japanese cosplayers/con-goers any more or less obnoxious than Americans? There, ha. I said it. I’m officially an outcast and a hypocrite.
  • New friends and global networking opportunities. I am a communication major with a focus on cultural communication. Understanding how people interact across cultural borders is awesome. I look forward to connecting with a host family and making friends through the university and even through my internship.
  • Figuring out how to get around. This may or may not include the weird toilets or a “businessmen hotel” if I can. :) Mostly it’s about trying to make sense of the directions, train and subway stops, all that good stuff. I hope the worst of it happens when I’m with someone else from the group, because if I’m completely by myself, that’ll be scary as heck.
     I don’t know what else I will want to do just yet, and I’ve already begun anticipating this stuff a little too much. I want to be flexible, but still make good use of my time. I don’t want to get burned out quickly, as someone from the previous trip warned me could happen. I’m writing down these thoughts as they come. I do that, so I’m sorry if they move around a bit, sometimes at a fast pace. I’m a well-meaning spaz, but a spaz nonetheless.
     I almost can’t believe this is happening. I’ve wanted to take this trip for a while, but I don’t think I imagined it would be a study abroad. Or that I would get a chance to intern in a Tokyo office for a little bit afterwards. I feel so happy and privileged to be able to do this, so I want to thank my folks for paying and helping me get ready for this great endeavor. I will never be able to pay them back for all they do, as much as I wish I could, but the least I can do here is give them a shout out for being the most awesome parents ever! :) I’ll miss you, Mom and Dad. 
      And still we have less than a month left. “Bye guys! I love you!….Oh wait……” Jumping the gun now, I guess. :)
     What I don’t look forward to are the “bumps” along the way, particularly in communication, but those are standard and will hopefully be helpful learning experiences. I have been out of practice for a year, believe it or not, and I feel like I’ve forgotten everything. I want to remember it, and I want to get better. Ultimately I want to grow more as a person and understand myself through this trip, as well as Tokyo and Japan itself. Maybe I’ll come back wishing I could have stayed over there. Maybe I’ll be kissing the ground the second I’m let off the plane (I doubt it, but you never know).  Maybe I’ll realize the extent to which I am spoiled here in the U.S. But whatever happens, I want to take this experience and make use of it in my life from then on.


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