Since coming to Boston a year ago, I’ve learned less of what I had expected to learn. But I have also learned many things I had never expected to learn.
I’ve been living on the American campus of a Japanese university: Showa Women’s University. It’s not a typical arrangement for exchange students, who usually live with an American family or who blend into a multi-national student body at an American university. In my case, I have come with all my classmates for an 18-month segment of our 4-year program in Tokyo.
Studying English and living with 35 of my Japanese classmates has its advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, we seem to have less culture shock. Our program provides lots of information and support for living in Boston, and since our school is a semi-Japanese environment, we can get used to living in the United States little by little. Also, since we are all Japanese and have similar feelings about the culture differences between Japan and America, we have a built-in support group, and we can learn from each others’ experiences.
However, one of the major disadvantages is that we tend to speak Japanese with each other, even though we are supposed to speak English all the time. I think it’s just too strange to speak English with other Japanese students. Still, I sometimes wonder how much better my English would be if I were forced to speak it all day like other exchange students.
One thing I did not expect is people’s enthusiasm for learning about Japanese culture. For example, I decided to take a course in my program called “Teaching About Japan” in which we introduced American children to Japanese toys. I never really thought about Japanese toys, but the children were fascinated. They played with those toys again and again, their faces lighting up each time.
Another eye-opening experience was volunteering at the Boston Children’s Museum, where I helped with their Japanese, Cherry Blossom, and New Year’s festivals. I showed children how to make the traditional pouch for New Years’ gifts, which delighted them. They were thrilled when I wrote their names in Japanese letters. And as for me, I was thrilled and surprised that the children were so open to learning about Japanese culture, and so enthusiastic. With fresh eyes, I considered aspects of my own culture that I had never really thought about before.