STEP Reflection

My STEP experience was an education abroad program with a small artistic endeavor element through the OIA office at OSU. It is the Japanese Language and Culture study abroad in Kobe of May 2017, which is a 4-week language and culture program that provides: academic excursions, a service learning and an in-depth final research project where we are able to critically assess Japan’s culture and language. The small artistic endeavor involved photographs that created a narrative for my research in Japan.
When I first started the application process and until the point I finally arrived in Japan, I believed a trip of this caliber was really outside of the scope of independent experiences that I could handle. It was my first international flight and I had planned all of the details and made the reservations without the help of my parents. I was petrified with anxiety when my flight finally left Cleveland but gradually calmed down as I navigated JFK airport until I arrived in China. I had issues with my hotel reservation and then issues with my luggage. When I finally got to my hotel room, I broke down in tears from the stress and was swept up by a strong wave of homesickness even though it hadn’t even been a day since I left. What this entire experience taught me though was how to roll with the punches and be flexible. It also taught be to calm down and be patient during these hard situations also demonstrated to myself that I do have the ability to navigate in foreign countries even when I do not know he language.
During my time in Japan, I had a variety of interactions with Japanese people ranging from very fun and enjoyable to scary and frustrating. While I was staying in Kobe, I lived in a dorm but met very often with my host partner. At first it was very difficult to communicate. I wasn’t used to listening to people speak Japanese nor was I very confident in my Japanese language abilities. I was also very scared to speak in public and as a naturally introverted person, the desire to talk to only people I knew was intensified but despite that, I was able to create a great relationship with my partner. Anytime that we spoke together and my words would become jumbled due to nervousness, she would never laugh or make fun of me. Instead, she would slow me down and taught me to be calm and think about what I waned to say so that I could get my idea across. With her, I had many great days where I felt like I was finally getting the hang of Japanese.
One of the scarier and more frustrating incidents that happened while I was in Japan was when I went with a friend to Kyoto alone. We were in the midst of transferring trains when I realized that I had left my purse in the previous train. I was worried since my passport was inside of it. My friend and I quickly stepped off of the train and as we looked around frantically, an old Japanese man offered his assistance. He spoke no English, so our entire conversation was conducted in Japanese as he proceeded to tell us where to go and who to ask for help. I then made my way to the train station’s police officer and explained the situation. He continually asked what train I boarded but I was unable to clearly communicate what train it was so I became extremely frustrated. It was during that trying experience that I learned to be patient and flexible. I had to wait until my purse was found and learn to adapt to the Japanese police’s search process. It was something that would have been very difficult in America let alone in a different country where I was unable to understand everything that was going on.
Another experience that was really changing for me was volunteering to practice English with Japanese speakers at the university in Kobe. It’s easy to forget that they way you feel towards those learning your own language are often the same feelings people think towards you when they hear that you are learning a language like Japanese. Our teachers held a pizza party to help break the ice between the Japanese students and the English students. There, I was able to meet many first year students that were nervous about speaking in English but were still able to connect by earnestly attempting to communicate with each other. I began to follow the new friends on social media and continue communicating with them despite the long distance. This kind of experience allowed me to look beyond the fact that those students were Japanese and overcome the speaking anxiety barrier that prevented me from speaking with other natives before. It changed how I viewed people’s relationships as more than just to races interacting but simply two people bringing their different backgrounds to the table.
This opportunity to go abroad has been extremely valuable to because I have learned so many new skills that I can apply to my daily life as well as my language-learning career. It is really easy to forget that when you are learning a new language, the end goal is to be able to communicate effectively with others who speak the native language. It also reminded me how much the actual culture is tied to the language and that they are not separate things. I also learned how to continually ask questions when there’s something I don’t understand as well as the fact that issues like language barriers are real but they can only be as big or as small as you imagine them but I think that the most important thing I’ve learned is that my dreams can come true as long as I am willing to work towards them and put in the effort.