“Am I just a student? A Tourist? A Local?”: The Confusing Lifestyle of the Study Abroad Student





One of the most interesting yet perplexing experiences I’ve had so far is noticing that, while in Japan, I play the role as not only the student, but also as the tourist, and even (in some sense) an average person living in Japan.  From what I’ve heard, most study abroad students either live in dormitories with other study abroad students, or they live with host families. However, CET’s Osaka program has their study abroad students live with other Japanese students in apartments away from university. That feeling of living in a dormitory is definitely there from interacting with college students, but we also gain the experience of living outside of that college bubble many students don’t receive. On the other end, like students who experience living with host families, we get to spend time with locals and experience life as though we were locals ourselves, with the condition that we don’t have meals prepared for us by our housemates. It’s an lifestyle that I think is a special characteristic of CET, and I’ve certainly never defined myself in so many categories before.

Of course, I would mainly categorize myself as a study abroad student. I’ve come to Japan to study, I go to school almost every day, and I spend most of my time in school. But what about the times where I’m not playing the student role? When I’m not at school, I make plans to go sightseeing, try out new restaurants, take lots of pictures and buy souvenirs, etcetera. However, I’m also going to the grocery store weekly, doing laundry, and cooking and preparing meals on a regular basis. So I’m definitely a tourist, but I’m not. I’m definitely a local, but I’m not. Being unable to fit into some kind of category of what role I’m exactly playing is somewhat mind-boggling, but it’s all the more interesting.

We know categorizations tend to prevent us from branching out from our comfort zones, or they simply hinder us from exposure to certain opportunities. While living here, I’m beginning to realize the importance of not necessarily individualizing yourself, but allowing yourself to adopt multiple roles. Rather than stick to one role, letting myself take the role of a student, a tourist, a local, or any other role that may apply allows me to have a number of experiences that will help be become well-rounded. Besides that, it’s also a little boring to stick to one role. It’s nice to be able to switch around roles or play two roles at the same time. It’s nice to be able to easily understand that experience. I say this because I am sure everyone experiences this throughout their lives.

A walk back to the station after a day trip in Nara prefecture. On this day, my tourist role was definitely the most prominent. However, I also felt some sense of being a local. For example, I was speaking Japanese to my friends, and I felt a sense of familiarity with my environment, which are not very fitting to the tourist image.

We never stick to the same role at all times, but I personally have never seen it as clear as while studying abroad. When I return home, I look forward to the conglomeration of these roles that I play becoming clearer than before.