Week 6 and 7: A Quality Experience

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Another two weeks have flown by and many more experiences have come my way. Life has a funny way of playing out and sometimes we as people can experience amazing highs or dreadful lows. However, more often than not many of us just experience the uneventful days that lie in between those exhilarating events. While usually I would be excited about those moments, they do not always help with the incessant writer’s block that comes to my mind. Which could be in itself something to mention because often when people hear stories of other’s time studying abroad it seems as though they are constantly going, going, going, but that is not always the case. Sometimes there are moments to just cherish the fact that they are outside of their home country.

But with that being said when I combine the events that occurred during the two weeks it creates an interesting story of cultural awareness and cultural appreciation. First and foremost is school and this is where most of my cultural awareness comes into play during my time abroad. Now I have been fortunate enough to grow up with many people of different cultures and it is also a privilege that during my time studying abroad I have also been surrounded by not only Japanese students, but other international students from other parts of the world. Some students I have talked to came from France, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong, Taiwan and many more places. Now while that is an opportunity of a lifetime, it can also lead to some interesting cultural preconceptions.

The past two weeks especially were times where I had my eyes open to how the rest of the world views American culture. This semester I am in a class called Intercultural Competence and the basic summary of the course is to teach students (both internationally and domestically) about the importance of intercultural competence and to better understand cultural differences. Every class we read a chapter from a book that discusses the issues surrounding stereotypes, prejudice, and other topics related to culture and then we come into class with a question to discuss in small groups. Oftentimes during these discussions all of the students have a chance to ask about what may seem normal in other cultures. However when it gets to me I tend to have difficulties sharing what American culture is exactly.

While Hawai’i is a part of the United States there are some nuances that differ, so for some of the questions I would be asked I would answer them from the perspective of someone raised in Hawai’i. Although it was still interesting to hear some of the takes on Americans and American culture from other students, especially since some of them would mention something they have gathered from the media they would consume. For example, someone asked me about American fast food or the lack of geography skills. And I tried to answer honestly about both like for the geography situation. I told them that from my experience most schools will only teach about the geography of the United States and that is the extent of my memory on geography. Or in the case of fast food I told them about the difference in what a large size looks like back home versus Japan. Needless to say there were a few surprised looks, but then they would tell me about their own norms within their societies back home and I would then return the surprised look.

But on the flip side, I was also able to experience a moment of cultural appreciation. Recently NUFS had an excursion for the international students to do a tea picking experience. Originally I was not going to go, but there was something in my head that told me that if I did not go on this excursion I would regret it. So I signed up for the excursion on the sign up day and found myself on the bus for the tea experience. And needless to say it was a wonderfully relaxing excursion.

For the first half of the trip, we went to a tea factory and explored the factory where the tea and other related goods were manufactured. Afterwards we were taken outside to this large field that was adorned with tea shrubs. From there we were given an allotted amount of time to pick as many tea leaves as we could and take it home with us to make the tea or other recipes from the little information sheet they provided. And then the second half we were taken to a tea museum where we learned about the history of tea, the creation process for Japanese tea, and also tea facts from around the world. Plus because we were with the school we were able to tour the tea house that was outside the museum that outlooked a little pond/garden area. It was really lovely going through and reading each exhibit and appreciating the beauty behind tea.

Now I am going to be quite honest, I enjoy drinking tea but I would not say that I am obsessed with knowing everything about tea. However, this field trip gave me a better appreciation of the craft and all those associated with the creation of tea.

And as I like to end all of my journals here are a few tips to take with you on your own adventures abroad. Usually, I like to have at least three or four takeaways, but this time there were only two that stood out to me from these past two weeks.

First, do not be afraid to ask questions and learn about the culture of the place you are going for your study abroad program. For the most part, as long as you are genuinely curious while also respectful, most people are willing to answer questions and teach others about their respective cultures. However, with that being said be prepared for questions in regards to your own culture. It is one of those things where it is a give and take relationship. And if a misconception appears in the conversation you can simply just correct and explain why it may seem that way, but in reality it is not.

And second, seize any opportunity that is presented in front of you. Like I mentioned earlier, I was originally going to not go on the excursion because while I enjoy tea I did not think spending my Friday learning about and picking tea was exciting. Yet, when I did ultimately decide to go for the sake of it all, it turned out to be a fulfilling experience that I know years later I am going to look back on and think, “I am so glad I decided to do it.” It is okay to have reservations and have thoughts about whether something is worth it, but sometimes the best experiences come from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.

Hopefully this blog brought a great insight into what I have been up to since the last time and I hope that whoever is reading this blog will join me in the next one!