Before traveling and settling in Japan, I felt a bit uneasy about the kinds of people I would interact with and whom I would spend time with. After all, I was going to travel all alone and leave all my family and circle of friends behind. In my home university I had fortunately met a Japanese friend who exchanged from the same University I’m studying in Japan, so I at least I had one contact near. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to occupy him too much as I didn’t want to be seen as clingy. It was then that I became worried who would I meet and befriend while abroad. What would happen if they didn’t understand me.
To my surprise, now that I look back as my first two weeks in Japan come to an end, I had nothing to worry about. I dorm in one of my University’s International Houses- Taishogun. Here, I have gained a plethora of friends, and all coming from different parts of the world. What intrigues me the most about such dorm complex is the fact that it is truly International in all of the ways possible. I have met students from other Asian countries such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Indonesia, to students from Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland, and the list goes on. Even so, my front door neighbor is from Kyrgyzstan. Such place I had heard of, but didn’t know anything about the country, much less actually met anyone who was Kyrgyzstani.
It is here, while being around all these nationalities and spending time with them, that I ponder what it truly means to study International Relations. While conversing with all these individuals, not only have I exchanged knowledge of my customs and traditions with them, but also gained knowledge on the customs, traditions, and daily life of each respective country. For example, I learned that in Singapore every male has to provide service to the military or police force for two years. I also learned that my Kyrgyzstani neighbor knows Russian because Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union.
On particular, I remember one night that caught my attention. There were a group of us at the floor kitchen in the late hours of a rainy night. Some were saying they were hungry, but a typhoon was passing through Japan, so we couldn’t go outside and grab something to eat. As we all moved in during this week or the past, and knowing we were all broke college students, no one had anything to eat. It was then that I remembered I had a few slices of bread left and gathered them with a few slices of cheese to share. When I brought them everyone was so grateful, and while we were enjoying the little snack, one of our French friends took out his guitar and started playing a song. It was then that it struck me as we silently listened. I was sharing my food with fellow Koreans, Chinese, French, and German brothers, while listening to French tunes. If that was not international relations, then what was? If that was not diversity, then what was?
What engages and motivates me from these new set of friends I have acquired is the intellectual like-mindedness and desire to understand other backgrounds. On my first day at Taishogun, I remember having two similar conversations on the topic of diversity with a Japanese and French dorm mate. I believe that it is these type of exchanges that enables us to see how the world around us work. With the bonds we create and continue creating, we can, not only expand our own periphery, but also help solve real world issues that are formed by seeming differences in each other’s backgrounds that bring about conflicts.
I hope I continue making more international and local friends and gain more insight on other cultures.