I am proud to say that my first week in Kyoto has gone very well. I was told by my university’s study abroad office that I might experience culture shock while abroad, but it is almost like I never left home. Of course, there are some major changes. For one, I cannot understand a word anyone is saying. Trying to decipher Japanese is one of the toughest challenges in my life.
But thankfully, I have support to rely on. The Japan study abroad director can help translate for me, and many Japanese can speak and understand English even though it can be difficult to understand which can make conversations awkward. The International dorm I am staying in has plenty of residents who are fluent and native English speakers, and there are so many foreign tourists that I never feel overwhelmed by too much Japanese.
A large part of my study abroad is communication. My assignments are to interview random people about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and creating a PowerPoint on the subject. With the program director’s help, I can ask practiced questions in Japanese and receive a translation of their responses. So far I have interviewed seven people, both Japanese and foreigners. The project is still a work in progress so there will be more to come.
There are some major differences between my town in Georgia and a major city like Kyoto. There are so many people. No matter the time of day, there are so many people. It is not a major negative, but it can be a little frustrating to politely navigate through waves of people.
It is unfortunate, but Kyoto is not as English-friendly as I thought. There are signs written in kanji with no English translation so it can take a bit of guesswork to figure out where you are going. The first time I had to find my way back to the dorm was slightly stressful because I under the impression I could just walk to where I need to go to save money, and I was fearful of becoming completely lost trying to figure out which train I should ride. For clarification, Kyoto has many trains going to different places so boarding the wrong one could be bad.
Additionally, I did not think asking the station employees would help because I may misinterpret what they were saying. My phone battery was low and my cellular service does not work in Japan. Thankfully, I found a free Wi-Fi hotspot and used Google Maps to find which train I needed to board; the JR Nara line. I asked a station employee where it was and found my way to the right train. Since then, I have become more confident in exploring Kyoto and always make sure my phone is fully charged.
On the bright side, Kyoto has an extensive railroad and subway system so cars are practically unnecessary. Just this week, I rode the subway to Kuinabashi station, went to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and rode the subway back. If I walked, it would have taken over an hour. Also, there are shops everywhere. It seems like every corner you turn, there is someone selling food. As long as you have money, there is always something new to try.
I plan to continue exploring Kyoto and finding new things to try out.