Gazing at the sea from an island called Jogashima, it hit me how quickly eight weeks flew by. It was my last day in Japan, but certainly not the last time. Like many people, I came to Japan with rose-colored glasses. However, as time progressed, I could see that like every country, it is not without areas of necessary growth. There was a recent article that spoke about how medical school admissions were rigged to favor male candidates, and all over Japan, there has been an issue of sexism. The working conditions are difficult, and many people I’ve met live paycheck by paycheck to get by – in combination with females experiencing more discrimination, I can only imagine how difficult it is to get by.
Japan itself is still incredibly beautiful and a wonderful place to vacation, but I’m not sure if I would be able to live here for the rest of my life. It was the last day of my 8 week program, and I couldn’t believe how much I got from it. Developing a more realistic lens of the country, I do think anyone who can study abroad in Japan, should always take the opportunity to do so. My professors were genuinely kind and not only cared about my learning, but my well-being as well. On my last day of class, one of my many wonderful senseis told us “After today, I am no longer your sensei. From this point on, I am your friend.” A powerful statement that demonstrates the type of learning environment I had the privilege to experience.
My last meal with my host family were handrolls, and they ended up giving me a handmade present that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Before my overnight bus to Tokyo, some of the students and I had one last meal with some of our senseis. When I first came to Japan, something that I was told was that Japan really valued teamwork and collaboration. Something else I was told was to be careful of the customer-service front; that not everyone was as kind as they seemed. Right now, I understand that better. No matter where someone is from, everyone is human. But even if not everyone is kind, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuinely kind people who care about you.
From what I’ve experienced, Japan is really focused on family. Being Asian, that’s of course something that I’ve grown up with – that no matter what, family is the most important; that even if there’s nothing else, you’ll always have your family. What I didn’t expect is how much impact it would have on me, to be integrated into that atmosphere in Japan. Parting was very bittersweet and difficult for me. When I crouched down to say goodbye to my 3 year old host kid, she crouched down into a ball and got quiet. When I held up my hand for a high-five and said “Sayonara,” she looked down and “まだ” which essentially translates to “Not yet.”
It was hard for me not to tear up. When I first met my host family, my (then) 2 year old host kid was really shy, and my host baby cried whenever she saw me. Over time, my host kid would greet me with excited hugs, and the baby would start crawling towards me with a huge smile on her face. I came to Japan for a program, but sharing meals, going to onsens, wearing yukatas, going to class every day, watching fireworks, and spending with everyone – these are all experiences that made me realize that I wasn’t just part of a program, but a family as well.
But even if it was my last day, I knew it wasn’t going to be my last time. Thank you FEA for giving me this experience. People always told me that studying abroad was life-changing, but I always told myself that I couldn’t afford to do that. I didn’t have the time or money to do so. But FEA gave me the opportunity to, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life. It’s been a long ride, but it’s been a good one. Thank you again. またね?