As I’m slowly settling down in Kyoto, Japan, a month has already passed by. Time seems to run faster here than when I was an exchange in Sweden. Retrospectively speaking, six months in Uppsala flew by really fast but a month in Japan went by even faster! It might be because I’m doing the same thing I did in Sweden, except in a different place, so nothing is processed as “new” in this context. Or because I’m in a semi-touristy city where there are lots to see, go, and do. Or simply because I’m in Japan, a country so romanticized by media, popular culture, and myself included. But there is one thing that I think made a huge difference in my time abroad here versus Sweden.
Yes, friends. It may seem obvious and over-preached but it’s true, having friends will really help you go through situations.
On the first day I moved into my dorm, a kind neighbor, who’s been studying in Kyoto since last semester, came over to give a welcome greeting. Later that day he showed me around town: where to get groceries, where to register residence card, where to pay bills, and all that good stuff. On my second day after arriving in Japan there was a dorm orientation where new tenants are required to attend. There I met four exchange students, all of who are now close friends of mine and no longer just a neighbor. We would often have dinner/lunch, go sight-seeing, watch movie, or just hang out together and talk stories.
Back in Sweden, I remember the first day I moved into the dorm, my neighbor from across the room popped out of her room to greet me. Since she studied in Sweden in previous years, she also showed me the ropes of how and where to get things done. In that dorm there was a common area (the kitchen and living area) which is different from my current dorm in Kyoto. But even with a common area, there were very little interaction between tenants on my floor. It’s understandable considering how we all had different class schedule, different Student Nations, and part-time jobs. I didn’t have the chance to get to know my neighbors besides two people that I often cook with, one of which is the neighbor that greeted me on the first day.
And That is All
Personally, I think that the first few days (or first few weeks) are really critical in establishing connections with other people. From both my time in Sweden and Japan, most of my long term friends were made during the first couple days. Another close friend of mine, I met her in Sweden on the bus from the airport to the dorm! Now that doesn’t mean all friendships built from after the initial arrival is ephemeral. I just feel that for me, it’s easier to maintain close friendship when you’ve spend a lot of time with them. Therefore the earlier you meet, the more time you have to spend with each other. However, having time doesn’t necessarily mean people will always meet up and therefore some of the initial ‘meets’ will eventually drift apart.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different so please take this with a grain of salt. Some people make friends and build relationships as naturally as breathing. Others struggle to make and/or maintain those connections to varying degrees. I used to be extremely introverted and would rather try to figure things out on my own than to make social contact and have conversations with people. I’m haven’t become some sort of socializing master just after one semester of exchange either. I’m still learning and still trying to figure out my solutions to my own problems. But I’ve learned that it’s vital to connect with people for social and mental health, as well as for when you want to order the recommended menu but you don’t know how to speak Japanese so you ask your friend to order for you. Friendship, it’s a beautiful thing.