Adjusting to the Little Things & Why It's Important

Alex Nguyen
October 21, 2015
Living in Japan for a few months now, I feel quite comfortable with all the goes on around me every day. I've even come to a point in which I've adapted to the smallest changes--which most often make the biggest impacts, for me at least--by observing and imitating those around me. I'm not talking about language or mannerisms this time, though I have definitely improved and adapted to both of those since being here, but rather the small idiosyncrasies of individuals that I've noticed seem to be parts of the culture in Japan. As a foreigner, certain behaviors or ways of being struck me as novel at first, but I've come to learn and accept that these things are just how Japan operates and that there's nothing I can really do about it. For instance, when I first arrived in Japan, I noticed that many Japanese folks carried personal wash towels with them that served as sweat rags or general hygienic tools. It was rather novel for me because I've never really seen this mode of behavior before in America. At first, I thought it was really cute how people had their own personalized little towels and that they would use them in bathrooms or after meals, but I've come to stop looking at this through that lens and have just accepted it as norm. In fact, I've adapted the behavior myself! My host parents gave me my own little towel as a gift, which I thought was adorable, and I use it basically every day as many public restrooms lack paper towels and even hand driers. I guess it could be seen as more environmentally friendly to use your own reusable towel, anyways. Another behavior I've noticed that occurs more frequently than not is the act of lining up on the platform to enter train cars. Coming from New York City, I was quite amused initially to see such an orderly social composition in the urban rail system. I mean, people here line up in single file! There's not really any pushing! Nobody is cursing anybody out! At first, I was just astounded. I thought that everyone was just so nice and so polite. After a bit of time, I just accepted that this is the way people are; this is how they've come to socially construct themselves and one another. The system is more orderly, and it's something worth admiring, but not necessarily fawning over forever. Needless to say, I adapted to this mode of behavior with speed and in earnest. There are plenty of other minute behaviors that are noteworthy, but I don't want to bore. I just think it's important to recognize how different people in different parts of the world structure their lives and their societies so that each individual operates under specific and expected conditions and modes of behavior. As foreigners living in different countries or as tourists, I think it's valuable and imperative even that we critically examine how we interact with our environments and how we come to recognize, process, and adjust to new cultures and ways of existing. Stagnation is ugly and boring. We have to be fluid as people if we are to grow and learn from the world around us. To refuse to do so is honestly a disservice to oneself, not to mention the world around one. I only gave two examples here, but the list could go on and on. The point is: even the most minute details are important to recognize and consider when carrying out daily life in places unbeknownst to us in cultures that are not our own. It's respectful and it makes for a more wholesome experience of getting to know other people and their cultures and how they live and exist. I digress.

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Alex Nguyen

<p>Hi, I&#39;m Alex. I&#39;m a junior at Columbia University majoring in Urban Studies and dabbling in other areas of interest like race &amp; ethnicity studies. Outside of school, I like to eat, cook, take pictures, shop, have long conversations, and travel. Food, fashion, culture, literature, and music are all things I love. Black and gold are my favorite colors. Having lived in New York City for two years now, I feel quite at home. However, living in Japan is something I have wanted to do all my life, so I&#39;m quite excited to finally live out that dream. From the local culture to the food to the fashion, I&#39;m pumped to engage with it all during my semester abroad.</p>

2015 Fall
Home University:
Columbia University - CC and SEAS
Urban Studies
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