Finding Balance

Emily Okikawa
September 15, 2016

This morning, I accidentally shaved off part of my eyebrow.

In my defense, I was trying to make a good impression on my host family by attempting to look like a presentable human being (and not one who had only packed one shirt for the entirety of orientation week). But, this dream crumbled before my eyes when my hand slipped and I was left with a considerably shorter right eyebrow.

Thankfully, it’s not noticeable with the miracle that is brow powder, but as I stared into the mirror, horrified, I had a flashback of my homestay meeting with Ishikawa-san earlier that day,

    “Your host sister is really excited to have a big sister to teach her about makeup and fashion. I’m sure you’ll do great!”

    I leaned into the mirror to examine my eyebrow, acutely aware that I was wearing the same outfit for the third day in the row, and whispered to myself,

    “Get your life together.”

The first week of orientation focused on the theme of “balance.” The opportunity to study abroad is an agreement to honor both the importance of “study” and the excitement of being “abroad.” It’s easy to prioritize a night in Shibuya over your stack of required reading, but you have an obligation to yourself to learn as much as you can from your experience in another country—and that includes your professors and a course selection intended to broaden your worldview.

After having my Academic Advising session with Shin-san, I am, dare I say it, excited for my last semester of Senior Year. Before arriving in Japan, I was disappointed to find out that the environmental class had been cancelled. Since I am an Environmental Studies major hoping to graduate in the Fall, it was very important that I get my last major credit from my semester in Tokyo. However, the IES Abroad Tokyo Staff was extremely helpful, and as a result, I am doing an Independent Project on Environmental Justice issues in Chiba. I’m excited to do field work in Chiba and apply my previous academic knowledge to a real-life international case study.


Since my Japanese Placement Test amounted to a sheet of paper with my name on it, and a very small, apologetic, “wakarimasen (I don’t understand)in the center, I will be taking Japanese 101. I was given advance warning to learn both hiragana and katakana before arriving in Japan, so naturally, I waited a month before my departure date to glance over the characters. Thankfully, I was blessed with the most amazing e-pal ever, Naomi, so I have been able to practice reading hiragana and katakana by pointing to everything from menus to shop names and asking her for help. She is an actual saint, and will wait patiently as I sound out the katakana for a clown school advertisement and correct me for the thousandth time on the difference between ツ and シ.

When we go out to eat, she prepares me for my attempt to order for myself.

    Hitotsu?” I clarify as the waiter approaches the table.

    Hai. Hitotsu,” she reiterates for the fifth time.

And when the waiter inevitably cannot understand me, or asks a follow up question like,

    “Would you like that with shoyu butter or garlic butter?” in rapid, confusing Japanese, Naomi is the one who answers, “Shoyu butter.” Meanwhile, I stare blankly at the poor waiter, who is usually very confused by my sudden silence.


I have complete faith in Naomi’s abilities because she single-handedly saves my life on a daily basis. She was the first person to greet me at Narita Airport, and I am thankful to have her by my side during orientation week. I trust Naomi so much that I only stopped worrying about my eyebrow incident when she tells me that she can’t even tell. With a simple, “Your face looks the same,” she alleviates all my self-consciousness.

Sure enough, because Naomi is always right, my host family has welcomed me into their home with open arms, with or without my right eyebrow. It’s a strange feeling, unpacking a single luggage that’s supposed to hold everything you need to survive for the next four months and slowly watch your bedroom transform into a place that is entirely your own. I have been fortunate enough to call many different places “home” at one point or another and the few mementoes I have chosen to bring with me stand in stark contrast to my newest residence. It serves as a reminder for me of how far I’ve come to reach this point in my life, but also pushes me to challenge myself further. I look back at those memories fondly, but I also remember the times of difficulty and discomfort. Those feelings are integral to the study abroad experience because they make me aware of my “growing pains”—the times where I was plagued by self-doubt, but persevered despite it. It’s how I recognize that I am expanding my comfort level. I do not expect my time in Japan to be easy, and I’ve travelled enough to know that there are times when I’ll feel overwhelmed. The trick is to maintain your sense of “balance.” I know there will be days I feel inundated with the difficulties of adapting to another culture, but there will also be days where the waiter will understand my order, and I’ll know that my hard work is being rewarded.


I just need to be brave enough to keep growing.


More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Emily Okikawa

<div>Emi Okikawa escaped from Oahu, Hawaii by hiding in the cargo hull of a plane headed for the East Coast.&nbsp;</div>
<div>She was last seen at Franklin &amp; Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.</div>
<div>Recent rumors have surfaced about her being set loose in Tokyo. Be advised, the suspect has been spotted eating her weight in Japanese pastries&nbsp;and sitting in animal cafés for multiple hours a day.</div>

2016 Fall
Home University:
Franklin & Marshall College
Environmental Studies
Explore Blogs