My Life In Japan: The End?

Payton Letko
June 1, 2018

Gradually, I’ve been adjusting. To the 14 hour time difference, the food, to constantly hearing English instead of Japanese, to driving a car instead of riding the subway, and to not seeing a conbini on every corner. For the past five months, I have embraced a lifestyle far different from the American Midwest, and though I’m excited to see my friends and family, there are things I deeply miss and habits that seemed to be deeply ingrained into me now.

Daily Habits and My Host Family

It doesn’t matter how much I speak and hear English now, I’ve become attached to the little daily words and phrases I often used in Japanese with my friends, host family, and in class. From saying ohayoo in the morning, tacking on a random ne, or my personal favorite daijoubu. I find myself still unconsciously slipping these phrases into daily conversation and realizing it once the person I’m talking to gives me a strange look. Just a daily reminder that unfortunately, Japanese is not an international language and doesn’t have vocabulary you can throw into conversation that is more commonly known.   

I miss the evening routine of conversation and Japanese home-cooked meals with my host family. They were extremely kind opening their home to me, which is a big deal in Japanese culture, and they showed me a lot of hospitality, but we developed a relationship. In the evenings after dinner we would sit on the floor around a small table in the living room and watch a game show, sometimes we would have a dessert and talk. One night after dinner, we were sitting in the living room and they introduced me to a dessert that had shiro anko or white sweet bean paste in it. It’s a bit sweeter than regular anko and delicious. My host mother said whenever I eat something really delicious I look like really happy Snoopy (yes, Charlie Brown’s beagle). So after that every time I ate something I really liked, my Host Mom would always be giggling to herself about how I look like Snoopy. And I’ll miss my Host Dad’s Star Wars references, like if he knew I had a test that day he’d say (in English) “may the force be with you” before I went to school in the morning.

My Study Abroad Friends

It was a really interesting experience coming into this program because for the first time I was surrounded by an entire department of students who were as interested in Japan and learning the language as I was. And because of this, it was so easy to have conversations, meet random people, and share experiences with them. And once the Japanese students returned from their vacation it was fairly easy to meet with them too because the students who really wanted to befriend the international students hung out in one common area. Usually, you could walk up to any table, ask to join, and be welcomed into the conversation.

Learning to Love Language

I began studying Japanese my second year of college before going abroad and knew some of the basics, but in the previous semester, I found myself in a rut with the language. I was frustrated with kanji, I couldn’t completely wrap my head around some of the grammar, and I felt like I was barely using my Japanese, which was true because the only opportunity I really had was an hour in class three times a week. I used to go to the tutor and for extra help and practice, but whenever I tried to speak I struggled a lot and felt robotic. Now, after going abroad and being exposed to the language every day, practicing and reviewing constantly, things finally started to click for me. Looking back, it blows my mind how some grammar points were so difficult before and now I was using them in daily conversation without thinking too hard about it. Every now and then I do still get burnt out, but having had the experience of speaking to native speakers and being able to hold a conversation after all the studying has made this a fascinating and rewarding experience for me. It’s made me realize that, though it may take time and a lot of work, I am capable of speaking a foreign language. I am so excited for when I reach a high level of fluency in Japanese, and I want to try and learn another language in addition to Japanese.  

So here’s to looking back on the five months in Japan and to what will stick with me for years to come. It’s time for the next chapter.


Payton Letko

<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:9.65pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%">I grew up in a small farm town but was bitten by the travel-bug shortly after leaving for undergrad. I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas, and can often be found searching for the best treats life has to offer.</span></p>

2018 Spring
Home University:
Illinois Wesleyan University
Toulon, Illinois
International Studies
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