For many, the beginning of 2018 is a time of resolutions and new beginnings. For me, 2018 means the dream of studying abroad in Japan for an entire semester is quickly approaching. The crazy thing is, my bags are all packed, and I’ll be leaving in a few days but I haven’t completely wrapped my head around this-- it still feels like a dream. So to try and grasp the reality of it all my pre-departure prep has been a bit more in-depth than packing my bags and brushing up on my Japanese. I’ve been researching, reflecting, and goal making as well.
But before we go any further, let me introduce myself: my name is Payton Letko and I’m in my junior year at Illinois Wesleyan University where I study International Studies and English (I hope you like book quotes as much as I do, Reader). My number one goal for studying abroad in Japan is to improve my language skills as much as possible. I’ve taken a few Japanese courses at university, but there aren’t many opportunities to practice outside of class. So you know how some people are obsessed with Paris or all things French-- Francophiles. Well, that’s kind of how I would describe my interest in Japan, which started unknowingly as a child when the English dubbed versions of Studio Ghibli movies used to be on TV. Only later years later did I find out the films were Japanese and they piqued my curiosity. I’m so intent on learning the language because it will allow me to learn about the culture in an entirely new way. Through immersion, travel experiences, and new friendships I know I’ll be growing as a person as well.
Of course, I’m excited but I’m also a little bit scared. I mean, I’ll be leaving my friends and family for five months-- missing out on birthday celebrations, holidays, graduations, and all the in-between day to day chats and interactions with those I love. When I’ve travelled before they were fairly short trips over the summer. Many of my friends have pointed out that I’ll be gone for such a long time, causing me to worry about what I’ll miss out on, but recently I’ve been thinking about a quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist which has been able to calm my fears about this.
“You must understand that love never keeps a man [or woman] from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love...the love that speaks the Language of the World.”
No, I’m not saying studying abroad is my destiny or personal legend, but studying abroad is an opportunity for extreme personal growth and betterment of myself-- as all travel has the potential to be. But in this situation I take this quote to mean, that I shouldn’t worry about my relationships falling out while I’m away because the people who really love me, whether that be family, friends, or significant others, will be excited for me to have the experience, and just as excited for me to come back; just like I would be excited and supportive of opportunities and events happening in their lives.
Goals for studying abroad are:
-to explore and connect with my home city (Nagoya)
-make friends with natives (I’ve been told it can be easy to become close and stick with the other kids in your program)
-join a club or activity at the school
-Visit Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo
-master at least two Japanese recipes (hopefully more)
-watch TV and movies in only Japanese
-read some books in Japanese (even if they’re just children’s books)
-find a Japanese translation of one of my favorite books
I always find packing to be a daunting task. I don’t want to overpack, but I don’t want to forget something important. So here’s what I ended up doing:
1. Only take two weeks worth of clothes
I usually lay out all the pieces I’ve chosen, then see if I can make a couple different outfits and that I can layer things for warmer or colder weather.
2. Bring gifts your host family (and friends that you’ll make throughout the semester)
I suggest bringing things that are special to your city, state, or university
Items that you know are not available in Japan
If you bring food items like candy or snacks to share with multiple people, think about finding something that is individually wrapped.
A favorite snack of yours to share with your host family, friends, and to have a taste of when you’re feeling homesick
Instant cake or brownie mix. Okay, I know this one seems random, but while doing some research I found out that Japan doesn’t really have instant baking mixes unless it’s pancake/ hotcake mix. So I decided to bring a box of brownie mix as a fun activity to do with my host family sometime. Or you could bring a box of rice crispies to make rice crispy treats. (Puffed rice cereal is not sold in Japan, but marshmallows and butter are pretty easy to find).
-They do sell deodorant in Japan but it is NOT strong enough for average American, so just do yourself a favor and pack an extra stick, and then throw in another travel size
4. Travel size toiletries
These will tide you over the first couple days you arrive and will be useful for those weekend trips
5. An empty duffel bag
So on my flight, I get to have two checked bags with max weight at 50lbs. I’m planning on only having one checked bag on my way to Japan, then on the way home I’m using the empty duffel I packed for whatever shopping and souvenirs I want to take home.
As Gandalf once said, “The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there” (J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit).
So, let the adventures begin!