One of the things I've quickly come to appreciate about IES Abroad is how they ease you into your program. The morning after arriving to Nagoya, the 4th largest city in Japan (which may not sound super impressive, but keep in mind that Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world), we were whisked away to a smaller, much quieter castle town for the IES Abroad orientation. During this time we had the basic informational session, were able to set up a cell phone and data plan, brush up on our Japanese, and connect with Japanese culture in a way you can't in the city.
The IES Abroad orientation in Inuyama was about 4 days. Every day we spent about 3 hours in Japanese class taught by a native speaker which was basically for review purposes, and strangely enough, even though I'd been in a Japanese class at my home university during the previous semester, these review classes were actually very helpful. For me, since I haven't been studying Japanese for an extensive amount of time, I can get a bit nervous speaking, so these classes really helped me to calm some of those nerves so I can remember and use what I've already learned.
We did have plenty of free time to rest up and explore. About a 5-minute walk led you to Inuyama's main street which held a shrine, the Inuyama Castle, museums, shops, and plenty of restaurants providing many noms to please your taste buds. One of my favorite shops was a place where they sold flavored beans. No, not your mother's green beans with bacon, but a variety of uncooked beans with savory and sweet-coatings. Having the sweet-tooth I do, the raspberry flavor was my favorite and just like candy. I may be making a special trip back to purchase some souvenirs.
Speaking of R&R, our hotel had a great onsen, or hot spring, to relax in. There were three different pools: inside there was a small cold water pool and a larger warm water pool, and outside there was a warm water pool with a great view of the stars. If you've never been to an onsen before, some foreigners are a little uncomfortable with the concept of being completely nude in an area with complete strangers (the baths are separated by sex; one for males, another for females). I'll admit, we don't have anything like this in America and at first, I was a bit self-conscious, especially coming from a country with certain body expectations, but I found the experience to be very liberating and awakening. Women of all ages and body types come to the onsen take care of their bodies and mind. I found it to be a time for relaxation, rejuvenation, and meditation. The warm waters relax tired muscles and there are minerals in the water that are good for the skin. The atmosphere is extremely calming, peaceful, and care-free-- it is not a place to be self-conscious. I had a conversation with one of my friends about bathing culture in Japan and she told me it can be a form of bonding. She said before she was in college, every year she would come to the onsen with her mother and grandmother and it was a time for them to become closer. At our hotel, we noticed a big group of businessmen were staying there and later found out they were all there for team building-- going to the hot spring is a common way to achieve this. For me, onsen is a form of self-love and balance. It also taught me that part of experiencing and understanding another culture is going out of your comfort zone, but by doing so you'll learn something about yourself or even a new perspective on life.
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<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>