After two months in Tokyo, this city has become a third home. I had ideas of what exchange was going to be like from friends and videos, but when you jump in anything can happen.
Here’s some things that threw off what I thought exchange would be;
University and Language
I was deeply saddened to learn the University of Tokyo does not record lectures for the future. Echo 360 has been my dearest friend in exam preparation and revision. Those bright blue words and that deep, sensual copyright warning. Now I must attend every class and record the topic in detail in my notes to have a good chance for revision. Sounds like what you’d normally do, except normally we added an extra 45 minutes. In five weeks one of my notebooks is half full keeping up with all the lectures, hopefully managing to get it all before my hand cramps.
Luckily, my university conducts a series of courses in English. This makes it easier for me to take up courses I don’t have a background in and participate in class with other international and domestic students. However, this has given me a different perspective, as most of my classmates and lecturers speak English as a second or third language. The amount of effort they put into every class and discussion makes me recognise the opportunities and privilege I’ve already have as an English speaker, and I realise what my international friends back home go through every day.
Many discuss culture shock, and alienation from your society and values. Overtime you adjust to your surroundings but, sadly, during my orientation, only two weeks into my exchange, my grandmother passed away. My family and I were mentally prepared for some time, but that does little to soften the blow of the passing of a loved one. We were even planning to have a Skype call within the next few days. It was that it happened so suddenly that turned my head in. And while my family mourned and comforted each other, I’m still supposed to go out and have the time of my life.
While you’re away from home, life carries on for your family, friends and everyone else. The country and people I return to won’t be the same as I left. I’m afraid the reality of this won’t set in for some time, but I know my friends will keep me grounded.
All that being said, I wouldn’t give up anyone I have meet within the last two months to go back home. From classmates to bar mates, these people have welcomed me into their lives. Any sickness, stress or worry is gone when they laugh. From that first day when the teachers made you stand up and introduce yourself to over a hundred people, to the three people taking the train home with me. You become friends, and it’s how you push each other outside your comfort zone that will make this exchange for all of us.