Unforgotten Moments: My Trip to Japan 

 
Patrick in Japan

 
Was studying in Japan worthwhile?
Absolutely!

Now, I can speak and write Japanese, and play Japanese music.

For me, Japan was right on time.


 

Dreaming of a Far Away Land

In the mid-summer of 2006, my expectations for my junior year at Westminster College were set high - collegiate football, academics, and advancements in music.  The only dream that seemed yet to come true was my dream to study abroad.

Since I first became a student at WC, my college advisors began telling me of the value of a study abroad experience. After much thought in my spring semester and mid-summer, I finally decided I would go through all the procedures to study abroad, even though I knew it would require a lot of work. 

From deciding where I wanted to go, writing essays, getting recommendation letters, completing passport and visa applications, taking passport and visa photos, waiting and hoping that I would be accepted, and securing financial aid, one can see that it took a lot of energy just to get my foot onto the plane. Fortunately, I fainted not!   With the school's help, I was accepted into a study abroad program at Kansai Gaidai University.  I was so excited by seeing the fruits of my labor rewarded. In addition, my acceptance into a program in Japan displayed my interest in being different from the norm. 

While most students prefer to study abroad in countries that speak English, I chose to go to a place where the language and culture were tremendous barriers. How many people do you know who have studied Japanese before, whether in high school or in college? Speaking for myself, I've studied Japanese culture; however, attempting to study its spoken and written Japanese never crossed my mind.

Kansai Gaidai website

Patrick (4th from the left) was featured on the Kansai Gaidai website
talking about his study abroad experience.

Starting the Journey

On January 19, 2007, I boarded my plane scheduled to leave for Japan.  The next day, my plane touched down in Osaka, Japan. I had arrived.

I remember the night when I rode from the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan. On my arrival, I was met by Kansai Gaidai personnel who directed me to a gathering area where other international students were waiting.  Once everybody had been gathered, a bus took us to our dormitories. While leaving the airport, I was in awe because I never would have imagined myself being on this bus in a foreign country, watching the rushing traffic, based on the left-side rather than right-side, and actually seeing the SEGA game console logo lit up in the sky. This was just the first night of my admiration, and I was amazed.  And this was just the first night! 

All in all, I spent six months engulfed in Japanese culture and way of life - and my life was changed tremendously.

Learning You Can't Get from Books

I came to see myself having two roles.  First, I was the Educated; secondly, I was an Educator!  I went to Kansai Gaidai to take general courses for my Westminster degree as well as to study Japanese extensively - so I had much to learn. 

But at the same time, I found myself teaching others about American culture and the English language.  My roles as a student and teacher provided much growth in my overall character concerning cultural awareness, acquiring of a new spoken language and its writings, and the ability to bounce back from stressful events in my life.

Patrick & Elmo visit with childrenA sense of cultural awareness came from my stay and interaction with my circle of friends from all parts of the world. So not only did I learn about them and their culture, but I gained a greater appreciation for myself and my culture as well.

For instance, I learned so many things about dealing with people when I got to understand their culture.  When I had trouble understanding why a friend from Hungary insisted on hanging around her friends all the time, a friend from Ecuador explained to me that Hungarian culture is more community oriented than American culture, with its emphasis on individuality.  In addition, Carlos (from Ecuador) was able to make this connection, he believed, because Hungary and Ecuador both have Latin roots.

Whoa! I went to Japan to learn more about its culture, but just being at Kansai Gaidai with all of these international students from all parts of the world, I learned more about many cultures.  Furthermore, it was a thrill in educating my friends about English and the African-American culture and southern culture of the United States. In general, staying among international students really broadens your point of view about many things, ranging from simple things to sophisticated things.

My greater sense of awareness of cultural differences from a global perspective helps me to live up to the standards set for me at Westminster College, which is to give back to the global community. And in order to give back, one must know what that global community is and who represents the globally community.

Patrick featured in Japanese magazine

Patrick was also featured enjoying the Japanese culture with Agnes, a fellow Kansai Gaidai student, and widely known Tokyo writer and his editor in the June 2007 issue of Z, a Japanese magazine.

Is Japanese a Hard Language to Learn?

All I can say is that you'd better hope to make Japanese friends upon your arrival, or you'll find out just how hard it is!  Upon my arrival, my luggage was lost. Reading the signs in hiragana, katakana, and kanji were out of the question for me as at that point, I knew no Japanese.

But I needed lots of basic necessities! So I journeyed to a nearby store a short distance from my dormitory and began to make a fool of myself - but in reality, I was just trying to survive. I needed to buy some underwear, soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste to hold me over until my luggage arrived, which took a week and a half.

In trying to get these products, I spoke my native language first hoping that the clerk would understand me, but he didn't. So I turned to Option B, my own version of sign language! The first question was basically the last question I asked the clerk because that question caused everyone in the store to smirk. Now the question was simple, "Do you have any deodorant?" But after finding out that no one in the store understood that question, I raised my hands in the hair and intimidated putting on deodorant, which was hilarious to them watching me.

Once I saw that smirk on the clerk's face in front of me I asked myself, "I wonder how I look to them?"  As I looked at my reflection in the glass window behind the clerk, I realized that I resembled a monkey waving its arms above its head and scratching under his arms. Fortunately, however, I got everything I needed! In addition, this experience gave me a sense of motivation to learn how to speak, write, and read Japanese!

It took me nearly a month and a half to get the basics. But once I got going, I was on a roll. So is Japanese is hard?  Actually, it was hard language to write, but speaking came easily since I was immersed in the environment and had no choice.  And now I have many tongues!

Learning About Myself Through Others

When I arrived in Japan, I did not know that I would wear so many hats. Actually, I did not plan on wearing many hats because I needed a break from the many activities at Westminster. However, I soon found myself wearing the hat of an entertainer, musician, counselor, role model, mediator, leader, supporter, and follower.

From my stay in Japan, I realized that problems are everywhere and everyone can have them. Thinking back to my circle of friends, I noticed that many of my friends come to me for advice about topics ranging from social to personal issues.  Perhaps because of the many struggles I have faced, I seemed to know how to listen and respond. 

Through these experiences, my understanding of people increased tremendously, which in turn allowed me to understand myself better.  So in addition to growing intellectually, I grew personally, which is essential my development as a human being. In addition, through adversary, I could still be productive and give something back.

Patrick and fellow study abroad students

Studying in Japan was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  It was like the experience of coming to Westminster, in which I was taken away from my comfort zone and placed among a group of people who were different, yet surprisingly similar to me.

Every time that this has happened, my friends and family notice something different about me.  They can see that I have profoundly changed, and it's almost like I'm not the same person that they saw leave. Overall, my character grew tremendously in Japan. I now feel refreshed, and honestly, everybody who has seen me since my return agrees with me on that.

Was studying in Japan worthwhile? Absolutely!  Now, I can speak Japanese, write Japanese, play Japanese music, and breathe Japanese.  Oddly, I even became something of a celebrity while I was over there--socially, academically, and musically.  For me, Japan was right on time.