Last semester, I remember talking to Dr. Stapp in his office and every time before I leave, he turns to his calendar and tells me how many days we have left until Japan and until we’re home from Japan. Now, it has been about 8 days since I have been home from one of the greatest adventures I’ve embarked on yet. This was not an ordinary study abroad trip: There were no classrooms, no assignments, and no papers. It wasn’t a vacation either, or at least it wasn’t for the most part. There is no doubt that I would go back again, if the opportunity presented itself. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I went on the UofA Faculty-Led: International Business in Japan program. I primarily chose this program because of its reputation. I had a few friends that went the summer before and they told me about fantastic their time in Japan was, so it piqued my interest. Dr. Stapp, the program’s fearless leader, has been leading the trip for 17 years now so I also knew that he would know exactly what needs to happen. My interest in the study abroad program after I did Model United Nations in Rome, Italy last fall. The class was taught by Stapp, so every time I stopped by his office to talk about Model UN matters (ironically, my assigned country was Japan), he interjected a section (or five) about the Japan Study Abroad Trip. I was very apprehensive at first. I am going to be a senior in the fall, so having a summer internship is crucial. The length of the study abroad trip is both its beauty and its downfall. While the 35 day trip was perfect for getting to see everything and getting the bang for your buck, it was also difficult to tell interviewers, “Hey, I’m going to be out of the country until mid-June… any way you could hold that spot for me until I get back? I promise I’ll have a better worldview and I’ll be more cultured!”. Stapp worked with me and helped me find the summer internship I currently have, so I felt a bit better about the experience. This is probably not the right mindset, but I told myself that I have the rest of my life to work, but the time for traveling in this capacity is now. Stapp kept telling me the exact same thing on the trip, so I’m guessing there’s some truth to it. Gosh, I wish I could fully describe all the experiences that I had there. My biggest hope for everyone is that they go somewhere that will challenge them and affirm them in who they are for a long amount of time. It wasn’t until I came out of my comfort zone that I really learned about myself. I had a multitude of life lessons, but as far as overarching themes, I would categorize the two biggest lessons I learned under “I am so entitled” and “Live in the moment, don’t let life pass you by”.
First lesson: I am so entitled. This wasn’t something I realized until a few weeks in when I found myself complaining about petty things such as not having an English menu, having to use a Japanese style toilet, and not being able to communicate with people because of the language barrier. There were so many times where I wanted people to conform to my needs, speak my language, serve my food, and do things my way. And I had to really take a step back and remind myself that I came to their country to learn about their culture, not so I can come in and find the most comfortable things for me. Even though I learned this about myself, this didn’t exactly make me the most adventurous eater. There was this dish called nato, which is fermented soybean. I watched some people in the group try it at Nagata-san’s and JB got kinda sick from it so I’m a little aversive to it. I saw it being served for breakfast at my Toyota City homestay and I panicked a little bit. Thankfully, it was an optional dish. There were a lot of restaurant ordering debacles that I wish I was able to undo at the moment, but I’m glad it happened so I can laugh when I tell people about the stories. There was a time when I tried to get a coffee to go but the cashier and I were at such a complete misunderstanding so the best I could do was say “uhh…. gomenasai!” and left. One time at Starbucks, I tried to do two transactions and I was just not able to get my point across. Thank goodness she eventually understood! One time, a group of us went to dinner and kept trying to order fried rice until she was repeatedly telling us they didn’t have anymore. I definitely got frustrated in my lack of Japanese but it just means that non verbal communications meant even more. Definitely a cool experience not being in the majority as far as the language goes so we really had to work around it.
My second and more important lesson, I learned to live in the moment. There were moments where I would miss my friends and family back home and I wanted nothing more than just to talk to them. It was easy to start counting down the days until I got home and got back together with them, but it was diminishing from my Japan experience. I constantly reminded myself that I only had a limited time to enjoy Japan. I will be in Arkansas for the remainder of the summer and will have plenty of time to see people and do all the things I enjoyed in Fayetteville. I think this was a really great lesson to learn not just for Japan, but in general. I am a planner by nature so I tend to look to the future a lot. What I’ve come to learn is just to trust that everything will work out how it’s supposed to so I need to stop fixating so much on the future that I forget about the moments that are in front of me. We got to go into nature and unplug from the busyness of the cities that we visited.
I would 100% endorse this trip to other students. Stapp takes about 12 students every year, which is a great size for the activities that we participate in. For anyone who is going, I would highly recommend picking up a phrase book or two and actually learning a few key phrases in Japanese. I would also recommend keeping an open mind since there are a lot of opportunities to try new things. Overall, it was a phenomenal experience that I do not regret taking part in.