In the USA, there are no Kei-cars（軽自動車）. I had never seen a Kei-car until I moved to Japan and started driving one for work. Read the rest of this entry
Once in Japan I was hit by culture shock in varying degrees depending on the situation. I was also horribly nervous and could hardly say a few words to figure out where I was supposed to go to pick up my luggage, let alone have a conversation. Within a week I was able to hold a shaky conversation and after a month, I was talking to everyone and anyone I could. I had always been Read the rest of this entry
From there I entered college with a drive to learn and to push myself. Having a desire to learn another language has become a driving force in my effort to learn Japanese and is incorporated into my major. I started off not truly knowing how to study Japanese and I would often spend most of my time staring at the pages of my textbooks, trying to absorb the information that way. This was horribly ineffective and after the first few chapters I started struggling. Most of the grammatical structures, vocabulary, and conjugations would make some sense for a day or so and then I would forget them or make the same errors again and again.
I was lucky enough to meet several Japanese exchange students right around the time when I was struggling most. They were very kind and started helping me practice my Japanese a few times a week. They would quiz me over and over again on vocabulary until I knew what they were going to say just by the first syllables that left their tongues. Once I was able to create my own sentences, not just repeat common phrases everyone had memorized, I would say anything and everything I could in Japanese to them, and I listened intently each time any of them spoke to me. I still struggled in class and my skills were poor all around, but I was still passing my courses at a level to continue. These people that helped me have become some of my best friends and I am still in contact with them today, driving me forward still.
I tried twice to go to Japan as an exchange student and had to cancel my application for abroad due to financial situations, caused by steep increases in the university’s fees up to $5,000 in one year. I tried for a third time and was able to study abroad in the Fall of 2012 at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. I was kept busy working throughout the summer, keeping me distracted for the most part from my studies, almost as if it was all a lie. Once I had let it sink in that I was accepted and the initial exhilaration had worn off, I started worrying about the different regional dialects of Japan, especially Osaka, where I was headed. I had heard from others that the dialect, known as a“-ben” in Japanese, in Osaka was particularly difficult and that words conjugated completely differently, nearly influencing a change in area of study. Yet the area was perfectly located; the university was in the middle of a triangle of absolutely beautiful cities, Osaka City, Nara, and Kyoto, all within about an hour or so by train. With this in mind, my motivation spiked once more and I set off for Japan.
I lived in a city called West Palm Beach, Florida near Lake Okeechobee, until I was 12 years old. I was exposed to people from around the world that could speak a handful of different languages. The most dominant language besides English at the time was Spanish and I had picked up a bit just by being surrounded by it. If I drove about 30 minutes South, Spanish speaking skills were a must. I also took martial arts lessons, specifically Taekwondo, at a nearby dojang where the owners were half Korean and often taught the Korean terms for any moves, counting, being sure to keep a continuous blend of Korean and American culture. In middle school I moved to an area of NH where most people only spoke English and as such Spanish, French, and Latin were offered in the school systems starting in high school. I decided to go with Spanish, but had no real interest and did not challenge myself to learn the language as there was not anyone to speak with that was a native speaker or at least fluent in Spanish besides the instructor. There are many factors that play into how I have been learning the Japanese Language. The more prevalent aspects that affect me in my daily life in correlation to Japanese as a second language are known in linguistic anthropology terms as gender, expert, competence, gesture, community, humor, identity and evolution, yet the most important in my mind is motivation.
I have found motivation an elusive and difficult thing to find again and again. As far as a second language is concerned the process of learning often stems from some sort of driving force, to get you through the days where things are not working out, you feel like you are miles away from your goal and the only thing keeping you from quitting is some form of motivation. That can be an internal force or external. An excerpt from a journal article on motivational factors in consideration to Japanese specifically as a foreign or second language stated:
“…some motivational categories are quite exclusive to Second Language Acquisition; for example…‘communication’ as a driving force in learning a second language. MacNamara, and Lambert and Gardner’s integrative motivation refer to the fundamental nature of learning a foreign language as communicating with native speakers of the language, and as succeeding in becoming part of the community where the target language is spoken” (MATSUMOTO 60)
In this journal the focus is more on the continuation of learning and the motivation that keeps that interest in the subject for every step of the way, even after the academic, in-class level, of learning has passed. This strikes a key with me as I have never been naturally skilled or talented in the acquisition of languages. I often received poor scores on tests, quizzes and exams, yet I was always giving it my all. I could study for 5 hours straight, and get the same result or worse than someone else that studied for just one hour. An interesting thing about this article is that it is going against achievement theories; such as “you are successful so you gain the want to continue”, by saying:
“the learning of a foreign/second language involves far more than simply learning skills, or a system of rules, or a grammar; it involves an alteration in self-image, the adoption of new social and cultural behaviours and ways of being, and therefore has a significant impact on the social nature of the learner.” (MATSUMOTO 61)
This reasons that success in a second language goes beyond immediate grammatical, testable success, and melds the understanding of these rules with the changing of oneself at the same time. This is where my journey takes a turn for the hardest thing I have ever tried to do, and am still doing, learning Japanese.
When I was a freshman in high school I met an exchange student from Japan. He was in the same calculus course as me and he could speak basic English. He seemed like a nice person and I tried talk to him every day, yet he could not understand much of what I said and I had no knowledge of Japanese outside of “Konnichiha” and “Arigatou” which mean “good afternoon” and “thanks”. After about three weeks of failed attempts to communicate I decided that I would learn Japanese in order to help bridge the gap between us. I wandered haphazardly in my studies, picking up random words and a rough memorization of two of the Japanese writing scripts. Yet this did not help in my ability to speak in Japanese, yet he was improving rapidly with his English ability every day. This was my first motivation for learning Japanese.
Throughout high school I tried to get a Japanese language course integrated into the public school in order to study it in a formal setting with hopes of getting at least a few years worth of study. This went on for 3 years and then finally I had the chance from a grant offer by the state for new classes in public schools in New Hampshire. I was in charge of finding a Japanese instructor, students that shared a similar desire to learn Japanese, a time that worked for everyone to meet, and then to help decide how the class was to be graded. The class was hard and not structured very well, as the kind hearted instructor was used to teaching young children that had already spoken some Japanese and I was the only student to follow through with the class to the end. I had ended up learning mainly about the culture and a collection of interesting facts and the proper pronunciation of the Japanese syllabaries, but that was enough to get me started.
MATSUMOTO, MASANORI, and YASUKO OBANA. “MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS AND PERSISTENCE IN LEARNING JAPANESE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies (2001): n. pag. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. June 2001. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-June01/LearningJapanese.pdf>.
I have been talking with a lot of the Japanese exchange students at my home university and I have come to realize just how different the treatment of international students is between my home university and my host university in Japan.
About a month before heading to Kansai Gaidai University ( 関西外大 ) I received an email concerning where I wanted to live, how long I intended to stay and where, information relating to when I could apply for classes and most importantly information on how to get from the airport to the university. Housing was straight forward, listing all of the details of the five off campus, by a mile, Seminar Houses (similar to dorms) as well as the steps in requesting a home stay. I checked out the details and knew within two weeks where I would be living (seminar house 4). I gave a rough estimate of my housing dates, using my definite move in and a tenuous move out date. Housing: check. I found out that I would have to wait until physically arriving at Kansai Gaidai before I could choose anything. Classes: to be determined. Seeing as most of the exchange students heading to Gaidai have never been to Japan before, are unfamiliar with the area, or just outright do not know how to navigate Japan as of the first hour off the plane at Kansai International Airport, Kyoto Station and Osaka Itami Airport, the option of taking a group bus (for incoming international students only) to the Seminar Houses is available and recommended. Ride to Seminar House: check. There is a ¥2000 fee (roughly $24.00) for the bus, but the alternatives would be either a taxi, costing well over ¥5000 (~$60.00) or taking the train which ended up costing about ¥3000 (~$36.00). It was nice to have the choice to go directly to the Seminar Houses or to take our time exploring if we wanted to. Usually everyone is so excited to meet the people at the dorm, to set up their rooms and to see what the area is like, so they go straight to the dorm.
For international exchange students coming to my home university the story is a little different. The students use the same system as the full time US students to register for classes and for housing. This site is confusing enough for native English speakers that have dealt with it in the past and heard the best ways to use it. The students are told to use the site and are on their own. What needs to happen to successfully apply for housing is;
- Request housing appointment
- Wait for authorized housing sign up date
- Search for available on campus housing
- Try not to get stuck in forced triples or quads
- Try not to end up in the smallest dorms on campus
- Select a room and wait to hear back from the university
Not the most enjoyable process. Once the students make their way to the USA they have to find their own way to the campus. There are recommendations for them on how to do so, but that usually goes as far as “we recommend you use either a Peterpan or Greyhound bus” and an address for the university. From there they are on their own. As for the students that arrive a few days early they need to look for hotels and make their way there by taxi. Housing: check, Transportation: Unknown.
That is saddening for me to hear. For me how I was treated every day played a large role in my absolutely loving my experience in Japan. I hope that any difficulties dealing with the university do not put a sour taste in anyone’s mouth. It might take a little more time and effort for the very busy staff, but to request a university bus to pick up the incoming students as an option would probably be a reasonable request.
This is my final semester as an Undergraduate student and I have decided to take a look back at my previous semester. I was studying abroad at 関西外大（ 関西外国語大学 ）Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, located perfectly in the middle of the Osaka, Kyoto, Nara triangle, for four and a half mind blowing months. It is amazing just how fast time can go by; it feels like just last week I was camping on Makino Mountain with a few of my best friends and their family, eating yakitori and sukiyaki.
I will be making a series of blogs focusing on my experiences while in Japan, as well as my reactions after returning to the United States. There will be many comparisons between the USA and Japan in everything that caught my attention, ranging from nature and wildlife, the transportation systems, and view of foreigners. I will be incorporating a few stories of my more interesting encounters that left me in a state of bliss and at times confused beyond means. What more could anyone ask for out of achieving a life time goal?
If you happen to read this and think of any questions, comments, or topics that you would like me to go more in-depth with, please comment or message me.