I’m only a few days away from going home. Most of my family has been reading my blog (they likely made up about 4,000 of my 6,300 total views), but once school starts back up in January, I’m likely to be bombarded with that wonderful question that well-intentioned acquaintances who only realized you were gone when they see you come back tend to ask. “How was it?”
Okay, I understand the mindset behind it. I’ve often been on the opposite end of that question when one of my friends gets back from a study abroad experience. Where do you start? Hey, you’ve been gone for six months, give me an adjective. But it’s so difficult to sum up everything into as concise a package as the asking person would like. Because people who simply ask the question “how was it?” aren’t actually interested in the coin operated showers, or the grading schemes in the classes, or the historical significance of Ginza. If they were, they would begin with, or at least follow up with something more probing. They just want a summary. One or two quick sentences that can give them an idea of how I responded to six months of stimulus.
So let me start by figuring out how the heck I managed to spend six months over here.
I arrived on the 4th, met my fellow American students and KCP’s English support staff at the airport. We were taken individually to our places of residence, mine being a dorm room in Shinjuku which had plenty of room for a bed and a desk, and if you squeezed, a person. I took the placement test, where I was very quickly humbled and placed in level 3.
Class began, and I struggled. Being self taught, I had a lot of holes in my education and pretty much all of them were exploited early on. I made friends with a Chinese guy named Encaron. On weekends and after school, I would go wander around by myself. We also had a few culture classes, which were just for the American students and taught in English. The quality of these varied, but were usually enough to make me excited to get up on a Saturday.
About halfway through the month, I visited the offices for the first time. I work at JapanesePod101.com and make videos with two other people. I would later begin working every weekday for four hours after school.
Near the end, I went to see fireworks at Sumida-river with an American (originally from Indonesia) named Trisna, who would later be the person I went with on trips outside of Tokyo. No, we were not dating.
Then finally, we had a speech contest. I was not a contestant, but Encaron was our classes representative and we got to do a cheer for him onstage.
The culture classes continued and the summer weather got even more hot. I learned that I had a family that signed up to have me stay at their house, but it fell through. They wanted to try again in the next semester.
Then I took my first trip out of Tokyo, going to Fujiyoshida with Trisna. Fujiyoshida is famous for being very close to Mt. Fuji, but the weather was terrible the entire trip. Mt. Fuji strike one.
KCP held a cooking class, which I attended. I also went to the Ghibli museum for the first time. In less fun news, I had Midterms for the first semester.
In the middle of the month, we had our big culture class outing to Enoshima and Kamakura (pt. 1 | pt. 2). I got to get to know the Americans a little better.
We also had a summer vacation coming up, with an entire week free. Trisna and I planned a three day trip. We first went to Nara, and then Himeji castle. Then we went to Hiroshima and the nearby island Miyajima. I took some of my favorite pictures during this trip.
After summer vacation, school got a little more quick paced. We also took a school trip to a nearby park.
In addition to taking many tests in a short period of time, I got a letter from my future host family that got me excited for the prospect of living with them. The Americans who were leaving after the first semester took a special final exam early, and left about the middle of the month. Mine wasn’t until the 25th, but there was a five day break immediately before it. I wound up mostly studying during that break.
I took my final exam, and finished level 3. I had a week of freedom, during which I didn’t attempt anything too strenuous, except for go to the Ghibli museum again, and then it was time to move in with my host family.
I moved into my homestay in Minami-senju, and spent the second week doing stuff with them. In the excitement of making a good first impression, I signed up for a 5K race.
I found out that I got an A in level 3, and they asked me to do a sample conversation with one other classmate in front of the next semester’s orientation. The next semester began, and I was feeling a lot more at-home at KCP, being the one-semester veteran.
On the first weekend, the host family and I went over to a friend-of-the-family’s house in Chiba. The husband happened to be a commercial director at TBS (tv studio), and I discovered that the secret behind speaking a language well is finding someone that you really, really want to talk to. I kept in touch after the weekend, and he seemed to like me.
I approached the next semester of school as if I were aiming to get 100 percent on every test. It’s amazing how the difficulty of KCP can beat such optimistic thoughts out of a person. Upset that I had long passed the halfway mark and had yet to see Mt. Fuji, I took another trip by myself to Kawaguchiko, which met a similar rainy fate. Mt. Fuji strike two.
Another semester, and another school excursion. This time to a park in Tachikawa for a BBQ.
My host family had long since tired of me, and essentially rented me out to some of their friends for a weekend. It was nice to be around people who were excited to talk to me again. I finally ran the 5K race, got 21st in a group of about 120 people, and felt moderately good about myself. Then came the second midterm.
November was when I started studying hardcore for the upcoming JLPT 2 exam. I would spend entire weekends in the library, and studied in whatever cracks existed in my schedule. As such, the month felt like a blur compared to the lazy summer days.
I took the JLPT and I’m fairly confident I passed. After the test, my energy wavered a bit, and I slugged through the last bit of classes. Work got hectic as I had to make sure everything was in place to make the transition from “has Matt” to “no Matt” go smoothly. I got offered a job by my boss for after I graduate, a decision which has yet to be made.
One weekend, I decided to give Mt. Fuji one last shot. I woke up at 5:30, took the 4 hour trip back to Kawaguchiko, and was greeted with a sight I have almost been trained not to expect — Mt. Fuji. I tried to get as many pictures as I could, and got a few that I could be proud of. I stayed there the entire day, until the sun set. Mt. Fuji, homerun. (well, perhaps a triple. It got cloudy again in the evening)
I also went to a party with some co-workers, where we mostly played video games. It sort of reminded me of parties back home.
And today, I went to the Ghibli museum one last time.
Tomorrow is Monday, and my last day of class, and then Tuesday is my final exam. Wednesday, at about 4:30, I’m flying out of here.
Suffice it to say, Japan has been a ton of work and a ton of fun. Not that it was either one or the other, but they both happened at the same time.
So how’s that?