Cross-Cultural Studies Firsthand
- Friday, October 12, 2007
A Homeschool Grad Goes to College in Japan
One of the most important lessons I learned as a homeschool student is that learning can take many forms and most of life's most important lessons are taught outside the classroom. This has been especially true during the last seven months I have spent attending Temple University in Tokyo, Japan. Every day here has been a new chance to strengthen my character and expand my knowledge. While the demands of my courses and the social atmosphere of the school are important, they pale in comparison to the everyday challenges of living abroad in a country with a vastly different culture and language than my own.
The challenges started before I left home. When I made the decision to pursue the remainder of my undergraduate education at Temple University Japan (TUJ), I had nowhere near enough money to pay for tuition and Tokyo's astronomical living costs. Despite working since the age of 14 and saving the majority of my pay, I was about $20,000 short of my projected needs. This started a frantic search for scholarships that kept me up into the early hours of the morning typing out essays, forms, and worksheets and had me running trips all around, tracking down transcripts, delivering applications, and mailing off paperwork, all while working and doing the host of things such as getting passports and visas that are necessary for travel abroad. It was a very stressful time and I probably would have given up if it weren't for the constant encouragement and understanding of my parents. After everything was sent off, a period of waiting began to see whether I would get the scholarships and so forth that I needed. As the deadlines for payment approached, there was no sign of scholarships in sight. I was confused about what to do next and prayed that God would give me a clear answer. A couple of days before the deadline, I wrote to my admissions counselor to let her know and withdrew my application, explaining that I lacked the funding to attend. The very next day I received a series of emails telling me that I had won more than $20,000 in scholarship money. I had my sign.
The following months were a whirlwind of preparation and goodbyes. I spent so much time slogging through red tape and doing all the things that I knew I'd miss that I didn't research living in Japan very much. As a result, when my plane arrived at Narita International Airport on August 18, I was clueless. I had no idea what I was doing, so I was forced to rely on God. As always, He was faithful, and I got through the confusion of those first few weeks without getting myself into any real trouble.
One of the first tasks I had to master was the use of Japanese transportation systems. I took the bus to school, but incomprehensible routes that befuddled even the natives prevented me from taking it anywhere else. So, like the vast majority of everyone in Tokyo, I have learned to rely on the trains. Inside the city I'm never more than a 15-minute walk from the nearest station, and for a few hundred yen (a dollar is worth about 115 yen) I can get from anywhere to anywhere in less than an hour. While this is very convenient, all those train tickets can really add up. So, like many other Tokyo residents, I use a bike as much as possible.
My first trip aboard the train was made on my way to church a few days after arriving. I had located the church online and was eager to meet up with my Christian brothers and sisters in Japan. That first service was one of the most meaningful times of worship I have ever experienced. Seeing hundreds of believers from a radically different culture praising the same God with joy and exuberance filled me with awe at the power of our God who isn't restrained by national, cultural, or language borders. It was undoubtedly the most moving experience I have had in my time here. After church, I went out to dinner with several new friends.
That night we had curry, one of my favorites here, but not all Japanese food seems wonderful to my American taste buds. My first experience with Japanese food came the day after my arrival when I ate out at one of Japan's popular restaurant chains, Denny's. It sounded comfortingly familiar, but back home Denny's doesn't serve spaghetti topped with seaweed and tuna. Since then I've tried a lot of different things, everything from sliced octopus legs and raw fish to whole pickled fish that are eaten with their scales and bones. Among the myriad of strange dishes I've found several that I really like. The donburi shops that are on seemingly every corner serve large, tasty bowls of meat and veggies on rice. The Japanese version of curry is quite good and very affordable. Ramen here is quite tasty and very different from the instant varieties found at home. Other foods that I eat often include soba, a kind of wheat noodle; onaghiri, rice balls wrapped in seaweed containing fish or other seafood; and yakisoba, fried noodles with vegetables. One notable absence in my diet is teriyaki. One of my favorites at home, I've discovered that it is much more American than Japanese.
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