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Touchdown in America

Unexpected lessons Japan taught me

At last, my three-month journey to Japan has come to a close. Last week, my plane touched down in America, and I am finally back in the warm, snug arms of Springfield, Virginia.

But after all this time abroad, I have learned the greatest culture shock does not always come from the foreign country one is visiting. Sure, the culture in Japan is very different from the culture in America. But I have studied Japanese culture for years, and had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

My biggest culture shock came from my fellow interns, who call places from Hawaii to Ohio to Washington to Alabama home. Social norms and customs vary so greatly from place to place in America — something they never teach you in school.

I also learned a lot about autonomy and self-management. I lived completely alone for the first time in my life. While it is true my parents financially supported me the whole way through, I was still going through my day-to-day alone, in an apartment worlds away from anything familiar to me. It was a huge stepping stone in terms of learning how to take care of my own affairs and become independent.

I also learned a lot about ESOL — or English for Speakers of Other Languages — as well as teaching language and learning language in general. It has been a good seven years since I first took up Japanese. I forgot what it was like to be in those beginning stages, and I saw how hard it can be in the students in Japan.

I learned that even in the beginning stages, I need to give these students a chance to think for themselves and try to make guesses on their own. At first, I would just feed them the answers right away, but I quickly learned this was not the best way for them to learn. Now, I can apply these lessons to my own Japanese classes at the University. Too often I see a classmate struggling, and I feed him the answer instead of letting him think for himself.

I especially plan to take these lessons of bravery and perseverance with me on my next adventure — a Spanish class I’ve enrolled in for this upcoming semester. I am a fourth-year signed up for SPAN 1010 for no reason other than my desire to learn something new. I am excited to take this next step, carrying with me everything I have learned from my language experiences so far.