The other day, I had an interview with Oita University magazine (they interview a foreign student every semester), but I couldn’t express everything I wanted to say about my stay in Japan, so here are some of my thoughts about traveling abroad.
I think everyone would say it is an amazing experience. You’re not only learning about another culture, language, habits, history, but you’re also and mostly learning about yourself and the culture, the community you’re coming from. You get to notice and try to understand another way the think, another approach to living. I come from a society where you always have to stand out, express your opinions, prove you’re worth something, that you can achieve something. I miss going to a bar, meeting some random people and talking about anything, from politics, history, sharing experiences. I miss going into random debates, sharing opinions, trying to prove your point. In Japan, those kind of things can only occurs with close friends, or within your family. Relationship are build slowly. But relationship might be built to be strong and last. When you’re getting to close to someone, especially in a romantic way, it seems to be meant for life. The other important aspect in Japanese society is that your have to respect the other, keep a harmonious relationship. It’s annoying sometime for me, not to be able to express freely my opinions, my true feelings, but it’s also somehow comforting. The people around you make their best trying to make you comfortable and, even if most of the time it’s probably not 100% genuine, people seem to care.
It was difficult for me at first to truly understand how the dynamics in relationship works in Japan. For instance, when you’re talking with someone and they ask you questions, you’re not supposed to only answer the question, talk about yourself, but you’re supposed to remain modest (at least at first), and return the « favor ». Which that, I mean you have to return the questions, because Japanese won’t talk about them by themselves. In Western, if we want to say something, we don’t wait for the other to ask a question, we just talk about it. This might be confusing when you don’t really understand the dynamics of communication in Japan.
Since I’m still young and have plenty opportunities, I want to travel as much as possible. Japan itself is rich in many ways. You can find the mountain, the sea, paradisiac island, lakes, old forest, volcanoes. I would like to visit many cities such as Hiroshima, Osaka, Takayama, and other regions like Kagoshima and the Yakushima island mostly. Other than that, there are plenty countries I have yet to visit: South Korea, maybe North Korea, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, the US, Brazil, Mexico, and many many european cities.
I think it wasn’t that difficult for me to leave Belgium to go abroad for one year. Since I was born, I’ve been sensibilized to foreign countries, foreign languages, for I had the chance to be born in Brussels, a multicultural city in the middle of Europe. My country itself is multucural : I had to face Flemish culture since I was a child, and many situation forced me to use the English language in my own hometown.
Except for the communication issue I sometimes encounter, I don’t think I experienced much of a culture shock since I arrived in Japan. Of course, I’ve been homesick. But my sojourn untill today has mostly been going on very smoothly. That might be because I’ve been in Japan before and knew what to expect while I’ll be here, or just because I’m used to deal with people bearing another culture, or maybe because I’ve been surrounded by Europeans people since I got here. Speaking my French friends here sometimes just feels like home. The real difficulties I encountered since I came here, to be honest, was probably with other foreigner students, mostly the Americans, the Chinese or the Koreans. That might also be because, sadly, since I got here, I had probably more interactions with people from those nationalities than with Japanese themselves. I hope I’ll have more occasions to interact with Japanese from now.
Which leads me to my next point: for some reasons, I’ve been hired to help for Seikyo. My main job is probably to translate a catalog helping new students arriving in Oita University, but we’re also organising some activities to help foreign students meet Japanese students. During Christmas, for instance, we baked Christmas cookies to sell it in front of Shukudo, and gave the benefits to the organisation « Table for two ». That was a great experience. For the next semester, I would like to organise this kind of event again, as well as other activities such as forming tandems.
Now, about my home country, Belgium. We are a small, culturaly and politicaly divided country. It’s filled with diversity, which is its greatness as well as its weakness. Sometimes, I love to be in France or Japan, where there is a strong sense of nationalism in my understanding (even though some French might argue against that, it’s still not the same as in Belgium). But sometimes, I’m really grateful to be Beligium, especially born in Brussels.As I said before, Brussels is a cosmopolitan city, full of diversity. We speak there 68 different languages, if I remember well, but mostly the two officials language of our country : French and Flemish (or Dutch). It is also a great center for culture; unlike France, for instance, where they tend to have a more traditional approach to art (especially in litterature), we are very open to art: design, paints, literatures, comics. We were a great cradle for surealis movements for instance. We are also a very open-minded country, in my opinion. We like simple things, we don’t like high buildings but rather big houses with a garden surrounding it.