This study abroad experience has been the most impactful, influential, and inspiring event in my life thus far. Because of this experience, I was able to confirm some questions I was having in regard to my possible career path and I was also given the chance to experience a culture that, for most of my life, I have been obsessed with. I would like to start by highlighting some of the most impactful experiences from this trip and then explain how those experiences have influenced the ideas I have about my future and role in the world.
Our visit to the Dazaifu shrine was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences I had in Japan. As a Religious Studies major, it was incredible to see all of what I have been studying in person and since this was the first shrine we visited, it left a huge impression on me. What I found most incredible from that shrine was how beautifully the man-made paths blended in with the nature surrounding the area. I am an advocate for environmental sustainability and seeing these things blend in an unobtrusive way versus what I am used to seeing in the United States made me realize that the United States can do better. The sheer amount of respect I had, and have, as I was walking through the paths of the Dazaifu shrine became more evident after seeing the effort and respect put into the surrounding area. The attention to nature wasn’t just at shrines, it was all over the areas of Japan we went to. Despite being in a crowded urban district, there were still attempts made to preserve the land, and as a result countless examples of trees, flowers, and more were present. I hope to see these kinds of implementations appear in the United States and it has inspired me to look for ways I can help further this initiative on my own.
Much like my experience with my theoretical knowledge of Japanese religions becoming practical, I experienced something similar upon our visits to the Peace Memorial areas in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Obviously, we did not experience the atomic bombs practically, but absorbing the information in Japan and having it be told by Japanese people allowed me to further understand the horrors that occurred during World War II. It was truly heartbreaking to read the stories and see the damage that occurred first-hand. There are no textbooks or articles I have read that could compare to what I felt while there. Although I was already against nuclear weapons prior to visiting the memorials and museums, the experience has made me even more determined to oppose even the thought of letting that happen again. My projected career path doesn’t directly involve itself with these kinds of politics, but I now have a stronger conviction to argue against the use of nuclear weapons in my own social circles. I understand now that it is our responsibility to spread awareness and that the future generations will need to keep advocating for peaceful negotiation to avoid any tragedies such as this to happen again.
Our nights spent in Hiroshima were amazing as well, but for a reason that is different from the previous ones. They were made so special because of our visits to the okonomiyaki chef, Nakamichi Nobuhiro. The food was phenomenal, some of the best I had while we were in Japan, but even more incredible were the conversations we had with Nakamichi-san. After our night out as a large group, all six of the boys went out again to Nakamichi-san’s restaurant. There we talked for roughly two hours about where we were from, why we were in Japan, and many more. A few of us even added him on LINE and exchanged omiyage. The funniest moment of the night was when Mikkel gave Nakamichi-san some Starbursts and Nakamichi-san struggled to eat them because of how sweet they were. At the end of our meal, I was able to get a picture of everyone together and we promised we would be back in a year. Nakamichi-san then promised that he would maybe remember us. By far, one of the best nights spent in Japan and a memory I will keep with me all my life. Prior to this encounter, I was really nervous about talking to people in Japan further than asking for directions or ordering a meal because I felt my Japanese would be too weak to have a meaningful conversation with them. However, after talking with Nakamichi-san, I realized that although my Japanese wasn’t perfect, the chance to engage with someone from a completely different culture is far more valuable than my small fear of making a mistake. It gave me a lot more confidence to try and speak more Japanese during the rest of the trip and engage with more people that we came across.
Prior to this trip, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue my Japanese studies or if I should be pursuing a career that is dependent on my ability to use the language. However, after being surrounded by the culture, language, and witnessing so much of Japan I realized that I couldn’t be happy if I let that opportunity slip away from me. Because of this study abroad program, I have finally confirmed what it is that I want to do with my life in the short term and I am determined to get into the JET program or another Japanese teaching program so that I can go back and feel the comfort I felt while we were there. A part of me wishes I had come to this conclusion sooner, but without the practical experience of being in Japan, I know there would have been a very tiny chance of me realizing. And because of that, I am truly grateful that this study abroad program was offered and even more grateful that I was able to participate in it.