Wednesday, September 23, 2015

By Luke Bader*

Hey Everyone!


Me at Mount Myoken.

First, a question for my fellow study abroad students (or potential ones). Is there such thing as the perfect host family? Well, I think so, and they go by the names, Harumichi and Machico. However, they have requested I call them ‘Otousan’ and ‘Okaasan,’ or ‘Father’ and ‘Mother.’ To my fellow Americans back home who are unaware of Japanese culture, this may seem slightly odd. However, in Japan, this is actually seen as quite normal and also, to a degree, respectful. They are an elderly couple who have a few children of their own (who now live elsewhere) and have done everything they can to make me feel like part of the family.

I won’t lie, getting used to being in Japan has been a little tricky. Remember that culture shock I mentioned in my last post? Well, I have definitely had a few moments. For example, besides the fact that my host parents are probably the best ones I could have hoped to get, they speak very little English and for the first few nights my Japanese skills seemed to have skipped town. No problem. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! Oh, but what’s that? Not only were my speaking skills absent for the moment, but almost everyone is speaking with a Kyushu dialect?…challenge accepted? However, after a few days of hanging out with them and ‘talking’ over very delicious meals, I have come to take it in stride. I absolutely love it here!


Authentic Japanese Samurai armor! Oh yeah, this is the good stuff!

As part of a program-included field trip, last weekend I went with the other JASIN and NIC (from China and Korea) students to the Mt. Unzen area for a night! Probably one of the most notable and interesting things about the area is that in the recent past there have been eruptions from the volcano (most recent being in the 1990’s) and there are still old houses on display that are mostly submerged in ash and dirt. While we were in the area we toured Shimabara Castle and some of the surrounding samurai homes that are still standing. However, one of the best parts about the trip was the natural ‘onsen’ (spa/hot spring) at the hotel we stayed at. I have to say, after days of traveling and getting used to the culture, it felt amazing to just sit and relax.

Now at this moment you may be wondering, “Wait. I thought you went to Japan to study. Why haven’t you mentioned classes?” Well, classes haven’t officially started yet. When we first arrived last week we were given a tour of the buildings at orientation and given basic information for the first few days. During orientation we took placement tests to determine which language classes we were qualified for (still crossing my fingers that I did well enough!). This Friday I will sign up for the rest of my classes and will begin next Monday! Wish me luck!

In the mean time, remember what I said last time about talking to people while abroad? Well, taking my own advice, I have made an effort to really get to know my host parents. A few nights ago we talked for over an hour after dinner about the most random things: music, movies, sports, and even WWII. As a result, I found out that my dad, who is retired, loves to fish and has invited me to go with him this next Sunday!

Well everyone, I hope you are enjoying hearing about my time here. As I said in my last post, I want to hear from anyone who has questions! If you can’t think of any at the moment, how about answering some of mine?

  • In any country that you would like to visit, what are some of the sites you would like to see if you are able to go there?
  • Have you ever lived with a host family? If so, how was it? What were some of the biggest things to get used to?

Thanks for reading everyone! まったね!


Quick Tips:

  • As I mentioned, culture shock happens. It’s important to find a way to relieve stress or find something that reminds you of home. Some people may feel a little guilty going to a new country and going to a McDonald’s instead of eating the local cuisine every day. But don’t worry! As my old sensei told me a while back, “You’re already a gaijin, don’t worry about standing out a little.”
  • For students interested in home-stay, be prepared to be sleeping on a traditional Japanese futon on the floor. Sometimes you get a bed, but it most likely won’t be what you are used to back home.
  • Meals: In countries like China and Korea, it is polite to leave a little food on your plate to basically say that you are full and content, but in Japan it is best to try and clean your plate.
  • Side note: For the first few days I noticed my host parent had been giving me slightly larger portions than what they had been giving themselves (probably because I was from America). Being as I don’t like to stuff myself even in America, I eventually had to politely ask to be given less, which they were happy to oblige.

*Luke Bader is a senior majoring in international studies with a minor in Japanese and a certificate in writing at the University of Iowa. This semester, the Jesup, IA native is studying abroad on the USAC Nagasaki Program in Japan.