The University of Iowa

Study abroad was so worth it - unpacking memories

August 16th, 2018

I didn’t want my semester abroad to end. But really, study abroad doesn’t quite finish when you board that plane back to the States—for one thing, there’s the new you, then there are all the memories, and finally, there’s that suitcase to unpack. The post-arrival ritual of unloading your luggage is, admittedly, not the best part of the trip. However, this time around in particular, I’ve been unpacking lots of terrific memories. Sitting amongst the hills and rivers that spill out of my suitcase, I have had many “Wow, this trip was so awesome!” moments. Here are three.



#1  What made my luggage so heavy was the multitude of books I brought back—among which are spanking-new books and dictionaries on Japanese onomatopoeia. One of my goals coming to Japan was to gather data and other helpful materials for my senior thesis in linguistics, which concerns Japanese and English onomatopoeia. What I did not expect, was that I was about to take classes taught by a professor at Meiji University, who is one of Japan’s leading researchers in Japanese mimetics. He was so kind as to give me advice in my research, teach me a new method he developed of analyzing the structure of onomatopoeic forms, and send me home with his and others’ works on the field—something I would never have even dreamed of before coming to Japan; and looking back, I still can’t quite believe happened.



#2  Another object I pulled out of my luggage, was a tanzaku (a long piece of paper/material that haiku are often written on). I was able to meet an amazing lady at a church, who invited me to her monthly haiku club there. A couple meetings later, she then took me to a larger haiku meet an hour’s train ride away in Chiba. There I was able to see ordinary people bring their five haiku of the month and share them with fifty other members. The meeting ended with the haiku master revealing the twenty best haiku that he chose that day.

It was an incredible opportunity to see not only how haiku fit into people’s everyday lives, but also to read in packages of twelve syllables how differently everyone sees changes in the world around them, from the seasons to even international issues. For this haiku kindergartner (yours truly), it was a priceless window into the world of amateur haiku. But what really meant the most, was being able to talk with this lady herself, who was brimming with valuable advice and encouragement, and who, at the end of my stay, wrote one of my own haiku on a beautiful tanzaku and gave it to me as a farewell present.



#3  One of the final things that had been smothered under heaps of stuff, was a bank notebook from the day I closed my bank account in Japan. Aside from the memento, it served for all of my bills, it also reminded me of a fun conversation I had with the bank teller. Yes, this does not sound like that fantastic of a memory, but bear with me: one of the biggest fears I had when I began studying abroad, was making conversation with native speakers, and I dare say it’s a common one. Making conversation with anyone, whether it be the staff at my dorm or one of my professors, were long, nervous minutes. But that moment a few months later chatting with the bank teller made me realize just how much this had changed. I now loved starting little back-and-forths with people I met and felt that much more comfortable doing so. It was one of those random moments that I recognized how much deeper and irrevocably in love I’ve become with Japan during these five months abroad.


 I could easily go on and on. Study abroad has done so much for me, and this fact grew increasingly obvious as I approached the day to fly home. I didn’t want study abroad to end (as I mentioned earlier). But after emptying my suitcase, I realized that study abroad may have a “start,” but not necessarily a “finish.” It’s an experience that has rooted itself in my existence, how I see the world, and how I will pursue my dreams and will continue to enrichen my life as long as I allow it. Meaning basically forever.


Onae parker

Onae Parker is a linguistics and Japanese major at the University of Iowa. Winner of a 2018 Gilman International Scholarship award, she will be spending the semester in Tokyo, Japan, as part of the University of Meiji Exchange program.