Blog by Aaron Huston, UW Bothell Environmental Studies Major, Study Abroad–Japan
I’m a junior studying Environmental Studies and during spring break I studied abroad for 16 days through Ehime University in Matsuyama, Japan, to learn about the linkage between rural and urban communities and the need for sustainable agricultural practices in Japan. I stayed in Ehime Prefecture in the city of Matsuyama, the largest city on the island of Shikoku with a population of over 500,000 people. During my time in Japan I learned about their agricultural system, but that was only the beginning. I learned about the government, culture, history, art, values and beliefs, food, architecture, people, and languages. In a little over two weeks in Japan, I learned far more than I expected I would and it was the trip of a lifetime.
It might sound too clichéd to say that it was the best experience I have ever had in my life, but it’s the truth. I don’t know how else to say it. Nothing will ever compare to my time in Japan and it was the greatest experience. Only those who were there in the program along with me know exactly what I mean when I say that there was more to Japan than just doing a study abroad program. It became, if only temporarily, my way of life. I left my busy life at home and started a new, exciting one in Japan. I began life-long friendships with other students and professors and developed a new perspective being in a different culture
Cooking and trying new foods was a crucial part of this program because being one of two UWB students going to Japan—along with Linda Cung—an open mind is definitely needed in a new culture. It might be difficult for others to try raw fish, unheard of ingredients, or bad smelling foods. But for me, food is my passion and I love trying new things. Japan was perfect for me in that sense because I love sushi and I tried new kinds of fish that I can’t get in America at a local sushi bar. I could care less of how bad the foods smell, what kind of random meat or vegetable was included in my meal, or if it was still moving. Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was eating, but I can honestly say that there wasn’t one food that I didn’t enjoy. Upon my return, I went shopping at Uwajimaya and spent almost $150 on groceries so I could make Japanese food for myself!
As I mentioned before, I was accompanied by another UWB student, Linda Cung, who is a senior studying Environmental Science, and we were the only two Americans in Ehime University’s program. Eight Indonesian students from Yogyakarta and about six Japanese students were also in the program. For the Indonesian students, it was their first time studying abroad and leaving their own country as well. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us. We lived together in a home-stay for about nine days in Matsuyama. We cooked, cleaned, had lectures, shopped, slept in the same rooms, and spent every moment together as a group.
The hidden information about the study abroad program that should have been emphasized more is the cohesion of the different cultural backgrounds that would be present during the program. This is what I found to be most valuable. This was the first time I met Indonesians and I began to know them on a personal level. Being with other students my age for 16 days, I know their pet peeves, their interests, their taste of music, their favorite and least favorite foods, their personality type, and their family and social life back at home. Every single one of us became close friends and as the time got near to the end, there was sadness and depression among all of us because we would all be separated and going back to our “normal” lives again.
Tears poured from everyone’s eyes when we had to leave to catch our flights back to our country. Hugs, gifts, handshakes, and bows were exchanged and no one wanted to leave. The Japanese students seem like the lucky ones because they get to stay in Matsuyama, but it’s not that much better for them because they had to watch us leave. Who knows when I’ll be able to see my friends again, but I know someday I will.
My 16 days in Japan was not enough time because I wanted to stay longer to continue learning more of the Indonesian and Japanese languages. I wanted to stay with my friends there and travel with them more. I wanted to experience more of the culture and learn more from the local villagers I met. I saw numerous temples that were built with the highest quality of materials and were the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen. The wood was hand carved which created magnificent figures of dragons, koi fish, samurais, gods and guardians, and beautifully created designs. Being in the presence of something so spiritual and meaningful brought a Zen-like feeling. I felt at home in Japan, especially during our time in the countryside where we spent the second half of our trip.
We stayed in Kawanouchi Village where we lived in old, traditional Japanese houses. We lived in the village with the locals and worked on the rice paddy fields along with the non-profit organization whose efforts were to restore the terrace fields and to attract more city-folk to the countryside to see the real importance and value of sustainable agriculture. The river flowed next to our house as if it were part of our backyard and we had our very own waterfall. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, oranges were going on trees, and there were large mountains surrounding us with terrace fields every step of the way down. I felt really in tune with nature and it was the greatest feeling being outdoors. Living with the villagers and participating in their everyday activities was one of my favorite parts of my study abroad trip.
We were invited to the monthly community meeting where the chiefs of the village attended and we all got to introduce ourselves in Japanese. We learned previously in the program how to say a simple introduction of our name, university, and where we are from. Later in the evening, we presented our projects, sang traditional songs, exchanged gifts, and ate the best tasting foods. We made mochi with the villagers and their families and I didn’t know it would be so fun to make. We also made soba noodles from scratch and I was told I was a natural at cutting the noodles at the perfect size. Everyone I met was extremely nice, welcoming and everyone there had the warmest hospitality.
Before going to Japan, I thought I would get treated or looked at differently since I’m not Japanese. I am white and I already stand out being 6′ 4″. There was only one time I remember getting an awkward look from someone and a few people would laugh because I would hit my head on a lot walking through doorways. Sometimes I saw shyness in people’s eyes and sometimes people were nervous to approach me, but they had so many questions and so many things they wanted to talk to me about. In fact, Japanese people asked me about my personal life, about what I’m studying, my hobbies, the music I like, and the list goes on. They were not shy at all and it seemed as if I have been friends with them for most of my life because we became close so quickly. Within five minutes of meeting someone, we were already joking around and having a great time.
I loved the people I met in Japan and studying abroad was hands down the greatest experience I’ve had. Being in a different routine every day, trying new things, meeting new people, and not stressing about life back at home made me the happiest I’ve ever been. I loved not having to worry about checking my phone for text messages and missed calls. It was a relief to not have to check emails and obsess with replying back right away, too. Being outdoors in the countryside, meeting new people, and experiencing a new culture has dramatically enriched my life. Studying abroad has changed my perspective and values towards social issues and I have come to realize more about myself. I’m really motivated to travel even more and now I want to go back to Japan, and Indonesia, as soon as I can.
I thank UW Bothell and Ehime University for giving me the opportunity to study abroad because I couldn’t have had this life changing experience without the help of UWB’s amazing staff and student body. I’m so grateful for everything and everyone and I have a desire to travel even more in the future. I recommend studying abroad at the first chance you get and it doesn’t matter where you go. Everyone deserves to have the experience I did and you will have the trip of a lifetime. Arigatou gozaimasu!