UW Bothell Voices from Around the World

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!

–Aaron