First off, I would like to say, thank you to everyone who has supported me in my effort to make this journey. Everybody from my friends and family back home who helped me every step of the way, to my fantastic professors at the University of Toledo without whom this wouldn’t have been possible, to the people who helped me from the other side of the world to make this agreement between UT and Kagawa University a reality, to the wonderful family who housed me and supported me in my most vulnerable time here in Japan, and to everybody that I have met along the way who have contributed in making these last two months the most special and life-changing months of my life!
Yes everybody, it has officially been two months since the day I stepped off the plane in Osaka to begin my life here in Japan. What a trip it has been so far! But what makes me so excited, is that I am not even a quarter finished with my time here. As of this week, my stay has officially been extended to August of 2013. My goals for my time being spent here are simple. Complete my three mandatory co-op experiences for my civil engineering degree, and return home with an extensive knowledge of the Japanese language. Anything else that I gain along the way is a bonus.
My day-to-day life in Japan brings me much satisfaction. It is the little things that make me smile like, during my frequent bike rides to and from campus when I see a breathtaking sky with the wind in my face and think, I’m in Japan. Or a little gift from one of my dormitory friends like a small treat and a smile. Or when I see that someone has taken time out to read about one of my experiences that I’ve written about here on my blog. That too makes me smile because it helps me remember that I’m not here all alone, that I have people supporting me from nearby and from afar, who care about what is happening in my life despite being halfway around the globe.
I am very busy these day. I have begun to research a topic given to me by my professor, one that will most likely keep me busy until I leave next year. My goal is to analyze metropolitan areas in the United States and to research how it is that they are formed, based on geographic and demographic aspects. Our aim is that once that is completed, we can compare and contrast my results with Japan’s metropolitan areas and see how we can apply what we have learned to developing countries. Right now I am compiling data and trying to configure it in a way that makes it relevant to my topic. At the same time, I am educating myself in the ways and operations of a complex analysis/database software called ArcGIS. It allows me to input data from various sources and formats in order to display their contents on a map. With this software I can combine any number of different data sets in order to make it yield something that I can use for analysis. Mine and my professor’s goal by August is to try and find a relationship between a city’s population size, density, or employment volume and the distance, time, or cost of the people that commute there, and then co-author an article on the topic.
In addition to my research, which I dedicate my Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday days to, I also have two engineering courses in which I am enrolled. I do not actually have to attend these classes, as they are held in Japanese, but I have been assigned a report to do for each one in order to get credit for them. For one of them, I must choose a topic from his lectures relating to social activities and public policy, and then write about why the topic interests me and about how this particular issue should be incorpolated in the urban policy in order to better society. This one must be written in Japanese. The other report is to be written on the current status of universal design in the public and private sectors in America. This one, fortunately, can be written in English.
Then there are my Japanese classes. Two on Monday and one on Friday for no credit, and then one on Thursday for credit. With these classes, I receive plenty of material with which I can study and improve my Japanese.
I have also been requested by an organization called the Kagawa Systematized Goodwill Guide to be a guest lecturer on the topic of “Impressions of Takamatsu, Kagawa, or Japan from the viewpoint of a foreigner.” This speech manuscript deadline is the 22nd of this month and I will be giving it exactly one month later. I will be giving the speech in English because they are going to provide an interpreter for me. I am looking forward to this because the topic is something I have been thinking about and been wanting to vocalize anyway. Maybe after I’ve given the speech I will post it up here for anyone who is interested.
Aside from the day-to-day things, there are also plenty of events organized specifically for Kagawa University’s foreign students. Like welcome parties (which seem to still be occurring, despite being two months into our stay), festival events, an udon making trip into the mountains, a Japanese-style Tea Ceremony, lunchtime speeches (one of which I did), sports tournaments, a party being hosted by the university’s president, etc, etc… So it feels like there is some event being held every weekend.
I almost forgot table tennis! It has become the official sport in the dormitory and is being taken seriously. We have a large room on the first floor dedicated specifically to table tennis, and we need every bit of it. We were all pleasantly surprised to find that there are at least six people who are genuinely good at ping pong, so we are always being challenged, and constantly improving! Many a night, we spend multiple hours playing and afterwards returning upstairs tired and sweating. But I suppose what I value from our bouts is not exactly the itself game, but the experience we can all share together in order to have fun and become better friends.
To sum things up, I feel that if these last two months can be used as any sort of gauge for how the rest of my trip is going to be, I am sure I will be just fine until August comes around. I know it will be hard to leave, and probably sad, but I know I will be ready to come home and complete my journey.