A Year in Japan for Kathryn Lovett

July 23, 2015 

Kathryn Lovett of The University of Oregon studied for a year at Meijin University in Tokyo, Japan. Below is her experience studying and living abroad: 

It is difficult tkathryn lovetto communicate the wonderful and indescribable experience that is study abroad, especially in a mere couple of pages. My experience in Japan, while unique in many ways, will no doubt contain common threads that resonate with the experiences of others. In this essay I will do my best to give an overarching impression of what my experience studying at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan, was like. I had moments of delight and utter awe at my good fortune to be able to have this experience, as well as moments of disappointment. I will make it clear now, however, that no matter the ups or downs that I went through, I am so glad that I made the decision to study abroad. It was a part of my life that I will never forget, and I would do it all again if given the choice.

The university that I attended, Meiji University, is a very prestigious and well-known university in Japan. I studied in the School of Global Japanese Studies, a decision I am both glad of and regret. The School of Global Japanese Studies, along with one other department, is located at a separate campus that was newly constructed a few years ago. It was invigorating to study at a brand-new campus with state-of-the-art technology. The surrounding area was also fun to explore. I enjoyed many of my classes, especially one concerning modern South African history. On the other hand, Japan is much more restrictive about class registration, and students are unable to take courses in departments other than their own, a fact that made me regret choosing Global Japanese Studies instead of another department such as Political Science or Law. A part of that regret was a lack of advanced Korean courses in my department. I had been taking Korean at my home university and had wanted to continue my studies. Despite taking the highest course offered in my department, though, it was still only covering material we had covered during first-year Korean. I attempted to take an advanced Korean course in another department, which was when I discovered that we are unable to cross departments. This was unfortunate but not catastrophic.

Other reasons why I was glad of my choice in department include the seminar (a small class that works together for multiple years conducting research and projects) that I joined, which was interesting and introduced me to a wonderful group of people, and the friends that I made there. I was slightly disappointed in the lightness of course loads, though it is reasonable when one considers that students take twelve to twenty courses a term, and therefore cannot have three hours of reading as homework for each course.

Instead of becoming upset over my disappointment, I decided to shift my focus and expectations for my study abroad experience to other areas of my life. One of my goals for my study abroad experience was to work a part-time job while I was in Japan. Through the lucky reference of a friend, I quickly found work at a Japanese tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurant that was conveniently only ten minutes from my dorm. My experience learning the Japanese necessary to do my job, slowly acclimating to the tasks required of me, and getting to know the people I worked with became one of the best parts of my study abroad. Naturally, I made some mistakes, especially in the beginning. My boss, however, was so understanding and kind every time that I messed up that I started to gain confidence in my abilities and eventually was able to conduct my normal responsibilities with no difficulty.

The confidence and experience I gained from that was important, but what made it truly extraordinary was the people that I met there. The customers as well as the people I worked with were always so supportive of me. Every time that I was remembered by a customer it would make my day. Spending multiple days a week with the same people for months, naturally our restaurant’s staff was a community in and of itself, one that I was thrilled to be a part of. A very fond memory for me is of the last month or so that I was in Japan, when a group of people that I worked with took a trip to Hakone where we stayed the night, enjoying their famous hot springs. Although this trip and the hot springs were fun, it was the people I was with that made it special. A theme that was repeated through my experience time and again—the truly important part of any event or experience is the people that are there with you. I was fortunate enough to meet many kind and wonderful people while studying abroad, people who with any luck I will meet again someday.

Some of those people are people that I lived with in the Meiji International House. The International House was a great place to live in Tokyo. It was fairly close to all three classes, and in a slightly quieter neighborhood area, while still being near downtown Tokyo. All of the students were nice, especially the girls that I lived with in my unit. Going out on the town with my girlfriends and trying out restaurants was so much fun. Not to mention that I learned so much about the cultures of other countries. We would constantly compare and contrast how certain things in our countries were and our impressions of or experiences in Japan.

Another community that I belonged to was a student group that played classical guitar ensembles. In that group I was but one of two foreigners— the opposite of my dorm situation where we were all foreigners—and therefore was able to experience truly Japanese university experiences. All of the people I met, whether at Meiji or elsewhere, whether Japanese or not, made a lasting impression on me and made my study abroad all that it was.