A few weeks ago I returned to Hiroshima for the first time in 5 years. Hiroshima is the first place in Japan I lived. Returning brought up many of memories.
I first came to Japan in 2007 as a study abroad student at Hiroshima University. I had studied Japanese in America for 2 years at my university. Still, I wasn’t prepared for living in a different country.
I arrived at Hiroshima at night. There were Hiroshima University students waiting there to pick me up and take me to my dorm. During the one-hour drive, one of the students started talking to me in Japanese. Only Japanese. I could only understand a few simple questions. Answering was impossible. This continued for the whole drive. I felt so overwhelmed. I realized how much I still needed to learn.
We finally arrived at the dorm and they showed me my room. It was SO small! There was only enough room for a single bed, a desk and a small bookshelf. There was a toilet, but no shower or bath. The room was hot and smelled a little strange after being empty for few months during summer vacation. The students informed me of the orientation the next morning and gave me a map. They said good night and left me there alone. I felt very alone.
I still remember the feeling that night. I was so tired from the long flight, but I was not sleepy as my body clock was so confused. I was really hot and it was so humid. I turned on the air conditioner and it smelled a little strange. Everything was new and unfamiliar.
I could hear someone outside speaking in Japanese. I went out to the tiny balcony and stood in the warm summer night air. I looked around and tried to see the landscape, but all I could see was dark silhouettes of the trees. I tried to listen and understand what was being said, but it was impossible. I couldn’t even make out the topic.
The thing I remember most was my excitement. I was so happy. I was ready to learn. I was ready to study hard and become fluent in Japanese. I told myself “From now on, no more English! Only Japanese!” My motivation was high and expectations even higher.
I tried to relax and unpack a few things. I got into bed. They provided me a rented futon and a surprisingly hard pillow. It felt strange and hot. At least the bed was not too hard and I could get comfortable. I finally slept. The next morning I woke up, got ready, and left to start my new adventure.
The next 10 months were exciting, fun, challenging, and stressful. I learn a lot of Japanese. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that, even though I wanted to, I couldn’t avoid using English. I used English often. I also learned Japanese is too difficult to become fluent in just 10 months. Mostly, I learned that when I challenge myself, even though it is stressful, I feel the most satisfied and have the most fun.