HEY ANYBODY, EVERYBODY!
So you’ve made it….. The planning, and saving (and flying!) and all that stuff is over now. You’re in Osaka now, and probably feeling more than a little out of place. I don’t know where you’re all going to be from, this little community of ‘Internationals’, but I’m from a tiny place called Nelson, in New Zealand.
GETTING AROUND OSAKA
LIVING WITH A JAPANESE FAMILY
The biggest thing that you have to get used to first is having a host family. Living in a Japanese home is awesome. I spent my first 2 months at a student’s home, and I think that was the best start I could have had. I know you all won’t be with that kind of host family. I’m not at all sure how your arrangements are done, but having my host sister, Tomoyo, spend those first 2 months showing me around the school, around our neighbourhood, and, of course, around some tourist attractions was great. She helped me settle down, gave me a backup if Plan A wasn’t quite working out, and she was a friend as well as a ‘sister’.
Homestay families might be overbearing, motherly, and constantly worrying about you. They might be a little shy, or maybe even a little stand-offish (extremely rare in Japan). Treat them like they deserve, respect that they’re welcoming you into their home, not just as a guest. I had the best times when I had huge, long, winding conversations with my host family, because I felt like part of the family. There may be some customs that are weird. (I never got used to my host father’s morning bathroom routine --- you could hear it anywhere in the apartment). There may also be some food that is weird.
EATING JAPANESE FOOD
By all means, not all Japanese people eat Japanese-style food everyday, but you will encounter it more often than not. Try new stuff, even if it looks like something you’d rather not! You’ll often find host families worrying heaps about whether you’re okay with chopsticks, as well as spending ages chewing nails over what you’ll eat. You’ll almost definitely be asked what foods you hate, but you never know what might be a family favorite. So it’s better not to say too much to that. They will constantly get you to try new foods, though your above ‘hates’ may or may not be taken into account in that! I was a vegetarian for two years before I arrived, and I’ll go back to being a vegetarian when I go home. In Japan vegetarians are not only rare, but the concept doesn’t really ring a bell. Basically don’t cut yourself off from finding new favorites!
A great thing about food + meals is that they are a great way to
participate in some part of family life, so help cook, or set the
table, for example. It’s also an excellent way to get to know
your host mother! If you like cooking, offer to give her a night off,
and cook up a storm, though baking is a little difficult if you don’t
have an oven! One last note on food. There are 2 things everyone should
try! The first is revolving sushi --- just a sushi bar where the sushi
goes past you --- I’m not sure how common those are in the US,
or anywhere else for that matter. The other ‘must-try’
would be takoyaki, which literally means fried octopus, but, trust
me, it’s really yummy! Tiny little pieces of octopus in a dumpling-like
ball, covered in sauce + sometimes mayonnaise. It’s an Osakan
specialty and really popular - you’ll find stands + shops everywhere!
TAKING CLASSES AND MAKING FRIENDS
I suppose it’s time to get onto school. Well, I don’t know too many details about how classes are going to work for you. If there are more of you in coming years, I don’t know how the organisation will go. I do know that you will be in a normal class. You’ll be given a number, and you will probably sit through your first week of classes in shock! Depending on what class you’re in, your subject course could be science, business or literature-focused, and, therefore, your subjects will be different, too.
The most important thing about being at school (the same as any school) is the friends you make. (Though people might tell you that getting decent marks is up there too!) Of course you should work hard, and you do have to work twice as hard anyway, since you’re trying to learn a new language along with doing normal homework. But you will have a lonely year if you don’t make friends. I am a naturally shy person, but I have made so many friends this year. People will always have questions to ask, which is a great way to get a conversation going. And it won’t just be during classes. In your option classes as well as in the hallways there will always be people who want to talk. I don’t know about your home school but my homeroom teacher was like a second mother to us. You’re probably not going to find that, but classes spend 3 years with their homeroom teacher, so it’s cool if you can get to be part of that friendship, too. Teachers also have some random questions for you! I would just say treat school like any other school.
JOINING SCHOOL CLUBS
Then there’s the other side of school-club activities. I was sure before I ever got here that I was going to join the kendo club this year, but I ended up joining the baton club! There are a million different clubs you can join if you like. I found it was a great way to make more friends, on my own though. I kind of had it as something separate from my host sister, but I really enjoyed my club, and the friends I made in it. We went to see the World Champs, competed in an Osaka-wide competition and performed at the school Sports Day + Cultural Day, and I hadn’t picked up a baton before this year. So if you were doing a sport at home, it’s a great way to keep it up, or if there’s one that looks interesting, just go for it. Practices are usually pretty demanding, especially for sports clubs, but if you feel like you’re going to have time on your hands, it’s a great way to get involved in real school life.
BEING A FOREIGNER
OK, so there’s occasionally bad stuff, too. You will get sick of people whispering ‘Oh she’s sooooo cute’ behind your back, but it’s not a bad dose of self-esteem! I had some girls think it would be fun to try and get the foreign girl to say gross words, but somehow I could just tell what they were up to. There’s no helping it - foreigners are a fascination. In normal public situations I was always embarrassed if I couldn’t understand someone, or if I couldn’t make myself understood. I also hated getting ‘looked over’ by people I passed on the street or in the train. There are also a few homeless old guys at Tennoji Station, which you might be unfortunate enough to run into, but they really are harmless. Just be safe. I can’t think of any other bad stuff.
I kept so busy I rarely felt truly homesick. I missed my family + friends fondly, but you have a life here and you have to live it. However, I do think you need a way to be in contact with home every once in a while, by e-mail or reverse - charge phone calls, even letters. Lessons, well, I don’t think much bad stuff can come from lessons. I would get a bit bored occasionally but you have to take responsibility for yourself. If I found myself blanking out, I would try and come up with some way to help my Japanese; by taking a lesson and memorizing all the new vocabulary, or say in Math, studying the kanji in the questions. You will have to be independent + self-reliant and disciplined. But isn’t that why you came? To push yourself? Enjoy a new culture? Learn the Japanese language?
LOOKING BACK AT MY AWESOME YEAR
I got told by a German exchange student friend in Nelson that I would become, among other things, independent. I think that is the biggest thing I will take home (besides my seriously overweight suitcase). If you want to get experiences in a million aspects of Japan, not just school, club, home life, then you do, mainly, have to do it yourself. Studying is all on you. And you will have an awesome year, 9 months, for it. I had the best times when I did things I thought I didn’t want to do, or was scared of doing. Seriously. I think the best thing to do is swear off ‘down-time’ (time for yourself, by yourself) for a year! You will have so much fun if you just go for it all.
So, that’s the end of this shambles I call a letter. It probably sounds incredibly cheesy, and full of cliches, but it’s supposed to be!
Enjoy yourself! Good luck!
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