I have been in Japan for about three weeks now. It’s not my first time here (in fact my 5th time), but it is my first time as a student. I’m originally from Finland, so I was already a ‘foreigner’ in Australia, but being a foreigner in Japan is different.
First of all, here I look like a foreigner, a ‘gaijin’. As a European, I fit pretty well in Australia and the locals do not know that I’m from a far away country before I open my mouth. But here they spot me from far, because of the same reasons why I fit in Australia. I’ve heard from my fellow exchange students how the Japanese shop clerks run away to avoid the embarrassment of trying to communicate in English. Furthermore, some hairdressers around the campus refuse to take foreign clients. Paradoxically, there are situations where the locals come and talk to me only because I am, indeed, a gaijin.
I did not really have any kind of ‘culture shock’ when I first came to Australia. It was pretty similar with any Western country I had visited. Of course there are differences, such as the climate, but culturally Australia felt very familiar. It goes without saying that Japan is different. Japan is truly Asia (sorry Malaysia for stealing your slogan) with some Western influence.
Every day activities, such as shopping or asking directions, are so much easier for me in Australia, because I speak the language. However, I have only studied Japanese for less than half a year and most of it by using self-teaching guide books. I have self-studied hiraganas and katakanas, but I can’t read many Chinese characters. I could write a long post about the complexity of Japanese writing system, but I will just state that it is a bit more difficult than the English alphabets, that are pretty much the same as we use in Finland. Thus, buying groceries and ordering in a restaurant becomes a bit of an effort.
Luckily, my host institution Kansai Gaidai has done great work organizing the exchange program. All the teachers and staff speak English, and all classes are concentrated in one building, the Center for International Education. We have Japanese every day, and we can interact with local Japanese students via ‘speaking partner’ program and in normal classes. Therefore, I can recommend this exchange program to everybody, even those without Japanese language skills. However, you can get more out of it if you speak the language.
I’ve found that to most Americans, Australia is seen as a great holiday destination with strange animals and friendly people. This is a very good reputation to have but unfortunately, it is these topics which make up the bulk of the conversations I happen to have with Americans.
The kangaroo usually comes up first in conversation which I don’t really mind. In fact I enjoy talking about what is unique about Australia; although I am starting to suspect that Americans are not really interested in my version of Australia. They are more interested in simplified caricatures and national symbols, that offer them a more comfortable albeit conventionalised version of Australia. I suppose this is something that I’ve found difficult to understand, because I am aware that I don’t exactly represent the quintessential Australian, but I offer some diversity that could potentially educate Americans about Australia, and relieve some of the simplistic views they might have of us. I think that a country is more than just the image it projects, but sometimes the image is all people care to consider. It is not bothering me so much right now, but it is starting to dawn on me. I do miss my family, but I love being here. I don’t miss my life back home as much, because I definitely think I am having way more fun where I am.
Luke Cassar – University of St Gallen from Wollongong.
So its 1am here and i cant sleep, so i thought this would be a great opportunity to make my first post.
So soo far Ive been mostly sleeping but i still have noticed some things about this country. Firstly their public transport is awesome, it may be expensive but sooo good. However on train trip from the airport to St Gallen I accidentally seated myself in the first class seating, and i really couldn’t tell the difference between first class and normal class except the seats were red and had less people in first class. I guess the red makes all the difference ay. Asking people for help is quite easy here, just you have to pick out the ones who can speak english, on the train asking people in business suits work for me hehe. Ok now to buses, which i caught 3 times so far without paying, because of the simple fact i don’t know how to. The machines are in German, the devil inside me wants me to see how long i can act like an innocent tourist, but the angel says im a guest in their country and i should pay, hmm.
As for the weather its not soo bad, snow everywhere but not to cold, apparently I brought the sun out according to university staff. Speaking of the university my fondest moment so far was walking into the exchange office and seeing a post card with wollongong harbour on it. Such a proud gong boy then.
Hmm anyways that’s all for now, hopefully Ill be taking photos soon. And gradually as I get used to wordpress my posts should get better.
So on tuesday I have been in the States for 3 weeks and 2 days. I have finally settled in and bought a lap top, mobile or cell as they call it here and all household items. It was a looong flight to get there as i had to go to from sydney to LA which was like a 13 hour flight and then from LA to miami was another 5 hours. When i got to Miami is was about 9pm so i decided to book a hotel. I ended up staying at a hotel in South beach which is like the Bondi of sydney. I was absolutely exhausted when i got there and all I wanted to do was sleep. My hotel however happened to be on the main strip where all the night life happens so I put my bags in the room and ventured out. I was gobsmacked at all the lights, tobacco shops, tattoo shops, pizza places and night clubs on this road. I walked along with caution as i didnt feel safe at all as it was my first night in the US. I ended up meeting some guys from Chicago and went clubbing with them. I ended up back at the room at 3am. With three hours sleep I woke up and got ready for orientation. Drained as I was a got up ate breaky at the hotel and then ordered a cab to UM. At orientation I met some of the other Aussie blokes and they said there was like 25 people from Australia on exchange here. I was the only one from UOW. Towards the end of orientation I left and wen to my room and crashed, having not slept in nearly 48 hours.
When I lay down on the bed I was SHOCKED! The mattress was literally made out of some sort of plastic and was sooo uncomfortable. At this point i was sleep deprived, angry lonely and really missed home as this was the first time I would be away from my family for so long. I lay there freezing and trying to sleep thinking how am I going to make it through the next three months. It was not a good feeling, I had never felt like this before, I just wanted to go home. To everyone that thinks exchange will be really exciting and a great experience, think again. Post my departure I only thought about how good the experience would be and never even imagined how challenging it would be. Lying there I kept saying to myself its only you here, you have to be strong, I believed in myself, knowing that if i accomplish this i can do anything. This was a really good experience even though it was challenging, it gave me will power and strength.
Been a while since the last blog, I think I was ranting about my Brazilian VISA experience, which worked out thank goodness. I did go to Brazil for winter break and had a wonderful time with my best friend and her family, that is definitely something I will not forget any time soon. Back at UMass Amherst now and I have four-ish months left of my experience here and I’m starting to miss home, everything about home, my friends and family and the feeling that I really belong. As soon as I got back to UMass and class started again it was evident that this semester was going to be different from the last. I had close friends leave to continue their adventures and other friends let me down when I needed them. I had tried so hard to make this the best experience I could that I wanted America to be my home. But it’s not my home, it’s not the place where people love and care for me and help me through tough times, Australia is and I had forgotten that. Thankfully my sister is arriving for a visit later this week and I’m going to have two crazy busy weekends ahead of me, one in Boston and one in New York City. Then later in March my parents are arriving to visit me and have a little American experience of their own.
I don’t want to seem like I regret going on exchange, I don’t at all but I do have to admit I was a little bit too cocky about how I would cope over here. Bad shit happens everywhere, no matter who you are or where you are and exchange isn’t going to be all fun times and happiness, especially not for 9 months straight. So my best advice for pending and current exchange students is don’t forget where you are from, don’t get caught up in a swirl of new things and forget about home because eventually you have to go back home and it should feel good.
As you can probably imagine from the picture above, it’s freezing here. It’s about minus 8 at the moment and somehow, that’s considered an ‘okay day’ here in Whitewater. I must admit though, I am getting used to the cold, I can bare it in one pair of leggings now, instead of three.
I know my home uni told me I’d get homesick and want to leave, but I didn’t expect it to be such a strong feeling as I had when I first got here. When I was in my hotels it was alright, it was like a holiday, but as soon as I moved into my dorms, was all alone and knew nobody – the feeling sank in and I wanted to leave that day, that second. Then we had orientation, and I made some friends. Now that I have friends and people to hang out with it’s not such a bad place to be. I haven’t had many classes yet, but I’m sure once they start up it’ll be even better. I’m waiting for the new feeling to end so that I can finally say ‘I live here’.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me why the hell I came to Wisconsin from Australia, especially to the small town of Whitewater, but I think I made the right decision because it feels more like a community here. Everyone is nice to everyone, it’s a short walk to whatever you need, and there seems to be no kind of segregation of people that I would sometimes see in Australia. I’m starting to really like living here.
My first stop on my way to uni in victoria BC is Hawaii. i was so lucky on the plane and had a spare seat next to me so i had a glass of wine and slept the whole way! i am apart of a group called “couchsurfing” where you stay on locals couches for free and they can show around. they are the host and you are the surfer. (just explaining so you will understand when i say my host). So my host lives in the middle of waikiki! she is 19 and a uni student so i slept on her collage dorm. I only had a bed for the night as she was going home for the holidays but when i met her 2 of her friends offered me there couch! so i was set for the rest of my stay. This is my first trip to USA and oh man they are soooo nice! really friendly and helpful. here are some things that stood out of my shot time here:
Australian beaches are better: there beach has coral on the bottom! but they have really good snorkelling. and there break is often way out the back where the drop of is.
Their crossings: at intersections they have like a zebra crossing so i am just crossing the street when ever and people arnt stopping much, so i asked some local near by to tell me how to cross the road “um..excuse me i have a really dumb question but…” you have to wait for the signal to cross at lights but some dont have the signal, also it dosnt make a noise, so i am day dreaming and missing the lights.
language: pretty similar however when i was waiting for my host to come home i said “oh i will just go for a wander around the shops till you get here” andshe thought it was the cutest thing ever “wander” her and her friends payed me out for ages!! and sometimes when i am telling them a stoty or just talking they will just be lauging at me because i have a funny accent – i was a bit confused at first – why are they laughting this isnt even the funny bit…
they photos are of: my ‘couch’, the famous hawaiian surfer, my hosts, a guy in his army uniform, the barbie (more like a grill), the potato bake i made, they loved it!, and the beach/ islands that i kayaked to.