Stanford in Kyoto, Winter, Spring 2012-13, Summer Internship 2013
College year while abroad: Sophomore
Internship: Oh-ebashi Law Offices in Osaka
Why did you choose to study abroad in Kyoto?
To study Pokemon! As far as I can remember, I’ve always loved Japanese popular culture, and once I saw there was an opporutnity to go to Japan to study it, I had to go.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
I think it was not so much my expectations that caught me off guard, but rather my lack of expectations: see weather and trains (I’m from SoCal – unprepared is an understatement).
But aside from me just being unprepared, I was surprised by how welcoming everybody was. The Stanford staff, host families, Doshisha students, internship coworkers, policemen, and even unconcerned strangers go out of their way to help lost foreigners like me. Japan is safe, honest, and friendly, and it makes you want to call Japan your home.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
I learned that Pokemon can be a viable academic subject. Seriously. While I was studying in Japan, I wrote two research papers on Pokemon. Through the Japanese Pop Culture Class I learned ways to critically analyze popular media and how it can reflect and affect the greater society. For example, localization – the process of translating and editing a product for a different audience – is hugely pivotal to understanding Pokemon. Names, places, plots, and even food have been edited as Pokemon has been exported (look up Pokemon jelly donuts). Sure Pokemon comes from Japan, but is it Japanese? In the greater context, there has been an organized push to use Japanese popular culture to draw international interest in Japan. But is localized Japanese popular culture really the image Japan wants to present, or is it even Japanese culture for that matter? Before coming to Japan, I didn’t know or even think I could learn about Pokemon in such a way.
The Stanford classes in Japan incorporate real Japanese life and experiences into the classroom. There will be Japanese students in your classes, and you will take field trips across Kyoto. Going to famous places in Kyoto while accompanied by an expert on those places is pretty cool.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I can sing JPOP! Hooray for idols! On the more practical side of life, the internship in Japan was a great experience. I worked in a Japanese law firm, and even though I knew nothing of Japanese law, I was given the opportunity to work directly with the lawyers to assist in cases. The first time a lawyer sent my document to a client was really empowering for me. I was able to make a difference and do something!
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Everyday was a challenging experience! But, probably the most challenging was living on my own in Japan during the summer internship. The first few days were alright, figuring out how to use the washing machine and stove and whatnot. But then about three weeks in, I lost my key. At the Stanford dorms – you get locked out, you call an RA. Here, who do you call? I didn’t have a number for the apartment company, and I royally embarrassed myself at the police station. I was pretty helpless. Fortunately, the Stanford Japan staff came to save me and helped me get a new key.
Looking back, I now am grateful for what I have and what I know. You never really appreciate what you have learned until you are in a situation in which you know nothing. I think that is a great aspect of studying in Japan – it’s a safe place to get completely lost (hey, I survived, didn’t I?).
How was your experience living with local families?
My host family was awesome! We went on trips, shared home-cooked meals, and traded hilarious stories. I appreciated how my host family was so welcoming and patient. I was really moved when my host mother said that she considered me as part of the family. In my host family, there were younger host-brothers, so every week we would stay up and play video games. I managed to beat the older brother once during my 6-month stay – one of my life’s greatest achievements.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
Access to delicious food everywhere. You know you’re in the right place when even the 7-11 has awesome lunches.And of course, during the school session, we have Thursday and Friday evening outings: going to Karaoke, eating at new restaurants, trying out the onsens, hanging out by the river. The Doshisha people are awesome, and there’s always something going on!
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
I have to pick just one? Wow, let’s see…going to Akihabara, spending a night in a Japanese inn at Miyajima, seeing a Winter Illumination…
How about volunteering at the elementary school? You do not know chaos, noise, and most importantly fun until you have spent a morning playing at a Japanese elementary school. As soon as we walk in, everyone gets so excited, and they start yelling, swarm us, try their best to speak English, and play random games. The kids were so awesome. I always felt bad leaving since they would beg us to stay and ask when we would return. Side perk of volunteering at a Japanese elementary school: I can dunk on their basketball courts ;p.
What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?
Japanese beef. It is far beyond any American beef.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Sumi-chan! (My traveling panda!)
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.
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