Stanford in Kyoto, Spring 2013-14, Summer Internship 2014
Major: Management Science and Engineering
College year while abroad: Sophomore
Why did you choose to study abroad in Kyoto?
I started studying Japanese in College, and was very interested and fascinated by the culture and the differences to the western world. Japan to me is a staple of how a country developed to have over 100 million people, be the world’s second largest economy, and doing so, by creating their “own way”.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
I expected for Japan to be drastically different than the US, because of the image that students and people in the US have of Asia. The problem is that it’s not. Japan isn’t another planet, another world. People are equally sometimes nice sometimes rude. There are well dressed people and people that aren’t. There are clean parts and dirty parts. Japan is very real, and when I realized that, it’s when I started to look for the little nuances. Those are what I took away from Japan. It’s not that everyone in Japan works hard and is so and so. In a country of 120+ million people, making those sort of statements is bizarre anyhow.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
It helped me rest and recharge, and think about a lot of topics more in depth. I’m not going to lie, you’re not going to be taking 20 units while abroad, so the units you do take, you have a lot of time to think about more in depth. For me for instance the economics class allowed for me to reflect a lot more on it, and observe in everyday life if the ideas are accurate or not. That’s not necessarily the case when you’re not abroad à there simply isn’t the time.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I always make a strong point to my friends about vulnerability, and being open about your path, because I believe that’s the only way to truly connect with people. What I didn’t realize before Japan is how there’s so much more to vulnerability. It’s also applying for a job that may be out of your reach. It may be applying for a loan that you may not get. It may be telling the girl you love those feelings, knowing she might not reciprocate. Taking risks is an essential part about vulnerability and Japan helped me realize that I need to work on taking more risks and leaps in life
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
In most places in Europe, where I had travelled before, most people spoke some Basic English at least. Not so in Japan. Especially outside of Tokyo, people tend to know very little English, and are even shyer to use their little English. But even in Tokyo, in a CS company, the English skills aren’t high. It made me realize just how invaluable it is to speak the local language for communication and social life. Of course you can survive without local languages around the world – if you work at Google Japan and your friends are all from Google, you’ll be fine. But that’s not the point of living there. English is useful, but it’s by far not enough if you really want to connect with people around the world.
How was your experience living with local families?
My host-family had been hosting for over 12 years, every year. So they knew a lot of little details, were very nice about cultural and language problems, and helped me get settled and live an ordered life as far as family goes. They provided an amazing home base that I looked forward to coming home to every day.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
I was very used in the US and Germany to taking care of phone-calls while commuting. In the car, in the train, it just seems like an appropriate time to take care of that. But in Japan it’s strongly frowned upon to speak on the cell-phone in public transportation. I had a couple awkward encounters and looks and had to make that cultural adjustment.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
Interestingly enough, the morning and evening commute was my favorite part. Since I wasn’t on the phone or anything, I had time in the morning to plan out my day, get ready, and once I arrived look forward to it. Equally at night I could process the day, be at rest, and have a very easy time falling asleep, and be at peace.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
I went over Golden Week to Kyushu with my friends, and we had an amazing time. By amazing time, I mean we were being typical broke college students: cramming 5 guys into a double room, buying sandwiches at corner stores constantly, buying alcohol in the store and then filling the coke at the restaurant up with it, you name it. It was a very fun and real experience
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
What was the host organization for your internship?
What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Kyoto?
Ask yourself if you’re ever going to do something like this again. Ask yourself if you really are going to “go abroad after school” or anything along those lines. Realize that you grow by putting space between you and your everyday world, and by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. And the Pacific Ocean is a solid way to start putting space between you and that world J
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
I would start meeting Japanese people the first day, and stop caring about my problems with the language. Japanese people make mistakes too. Japanese is hard. And barely anyone speaks English in Japan anyways. So it’s so worth taking the risk – that really isn’t a risk – and just talk.
How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?
I feel a lot more secure in life and a lot more comfortable with uncertainty. Let me elaborate. I feel like even though Japan brought up more questions for me as to what do I want to do with myself, what career path, etc, it also empowered me to simply accept that uncertainty, and move forward comfortably, knowing that certainty and a good plan is far overrated.
What was your favorite food you had in Cape Town?
Probably the Ramen in Fukuoka – Kyushu.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Materially – my laptop
Emotionally – a picture I took on the departure day with my two best friends
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu — キャリ・パミュパミュ
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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