Zane Zook


Stanford in Kyoto, Spring 2015-16
Major: PreMed & Mechanical Engineering
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo:


Why did you choose to study abroad in Kyoto?

I am half-Japanese but I’d never learnt much Japanese nor much about Japanese culture until I visited Japan during my senior year of high school. After realizing how little I knew about this half of my heritage, I tried to learn as much as I could. Coming to Stanford gave me the opportunity to learn Japanese, to join Japan-related student groups and to target my personal holy grail, the BOSP Kyoto program. In a way, I never really chose to study abroad in Kyoto, I just knew that I needed to participate in the BOSP Kyoto program.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?

Honestly, I expected Stanford. I expected the Stanford Center abroad would be just that, a Stanford Center where everything is the same as back home at Stanford, and on the plane ride across the Pacific I wondered if I made a mistake applying. Why would I want to go to Japan just so I can spend all my time in a Stanford building doing work without the resources I could access on campus? I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was wrong, at least for the most part. The Stanford Center abroad is still Stanford in that the courses are still rigorous and they are run by professors approved by Stanford. But students don’t get locked in. There is opportunity to learn and explore on the way to class, at dinners with homestay families, at day trips with friends on the weekends, and even talking to foreign classmates in Japan-specific courses. 

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

At Stanford we all understand that the world is enormous and that we all have a place in it but we see it through frosted glass. Whether or not we want to admit it, the Stanford bubble exists and during our time at school, we forget to gaze in wonder at the world and more importantly, the people living on it. In Kyoto, you discover a city balanced between state-of-the-art technology and ancient culture. Behind these technological and cultural marvels are the countless creators, artists and thinkers whose names you probably have never heard of, but who share(d) the same drives and passions as you. It makes you feel small, undeniably human. And suddenly, midterms seem much more manageable. I won’t say that the BOSP program delivered me from the bubble, after all it is a Stanford program, but it’s certainly an incredible first step toward gaining more perspective.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

I am the spitting image of a Japanese comedian called Kojima Yoshio. This guy is famous all over Japan and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that doesn’t know him. Being associated with a celebrity is hardly the worst thing in the world. But Kojima is not your standard comedian, in fact his fame comes from his two catch phrases and the fact that he performs his sketches clothed only in a brightly colored Speedo. I have had people introduce me as Kojima as a joke, have been asked to have my picture taken, been looked at, watched, recorded and basically everything else a person can get away with without actually working up the courage to talk to a celebrity look-alike. At first, this really bothered me, I didn’t want people to see me as a Speedo-clad, walking joke. It wasn’t until I played with some kids at the local elementary school that I realized my doppelganger had given me a gift. I wasn’t a scary foreigner to them, I was the funny guy on TV. All it took was one catch phrase (yes, I had them memorized at this point) and one pose for them to warm up to me. Since then, I still get harassed by the occasional camera and the nosy fan but it has become the perfect ice breaker. 

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

I found it took a while to get used to not being able to meet with your friends for dinner everyday nor being able to ride across campus to meet them. While in Kyoto you’re expected to make it back to your homestay family for dinner and they are scattered throughout Kyoto. It is hardly a big deal after a while but knowing that spontaneous get-togethers can't happen was something to get used to.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?

Seeing all my friends at the center of course. It was my home away from home and everyone there became my family. I’d get there in the morning and laugh, talk and joke until it got late. We’d hatch plans for what to do on the weekends or how to best surprise the next birthday boy/girl with surprise presents. All of us shared stories, worries and hopes about and for our stay. And at the end of the day, if I needed a place where I felt like I could relax and recoup before tackling Kyoto again, the center was always my first stop.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?

Definitely the Bing trip to Hiroshima/Miyajima. It was a strange feeling to be walking roads that mere generations before were wastelands desolated by war, especially for a halfu like me. Being there with the entire Kyoto program allowed us to share this incredibly unique experience. Also, being in Miyajima and hearing Mike, the program director, singing karaoke for all of us is not something you forget.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

I Need More Than Five

Fun Questions

What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?

Tofu. Definitely anything related to tofu.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

A cell phone that had data in Japan. I can’t tell you the number of times having data saved me while abroad.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?

I wouldn’t call it my favorite but I am now strangely fond of Heman’s version of Hey Ya!