Tiffany Aguilar: Semester Abroad in Yokohama, Japan

To say that I am satisfied after my study abroad experience is an understatement―I am renewed, refreshed, and revitalized. I did not realize how successful I could feel after studying abroad. This entire journey has taught me so much more than I could have asked for. I learned from a multitude of groups―American college students, Japanese college students, the Japanese elderly, retail workers, and Japanese parents. And not only did I find myself feeling connected to Japan, but I found a beautiful sense of a community. It’s almost unbelievable that I have only spent three months here. The connections I’ve made feel so much more real than that.

Ultimately, I feel that I met the expectations I set for myself on this trip. I was determined to establish a stable sense of community. Because I was going to be living in a dorm, I envisioned a group of us to form a support system as we lived abroad. That happened almost instantaneously, which resulted in a group of American college students opening and sharing their hearts with one another more than ever before. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity, knowing that there was so much to learn from each other. Although it was a bit difficult for us to truly understand where each of our perspectives were coming from, it was a huge learning moment for all of us.

What ended up being slightly unrealistic was the idea that Japanese people could be invited into this community. It was almost a two-sided world here; I was either surrounded by Americans or Japanese people. It was more difficult than I expected to merge the two worlds, as Japanese people can be incredibly shy to speak English. In general, Japanese people can be quite passive and would much prefer to blend in with the crowd. It was rare to meet a Japanese person who was willing to be “loud with Americans” or go out at night with us. There were a few Japanese people who didn’t care about what others thought of them, so they were happy to join us. But for the most part, the two were quite divided.

As a result, I remained intentional with my Japanese friends and made sure to tell them that they were welcome at any outing we went on. I assured them that they had much more than they realized to offer. Had I known about their timidity and fear,  I would have been more focused on making a Japanese community before an American one. Throughout the semester, it almost felt like the international students were in their own bubble. This bubble only strengthened as we spent more time with each other. On the other hand, my connection with Japanese people was more during school settings.

Because I was determined to establish a growing sense of community, the biggest obstacle was reassuring outsiders that they are welcome into the group. I did not want this to just be a social club―this was going to be a family. Some people were a bit intimidated by the commitment, even some American students. And to Japanese people, it was unheard of. It was strange to think that a growing group of friends that just met could go on trips, eat meals, and spend their days together. What I was willing to change about my project is being a lot bolder than I thought I would be. I was bold about my eagerness to see a family form among strangers. I spoke passionately about the importance of being in community.

Looking back, I don’t think my September-self would believe my December-self. This is my first time ever being so committed to see a group of strangers get so close. My heart expanded for the concept of human kindness and empathy. Throughout this semester, I found myself in a group of people I would have never thought I could be in. I was exposed to so many new perspectives, stories, and mindsets. I feel as though I’ve experienced an entirely new world with a Japanese flair. And to think I had the chance to do this all in the country I’ve always dreamed of living in―I can’t wait to see what other goals I’m able to achieve in the future.