Thursday, September 8, 2011

First Impressions

First week of classes are almost over! And with the reputation that IUC has, I’m thinking this will probably be one of the easiest since all we’ve done is placement tests/orientation stuff. The atmosphere here is pretty much what it presents itself as – an advanced language program for professionals, academics, and people who have pretty specific plans for the Japanese they’re learning. The facilities are also all in an office setting, set in the Pacifico Yokohama building in the ultramodern Minato Mirai district. For our first lunch after class, me and my roommate checked out a cheap cafeteria at a nearby shopping mall – and found ourselves eating with a bunch of salarymen. Even the surroundings are all about business  …

I seem a little out of place here as the only undergraduate, but I definitely expected that. I know most Yalies choose Nanzan for the campus environment, and it was definitely a tough decision between the two. When I go through it in my head, I guess I chose IUC for the following reasons:

1. Quality of instruction – After all, there’s a reason why IUC has its own Wikipedia page. Not to downplay Nanzan or anything, but IUC is supposedly one of the best Japanese language programs in the world. It also follows that it’s one of the most intense, but in the end, it’s still up to you how much time you’re willing to put toward class versus other aspects of living abroad. (A summer in HBA has taught me this – for better or for worse, I still don’t know…)  I also think, personally speaking, I end up learning more at an intense program where I might have to cut back on the pace, versus a mediocre program where I have to motivate myself to learn extra stuff on top of class. I’ll look back on this point more as class actually starts … hoping that I can keep up!

2. More independence – One thing that bothered me a little at some language programs I’ve been to. I was going to talk about this in a separate blog post about Chinese attitudes, but alas, seeing as I’m already in Japan … basically, there was a talent show at the end of HBA – which would have completely fine and enjoyable – if not for the fact everyone was forced to participate. Being our last weekend in China, I had to forget about my plans to visit some places I had yet to knock off of my list. Other issues at HBA were warning students not to visit other cities on the weekends after a student got injured on one such occasion (yes, there are liability issues, but still…) I admit I’m still a youngun’ in college, but I don’t like the feeling of constant supervision. At IUC, you're an adult, you're on your own, and that's that.

My living situation is also “domesticating” me a bit … For the first time in my twenty years, I’ve started learning how to COOK without a microwave (even if I burn things the first time!). I probably go the grocery everyday, but this is supposedly the norm in Japan. Among other things, I’m also maneuvering through Yokohama’s ridiculously complicated garbage system (I currently have six trash bags in my kitchen for garbage separation), paying and saving on bills, etc. Life is definitely tougher on your own, but the sooner I learn, the better, right?

3. Escaping the “hang out with other Yalies/students from your language program” phenomenon – Granted, I don’t have a bajillion other college students to hang out with here. But I hope that it’ll actually force me to find more Japanese friends versus people from my program. I still want to get to know the other students at IUC, since I’m considering graduate school/research after Yale – but I’m not too sure how many of them want to go out on the weekends with someone who’s 5-10 years younger them. I know it's tough making Japanese friends (not to mention the language barrier), but I'm actually not sure if it's easier on campus - surrounded by Japanese students, yes, but also surrounded by tons of foreign students. If anything, the isolated atmosphere at IUC is driving me to seek friendship elsewhere. 

4. Proximity to Tokyo – my apartment lies on the Tokyu Toyoko line, which is a 30-minute train ride to Shibuya for 260 yen – not shabby for one of the world’s most expensive transportation systems. Oh, and did I mention that Tokyo is pretty much my favorite city in the world?

The neighborhood I’m living in is pretty residential – a stark contrast to the hubbub of Wudaokou in Beijing, but on the other hand, it’s better for running – I’ve found a park a little over a mile away for some nice scenery. Biking is also an amazing way to get around - my landlady gave both me and my roommate bikes that some former students had left over (score!!). I biked to Pacifico Yokohama today and figured it would take about a half-hour one way (could be a major way to save on commute - we'll see when the weather gets colder...) We also biked to the ward library, got our library cards, and checked out some children's novels (hey, you gotta start somewhere!). And of course, if I ever get tired of the neighborhood, central Yokohama and Tokyo are pretty accessible whenever I get that big city urge. I think what I enjoy the most is just knowing that I can go somewhere at anytime, anywhere, even in a foreign country.

This is actually my third time in Japan after a summer in Hokkaido and a mission trip last winter break.  Each time, I know I get more comfortable ... but I also don't find as many surprises. I'll have to try  harder this year to learn new things,  but hopefully, it'll only make me dig past surface level. 

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