All of a sudden, after 7 years of studying Japanese, you find yourself in a study abroad program in Japan. You have waited most of your life patiently for this moment, but no matter how hard we studied before coming to Japan, nothing could fully prepare us for life in Japan.
During my semester abroad, I kept myself busy with several extracurricular activities. I participated in a cooking club where I learned how to make Japanese food, and I also volunteered at a basketball club for elementary school students in the countryside. I also took it upon myself to explore the local cuisine of Nagoya. I received a “Nagoya Food Map” about mid-semester, so I made it my goal to check off as many local foods as I could taste. As for my classes, it was amazing to see the things we learned about in class in real life. Seeing the various rites of passage at shrines and the mundane mannerisms of Japanese people was fascinating. Japanese tea ceremony helped me realize just how nuanced Japanese culture is and how most things in daily life are very intentional, even if you don’t think they are.
Study abroad has allowed me to grow in ways I am not sure I would have otherwise. I take personal growth very seriously, so I was able to do some real self-reflection and pinpoint problem areas in my personality that I needed to work on. Since I lived a sheltered life growing up, there are some social situations in which I have a hard time navigating. All of these things were front and center while I was in Japan and honestly, it was a little frightening. But I crave self-growth and enhancement, so I pushed forward with self-improvement as my goal. I know going into my last semester in America that I have changed on a fundamental level, and these changes have strengthened my leadership abilities, tested my patience, and introduced me to alternative problem-solving strategies.
One thing I had a chance to do that I never expected was having the opportunity to volunteer and participate in a conference specifically for black women in Japan. I was surrounded by phenomenal black women doing phenomenal things in Japan. I am inspired to do equally phenomenal things in my future. I am certain with the cultural knowledge I gained from my semester abroad I will have a better time in Japan next time around.
Being a Watanabe scholar has meant I get to experience Japan and study abroad as a normal student. Not “the student who always works” or “the student who always worries.” For once, I was able to just be a curious student. I haven’t felt this way since kindergarten. The world was my oyster. I will always appreciate the organization that helped me realize my dream.
–De’Jia Long-Hillie (Watanabe ’19-20)
De’Jia is a 2019-2020 Toshizo Watanabe Scholar who studied in Nagoya, Japan for four months. She is a senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies with a focus on International Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her passion for cross-cultural understanding began in middle school with a week-long school trip to Japan. Since then, De’Jia has been a volunteer with the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC, and hopes to teach English in Japan after graduating this spring.