In no small part, being in Kyoto itself was a great assets in improving my understanding of Japanese. Residents are patient and understanding as I tried to speak and put what I learned in the classroom to practice. Even something as simple as taking the subway back to my apartment allowed me to practice reading as I scanned hiragana and katakana for my stop. Kyoto’s numerous temples provided a strong incentive to learn, as many of the more detailed information around shrines and monuments are untranslated. Getting out of Kyoto on the weekends was also helpful, as English on signs starts to disappear the deeper you hike into Kyoto’s mountain ranges. It becomes important to be able to read the signs to know what direction you’re going and what to do about a wild boar encounter!
How will this experience help your job search?
The most obvious benefit of this is an improved understanding of Japanese that will assist in a career focused on East Asian security and Japan in particular. More than just the language, my experience has helped in more abstract ways. Being in a foreign country on my own could be confusing and overwhelming, but getting frustrated would not be helpful. Same as job hunting I had to have a clear head and show patience as I navigated around Kyoto from travel to something as mundane as restocking on toiletries. Moreover, I often had to take the initiative. While people in Japan were and are incredibly helpful, I was still ultimately on my own and no one was going to go out of their way to assist me if I didn’t make it clear I needed assistance. I had to get over my natural inclination towards being aloof or quiet in order to ask questions and figure out solutions when my initial language knowledge was not enough. Both patience and taking the initiative are useful skills to have when going through the job hunting process.
I focused on Japan because I have a strong interest in East Asian Affairs. Even as an undergrad in history, I was taking classes on the region. I chose Japan in particular for its pivotal role as a regional ally to the US and its importance to regional security and involvement in issues such as North Korea and the maritime dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands. With these current issues, having a good understanding of Japan and East Asia as a whole is as important as ever. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to actually visit the region until now. I feel that while one can get a good understanding from research papers and articles, an effort to actually get to the region of interest should be made if possible. Relying only on secondhand information a continent away can give one a detached or divorced position from how the average person is acting. While I am not an expert on
these issues, my time in Japan gave me a better understanding than I’ve had previously.
Two specific things that the average person doesn’t know about Japan.
I can’t say it is very interesting, but Japan and Kyoto are profoundly safe. While caution and awareness is always important, I’ve had Kyoto described to me as, “the safest city in the safest country” and it certainly felt that way. Compared to the U.S. or other developed countries I felt substantially more comfortable and at ease in Kyoto. This is especially important when public transit virtually shuts down by 12 am even on weekends!
Second, raw egg is delicious. (Raw fish is also delicious but we all already knew that).