Three weeks ago, I was in the Toronto airport, waiting to board the first of two flights that would take me outside of this continent for the first time. Before this point, I had lived in the smaller towns surrounding my school district up until my high school graduation and then for a few months in Jamestown during my first semester of college. I remember feeling intimidated by my new surroundings when I was first moving into my apartment in Jamestown, because it was the most urban place I had ever lived, and I was on my own for the first time. Having spent my last three weeks in a city just outside of Tokyo, the feelings I have about Jamestown’s size have changed radically.
Over the past three weeks I have been living in an area that has a population of over seven times that of Jamestown, with almost every aspect of the city being in some small or large way different from how it is in the US. Signs are written most often in a language I cannot read, and its mostly impossible for me to understand conversations that I hear on the streets, as I cannot understand them either. Grocery stores are stocked with brands I don’t recognize, produce sections contain celery wrapped and sold by individual stalks rather than the entire head and grapes that are significantly larger than what I see in the US, and common plants here are usually unrecognizable to me, making walks in parks or forests feel like I’m on a new planet.
I’ve come to really enjoy taking walks and doing things like going to the drugstore or using vending machines, because everything feels new to me. When I first arrived, my host family asked if there were any things I wanted to do while I was here, and I had no idea how to respond, because normal things here feel as interesting, if not more than all the tourist attractions I knew of in the area, so anything we did would satisfy me.
I’ve been living in a room on the second floor of the kindergarten building, rather than with my family, but between working, eating, and spending time off with them, it feels almost the same as if we’d been living together the whole three weeks. I’ve gotten to know all four of the other teachers at the kindergarten over dinners after the last students leave on weekdays. On weekends, I’ve gone with the teacher I’ve been working most closely with to see the Chinatown in Yokohama, a Japanese garden, the massive Buddhist statute in Kamakura, and a nearby forest.
I started my first day at the kindergarten having lunch with the kids who, other than a select few, were pretty shy around me. However, it didn’t take long for them to begin talking with me, and a few days later, kids were asking me to sit next to them at lunch or asking me from across the table, “Do you like tomatoes?”, “Do you like dogs?”, and a great many other questions about my likes and dislikes. I’ve gotten to spend my mornings doing crafts, reading books, singing songs, and playing at the park with these kids.
In the later half of the day, elementary school students come for after school English classes where they’ve told me about their days and asked me questions about where I’m from and what I think about Japan so far. Through these classes I’ve been able to learn about Japanese culture, as well as pick up some of the language while I help them to learn about the US and how to speak English.
Having finished the first section of my internship, I already feel that I have gained experiences that make my transition several months ago to Jamestown seem incredibly minor. I look forward to continuing my adventures and meeting even more people over the next few weeks as I prepare now to move to my next host family two hours away to work in an elementary and high school just outside of Tokyo.