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Episode 1: Studying Abroad in Japan
Marco: Welcome to Horizons abroad where we talked about traveling and living abroad. I’m your host Marko purush join me as I talk with people about their adventures and unexpected challenges as they explore foreign cultures the people and a new way of life.
Marco: Thank you so much for joining me today on this episode. We have a very special guest and AU student who is at the moment trying to go back abroad but was studying abroad in Japan in Kyoto. He’s on the Sakura Scholars Program, and he was studying for two years over there, please welcome me as we introduce Mason Chappell Mason. Thank you so much for coming on to the show.
Mason: Thank you for having me.
Marco: Yeah, absolutely. Mason Chapelle. That’s an interesting last name, you’re unrelated to comedian Dave Chappelle. Is that correct?
Mason: No, that’s correct. I get that a lot though.
Marco: Oh, okay. Okay. Awesome. Well, so you’ve been you’ve been studying in Japan these past few semesters right?
Marco: Cool cool. So tell me what is the experience like over there, you know being a just you know being an American student in Japan. It’s a very, very different culture, very different way of life. Well, what are your thoughts?
Mason: Yeah, definitely know the culture over there is completely different than anything over here. Every time I go I feel like I whenever I’m over in Japan, it feels like a completely different life like separate from anything like related you not like anything United States or just– Everything feels different when you’re walking down the street just like looking around you realize the like there’s so many things you can’t read so many things are just like new things each don’t understand and that’s part of what makes it so exciting, right?
Marco: Very nice, cool. cool. So how come Japan like, why’d you choose Japan as, like a place to you know, to live for a couple of years to study over, you know, the other countries that AU offers in study abroad programs.
Mason: Oh when I was well, I’ve only left the country about twice in my life and both those times were Japan. And the first time I ever went to Japan, I was in fourth grade and at the time was the first time I ever left the country. I barely even left the state, that was actually one of the first times I’ve even been to the east coast was when I went to AU.
So I have barely left California and now I was going to Japan and you know, at the time I had no idea. I was just like a dumb 4th grader. I didn’t know what Japan was or anything and it really really just, like blew my mind when I went there just how different everything was and I was just fascinated by it all and from there after that. I started studying Japanese and I knew that was something I wanted. Go back one day and understand it more though. In high school the next time I went to Japan was when I studied abroad in high school only for a month, but that one month long experience was really really a lot to me. I went to study abroad through a program called AFS and I was able to live with a host family in Japan for that month and also attend the high school and just the entire experience was just something, just something else; and really it made me want to go into the field of international relations after that it. Specifically I was interested in you know, learning more Japanese and learning more about like, relations between like, this country and that they’re like the similarities and differences between the two.
Marco: Cool. Yeah. Well, I mean, so basically by fourth grade even though you’re really young you kind of knew, you know, that this is it. This is like where I want to be. This is where I want to like, you know, I want to live eventually.Yeah, yeah. Okay. Nice nice. So, okay. So you’re telling me you know, you’ve gone twice before hand at a younger age. But you know now. Now recently for college you’re back again, you’re a little bit older you have– you have experience with Japanese like, like you said you were practicing so, you know, it’s not completely foreign to you this language, which is admittedly very complicated. With so many kanji characters and it’s so yeah, I mean it’s a lot for anyone to let you know to look at on a surface level. It’s already very complicated. But I’m sure you are getting the hang of it. So when you went back, this new time, as a college student, was there anything that felt like a culture shock to you going back to you know, Japan now more as an adult?
Mason: To be honest, the one thing that I don’t like to judge. I feel like it just researching Japan and like, you know thinking about so much there’s like I always I always felt like I’d be like ready for everything and for the most part felt like most things I experienced I known about every time even though I already I knew about this every time the one thing that I always get culture shock without fail is having to go through an “onsen” and there’s always there’s always a time that you have that like you go when you’re like, if you’re part of a sports team or if you’re or if you’re just you know in like in high school, there’s also there’s usually a time if you’re in Japan that you’re going to have to go into an onsen so… and that was always the time that I have experienced the most shock.
Marco: Yeah, maybe for context you want to explain what an Onsen is for people that might not know.
Mason: And onsen is like a traditional Japanese bath house. We’re bathed along with everyone else of the same gender as you and you know, just an open room. No privacy whatsoever. In fact, like privacy in it, trying to like, get privacy is considered rude, right? That’s always== yeah.
Marco: Yeah, so in an onsen people are very open about that kind of nudity so, and you know coming from a western culture a western point of view. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, right?
Mason: All right. Yeah, that’s it without fail. It’s always uncomfortable. Like every time I go back and I have to do it again for the first time. It’s like it always just feels like, right back to being forced in the situation again for the first time but it’s but something you get used to and it’s honestly just it’s just an interesting cultural experience though.
Marco: Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess it’s a good bonding experience. If nothing else because you know, yeah, you can say that, what’s better than getting close to someone. I guess, I guess naked– so yeah, cool. Yeah. Okay, very cool, okay, interesting and so and you know in terms of difficulties since you first came to Japan to live in a more permanent situation, not just, not just as a tour, and more technically, you know long-term. Did you have any difficulties, you know, adjusting to this new way of life. And you know, how are you managing to handle that? You know, how are you? How are you taking control of that situation?
Mason: Oh, it’s going in your it’s not, it’s different than just going in like introduced School anywhere. It’s always gonna be difficult because you know, you got to make friends and, there, of course if people I know if the same program is me that I’ve been close friends with since being with you when going into once, going to Japan again. I wanted to expand my horizons and get to know people that go to the same school as me. Yeah, and I don’t want the situation about what school you are going to, it’s always going to be a kind of difficult when you go first go especially now that there is a new language barrier that you have to get over right and go through this. I asked around that because was typical the time because I came in in the middle of the year because in Japan you would actually start in April and end in January. So me coming in the Summer where the school year normally be starting with the middle of the year for everyone else. Oh, a club fairs anything like that. If you– they’re all already ended those were happening first semester. It’s all done. You gonna have to fend for yourself at the time. So I
I asked around people in my dorm of like they know anybody in like, you know, different clubs or circles and I was so I asked around I eventually joined a tennis tennis Circle, which is basically the same thing it just a club the circle aspect of what is the difference between a club and circle is the in Japan a circle is more oriented towards social activities rather than Club sports, which would be more competitive and dedicated with the sport itself rather than a circle, where we have more people who all enjoy the well, enjoy the sport, but would rather just just have fun with it rather than be competitive.
Marco: It’s a, you can say, it’s like, it’s kind of like an excuse to meet people and it’s like under the– under this platform that it’s like okay. Everyone’s going to be playing the same sport together… But really it’s just like it’s a nice way to interact and meet new people.
Mason: Exactly. Yeah.
Marco: Okay cool. Cool. And what do you think? What do you what do you think of the of this tennis Circle?
Mason: It was so much fun. I hope like are still continuing now, but stuff like all retreats we go on. I got to see all these different parts of Japan, I probably never would have seen before and I was actually the only person in the circle that was not Japanese. So it was just an– or like the only one who really could really speak English or only Wide Awake who couldn’t speak fluent Japanese.
Mason: So it was probably the biggest difficulty is having to you know, work my way up look to the language barrier become friends with everybody which it which first it was just super difficult having to get through all the awkwardness of not no, I’m not understanding people and having them and not them not understanding you eventually I pushed through all that and using the opportunity to continue to continue like language abilities and by the end of it and by the end of semester I had had many close friends that I talked to like almost every day from the circle and really helped improve my Japanese through it.
Marco: Awesome. Yeah, that’s that’s really cool. So you said that that you were the only member you know, for the sake of simplicity, you’re the only member that really wasn’t a Japanese native Japanese and you know how that makes me wonder. How did, how does that make you feel in the sense that you know, it is a country that is, you know majority Japanese. It is a country that, is very very close knit, a very close-knit society. And so how does that make you feel, you know being in a country where you very much, you know, you look different you stand out. You know as a foreigner, you know in that country, you know in everyday life.
Mason: It’s– it can be difficult to get used to it first. Actually. It was a lot more of a lot more out of place when I was in Sapporo. Because you know, throughout my like, commute to school and like around there. Like once a day like, if I even if I went to the city, I’d probably see like one or two like non-japanese tourists over there and it was you know, just very, very rare for me. I would just stand out no matter where I go. If I went to Starbucks, like, you know, like a lot of times there would be people because they see be in a school uniform and they’d ask, like I get asked questions by like, the people working there and stuff but it was never, I never felt like, you know, it never felt like bad attention. So it never– it never bothered me, but I can understand why it would make a lot of people uncomfortable.
Marco: Yeah, but you know what? It’s pretty brave of you that you know, you joined a circle.
That is just all Japanese except for you because you know a lot of international students fall into this kind of mistake and it’s not a mistake, but they kind of fall into this this kind of clique of other International students that you know, speak the same language, has come from maybe a similar kind of Western background and they never take a chance. They never really take a risk and try to make Japanese friends. You know, maybe it’s not because they don’t want to but it’s maybe because of the language barrier that’s very intimidating. But you know the fact that you went out of your way and you know, you got through that awkward phase of you know, meeting new people and becoming friends with them, you know crossing that gap with the language barrier, you know, it’s really that it’s very impressive. It’s very impressive.
Mason: There’s nothing wrong with you know, hanging out with all the other people from like the same school or country or its people who speak the same language as us but especially when studying abroad I do too especially through it like my dorm. There’s people there that were very, there’s a very close-knit community of all the other of all the other International students and especially ones from AU we’d all hang together, but I guess when I went there I wanted it also as always is my main goal to you know become fluid. I want to learn Japanese. I want to learn everything I can about the culture and because of that. I really try to push myself to go outside my comfort zone and meet as many new people as I can.
Marco: Yeah, that’s– that’s awesome. So, you know, you hear a lot about these programs where students drop out, you know kind of midway through the semester because they get depressed and they get homesick and you know that could happen with any place, with any country that’s new and you’re living there for the first time. It’s a really big change and so that can happen to anyone really, but you do hear a lot about that with foreigners trying to live in Japan that you know, they just can’t get used to this completely new way of life, just a completely different culture. So my question for you is do you ever get that feeling? Do you have do you ever feel like you know,”maybe this isn’t for me”, you know, maybe I should go home. Did you ever get homesick at all? When you’re there, when you’re over there?
Mason: Yes, for me. It’s always been like my lifelong dream ever since I first went to Japan to go back and learn everything about it because it’s just so amazing. I just find it so interesting. So obviously it was amazing even when I would get homesick. I would never feel like I wanted to go home because it’s more of I would feel like it was, “Okay, how can I make my time here better rather than trying to go home. It’s just how can I make this a better home for me?”
Marco: That’s yeah, that’s a great way to look at it because you know, I feel maybe sometimes people go on this downward spiral where they just get, you know, locked in the room and they just talk to people from back home and then they just think about home and then, boom! Before you know it, they’re out of there. Out of the semester early or they’re just you know, they’re cutting out all their plans just to go back home just because you know, it’s not for them. So I think that’s a good mentality to have that. You know, I think it’s an awkward phase for a lot of people, you know, just with anything there’s an awkward phase then you get used to it and they start enjoying it. So, you know, that’s good. That’s a good way to look at things. But I know you have this program for two years, right? You’re going to be there for two years in Kyoto.
And so when those two years are up, what’s the plan? What are you thinking of doing?
Mason: After these two years. Of course, I’m going to be going back to AU and spending my senior year there. But, and you know, which I’m very excited to do. I love this school. Yeah, at the end of the day, I love this school. I love all the people here. So it’s always exciting to go back but, after that I would have to say but I would probably plan on going back to Japan and trying to find a job there. Yeah. I will.
Marco: I mean there’s definitely a lot of demand for English-speaking foreigners that also speak business level Japanese. So, you know, I think that there’s definitely you know, there is demand there’s a– there’s a big demand for for for someone like you in terms of you know that industry
Mason: Oh, I would hope so.
Marco: Let’s hope it still is by the time you’re back there.
Mason: Yeah, hopefully, hopefully yeah.
Marco: So, you know that this has been really interesting and I just have one more question for you. You went, you know, this most recent time that you’ve been back to Japan… if you could go back and you know, kind of give yourself some words of wisdom about everything you’ve seen, you know, knowing what you know, tell me, would you do anything differently? What would you tell yourself? You know, before you go on this big this big move; this big decision; this journey.
Mason: I would like to think I wouldn’t want to change anything. But yes, I’m going in on this whole thing. It was hard to get advice because I know I did not know anybody who’d gone through something like this. And so I had a lot of the advice. I kind of had to make myself… Probably the biggest…I got to think about this… Guess it would be honestly, probably just study more. Study more Japanese. Honestly, that and practice more, don’t get lazy beforehand. It’s like just probably the best thing you can do before going in foreign countries. Like you always think that like, :oh, I’ll learn it. Once I get there!” The base that you have before you go there I would argue, is way more– is probably the most important thing when you go to a new country to study abroad or spend like a good amount of time in there and the retention you have. An intensive learning of the language. I think the most important thing is to have a base of that language before going for studying abroad. Luckily. I did have a decent base of the language, but I wish it was better.
Mason: So, and that like, especially conversation skills because it can be tough to, you know, find people to practice with all the time. You know, I just encourage people to use the resources if they can, you know things like, things like, you know, how the school will provide like, you know, language exchange partners; things like that would I think would be just like well a lot would be good to have and utilize before studying abroad
Marco: Yeah because you always hear these stories about how you know places like Tokyo are very International cities. They see a lot of tourists and oh, you know, they speak a lot of, you know, Japanese and English. For all the tourists. Do you think that you know, even with that kind of accommodation people should still probably study up before, you know, taking a trip to you know, a place like Tokyo, for example?
Mason: Yeah if you have the intention of learning a language and wanting to learn it then, yes, I’d say it’s very important. But if you do not for whatever reason, you don’t want to, you have no interest in learning the language you just experience like the, you know, the sites and you know the environment and that’s– and you know there and that’s completely fine and there’s combinations for English in most places. I’d say you can get by in Japan very well without any Japanese.
Marco: Okay, interesting. It’s because people are very willing to help right, you know, it’s a very, you know, Cooperative, very collectivist Society.
Marco: All right. Yeah. Wow amazing stuff. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to come on and share your story about studying abroad and hopefully you will be back in Japan very soon.
Mason: Hopefully, hopefully, yeah.
Marco: Fingers crossed that we don’t get any more pandemics between now and then but the Summer Olympics are coming up so that will be really interesting for Japan, you know.
Marco: Crazy stuff. Alright, thank you so much for coming on to the show, and thank you listener for taking the time and giving this episode of listen, so please check us out online and wherever you listen to podcasts. This has been Marco Perosch for Horizons Abroad. Thank you so much.