Friday, August 13, 2010

So Long And Thanks For All the Fish.

Well, I'm back home in Pittsburgh and it's definitely been a summer to remember. Thank you for your support and letting me share a bit of my summer with you all! By no means does the journey end here - there's still quite a lot of adventure to be had in the 'burgh.

If you're interested for whatever reason in keeping up to date with the happenings in the world of Kristin you can check out the blog I'm starting over here.

Much love,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

alternatively titled: The Giant Emotional Sum Up Post Where I Reflect On My Experiences and Reconfigure My Future Accordingly.

I preface the starting of this post by saying that I retyped this probably 3 or 4 times. There really just isn't any clear cut way to sum up this whole experience. There was a lot of good and a lot of not so good, but overall it was quite an experience and that is something I'll always hold onto. What's important is that I know where Kristin stands in relation to the world now. Well, at least a little better, anyway.

Let me start by saying that I am exceptionally grateful to have had the chance to come to Japan period. Going to Japan was a dream I've had since I first remember seeing Sailor Moon on Toonami after elementary school. My dreams have changed quite a bit since then, but all the same, I still wanted to come to Japan, albeit for much different reasons. Now that I was there I've realized my dreams had and are changing once again. But no matter what direction I head in I will always looks back and, yes, there were some stressful times and some slightly depressing times, but when I do look back 1, 5, 25 years from now I"m betting I'm not going to remember the day where I cursed all the way up hachimanzaka slope for it being humid and commuting up a mountain. I'm going to remember the good and the great and the splendid things.

That's not to say there weren't ugly parts, just as there is to anything in life. So let's take some quality time to reflect on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. And in rewriting this again, I've realized that each element is equal parts bad and good and to classify them all would just divert focus from their actual importance,

  • I met a lot of amazing people from all walks of life. Some Ivy Leaguers, a fellow Pitt female computer engineer, men who get shirts custom tailored from Brooks Brothers, Harvard PhD students, married grad students from Germany, a dear friend with a built in musical ensemble, and a contact in Hawaii (how lucky is she!). Everyone I've met here has been amazing and entertaining and supportive in more ways than I could possibly have imagined. Thanks for being awesome and keeping us all sane. Ish.
  • I just managed to survive 8 weeks in a completely foreign country with a completely foreign alphabet. Granted, I did have a head start having actually studied the language prior to coming for 3 years, but I'll be damned if I didn't have my share of rough days and days still where I felt like I couldn't communicate even the most basic desire in Japanese. Or English for that matter.
  • I just managed to get credit for my final year of advanced language study at Pitt. That means I'm one step closer to my Japanese degree! And I got it by studying, working hard, and eating lots of kaitenzushi. A lesson to all!
  • I feel like I'm going to be off to a good start once I get back to the States in terms of nutrition. Since I've been here I've definitely found a greater love for fruit and less of an opportunity for Mac & Cheese. Granted there are foods here I'm not fond of and even foods I am fond of but just can't afford to import to Pittsburgh, but I feel like once I'm home I'll have a clean slate to work with in regard to getting a more balanced diet.

  • On that note, I've also walked a consistent 3 miles a day, including stairs and up-mountain. I know it's not much, but my calves are already kicked back into shape.

  • I definitely have come to appreciate my own family. There was a point in time where, like any good rebellious teenage girl, I didn't get along with my Mum terribly well and though it was clearly a phase, I can especially say now how great of friends we are on top of it all. I really missed having her to talk to and bitch to and laugh with and teach things to and learn things to and I'm going to cut the sap now before it gets outta control.

  • Can you say cold tea? Mmm, delish.

  • I'm really excited to have made friends with the baker down the street. I went there literally every morning and even though there's only been time enough for a little chat it made for a nice morning. And delish orange glazed bread. Not to mention I ran into him at the supermarket every now and then and he'd remember me and stop to chat! Granted, I'm kind of hard to miss...
  • I just spent the past 8 weeks squatting over the equivalent of a urinal in the ground to pee. Do I need to say more?

  • After being the 8-year old who couldn't handle a sleepover with her friends 3 blocks away without feeling homesick, I managed to stay with a completely foreign family for 8 weeks. Then again, I didn't really have the option for Mum to come pick me up at 2am but that's besides the point. I wasn't homesick but I did have my moments where all I wanted was to go home to my family and love and friends and curl up on the couch and shoot zombies.

  • Not having a dryer sucks. My clothes are stiff. Sometimes the low power washer doesn't even get all the soap off of them. And then they hang indoors and musk. I can't wait to get home and wash my clothes like a lazy and not energy-efficient person.

  • I've had quite a few interesting moments with my family. Namely my host father's impatient mumbling in the local dialect which, after 8 weeks I still don't understand, my host sister's bringing home a boy in secret, and my family's lovely habit of walking around the house in their underwear. My host sister playing footsies with me over the limited space at the dining table and her almost narcoleptic tendencies to nap in my bed and subsequently destroy it. I'm an only child. I'm used to putting up with about 2 people's daily habits. 8 weeks was not enough to be thrown into another family's ways in such a personal way. School, public, work - fine. At home? What is no.
The Moral of the Story
Japan is a wonderful country, I stayed with a wonderful family and had wonderful connections and opportunities through class. Japan has its downsides, there are things I'm not used to, my host family has their annoying quirks and the program wasn't up to my academic expectations but nothing so far as to call it "ugly". I've definitely had a life changing experience, though not in the way I originally thought or planned.

Once upon a time, coming to Japan was all I dreamt about. Just thinking about coming here, anywhere, even for a day was enough to make this fascination well up inside of me. Even when I got wait-listed for the program I felt my dream take a crushing blow. I got in, I prepared and one day in June I got on a plane after almost 12 years of dreaming. I got here and waited but I never felt that magic. But after about a week I realized why I didn't feel the same captivation like when I went to Boston, for instance; the magic just simply wasn't there. There was nothing wrong with Japan, there is nothing wrong with Japan, all I can say, even now, is that it's lacking that magic that I once associated with it. I couldn't tell you why.

In a sense I feel it's because the point where I'm at in life has changed without a doubt. When you're in college or almost 20 you go abroad or off on your own to "find yourself". A few months ago I seriously considered that I needed to do some of this so-called finding and naturally this would happen in Japan. But almost as soon as I stepped off the plane I knew that I was here for a very different reason than most of these people. I know who I am. I have for the past few months, even when I thought I didn't. I didn't need to establish my identity or search for my true self. I already know that Kristin. Yes I came to experience the world and a different culture and I'm grateful I have done just that, but frankly, after realizing where I stood in life, with myself, I couldn't wait to get back and finally put that Kristin to work.

I'm not particularly proud of this, but my study abroad became a largely academic-oriented goal. Not in the sense that all I did was study - I definitely got out to experience Hakodate and I'm glad I did. But ultimately, I wasn't here to explore anymore. I was here to come back with a slip of paper saying that I was one class closer to being done with this major.

To try and put this simply, in the past 8 weeks I've reevaluated where I am and where I'm going with my life. I am the one person who will come home from this treating it as a process of elimination experience. I realize now that though I would be ok with living in Japan, I no longer want to. I could never suck up my creativity and ambition and work for a Japanese company where women are still largely just office secretaries. I don't even think I have the patience to devote even 3 more years to what I think is "perfecting" my Japanese only to realize that I stilldon't have the proficiency to be an interpreter. Learning Japanese has largely become a personal goal and personal endeavor. I'd like to keep it up, though I've made the conscious decision that it's not what I want to pursue as a career. Can I speak it? Yes. Would I like to deal with a Japanese company? Sure! But I'm more excited to dive into the field of computers than risk a stable future with translation or something. That's something I'm not geared for. Computers is where my career interests lie and I'm excited to delve into that once I get home.

I learned a lot. About Japan, Japanese culture, the world. I achieved more proficiency in the language, I learned about my interests. I met wonderful friends and saw brilliant cities. I know what home feels like and I know what adventure feels like. I know that I made dreams a reality and that new dreams blossomed and that's perfectly okay. I know that I did what I set out to do and learned where my own heart lies. I have made myself a better person in my experiences.

I successfully completed studying abroad in Japan :)

Monday, August 9, 2010


A brief update:

Sunday was Tokyo Disney - magical, no doubt.

Today I navigated to Shinjuku on my own and spent the day walking through Akihabara (the electronics district) and Harajuku, only getting slightly lost.

I managed to avoid the Nigerian pimps on Takeshita Doori, went to a maid cafe in Akiba where they put a magical oishii spell on my cake to make it delicious, and realized that my hotel is in the middle of Host Club central.

My feet hurt.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


港まつり and the イカ踊り are big to-do's here in Hakodate. In fact, aside from the local fish market I remember those being two of the first and most famous events I remember hearing about in connection with Hakodate.

港まつり has taken place most of this week, kicking off with the big firework show on Sunday night and going until tomorrow. It's pretty much like your local fireman's fair (is that just a PA thing? Now I'm curious...) just on a grander scale. There's vendors with cotton candy and yakitori, slushies and crepes and lollipop shaped sausage-pops (I kid you not), your good reliable fish catching game - with real fish. And turtles. And games and beer and concerts and just a general good time. Not to mention the fireworks on Sunday were amazing; Pittsburgh really enjoys it's firework shows but it's got nothing on Japan. There were even Hello Kitty shaped fireworks. I rest my case.

The イカ踊り - or squid dance - is basically a two day long parade of townspeople paying homage to their mascot and relatively delicious local catch. Which is quite a strange combination, come to think of it. There are local bands and floats, taiko groups and school kids as well as regular townsfolk who join in the parade, doing the squid dance all the way (actually for a total of about 1 1/2 hours each night). I couldn't justify doing the squid dance for almost 2 hours, but the HIF students joined in for a bit and ikaodori-ed our way down the closed off streets.

Not to mention that prior to the squid dance starting there was a group of zombie attired Japanese parade-goers doing the Thriller dance down the parade route. I think it's actually a requirement to live in Japan that you must know Michael Jackson's entire discography and pack in some of his signature dance moves. My kind of country.

Today was our last day of class and we finish up tomorrow with our final exam. It's strange to think it's over - 8 weeks went so fast and yet so slow at times. We have a small farewell party on Friday at the hotel and then I pack up, ship my luggage to the airport and spend some time on my own in Tokyo before getting on my plane. This is definitely not the end of Japan, though it probably will be the end of my adventures in Hakodate. Well, provided I can secure a spot on the train on Saturday; that's currently a bit of a komaru.

イカ踊り - knicked from Youtube:

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Japan and Health

I could sit here and tell you all how Japan has the highest life expentancy in the world. Or how the rice they eat with every meal is empty calories. Or how, yes, I have seen a $50 watermelon here. But if we're going to talk nutrition let's be serious.

In June, when I first arrived in Hakodate, my host mother asked me if I was ok with drinking orange juice, to which I responded, "Yes, I love orange juice!". It was no lie or embellishment or anything, but when one proclaims that they enjoy orange juice they don't expect to get served OJ everyday for the next 7 weeks.

That's right, I've had orange juice with every meal (save for maybe 2 occassions, when we were out) daily, for the past 2 months straight. At least we know I'm getting enough vitamin C with this diet.

I also have decided to save a daily $5 by walking from the station to class and back rather than take the tram, which, if my calculations are right, also equals a daily 3km walk just in the city. Not to mention that schoolis already halfway up the mountain, classrooms are on the 5th floor of the building. And that I live on the 4th floor of an elevator-less apartment building, so I get my fair share of stairs and gluteal workouts.

To top it off, we recently started doing some radio taiso during first period. Now, apparently, if a native Japanese just hears the radio taiso theme, they can do the set exercises on cue. Needless to say, I haven't tried that out just yet...

So if you need a little phsyical warmup before you start your day, I have the first video for you - enjoy :)