It's not uncommon to be walking down the street in Hakodate, or anywhere for that matter, and hearing a gaggle of school children shout "Gaijin!" and stare at you in various forms of awe as you pass.
It's also not uncommon to be asked for directions to some place in town even though, regarding the fact that you can indeed speak Japanese, frankly just don't know where that place is, let alone are able to give directions to it.
And most of the time, people automatically try to speak to you in English, or worse off, just run away if you try to speak to them in what is obviously Japanese in the first place.
It's definitely a change, being the minority. There's lots of being stared at. There's lots of dumbing down (thank you host father, I do indeed know the word "obaasan" ><; I don't however know the word for state highway toll) and a lot of assuming you have no clue as to anything in Japanese, even though you're clearly in Hakodate for a reason.
It's a huge bizarre, black-hole feeling when you realize you can't express anything more complex than telling your host family what you did in class today, and sometimes you can barely get that out. Every day, at least at this level, becomes this very rudimentary thing where you have the linguistic capability of a 5 year old but can't even understand them because of their using da-tai or mumbling or simply knowing more vocabulary than you. I miss having stimulating conversations with people and being able to actually express my opinions instead of turning to the weather when the conversation starts to lull.
There's definitely a hump to get over, but I'm slowly realizing how impossible that seems. Of course, I could devote myself to Japanese study, locking myself in a room and being fed cheese and bread under the door to perfect my language understanding but who wants to live like that? I've only spent two and a half years studying Japanese and am obviously not fluent, but felt like I had a relatively good grasp on some things. After sitting through a lecture in which I didn't understand a single word the feeling of discouragement was so heavy on my mind and I still can't possibly fathom all of the years and years and years of advanced study that would have to go in to becoming a professional translator.
It's not so much a discouragement as it is a wakeup call. Translation is really not my niche...