Students on Japan Exchange report on their experiences abroad
The following two reports were filed by two of CMLLC's Asian Studies graduates when they participated in the JET Program (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) in Japan. Angel Delgado and Khalid Alrifai both spent time abroad as part of the exchange program. Following his experience abroad, Delgado plans to become a translator. Alrifai, who came to the country from Syria, has recently become an American citizen but also got to know Japan over the course of his education.
I'm having a great time teaching here in Aomori-shi. I am grateful and fortunate enough to be using what I have learned through my Japanese and Linguistic degrees every day. The people here are very kind and I've grown accustomed to life in Japan.
During my first week in Aomori, I joined in the Nabuta festival and was even interviewed by newscasters. After my interview aired, a lot of people started to recognize me, and I've become somewhat famous here.
I'm glad that I get to practice my Japanese every day, and can travel around Japan when I am free. I recently went down to Anjo to visit Kokumo-san, and I have plans to go to the snow festival in Sapporo in February.
Having visited America a few times with my family as a child, it was a dream of ours to study there one day. The little child who dreamed of going to America and one day speaking English like his Canadian cousins had another seed growing inside of him unknown even to himself. This seed, however, was much more inconspicuous and silent than the hope of going to America. It was the start of what would become a deep-rooted love for Japan, its culture, people, and especially its language.
It is near the end of 2002 and the beginning of a summer “vacation” in America that would soon become 14 consecutive years of not seeing my homeland ever again. Unlike the Syrians fleeing the country today due to war, however, we did not flee a war or any other kind of persecution. We simply stayed in America for better education and career opportunities for Syria, although a peaceful country at the time, did not offer much to its citizens in comparison with the western countries.
Following the footsteps of my older brother and trusting his decision, without much thought, I also went to Wayne State University after two years of community college. A decision that brought me together with many awesome teachers, my wife and many good friends that I would not give up for the world. At Wayne State I started as a pharmacy major, but soon realized that although I love science, my love for it was not one where I wanted to pursue it as a career, rather just a love of admiring its beauty and the light it shed upon the mysteries of our physical world. I changed my major to a double major in English and Japanese. Japanese because I simply loved the language and wanted to become more proficient at it especially with the hope of going to Japan one day. English because, having found out about the JET program, I wanted to make sure I was “qualified” to teach English or at least have some expertise in the subject. Although I majored in English literature rather than English grammar, I am glad at the decision I made as it helped me become a much better writer and analyze books/stories from many different angles. Something Japanese students could benefit from beyond their grammar lessons, I thought.
The JET program was not my first attempt at going to Japan. I first considered an exchange program for a year which, due to not being an American citizen yet and therefore not qualifying for many available scholarships, proved to be too expensive for me at the time. Then I turned my attention to the MEXT scholarship. This time, not only was the citizenship a complete issue as I could not even be accepted into the program at all, I had no idea how to do the kind of research they required although I had a few topics in mind. My trip to Japan had to be postponed a few more years before I could finally travel to the land I worked so hard to get into (studying Japanese all the time).
At the end of every night, no matter how long and dark, dawn will come and break it. In 2015, I got my American citizenship! I jumped on the JET program application as soon as it became available and after being put on the waiting list the first year, I made it into the program (while married with one child) the following year.
Even after setting foot in Japan, the feeling of “I made it” did not spring out of my heart and envelop it as I thought it would. It was not until about two weeks later, when I visited the school I would be teaching at, that my heart was overcome with joy and a sense of achievement.
So far the experience has been incredible. Both in its good and bad times. You learn so much more about yourself and a whole new country and its people. If I had to choose one thing I am most glad about after coming to Japan, it would be the fact that I studied Japanese really hard to the point where I could have semi-deep conversations with the people around me. In fact, sometimes I help other non-English teachers with their Japanese classes when it involves my ethnic or religious background. Something I could not have done had I not studied Japanese. Even the teachers that are not English teachers are glad to have a foreigner come whom they can actually converse with! I cannot possibly imagine enjoying my time here to the fullest without knowing Japanese to some extent.
If you are aiming to come to Japan for a prolonged period of time, my advice to you would be to study Japanese as much as you can so you can get the most out of your experience and help those around you learn more about you, ultimately enriching your and their lives in the process.