It’s spring! The cherry blossoms are blooming and the weather is getting warmer, but I am still thinking about my one-month trip to Japan in December 2014. After getting a haircut and meeting up with my fiancé’s friends, on Day 9 in Japan it was time to reunite with my Japanese friends from when I studied abroad in Yamanashi prefecture.
I studied abroad in Yamanashi prefecture when I was an undergraduate, and honestly it was the best part about my university life. I always recommend study abroad to students I meet because I think it was a very important experience in my own life. Whether you study abroad in Japan or in any other country, I really can’t say enough about the benefits of studying abroad.
My university friends are from around Japan, but many of them ended up in or near Tokyo. Since I was visiting Tokyo, this made it the best place to meet up on Saturday. I really love the national train system, which makes getting around the country easy and convenient. Not everyone could attend, but I was happy that so many of us could hang out again, and some of my friends came from so far. It ended up being mostly the Japanese alumni and only one other American alumnus besides me (he lives in Japan).
We ended up meeting in Shinjuku at a restaurant called Hiryu’s, just outside of the west entrance to the Shinjuku station. It’s a nabe (鍋) restaurant, which is a hot pot, where you get to cook everything in a pan at your table. There are rooms available for reservation, so we reserved one for our large party. During December university clubs and work groups host bounenkai 忘年会, or end-of-year parties. A bounenkai is an all-you-can-eat type of banquet where you celebrate the ending of the year. The room next to ours was a bounenkai, and so we heard lots of toasts and boisterous stories coming from next door. Our gathering is a dousoukai 同窓会 or reunion party.
It was great to see everyone again. We have all grown in the time since we studied together at university. Some of us have full time jobs, some of us have become housewives, some of us have families, some of us are still single. No matter what point in our lives we are now at, when we’re together in one room it’s almost like we never were apart. It’s almost like we’re just getting together for another nabe party on the weekend, and maybe we’ll still have to go to class on Monday.
Looking back on it now, I think it’s somehow amazing that this group of different people from different backgrounds could have made such long-lasting friendships during such a short period of time. We traveled all over Japan together, studied together, got together at each others’ apartments and went to karaoke together. After the Americans went back to the US, our Japanese friends came to visit our hometowns and we traveled in the US as well.
Thanks to Facebook, I keep up with both the Japanese and American friends I made during my time abroad, and can keep in touch with them easily. When I told them months earlier that I would be visiting Japan, they immediately started making plans to meet up with me. So on Saturday, we spent a great afternoon catching up and eating amazing nabe.
What reunion would be complete without karaoke? Luckily, there was a Big Echo karaoke studio nearby, so we ordered ice cream parfaits and finished up our evening singing karaoke. When my fiancé came to pick me up at the end I was very sad to say goodbye to everyone, but I hope to visit again soon. I made plans with a few of my friends to get together later on during my visit, so I was glad to know we could meet again. I was also glad to introduce my fiancé to my friends.
Living in a foreign country as a student is a very different thing than if you were to live there while you were working or if you were just visiting. You meet international friends as well as friends from the country you are in, and there is a great support system available through the university. In a place like Japan, where housing can be expensive and nearly impossible to procure on your own as a foreigner, housing is provided for you either through a dormitory, an apartment, or a homestay. As a student you have a lot more time and freedom to travel while you study abroad, whereas with travel you’re limited by your resources to a shorter time period.
Learning about a new culture, speaking a new language, and adapting to new customs can broaden your perspective. Your ability to communicate improves as does your interpersonal relationship skills. Plus, you have so much fun.
Have you studied or lived abroad? Are you planning to? Do you still keep in touch with friends you made abroad?