My flight back home is June 25th. That means that there is less than a month to go at ICU before I head back to the states and resume life as normal. The good news is, that month is going to be packed with practice, my birthday, finals, and a bunch of last minute trips before I leave. The bad news is that I am leaving.
I decided to take this post to really reflect on my experience thus far. It doesn’t feel like it, but I have been here for only two months. Yet, at the same time, I feel as comfortable here as I do at Wellesley. I have established a routine, I have made new friends, and I feel like I have really come into my own here.
This became clear to me the other day at work. I may have mentioned this, but I am working at a cafe in Mitaka for my “Community Engagement,” which is essentially Middlebury’s way of forcing people to get out into the natural environment of their study abroad experience and not just stick with exchange students. My job basically entails serving customers, keeping things clean, and making English versions of signs the store has.
My boss went to a meeting with the Mitaka city council, and she mentioned that another Middlebury student was there. This student had been studying Japanese since middle school, and was really good and knew he was good. I never realized how much of a complex I had about my language abilities until I met him. So I mentioned off-hand “彼は日本語上手ですね。” Basically just saying that he was good at Japanese. My boss turned and looked at me and said. “そう、でもイマラさんは負けていない。” Yes, but you aren’t losing.
This was said as I went out the door, so I did my normal humble Japanese thing and brushed off the compliment. But as I walked to the train to meet my host sister, who came to America my Junior year of high school, I really started thinking about it.
My goal when I entered Wellesley was to come to Japan to study for a year, and get to a Japanese level where I could take a class completely in Japanese. I just turned in a paper about a book (that I admittedly read in English), and most of my edits from my professor were small things like particles or transitive vs intransitive verbs which I never properly learned anyway.
Later that weekend, I ended up participating in club practice (entirely in Japanese), going to a barbecue (where the students only spoke Japanese), and then went to my friends talk on feminism, media, and male and female ideals and identities, where I portrayed my opinions in Japanese.
And finally, I met up with my host sister and we had a conversation in both Japanese and English because her English has gotten so much better (she just got back from 10 months in Finland), but my Japanese also really improved.
Today’s Japanese lesson is for the word 負ける。まける。To lose. But, like most words in other languages, makeru doesn’t just mean losing like in a game. It can also mean to be inferior to, to give in, or to surrender. I am not losing. I am not inferior. I am not giving in, and I am not surrendering.
So on this Sunday night, knowing in a month I am going to be in Chicago frantically meeting up with friends before I head back to “normal” life in Boston, I can really say to myself – “You know what? 絶対負けていない。”
And because this post wouldn’t be a post by me without food, here’s a picture of the Okonomiyaki we ate. Okonomiyaki literally translates as “whatever you like, grilled”, but it is traditionally a pancake batter style pancake like thing with a bunch of delicious stuff in it. You can also, if you go to a traditional place and not the restaurant style one we went to, order chicken thighs, vegetables, and other random things that can be slapped on a grill. Super great.