Island Girl Takes Big (Foreign) City

By Connie Choy

In spring of 2013 I decided to move away from home for the first time and live in one of the busiest cities in the world: Tokyo, Japan. Although it has been four years since my five-month trip I am constantly finding myself reminiscing about the unforgettable times I had with the lifelong friends I made.

Conversely, even with all of the happy memories I will never forget the challenges I had to overcome when I first got to the big city. Just to put things in perspective, I’m from Hawaii (Oahu island specifically), which has a population of about 1 million people. Tokyo is approximately home to about 14 million natives and transplants – that is 14 times the size! Moving away from home on your own, especially in a foreign country is a very difficult thing to do, but I believe it will be one of the most formative experiences of your life. Notably, my hardships were what pushed me into a mindset that yearned for adventure and growth.

When I first arrived in Tokyo, I can remember being overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in the airport. Lugging around two large suitcases as I made my way through the busy train stations was a first for me; I’ve never had any experience on a train, let alone one in a city like Tokyo. Luckily my jetlag and trepidation of moving subsided when I arrived at my apartment that was nestled among beautiful cherry blossom trees and picturesque Japanese houses. Saitama became my home, and I can recall the quaint little shops and pachinko arcades as if I were just there.

Starting school was a little scary, more specifically having to catch three trains in order to get to campus on my own. Have you ever seen those YouTube videos showing Tokyo train stations during rush hour, you know, where people are basically being stuffed and shoved like sardines in a can? Well, they’re all true. But aside from being pushed against doors, being stepped on and having a newfound appreciation for personal space, my daily train rides to campus made me feel a part of the Tokyo community. I eventually found being a sardine quite endearing.

Making friends was probably the most impactful aspect of my life abroad because all of my memorable moments revolved around the people I was with. My friends inspired me to think in new perspectives and try new things that I would have never thought to try, let alone actually do. We traveled to Fukushima and went drifting on a racetrack, hiked Mount Fuji at midnight to catch the sunrise, missed the last train on multiple occasions only to pull all-nighters in the city and so many more moments I can’t possibly recount in one blog post.

Just a few months ago my group of friends and I reunited in Seattle, Washington to attend the wedding of one of our fellow friends – four years later and we reunited like we were never apart.

 Connie is a first-year graduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii and received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing and a minor in Communicology. With immigrant parents, Connie is a first-generation American with two older sisters, bilingual in both English and Cantonese Chinese. She had the opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan for five months while also traveling to other parts of Asia including China and Korea. Her most memorable experience from Japan was hiking Mount Fuji with her friends and she hopes to one day travel to other parts of the world including Europe, South America and South East Asia. Connie is obsessed with her golden retriever and shih tzu dogs although they both still reside in Honolulu with her family. On her free time she enjoys reading, hanging out with friends, watching movies, meditating and yoga/running.