The Universality of Human Connection

By Anthea Xiao

At a young age, I was introduced to and fascinated by Japanese culture through the channel of Japanese animations such as Studio Ghibli films and Doraemon. Eager to learn more about the Japanese language and customs, I enrolled in Japanese as my foreign language class and took the initiative to study Japanese culture on my own. My Japanese teacher recognized my passion and introduced me to an exchange program, which allowed students to live with host families and experience life as a Japanese High School student. I quickly seized the opportunity, and in the summer of 2016, I embarked on an unforgettable journey to Kanazawa, Japan.

Prior to flying to Japan, I diligently memorized Japanese phrases applicable for specific situations, read countless articles regarding Japanese etiquette, and even watched host-exchange “horror-stories” online from other students to prepare myself for any undesirable scenarios.

My heart was leaping out of my chest with anxiety and excitement when I saw my host-family waving the sign “ようこそ, アンセア!” (Welcome, Anthea!) at airport gate. During the initial stage of my stay, my host-exchange experience was exceeded beyond my imagination and expectations. I tasted a diverse array of authentic Japanese cuisines (a superb bowl of ramen was only $5 USD!), I quickly bonded with classmates through organizations such as the student acapella and traditional tea ceremony club, and I was able to improve my language ability through practicing colloquial Japanese outside of a classroom setting.

However, despite enjoying my host situation, I found it difficult to feel completely at ease with my host-family. I had read in textbooks that it is impolite to address Japanese people in an intimate or casual manner upon initial greetings. Therefore, although my host-parents asked me to address them as “mother” and “father” just like my host-sister did, I insisted on calling them Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida in fear of breaching their existing family structure.

The phrase “迷惑” (meiwaku) means to burden or to cause inconvenience for others. In Japan, a collective and harmony-focused society, causing meiwaku is a taboo and could signal a person as self-centered and uncouth. To avoid being seen as a meiwaku to my host-family, I refrained from seeking for help when I had trouble finding the way home from school or did not understand how to operate machine devices at home.

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Learning about Islam Firsthand

By Stephanie Corrigan

My initial experience with the Middle East is defined by my time spent as an international exchange student in Ankara, Turkey; a time when  I encountered new, distinctive experiences that have molded me into the person I am today. This story begins with my experience participating in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a fully-funded U.S. State Department exchange program. I lived with a loving host family, took intensive language courses, and used my newly acquired cultural awareness to assist with advancing U.S. relations abroad.
I was met with various challenges, many coming in the form of cultural misunderstandings. I was now the outsider in a foreign land, questioned by locals about my background and judged by my appearance and dress. My beliefs were challenged everyday, as Turks would ask me about American culture, politics, and values. I dedicated my summer to comprehending Turkish culture, while sharing bits and pieces of my experiences as an American. Studying abroad challenged my preconceived ideas, fostered my appreciation for diversity, and made me more understanding of different lifestyles and beliefs, especially in areas concerning familial hierarchies and relationships, unique cuisine, and a distinctive religion.
Prior to living in Turkey, the most knowledge I had of Islam was what I read in textbooks or saw on CNN. My exposure to the major world religion and its traditions took on great significance when I participated in Ramadan. The fasting ritual was incredibly beautiful to me, as my host family rose in the early hours at the sound of the ezan, or call to prayer. After being exposed to Islam and the Turkish people, I found myself more understanding of their lifestyle and beliefs. I am sympathetic to struggles of Islamophobia, as well as more impartial when analyzing media. While many Western news outlets present Muslim populations in general terms of terrorist activity, my time in Turkey proved quite the contrary. I have been fortunate to have had meaningful experiences with people who are frequently misunderstood in the non-Muslim world.
Studying abroad at such an early age also shaped my development and career goals, positively impacting every aspect of my culture and beliefs – and about Islam in particular. It ignited a desire to further explore and understand the region of the Middle East and North Africa. This compulsion led me to spearheading a family vacation to Egypt in December 2014, which ultimately altered my parents’ views of the region for the better. My family and I regard our experiences in Egypt as some of the best memories we possess, with the people we met being a significant influential factor. Both trips taught me to reflect on my culture from the perspective of another, and to this day, I consider every opposing idea as a precious opportunity to learn and grow.

Stephanie is an undergraduate senior who is currently studying Political Science, with the hopes of adding on Public Relations. She is from Orlando, Florida and loves to spend time outside, whether hiking or exploring a new city, as well as practicing her photography, writing in her travel blog, or planning her next backpacking trip abroad.

Expand your Network by Joining Clubs on Campus

By Gina Samec

Whether you end up in overwhelmingly large lectures or in a dorm where everyone seems to be doing different things, finding a community on campus can be challenging. In high school, I was only involved in one club because of my busy schedule and I figured college would be even busier. With this in mind, I wasn’t sure if I would have time to be committed to a club. However, I’m glad I didn’t let this concern stop me. Clubs have heightened my college experience by introducing me to people I would have never met otherwise. Being of mixed race and raised by a mother who didn’t pass on the Japanese language to me, I have felt very disconnected from my ethnic identity.

Joining Nikkei, social and cultural Japanese club, was my first attempt at connecting with my lost culture.  “Nikkei” means Japanese emigrants and their descendants; and the name is appropriate, as I have met many great people with varying degrees of connection to the Japanese culture. In addition, I joined Mixed SC which is a club for people of mixed race. It was so refreshing to see a room full of people that somewhat looked like me. One topic of discussion was which race we identify with more, if it is equal, or if we feel like either. I usually don’t have these types of conversations so I was excited to find a space where I could. Unfortunately, not every ethnicity is represented in the clubs available on campus. I have friends who are in this boat and it can feel isolating. On the upside, every club, including those of a specific ethnicity welcome students of any background with open arms. For instance, I have been going to a Filipino club with my friends, one of whom is Filipino, this spring semester. The first time I went, I had this feeling that I shouldn’t be there. However, by the end of the meeting, I realized how approachable and accepting everyone was. No matter what, people are just happy that you want to be there.

It is also valuable to not shy away from clubs you wouldn’t join at first glance. One day I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post for free boba at a club meeting. To be honest, I did not notice what the club was and was only motivated by the boba to attend. This club turned out to be IVTCF or Intervarsity Trojan Christian Fellowship. My family,  myself included, has never been religious and I have in the past labelled myself as atheist and then agnostic. By the end of the meeting, I found that I had never met more friendly people who were accepting of the fact that I wasn’t religious. I am still a part of the club to this day.

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