The intense and harrowing study abroad scramble

Image courtesy of Alyssa Willeford ’23.

Have you ever wondered whether you could abandon the daily Vassar grind, just chuck it all out and start again in some faraway land? Have you ever wanted to try new foods, see new things and meet new people? Have you ever wanted to lead life in a new language and get used to a new culture you barely have any experience with? Have you ever wanted to stick your hand into a blender? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then studying abroad might be right for you.

I should know—I’m doing it right now. This column reaches you from faraway Japan, where I now sit in a faraway chair at a faraway desk sweating bullets thinking about faraway homework and about what I’m going to make myself for faraway dinner. As it happens, moving to a completely unfamiliar country and attempting to manage life there can be just a little bit stressful.

Let me give you an example: Three years ago, the only words I knew in Japanese were “yes,” “no” and, thanks to anime, “good f****n’ grief.” I have indeed had ample opportunity to deploy that entire wide range of vocabulary while studying here, it’s true. But the demands of daily life also require me to use concepts I studied at Vassar, and that has proven to be far more problematic.

The thing is, whenever I open my mouth to say anything–“excuse me,” for instance, or “sorry” or “I am a stupid American, so please just run me over with your car”—all of my language study immediately deserts me. I speak Japanese like a two-year-old, only I’m an overgrown, ugly, strange-looking two-year-old who struggles to complete even the simplest of tasks. You know things are tough for you when you fit the description of a Teletubby.

But Japan is also a place of wonderful opportunity. For example, if I visited the nearest 7-Eleven, I could, if I so chose, assemble an entire meal out of nothing but “Splatoon”-themed products, which I definitely have not done in real life. Also, I have the chance to enjoy the fact that everythingfrom the subway system to the police department to the university libraryhas an anime mascot with a full name, blood type and body measurements. And Firefighter-chan is pretty cute.

What’s more, there are plenty of scenic destinations where I can while my weekends away. Because most tourists still aren’t allowed to enter the country, I can ensure that there is only one bumbling foreign fool at each of the places I visit: myself. Granted, I am capable of causing enough confusion and destruction to make up for the absence of herds of Texan businessmen, but at least I don’t have to put up with tourist nonsense.

In the end, the real danger here is that I’ll get so caught up in the stress of daily life that I’ll forget about enjoying the things Japan offers. I might get into the country’s homegrown arts of relaxation, like meditation, the tea ceremony and getting hammered off cheap beer with a dozen strangers while singing “Baka Mitai” on repeat. In the end, while I might be tearing my hair out right now, I’m also making memories that will last for the rest of my life. And if all else fails, I can just remember the famous Japanese proverb: “Good f*****n’ grief.”


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