The Japan Manifesto 🇯🇵

Starting in March, the program on which my entire study abroad experience depends has hosted four “orientations” for study abroad students. All of these students are going to different places — Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, South America… The list is long, and there are tons of students.

The point of the meetings was to provide as much information as possible to every program student, whether the information was 100% applicable to them or not. We went over paying for tuition, buying flights, and getting scholarship money in the first meeting. We tackled how to be a savvy traveler in the second meeting and talked about packing essentials (and nonessentials), how to look less like a tourist in new places, and maintaining a budget. The third meeting dealt with health and safety, the second of which may have scared a few people. And the final meeting dealt with culture shock, living abroad, and returning home.

I felt that the fourth meeting was not only the most informative, but it was the most relevant to questions I had about the studying abroad process. I’ve done plenty of research (almost too much), but there’s something comforting about someone telling you culture shock is normal, but it isn’t permanent (or even long-lasting).

We discussed the four stages (most) students go through:

  1. Honeymoon — You’re excited, everything is new, and you can’t believe you’re here!
  2. Critical — Homesickness sets in, you don’t want to think in a foreign language anymore, and you’re having a hard time dropping your ethnocentrism
  3. Adjustment — You’re learning how to live in this new culture and society, and you’re beginning to blend; your language skills are improving and you’ve made friends
  4. Acceptance — You’re back to the honeymoon stage, but it’s healthier now; you’re comfortable in this new life, your language skills are stronger, and you’re developing comfortable routines

Some students spend longer in the honeymoon stage, some students go straight to critical, and other students manage to almost skip the critical stage all together and arrive at acceptance.

What was most memorable of this meeting though was the end — we were given a short pre-made (and slightly cheesy) speech to recite as a group which basically said we would represent the United States with integrity, we would do our bests to be good students and upstanding global citizens, and we would not give up even on our worst days. After all of the talk about homesickness and culture shock and reverse culture shock, this was uplifting and helped to reinstall the excitement I’ve been feeling for months and months and months.

A few months ago, when this blog was still in its formative stages, the first thing I did was create a page called “The 日本 Manifesto” (The Japan Manifesto). I created it because I knew I would face all of the culture shock challenges. Homesickness will be impossible to avoid (my dogs 😭) and there will be days I don’t want to think or hear or speak Japanese. I will miss the familiarity of Las Vegas, my culture, and most importantly, my friends, family, and routines.

I have since removed the Manifesto page from this blog’s navigation, but after today’s meeting I decided to publicly post a similar, but updated, version of the original Manifesto. 読んでください。Yondekudasai. Please read. 💜

🗺 This is not your “practice life” — this is all there is

This world is a crazy place, and if you don’t embrace the crazy things that are bound to happen then you will flounder. Enjoy all of the small moments and wild rides. Remember that experiences will never leave you; they are not material, they cost nothing but your motivation and time. Devote to them — and yourself — plenty of both.

💬 Speak the language

Remember all of those times you learned from Japanese natives correcting you? Remember how, without them, your Japanese would barely start at “hello” and “good-bye”? Japanese natives are not trying to insult you. Not a single Japanese person has ever expressed anything less than excitement when you speak their native tongue to them. Be open to their help and embrace the embarrassing mistakes! They will make funny stories. 😉

👂🏻 Listen, listen, listen

Japanese is a high context society and language. People expect you to be paying attention and listening fully when they talk. Do not listen with the express purpose of responding — listen to absorb and understand, and respond only after they have finished their own thoughts. It will do wonders for your comprehension and relationships.

☄️ Do one thing everyday that scares you

Go do your grocery shopping on your own. Hang out in a café and strike up a conversation with a stranger (or even just the barista). Visit landmarks and important pieces of the city; don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Get lost every once in awhile — you can always find your way back. (And you’ll learn new routes and find new places!)

🚄 Travel often and visit new & unique places

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine of life even while in another country, so make an effort to take trips and see as much of Japan as you possibly can. Visit your friend in Tokyo, make a trip to Fukuoka or Okinawa, hang out in Seoul for a weekend…whatever it is, do it!

💓 Be open to people and make friends

Stop with the shyness and talk to people! There’s no way to control whether they like you or not, but you’ll never find out if you don’t talk with those around you and at least give it your best shot. Friends are invaluable no matter where they come from or what language they speak!

🍱 Try new foods!

Osaka isn’t known as the “Nation’s Kitchen” for nothing, and you’d be ridiculous not to try the fresh cuisine in its hometown! Embrace the delicacies because they may be pleasant surprises. Also, consume a lot of ramen, try as much sushi as possible, and perfect a bento box.

💪🏻 Exercise offsets stress so get steppin’

Find a park, map a path, and run. Athletic-induced endorphins can help you make better decisions, keep you at peace with yourself, and help to offset the stress of being in an entirely new environment. Make the health of your mind and body a top priority! It will make the overall experience more enjoyable and more positive.

And, most importantly…

✨ Live in the moment

Enjoy every second of your time in Japan. Don’t think about departure dates or whether you’ll get to do all of the things you want to do. Let yourself get homesick, but remember this incredible opportunity and don’t ever forget how lucky you are to be doing this. 🍀 Enjoy your new home, your friends, and all that Japan has to offer!

Thank you for reading!

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  • Chynna
    2017 April 23 at 7:02 AM

    I wish had these kind of meetings when I studied in China! Don’t get me wrong, my university was very supportive, but I feel like meetings like this before I went would have been SO good.

    I stayed 5 months in China, and I guess I was in honeymoon stage for the first month, adjustment in the second month and then acceptance in the third and fourth month. It wasn’t until the fifth month that I got really homesick. I think that was mainly because I knew I was so close to going home.

    “Do not listen with the express purpose of responding — listen to absorb and understand, and respond only after they have finished their own thoughts.” – I LOVE this. So many people just want to respons quickly without actually listening to what has been said. Maybe if we listened and understoof more, the world would be a better place. Sigh.

    Love, love, love this manifesto! This could easily be applied to anyone who is studying abroad. Hope you have the most amazing time <3

    • Sydney
      2017 April 24 at 11:23 AM

      Ah, I can see where that would be the case! Like it wasn’t until you knew you were going home that you began to miss things about home. Definitely makes sense. I think part of the reason my university is so supportive is because the program through which this entire thing has been made possible is a nationwide program! So this is something that’s really fine-tuned to help students with the entire experience. It’s really neat. 😛

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! <3

  • Samm
    2017 April 24 at 12:54 PM

    I loved your fist manifesto and I adore this one! They always make me want to grab a notebook and write my own lol

  • Kya
    2017 April 26 at 1:27 AM

    Those meetings sound like such a fantastic way to let students know about many of the different things that happen during the process. It would be so helpful to have that knowlege. Even if you had already done a lot of research, it was great that it could reaffire many of the questions you.

    Such a brilliant list of many things to do and remind yourself. 😀 I hope you are able to do all of them. 😀

  • Georgie
    2017 April 28 at 11:05 PM

    I’m so excited for you. And I know that a manifesto like this is a great way to help immerse yourself in a completely new world, a way to positively look ahead. Often people hit that critical stage where they feel homesick and lost, but I think that starting off positively before you’ve even set foot in your new world is the way forward. It’s a very mature way to go about it, a way to grow yourself and especially for you, help yourself in this new place that will be out of your comfort zone.

    I think that Japanese is a beautiful language; when our wedding plans are a little more sorted I think I will revisit learning the language. You’ll be a pro by the time we meet up there later in the year. And then I can practice on you haha. I enjoy listening to the Japanese language and really listening intently even with subtitles – it helps me grasp the tones and the way certain words (that I know) are used.

    The part about listening is definitely important though – I recently did a speaking/confidence workshop that encouraged us to always add to the conversation with other people but to first listen to the person in the conversation instead of just thinking of the next thing you want to say. It makes the conversation more valuable when building up on topics already in the circle.

    I definitely get afraid of speaking to people in another language as I am always afraid of being told I’m wrong. Most people mean well, though, even if they might have a little chuckle at how much of a beginner I am. But I have heard fascinating and amazing stories from people who have thrown themselves in the deep end and learned a language just by being in the country. It forced/encouraged/inspired them to learn. But for you, I think you are already pretty ahead ☺️

  • Goodbye April, Hello May – A Daring Adventure
    2017 May 2 at 12:01 AM

    […] Hi, I'm Sydney! I'm an American university student with a love for languages and Japanese rock bands. I started this blog to talk about my journey to Japan, and I recently wrote a Japan Manifesto! […]

  • Tara
    2017 May 2 at 3:58 AM

    This is such a great thing — to do orientation for study abroad students about where they’re going and what they should do, know, etc. I found the four stages interesting, and it makes a lot of sense, and it can be applied to almost any new things. I was just thinking how the stages applied to when I switched my job of eight years to a new job and location last August. My honeymoon phase was super short, and I practically went straight for the critical stage, haha! It makes sense that we’d all adapt differently, and how some of us would be in one stage longer or shorter than the other.

    It’s great you guys discussed how we’re basically representing the US by doing this. A lot of people who are stationed here seem to FORGET that and act like douches and give Americans a very bad name. That really pisses me off. I remember telling my kids I worked with that when we go on field trips, we need to show that we’re not crazy Americans XD;

    I love your manifesto and all of them are great. You’re going to do well in Japan, Sydney. It helps you already love the language and the culture. I may not know the language well myself, but visiting Japan always make me happy because I do love the culture and history, and visiting a country that fascinates me even on that level is exciting!