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Gaijin no Omoide

Sometimes I miss Japan. When I was a junior, nearly 2 years ago, I spent a semester at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. I miss the snacks, whether it was strange flavors of familiar foods like sakura (cherry blossom) chocolate or trying random things like shrimp crackers. I also miss the international student community. Grocery shopping was a fun event; me and my roommates would walk over to the store, maybe a 15 minute walk down a narrow street with uneven sidewalks, and pick up some fresh stuff for the week. It was good exercise, kept costs and waste down, and was a fun social event for chatting and marveling at the Japanese-ness of it all with fellow gaijin (foreigners).

I try not to reminisce on all the negative or all the positive. I hated having to put up with smoke in restaurants, clubs, bars, and public places in general. I didn’t like the recycling system, because it was so confusing, but I found that I had gotten used to it and kept recycling in the States. I do not miss not having a car (even though the public transportation system is made of win). I hated the fact that I had to get a visa and local registration (blame the US regulations and visa reciprocities between countries).

I think it’s easier to forget the big things, like seeing some temple in Kyoto or shopping in the Electric District, but it’s harder to forget the everyday things. Sure, when you come back, you fall back into some of the same old routines as before you left, but things have changed. Before I left, I wasn’t very good about trying new foods, and so I made it a point to try (nearly) everything while I was there. I continued to push my culinary boundaries upon return; I now like seafood and spicy things. I went to Sunrise international market in Knoxville and got so excited over instant microwaveable rice (sooo much better than American minute rice). It was just like finding a taco kit in a Shinsaibashi international grocery store, only reversed.

Returning from abroad doesn’t put those experiences behind you. “Shoeboxing” is a common phenomenon, where people store up all their memories into a convenient package and only bring them out when they feel nostalgic. I think that happens to everyone from time to time, unless you find a way to live your experiences every day.

My experience in Japan is something that I think about every day, mostly because of my job at the Center for International Education, but it’s also something I know has affected me in more ways than I can even imagine. Studying abroad was one of the best things I’ve done in my life, ranked right up there with passing my black belt test, finishing my 140 page thesis, graduating college, and choosing my two favorite pets.


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