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Study Abroad and Domestic Study Away

Notes from Abroad: Anna in Japan

Anna Hirschler ’18 is an Asian Studies major with a concentration in Japanese studying in Tokyo, Japan.


My name is Anna Hirschler, and I am working toward an Asian Studies major with a concentration in Japanese. Currently I am studying abroad in Japan at Tokyo International University. This is the first time I’ve travelled outside of North America, and to a country where the predominantly spoken language is not English. It has been an incredible learning experience thus far, because I can connect the words and vocabulary that I have learned previously to the tangible things in front of me. No longer are they just static vocabulary words on a page. Often I will see kanji that I learned in class outside, and be able to make a real life connection to the vocabulary. For example, I learned the kanji for “be careful, or cautious” and then I noticed that there are signs with this kanji posted by doors of the train, urging people to be careful of the doors closing. Being in Japan also forces me to speak in Japanese more often, even if I struggle to form complete sentences. I’ve always been rather self-conscious when it comes to speaking Japanese, and I think that the fear of making mistakes is still engrained, but being physically present has put my knowledge to the test. It has also helped me to throw my embarrassment out the window, and I can laugh about my mistakes. For example, while conversing with my host family over LINE (a commonly use social media app), I mistakenly wrote in Japanese that I ‘made’ a west exit, instead of saying I ‘went out’ of the west exit. When they gently informed me of my mistake, I couldn’t stop laughing, pretending to punch holes in the wall to ‘make’ an exit. Silly mistakes like these solidify the correct answers in my memory. My host family is very patient with me, and when speaking directly to me they talk slowly and allow me plenty of time to think.

Other interactions have also been helpful and exciting. One day, a fellow student and I did not have class, so we agreed to go explore Harajuku together. That day I wore a t-shirt that had a Korean singer by the name of G-Dragon pictured on the front. While my friend and I were looking around a store, one of the shopkeepers approached me excitedly. She pointed to my shirt, and told me that she really loved G-dragon, and she asked if I had seen him in concert. I told her that I had, and she asked where. She was surprised that I had seen him in Chicago (At the time he was on tour, and had already been to Japan in Osaka, hence her surprise). She told me that she was going to see him at the Tokyo Dome. To my astonishment I understood everything she was saying! As my friend and I left the store, I told the shopkeeper that I hoped she had fun going to the concert, or rather, with fumbling grammar; I said the word ‘fun’ and gestured to her. She understood what I meant, thanked me, and waved as we left. This interaction, though it was a very small one, further instilled within me a burning desire to study harder, because it was so exciting to be able to comprehend everything that was said! Most of the time, while listening to my host family chat, I can only pick out a select few words. In any case, I am delighted to be here in Japan, because my new classroom extends much, much further than a textbook.

I am truly grateful to be able to study here, and without the support of my donors, I would never have made it across that formidable ocean. Much gratitude to The Benjamin Gilman Foundation, The Bridging Japan Foundation, and Mrs. McGowan, for making this unforgettable semester possible.