I began by saying hello in English and by receiving hello in Japanese. Sometimes it felt funny to be the only white person riding my longboard or anything louder than a bicycle in the streets. I didn’t want to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere—even if only for a moment—and so I often thought of taking a new way home. I always wondered about the first impressions and thoughts of the people I passed; “he’s different,” or “wow, there are so many gaijins (people from other places of the world) here,” or any number of thoughts that almost assumed the Japanese having preconceived notions about me. But as I relaxed (in other words, I got a bike so I felt a little less out of place) I noticed I was able to interact more naturally and openly. Asking directions, despite understanding only a portion of the rapid response I was often given, came to feel like a positive interaction; I could walk away with a smile and no reason to worry. I started to understand the small things and from there my eyes, ears, and taste buds—as I ate all the kinds of foods I missed from my last time in Japan—led me to appreciation of the larger things. Now I worry about how I can improve my fluency to be able to converse easier and with more people, or where to explore today: East, West, North, South or to pick up where I left off last time?
Often times when a person is observing, their thoughts lead to a realization or some beautiful idea that everyone can appreciate, but recently I find myself celebrating the beauty of all the things around me as they first strike me—in ways that I haven’t put words to. Only afterwards do I realize that these things have been changing me and making me think the whole time! That’s the effect of studying abroad. You cannot help but be a student—a studier—of not only your classes but your surroundings as well; and all you have to do is look around. It is your choice how you choose to perceive what surrounds you!