Saturday, July 1, 2017

Falling in love with Japan

Everyone has heard of the "Land of the Rising Sun”. A country of advanced technology, rich traditions and the most polite people in the world! Some people have had the chance to visit this mesmerizing place. But I have had the opportunity to live and have my study abroad in Japan. For almost 4 months I have been living in Tokyo as an exchange student in Sophia University. This has been one of the most wonderful chapters in my life – my dream becoming a reality.

One of the main reasons I chose to study "Trade Management for Asia" back in the Netherlands was to go to Japan. In 2011, I had the chance to visit Japan for 2 months for a summer language program. I fell in love with this country and I needed more! So after 3 years of classes in the Netherlands, here I am in Tokyo.

Currently, I study in Sophia University – the first Catholic university in Japan. Funny enough my home city is also called Sofia (Bulgaria) so many people here enjoy this fact. I met many new friends from all over the world – Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, USA, Spain, the Philippines and Thailand. Living in an international dorm helped me expand my network but also create long-lasting relationships. In the beginning of the exchange, it was very interesting to explore Tokyo together, finding our way to the final destination and getting acquainted to the Japanese culture. One of my favorite examples is when we had to meet at one of the biggest train stations in the world – Shinjuku. This is one of the biggest mistakes – we were looking for each other for 2 hours simply because the station has over 200 exits. Some of my friends have had similar experience which lasted for 4 hours. So my advice to everyone who wants to meet at Shinjuku would be: Don’t do it!

In the past months I also made a lot of Japanese friends. My most favorite aspect is that if I know one Japanese person, he or she will introduce me to their friends. One of the best places to make new friends in Sophia University is the cafeteria, during lunch time – every week I get introduced to at least two new people. I also joined the boxing circle. I decided to try something new since I had started a new chapter in my life. It is hilarious when my senpai (another student who is more experienced than me) wants to explain me boxing in Japanese. I found out how to develop my linguistic and physical skills at the same time. (Thank you body language!) During my stay in Japan, I try to expand my network as much as possible. I visited other universities and participated in business seminars. I met young entrepreneurs, people who have international experience, and, of course, I made many new friends.  My stay in Japan has been filled with lots of unforgettable memories, funny stories and life lessons.

The life in Tokyo for me has been simple – study, meet my friends and travel. During the week, the time passes by studying Japanese, preparing for my other classes and sharing experiences with my friends. Every weekend I try to travel as much as possible. The last time I was in Japan I didn’t have the chance to explore so much. But this time I wanted to make it the time of my life. I visited many places around Tokyo – I climbed a mountain in Nagano, visited beautiful places such as Chiba and Yokosuka, went to the biggest Chinese market in the world in Yokohama. I also had many “first” experiences – relaxing in an "onsen" (traditional Japanese bath), eating all kinds of raw food (fish, squid, octopus, even horse), visiting an aquarium, travelling with a no-machinist train but also get pushed in a train (in rush hour is quite ‘packed’), and singing karaoke. Also, for the first time, I haven’t met another Bulgarian for almost 4 months. However, when Japanese people find out where I come from, they become quite interested and excited. One of the reasons is because the most famous yoghurt in Japan is called “Bulgarian yoghurt” and two popular sumo players are Bulgarian. It is very heart-warming to see how many people want to know more about Bulgaria.

During my exchange in Japan, I have experienced and learnt a lot. Studying here gave me new opportunities such as expanding my business and personal network but also improve my Japanese language skills. I am happy that I made so many new friendships and found out something exciting about different cultures. Japan has offered me many ‘first’ experiences which enriched my stay here. Unfortunately, I am leaving soon and the thought brings sadness but also a warm feeling. Japan was great to me and I am really grateful to all my friends here. But I am pretty sure I will come back some day! And next time will be even better!

About the author: Polina Arabadzhieva is 3rd year Bachelor student Trade Management for Asia at the Rotterdam Business School