Before I ever considered telling a journal about my innermost thoughts and feelings, I was using composition books for a separate type of writing: fiction. Continue reading
Five in the morning is in that span of time I typically think of as “oh fuck no it’s early,” yet this morning, against all odds, I started stirring around 5:10. Rachel had a flight to catch, and was going to be waking up and getting out of bed in five minutes, but for those five minutes, I was awake by myself, in the stillness of the morning.
I love summer mornings. Summer nights are hot and muggy, leading you to throw windows open and blankets off, but at five in the morning, the air breezing through your window is refreshingly brisk. The oppressive heat pauses, and the whole world takes a breath. Though the window’s open, there’s hardly any sound of traffic or human activity, just the songs of waking birds far in the distance.
[Spencer’s note: No, I’m totally not posting in Fall 2014 a post that should have been made in Spring 2013. Of course not! Why would you think that?]
Like I mentioned in the last one of these, I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it all year, but save for the last compendium, I haven’t really mentioned it here on the blog.
Here’s a directory of the things I wrote in my last semester of college (and the last semester of Sexcetera).
I turned in my senior thesis on Wednesday this week. All that’s left is an oral defense, in early May, and then I can actually graduate, hopefully with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with honors, Summa Cum Laude. That’s the plan.
For fun(?), I thought I’d share some of the numbers related to the thesis process:
- Final page length: 103
- Word count: 20,758
- Minutes spent editing (according to Word): 6,284
- References: 56
- Completed surveys: 447
- Campuses surveyed: 2
- Days until thesis was due when I began collecting data: 8
- Days until thesis was due when I began analyzing data: 2
- Statistical analyses in final thesis: 5
- Hours spent learning statistical analysis before April 8: 0
- Time went to bed on night before due date: 4am
- Hours spent fighting with Microsoft Word to make thesis print correctly: 3
- Turned thesis in at: 3:30pm, April 10th, 2013
- Volume of beer consumed after turning in thesis: [redacted]
It feels good to have a life back.
I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it for months, but (perhaps unsurprisingly, given my tendency to get busy and neglect the blog), I haven’t mentioned it at all here.
Since it would be silly to post each individual column now, I figured I’d post a general directory of what I’ve written this semester.
Here’s my problem with my study abroad program.
In the next week and a half, I have to:
- translate interview questions in to Japanese
- interview five Japanese people (in Japanese)
- prepare a 25-minute presentation based on that data (in Japanese)
- take a Japanese test
- listen to and critique my performance on my most recent 20-minute Japanese oral exam
- write a 600-character composition (in Japanese)
- finish writing a 4-minute script for a film (in Japanese)
- work with classmates to create the aforementioned film from my and others’ scripts
- read approximately 200 pages of articles regarding minorities and immigrants in Japan
- read a Japanese article for my reading comprehension class
This does not include any daily incidental homework that may be assigned in clas–this is just the stuff that I can see coming. And indeed, I’ve seen most of this coming from a mile away.
But I’ve been so swamped with the daily incidental stuff that I’ve been unable to make any headway on these long-standing projects. To illustrate this, in the last week and a half, I had to:
- read 20 pages of a comic (in Japanese)
- prepare a vocabulary list/task sheet for those pages (in Japanese)
- do a Japanese listening practice assignment
- read roughly 100 pages of articles regarding minorities and immigrants in Japan
- take two Japanese vocabulary quizzes
- take two kanji quizzes
- translate a dozen complicated sentences into Japanese in preparation for a test
- interview my host family about jobs and employment
- select (and clean up) pictures to showcase in my photography class
- write an article in Japanese about my experience with お正月 (oshougatsu– the Japanese New Year)
- read a Japanese story for my reading comprehension class
- write a 5-page midterm essay for Minorities and Immigrants in Japan
And that list’s probably not exhaustive. That’s mostly the daily incidental stuff that just came up. The longer-term projects, such as the midterm essay and the article on お正月 were pushed back to far later than one might consider prudent–not from laziness, but from sheer lack of time.
There is so much daily busy work simply required by my classes that I can not touch the long-term projects. I see them coming. I want to get them out of the way. But thanks to all of the stuff I have to do for class just to stay on top of the daily requirements, I cannot get a head start on them.
There are corners I can cut. I can come to Minorities and Immigrants having not read the articles (which I’m doing lately), and I can cut my sleep schedule short (which I’m doing, drastically). But skipping articles means that I don’t get as much as possible out of my Minorities class, which will bite me in a few more weeks when I have to write a final. Cutting my sleep–I’m already getting only about 5-6 hours each night anyway–means that I doze off in class (bad) or when trying to work, so I either get less out of class or my working efficiency drops. Beyond those two, I have a hard time seeing anything I can do (save for not writing blog posts, but this venting is preventing me from just completely breaking down into a nervous wreck, so I believe I can justify it on grounds of preserving my health).
This burns all the more because, for Pete’s sake, I’m in Kyoto. There are a million and a half things I want to be doing. I want to be roaming the streets, checking out temples that catch my fancy. I want to continue my as-of-yet-fruitless search for a double-edged razor (seriously; every drug store in Japan sells Feather brand double-edged razor blades, but none sell the razor itself). I want to peruse the wacky offerings of the enigmatic store called Don Quijote, buy manga at Book Off!, try crepes at a restaurant near campus, or just wander Uji and see what sights pop up to surprise me. I want to go on walks. I want to sing karaoke on Shijo and then slip into the weekend with a visit to a bath. I want to experience Kyoto again.
But I can’t. I can’t even spare time for the long-term projects that are required of me, to say nothing of my personal whims.
Rather than someone experiencing life in Kyoto while studying as a student, I’ve become a student grinding away at the piles of work he has, who just happens to be in Japan. I eat Japanese food for dinner and nobody’s speaking in English, but that’s the current extent of my daily–weekly–monthly experience in Japan. I can’t afford to do anything more.
It’s a recipe for disaster. Take one Spencer, marinated for years in “prone to stress out about work”. Coat in daily obligations. In a separate bowl, mix long-term projects. Keep separate. Sear until the juices of”possible stress relief” have all come out, then throw in a pan and bake on high until carbonized.
This is not, as a keen reader might deduce, ideal.
I finally finished my last final a week or so ago, which means that winter break has officially begun. Victory!
It also means that I’ve been here for a whole semester, which is a little more difficult to believe. Time has flown by like I never would have anticipated. But I’ve also had more amazing experiences than I can count, and I’ve been learning a ton, so although this year is already half over, I don’t feel in the slightest like it’s been wasted.
Being at the end of a semester, as well as just about the end of the calendar year, I thought it’d make sense to reflect a little on what I learned so far in Japan. When thinking about this post, I’ve been unable to decide if I want to style it as a letter to my past self–what I wish I knew–or a note to future AKP students, or who knows what. In the end, though, I think I’m just going to leave it as reflections.
Here, in no real order, are some reflections on this first semester in Japan.Continue reading
I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. My bad. It hasn’t been for a lack of content–there are always tons of stories to tell–but rather a lack of time. Last week was especially stressful, and I’ll try to get to that in another post. For now, though, with the little free time I have, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve done since my last post. Continue reading
Today, it rained.
We’ve had a couple days of rain before, but mostly of the drizzle and sprinkle varieties. Today, it was rain all day; big, heavy drops dripping down from a uniformly gray sky. It was still quite humid, but the weather dropped to about 22 or 24ºC (71-75ºF), a welcome relief from the oppressive 33ºC (~91ºF) weather we had last week. I was thrilled to be able to throw on long sleeves and jeans for the first time in about a week. Apparently, a small typhoon is blowing toward Japan, hence the weather. My host family and I agreed–we–d be very happy if this storm signaled the end of the heat and the beginning of fall. We’ll see how that pans out.
After a stressful week of review and tests last week, my Japanese class was finally finalized on Friday, and classes began today. I was worried because I wasn’t in a class with people I expected to be with, but I think I can let those worries dissipate a little. My class will be challenging, since it’s conducted entirely in Japanese and we’re working at a pretty fast pace, but I’m hoping it will work out well. The goal is to improve all of our proficiencies in a number of key areas, including 漢字 (kanji) recognition and speaking, which are my two highest priorities. Now that all my courses have begun in earnest, however, the workload has begun. My host mom was teasing me tonight at dinner, saying, “You’re a student who came here to study–who would have thought you’d have homework?” So it goes.
In another of my classes, Lenses of Culture, we’ve started the semester by investigating culture shock. Scholars like Pederson and Adler have suggested that culture shock is a multi-stage phenomenon. In this model, cultural transitional experiences begin with a period of honeymoon-like glee, as the traveler is wowed by all of the novelties of the new culture. Following that, however, is often a period of rejection of the host culture. It ultimately progresses to a harmonious acceptance, making the culture shock experience a learning opportunity, but there are about two steps of rejection involved in these models.
I mention it because, although I thought I would have little trouble transitioning, I’ve started to feel elements of the rejection phase. Other AKP students I’ve talked to have felt the same. We’re not bitter or angry, by any means–we’re in freaking Japan, after all, and it’s still an amazing place filled with opportunity–but the glossy veneer of novelty is wearing away, and our perspectives are broadening, for both good and bad. One thing my friends and I talked about in particular today at lunch was the outsider phenomenon. When riding the train, we’ve all had the experience of looking up and catching people staring at us because we, as obvious American 外人 (gaijin — “foreigners”), stick out. After two weeks here, we’re at least starting to feel like residents instead of tourists, but in the eyes of commuters on the train or people walking down the street, we will always look like we don’t belong. Coming from America, where the broad range of ethnic diversity makes it easier for visitors to blend in (at least in large cosmopolitan areas), this is quite a different feeling, and may prove a challenge as the year progresses.
I’m writing this post in the air. According to the LCD screen above my tray table, we’ve passed the Bering Sea and are somewhere above the Pacific. The screen also says that it’s 5:29pm–or, at least, that it is in Seattle, a relativism that my computer and I are more than happy to accept as true for a few hours longer.