The other sides of a year abroad I
Dealing with failure, stress and frustration
You might have noticed, that I’ve been neglecting my blog quite a lot since the last update. There has been a lot on my mind, however I didn’t feel like writing it down, yet, because I felt the need to process it first. I usually like to put some distance between myself and the things I would like to write about, because it allows me to look at things from another perspective, where I won’t let myself be consumed with too much emotion, which would be the case if I was still too close. So I let some time pass before writing a blog post about it. This way I think can write about it with more rationality and with less emotions. As you probably know, I studied in Tokyo for one year. I can say that it was quite an eventful year and it didn’t really go as expected. I am back in Germany now and I have a lot to say and to talk about, to the point where I don’t even know where to start. Last time I updated my blog, I wrote about the university’s ‘obsession’ with tests and exams. That didn’t change in the second semester. Even though I registered for less courses than the last semester, it was still stressful. For example, one teacher of one language course asked us to memorize the whole reading text of every new chapter in order to recite it and in order to write it down word for word during the weekly tests. We were kind of advised to do it, if ‘we wanted to get good grades’. I would spend my whole weekend sitting in my room, copying the reading texts again and again, like a madman. I filled blank pages with the same words over and over. I didn’t understand the purpose of that excercise and I still don’t. I do know what kind purpose it was supposed to serve, but that does not mean that I comprehend it. There were times when I literally felt pissed. There is no other way to describe it. I was pissed that it took me so long to memorize everything, while still having so many other things to do and to study. I was pissed at the system and at myself. Yet, I still tried my hardest to get good grades, because I could not not care. Some other people usually didn’t memorize the whole texts like I did, they might recite it in their head several times, but it was just not worth their time to sit there and try to memorize everything perfectly. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t care about their grades or performance in class, it was just that I cared way too much, which caused pressure and stress for me. I was aware of that, but I just couldn’t hold back myself. If I did one single mistake during practice I would start all over again and repeat everything until I got all of it right in one go. Sometimes I really hate that character trait of mine.
Many language courses consisted, at least at my university, of memorizing reading texts, sentences or conversations. There isn’t much space for creativity and it really felt restricted and monotone. It was not fun. It was more exhausting than it should have been. In Germany there is usually still room to have a discussion with the teachers, but here I noticed that many seem to not like to be questioned. I thought I was in elementary school, where everything the teacher says is correct, where you have to be quiet and follow the teacher’s instructions and where only and only the teacher’s version of an answer is correct. We were corrected when we used words or grammar structures that they deemed too difficult for us or which, in their opinion, we haven’t studied yet. Even if the meaning was the same and it was grammatically correct, they would still insist that we use the words and grammar they told us to use. I have the feeling that many teachers expect a certain answer to their question, with certain words and a certain amount of words, to exaggerate it. If your answer differs, even slightly, from their expected answer, it will be deemed wrong or ‘not quite correct’. The grammar and the content might have been correct, but it was just not the answer they wanted to hear. It was not fun to go to university there to be honest, for me at least. I did imagine it to be different. I have to mention, that these are just my personal experiences and thoughts, which in no way should represent the positions of fellow classmates towards the university. There might be a lot of other cases with opposite experiences and I am happy for them if they had a better time. However, I started to feel indifferent towards the university and most of the people there. I didn’t feel any sense of community like I do when I am at my home institution. I felt like a number, simply to fulfill a quota.
I experienced several setbacks during my year in Japan, mainly concerning my research project I had to conduct there. There was one setback in the beginning that got to me more than it should have, but during that time I felt like a complete failure. I remember going to Shibuya afterwards, to shop for stuff to distract myself. I remember going to a bookstore, standing in front of the shelves, feeling like crying. I contacted other groups and organizations, but got refused every time. After those failed attempts, I decided to send an E-Mail to the international office of my university, asking for help and support for my research project. It didn’t take long for them to answer and I was told that there was nobody who researches in that field and that there was also no other way to help me, but they wished me good luck with my project. I was frustrated. I felt like I had nobody at my side. I was jealous of fellow German students who were studying at the other universities in Japan who got help and support from their university and teachers, even professors or who were successful in contacting organizations and people willing to work with them. I asked myself why I didn’t manage to do as well as the others. What did I do wrong? Why wasn’t there anybody I could rely on, who I could ask for help? These were a few questions of many I asked myself thorough the year. In the end I decided to rely on myself and to help myself. If there was nobody who wanted to help me, at least I can still depend on myself. Don’t get me wrong, the teachers back at my home institution tried to help and advise me as best as they could, but there were limits on what they could do, considering they were on the other side of the globe. To be honest, I think I expected a little bit more from Keio University and I think that that is a mistake I make quite often: To have expectations. I have to learn to expect nothing from others and expect the most from myself first. In the end I abandoned the thoughts of getting help from any institutions or groups and tried to find other ways to conduct my research project. Thanks to some friends, I somehow managed to get into contact with some people who were willing to be interviewed. I hope they know, how thankful I am for their help. Concerning my university, I felt even more disconnected. I could say I just wanted to get over with it and finish my year there. Other than that I didn’t really care about the university and everything that had to do with it anymore. As harsh as it sounds, but there were also other factors that led to that kind of conclusion.
Towards the end of the second semester, we were required to hand in an evaluation concerning our studies abroad. One we had to fill out online and send it and one we had to print out to hand it in personally at the office. We were asked whether we were satisfied with our studies, whether we reached the goals we had set in the beginning, what kind of experience the year abroad was and so on. I filled out the online version first and two days later I went to the international center to hand in the printed version. When I handed in my evaluation I was approached by the lady who worked at the office who then offered help for my research project. With her I did my last interview for the project during the very last week, in between finals.
Do you think I can say that I could conduct my research successfully? Maybe, maybe not. It also depends on the quality of the interviews. However, I can say for sure that I didn’t reach the goal I had set in the beginning. Everything went very differently. Compared to my fellow classmates in the same research program, I consider myself as not really successful, because I feel like they managed to achieve more than me. Nevertheless, looking back at the struggles I had, you could probably say that I kind of was successful, because I still somehow managed to go through with it, despite the difficulties. It is just a matter of perspective. I had to deal with a lot of things by myself, but I think it helped me to get a thicker skin, in order to not let things affect me too much. Life is not easy. It is easier to let failures get you down than successes to lift you up. Even if I failed, it might be easier to look at it as a lesson, a way to grow. I don’t know whether I grew up as a person or not. However I do know how to accept failure and how to deal with it better than before. With every failure you gain experience. The first fall might feel devastating, but with each fall, it will get easier to stand up afterwards.