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Doing vs. Living: A Self-Realization

Guest Blogger: Lindsay Anderson, Senior Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office (Original Post Date: 4/4/13 from Tokyo, Japan)

Today we had a “Learning Strategy” workshop with the staff of our program to show us that receiving an education here in Japan will be different than in America. The previous presenter told us that the goal of our program is “Japan Literacy” – getting to know the language and culture of Japan. There were three categories that represented levels of competency:

  • Level One – an individual who doesn’t know Japanese, doesn’t have any way to use Japanese but knows a few things from the culture => i.e. an anime fan
  • Level Two – a person who conducts business in Japan/with Japanese people and has a basic understanding of greetings and set phrases
  • Level Three – an individual who has a full understanding of both the culture and the language and is capable of using that knowledge

flash_card___aisatsu_by_hatenaki_yume1Photo Credit:

My immediate thought was where do I fit in? I was never really a huge fan of anime (one biased stigma about those who choose to learn Japanese), I am obviously not a businesswoman at this point in my life, and I definitely cannot claim a complete understanding of everything Japanese. So where does that leave me? If I have no place then why am I here?

The speaker went on to say that there are three methods of understanding to be achieved here:

  • Socio-cultural – how to function amongst Japanese people while following cultural and social norms
  • Socio-linguistic – how to use the language correctly in the appropriate situation
  • Linguistic – understanding the nuances of the language

She said that the first two aren’t really things that can be fully accomplished in a classroom but, as any language learner should know, combined and individually they are very important for successful interaction.

Here’s the self-realization part.

Last week, I had a conversation with Hannah, one of the other students in the program. We discussed our experiences with Japanese and she explained that she’d been living here since last semester. She mentioned that she had about two years of language study experience but stated that she really improved after being in Japan for so long. It hit me that while my seven years of Japanese linguistic/cultural education isn’t useless, it’s definitely been missing intense practical application. I had only been ‘doing’ Japanese.


Photo credit:

I may have had a longer history of being drilled on grammar, vocabulary, and cramming for tests, but Hannah was literally ‘living’ Japanese – absorbing everything in her daily life as a student in Japan. Not that my past Japanese teachers didn’t do their best in teaching me (I wouldn’t be where I am today without them). But they couldn’t provide constant exposure.

While I surprisingly tested into the highest level, there is of course always room for improvement and I have every intention of doing so by ‘living’ Japanese here. This workshop ended with, “You are in control of your own learning. How do YOU want to learn?” I challenge everyone studying abroad to think about this message but also to have fun!

Photo Credit:じゃまた/

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