© 2019 Emily Chhin

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The Story

I grew up pretty sheltered for most of my life and lived with my parents for a long while. The times I did live away from home for school, I visited them often. Leaving halfway across the world for 5 months was certainly not something I ever imagined I would do. When I parted from my family and boyfriend at the airport, that's when it really hit me that I was going to be completely alone.

It was scary at first. The first week I was in Japan, I caught influenza and didn't know what to do or where to go. I felt like I was dying and I regretted ever coming here. My residence confined me to a single room and I had never felt so alone. But because I was forced in this environment, it brought out a part of me that I never knew I had.

The fact that I survived, and had an amazing time in Japan, despite knowing absolutely no Japanese when I first got there, is one of my biggest accomplishments. Every day I had to think creatively and problem solve in order to get through the day and do what I needed to do. I developed intercultural communications skills and learned how important non-verbal gestures are, especially in a conservative place like Japan where non-verbal queues are everything.

Living in Japan changed my entire outlook on life. I got to see that there were people on the other side of the world whom lived completely differently, yet had their own system in place for living in harmony. I realized how much I took my parents, friends, and family for granted, and inherited many Japanese values.

I discovered a newfound appreciation for nature and travel, and found myself becoming more active because I was forced to walk or bike everywhere. I learned how to consciously be respectful of others and to give generously. Whenever I looked lost or dropped something, someone always came to help me or run after me to return my dropped item (mainly my transit card).