why nagoya, confronting challenge, and konbini
Three weeks from today I officially landed in Japan and began my semester study abroad in Nagoya!
Leading up to it, there was an endless list of to-do’s and to-buy’s. From buying the right power converter, to researching restaurant etiquette, to making multiple trips to the nearest consulate to secure a visa, feelings of stress, anticipation, nerves, and disbelief kept accumulating and snowballing until they became indiscernible. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my seat, plane rolling down the runway at O’Hare, that I discerned the most prominent emotion I felt: excitement. After months of preparation and hard work, I was actually, finally going to Japan.
Why Nagoya? Nagoya was not at all on my radar when I first started to look into study abroad locations in Japan. I knew almost nothing about it, and until then I’d assumed I’d be studying somewhere in Tokyo. But when I looked into the available programs and locations, IES’s program in Nagoya stood out to me.
Nagoya is conveniently located in the center of Japan, with major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka all accessible by bullet train. It’s an industrial city, home to Ghibli Park (for all the Studio Ghibli enjoyers out there), hosts impressive castles and shrines, and is known for the craft of mechanized puppets– some of which can serve tea! As a major bonus: Nagoya boasts a rich and expansive food scene.
I wanted to experience the busy city life I love without getting too overwhelmed by all the activity and people. Nagoya is the third most populous urban city in Japan, with under 3 million residents (compared to Tokyo’s almost 14 million!!!), and has a solid public transportation system. Because this program is direct enrollment, I’m enrolled at Nanzan University, a private Catholic university in Nagoya’s Showa ward. While it’s lesser known and less populated than the neighboring Nagoya University (they are literally within 10 walking minutes of each other), it’s a respectable university with a range of educational opportunities, activities, and events.
What appealed to me the most was that I’d be taking courses through Nanzan’s Center for Japanese Studies (CJS) designed for study abroad students. Through this center, cross-cultural interaction and learning about DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) are encouraged, and now being a resident in the international students’ dorm, I have access to events and workshops hosted by it that facilitate those things. If you know me, you know that cross-cultural interactions and DEI are things that I’m passionate about.
Confronting Challenge. The one thing I’ve learned to always carry with me when I travel is the expectation of the unexpected.
After a long 13-hour flight, I arrived in Tokyo in late afternoon, eager to quickly transfer to my hour-long flight, be met by IES staff, then settle into my room at the designated hotel to catch up on sleep (I’d pulled an ‘all nighter’ on the plane to avoid jetlag), before IES orientation started the next day. However, the flight to Tokyo landed 20 minutes after the expected time, and upon arriving to the check-in point, I was informed that check-in for my flight had closed– the last flight to Nagoya for the day.
Already tired, overheated, and so hungry, this was not the news I wanted to hear or accept. It wasn’t until after having to miss several packed buses headed to my designated terminal, finally arriving at said terminal, and being told once again that I couldn’t board, that reality settled in: I was stuck in Tokyo overnight. Additionally, I was unable to place phone calls, even to the program directors. All I could do was helplessly text my program’s group chat and update them about the situation.
However, it was not all doom. Firstly: I’d been able to travel with my friend because we had the same flight. Secondly, upon learning the news about our flight, we met two additional IES students from our flight who were stuck in the same boat. I now had three other peers to share the experience with, so I was not navigating this alone.
After walking back and forth to various terminals and being told conflicting information from well-meaning staff, we were finally rebooked for the first flight the following morning, and then settled in for the night at First Cabin, an accommodation of semi-private cabins / capsules in Haneda Airport.
The next day we boarded our flight with no issues, landed in Nagoya, were met by IES representatives, hopped on a train to Inuyama (IES’s orientation location), and that was that!!
This experience wasn’t an ideal one, but having three friends to lean on during a situation of uncertainty, stress, and frustration helped my mentality immensely. And this definitely served as a reminder that no travel itinerary is guaranteed foolproof.
Konbini. Convenience stores– or konbini— are absolutely everywhere here, and yes, they are incredibly convenient– from picking up packages, to printing, to using an ATM, to buying ready-made meals at any hour. Konbini has quickly become part of my daily life here in Japan (it does not help that the prices are far too convenient with the current exchange rate).
Upon arriving to the hotel in Inuyama, we had just enough time for a quick bite to eat before we had a Japanese language class half an hour later (nothing like a flight and class in the same day). We were brought to the nearby konbini to pick something out. I was amazed and relieved by the cheap prices and quality options I had to choose from, and after a long morning, having good food made me feel rejuvenated again, feeling my original excitement from O’Hare coming back again.
Just to wrap things up for my first post, it’s been three weeks since I landed in Japan, and I can safely say by now I’ve established a steady living routine that will keep me afloat in the long run here. I’ve met a variety of new people- friends, classmates, professors- and seen a variety of new places. These remaining 13 weeks will fly by, as the first three have, but I’m determined to make the most of each one, and every moment!