When I first came to Tokyo back in October, I looked like this.
Recently I went back home to America for Christmas vacation.
I can remember how before I left, I was a bit of a mess. Quick to temper, very unhappy, very stressed out. Senior Year certainly took it's toll.
"Since you left," my mother said, "it's been quieter and drama-free. No offense." I bit back a barbed response and just smiled.
"Have you lost weight?" asked my Dzia Dzia. "You look incredible."
Everyone wanted to know what my experience was like, how well I could speak. Well, at the beginning, I didn't know the verb to sleep. So I just said "Oyasumi," when I was tired and went up to sleep. As my language abilities improved, I began to be able to say more things. Like, "Ima nemui desu kara nette mo ii desu ka?" Or, "Right now I'm sleepy, so is it ok if I sleep?"
But what also changed was my inner strength in a way. I am secretly shy and terrified of everything, including answering telephones (it's awkard when you don't know the person!), answering the door, going to the DMV, driving to unknown places (car accident?), and meeting new people for a million stupid reasons. I have no logical reason to fear these sorts of things, but I do anyway.
When I came here, yes I knew some people in Saitama and Chiba, but I wasn't going to be around them. I had to learn to put myself out there. I got used to meeting new people, speaking in Japanese without being scared, and not being afraid of being wrong.
That is my biggest innate fear. That I am going to do something wrong, and mess up and ruin everything. It's always there, lurking inside of me. Being here has allowed me to face it down and not let it control my life. To accept the bad things but also the good things, but just do things instead of being so scared all the time of the "what-coulds". To focus on progress instead of being paralyzed by how much I have yet to learn, to do. To take setbacks with grace.
One of the biggest challenges I faced coming here was reading. I could barely read the katakana and hiragana for menus, and the kanji seemed hopeless.
I got an A+ in Kanji for my first term at Intercult, and I'm determined to do so again this term.
I can already read the television and the signs outside for various restaurants. I can read what I'm getting in the center of my onigiri.
The learning curve has been rather fast though. I'm able to speak a lot faster now without thinking as much. When I speak in Japanese, I'm reacting rather than thinking. And I feel like I belong here, right now, doing what I'm doing. I'm glad I took a gap year, because there's no where else that I'd rather be right now.