Studying languages here at Hamilton gave me a good solid linguistic background, which definitely helped ease the typically difficult transition process to a certain extent, but I still encountered quite a bit of culture shock in Japan. I tried to reach at least an intermediate level before going abroad, but after taking only one year of beginning Japanese, I had a tough time adjusting because I didn't know enough Japanese to communicate much. Beijing, on the other hand, was much easier to adjust to, largely due to my intensive two years of Chinese language study at Hamilton.
I gladly admit my Junior abroad was one of the best experiences I've ever had and it will probably remain that way. Before going abroad to Japan and China, I really didn't know what to expect, so I couldn't be disappointed with anything I experienced. The most surprising thing for me about Tokyo was the friendliness....just how friendly everyone was. For example, Tokyo is made up of these tiny, winding, narrow streets. More than once I found myself walking down an unidentifiable block, completely clueless whether to turn right or left or just keep going. During these annoying and somewhat panicky situations, I would finally muster up the courage and the language skills to ask a someone passing by for directions after concluding I was no closer to getting to my destination than when I started out. Everyone was extremely kind, not only patiently giving me detailed instructions (more like, gesturing with their hands and arms) but also walking me to my destinations, amicably chatting with me all the while.
What amazed me the most about Beijing was how modern it was. The international media does a very poor job in portraying modern-day Beijing. I, like many others in the ACC Program, as originally under the impression that the majority of Beijing was still stuck in the early stages of modernization, but we could not have been more wrong. Beijing has so much to offer. Gigantic shopping malls and high-rises decorate the sky (a sure sign of westernization)but at the same time Beijing still manages to retain the traditional glory of the great past as evidenced by symbolic landmarks. Being abroad completed my language learning experience by giving me a broader perspective on things and the way the world works. It opened my mind to the different ways people live, think and communicate. In addition, I feel more confident about myself, am more independent and more knowledgeable, perhaps even wiser.
Coming back at Hamilton was rough for my Japanese learning since I hadn't taken a class since earlier in the year. Chinese also took a bit to get used to again, but because I'd only been away from it for about four moths, picking it up again didn't prove to be too difficult.
I definitely want to utilize the language skills I've acquired after graduation. Where and how? Well, I haven't quite figured that out yet. I hope to be able to work abroad in China and/or Japan sometime in the near future. An option I'm currently considering is the JET program which is essentially a teach English in Japan-type program. We'll see what the future has to offer...