Keep in mind that you’re in a new country and you should always challenge yourself to try new things. Not just trying new foods but genuinely challenge your character and grow along the way. You can’t make an opinion on something if you never experienced it yourself!
The featured photo (above) is from one of Kevin’s posts, which you can find here.
While it’s almost the end of the semester for most of us, student blogger Kevin Tan is still just in the middle of his program in Tokyo! In his blog, Kevin explores the city (again!), really delving into what it means to be a student abroad. His thought-provoking posts leave readers with new ways to think about their own communities; Kevin’s blog is not simply a travel journal, but it is also an intimate discussion about sensitive topics like Japan’s WWII history and communicating in a second or third language.
Read Kevin’s reflective answers to my short interview with him below, and then head over to his blog here.
1. Is your program related to your focus of study? If so, in what ways? How is it shaping the way you interact with your studies? What inspired you to go on this program?
Last year I had the honor to be a recipient for the SEE-Beyond scholarship from Skidmore. With that I was able to go to Hong Kong to do an internship. While in Hong Kong I visited several Asian cities, Tokyo included. I knew I want to come back to Asia and study. I wanted to experience how Asian cultures and society interacts with my Western academics and how I can take what I learn about Asian societies and implement it here in the US. I ultimately decided that Tokyo would be the best place for that. My program being a liberal arts program offers many classes but business options were limited as I had taken many of them back in Skidmore. However the ones I able to take definitely relates to my studies. Much like Skidmore, I believe everything is connected and learning about different academic fields is a great way to further understand my field of study. I am currently taking Japanese, Management in Japan, Money and Banking, and Introduction to International Relations. All these classes although taught in English focuses heavily not just on the US but Japan and Asia as well. It’s really interesting to learn how another part of the world does things a but differently and lets me understand the pros and cons of different approaches. It’s a rewarding experience when you not just learn a new subject but also can relate it back to life at home and how you can start implementing what you learn to your future studies and work.
2. You’re from New York City, spent your first semester in London, and now you’re in Tokyo! Could you speak a little bit about your unique experiences in each of the different big cities? What stereotypes have you encountered in Tokyo that maybe you don’t usually encounter in New York?
In London I was definitely a different Kevin. Coming straight out of high school, there were a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for in college especially in a new country. London was a lesson to me that the world doesn’t just revolve around New York City. There is so much more out there, whether it be food, language, culture, or people, there are things that are similar but there are so many things that are different.Growing up in New York City, I had the opportunity to be exposed to so many different cultures, and that is what I appreciate so much about NYC. Having been to major cities around the world: London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, there’s no place more diverse than in NYC. I have a bit of bias towards NYC because I live and grew up there, but in cities like London and Tokyo, they have their own uniqueness to it. I remembering reading a fellow blogger’s post (Sunny Tran) about how people fall in love with NYC at first glance and in London it a love that comes slowly without you knowing. I think she might be right. Although it’s been a while since I left London, I can remember like it was still yesterday. London was a city that took sometime getting use to, but after a while it felt like my second home. I knew the tube from the back of my head like NYC metro. The shortest way to get to school. How to walk from school to a different neighborhood. I never felt scared in London because, like the saying, I really did feel like it was a skip across the pond. It was similar to home but it offered a new perspective. One that I realized now, that I really needed when starting a new chapter in my life.
Being in Tokyo now, with a more mature self and a Kevin that has been around the world a few more times, I experience Tokyo a bit differently than I did in London. Tokyo’s culture relates more to my Asian side while London related more to my American side. There’s cultural norms and expectations that Westerners may find a bit odd but to me it feels so much like home. Tokyo has really engaged me in trying to find out what it truly means to be “Asian.” Meeting locals and asking them questions about life in Japan and how it feels like. Asking my host siblings about certain social topics and try to understand their point of view which comes from their cultural values growing up and seeing how different than mine are. Tokyo’s trip so far has been a more internal realization and exploration than London’s. Of course I still go out and explore the different foods, entertainments, and night life but I grew a curiosity while in Skidmore about identity and the world in relation to me.
Stereotypes, I feel don’t really apply to me here all that much. I think sometimes I scare people when I have conversations with them because I am very vocal and expressive when I talk, something Americans are well known for. I think it’s also a misconceptions, that many Americans have, is that Asians are quiet. I thought that at first coming to Japan, but they aren’t. Like any new person you meet he or she is shy a first but to say that Asians in general are shy and quiet is totally false. I think many Japanese people want to be more expressive and vocal and that’s why they are so intrigued when Westerners speak so they can learn from them.
3. One thing we talk about at Skidmore’s pre-departure orientation before studying off-campus is how students will engage with the culture. In addition to living with a host family and practicing Japanese, how do you feel you’ve managed to immerse yourself in the new culture? Are there any experiences in which you’ve intentionally not engaged with the culture? Are there any tips could you give to students on how to break out of the Program bubble and meet locals?
Hmmm…. My advice to future students to breakout the program bubble is just to be independent and explore. A lot of the things I find and do are always from me getting lost. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan where you are going or what event you want to do, but always have an open mind and be flexible when you reach the destination. Keep in mind that you’re in a new country and you should always challenge yourself to try new things. Not just trying new foods but genuinely challenge your character and grow along the way. You can’t make an opinion on something if you never experienced it yourself!
Everyday, I try to do something new once such as sitting in a park, trying a new restaurant, or walking around my neighborhood. Following the program is great and I get to do a lot of new and exciting things such as going to Hiroshima, its a safe space when ever I get lonely or need something to remind me of home. Setting goals before leaving definitely helps define your trip and experience.
4. In one of your blog posts, you talk about communication and your dual identity as an Asian-American. How do you feel your identity has changed to fit your new experiences as an Asian-American from an American college studying abroad in Asia?
I still constantly feel a division everyday in Tokyo but that’s the great part of this experience! Living in America, going to school in America, and in the future, working in America, my American self is always front and center. But to balance myself out, I always try to express my Asian side, so I and others can acknowledge that I come from a different background and from this background I can offer so much more insight and ideas. But in Tokyo, I feel like I do the complete opposite. I try to express more of my American self to society. A lot of the locals I meet are very interested to talk about my life in America and what it means to be an American. To them, I am viewed as American, while in America I am viewed as Asian. However, code switching is something I have done all my life so it isn’t very new to try to be more of one thing than the other depending on my situation. It is still a bit challenge to find what it means to be Asian or American, but currently I am happy with the fact that Asian American may not be two parts of a whole but instead a whole within itself.