When I participated in my high school’s Japanese exchange program, it was just a fun trip with friends. I did not fully appreciate it at the time. But as I look back, it gave me a very valuable lesson that continues even today. A lot of us grow up in our own bubbles, for me it would be my home-town bubble, a mid-Atlantic bubble, or an America bubble. Going to Japan for the first time, I had many cultural-shock moments where I thought “that’s weird why would anyone do that.” But those things that you take for granted might literally not exist in another country’s language and culture. Does that make your way of thinking more superior than their way or vice versa? Does there have to even be a “right” or “wrong” way? Nope, and personally for me that was a major revelation. Something that is so essential in my daily thinking could maybe never occur in someone else’s mind. Learning Japanese of course gave me not only communication skills, but also the opportunity to live in a foreign country after I graduated university. I left my bubble for the other side of the world. Every single day has been a learning experience. There are many things about Japanese society that causes me to scratch my head, but being able to realize those differences and discuss them with locals has been very valuable. There are many things in Japan that I will never fully get on board with, but I try my best to understand the thinking behind those ideas and accept them for what they are. And on the flip side, I learned about ideas that I wish were more common in my American bubbles. I went to a science and tech high school and then I majored in foreign affairs (politics) in university. I took Japanese, an extracurricular, all 4 years in both high school and college. I had to take extra summer and winter classes to make sure that I could complete my course requirements since I was
forcing Japanese into my schedule. Of course, academics and book smarts are very important to your career. But the social and communication skills that I gained with the opportunities from Japanese class are very unique. Being able to communicate and exchange ideas is not only essential to many careers but can also help you as a person. Even just in America, everyday people talk about how divided we are. If more people are willing to leave their bubbles and listen to other people, maybe there would be less conflict. Learning Japanese is not just writing the
same kanji over and over again, it allows you to learn how to be a better communicator not just in a foreign language but also as a person.