First month in Osaka

On the 25th of August, I arrived at Osaka station after a 3-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo. There, I met my current host mother and sister as well as the next family I’m staying with. I didn’t know in advance that I would be meeting anyone other than my current host mother, so to begin with I was quite overwhelmed, especially when everyone started to talk to each other to discuss plans about going to a fireworks festival that night, and I could barely understand any of what they were saying. After we arrived home, we went out to the festival only a short time later. (Which I had no idea was happening as I hadn’t understood anything at the station earlier.) Even though it had only been a few hours since I had arrived, as the evening went on, I became more and more discouraged to speak Japanese. I was excited and eager, to begin with, and tried my best, but by the end of the evening, I realised how little I could speak with everyone and follow the conversations they were having. My host mother and host brother from my next family that I was with could speak better English than I could speak Japanese and they were having to try and explain things in English lots of the time for me to have some idea of what was being said. I felt terrible because I thought that I should be better at Japanese than I was, these people were so kind to take care of me and let me live with them, and I could barely communicate with them.

The next day I was helping my host mother around the house with some chores, and I told her how I felt. She to me that it was okay, that I was likely to be overwhelmed, to begin with, and that the reason I am here is to learn, I felt better after having that conversation with her. I also (attempted to) talked to her about other things, school, New Zeland, family, even what my dream is (not that I really have one), and I felt closer to her and more comfortable after that. She is a very understanding and kind person. When she was a teenager, she went on student exchange for a month to America, so I think she can empathize with what its like to live in a foreign country that speaks a different language away from your friends and family for a significant period. Now that I have been living with this family for almost a month I feel a lot more at ease around everyone. I have settled into daily life and feel more comfortable than I did when I first came here.

Since it is summer in Japan right now the first week I was in Osaka it was still summer holidays, so I had no school, that gave me a reasonable period to settle in at home before everything started again. I was very nervous to start school especially meeting my classmates and having to give my Jikoshokai (Self-introduction speech) in Japanese in front of the whole school which was about 850 people. On Friday before school started my class had a test in the morning while I had an orientation of the school so after they had finished taking their tests I was able to meet them for the first time. There are 40 students in my homeroom. As I did my self-introduction, it was evident that I was very nervous, but I don’t think I made any mistakes. Afterward, I was able to talk to my class, it was a bit awkward, to begin with, because the conversation was stilted but everyone is very kind, and I am good friends with them now.

The next Monday I had to give my speech in front of the whole school at the introduction assembly in the morning. However, I was told on the spot that I was also going to go to the staff room and say it in front of the teacher. I don’t like public speaking and had been dreading giving my speech since arriving in Tokyo, however having it sprung on me gave me no time to worry about it, and I was able to present it confidently. Since I felt good about having just done it well, I wasn’t as nervous to do it in front of the whole school. When I got up on stage, I was a distance away from everyone and because there were so many people I wasn’t able to focus on anyone’s face and it was less nerve-racking than when I had to do it in front of my class. I did make a little mistake where I forgot the end of a word, but I didn’t realize until after I had finished, so It didn’t make me mess up the rest of the speech by focusing on it.

The rest of that week we were meant to start regular classes, however, the Typhoon hit Osaka the next day, and school was canceled for three days. Luckily no one I know was hurt, and there was no significant damage to our neighborhood or school we did lose power for the duration of that three days. And having four teenagers in the house with no power let alone wifi meant we were subject to the full extents of our boredom clearly shown by the fact that we were even forced to read books to stay sane. Summer in Japan is scorching compared to summer in New Zealand, and the average temperature was in the early to mid 30’s so lots of indoor spaces have airconditioning. When the power went out, we were subject to the full wrath of Japan’s summer. We did get to eat all the popsicles in the freezer because they were going to melt. So it wasn’t all bad.

On Friday I had my first day of classes. I had no idea what was happening. The way classes are structures the teachers will write on a chalkboard at the front of the room while the kids take notes, except most of what they write is in Kanji, so I can’t read or copy down what the teacher writes. I already struggle with science in English so in Japanese I am utterly lost. There is only one subject that I understand fully and excel in and that subject, unsurprisingly, is English. But in other classes, I’ve been taking note of words I don’t know the meaning of and then search them when I get home so I can improve.

I have settled in more and made friends in my class who are very friendly and help me if I don’t know where my class is or listen to me patiently while I slowly ask them something in broken Japanese. Also, hand gestures are a language in there own for me and are sometimes the only reason why people have been able to understand what I’m saying as I brokenly speak Japanese and flap my arms around trying to get the point across. I still have a long way to go with my Japanese, but I have improved a lot since I got here (despite just talking about how bad I am) and I have more confidence to try speaking even if I’m not sure what I’m saying is entirely correct.

– Katarina

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