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He discusses his experiences studying abroad in Tokyo

Samuel Levin ’09 (Weston, Fla.) is majoring in economics and East Asian studies, with a focus on behavioral finance. He is currently participating in a yearlong study abroad program to Tokyo, Japan. The following is a first-hand account of Levin’s experiences halfway through the program.

Ah, Japan: a country shrouded in mystery, more often than not perceived as thoroughly opaque from the outside. While living here for five months has helped me demystify much of the fog, some aspects, I feel, will remain unknowns in my mind. Still, living here has been an exquisite experience, one unlike anything I have ever experienced. Although I have been to this country on a few vacations before, living immersed as an inhabitant has been crucial to helping me gain a fundamental understanding of the culture and life, especially given the fact that I have been staying with a host family since my arrival.

In the beginning there was quite a bit of adjusting that had to be done. I learned to instinctively recite (often yell) ritualistic phrases when leaving and returning home, starting and finishing meals, entering others’ homes, and finishing any meetings. Houses lack central heating. Tokyo’s subway system map resembles staring into a breakfast cereal bowl. I have completely abandoned any use of the now-unfamiliar and forgotten utensils known as forks, spoons, and knives. Yes, I have indulged in my fair share of Asian cuisine for many years in the States, but that involved wooden chopsticks as opposed to slippery plastic ones. More importantly, I have upgraded to using them for cake, ice cream, and pizza now. I also feel like a human pinball almost anywhere I go as a result of constantly bumping into others on the overcrowded subways and streets of Tokyo. It wasn’t easy at first.

Things picked up rather quickly though, and it wasn’t long before I vehemently slurped noodles when having my soup, learned how to properly juke citizens when navigating the streets, and reflexively tipped my head when meeting new faces. I have fallen for this land. There’s just so much to see, so much to do.

Waseda University always – and I mean always – has events happening on campus. There’s a book’s worth of after-school organizations and living in the city is an incredible experience, vast with options and people. It’s a nice change for those feeling limited to the many delights of Easton and the fortress of College Hill.

Living with a host family has helped me gain many insights into Japanese culture, much of which I genuinely feel would have never been possible in academic settings and books. That isn’t to say that the dorm-life here isn’t great.

The only drawback is that living in the dorms makes it easy to rely on English with the other internationals, unlike a home-stay experience, like mine, which forces you to use Japanese all the time. My family knows little more than English greetings and classic American movie catchphrases. On the upside, most dorms are five minutes walking distance from campus, whereas with a homestay there’s no telling where your family will live. (I commute over an hour to school every day.) Either way, each has its upside, and it’s win-win in the end.

In short, if you’re looking to either learn or improve on your Japanese, gain a ridiculous amount of weight eating absurdly delicious food, or just experience something wholly new and exciting for a short period in your life before hopping into the world of full-time work, come to Japan. In fact, even if it’s not for study-abroad, come to Japan. The countryside is beautiful. The people are the best. Most of the Japanese I have met love foreigners (yes, this does imply you may be treated to most of your outings). It’s an entirely different experience – one I honestly feel everyone should have at least once in their life.

At Lafayette, Levin has served as editor of the Japanese Cultural Journal and was an active member of the Investment Club. While in Japan, Levin has worked to create a Microfinance Fund that will help provide capital to those who need it to finance their businesses in emerging markets, formed a cultural exchange student organization that has grown to over 100 members, and is currently conducting research on macro-scale market inefficiencies stemming from region-specific ingroups’ failures of invariance.

  • Study Abroad
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