The other day, we had a chance to catch up with Steven, who you’ll recall is currently on foreign exchange in Japan, attending a local high school and using the Human Japanese apps as part of his study regimen. Steven is about a week away from wrapping up a 10-month stay, so it was a good time to look back over the trip and reflect on things.
What has life been like over the last ten months? Steven says that at first it was challenging, but that it was amazing after getting over that initial hump. No matter how much you study in advance (Steven had taken two years of high school Japanese), nothing can quite prepare you for the onrush of real-world Japanese that greets you as you step off the plane — it’s like moving from a quiet stream to a raging river — and one of the biggest frustrations in the beginning was simply not being able to express himself fluidly and naturally like he does back home.
This had the good effect, however, of motivating Steven to study hard. Utilizing a variety of materials, he relied on Human Japanese Intermediate to make the pieces click. He told us, “Every time I finish a chapter in HJ Intermediate I wonder how I ever got by without that knowledge before!” (We’re very proud of Intermediate and think it fits well with what people at Steven’s stage need in their studies — download a free trial here.)
When we talked to him recently, Steven was very happy about his current Japanese language skills. Speaking Japanese feels easy and natural for him now. At this point, when a thought or a feeling percolates up in him, it just automatically comes out in Japanese — a fantastically satisfying feeling and the real meaning of fluency.
From an early point during his stay, Steven has been reading various material, including manga, but as a way of going to the next level in his understanding of the language and culture, Steven has started reading Japanese novels, which he describes as “a whole new world” of Japanese. He describes it as a challenging but immensely rewarding experience that he intends to continue upon returning to his native Canada.
Steven’s stay in Japan has been rewarding in other ways. The experience of living with host families provided a glimpse into everyday life that not many foreigners are privileged to see. Coming home from school and making chit-chat with his host mother, or seeing a host sibling get in trouble for shirking his chores, or just hanging out with the family — these are simple but precious moments, memories that will stay with him and inform his Japanese at a “gut level” for years to come.
The same goes for his slightly rough-and-tumble, all-boys high school, which at first shattered Steven’s expectations of a calm and orderly Japanese learning environment. Now completely a part of the school, Steven speaks warmly about his classmates — about the nicknames they all have for each other, the camaraderie, the rambunctious sense of humor. He laughs as he describes how, walking down the halls at school, people in entire other buildings will bang on the windows to get his attention and wave to him. Being a foreigner in Japan means never quite fitting in completely, but it also means being a kind of celebrity. And that can be a lot of fun.
Upon getting back to Canada, Steven intends to keep using his Japanese language skills by creating a meetup group for Japanese speakers and possibly getting a job where he can speak Japanese.
We’re proud to have been a part of Steven’s journey, and we wish him all the best as he wraps up his foreign exchange and embarks on the next stage of life. スティーブンさん、これからも頑張ってください！