Back to SummaryHalle Edwards - Student Advisor Profile
INTERNSHIP: Think Tank - International Institute of Monetary Affairs
Goodbyes are the worst. Before I left for Japan, I had to part with dozens of people: my friends at Stanford, my housemates and roommates, co-workers, and then to friends and family back at home. Every time I said goodbye to someone, all my pent-up anxiety and fear about going abroad welled up to the surface. A couple of times I contemplated backing out and remaining in my comfortable Stanford bubble of friends, class, work, and Ike’s sandwiches.
Despite my misgivings, I found myself arriving at a departure gate at San Francisco International Airport on March 27, 2012. Immediately a fellow Stanford student came over and welcomed me to a group already waiting – mostly people I had never met before. Everyone was just as excited and nervous as I was, and eager to make new friends. After months of anxiety, I immediately felt at ease.
But after a whirlwind first few days in Kyoto, visiting famous temples and shrines, staying together in a hotel, trying Japanese cuisine and karaoke, we split up to move in with our host families. All over again, I was petrified about embarking on a new experience – living with a stranger who spoke another language – and I clung to my new-made friends in a fresh round of goodbyes. Once again, I felt silly for worrying. After a few minutes with my host mother I knew it was going to be a great three months. She walked me to her house through the narrow streets of Kyoto, passing as many temples as we did convenience stores. I was surprised at how much we were able to talk about, despite my far-from-perfect Japanese. I settled into a routine of walking to Doshisha University in the morning, spending the day in classes and exploring the city with my fellow Stanford students, and returning home in the evening for dinner and conversation with my host mom.
The classes in Kyoto were excellent. I was able to take a political economy course that introduced me to not only the Japanese economy, but to modern economic history in general, which is invaluable to me as an International Relations major. A class on Japanese aesthetics took us on field trips to experience all kinds of Japanese theatre (like Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku) and traditional arts, everything from flower arrangement to calligraphy to tea ceremony. And my Japanese language class, although more intensive than on the home campus, gave me the push I needed to really improve my Japanese skills. I also got the opportunity to volunteer at a local Japanese preschool, where the children called me “Harry Potter” due to the similarity of Halle and Harry in Japanese. (The nickname has since stuck.)
On the days the preschoolers did not completely wear me out, my friends and I got to explore Kyoto. Besides hitting all the famous historical sites and temples, we had lots of time to explore Kyoto’s many diverse neighborhoods, from the busy shopping street of Kawaramachi to the lantern-lined streets of Gion. Even though Kyoto is a large city, it often felt like a small town. We found our favorite hangouts near the Kamo river and in Teramachi (a shopping arcade that features everything from food stalls to stores that sell nothing but colorful socks), where we would often run into other Stanford students out and about.
But even though the city was fun, I loved going back to the home-stay at the end of every day. My host mom made amazing Japanese food every night (FYI: the daily Japanese diet is heavier on stews, cooked fish, and vegetables than sushi or tempura). We sometimes watched the brightly-colored, high-energy cacophony that is Japanese television. More often than not, though, we simply talked – about family, society, culture, everything. For anyone nervous about how far their Japanese skills will actually get them, I promise that you will be surprised about how much you can talk about. And you will only get better as the program goes on.
All too soon, the time came to say goodbye to Kyoto as I moved on to my internship in Tokyo. Once again, I was presented with a long list of people to say goodbye to: new Stanford friends who were headed all over Japan for summer internships, professors and staff at the Stanford Japan Center, and my host mother. I had to remind myself that three months before, faced with too many goodbyes and anxiety about my next adventure, everything turned out better than fine.
The same was true for my summer internship. Although my lifestyle was completely different – living in my own apartment, commuting on Tokyo’s crowded subways to work for 8 hours in an office – I liked it just as much, but for different reasons. I learned so much about Japanese culture by working in it. And I also got ample time on the weekends, and on some evenings after work, to explore Tokyo.
As one of my friends back at Stanford predicted, although I had a hard time leaving America, I came to love Japan so much it was hard to come back. Yes, goodbyes are hard. But sometimes you have to say goodbye, at least for a while, to have a new adventure.