Things that surprised me:
1. Virginia has nothing on Japan when it comes to humidity. I thought after suffering through the Heat Wave of '12 that I was set and ready for Japan. But I wasn't; It's not hot here - just humid. It took a few days to get used to it but I like it. I really like the weather here.
2. Japan is not Taiwan. This may seem obvious to everyone else but it continues to surprise me. For one, I kept expecting people to stare at me because I was a white person and to make little comments about me behind my back about it. Well, I don't know Japanese so they might be making comments about me behind my back, but, honestly, no one really looks too shocked to see a foreigner. I also make the realization about the differences because I kept looking for street food and realized that there was none. "This is not Taiwan," I have to remind myself.
3. I somehow stumbled onto a thriving and prestigious lab. How did I manage that? In any case, I'm counting my blessings for it.
4. Japan feels like a home to me. The other day, I realized the time for my bus was coming so I scrambled to throw my stuff into my backpack and catch the bus. It felt so normal to be running for a bus in Japan at 9:30 at night. And the other day when I went up to the castle and saw Sendai shining out around me, I was just thrilled. It was the same pride I felt over places I feel I belong to, in America.
Things that I have realized:
1. I do NOT speak Japanese and one cannot just "pick up" the language. It takes real work; real effort and lots of hours of studying.
2. I really genuinely enjoy research. Being in Japan, working on a new project, makes me even think positively about my research in Virginia.
3. I don't actually know how to socially navigate Japanese culture. I can't tell if I'm on my way to making friends or not.
There is one adorable man in my lab who has decided to take me under his wing. Well, when he remembers. The other day he came in to invite me to attend Asai Sensei's lecture. So I packed up my stuff and got ready to go but I had no idea where it was so I ended up staying behind. After class, he came back, "Why didn't you attend?" I told him that he had told me when the class was but not where. He laughed at his mistake.
I went to dinner the other day with some of the kids in my lab. During dinner, everyone kept a steady stream of Japanese going and occasionally one kid would speak up, "Oh, they all think that you can really use chopsticks." I would reply and they'd move on to other conversation. Then he'd jump in again, "They want you to know that Monday is a holiday. Do you know what holiday is it?" I'd reply and then someone would say something and he'd translate again. "It's the Day of Sea." What does it mean? His response? "I don't know. I guess it's just another day to run experiments." I had to laugh. Grad students are grad students the world over.
So it turns out the lab is actually getting a new graduate student who is from Taiwan and in September I'll get to meet him. Asai Sensei told me about this new kid for my Chinese-speaking benefit: He is a student at Taiwan National University (TaiDa) which is the number one university in Taiwan and this student has personally been spearheading a collaboration between TaiDa and Brigham Young University. My alma mater! I started laughing and told Sensei this and we both laughed: It's a small world.