Believe it or not there was actually bad stuff. The first was the fact that it was enough of a stressful situation that I cried in a couple of my classes because I felt hopeless and tired and as if I was never going to be able to understand Japanese. And while there is a rationale for crying in class (hello stressful situation, fish out of water, in ability to express oneself when one is quite used to having a mastery of the language), it was still embarrassing both during and afterwards. Some teachers handled it better than others, or at least made one feel less like a git for doing it, and it made me appreciate the job they took on all the more. Because honestly I don't think any of my teachers really wanted to make me cry.
I guess I should mention how classes worked: our individual level had four teachers and a TA. Every morning we would gather together in our full group of 22 students for a lecture/reading discussion class where we went over the passages that we'd read the night before and take a vocabulary quiz. After that we split into groups and had a listening comprehension class, a speaking/dialect class, and a grammar/kanji class for an hour. Most days we had a quiz in each class, except for Fridays when we prepared for the presentation we did every Monday (along with a Monday chapter test). I think I probably loved the sensei who taught us dialects the most, even though there were days where I avoided him completely. He had seemingly a ton of patience, and was often absolutely hilarious, but he didn't let us make many mistakes without commenting on them either. I think that was part of the reason why I liked him – I knew I wasn't going to be let off the hook but I also knew that he could smile and laugh and be goofy too, so it made me unafraid to try even when I was getting it terribly wrong.
Probably the worst thing was that, halfway through the summer, I fell down some stairs in our classroom building and thought I'd broken my ankle. A trip to the hospital with some xrays later and I discovered it was a sprain, and that it could take up to a year to heal fully. Luckily (because it was both good and bad) I injured myself the week before our summer "break" (a three day weekend I'd intended to actually visit some of the other parts of Vermont I'd not seen). I spent that break in my room, with friends bringing me cold food from the dinning hall, watching Japanese movies and trying to keep my ankle elevated. Having an injury that dramatically reduced my mobility (I was on crutches for the next two weeks after injury), and made it difficult to concentrate, just because my brain was split between my ankle and my Japanese. Also for the first couple of days it seemed as if the University had no way to get me to class (when my classrooms and dinning hall were both about .7 miles away from the dorm). They suggested I rent a mobility scooter for $150 a week. (the same email that suggested that also noted that students who had done that in the past were quite happy with them – well no surprise! But who has $150 a week to spend on scooters??? Not me!) . Finally though it turned out that if I needed rides I could call campus security and they would haul me from dorm to class to dinning and back. Eventually I managed to heal enough that I wasn't on crutches, and finally stopped calling them and got back to walking, but it was several weeks before all of that was done, and by that time we had a week or so left in the semester. And I got to wear my awesome air cast every day, rain or shine.
There were little niggling tough things, like the fact that after two weeks the dinning hall food felt a little stale and boring and that we lived on the fifth floor of the building but our elevator only went up to four. Or the fact that while one of my professors wasn't out to get me, she did tell me the only way I'd improve in her class was to listen to the conversations more (when I'd already listened to them 25 times the night before and had the itunes tracking to prove it). The fact that it really did feel like most days all we did was eat and study; eat and study; eat and study and try to fit some sleep in there somewhere.
There were a couple of big things – Neil's grandmother passed away a couple of weeks into the program and I couldn't actually be there for him in a meaningful way – phone calls just don't really make up for hugs. I won't really go into it, but I think the situation explains itself. Being away from friends and family and yet still being in the country and not able to talk to family more than once a week (because I didn't want to fall out of Japanese too much) was difficult too. Trying to feel like I wasn't an incompetent wretch when I couldn't string a sentence together, and when I couldn't keep up with even basic conversations, was pretty demoralizing at times. That first week, when I had to ask Sarah to explain every other word she said, was painful to say the least. And I ended up striking up a friendship of sorts with three people who ended up being not terribly good friends in the end, and I have a tough time with that emotionally.
I discovered, too, that my brain simply does not process language well when I'm tired, and there were some Mondays where I'd been up until midnight or one the night before and just could.not.think. of the right words to say in Japanese. Those days felt like complete write offs . Though they made me rediscover naps as a way to recharge my brain. There were some days, though, where I didn't even have time for naps.
But looking back on it now, if these were the worst and the hardest things to struggle with? Could have been far far worse. And the feeling inferior and unintelligent? Probably really good for me to get over that hump and get to the point where I was willing to * try * and hold a conversation instead of too embarrassed to say anything.
Next up, photo post, with happy memories, promise!