Ichi, Ni, San…

Learning a new language can be tough. Especially if you’re old enough to acknowledge that fact. And especially if the language you’re learning bears no resemblance to anything you have ever learned before.

What it does to you, I think, is that it makes you realize how ignorant you still are – even if you think of yourself as an intelligent trilingual university junior.

I mean, I have been learning Japanese from a textbook that features pictures of cats, dogs, smiling people who ask each other what day of the week it is, among other pleasant things. I spent weeks just learning the Hiragana and Katakana (the “easy” parts of the Japanese alphabet). I feel so proud when I can read a sentence or repeat it after my tutor without much stuttering. I pracitce writing by following the dots, just as I did back in kinder garden.

On the way home after my Japanese lesson(s) I ask myself, what is that, Dina? How old are you? Ten?

But age has nothing to do with this, does it?

I never thought that at some point I could be struggling to remember what “six” meant in another language, nor did it occur to me that things I took for granted everyday would turn out to be so absolutely irrelevant.

It’s been a humbling experience. When my tutor clapped for me because I said “This is a table” on my own in Japanese, I felt I was  reduced to the status of a baby. In order to have the simplest interaction with her (not in English) I wave my arms, raise my eye brows and open my mouth in scary gestures, thinking she’ll understand what I really want to say or ask.

But this has also affected me in a very profound way. Kaoeri sensei, my Japanese tutor, never at once made me feel I’m a burden. She’s been very helpful, patient, and -surprisingly enough-  I didn’t get any negative vibes from her, not even once, even though I obviously don’t satisfy her aspirations as a teacher…

I’ve also noticed that, even though I haven’t traveled yet, I catch myself paying more attention to people’s faces, gestures and emotional cues more than I pay attention to the actual words they’re saying. I realized that all through my life here, speaking and listening to English and/or Arabic all the time, I have been living linguistically, taking things for granted. I can point to tables all day long, telling everyone that “this is a table” without any trouble. Piece of cake.

It makes me more and more eager to know how it will feel like when I am actually in Japan, where no Kaori sensei(s) will be in sight.

It’s scary, but it’s also good.

Hello world!

Was I supposed to change the post title? Like most decent bloggers, I probably should have. But I found that the automatically generated “Hello world!” by WordPress would serve my purpose best, so I opted to take the easy way…

So yes, I am going to Japan. Has it sunk in yet?


How this whole thing happened is beyond me. When I decided to apply for the study abroad program in my home university, I had automatically planned I would apply to study in the United States, for one semester.

Now, I am going to study in Japan, for a year.

Being a good planner is obviously not one of my gifts.

On the day I was submitting my application, I had a conversation with a friend who told me how studying in Japan would be a great idea, especially if I applied for the JASSO scholarship. I put back my application form back in my bag, took a few Kansai Gaidai brochures from the International Programs Office, and by the afternoon, I decided that Japan would be my destination.

The application process was almost nerve-wrenchingly lengthy for me. It lasted for months; I had to submit a “study abroad” application to my home university, wait until I was notified about my acceptance, then apply to Kansai Gaidai (and boy, was it an application), wait some more, then apply for the JASSO scholarship and spend a decent time of additional waiting.

Which means that, all in all, I had to submit (not less than) 6 recommendation letters, 3 sell-yourself-essays (also known as a ‘statement of purpose’) and 16582578274 personal photos…

I got accepted, in all three, and now all I have to do is wait, again. I booked my plane ticket, and now my passport is somewhere in the Japanese Embassy waiting for the visa to be stamped.

Meanwhile, I had/have to accomplish a few things throughout the waiting:

1. I finally learnt how to ride a bicyle.

2. I started Japanese lessons (more about that in an upcoming post).

3. I had a summer job in order to raise some money to be able to travel around Japan (and Asia) during winter break.

4. I still have to learn how to cook a few simple things, being the horrible, untalented cook I am.

5. Research, research, research!

And a bunch of other things.

My excitement is beyond imagination and absolutely off the charts. Yet, I won’t believe this is all really happening unless that Egyptair plane lands in Kansai International Airport, a month from today…

July 2010
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