Due to Japan’s two-year entry ban due to the coronavirus, I was unable to travel to Japan for my year abroad until the start of the spring semester, which caused numerous mental health issues due to jet lag. I took online classes in Leeds until five in the morning and the blue light from my laptop kept me awake at night, meaning I often only got two hours sleep. I was also the secretary of the LGBT+ society, and every week I attended two or three events organized by the society, and I was active in other societies – including one at my host university, whose Meetings started at 5 or 6 in the morning. During the day I was happy to be involved with societies and friends, but at night I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. I had spent five years planning and dreaming about my year abroad in Japan and was unable to reschedule, so online classes were something I put up with in hopes of being able to going to Japan in December (which ultimately didn’t happen because of Omicron).
After three months, my language skills had barely improved and I was dealing with constant stress and headaches. I made the choice to book a one-way plane ticket to Singapore, not knowing if or when I could go to Japan. I was legally allowed to stay there for three months and my request for an extension was rejected, so I was betting on Japan’s borders opening before the three months were up. In February, time was running out and, worried about the cost of flying to and from the UK once the Japanese borders finally opened, I opted to buy a plane ticket to one of the only other Asian countries open to travel: Thailand.
To my surprise, just a week before my trip to Thailand in March, Japan announced that it was opening its borders to students and workers. I traveled to Thailand as planned and started the visa application process there. I received my coronavirus reminder and applied for an international vaccine certificate, and started looking for places to stay in Japan as an address was needed for the visa application. After a few stressful weeks, I received my visa and was ready to fly to Japan in early April, in time for the new semester. Before that, I was able to explore the city of Bangkok, including its LGBT scene and local cuisine.
When I finally got to Japan, it wasn’t all easy. I was without my suitcases for a day and a half and had a lot of trouble opening a bank account (by the way, I had to contact the dean of students at my university to be able to open it). It made me start thinking that living in Japan was not for me. I had a hard time making friends at my college and had a rough ride, and out of my three years in college so far, this was my worst semester yet. I left home at 7:30 a.m. and returned at 8:30 p.m., and the majority of my classes were difficult; it was not uncommon for me to study different combinations of over 100 Japanese characters each week in preparation for three weekly quizzes. I tried to enjoy Tokyo, the city where I was studying, but the time I spent in class and in the library left me little time to cultivate friendships and I was constantly in a state of stress.
Once the semester was over, I finally had more time to travel. However, the day after my last day in college, I tested positive for coronavirus and had to self-quarantine for 8 days. The first day I was so sick that I couldn’t move without a loud ringing in my ears, my vision was blackening and I felt nauseous. Luckily, I recovered quickly and was able to begin my travels through Japan.
Since the cost of bullet trains is high, I ended up traveling around Japan for a month, that is, staying in traditional guesthouses while traveling by night bus or local train ( rather than high speed). It was common for me to spend 10 hours traveling in a day. The longest route was a 300-mile trip from Nagoya to Hiroshima, which took two buses, arriving in Hiroshima city at 5 a.m. During this trip, I met wonderful people and learned to love Japan. I met a wonderful man at a sumo event in Nagoya who gave me snacks and tea to try even though I didn’t even say a word to him, and I met some equally nice people in guesthouses and cafes. I then spent the last month of my year abroad in Seoul, South Korea, before returning home after nine months abroad.
While I had negative experiences during my year abroad that I learned from, I also had very positive experiences: I made great friends in Singapore; had the best month of my life in Bangkok; had a wonderful trip to Japan; and ate some lovely pastries in Seoul. More importantly, my experiences have given me a better understanding of Asia and a passion for pursuing my research on its countries.
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