By CHIWU I. KIM
Going to college is a frightening experience for many, especially for people who are going to one in a foreign country. In addition to living alone, there are so many obstacles that we must face as international students. When I arrived at Komaba, I braced myself for what I thought would be an intense struggle to survive. But I was surprised at how smoothly things went; indeed, there were a few hiccups in my adjustment to this exotic place known as Tokyo (who would have thought that my first day of classes would be met with a major typhoon?), but I was prepared for anything. I grew to adapt to the new and fascinating things that both the University of Tokyo and Tokyo itself threw at me; in fact, I loved being thrown around and being challenged on a daily basis.
And then, I crushed my foot.
It was during my first Physical Education class, and we were playing Frisbee, of all things to get injured in. At the time of the injury, despite the agonizing pain that ran through my body I found myself being more worried about how to get treatment in Japan than my foot. After all, I barely knew my way around the area; how was I supposed to find a hospital, fill out the paperwork, and most importantly, understand what the doctor was explaining to me? These questions circled around my head and filled me with anxiety as my friend carried me like a wounded soldier to the Komaba medical center.
Walking through the main gate with a pair of crutches was no easy task. Photo by the author's friend, Tran Ngoc Lam Vy (PEAK student).
The Komaba medical center surprised me. As I approached it I braced myself for the endless amount of confusion and paperwork that I assumed would follow with the arrival of an international student. Contrary to my fears, the Komaba medical center was well-equipped and ready for such a situation. The medical staff quickly grasped my situation and immediately went into action, no questions asked. The staff was not only used to dealing with foreign students, but I was also treated with the same care given to domestic students, despite the language barrier between me and the medical staff. Ironically, my moment of peril was also a moment of awe as I came to the realization that I attended what can be called a truly “global” university, in which students from all over the world are not just welcomed but expected and fully accommodated for.
The people at the medical center sent me to a clinic in Shindaida to have my X-rays taken and to see if I had broken any of my bones. The trek to the clinic was filled with drama as I struggled to use crutches for the first time and stumbled all over the sidewalk.
And then the clinic was closed. It was a Thursday.
As someone who comes from the United States, having a facility closed on any day of the week other than a Sunday was simply unthinkable. Yet there the “closed” sign was, defying what I perceived as common sense for my entire life. It was at this point in time when it struck me that I was living in a place that did not just have a different flag or a different language. Japan functioned with a different set of rules, and it was me who was the outsider, not the other way around. What little confidence I had built up in the past few weeks prior to the injury about living in Japan quickly vanished.
Yet over time I realized going through such a crisis makes one prepared for the next, and that is one aspect of the beauty of going somewhere abroad for college. Going abroad allows you to face odds that you could never have imagined before, and overcoming them will give you a sense of confidence that cannot be obtained in any other way.
Even if there are times when you struggle, you can be carried on the shoulders of people from all over the globe. I can personally say that it was the support of my friends that helped me trudge through my daily life with my injury. Living together in a foreign country presents a challenge, yet it simultaneously accelerates the strengthening of the bonds between your classmates through the trials you endure together and the environment which forces you to rely on others. Experiencing life in Tokyo with a (temporary) handicap was definitely on my top ten list of “situations to avoid,” but actually going through that challenge gave me the experience and the confidence to brace for the next one.
So go ahead; take the leap. There will be people below to catch you.
Originally posted on Dec. 12, 2014.