By ELA BOGATAJ STOPAR
Studying abroad on your own can be overwhelmingly lonely. Photo by Aftab Uzzaman | Flickr; edited by author.
An emotion practically inevitable for anyone who has just moved to a different country to spend four years breaking their back in college. In spite of being the enthusiastic, decisive and independent student that you must be to have impressed the PEAK interviewers, it does get to everyone at some point; although it seems we tend to keep quiet about it. Why, however, remains a mystery, given that suffering in silence only amplifies the contradictory feeling of loneliness in the middle of one of the most populated cities in the world.
Owing to the fact that many of us live under the same roof for at least half of our time here, PEAK is a rather close-knit community, making the first and obvious solution to the problem that much easier. Find friends. Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, the sudden decrease in your friends or family’s presence is bound to have an effect, and the only way to efficiently combat that is by finding a kindred spirit among the people whom you see on a daily basis. The PEAK interviewers look for specific characteristics in the applicants, so you can safely assume you’ll have a few things in common with some of your new classmates; all that is left is to overcome the inexplicable want to spend the entire weekend in your room and make plans with them.
On particularly bad days, leaving the dorms to explore the city is beneficial regardless of whether you bring a friend. Tokyo is excellently equipped with green surfaces for a city of its size, and while nature might not be an adequate substitute for your mother’s delicious homemade meals, it does have a reputation to lift one’s spirits. Take your earphones out for a run or a walk, or consult Google Maps on beautiful bits of urban greenery slightly further away from Komaba if your taste for adventure manages to withstand the gloomy mood. If nothing else, it will at least provide a distraction and an opportunity to appreciate the many benefits of living in the center of Tokyo.
Speaking of distractions, the University of Tokyo offers plenty of ways to keep the students busy and productive during their free time. Clubs and circles come in a variety of flavors, from sports to arts and science, and they provide for wonderful intercultural exchanges with the domestic students as well as a place to practice your Japanese. If group activities fail to be your cup of tea, or you prefer to earn money as opposed to spending it in the case of some clubs, the administration office also posts part-time job opportunities for students with different interests and levels of Japanese. You could even start a project that has been brewing in the back of your mind, or acquire a skill you always thought would be amazing to have. Although sometimes the only acceptable remedy may be a quiet day in the company of TV series and junk food, breaking the daily routine makes for a much better distraction. Furthermore, chancing upon people who come from the same country is bound to offer a little bit of comfort, especially if you live too far away from Japan to take a short trip home during the few short holiday periods within the semester.
Dealing with the challenges of leaving the nest, balancing adequate amounts of sleep with Skyping with family under the curse of time difference and handling culture shock are all factors that make feeling disconcerted and missing home an inevitable companion to starting university life abroad. However, as inescapable as it may be, it is also not entirely incurable; hopefully, it’s but a matter of time that we make Komaba a place where we truly feel at home.