Tag Archives: Student

A Few Legos Short of a Castle

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Sometimes, I wish life came with an instruction manual and not one made by IKEA either. It would love to see that I’ve arrived at Step 6, and my life should look something like Figure 9.2. And then when I get to the end of the book, I could see how everything has been built perfectly. I see some people seem to have it together as if they own their own life manual. Unfortunately, I think I came with a Lego instruction guide at birth. I look like all of my pieces are fit together just right, but in reality, I’m missing a few pieces here and there. (I’m just really good at jamming parts together.) My foundation is a health hazard in the making.

But if life did come with instructions, I probably wouldn’t have stories about how a boyfriend dislocated both of my knees at once or how cayenne is not similar in any way, shape, or form to cumin. I may be jamming pieces of my Lego castle together, forcing it to look like the picture, but my castle has something others don’t: character. And a horse in the scorpion pit. (Okay, sometimes I’m not good at jamming the RIGHT pieces together.)

One fundamental part of life I have never quite mastered is art of the greeting. Sometimes I smile too much and seem “fake.” Sometimes I don’t say enough and seem like a fuddy-duddy. I want people to remember me, but I don’t want to annoy them. I want them to think I’m kind, but I don’t want to seem as if I’m flirting. I want to be unique without being weird. It’s a very difficult thing to emit your entire essence in a few brief exchanges.

Unfortunately for you, my dear reader, I don’t have any advice on what to do about that. (If you have any advice, I’d appreciate it!) I haven’t learned any profound lessons nor have I mastered the art of the “hello.” In Japan, I’m learning all new ways of greeting someone, and I’m afraid that when I return to the US, my greetings will be more awkward than ever as I combine Western and Eastern cultures.

But fortunately, I have learned that you should never under any circumstance feed an awkward situation with a burst of spontaneity.

My senior year of high school was when I began to blossom for the first time. Prior to that year I rarely went out with friends. (Honestly, I’m still not much of a social butterfly.) But my senior year, I can proudly say that I possessed something resembling a social life. My first day, I owned the school. Everyone was beneath me at last, and I had taken my place as master of the universe (or at least my dinky Arkansas high school). I had just one more year…

I congregated with my friends inside the classroom of our favorite history teacher so we could pray over the day as we always did. We chatted about our summers and mourned the end of our sleep, and then I noticed a new face in the crowd. Someone new in the group. I had been the new kid last year. Having found my place with my group of friends, I knew I had to be the one to welcome anyone who had wandered into our midst.

He blended in with the rest of us in our drab school polos and khakis. As he shuffled between the exit and the corner away from the rambunctious crowd, I caught him. Introducing myself, I decided to ease him into conversation with idle chatter about the weather, summer, and life in general. I expected a dip of the head, a shy hello, or at the very least a smile. Instead his eyes practically glazed over with confusion as I spoke, my speech quickly moving from light conversation to rapid fire questions.

This kid wouldn’t talk back. I couldn’t even get a name out of him.

I started to sweat. I talked faster and faster. I repeated my name. I spoke louder. I asked him more about himself. Still nothing. In a panic, my fight or flight instinct told me I had to break the silence, or I was going to lose a potential friend. And what is the best way to break the ice? Make someone laugh of course! Any normal person would have told a joke, but me? No. I have to go above and beyond. Prior to my senior year, most of my social interaction occurred through the internet and with my cats. Yes. Cats. And what makes cats happy?

Yes. I petted him. Right then and there. I assaulted his “fluffy” black hair and continued to go on and on about it. I watched his eyes widen twice the size of his face, his body stiffen, his lips curl into something akin to a voiceless scream.

I will never forget that look of horror on his face.

Thankfully, we ended up circling up for the morning prayer, and I sneaked off to another spot to avoid standing next to him.

And that, my dear readers, is how I met the Chinese exchange student.

Thankfully, I did manage to show him that I’m not a hair tousling freak after all.

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11 Ways To Defenestrate the Down-in-the-Dumps

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NOTE: I’ve never used the word defenestrate in a sentence before. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I just want to be creative!!!!

Writing is fascinating. I know it isn’t alive, but at the same time I’m breathing life into it. Writing speaks, and its voice is always unique to the writer. One of my professors says breathing life into your characters and your world is the closest someone can get to playing the role of a deity, and he’s right. When I have the strength to move mountains so do my characters. Unfortunately, when I suffer, so do they. I unintentionally destroy everything I’ve worked to build.

Why write about this now? It seems pretty random as I’m sitting in the middle of Japan on the journey of my life. But every once in a while (usually once a semester) I notice that my writing “darkens,” especially for long periods of time when my mood sours (usually as I start to think about my future and what I’m doing with my life). Recently, I noticed my dark writing, but this time in my daily journal, not just my novel writing. I was writing a tragedy (and a sappy, angsty, young adult tragedy at that) without meaning to. And I know that tragic heroes learn their lessons much too late.

Why am I sad? I don’t know. Someone said maybe culture shock is kicking in, or maybe I’m homesick. But I think these sorts of feelings are just natural for me. That doesn’t mean I have to like them.

I read a post on WordPress the other day about 100 things you can do if you’re feeling sad. I remember thinking to myself, “Huh…I should save this. It might come in handy.” Unfortunately, I didn’t think to save it. Now, I certainly don’t have the time to think of 100 things, but here are 11 things I usually do to perk up. (I’m probably going to be doing a few of these later.)

1.) Go on a mini-trip. Anywhere. Go to the super market, the convenience store, the theatre, the mall, the bar, the park. You don’t have to spend money. Just get out. Go alone and think. Go with a friend and forget what you were worried about. It doesn’t matter.

2.) Enjoy an ice cream. Okay…I’m a stress eater, but so far, ice cream seems to be the best cure. I highly recommend Blue Bell’s “I Heart Chocolate.” (Chocolate ice cream with a chocolate frosting ribbon, fudge, brownies, and chocolate hearts filled with chocolate.)

3.) Watch your favorite episode of your favorite TV show. (Mine’s the musical episode of Psych. Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t exist in Japan yet so….)

4.) Watch a favorite movie in a different language. The dub might just make you laugh. (I’m going to watch Meet the Robinsons in Japanese sometime soon. But I’ve heard that The Incredibles in Spanish is great.)

5.) Listen to your favorite music. (Josh Groban or Rend Collective usually helps. I’m listening to Rend Collective right now actually.)

6.) Go sit somewhere public and people watch. You can go with a friend. Share a smoothie (or an ice cream) and make up stories about the people you see. Turn said stories into a soap opera.

7.) Dress up or wear a favorite outfit. For some people, dressing up is uncomfortable, but when I know I look good, I feel good. Sometimes even wearing a bright color of lipstick brightens my mood.

8.) Do something childish. I’m a kid at heart, but I get too caught up in “adult-ing” sometimes, and it stresses me out. I’d much rather act like a kid than resort to drinking or smoking. So watch a favorite cartoon (like Sailor Moon), read a picture book, play a game with friends (like Human Knot or Sardines). Make fools of each other. Laugh.

9.) Surprise someone with a meal. Sometimes you have to do something for others to get that uplifting you need. Buy a meal for a stranger. Bake cookies for your friend. Make your kids Jello. Who can be sad when you’re watching people eat Jello?

10.) Vent all your frustration with video games. Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but I love video games. Sometimes it helps to go completely berserk in Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed. Other times, it’s better to keep it old school with Mario Kart or Smash Bros.

11.) Take a hot shower, make yourself a warm cup of tea, curl up in your comfiest PJs, cuddle your unicorn pillow pet (cats work too), pick any book you have, and read it until you fall asleep. Wake up the next day knowing that yesterday is over. Today is a new day, and it doesn’t have to tank.

BONUS: Make a list of 10 things you can do to not feel sad anymore. I think I might have just saved my little imaginary realm from any further destruction.

Things Are Seldom What They Seem

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San Francisco at night.

I never thought I would have to perform the Macarena in Japan.

I wrote this statement in my journal almost a month ago, and the weirdest part about it is actually the latter half. Japan. I’m in Japan. (Forget the Macarena. It’s the only dance I’m capable of performing period. But I have been known to attempt the Cha-Cha Slide from time to time.) I can say it over and over again, but I can’t make it sound any less surreal. I started this blog to discuss my endless wandering and the countless times I’ve lost my way, but the dreadful irony of my first story is that I didn’t get lost on my way to Japan. Funny, right? I go on the longest journey of my life and don’t lose my way once.

I have been lost in the Dallas airport before. Ever since a dreadful experience on my way to Washington D.C. my junior year of high school, I have avoided that airport like the plague. (I think I’ve avoided Dallas in general. Even driving I can’t seem to get through it without the heavens opening up and unleashing a torrent of watery wrath upon my ancient Camry.) But now, I’ve realized that flying is a lot more enjoyable with huge layovers in-between flights. I had a particularly long layover in San Francisco which would give me time to eat (and study for my Japanese placement exam) and mentally prepare for my transition into a new culture.

I remember arriving at SFO half-dead, having traveled for four hours on a red-eye flight from Dallas, but of course, it was still a decent hour on the West Coast. Luckily, a janitor pointed me towards the international terminal before I strayed too far from the right path. (If her directions hadn’t been as specific as they were, I would be telling a different story now.) After arriving at the second security checkpoint of my trip, I removed my laptop and bag of toiletries from my carry-on, slipped off my shoes and coat, threw my phone, watch, and ring into a plastic bin, and followed the herd of people around me towards the front of the line.

Suddenly, the metal detector a few feet in front of me wailed. One of the men working security snatched a cell-phone from an older Japanese man’s hand as he removed the offending object from his pocket.

“See this? You take this OUT of your pocket.” He held it up for the herd of international travelers to see as we neared the front of the line. “The line will move a little faster if you take them OUT of your pocket! Hurry it up!”

“You, put your shoes back on!” another employee yelled. It took me a moment to realize she was talking to me.

Yet another employee took my laptop and toiletries from my hand and threw them back into my bag (completely disregarding everything I knew about airport procedure) before motioning for me to shuffle through the scanner. After the scanner’s silence deemed me non-hostile, I asked another employee if I could continue, and he responded with a grunt. I took my bags and did everything in my power not to run towards my gate.

The international terminal unfolded in front of me, a hodgepodge of people, exotic smells, and intercoms yelling at me in every language known to man. I found my gate with several hours to spare and settled down with my almost mediocre “Greek” pasta and “iced mocha” from the one open restaurant I discovered in the heart of the international terminal at 11 PM. Fellow passengers arrived one after the other, some excited others war-torn just like me.

I watched as the pilots and stewardesses arrived in small groups one after the other. Each person turned to face the awaiting passengers and bowed low. A string of Japanese sounded over the intercom and instantly, passengers began lining up. I listened to the instructions as a tiny woman repeated them.

Hi-kou-ki, I sounded out in my head. Yes. This is a plane. At least I know that. My two years of Japanese suddenly seemed incredibly inadequate when thrown into a real life situation.

Then much to my relief, the same woman repeated the instructions in English. On the plane, I could listen to anything in English (including an instructional video on how to navigate my way through customs upon arrive in Tokyo). The smiling stewardesses willing directed me towards the bathroom in English after my sleep-deprived tongue struggled to remember the Japanese word for “where.” After arriving in Tokyo Haneda airport, signs in both English and Japanese led my way through customs at 4 AM. I stumbled through a conversation in Japanese with the man issuing me my residence card as I tried to explain that I wasn’t seeking a part time job, and he listened to every clumsy word. I even chatted with one of the guards in customs as I waited for other employees to check my friend’s medicine. More English signs led me to the domestic terminal towards re-checking my bags, riding a bus to the other side of the airport, and through a security checkpoint for a third time this trip.

I also had the opportunity to chat with a fellow American exchange student who was heading to a different school. She spoke of the wonders of Japan and of what Nagoya night life had to offer. We exchanged names and majors, but after our few hours of camaraderie ended upon the arrival of the plane for Akita, she left my friend and I with a few foreboding words.

“Japanese people are polite, but they aren’t necessarily friendly.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t help but wonder what the smiling stewardesses on my flights thought about my incredibly inadequate Japanese, what the occupants of Akita thought of the small group of foreigners congregating around Akita’s pine-tree mascot in the lobby of the airport looking lost and confused, what my roommate thought of my asking about how to put my bed together. I thought about how much I stood out with my awkward lanky height and red hair and theatrically colorful cat-eye glasses. I felt my stomach knot with the uncertainty of the new culture before me, knowing full well that my book smarts could not compare to a real life experience.

But then my roommate and my suitemate brought by a group of four or five girls to my room and asked to chat with me on my second night at AIU. They inquired about Texas and America and jet-lag. We spoke of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of tumbleweeds, of the general cuteness porcupines and hedgehogs, of Miyazaki movies, of Kitty-chan (Hello Kitty), of the difference between thick and thin, and of our hopes and dreams. I helped them prepare for their English placement test, and they corrected my kanji for my Japanese placement test. We danced the Macarena and Cupid Shuffle at the AIU welcome dinner. My suitemate offered me her beloved Doraemon manga to practice my Japanese. I offered her my audio book of The Importance of Being Earnest. And they ooed and awed as I taught them quotes from The Princess Bride. We spoke to each other in broken English and broken Japanese, but we understood enough to share a laugh or two.

Most recently, a girl in Gospel Choir (yes Gospel Choir) with me asked if I could assist her with English homework, and I gladly obliged. After we finished our interview, she scurried off and retrieved a package of cookies which she gave to me to thank me for my ten minutes of help. Her voice trembling, she smiled a bit after I agreed to take a picture with her so she could show her mother.

“My English is not good, so I do not have many international friends,” she told me. “But I would like to be your friend.”

If I could have broken off a chunk of my heart and given it to her, I would have. How could I ever say no?