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O Fim duma Viagem

Orientation, Orientation, Orientation

JAPAN | Saturday, 16 January 2016 | Views [203]

At 8:35, the exchange students in my class all met up with a few roommates outside the building to head over to the international center building for our placement test. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the international center if you need to wait at both the train tracks and the stop light, and the placement test didn’t start until 9:30, so this was a bit of overkill. But our Japanese guides had classes to get to, so when they heard the beeping that meant the bar for the trains were about to come down, and everyone should get off the tracks, our guides told us to run. (We were not yet on the tracks.)

Later in the evening, I would be slightly reassured by hearing the whistles going, and deciding to wait for the train to come. And waiting. And waiting. And then the bar went down stopping people from crossing unless they ducked. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And then the train finally came. But not reassured enough to want to do that.

I figure it should be noted that I said, or at least thought, the same thing when I heard the whistle that the metro doors were about to close and saw someone dash inside. (The metro doors don’t care if there’s someone inside, they will try and close anyway.) That didn’t stop me from doing the same by the end. Lesson: “Yellow light means speed up” and it’s close equivalents transcends cultures.

So, we arrived there early, and just kind of waited around, mostly in silence. Occasionally, someone would ask another a relatively superficial question like “How did you sleep?” or “What’s your name?” But, for the most part, it was quiet. Which made the contrast sharper when multiple of the students who had been here last semester showed up. They were way more comfortable with each other and, having spent winter break in mostly different places, had a lot to catch up on as well.

At 9:30, the placement exam started. We were told going in that it wasn’t expected that we’d finish the test. There were time estimates on the exam, but I didn’t notice them until about fifty minutes in when I was where they wanted me to be after thirty minutes. Oops. (That was actually the least of my problems. I’d forgotten honorifics, the difference between passive and causative, [don’t even get me started on passive causative, since I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to use it. I hope I never have to] about half the kanji I used to know, and the hiragana for “nu”.) There was also an oral interview component which… went. That’s about the best I can say about it.

With that it was time for “Welcome to Osaka!” our first official orientation session. Honestly, it blended in with the three other orientations (“Academic Orientation, Living in Japan,” and “Local Roommates,”) so I’m going to combine them together into a single paragraph, because that will be way more fun for all of us than the four hours of sitting listening to information were.

“This is Japan. This is Osaka. This is where in Osaka you are. Here’s how you use trains: difficult (always use tickets) and easy (get a pass) way. Here are the housing rules. (Wow, those are strict, and at least half  of them were broken during the pizza party the night before.) Here’s general safety information. Insurance information. Academics are important, please focus on academics. But we’re also giving you several Fridays off so you can have extended weekends for travel. (Yessss!) Language classes, elective classes, limited English language pledge…” Basically, it will all make sense in a couple of months.

Especially for the safety information and housing rules, I couldn’t help but filter it through the lens of “what if something like what happened in Paris in November happens again here?” For obvious reasons, the main concern of CET in Japan is earthquakes, so one of the main points of safety was to discuss the evacuation point. But in November, the main thing was to either find or stay in the shelter of a building. Which makes a rule like “no overnight guests ever” seem far too rigid in my mind.

At the end of the first orientation session the Japanese language teachers introduced themselves and we learned what level we’d been placed into. I got Japanese 313, which was actually using the same textbook we’d be using at Carthage. Under different circumstances (mainly, I’d continued studying Japanese instead of taking an 8 month break to focus solely on math and French) I probably could have placed one higher, but as is I’m perfectly willing to take a few weeks of review as I readjust to the Japanese language again. (There are only two other students in my level- Brian and Dan from, respectively, Philadelphia and Iowa.)

Lunch was supposed to be a big group affair with students and teachers. Due to spacing issues, we ended up splitting up a bit, then self-segregating into a table of students and a table of teachers. (Honestly, what else do you expect, especially that early in the year?) But people were talking more freely than they had before the placement test, so that was nice.

After the orientation sessions, we had a meeting the family that arranged our housing. The son stood up and, in slow and clear Japanese, went over most of the same information we’d already heard the day before and earlier in the day. But I think that was the most clearly I’d heard someone speak Japanese since arriving, so that was nice.

After that, we had an ice-breaking activity with the other students and some of the roommates. This consisted mainly of playing Japanese “rock paper scissors” and having the winner be the first person to ask the other a question. Not the worst ice breaker I’d ever heard of, (I got to hear other people describing a number of bad ones in Morocco) but kind of contrived and pointless. I did get to meet the other student in the program studying math, and, though we’d switched into English by this point, we had a nice exchange.

Me: So you’re not going to grad school?

John: No. I did research last summer and… no.

Me: Aww.

John: I mean, it wasn’t bad. It’s just not the sort of thing I want to all day everyday. There are more fun things.

Me: There are? Like what?

I think we know why I’m planning on going to grad school…

As people were starting to leave, Rachel, Aimee, and Natsuo invited me along to try and find a restaurant for dinner. We stopped at the konbini along the way and ran into a slightly lost Brian, and he accepted our invitation as well.

We didn’t really know where we were going, but after a bit of looking at the outside of restaurants we finally found one that looked promising and went in. The old woman who had sitting drinking tea turned out to be a worker, not a customer, but she stood up right away and brought us tea while we chose a table. The “menu” as such was a list of dishes and prices written on the wall in scriptified Japanese, so even kanji I would have otherwise recognized were difficult. But we eventually all managed to order. The food came out at different times, (the yakisoba Natsuo and I had ordered took a long time to prepare) and the waitress encouraged those of us with food to start eating instead of waiting for the rest of us to be served. The food was delicious, plentiful, and reasonably priced. I could definitely get used to this.

Tags: academics, housing, introductions, orientation, tests

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