Min Ming Chien is a senior majoring in east asian studies. She spent the past year studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.
It is still hard for me to believe that I lived in Tokyo by myself for almost a year. Before going to Japan, I was in the 100-level Japanese class here. I remember I could not order food in a restaurant without using a dictionary when I first arrived in Japan. So I guess it is truly a huge improvement that I could manage all my life in Japanese by the time that I left.
Learning new languages and being in different cultures is always exciting to me. I was born in Taiwan and raised in Singapore, Taiwan and China. Then I come to the states for college. I am used to living as a “foreigner” in all these amazing countries and being surrounded by Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Japanese and English from time to time. Still, I am not fluent in any of the languages, but I think learning languages/dialects is a natural process to me. You cannot improve dramatically in a short period of time; neither can you use all the grammars you just learnt in a daily conversation with friends. I sometimes find it frustrating not to see the result of my struggles immediately, but we have to believe that every little effort counts and we are improving constantly in a slow pace.
Language is more than a tool of communication. When I was in Japan, we always talked about the difficulty of translating some Japanese phrases into English. For example, it is impossible to translate the meaning of “お疲れ様です” fully into English because the social structure in Japan is so unique that you cannot fully understand the meaning of it without knowing its culture. Language is a form of culture, and more importantly, it is the belt that passes the culture and tradition from one generation to the next. As a foreigner trying to know about another country, language is probably the shortcut for us to have a glimpse into the culture; but it is also the hardest part to master because it is so sensitive and full of meanings.