[From May Issue 2014]
“I wanted to challenge myself with something big,” says Casey NOVOTNY from Canada. “When it was time to decide my future during my third year of junior high school, I was interested in Japanese culture, history and animation. So I did some research about Japan in a library and learned that the Japanese language has kanji, hiragana and katakana. Having three types of characters, I thought that Japanese must be difficult. For this reason, I wanted to take up the challenge.”
Casey chose and went on to a senior high school that had a sister school in Japan. He then took Japanese classes for an hour every day. During the first five months of his third year, he studied abroad at this sister school: Meitoku Gijuku High School in Kochi Prefecture. “I’d been longing to do kendo and was able to do it as an extracurricular activity,” Casey recalls.
He also had difficulties, too, however. His life at the dormitory was completely scheduled from morning onwards, so finding time for both his studies and extracurricular activities wasn’t easy. Furthermore, he was embarrassed of sharing a bath with classmates. He was refused when he asked “Is it okay to wear swimming trunks?”
He got homesick, too. “In those moments, I would show my roommate pictures of my family and tell him a lot about Canada. I only had a smattering of Japanese, so he listened to me carefully, asking me to repeat what I had said and wrote down what I was saying on paper. I talked a lot and as a result, my Japanese improved. My homesickness was gone and my roommate became like a brother to me.”
After returning home, Casey had an overwhelming urge to go to Japan again. So he matriculated at the University of Manitoba; a university that had an exchange program. In his sophomore year, he came to study abroad at Kokugakuin University for a year. “I was startled by the crowds in Shibuya. And yet, I was happy at the same time thinking, ‘This is Japan.’ Even busy intersections and riding on crowded trains made a big impression on me,” says Casey, laughing.
Around the time he graduated from college, Casey passed level one (the highest level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. He then applied for the JET Program (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) and returned to Japan. As someone well-versed in Japanese affairs, he became a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) in charge of counseling ALT (Assistant Language Teachers). One day, an ALT got in touch with him to complain, “Even if I have nothing to do, I can’t leave work before the official end of the working day.”
“I suggest you first act as your Japanese colleagues do. When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” Casey advised. “If you don’t agree with my advice, I suggest you propose some positive way to improve things. If the situation doesn’t improve despite this, you should consider how to make the best of your time here.”
Casey is currently doing work with study abroad programs at Asia University in Tokyo. “By contacting colleges in North America on behalf of Japanese students, I feel that I’m working towards bridging the gap between Japan and North America,” he says. “With Japanese, kanji and their stroke order are difficult, but nowadays you can type them on a PC if you know how they are pronounced. You should use a lot of keigo (honorific language), in order to commit it to memory while you are still a student,” he advises.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo