Houston Fulbright blog – 180807

Hola, la familia de CHME! Or should I say, konnichiwa! I’ve started a blog to share with you the different experiences my family and I are having while in Japan.

So, it’s been about a month since we flew into Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Tokyo, being a HUGE metropolis of 13 million people, can be accessed by different airports. Haneda airport is south west side relative to the center of Tokyo, and it was surprisingly easy to navigate through customs once we arrived. It’s cliché to say that time flies, yet it definitely feels like going through a time warp… one month since we go off the plane in Japan! We were jet lagged, the kids had waaaay too much energy for having just taken a 10-hr flight, and Kevin and I were stiff and tired.

Moving to a foreign country is something everyone should experience.  Actually most of our graduate students do, which is a courageous endeavor to say the least. It is so common in research to see students move from China, India, and other places to study at US graduate institutions. Yet, you don’t really appreciate what that means until you’ve gotten off a plane and realize that it’s not a vacation and you’re not going back home for a very long time. It’s freeing, exciting, and if you ignore the stress, it is actually comical at times. It’s especially hilarious with kids. We happen to have a nervous and panicky 12-year old, intrepid and loud 9-year old, and whiny and questioning 6-year old. I will spare you the stories and details! In all seriousness though, I am grateful that Kevin and our kids can share this experience with me. Of course I’m biased, but I believe our kids are awesome; they have taken this move in stride. We actually enrolled them in the Japanese public elementary school and they’re excited to start (their school supply list includes chopsticks). Kevin is also very easy going like me so we are a great team when it comes to trying new things and helping the kids adjust. 

We’re now in Japan because I am a US Fulbright Scholar Grantee.  I have support from the Department of State to live in Japan with my family for 6 months so that I can develop a research project with my gracious and awesome collaborator, Dr. Miho Suzuki (more on her and our research next time). Therefore I am thankful to the United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for this opportunity.  J. William Fulbright was a US Senator for 30 years until the mid-70’s and led legislation that established the Fulbright Program. The purpose of a Fulbright experience, whether you are a student, faculty, or other exchange scholar, is to facilitate cultural and academic exchange with underlying goals of peace and mutual understanding between nations. A Fulbright grant can be awarded to exchange with almost any country in the world, and I of course chose Japan for my research connections with Dr. Suzuki.

We live in Saitama City within Saitama Prefecture, and I work at Saitama University.  The university has about 7000 students on campus. A prefecture is somewhat like a state in the U.S. The Tokyo prefecture is adjacent to Saitama, and Saitama City is about 26 km northwest of Tokyo (see map and yes, that’s kilometers so go figure out the mileage). 

We live on campus in a 2-bedroom apartment on the 7thfloor of a building designated for International students and scholars. We think it’s funny because Kevin and joke about our times as students living in campus apartments/dorms—so…neighbors watch out! Haha.

Actually, as we’ve been exploring the city of Tokyo and our own Saitama neighborhood, I have wondered how we appear as outsiders. Culturally, the Japanese passersby that we see on a daily basis on buses, trains, at stations, are generally quiet and orderly. I think it is completely opposite of our family of 5 from New Mexico! If I were to describe the people we have met thus far, they are incredibly polite, respectful, and patient. They watch their smart phones a lot, and despite the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, everyone has a solitary nature about them. It’s an experience and realization that we are learning to love.  Eventually, I think, our family will find that tranquility. True, we miss New Mexico and I will be missing the green chile and Aggie Football season so much! However, I think that we are learning now to love the humidity. We are learning how to make reservations at theme restaurants (ninjas!), to buy passes for baseball games from the convenience store, to order ramen using a ticket machine, to get sushi from rotating conveyors, and to say more than just ‘arigato gozaimasu’ (thank you). We are definitely settling down to our life in Japan. Actually now that I write this I realize that in one month we’ve come an incredibly long way.

–J.P.Houston

Affiliate faculty member of the Saitama University Graduate School of Science and Engineering


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