By Adrian Palinic
Genki desuka? How are you? This is the first actual phrase I put to use after stepping off the plane for my teaching assignment in Japan. Without any real knowledge of the Japanese language, other than a month-long crash course just before arriving, I really didn’t know what I had gotten myself into.
I was in a completely foreign land, with very minimal language abilities. But after asking how someone was and getting a response, I was quickly encouraged to learn more of the local language. I had opened up a whole new opportunity to immerse further into the culture and society.
After a year of self-study through textbooks and casual conversations with new Japanese friends, I was comfortable with more than greetings and could now hold simple conversations, teach classes with more context for students, order in restaurants without any assistance, read traffic signs, sing Japanese karaoke, and most importantly, feel more independent and a part of the local community.
"Through learning the basics of Japanese, I was able to have fun with my name and essentially use the syllabic Japanese language to change my name to Alien."
One key memory I have from learning the language was teaching my name to younger students. Japanese names tend to be short, whereas Adrian is considered long by Japanese standards and became difficult for students to remember. Through learning the basics of Japanese, I was able to have fun with my name and essentially use the syllabic Japanese language to change my name to Alien. Although, not correct, showing younger students my name in Japanese and linking it to an English word they all knew, quickly helped them remember my proper name – even if I still got teased about being Alien-sensei, it was well worth it.
Even if you don’t become conversational in the local language, showing effort counts. Locals will see you taking interest in the language and culture, and in turn, welcome you with open arms and show more interest in you. It’s the ultimate cultural exchange and learning experience. Also, it impresses friends back home when you’re able to step into an authentic Japanese restaurant and converse with the staff completely in Japanese.