3. INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION
One great advantage of playing varsity sports in an international school is the tournament that takes place at one of six schools, half of which are schools from different parts of Japan and the other half in different parts of Korea. I was lucky to be given the opportunity to travel to Seoul as a member of the varsity football/soccer squad. Despite my expeditions trip in freshmen year, this was my first time traveling to another East Asian country, other than Japan, where I live. Similar to Japan, South Korea is a first-world Asian country, much smaller in size compared to Japan, though the culture and language are quite different with some minor similarities in the social dynamics.
We were housed by an opponent player from the host school, and my three-day trip consisted of playing soccer and indulging in Korean culture such as eating Korean food.
What I found most challenging and engaging about the experience was not the soccer tournament – It was experiencing and learning a new culture. I was only there for three days which limited the amount of time to learn Korean and use it practically, though I constantly asked my host friend about the different mannerisms and phrases to use in social circumstances. Using a newly learned language on native speakers who don’t share any other language with you, as opposed to using a newly learned on someone who shares another language with you (in this case English), are two completely different things. So I practiced the phrases on my friends before using them practically. This allowed me to integrate and acculturate better every time I practiced. I was proud to able to comfortably greet, show gratitude, order food in Korean by the end of my stay – even if these may seem like obvious skills to be able to acquire, I believe it is a big step toward indulging yourself in the culture. Being able to communicate your basic mannerisms shows that you’re making the effort to connect with the culture and the people, a crucial first step into inter-cultural communication. Attending the tournament was given to us as an option at first, given that it involves extra costs to cover travel fees, as well as having to dedicate the last few days out of the week.
As someone who’s lived in Japan for all his life and has not lived anywhere else, this opportunity to experience a new Asian culture was a very impactful experience in expanding my identity of being half Asian. Not only this, but I’ve now gotten a better sense of where my Korean friends have come from, as opposed to when I previously could not grasp a full understanding of what Korean culture is. I was in fact intimidated by the academically rigorous expectations of Korean society, as well as my lack of knowledge on the customs. Similar to Japanese culture, precise customs are hard to follow especially when in the shoes of a first-time visitor, though what I came to realize was different. I found that Korean culture was very similar to Japanese culture. Everything from the urban architecture to the mannerism, the similarities made it easier for me to find comfort and adaptation within this new country. This is perhaps why my Korean friends adapt to Japanese culture so well.
We as international students should take this as an opportunity to be able to embrace our inter-cultural privileges, to become better communicators globally.