Connection Conversations: A Study Abroad to Japan
Date Recorded: 10/28/2020
Overview: Host Anna Fuhrmeister interviews Trent Gleason as he elaborates on his experience as a global student to Japan and what life lessons he brought back.
Running time: 29:46 minutes
Anna Fuhrmeister 0:00
Welcome to the TCC Connection. I’m your host, Anna Fuhrmeister. On this episode, I have a special guest, Trent Gleason. So, Trent, welcome to the podcast. Happy to be here. So, on this episode, we will discuss your study abroad trip to Japan along his interest in Japanese culture, talking about his experience along with touching different elements of Japanese culture. So, Trent, what drew you to Japanese culture?
Trent Gleason 0:31
It’s a very good question. So, while I was studying at Tulsa Community College, I was mainly focusing on English studies, you know, creative writing, literature, composition, the such, but I needed to take an elective class. And as you know, you know, language studies are a commonly chosen elective. And, you know, among the options available, I thought, hey, Japanese seems interesting. You know, I’ll admit, there was some nerdy interest there, like, I like video games a lot. And a lot of great games come out of Japan, I had watched some anime and I was like, hey, yeah, but, uh, but between all the options, Japanese seemed like the most fun. And I had a buddy, who was interested in doing it with me. So I was like, hey, this could be a fun little thing, you know, whatever. So I take it and I ended up like, taking it really seriously. And like passing the class with an A, and like, really walking away from that, like semester, in like, Hey, this is like an actual thing that I like, maybe want to do, like, long term. So from there, you know, my interest is continued to develop naturally, whether that be me, you know, watching more anime or even just, like doing more research, and having conversations with my teacher or like seeking out community events, like one thing I did was that the circle cinema hosted like a documentary night, where is like some Tulsa filmmakers had made a like, documentary about Japanese musicians. I can’t remember if it was like there in Oklahoma or something. It was some deal. And so I went out of my way to go to that. And like, my Japanese teacher was there like, unexpectedly and there’s this whole thing, and I was just like, okay, but anyway, so like, around that time, like, I realized that Hey, no, with me, looking at finishing my associate’s degree here in the next year or so at TCC. Anyway, so, uh, yeah, like, I saw a window of opportunity for me to go to Japan, with me, looking at finishing my associate’s degree within the next year or so. So I was like, hey, yeah, I’ll start saving money. I’ll, you know, start doing research about what kind of stuff I don’t want to do on there, where I want to go. And all of it is kind of fell into place. And kind of what I was looking at that trip as like, it was an experiment, right? It was like, Okay, if I spend three months in Japan, and I study abroad, and I really like challenge myself, it’ll like inform me of whether or not this is something I actually want to do. Or if it’s just like, a fleet of fancy if it’s just like, I’m still in the honeymoon phase. And it’s not something I actually want to go through. You know, I figured, hey, three months is enough time for me to really get a taste of like the true challenge of studying Japanese and also like whether or not I even really want to know if whether or not I’m really seriously interested in this country. It just kind of felt like a natural next step. If I were to take this seriously, and I did it, and I had the experiences I had, and I’m sure you’ll ask me more questions. But that so
Anna Fuhrmeister 3:32
So what programs did you associate with to go on this study abroad trip to Japan?
Trent Gleason 3:37
It was very independent. I didn’t like seek out any specific programs. So it kind of my connection was that, like, my folks work in a church here in Owasso. And we had a missionary come by who, like I had been planning to go to Japan, and I had met him and his family a couple of years prior to my developing interest. And I was like, hey, like, I could reach out to him and like, ask him for advice. I knew that he was going to a language school and stuff like that. So basically, like I used that connection, as kind of my way in. And I kind of wrapped it up into like me kind of being able to get a little bit of like church support and stuff like that, because it’s like a valuable, like, thing for send somebody from a church to like, build a relationship with a missionary, regardless of like, whether or not there be any real, like, church type activities, which there really weren’t, like, I just spent time with him and hung out. It was great, great time, and it helped me get a little extra support. But yeah, so like, through that connection, I became aware of the language school that I ended up going to so that was, you know, what that basically looked like was me reaching out to the language school sending emails, you know, like, Hey, I’m a student if he’s interested in doing a short term study, abroad trip, you know, and basically, it would be like, you know, figuring out what time it would becoming like what months it becoming, how to pay for my apartment, stuff. know all this type stuff. And it was it wasn’t interesting back and forth. I wouldn’t say it was the easiest thing in the world. But I did do it.
Anna Fuhrmeister 5:07
During your stay, how long was your trip there?
Trent Gleason 5:10
So I left Oklahoma, I left Tulsa. I believe it was like July 1st, if not like June 31st. So basically like, by July 2nd, I was like in Japan. Okay. And I left Japan, I’m pretty sure September 27th and returned in Tulsa. September 28th. So it was like a three month deal.
Anna Fuhrmeister 5:34
Okay, cool. And then, where did you visit in Japan? Like did you visit like small towns or like multiple cities or something like that.
Trent Gleason 5:41
So where I lived, it was Sakado, Saitama, Saitama is a prefecture. Prefecture is basically like a state in Japan. And the Saitama prefecture is the prefecture that is directly west of Tokyo. So from where I was, I can get on a train and, and 40 minutes be in Tokyo. So what that meant was that basically where I was function, sort of like a suburb of Tokyo, you know, so a lot of people that work in
my Tokyo would live in that area, you know, cheaper housing, all that stuff. And, you know, and and you have a relatively short commute. So what that meant was that I had kind of the smaller town, feel where I lived. And I could even just kind of like, stay in that area, and like, walk past the train station and be in the rural countryside. And then, so I had that taste, right, I had that access. But the second I got on the train, I could go anywhere, which meant that I had access to the big cities and stuff like that, too. So for me, it was kind of like the perfect place. Because, you know, something I wanted, I didn’t really want like a tourist type experience. I really wanted to, like feel what it meant to like, live in the shoes of Japanese person, like really experienced that daily life and the most organic way possible. So I am happy that I kind of got a taste of, you know, rural living, suburban living and city living, you know, it was all at my fingertips. So it really was. Yeah, experience. Size. Right. Right.
Anna Fuhrmeister 7:12
And what were, huh were there any holidays to celebrate? During your three months of stay?
Trent Gleason 7:18
Um, I, I attended a couple like fireworks festivals. And that’s kind of tied to like their summer type experiences.
Anna Fuhrmeister 7:31
Didn’t it? Did they know like what was like, what, what did they celebrate?
Trent Gleason 7:36
Man, I need to do more research on that. But it there it’s always some kind of like holiday or something going on
? I can’t really distinctly remember like any specific holidays I like actively engaged in. But I know that like they’re pretty commonly like festivals and stuff being held for whatever reason, because you know it could just be like a small little thing is enough to warrant a street parade or Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t think I was there for anything super huge. Or my memory is just blinking because boy did I experience a lot in three months and songs that is fading away.
Anna Fuhrmeister 8:16
What was something that you find is different when hanging out in Japan versus here in Tulsa.
Trent Gleason 8:23
Um, so let’s just boil it down to like, American culture and Japanese culture, there’s definitely a different way to speak to somebody in Japan than in America, or Western culture in general. And, you know, to provide some level of context, you know, I wasn’t hanging out with a ton of Japanese people, most of the, like a Japanese people that I spent time with were like the teachers and the faculty of the language school. Most of my pretty much all of my classmates were either Chinese or Vietnamese. So I didn’t talk to them a bunch because they didn’t speak very good English. And they also didn’t speak very good Japanese. So it’s very difficult to communicate with them. There are a couple that I spend time with, specifically, like one upper classmen, Chinese girl who wanted to like, hang out with me to learn English, and I went to hang out with her to learn Japanese, and also because she was very attractive, so. But I got a little taste of like, a different culture there, because I’d be joking around and being goofy. And she’d be like, you need to take this more seriously. And I’m like, Okay. And also, she would like, get onto me if I were using a lot of like digital tools for studying and like, No, you need pen and paper. It’s like very traditional, right? So you kind of experience like a slightly different slice of culture, but in terms of a more specific Japanese example. They are very mindful of like, where you stand in a hierarchical like, a ladder. So like, if you’re talking to someone who’s theoretically like, above you, you have to shift your language and your tone to like, lower yourself to them, right. Right. And the opposite is true. Like, if you’re talking to someone who is an under classmen, you can speak with more authority and be more assertive and all this. So there wasn’t a specific example where I was talking to one of my teachers, about the American guy, the missionary guy, you know, cuz we’re like friends. So like, I was talking about him, like, behind his back as, like a friend would say, like, yeah, you know, there’s some things he does, I just don’t like that much. Now, it can be a little bit of a doom and gloom type guy or whatever. And my teacher is like, Wow, I can’t believe you’re so openly criticizing your elder. And I was like, huh. he’s like
he’s just my buddy. What you talking about. You know America It’s like, yeah, of course, they’re just gonna speak their mind you know. just lambaste people like, for whatever reason, but in Japan, it’s like, No, you must be mindful of someone having authority over you or being better than you, and you must be respectful in it. And I do, like respect that. And I think that’s like a good thing. You know, I think America would be improved by maybe being a little more courteous and respectful of people maybe not on such a strict hierarchical standard, but just in general.
Anna Fuhrmeister 10:58
So Japan is well known for anime style of media, it’s any type you find yourself interested in.
Trent Gleason 11:07
Yes. Specifically, specifically, for me, kind of a like genre of anime and manga, and whatever, because like manga is Japanese comics. And a lot of anime comes directly from those Japanese comics the same way that like a lot of our movies come from our books, you know, it’s an adaptation type cycle. But there is a, a genre of manga genre of anime called Shounen. And that’s the Japanese word for like, a young boy, or whatever. So basically, it’s, it’s media, it’s it’s entertainment that’s specifically designed for a younger male audience. Although like people of all ages, and all genders read it, you know, it’s just that it provides us a specific experience. And that experience is often one where the main character is like an underdog and he really wants to become like the best at something. And what you’ll find in those stories is like very uplifting, very positive, like a very positive story of someone like, literally, like working as hard as a human can possibly work to achieve like their goal. And when you’re reading a story like that, or watching a story like that, it just, it just is very uplifting. So I watch one show that is very popular here in the West, called My Hero Academia.
Trent Gleason 12:22
That’s My Hero Academia. Most people would know it. But I watched that with my siblings. And it’s one of those things where my younger sister tells me that she’ll rewatch the show, and we’ll make her want to work out. It gives it just like pure raw energy. And that’s something that I just think is very unique. And that kind of showing that kind of experience that the West doesn’t have as much. I mean, we do have our superhero media, but I don’t think you know, and that and that and that media, you don’t necessarily get such a raw like, straight forward, kind of emotional experience the same way that you get from like, it’s shown in anime experience.
Anna Fuhrmeister 13:03
How is Japan and sushi in Japan different from the US? Like, ramen, ramen, ramen and sushi in Japan different from the US?
Trent Gleason 13:15
So I’ll admit, I only had like actual ramen one time while I was there. Most of my ramen eating experiences have been in Tulsa at Roppongi. You know, people that go to TCC, specifically at the Metro Campus might know Roppongi, it’s on that screen. Very good. Well, my takeaway from that experience, just the one time that I had ramen in Japan was like, yep, it tastes like the ramen. I haven’t I was in Tulsa. And it’s cheaper, you know, so that was great. But at the same time, I was like, Yeah, I mean, look like, I don’t know, like, of all the food that I could experience in Japan, like ramen isn’t the most exciting. I did eat a lot of like cup noodle, which is like kind of their leading, like, cheap, you know, Robin brand. So like, I buy these little Styrofoam cups basically that have the Robin stuff in them, and I just pour boiling water and there was like a buck. You know, it’s like if I need like 300 calories to help me survive when I have no money, which was a very frequent occurrence. I got a cup noodle. On the sushi side of things. I did eat a lot more sushi and ramen. There specifically a kind of chain sushi place at this outlet mall. That was like 10 minutes away from me. And I’d go there a lot. And the cool thing about that is basically so you get seated at like, kind of a bar type thing or like a booth whatever. And basically have like a touchscreen like an iPad, and which has the menu on it. And basically, I can order as much food as I want for as long as I want. I just felt like every role or whatever role being like two to three pieces of sushi or whatever cost like a buck. So we’ll say like, okay, I didn’t want like a Roll of salmon, sushi or whatever. So I just tap that little thing. And there’s a little like conveyor belt in front of me and it just zip out and like a minute. And then I’m like, Yeah, I could do for another, so I’ll get another, tap the button on there, I’ll come out. So usually what I do is I go in there with like, a $6 budget, and I just like, like, it’s kind of piecemeal. Like, just keep bringing things and of course, there’s like, there was like, more than seriously, if I wasn’t like a little basket of french fries. For two bucks, I could do that. I wanted an alcoholic beverage. I could do that. If I wanted, like, you know, whatever. Yeah. And that was very cool. You know, in terms of like, the quality of the sushi, like, it was good. I wouldn’t call myself a sushi expert. I don’t know that I could compare it to the experiences that I had in America, I will say that, like in America, you can see a lot more like deep fried, like unhealthy crap. And that’s usually what I end up eating in America. It’s not what I ate in Japan. And if you want like flavor, probably the best thing that you know, in terms of like, comfort food type stuff, the best you’re going to get is like a seared piece of raw fish, instead of just a plain old raw fish. And it was good. The
the most premium sushi experience I had, I went to Enoshima, which is like this fancy, touristy Island type spot, I think kind of south of Tokyo. Mm hmm. Really great place. But we went to this like, super high end like sushi establishment. And the whole conceit was that, you know, all the sushi, all the fish involved in the sushi had been caught, like that day, like as fresh as possible, like, you know, so I didn’t pay for it. So I can tell you how much it was. If I had to guess it’s probably like 20 bucks. Okay, for my little plate. It was very good. But again, it’s like, I’m just not knowledgeable enough in the sushi experience for to really explain to you why it was as fancy as it was all I can tell you is that Yep, it was it was fresh, you know?
Anna Fuhrmeister 17:01
So how are you maintaining your Japanese language skills during COVID.
Trent Gleason 17:06
So, for the longest time, I’ve been using a service called iTalki. And it’s a little like app I downloaded on my phone. And basically what that is, is like a free market for tutors. So I go on there and I’m like, hey, I want to find a Japanese tutor at a certain price at a certain level of experience. And on this app, I can see like all these different tutors that are have signed up on the service to like, take students. So I found one lady who’s doing lessons for like, $11 an hour, obviously, you know, native, fully fluent in Japanese, but also had like, just enough English experience where like, if I were in a total, you know, bind, I could ask questions in English, but also, I wanted, I wanted to make sure that I found someone who wasn’t like fluent in English. Yeah, because I wanted to avoid like using that as a crutch. You know, I wanted it to be a situation or a situation where if I really wanted to fully communicate with this person, I needed to use Japanese, I couldn’t rely on English. So I found someone that was exactly to that level of criteria that I had. And it was amazing. your noticing I’m using past tense here, but I, I studied with them for probably like five months, from pretty early on, like when COVID all kind of took hold of America and all that until probably like August ish. The main reason it stopped is that she needed to do like some type of physical therapy rehab type stuff, because like kid injured your knee or something. But for the longest time, I had been doing that, like, at least once a week, usually multiple, multiple times a week. It was mostly like conversation practice, just like chatting. She had a little Google Docs thing opened and she would like take notes. So I could study that all that she sometimes would give me homework and all that. But anyway, so that was like a very affordable thing for me to do a post post study abroad trip. And it was great, you know it and it really honestly, like I improved a lot just over that, like, chunk of time when I was studying with her because you’d be surprised like just conversing with somebody like conversing with a native alone. Like, is enough really to like, you know, if you have the foundation right? Now, if you if you have the language Foundation, and all all you have left, right is to grow and to improve, you know, am I listening comprehension was good enough where I can, you know, hear everything she was telling me and if I heard something I didn’t understand, I could specifically pinpoint that and ask, Hey, what is this? You know, that’s like all the tools you need to like, function and the conversation is like, Oh, can I at least Can I at least understand the basics of what you’re trying to tell me and then can I ask Do I have the ability to pinpoint what I don’t understand and ask you what that is? You’re gonna kill it, right? Like you’ve already made it. so far. We’re like, growing is really going to come pretty naturally. There’s always gonna be like, the challenging grammar type stuff, you know, and we We’ve studied stuff like that during our lessons together. But I think that’s a really satisfying, like place to be when you’re studying a foreign language is that, you know, once you’ve established kind of the base skills, the base understanding the foundation is like all it. Like, it’s just you’re just a sponge, you’re just soaking up stuff constantly. And, you know, my, my study abroad trip established a lot of listening comprehension, and also established a lot of confidence. Because as I was getting, having daily opportunities to speak Japanese and to hear Japanese, it just makes you a lot more comfortable, like trying, even if you’re going to mess up, right, because that’s the thing, I talked to a lot of people that studied, like Spanish or something. And they’re like, yeah, you know, I’ve studied it in college for four years, or whatever, but I just, I have no confidence, I have no idea how to speak it. It’s like, Look, it’s like, you just need to speak it. It’s like, don’t be afraid of messing up like,
Anna Fuhrmeister 20:53
like, you need to immerse yourself in the culture. Um,
Trent Gleason 20:55
no, totally. Yeah. And yeah, and ideally, you want to be talking to somebody who’s going to tell you whenever you mess up, because, you know, you don’t want to be stuck in my bad habits and stuff like that. But I definitely recommend that people for, you know, to people that are studying foreign language, you know, even if they haven’t yet made it out to the country that they’re interested in, like, doing a service like I talkie and that’s spelled, like lowercase I the word talk. And then alert is I you know, a very cool service, you know, you don’t have to worry about, like throwing down a bunch of money all at once, or like signing up, like signing a contract or something that just like, Hey, you know, whenever you want to do it, just pay whatever rates per hour that you think is good for you. So
Anna Fuhrmeister 21:35
What lessons or takeaway did you have that you would like to bring back in the US?
Trent Gleason 21:41
You know, a lot of that like, cultural type stuff in terms of like, functioning as a society, right. Like, I think probably the clearest culture shock that I had was like, in Japan, everyone has this, like, ever present sense of courtesy. And, and all this stuff, like being very conscious of like, how your actions affect other people, and I make someone uncomfortable right now, am I being selfish, you know, or whatever. And that’s something that I really, I’ve been, I’ve always kind of like, tried to be that way with people even before I was interested in Japanese culture, and Japan in general. So it’s cool to go to a country where like, my ideals are just kind of shared by everyone. And obviously, there’s always gonna be the outliers, right? But the general norm, right, the societal expectation is that people are being very mindful of everyone around them. And what that looks like, you know, I think like, the best example is like, on the train, for example, like, if you’re on the train, you know, don’t speak very loudly, if at all, don’t answer a phone call, you know, if you have to be standing up, like not, if you’re on a really busy train, and there’s no room for you to sit down, and you have a backpack or something, it’s best for you to put the backpack in front of you. So you’re not hitting people, like unknowingly with your backpack, or stuff like that. It’s also good like not to use wired headphones, wired headphones on a really busy train, because that can get caught on people. And I’ve had that happen to me before. You know, and just like stuff like that, like, like, what can you do to make somebody as comfortable as possible and not like interrupting their day? Right? Or be a burden? Yeah, so I mean, that’s cool. Another like, interesting example is, like, don’t stare at people. Yeah. But like, you know, I can’t tell you people are staring at me, because I wasn’t like, like, pretty early on, like, I like trained my brain to just look ahead to just like, everyone just melts away, they all become shadows around me. I’m just focused on where I’m going. I’m focused on the scenery, my surroundings. I did, I did hardly any people watching, you know, which is, you know, in America, I feel like, it’s more like expected that like, oh, yeah, you know, we pretend like we’re not looking at people. But ultimately, everyone’s like, looking at everybody. We’re all just judging each other. And, you know, that can be fun, in a weird way, like getting a little taste of other people’s lives or whatever. But ultimately, like, I do think it’s kind of cool. And also, it really relieves a lot of tension on yourself. If you’re not looking at other people, if you not having to worry about whatever you know, and people don’t have to worry about whatever. Yeah, because you’re just minding your own business. So that was a cool thing. And I do find myself by doing that more in America than I used to, although I have fallen back slightly into the people watching tendency it just, yeah, since I, since there isn’t like societal expectation. It’s easier to like, just fall back into old habits. Yeah. But yeah, huh I honestly just think the biggest thing is like that whole, being conscientious being courteous thing, I just kind of enhanced that. And, you know, I think in America, we could really benefit from people being more, you know, empathetic towards each other’s experiences, you know, with everything that’s happened this year. In between, you know, George Floyd, the BLM stuff. Now even just COVID, in general, have people have handled that situation in terms of like whether or not they want to wear a mask or not, or follow certain health guidelines. I mean, so much of people’s like, you know, opinions on that are so self-centered, you know, it’s like, oh, well, I don’t want to wear a mask, because it makes me uncomfortable, or, oh, I don’t want to do follow these health guidelines, because it’s not a threat to me, I’m young or whatever, you know, it’s all, you know, they’re basing all of their experiences and their opinions on their own experience without being mindful of like how their actions affect other people. And, you know, I don’t want to like say that, like, Japan is like, so much better than we are, you know, that they haven’t had any issues with COVID. Because they have, but ultimately, I do think that you’ve seen them, like, cut bounce back a lot faster than we have, like, people are still working somehow. Right? They went back to work pretty quickly, like, and you can also say that the problem, right, because there’s this whole, like work culture thing in Japan, that is a problem. So I don’t, I don’t, I wouldn’t be quick to like, say, that’s a super great thing that they did. But also it does sort of reflect, like, the difference and the kind of state of their society that, you know, there’s enough trust, and also enough responsibility, embellished and the Japanese people already that’s like, yeah, I mean, we already had it understood that if we’re sick, or something, we wear a mask, like, there’s just a thing that we already do. Right. So, yeah, there’s a lot of things that Japan does that I think America could learn from all of that,
Anna Fuhrmeister 26:35
Well, Trent, anything else you would like to add, in general?
Trent Gleason 26:39
I think, you know, obviously experienced a whole lot, you know, a lot of my experiences in Japan weren’t even, like, directly related to learning the language is just like, being a minority, like being in a different place, you know, challenging yourself to interact with different people, you know, challenging, challenging myself to, like, go out on my own, you know, potentially, like, be completely by myself completely isolated, you know, there’s a lot of challenges in my, my trip, you know, there’s times where I wanted to go to a neighborhood festival, but I was worried about walking in as the only white guy or whatever, you know, and those are really like humbling, and, you know, great experiences that have as any person, right, like going into adulthood, just like that, to learn and understand, like, what it feels like, right to be like a minority, you know, and, and, after everything that’s happened is here with, you know, Black Lives Matter and all that it’s like, walking away from that with the experiences I’ve had, like, being a like a person that would only very rarely see white people like in my area, like it, you know, it wasn’t like super dramatic, it wasn’t having cops like chasing me. But it was just enough, right of an experience for me to like, I can now have some level of understanding right, of what it feels like to not be like the majority. So there’s that, right. And then there’s also just the experience of doing something independently, it builds a lot of maturity and responsibility. And also, I mean, just expanding your cultural understanding your, like, getting a taste of how the world functions outside of America, or wherever you may be, you know, just really helps you be able to process information that is unfamiliar to you, you know, it expands your brain and your potential for receiving new information. And, you know, all this stuff, it’s just a great challenge for anyone to do, I think, and it’s a risky thing, you know, especially when you’re not doing it through a program or something, I think it really is a great like, thing to go through, you know, for your own personal development. So I’d recommend anyone that has the ability to do it, which I know that’s not very many people and very fortunate, very grateful, they got the opportunity. And I saved a lot of money over the course of like a whole year. And yes, I did get a decent amount of support team, but it was a lot of hard work on my part. You know, like, I wasn’t buying any $60 shoes, I can assure you that there’s like a lot of
Anna Fuhrmeister 29:03
You’re on a budget.
Trent Gleason 29:04
Exactly. Yes. So no, I just think it’s a great thing to do. And for anyone, regardless of how old you are, how young you are, whatever, like, have you had the opportunity, whether through a program or independently, I’d say yeah, definitely pursue it.
Anna Fuhrmeister 29:19
Well, thank you for joining me today. Appreciate it. Again, guest, Trent Gleason and I’m your host Anna Fuhrmeister, at the TCC connection. To discover us more, visit our website TCC connection.com. And follow us on social media you can follow us through Instagram and Facebook. Again, thanks for watching, and tune in for future more episode. Thanks