Life’s Journey: As a Foreign Student

Looking back, as a young student I was always hungry to learn new things. At the time, my focus was on academic learning trying to master a subject and become an expert at a particular field of knowledge. All my study was focused on this single pursuit.

In 1992 I left home for the first time to study abroad. I lived in a ladies dormitory with 11 Japanese girls (picture above), and although each of us had our own bedroom and study, we shared the kitchen and ofuro (communal bathroom). Like many who leave home only to learn as much about their own culture as they have journeyed to, I quickly found myself a student of much more than language, culture, history, religion and other areas of life. I then found out that it was in the experience of life outside my familiar world, my comfort zone, that the first glimpses of my own worldview came into focus. I was soon troubled by the previously unconsidered thought of how much my environment, education and upbringing shaped my understanding of the world, faith, God and about life in general. Everything suddenly seemed so much more complicated than it was before. I felt a deep sense of loss of simplicity and was searching and hoping for some sort of clarity. I had despairing days of questions and doubts. I’ve read books and papers on christianity, history, philosophy, etc. But in the midst of it, the experience was eventually eye-opening.  Discussing this with fellow international students with differing and contradicting religious philosophies and practices, I struggled and felt like I have become even more perplexed and doubtful and was in deep turmoil. I missed my family and friends terribly that for the first 3-4 weeks I even thought about quitting school and simply go back home. One Sunday morning I went to church with some of my dorm mates and the sermon reminded me that God is infinite and is beyond my ability to make sense of everything. That only God’s truth and love will enlighten me. The gospel I once doubted made more sense again. God has gently and completely crumbled my complicated world. I prayed and confessed my doubts and confusions. I was made to see the light again.

Graduation photo of the international students. I was wearing a red kimono second on the front row from the left.

What I didn’t anticipate, after finishing graduate school, was that very few people were interested in my intellectual knowledge. The saying that goes, “people don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” has proven true. I soon realised that whatever knowledge I gained in the graduate school didn’t make me any better than anyone else around me especially those in the workplace. I’ve learned so many things as a foreign student that I never otherwise would have learned. Now I look back with fond memories, ever so grateful to the Lord for allowing me to go through all the experiences I’ve had in Japan.

At my graduation ceremony delivering a speech in Nihonggo. For some reasons, they chose me to represent the international students and I remember being so nervous as I walk to the podium.