What do you expect when a foreign student comes to Japan?
This student learns about Japanese culture, learns to speak Japanese, and tries Japanese food. Well, this is true. Yet, a student at Tokyo Tech can also experience more than that. Tokyo Tech, with its international graduate programs (and exchange programs pre-Covid), attracts students from all over the world. This means that I, an Egyptian student, not only have Japanese lab mates and classmates, but also others from all over the world. My experience at Tokyo Tech is a real eye-opener to the diversity of the different cultures in the world. At the same time, it is an eye-opener to how much we have in common despite the geographical distances or our origin countries.
Exposure to different cultures
Living alone in a foreign country means you have no family to celebrate with or just spend weekends with, and no one to take care of you when you are tired or to cheer you up when you are down. This is when other international students become your family in Japan. You are all going through the same things and have the same feelings of loneliness and homesickness every now and then. Slowly, you get closer every day and start to include each other more into your cultures. When you have cooked a dish from home that you are very nostalgic about, you invite them to try it. When you honor a religious or cultural occasion, they come join you in your celebration, and vice versa. I have tried food from many different countries just by living in Japan. It turns out Mexicans love beans as much as Egyptians love them! I have also celebrated various events, among which, for example, was the “Day of the Dead” — a two-day period dedicated to deceased loved ones –; all I knew about this was from the Disney movie “Coco”. We have hours-long discussions and debates based on our cultural differences. We believe this is good material for streaming. When seen by others it will also help them to understand different cultures in a better way. However, we always get too involved in our discussions and forget to click record and regret it later! Also, we tend to become more aware of current events in different regions of the world, and not only news relevant to Japan and/or our home countries.
Diversity within my own region
I got to make friends from the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. They all have very different cultures from mine. However, I have also made friends from regions that would be considered to have the same culture as mine and even the same language. Egypt lies in the middle of the Arab world, and by making a friend from Oman and another from Tunisia, I guess I covered a wide cultural spectrum from East to West. I have tried the same dishes we all call by the same name, but cooked in different ways in each country. Learning different dialects is fun, too! I now not only easily understand them, but I can sometimes also interject with short sentences in those dialects in the middle of our conversations. I can also sing Tunisian songs now, without it being clear that it is not my natural dialect (or so I hope 😉).
When I first came to Japan, I did not expect to encounter this much cultural diversity in my daily life. I am therefore glad my experience became multicultural in addition to my enjoyment of Japanese culture.
The photo below was taken on Eid day (Muslim Feast). It includes a Tunisian, a Mexican, a Bangladeshi, and me. Do you think you can tell who is from where? Every time I look at it, it takes me a moment to sort us out 😀