“Simply Watching TV is Not Enough; Seeing and Experiencing is Believing”: Ms. Roxanne Lawrence’s Encounter with Real Japanese Culture
“How do I navigate these confusing trains?” Ms. Roxanne Lawrence wondered. After leaving her hometown, Miami, Florida, and arriving at Tokyo, Japan, Ms. Lawrence was overwhelmed by the complicated train routes in downtown Tokyo. “In Miami, there’re not a lot of trains,” Ms. Lawrence recalls, “but, in Tokyo, there are many different lines with different colors.” It took her some time to familiarize herself with these transportation routes and realize that they are convenient and advanced.
Since her childhood, which included watching Japanese animation on television, Ms. Lawrence has been interested in the Japanese culture and language. Years later, in accordance with the proverb “seeing is believing,” Ms. Lawrence finally experienced Japan while studying in Kyoritsu Women’s University in Tokyo.
“I took a course called ‘Japanology in English’, which discusses the issues facing Japanese culture and society,” Ms. Lawrence remembers, “I learned a lot from that course; such as Japanese job structures, gender differences in the workforce, and expectation of women in terms of how they are unable to easily come back to their jobs after having children.” Initially, the course was intended for both Japanese and international students. “But, only two international students attended the course: myself and another American student,” Ms. Lawrence shrugs her shoulders, “I guess not many people took the course because it was completely in English. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting class with rich discussions. It’s a pity that more people were not able to join.”
Even though some courses had few registrants, Ms. Lawrence enjoyed numerous multicultural discussions during her student life. “I was able to take some courses that were completely in Japanese,” she smiles, “One of them was a 2-day course about Japanese posture, and it was super cool to take. I also had opportunities to listen to English or Japanese presentations by Japanese students from different classes. I definitely enjoyed the school and absorbed everything I could from the classes.”
Ms. Lawrence had many new experiences outside the university campus, as well. “I was able to see sakura, cherry blossoms, and so many different types of flowers,” she recalls happily, “I enjoyed Japanese spring since there is only one season in Florida. In fall, I saw leaves change their colors. They were just beautiful and I was fascinated by the whole thing.”
Ms. Lawrence found it exciting and challenging to adjust herself to Japanese life. After returning to Miami, Ms. Lawrence felt more sympathetic toward international students than ever before. “I am Jamaican by birth, and the language I speak is very similar to English. So, when I came to the US, language was not so much an issue,” Ms. Lawrence reflects, “but going to Japan, where the language is completely different, made me better appreciate the difficulties that international students go through and the comradeship they feel toward someone who speaks the same language or experienced the same adjustment process as them.”
During her time in Japan, Ms. Lawrence applied for and was accepted to a PhD graduate program in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of South Florida. She appreciates that her Fulbright experience helped her discover her research interests in occupational health.
Finally, Ms. Lawrence recommends that all Fulbrighters visiting Japan should be open-minded toward new experiences. She advises, “make use of every opportunity you can to speak Japanese, travel, and go from Hokkaido to Okinawa if you need to. Make the most of it, because it is a once in a lifetime experience!”