Japanese Language Department, Faculty of Alsun, Aswan University
On 17th February I was on board a plane flying to Japan. It was a special feeling, particularly since this was the first time for me to leave Egypt. Of course, fear of flying predominated about 60% of my jumbled feelings. I was also excited to be facing the unknown and feeling a sense of adventure, which helped ease my fear of flying.
On the first day, each student was settled into his/ her room with help from the senpai (older students) in Hiroshima University. Of course, on my first day I felt really homesick, but I was able to overcome it easily.
Classes started on 19th February, and everyone got introduced; teachers and students and event students were introduced to each other.
From the beginning of our course, I noticed the organization and punctuality, as well as the providing of help to the students in all possible ways. We were 28 students from 4 countries; two girls from Egypt, 5 students from Mongolia, 4 students from India, and the rest of the students were from Indonesia.
To be honest, I can barely describe my feelings during those two weeks, but I know I was very comfortable. It was as if I was in my own home. In Higashi (east) Hiroshima, the scenery is exquisitely beautiful, and I found myself wishing I had come in spring so I could have seen even more beautiful scenery.
Even though my visit was near the end of winter, when there wasn’t much snow, I used to feel so cold that I felt my fingers and toes would freeze and fall off. Every day I would wear seven pieces of clothing to go to class, so I was nicknames “kasa negi” (layers of clothes). And I only saw the sun twice during those two weeks.
We had classes every day, yet I felt that each day was different. Regardless of the subject being taught, whether culture, history, linguistics, flower arrangement or mathematics, what I liked was the focus on the practical application of what I like to call “yes to understanding, no to memorization”
The learning process did not simply consist of receiving papers to memorize their contents; it was, rather, an enjoyable process with discussions between the teachers and the students. For example, we would learn about a specific place or age in history, then we would have a field trip to a place associated with that age, and there we would learn more details about that age.
The focus of the course was not just about the past, it was also about the present. We went on a trip to “Matsuda” to see how cars are manufactured and the history of engine manufacturing. I was indeed impressed with the speed and skill of car-making there.
Besides the academic aspects, there were the social ones. I was able to make many friends among my senpai, and in my opinion, Japanese people are not as introverted as it is said they are. Rather, it is more accurate to say that they do not take the initiative to start a conversation or to introduce themselves. One of the senpai, whose name was Kinoshita, took me and my friend to an electronics shop (denkiya san) and all the way (about 4 km from the students’ dormitory) we were discussing the differences between Egyptian and Japanese cultures. I laughed heartily all that trip; he was a very funny guy. And both he and another senpai, “Eriko”, went with us to the Islamic Culture Center in Higashi Hiroshima for Friday prayers.
I was also able to form friendships with the Egyptians there. There aren’t many Egyptians in Higashi Hiroshima, but they were all a big help to me. What had been bothering me the most was that I had been unable to find restaurants with halal food, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, so the Egyptians kindly led me to halal restaurants near where I was staying.
They also taught me a lot about the lives of Japanese people; things I would never have learned from Japanese people.
I returned to my country, Egypt, with a strong will to change. I hope someday my country will change to become like Japan, especially in organization and punctuality. Someday, God willing, we will become like them.
(Ms. Walaa traveled to Japan after winning the Speech Contest organized by Cairo University in November 2016. The Japan Foundation Cairo Office supported her flight to Japan.)