Dinner in a Japanese household
Experiencing Japan outside of my internship
During my last week participating in MISTI Japan, I visited the National Astronomical Observatory in Mitaka, an open research facility that gives public access to their 65 and 20 cm refractor domes. I was never really interested in space, but Shoko, the kind old woman I visited that summer, had been there five times before and wanted to show me around. Shoko is married to Kazuo, a computer scientist who had worked at MIT around 20 years ago. I was luckily connected to her family after talking to a librarian at an MIT therapy dog event for the first time the semester before.
I only got to see Shoko and Kazuo twice while I was living in Yokohama, Japan, since I spent most of my weekends exploring other parts of the country with other MISTI interns, coworkers, Japanese students, and professors. Still, those were two of the most memorable days of my summer. The moment I walked through the door of their tiny traditional home, Shoko sighed in relief and said she was so glad I could make the time to meet them.
Afraid that my presence would be awkward with a couple that I had no real prior connection to, I barely ate the dinner of rice, fried chicken, potato salad, and homemade yogurt they had set out for me. They were both very excited to see me and meet another MIT student. They had only lived in Massachusetts for two years, but they loved the community and were eager to talk about their experiences there.
Kazuo proudly puffed out his chest when I commented on his Boston t-shirt. Among the pictures of family members and posters of events they had gone to with their daughter plastered on the walls, I noticed a small, framed map of Boston. They had done the same things I did my freshman year — they, too, struggled to sail a boat on the Charles, walked around Boston Common, and visited the MFA, among other things.
I was amazed at how welcoming and kind they were with someone they had just met. The librarian who connected me with them wasn’t even a close friend of mine (yet! Now I look forward to meeting with her whenever I have some free time). She had lived near them while they were at MIT, and she said they were really close to her heart.
I was initially a bit uncomfortable and closed off because I was late, and I didn’t see what I, a random undergraduate, could provide for them other than take a picture together as per the librarian’s request. I didn’t even have to think before answering basic questions that they asked in Japanese — questions about my major, school year, my reasons for coming to Japan, and so on. I had already spent a month answering these questions almost daily. When they asked about my internship, however, I lit up.
I loved talking about my work at Jasmine, a small animal cardiology clinic in Yokohama. Before I started, I hadn’t expected to do much. However, after a month of studying the professional language and the field, I was researching red blood cell levels post-surgery, restraining dogs for X-rays, practicing echocardiograms, performing basic injections, doing blood tests, and writing down notes during surgeries in Japanese. I wouldn’t have been able to meet these veterinary surgeons from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and France so easily if I had stayed in the U.S. this summer.
As I talked about this work during the dinner, I took out my heart sketches and started describing how some of the surgeries worked. Kazuo and Shoko had the same passion for science as any MIT student, and Kazuo brought up his own heart attack and the surgery he went through. The methods were so similar to the four dog surgeries I was watching every week, I was able to keep up with the conversation (with the help of Google Translate). At this point in the night, I was completely comfortable with Kazuo and Shoko, and I couldn’t wait to see them again.
On my second visit, I could see why Shoko loved taking the scenic 20-minute bike ride to the observatory, peeking through the domes, watching videos on the history of telescopes, and conversing with the employees there. The delicious soba we had for lunch at a nearby temple was also a great incentive to keep coming back. Towards the end of my day with Shoko, after practicing tea ceremony and tai chi for the first time, I told her that I was sad I only had two years left at MIT. My time in Japan reminded me that I had so much more to learn. Her response was this:
“I’m 60 years old, and I’m still learning and teaching myself new things. You’re only 20. You have plenty of time!”
My summer in Japan wasn’t so amazing just because of my internship, the food, or the fact that it was completely paid for by MIT. I got so much out of my three months alone in a foreign country because I made the effort to reach out and meet new people. If I had only spent time with the other MIT interns, I wouldn’t have had amazing home cooked meals like the one I had with Shoko and Kazuo.
The MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program is MIT’s flagship international education program. If you can see yourself joining a team of BMW engineers in Munich, teaching technology entrepreneurship in South Africa, testing solar panels in Israel, or tackling a research problem at the Curie Institute in Paris, then you’re ready to join MISTI. Learn more at misti.mit.edu.