Bryant Jimenez (he/him) - Stanford in Kyoto
Major: Computer Science
College year while abroad: Senior
About the photo: We rented kimonos and participated in a traditional Japanese shrine visit at Yasaka Jinja! We took pictures, ate delicious food from vendor stands, and saw all of the beautiful scenery that comes with traditional Kyoto.
Why did you choose to study in Kyoto?
After growing up with a love of Japanese media, I decided to explore further by taking my first Japanese course at Stanford. I subsequently fell in love with learning the language, and wanted to further explore the culture and all of the intricacies of Japanese society. Kyoto was my opportunity to engage firsthand with the traditional beauty of Japan and explore the cultural capital of the country! The wait was worth it for the experience of a lifetime.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
I had no idea what to expect during my time there since I had only ever interacted with anything Japan-related through textbooks and media. Kyoto is different from the standard image of Tokyo that everybody has when they hear “Japan.” Once I stepped foot into the city I was blown away by the denseness of my surroundings and just how much there was around me. The interplay of modern and traditional astounded me in how they came together to build a city that somehow felt like an homage to the past while looking forward to the future. Every single thing was a new experience - I remember distinctly walking through the city and finding temples tucked into corners and quiet spots among the buildings. Whatever you may expect Kyoto to be like, it’ll likely surprise you!
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
The courses offered during the program do an incredible job of getting you immersed into Kyoto past the tourist level - various field trips around places in the area and learning about the history and culture of Kyoto is something you wouldn’t be able to find on your own. Seeing the places we talked about in our Buddhist Visual Arts course was a surreal experience - how often do you get to visit the places you’re learning about right next door? With me, I’ve brought many of the structured academic habits that I picked up from living as a Kyoto student back to Stanford.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Most of all, I realized that any experience you may have while being in Kyoto is elevated that much more by the people you have around you during it. Being able to visit all of these beautiful places with my friends and the people I met on the program made it so much more meaningful and memorable for me. It also turned me into a much more spontaneous person! It was something new to see and somewhere new to go every single day, and the fun part was finding out where and exploring together.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
My most challenging (humbling) experience was trying to sign up for a gym membership on the third day I was in Kyoto. This was my first big, true conversation that I had with a local, native Japanese speaker, and I was hilariously unprepared. I had taken a year of Japanese already at that point, but being there in person is an entirely different level. Once I was in that chair, hearing them talk at a normal-for-them-but-lightning-fast-for-me pace, it was like that entire year of studying never even happened. I couldn’t even utter a coherent sentence. My mind was blank. It was really an eye-opening experience - while you’re in Kyoto, you realize that you’re not in a sheltered Stanford classroom environment, you’re in their world and there isn’t any hand-holding. After making a complete fool of myself (with help from friends), it really locked in my motivation to continue improving in my Japanese and actually put into practice what I had learned, as well as go above and beyond in conversing with the locals. Despite this challenging experience, it motivated me to go even harder at my studies. and I didn’t shy away from engaging in conversation with strangers. Have confidence!
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Things like napkins, public water fountains, and public trash cans aren’t really a thing in Japan (they’re very rare), and that was for sure a struggle to get used to. Having to carry around most of the trash you accumulate from things like snacks throughout the day until you get home or somewhere inside was something I had to navigate. I think more than that, though, was just the crazy density of people at all times. It can seem like there are so many people (because there are) and it can be a little overwhelming if you’re used to things being more spacious. Trains get packed, small restaurants get packed, and sidewalks (when there are some) especially get crowded.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
The most fun part of everyday life was doing something completely different with friends and other students in the cohort. Please please please get out there and do as much as you can! Your experience will be what you make of it. Waking up not knowing what would be going on later that day was the best part. Be open and be spontaneous! Aside from that, in November, once the leaves start changing colors, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the foliage and natural beauty in Kyoto. It truly was my favorite sight of the entire experience. I’ll never forget walking somewhere and seeing the red leaves everywhere I went. Truly a special experience.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
This spot could have easily been about so many different experiences I had in Kyoto. From the beauty of Kiyomizudera, to the countless late night karaoke sessions, to the vast amounts of splendid food that I got to eat. But I would have to say that the most memorable one I had was the last night I spent in Kyoto: my friends and I went out to eat, and afterwards, spent the entire night reminiscing and reflecting on the past 3 months we had just spent together. We stayed up all night and the conversations that we had only brought us so much closer together that it was the cherry on top of the extraordinary time I spent abroad. The all-nighter into a 6:30 AM bullet train ride to catch my flight out of Tokyo was more than worth it.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Dreamlike, Life Changing, Beautiful, Breathtaking, Purposeful.
What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?
This is the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make. Kyoto has so many delicious things to eat! Yakitori, Gyuukatsu, Yakiniku… the list is endless. If I have to pick one, I would say that yakitori was the dish that encapsulated my study abroad experience in Kyoto. I distinctly remember the opening dinner we all had together as a cohort over yakitori, the massive 20 person yakitori feast with the CASK members, and of course our cohort’s final goodbye dinner over yakitori. This was the iconic dish of our time abroad that brought us all together and captured the laughs and memories of our time in Kyoto.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
In this day and age you really want to make sure you got a good, reliable phone. Personally, my phone was my lifeline. It was my dictionary, allowing me to look up any unknown words or kanji at an instant (trust me, there will be ALOT. OF. IT). It was my camera, which let me capture so many of the lifelong memories I brought back with me from Kyoto. It was more than all my map, which without it, I would likely be lost on some unknown island instead of typing this right now. If I were to say something other than my phone, it likely would have been my water bottle. You will be doing so much walking and traveling that you need to make sure you’re staying hydrated!! Oh, and while on the topic of walking, don’t forget some comfy walking shoes…
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?
You would be doing yourself a disservice by not listening to any Jpop or JRock while you’re here. I exclusively listened to Japanese music and not only did it make my Japanese skills much better, but it really helped me feel at home and engaged with what was going on and popular in Japan. Not to mention that it’s just THAT good. This is the stuff that makes you feel like the main character.