Chyna Mays - Stanford in Kyoto
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This picture was taken in Nara. I was pretending to pet the deer because I am deathly afraid of them. Unseen in this image is the deer nearly sneezing on me a few seconds later.
Questions and Answers with Chyna
Why did you choose to study abroad in Kyoto?
Since I was a kid, I have been interested in Japanese film and television, so choosing to study abroad in Japan was an easy choice. However, I also picked Japan because of comfort. In my senior year of high school, I participated in a competition in Mie, Japan. During my time there, I felt safe and comfortable interacting with the local community. I didn’t receive any unwarranted attention or unfair treatment that I often experienced when I traveled abroad. My decision was largely influenced by my interest in Japanese culture, and the reassurance that I would have a safe experience abroad as a Black-Native woman.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
My firsts thoughts of Japan were of Tokyo, a bustling modern technological hub. So, I expected Kyoto to be akin to that. However, while Kyoto does have modern influences, it is primarily a relaxing environment with plenty of traditional cultural and historical hallmarks. The best example of this blend between modern and traditional is Shijo. Shijo's main street is filled with large department stores but nearby is Nishiki market, which has plenty of traditional shops and food. Walking down Shijo, you will see Karaoke bars and izakayas, but you can accidentally find yourself walking through a shrine. For my energy level, Kyoto was a perfect balance of modern and tradition, and I had the flexibility to choose whichever I wanted to experience.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
Studying abroad in Japan provided an escape from my STEM requirements. There were so many engaging courses available, and each class enhanced my abroad experience in different ways. My photography course encouraged me to capture my day-to-day experience while actively promoting self-reflection on how Japan influenced me. The most pivotal course that transformed my abroad experience, "Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity", raised awareness of Japanese minority groups' experiences in Japan. This course corrected my jaded perception that Japan is a homogeneous country and encouraged me to evaluate the effects of Japan's imperialistic expansion. These courses created a fulfilling experience because it afforded me opportunity to engage in deep, experiential learning that went beyond a touristic view of the country.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
In the past, I was hesitant to travel alone. On my flight to Japan, I questioned my studying abroad decision because I did not know anyone from the program. However, solo travel helped me gain a level of confidence, a sense of freedom, self-reliance, and independence that I did not have before my abroad experience. Although it is great to have someone with you while traveling, I navigated my own journey and from this experience, I learned that I am quite resilient.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Staying in contact with my family and friends back home was difficult. I did not want to miss out on experiences my friends were having, and I was afraid that our relationships would weaken during my abroad experience. Trying to coordinate a time to chat with them was so hard because of the time difference. When I was asleep, they were awake. When they were in class, I was returning home from my overnight trips. Although I made new friends in Japan, I did not want to leave my support system behind. But the best advice I received from Mike (Program Director) was, "While we may feel that our friends are making new memories without you, you are making unique memories of your own. You will be able to share this experience with your friends and family back at home.” I eventually came up with a schedule to maintain ongoing communications with friends and family. It required losing a little sleep, but it made me feel connected and I was able to share the experiences I was creating.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Eating so early. When studying abroad in Kyoto, there is an expectation to eat dinner with your host family. My host family always ate dinner around 6:30 PM. I usually ate dinner after 8 PM, so this was very early for me. Late at night, I found myself a little hungry, but, luckily, the 24-hour conbini was less than a 5-minute walk away from me.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
My route to the university involved me walking past an elementary school every day. The students would stick their heads out the window, wave, and greet me in English. I would always wave back and either greet them in Japanese or English, and the children would be very excited to hear me speak. It was a heart-warming way to start the morning.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
One of my most memorable experiences is traveling to Tokyo with my cohort during the program’s 4-day weekend. In Tokyo, I stayed in a capsule hotel for two nights with my best friend from high school, who I hadn’t seen in three years and who was studying at a school in Akita. We managed to visit all the big tourist spots (Shinjuku, Harajuku, and so many more) and eat all that we could digest in two days. Afterward, I met up with friends from the program, and we went to Odaiba to see teamLab Borderless, which was a beautiful, immersive art experience. I stayed at my friends' Airbnb, and we ate conbini food and talked all night. The Tokyo trip was so unforgettable because I was able to reconnect with my best friend while also getting to know the other members of the program a bit more.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Reflective, Delicious, Adventurous, Alluring, & Life-changing
What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?
Sukiyaki, especially made by host mom.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
I refuse to choose between the dynamic duo: my phone and walking shoes. My phone was the true MVP. Although you can rent the pocket wifi through the program, my phone service was great. It was my map, my music player, camera, and everything in between. I wouldn’t have survived without it. My walking shoes were so important because I walked at least 5 miles every day. They were lightweight and comfortable, but in December, my feet were freezing.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?
I got into J-Rock while in Japan, especially the band, Amazarashi. J-Rock is a great blend between punk, jazz, with a hint of blues, and sometimes a little metal.