Grace Lee - Stanford in Kyoto
Major: Management Science & Engineering
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: After class, I went to Nara with a few friends to visit Hannyaji. The temple was surrounded by a sea of cosmos flowers and was surreal.
Questions and Answers with Grace
Why did you choose to study in Kyoto?
For my entire childhood, my favorite food was the nabeyaki udon from the Japanese restaurant near my house. When my family visited Japan several years ago, I remember visiting many famous places in Kyoto and was drawn to beautiful and historic city. Besides the incredible food, I knew that I wanted to spend more time exploring Japan and learning about the people and the culture. When I received the “Welcome to Stanford” materials in the mail and saw that Stanford offered a study abroad experience in Kyoto, I began planning how I could fit a quarter abroad into my schedule.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
Before going to Kyoto, I knew that I wanted to be immersed as much as possible in the culture and tradition. In addition to going to the more traditionally famous sites, I also wanted to spend the 10 weeks slowly exploring and taking in the lesser known but also unique aspects of Kyoto. I expected that I would be quite busy and have a rather planned out schedule as I wanted to make the most out of my time in Japan. Once I arrived in Kyoto, I prioritized some of the things I wanted to experience: visiting some traditional antique markets held once a month at temples, participating in a wagashi making and tea ceremony workshop, as well as learning about a traditional Japanese dyeing technique (shibori). At the same time, I learned to not always have structured plans so that I could freely explore Kyoto without too many time constraints as well.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
Most (if not all) of the classes offered have some relation to being in Japan and studying in Kyoto allowed for me to gain a firsthand perspective on some of the issues and concepts. It was super neat to read about specific temples and sculptures in class, and then actually take a field trip to see the temple in the same week. There is no better place to learn about some of these subjects than when you are completely immersed in the environment.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Japan presented new challenges to me: living in a new country by myself without many existing friends as well as having a bit of a language barrier. I wanted to challenge myself to go beyond my comfort zone: from trying to practice as much Japanese as I could, planning small solo excursions, to also engaging in spontaneous adventures. Sometimes these challenges required some creativity to solve, but I soon learned that I was capable of tackling these difficulties.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Some of the most challenging experiences involved conversing in Japanese. From the 7/11 cashier asking if I would like the gyudon to be warmed up to asking about my order in a restaurant, there were many situations where I did not have the complete vocabulary to be able to understand and fluently converse. Although I was slightly nervous, I found that almost all the Japanese people I interacted with were very patient and understanding. As a result, I learned that it was okay to be outside of my comfort zone with language and to not shy away from trying to communicate with others in Japanese.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Not eating while walking! Often times it seemed to be more convenient to get an onigiri from the conbini and to eat while walking so that we could get to our next destination, but I learned to stop and appreciate my food before zooming off to the next destination.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
Taking walks through Nishiki Market! Several of us lived close by Nishiki Market, which is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen.” It was always so fun to peruse the different souvenirs for sale, smell the freshly grilled seafood, and grab a bite to eat.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
Even though I had visited the Sannenzaka area many times, I woke up early on the last day I spent in Kyoto to visit one last time. For me, the road leading up to Yasaka Pagoda seemed like a scene out of a post card. I especially loved walking around in the early morning before all the tourists arrived because for a small moment in time, I could time travel to historic Japan. Even after several visits, I was still in awe and felt like I was experiencing Kyoto for the first time.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Surreal, inspiring, immersive, exciting, & unforgettable.
What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?
Shabu shabu! We discovered an “all you can eat” shabu shabu restaurant not too far from where we lived and it was especially delicious on cold December days.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A good pair of walking shoes! Public transportation is plentiful and convenient in Japan, but a lot of places are best explored by foot.