Varun Subramaniam - Stanford in Kyoto
Minor: East Asian Studies
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: Mountaintop view from Enryaku-ji Temple, Kyoto, during the lovely fall season
Questions and Answers with Varun
Why did you choose to study abroad in Kyoto?
I had a longstanding interest in Japan since high school due to its beautiful landscapes, fascinating history, and cutting-edge medical research. This prompted me to take Japanese language courses at Stanford and eventually apply to study abroad. Rather than simply traveling on my own, I wanted to avail myself of the experiences, resources, and connections that Stanford provided in Kyoto.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
Japan is an incredible travel destination due to the sheer range of sights and activities one can appreciate. Whether I sought something "traditionally tourist" or something more intimate, I knew that it would be there. A few months before leaving, I was anxiously planning my trip to "make the most of my time" and eventually found myself feeling choice paralysis.
Thus I felt the most important thing was to have no expectations. I had never travelled to East Asia, nor lived abroad for more than a month, so I wanted to experience it for what it was. I believe this mindset allowed me to have a fulfilling time, open to anything and eager to explore. I was able to connect deeply with people. I felt satisfied and thankful for the things that I did do, and understood that there was always more.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
Stanford's faculty in Kyoto are incredibly distinguished and have a real "pulse" on the subject. Courses in Buddhist Art will involve visiting historic temples across the Kansai Region. Students get the chance to meet artisans who have devoted their life and generations to a single craft. There is even the opportunity to practice Zen meditation and monastic duties from the Head Priest of one of Kyoto's most historic temples.
Those looking for real cultural engagement, immersion, and enrichment- with a special eye for artistry- should definitely consider studying in Kyoto.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I feel a genuine and complete satisfaction in connecting with people. No matter what my academic/ life path, I value the relationships that form on that journey
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
When I first met with my host mother- who speaks no English- I was frustrated in not being able to fully communicate with her. My entire reason for studying abroad was to understand the ethos and psychology of Japanese people, but I was limited to small talk. I listened to every word as if it was the most important thing I could hear. Because if I tuned out, I would lose the entire meaning of what she was saying.
After one weekend things drastically changed. I did not get any better in Japanese, but I felt like I could understand her. Though my words limited and grammar shaky, the essence of our emotion was perfectly relayed. In not knowing the language, I remained alert to everything she said and did. In being stripped of the most "basic" and "easy" form of communication (spoken language), I felt like I discovered the truest form of connection.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
I am a very open and gregarious personality. Often times I would meet people much more reserved than I. Understanding how to navigate this with respect and courteousness was an important part of my growth.
It is important to recognize that openness should not come with expectation. People reveal themselves at their own pace- regardless of the energy you put forth. What is important is to be earnest and considerate in all interactions.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
Spending time with my 4-year old host sister!
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
Visiting Sanjusangendo temple, which houses 1001 statues of Kanon. I remember feeling true awe at what seemed like a never-ending hall of infinite arms.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Passionate. Thoughtful. Rich. Beautiful. Memorable
What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?
Strawberry Milk from the convenience store. Sinfully delicious
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Deodorant. Hard to find Old Spice and the like in Japan
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?
Tatsuro Yamashita. trust me