Looking out of a window, a big tree jumped into my eyes. The sunshine accentuated the greenness of the tree against the blue sky. My heart leaped at the sight, because it seemed to cheer me up, the person who started an entirely new life from that day. Sound sleep in my room recovered me from the fatigue of a long flight, and I was impatient to go out to explore. The campus was so spacious that I was sure everyone would get lost at first. Under the bridge which connected my flat to the university, there was a big lake surrounded by woods. During my first exploration, I found it was not only students that dwelled at the campus. Seeing a long, brown tail pass by, I chased the animal. His tree climbing was much faster than my running. I fell and I failed to make my first friend in Scotland.
That evening, I saw other girls who lived on the same floor at the flat chatting in our kitchen. I had seen some of them in the afternoon too, but I was too nervous to join. I summoned my courage, hoping that they wouldn’t run away like the squirrel. Of course, they never ran away, and they greeted me with a smile. But my relief didn’t last long, because I was overwhelmed by their fluent English. Though there was only one girl who was a native speaker of English, the other girls who were from Spain and Germany seemed to speak English without difficulty. Feeling ill at ease, I went back to my room as soon as I finished my dinner. I lay on the bed, murmuring ‘I can’t follow them… I can’t…’ I wiped my cheek again and again, lest the brand-new bed sheet was stained.
18 October 2016
I spent busy days; reading a lot of materials for a lecture, preparing an answer for a seminar, cooking, and cleaning my room, discovering the best way to take a walk around the campus, and finding good places to find squirrels. While I struggled to get used to life here, time passed steadily. What informed me of that fact was not a calendar, but the big tree. One day, I happened to look out the window, and I found the leaves of the tree had turned red. While I was admiring the tree, for the deep red was mesmerizing, I thought over the past few months.
I was getting along with my flat mates. Although I did not reach the point where I could ‘enjoy’ chatting with them, they were kind, and I didn’t feel the pain I felt on the first day. We talked about our own countries, lives, study, and families. Explaining my own story was difficult because we had different cultures, but they showed interest in what I said, and listening to their stories was interesting, too. Moreover, I accepted the situation where there were few Japanese people. Wherever I went, I saw a lot of people from European countries. I had never experienced this situation before. I felt as if I was stared at by the passing people. I felt like a fish out of water. However, as time passed, I got used to it, and I realized I hardly spoke Japanese since I came here. When I was in Japan I always hesitated to speak English, even though I was in the Department of English Studies. But here, English was the only way to communicate with others, and there was no time to hesitate. I tried to think positively about the environment I lived in.
The first hardship in my studies soon came. I had to submit essays for each class I took. I wrote essays in English several times when I was in Japan, but this time, most of my classmates were native speakers. I told myself I had to try three times as hard as them to catch up. I looked through the essay questions to choose which one to write, and one of the questions in the English Literature class attracted my attention: “Milton . . . was of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). Do you agree? Short, but challenging! What a fascinating question! I could not help choosing it. However, once I started reading, I despaired at the puzzling secondary sources as well as the epic itself. Three times was not enough. Five… perhaps I had to try ten times as hard as others. I heard the devil whisper in my ear at that moment: “why don’t you change to an easier question?” No. I did not come to study abroad to look for an easy way to get credits. I brushed aside the temptation by a devil and got down to analyzing the Devil.
9 November 2016
The cold wind was wailing. I was on my way home from one of the seminars of my English literature class. I came back to my room and put my bag down with a sigh. I was depressed, for I failed to speak up at the seminar that week. The week before, we were talking about a Wordsworth poem. We were divided into small groups, and our group was asked to discuss Poor Susan. I could express my opinion within the group. However, when the teacher asked us a question which was not provided in advance, I panicked. I tried to come up with an answer, but all I could say was superficial. I felt that the teacher and other classmates made a bitter smile. I felt that I was much poorer than Susan. I couldn’t forget the embarrassment I felt, and therefore, I shut my mouth in that week’s seminar. Looking out the window, I found the leaves of the tree were entirely gone. Nearly two months had passed. I thought I was still using the fact that I was an international student as an excuse. I would never step forward if I stuck to where I was.
On the same day, I got an e-mail that told me that the feedback of the essays I submitted was ready. As I was in a negative state of mind, I wasn’t confident about my score. I went to the office of my department with heavy steps. Once I saw my feedback, however, I was relieved because it was not as bad as I expected. Though there was much room for improvement, my analysis was generally commended. I was really motivated by that, and thought that the harder I tried, the better my score became. There was no time to worry over my faults in the seminar class. As soon as I got back to my room, I started preparing for the next classes. I spent much more time preparing than before so that I could answer an unexpected question and express my opinion more confidently.
More than six months remain in my time studying here. One thing I have learned so far is that it is important to keep working at my own pace. Everything and everyone I meet is new to me, and it cannot be avoided to be at loss at first. However as hard as it is, if I keep trying, I can overcome the difficulty. It is the hardship that makes me grow. I will always try my best so that I won’t have regrets when I return to Japan. I look forward to seeing the tree sprout leaves again.
(Originally published in issue 2 of Angles, the Department of English Studies Journal of new writing.)