We thought it would be nice to hear what our staff of three have to say about the trip so we interviewed them! The questions and the staff’s initials are in bold.
Matthew Lynn is ML.
Scot Atkins is SA.
Wendy Dannels is WD.
Do you have any previous experience with Japan and its culture? Any previous experience being an staff in another country?
ML: I had no prior experience with Japan or anywhere else in Asia before we went on this trip. I had read books and watched some NHK shows online, but that’s about it.
SA: Yes, I visited Japan in January of 2015 to help plan for the trip. I met with the faculty at NTUT and met with some members of the Deaf Community while I was there.
What made you decide to go on this trip?
ML: I love traveling anywhere and have been to quite a few places in North America and Europe. When NTID started the study abroad program, I expressed an interest in somehow being a part of a trip. Because there were so many students signed up for the Japan trip, a third faculty member was needed so I was invited to go.
SA: I selected Japan because we already had a long time relationship with an university program for the Deaf (NTUT) and Japan is probably an idea place to learn about another country’s culture and its’ Deaf community. Japan has had a very unique and rich history. In addition, there is a lot of different parts of Japan that people are interested in. For instance, people have been fascinated with the samurai culture, others have been fascinated with Japan’s art, etc.
What were your expectations prior to the trip to Japan?
ML: I was worried about the ability to communicate with Japanese people and whether or not I would be able to understand written signs. I also wondered how well Japanese people would interact with a group of deaf people and how much I would stick out of the crowd given how tall I am compared to most Japanese people. The language issue mostly turned out to be no problem at all. It didn’t matter if someone was hearing or deaf. If you don’t know Japanese, then you resort to gestures and pointing. The Japanese seemed very comfortable and likely used to this arrangement.
What is your favorite part of the trip?
ML: Personally, my favorite part was the ride on the Shinkansen train. I am a train nut and will do anything to ride trains or subways just to see how they work and to experience the people riding on them.
SA: My favorite part of the trip was to see the students arrive in Osaka and watching them soak in all that could on that first day when we were in the Dontaburi district. Other favorite parts was to watch each person experience their own Japan. For example, it was fun to watch our tour guide read Tiandre’s fortune at the temple in Asakusa.
Any place in Japan you would like to visit again?
ML: I would love to go back to Japan and ride the Shinkansen around more so that I can take day trips to parts of the country that we did not go to.
SA: I would love to visit Osaka and spend more time there and learn more about the food culture there.
The least favorite part of the trip?
ML: The 15-hour flight to and from Asia. At least there were plenty of movies and snacks available.
SA: That it was too short!
Did you have culture shocks?
ML: Not really. Japan is quite Westernized, so it felt comfortable to me.
SA: Oh yes, I was shocked at how easy it was to get around. Everything was very organized and if I didn’t understand something, there was always someone willing to help me. I left my camera in a coffee shop one time, and when I returned to find that the camera was still there, on the table!!
Favorite food? Food you avoided like the plague?
ML: I enjoyed the tuna and whitefish sushi more than I expected. I don’t eat much fish here in the US, so I was a little nervous about trying seafood. I did not care for the takoyaki at all. I tried one and just did not like the taste or the texture.
SA: Before you (students) arrived, my wife and I had a five course meal in Tokyo with some Japanese friends. Each course represented different regions around the country. One of the courses was a mouthwatering tender side of braised beef with a mushroom sauce.
The one thing that I CANNOT bring myself to eat is raw horse meat. One of the students had this and I saw the pictures, which was enough for me. I am sure it tasted good, but I can’t bring myself to eat an animal that we tend to know and love.
WD: One of many cool things to do when traveling is to try different types of food. Not focusing on traditional Japanese cuisine which is appealing to the eye, I want to share two unique Japanese sweets you can purchase in store. Not having a sweet tooth, two people encouraged me to try Japan’s Nestle product, KitKat. Nestle offers many different interesting flavors such as green tea, strawberry, red bean, rum raisin, purple sweet potato and so forth. The one I tried is called, “Ougon Blend.” It is one of the best candies I have savored as it reminds me of Orange Creamsicle except it is not cold and didn’t include a wooden stick. Moving on to the cold aspect of sweet, I had a wasabi ice cream. By its appearance, it looks like vanilla. Never thought my taste buds would experience a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde split-personality. It was a well-balanced battle between cold and spicy.
What was it like being a staff in Japan?
What was the hardest thing for you to deal with?
ML: Nothing really. I didn’t find anything that was difficult to deal with on this trip.
SA: The hardest part was to try to fit in all the fun things that Japan has to offer the students. There were so many different cities that we could have visited!
The easiest thing for you to deal with?
ML: The whole trip went quite smoothly, so it was nice to deal with having no problems!
SA: The easiest thing for me to deal with is the fact that Japan itself is a very easy country to get around in. Their transportation system is state of the art, and the country itself feels safe. There are police stations (koban) in every corner and the large cities have English signs in most places. Also, there is a lot of different things that appeal to different people, allowing us to learn what we wanted to learn about the country. Most of all, the people we met were very friendly and accommodating! For example, the members of the Deaf community in Kyoto took us on a tour of Arashiyama (bamboo forest), members of the Deaf community were our tour guides on the last day, and the faculty , staff and students put on a big event for the students at NTUT (Tsukuba). We are grateful for their hospitality and willingness to accommodate such a large group (26 of us!).
What kind of impact did the trip to Japan have on you?
ML: It makes me want to travel more with student groups!
SA: The biggest impact was to see the learning that happened with each student. It was definitely an experience that allowed each student to open their eyes and become sensitive to other cultures. It’s a big world, and Japan is one small part of that world, but it provided us with a great opportunity to learn about an unique culture. The other impact was that it helps us to see our own country in a different light. We realized that we are still not a perfect country and that we are just different, not better or worse than other countries. For example, Japan has very few gun-related homicides each year because of their social code and strict gun laws, whereas the USA has many gun-related homicides each day.
Any other comments?
ML: I thought our whole group did really well and it was fun to be with everyone. I am so pleased that all the students enjoyed their time abroad. I loved experiencing the trip through their eyes.