2018 marks JCMU’s 30th anniversary since our founding in 1988. To celebrate, we will be posting 30 JCMU stories of 30 different JCMU alumni from 1989 to 2018 every Thursday from mid-February through September!
Study abroad can be like leaping into the great unknown – especially for LGBTQ+ students. For our nineteenth installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of fall 2017 alum Aaron Eastwood, and discover why he encourages future JCMU students to “be yourself, study hard, participate in everything, and interact with the people of Hikone.”
Before coming to JCMU, I was filled with equal parts excitement and dread. Excitement because studying Japanese in Japan had been a lifelong dream, and dread because facing down a lifelong dream turned out to be pretty serious. Could I actually do this? Who would I meet? What would teachers, dorm life, food, etc. be like? I knew that my world was going to change rapidly. The first night I got there, I remember stepping into my little dorm apartment, unpacking, and realizing how much was ahead of me.
There was another factor that threw an unknown into what JCMU would be like for me, namely, that I’m gay. What would that mean for relationships with other students, and with Japanese people in Hikone? At my college in Michigan, I have to be a little careful how I present my identity in public, but at JCMU I could relax. I found myself knowing many other LGBTQ+ individuals and making good friends with them. Beyond them, everyone else I met was exceedingly kind, and I never once felt being gay as an inhibitor in Japan. Also, the staff at the school were always warm and friendly.
My goal was to test into Level 3. I and a few others achieved this goal. My teacher would be Nagatomi-sensei. I remember going to her office that night to receive the syllabus and Tobira textbook, and spent the whole night going over those things. I wondered if I was in over my head. However, as classes progressed, I realized that I could do this, even if it was hard. It was okay to try and mess up. I gave my all to this new life of rigorous Japanese study, and did my best to enjoy the city of Hikone as well.
The school is right by the beautiful Lake Biwa, with the sunset displaying its power right over the lake’s horizon. There was the delicious family restaurant Coco’s right by the school, which my classmates rapidly came to love after a hard day of class. There was a convenience store, book stores, a train station, a coffee shop, and all sorts of restaurants and hidden treasures scattered throughout the city. Of course, there was also spectacular Hikone-jō (Hikone Castle), which can be seen from many parts of the city. You see Japan’s old history and Japan’s modernity coming together in Hikone.
I felt so much kindness during my semester at JCMU. I felt it from teachers, from staff, from students, from Hikone residents, and from other Japanese citizens. For us, coming from America, we enter into another world. I would encourage future students to actively participate in that world with utmost respect and willingness to learn and enjoy. For LGBTQ+ individuals, JCMU is a safe place to be your most authentic self. I don’t think I have ever felt more comfortable being gay than at JCMU.
Be yourself, study hard, participate in everything, and interact with the people of Hikone. There is so much richness to be had in the JCMU experience. If it’s within your reach, take this journey for yourself. You will emerge from the other side full of happiness.