30 Years, 30 Stories: Be Yourself

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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!

What was it like interacting with people in Japan for you? For our twentieth installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of 2017-18 student Joey Sikora, and discover why he encourages future JCMU students to “not forget your roots.”


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2 JCMU classmates, Chiyoko Baba, and I in Nagahama

Why choose JCMU as opposed to other study abroad programs in Japan? For me, it was important that wherever I went, I would be able to dive headfirst into Japanese language and culture. Multiple friends told me that there would be greater opportunity to engage with native Japanese speakers at JCMU, which ultimately led to me picking Hikone as my study abroad destination. After hearing the experiences of my others close to me that chose other programs, I believe this to be true.

The teachers and staff at JCMU were very supportive, both in and out of the classroom. The language classes were appropriately assigned to each student’s skill level, and the teachers made sure that all of us were able to understand new concepts before moving on. Everyone at JCMU was very supportive of my LGBTQ+ identity. I really appreciated that the staff was willing to help if anybody needed support related to identifying as LGBTQ+. If you need hormone shots, they will tell you which places you can go. If you need testing, they informed you of the best doctors in the area.

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During my internship at Fujitec

Taking classes at JCMU and working with the staff was only a portion of my time spent in Japan.  I also participated in many activities outside of class, such as judo at Shiga University, a homestay in Nagahama, and even exploring Chikabushima Island in the middle of Lake Biwa. It was a great way to immerse myself in the local community firsthand.

For the most part, identifying as LGBTQ+ didn’t impact my life in Japan. I wasn’t required to announce to the public how I identified, so unless appropriate I usually didn’t tell people. I did open up to my fellow peers living in the JCMU dorms, and they were all understanding and accepting.

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Exploring Nagahama during the children’s kabuki performance

I found the Japanese citizens in Hikone and all of Japan to be somewhat less open minded. As a culture they will not judge you or retaliate, but you can sometimes experience relationships coming to a close as a result of being open. For example, I made some friends and when they asked me about some things I told them how I felt and suddenly they stopped talking to me.

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This is at Yabu, where I met Tadashi, a Namie Amuro dancer

As sad as it is to say, there are a lot of people in Japan who cannot be open about their identity. I met a lot of people who were excited to talk to me about the LGBTQ+ community, as they felt they had little opportunity to be candid and true to themselves otherwise. I think as an American I felt comfortable being open myself at all times, and I think it was a good to show Japanese people that it is okay to be different.

I will say that I was especially nervous about being open with my judo team. I was afraid that if I opened up to them, they would think I was weird or weak. I didn’t want to compromise our practice situation, so I waited until the last day to open up to them. Happily, they weren’t upset at all. It showed me that there are a lot of amazing, accepting people in Japan that would appreciate me for who I am regardless of how I identified.

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Bowling with my judo team in Minami Hikone

My advice for future students is to not forget your roots. We come from a country that encourages individuality. Many Japanese people appreciate this as well. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not in order to make friends. I was able to make some of the best friends in Japan because I was willing to be myself with them, and I know you will too.

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