This month has been full of reflections and gratitude, the inspiration for this blog came from a museum visit to Tokyo and a conversation with my little sister. I was telling her about Japan and all the things that have changed me in the years since I moved to university. As I spoke to her I realized how different our lives had become and I was able to think more critically about the chances I’ve been given.
This past weekend I went to the Tokyo National Museum to see the “Marcel Duchamp and Japanese Art” exhibition. Duchamp is one of my favorite artists, and his artworks were a source of inspiration throughout my high school studies in Fine Arts. I was more than a little excited to be seeing the piece “Nude Descending a Staircase” in person; there was also the added bonus of seeing Duchamp’s ideology and concepts applied to different Japanese artworks. As I walked through the exhibition taking in all the beauty of art, I thought to myself “I am so lucky”. I hadn’t known this exhibition was going to be in Japan but as I looked at my favorite artworks I thought the universe knew I was going to be here and I needed to see this painting. I’m not sure but I felt that a lot of small and big things had to happen in my life for the order of events to turn out as they had, and for me, everything became clear as I looked at “Nude Descending a Staircase”. My awe came from a humble place. As I looked at the painting I was transported back to when I was 16, reading about Duchamp’s art style. I never thought I’d be seeing the painting in person, it wasn’t even a thought. My thoughts then were consumed by how can I understand and feel closer to this painting through my computer screen? I was living in India then, working on a small school project about Cubism and from that time all the way to present day I had never thought whether it would be possible for me to see it in person. So as I stood there, rooted to the spot directly in front of the painting in Tokyo, I thought you’ve entered a whole new world, did you know you’ve opened up doors that lead to things like seeing Duchamp’s artworks in person? How did you get here? and how lucky am I to be 21 and working in Japan.
CAPI was never about building my resume, I knew from the beginning this internship would mean much more to me. Travelling has become a trend, with volunteerism becoming the most popular way. You can read in numerous blogs about the impacts and benefits of traveling from the north to the global south. And more commonly among my peers, you can read about life-changing experiences of discovering other cultures, foods, music, lifestyles and increasing your awareness. While agreeing with a lot of these blogs, I think my experience in Japan so far has been more than outlining the differences between Canada and Japan. I haven’t faced particular difficulties settling into the bustling and urban cities of the Kanagawa Prefecture. More prominently I’ve been feeling like I was transported into this highly multicultural and innovative microcosm. And my focus has been on trying to understand the space created by globalization. This past month has been about really building myself and focusing on being mindful, open-minded, curious and carefree. Japan, in part, is a place I want to capitalize on my passion and figure out what next? I spent a lot of this month trying to understand what it means to live “aboard” for work by talking to multiple residents at the International dorm. Most of them have been living in Japan for over a year, doing upper-level educational programs while working. Some have their families here, some don’t, some are single and some manage long distance relationships. But one thing was clear, everyone was here looking for a community. As I thought about my future, and this internship I realized I wanted something more from my CAPI experience. I am already well acquainted to living in Asia, and I didn’t really face any “culture shock” but I knew there is so much to be honed from my time. I’ve been asking myself, as an Asian and student of Asian cultures, what did I want from my career in the future? And how can I bring my North American education back to the part of the world that already has my soul?
The people I have met at the dorm are not in Japan to travel (though of course, they did so too) all of them have a more career-oriented reason for choosing Japan. I’ve learned my friends here are driven people, many of them juggle long-distance relationships and talk about living in Japan as an investment for their families future, they earn and work humbly in highly meaningful jobs, and pursue higher education that will benefit them back in their home country if they do not secure jobs here. It’s hard to describe my conversations in a post because there was never a question and answer dialogue of discussing the hardships and joys of living abroad but more of a sense of understanding by spending time together. We shared food from our home countries, we allow each other to be grumpy about missing home, we talk about all the things we are discomforted by but also make exciting plans for the weekend to visit an Onsen or karaoke bar or yakitori nights. We allow ourselves to be real, to not be the “cheery, over excited and enthusiastic tourist” every day. We try and balance work and social relationships, which is really hard if you don’t know what people do in Japan to just “hang out”, I mean we can’t go to onsen’s every day but I want to hang out every day. I like being able to watch the little kids in the dorm go to school in the morning, or run around the halls in the evenings, or running into friends at the grocery store and laughing about never finding the same ingredients and sharing tips on cheap buys/ substitute products. I’m only here for 4 months but talking to the people living in the dorm I am jolted to realize they are here till they accomplish set goals, letting life take control. It made me check my privilege too.
It made me think about whether I could do that? Could I move to another country to work and settle for my career? What are the sacrifices I would have to make and will I be able to pay them? What do I want from the future?
As an intern, we have the unique opportunity to experience what our lives could be after graduation. If I had not left Canada I was looking at, generally speaking, this path: I’ll graduate with a BA, probably get a minimum wage job in something possibly (in a very remote manner) related to my degree, and I will work up the ladder to better opportunities and also probably look into further education options. But after my second month through the internship, I can say I have changed this vision; I dream a little bigger and a little more optimistically about my BA degree which in today’s world basically counts as nothing. I believe we all come into university armed up with university pamphlets, seminars, and videos all selling us “this degree will lead to your dreams” or “you can be anything you want” or”be the change you want to see in the world” or “be the next Steve Jobs” and so on. And we get out knowing we still desperately need our crappy jobs in some retail business and 3 more years of experience before our dream job might open up. As an international student, I knew there were more opinions, I was already living an “alternative” option. But moving to another country again after graduation is still a daunting idea for me as well. Part of adulting means getting a job, planning your next steps, building a community and establishing your place in this world, how was I going to do any of that if I moved again? This path of thinking blocked me from exploring my opportunities and restricted my growth. I think it was fear that mostly brought these questions.
I am lucky I came to Japan and found myself surrounded by people living the “alternative” path, they made it normal. This opened my eyes to see possibilities: what if I moved to Japan and worked as an English language teacher? Were there more jobs in social work? What about doing a masters in another country? What do I really want to do after graduation? This last question was particularly important because it was a question I hadn’t asked myself at all. I was stuck in the spiral of life and was thinking “where can I get a job? I’m graduating soon!”. By working in CITYNET I’ve been more open to jobs in development and the social sector, before this internship I don’t think I would have considered it. As sad as it is to say there just isn’t a good image about social work, it’s stereotyped as low pay and high investment, extremely stressful but meaningful work. While I want to do meaningful work, I need a job that makes me feel financially secure. But CITYNET has proven to me that there are good jobs in social work, and it is possible to be a humanitarian and live a healthy and wholesome lifestyle. It also made clearer my professional path for the future, before working here I was all over the place in what kind of work I want to do. But now I’m pretty confident in saying I’d like to work in international development. There is still a lot of work to be done and so much more to learn about my future but so far I have to say I feel lucky to have started thinking about my future more proactively and with excitement rather than fear.
The CAPI internship I think is to let yourself be open to new possibilities, every student gets a chance to see the world as a bigger place and learn it’s not a lonely or unexplored place. It’s filled with amazing people and adventures.