Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Orientation Day 1

I woke up at 3:30 a.m.

Yeahhhhhhhhh.  I tried to go back to sleep for about an hour and a half, but that failed, so I just got up really early.  I am surprised I haven't crashed yet.  I don't know why my brain decided that now would be a great time to run on 6 hours of sleep, but I completely disagree with its decision.

We (that is, all the Fulbrighters) ate breakfast* this morning, and then took the subway together over to the JUSEC (Japan-U.S. Educational Commission) offices for the first day of orientation.  It was basically a everyone's-gonna-talk-at-you-about-great-things-ahead day.  We were told very politely that we were incredibly privileged to have this opportunity and we will be attacked by man-eating monkeys if we waste it. (Okay, not that exact phrasing, but pretty close.)  And then we had a guy come talk at us about the Japanese educational system for about an hour.  It would have been interesting if I didn't already know pretty much all the information, and if he didn't speak in a monotone.  He did talk about zemi,** though, which was strangely ironic, considering what happened later.

For lunch we had a bunch of sandwiches that no one could figure out what was in them (including the woman who had bought them), and then we heard about the Fulbright alumni groups (which we're probably going to have to do presentations for, eek) and then we got OUR MONEY.  I will be incredibly relieved when I have a bank account.

I also bought a shinkansen (bullet train) ticket for Saturday.  It turned out to be about $100, which is what I thought it would be in the first place but twice would Google said it would be.  So I now know not to trust Google.  GEEZ, GOOGLE.  Next you're going to tell me that solid-gold train doesn't exist!

So then this evening we went to a reception/dinner sort of thing hosted at the house of the current Minister of the Embassy of the United States of America.  I met my advisor there, and it was not as terrifying I feared it would be.  However, within about three minutes of my introducing myself, my advisor informed me that I would be attending his zemi and THEN asked me if I could read Japanese.  (I'm somewhat terrified to consider what he would have done if I had said no.)  He also said he would introduce me at the local shrines.  So, pretty much, he's awesome and I managed not to fall over myself.  Yay!  And then I spent the rest of the evening talking to cool graduate students about their projects, and also hearing about amputating the fins off of zebrafish from one of the girls working on stem cell research (there are two of them total; what are the chances?).

Tomorrow is day two of orientation, and we're going to learn actually useful stuff, like how to set up a bank account.  So that'll be helpful.

Can I take a moment here to complain about the weather?  'cause, good grief, I had forgotten how horrible humidity is.  I feel like I need a bath if I've been outside for more than fifteen seconds.  Blech.

Also, all the other Fulbright grantees are so accomplished, I feel kind of lame next to them.  One guy already has two articles completely different fields.  And almost everyone has already spent at least a year in Japan, and has a way bigger academic network than I do.  They can do the academic talk thing too, while I mostly know a lot about sketchy internet websites.  Oh, and Ian Reader.  I've read a lot of stuff by Ian Reader.

The only place where I actually stand out (other than age) is that my Japanese is a lot better than most of theirs.  We had to take a taxi over to the reception, and I wound up doing all the talking to the taxi driver, because the other two girls I was riding with couldn't understand anything he was saying.  Then again, I also think I'm a lot more willing to try to speak Japanese than some people.  I have done the whole sound-stupid-and-stumble-over-words-to-get-the-point-across thing, and I'm really okay with sounding stupid if it means that my Japanese improves.  So that was why I was speaking 75% Japanese, 25% English with my advisor, and the other girls were speaking entirely English.  I dunno.  Maybe I'm just more willing to make a fool of myself.

In response to questions from last blog:
No, there is no concept of sarcasm in Japanese.  There isn't even a word for sarcasm; you have to use the same word as "irony."  One of my Japanese friends asked me to try to be sarcastic in Japanese once, and I couldn't do it.  Sarcastic Japanese just sounds really confused.
And, no, I only ever call myself a gaijin ironically.

And now I'm going to collapse toward bed.  Good night!

*Japanese breakfasts are so excellent.  I have waxed poetic about them many times before, but they are basically the greatest thing in the woooorld.  So many Japanese pickles, rice, miso soup, roasted fish, a fresh-baked roll and grapefruit juice--what more could you want?

**Zemi is the shortened Japanese version of "seminar." It's basically a discussion class led by a professor which can last anywhere from a semester to four years.  A lot of the time, it's an invaluable networking opportunity, and the professor takes on the role of advisor/counselor/parent figure/employment finder/matchmaker.  Also, a lot of the time, professors get to pick which students they take into their zemi, so being picked for one is a huge honor.

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