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Seven Weeks in Japan: A Summer Intern's Perspective

MTW intern Anna Abernethy wrote this reflection in the final week of her two-month summer internship. 

When I first came to Japan … 

I did not love this country from the very beginning. I was surrounded by a lot of wonderful people who really loved life in Japan, but I just wasn't there yet. I was culture shocked and jet lagged, and all I really wanted to do was slow down a little bit so I could mentally catch up. 

I missed American food. 

I was ready to try new foods, and most of the new foods I tried here were really good. I discovered that there were a lot of Japanese dishes that weren't incredibly different from American ones. Still, I really missed American cheeseburgers, North Carolina BBQ, and Chick-fil-A.

I missed my people.  

I missed the Carolinas, my dog, my family, and my friends. Sometimes, I thought I would never feel like I had the same sense of community here among the Japanese people that I did back home. Learning all of the new names and faces seemed impossible at times, and I wondered how I would ever get to know individuals if I couldn’t even remember their names. 

I missed driving and being surrounded by familiar places.  

I loved being able to walk, take a bus, or ride the train to wherever I needed to go, but the hard part was not knowing where to go. Back home, if I wanted to go somewhere to clear my head or get some things done, I would just get in my car and go to Barnes & Noble or Starbucks. I found a lot of coffee shops in Japan, including Starbucks, but it definitely wasn’t an atmosphere that I was used to. 

I missed being able to read. 

One of the hardest parts about coming to Japan was not being able to read anything on my own. I love to read, and I love learning new things by observing the world around me, primarily by reading. So, it was difficult when I couldn't navigate in my usual way. English translations were more rare than I expected, and my overwhelmed brain wasn't very good at finding them in the midst of all of the Japanese characters. 

I missed feeling like I was at home. 

I came to Japan because I felt that the Lord was calling me to spend my summer here, but I must admit that my confidence in that call wavered sometimes. I missed the feeling of being at home—not the physical places necessarily, but rather the atmosphere. I missed the familiarity, but I also missed the confidence that I was right where I was supposed to be.

Turning a spiritual corner … 

Somehow, seven weeks have passed, and I will be leaving for America in only one. I miss home far more than I thought I would, especially in so short a time frame, but I've also come to really enjoy being in Japan. I've learned to love and appreciate so many things recently, and sometimes it takes me by surprise. Sometimes I'm not really sure where it comes from, but then I remember: 

We love because He first loved us. 

This verse has been on my heart recently, and I was reminded of it again in one of the church services I attended a few weeks ago. Since coming to Japan, I must confess that I haven't always loved like I needed to or should have. I haven't always loved this country or the people in it. I haven't always loved the customs or the food or the weather. I haven't always shown love to those around me, whether they be my students, fellow interns, or the random stranger that I pass on the street. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that love is not something you can just manufacture. 

Over the past seven weeks, I've experienced jet lag and culture shock like I never thought possible. I've been stressed out, exhausted, and homesick. I have experienced so many new things, and while many of them have been amazing, some of them have been absolutely overwhelming. I've wanted to quit, I've wanted to go home, and I've wanted to be surrounded by familiar people and places. 

Yet, somewhere along the way, I found a love for Japan and its people. It definitely took a while, and I fell in love with some aspects a lot faster than others, but over time, this country and its people have found a way to capture my heart. I still get frustrated every now and then, but my frustration no longer has the power to dictate how I feel my day has gone. 

So what changed?  

What changed was remembering that love is not mine to give. Only because God loved me did I ever come to love Him. Only when He filled me with His love was I able to pour out that love toward other people. His people. The people that He created in His own image. All it took was taking a step back, spending alone time with my heavenly Father, asking Him to pour into me what I so desperately needed, and trusting Him to do so. I love how He delights in giving me exactly what I need, when I need it, and in His perfect timing. 

Now that I've been in Japan for almost two months … 

I still miss American food, just not as much. 

I've tried a lot of new foods since coming to Japan, and I have to admit that I’m really going to miss Japanese food when I go back to America. Oh, and I'm definitely spoiled now as far as ramen goes.

I still miss the people back home, but I'm also really going to miss the people here, too.

I definitely still miss my friends and family in America, and I'm so ready to spend time with my dog. Yet I've grown to love the people of Japan, and I've made some really great friendships that I’ve come to cherish. I used to think that I would never feel a sense of community here, not like I did back home, but that was so foolish of me. Regardless of where the Lord takes me, there will always be a special sense of community when I am with His people. 

Christ has been showing me this more and more every day as He guides my relationships and helps me to remember new names. I'm also so thankful for the friendships with my fellow interns that have developed in my time here. As we slowly begin to finish up our individual terms here in Japan, it's weird to think that we'll all be going our separate ways, but it's also really neat to think about how the Lord brought us all together for this summer. 

I still miss driving, but I've discovered new places. 

I still love being able to walk, take a bus, or ride the train to wherever I need to go, and the exercise is really nice. Being in Japan became a lot less overwhelming once I found a few places to explore during my free time. It also really helped this directionally-challenged person get her bearings! 

I still can't really read, but I can navigate a lot easier.

Fun fact—there are three alphabets that make up the Japanese language. After seven weeks, I now sort-of know how to recognize the characters in two of them. I definitely am not to the point where I can read a Japanese novel, but I am slowly getting to the point where I can read a few Japanese words here and there to help me navigate. 

I feel at home, just in a different kind of way. 

I will never feel perfectly at home in Japan. I'm not meant to, especially not in only two months. If there's one thing that the Lord has had to remind me of during my time here in Japan, it's that this world is not my home. I really am just passing through. It was strange, but when I finally remembered and believed that, I started feeling a lot more at peace with being so far away from my home in America. In time, Japan became more familiar, and I became much more at peace with the fact that Japan is where the Lord wanted me to spend the summer of 2018. Now, I have more favorite people and new familiar places. Now, Japan has become yet another “home away from home” to me.

Serve with MTW on a summer internship! Learn more and browse opportunities at mtw.org/internships. 

Anna Abernethy is a junior in Liberty University’s online program studying biblical and educational studies.

Anna Abernethy, Chiba Nagoya Tokyo Tokyo Bay Japan Nov 1, 2018
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