Sarah Thomas, Guest Writer

In addition to studying for his classes this semester, Tomotaka Iguchi is studying and adjusting to American culture. Iguchi is an exchange student at the University of Missouri–St. Louis this semester from Toyo University in Tokyo, Japan. A week before the fall semester started, Iguchi arrived in the states for the first time other than a brief family vacation to Hawaii years ago. 

Iguchi has been adjusting to everything from learning a new environment and second language to adapting to a new diet at the Oak Hall cafeteria. One of the biggest challenges for Iguchi is the amount of time it takes him to study due to the language barrier. Even though his English is proficient he deals with anxiety over staying caught up with lectures and homework. Iguchi has to put a lot more time into homework and studying due to English being his second language which often leads him to get very little sleep. 

According to Iguchi the biggest cultural difference from Japan is the informal conversation in America. “I believe the way people talk to others is utterly different. In the states, there is small talk with strangers, we don’t start conversation that way in Japan. It’s plainer and feels like there are barriers or a quite clear personal space there. We don’t express feelings much compared to the states,” Iguchi explained. 

Iguchi has had many realizations while adjusting to the foreign culture. “Living in the states has made me realize I behave in the way typical Japanese do, it’s surprising and still hard to adjust myself to the opposite way,” Iguchi shared. 

Establishing a support system makes adjusting to a new culture a lot easier and that is exactly what Iguchi was able to do once finding the Japanese American Student Association. JASA is a student organization at UMSL that brings international students and American students interested in  studying Japanese together. 

Iguchi learned of JASA while attending a new student orientation for international students and it was an easy decision for him to join. JASA has given Iguchi the opportunity to teach Japanese and ask questions in English. JASA has also made it possible for him to get off campus and explore St. Louis. 

Amy Seidel, a graduate student majoring in Japanese and former president of JASA, shared that JASA is an excellent recourse for Japanese exchange students. “The goal of JASA is to be a club and resource for students learning Japanese and Japanese exchange students to learn American culture. All of the events are a good mix of Japanese and American culture,” Seidel explained. 

Despite the anxiety and culture shock that comes along with moving to a completely new country and culture, Iguchi has been able to make a smooth adjustment to American culture thanks to JASA. “Even though there are some things that I am still adjusting too I am finding my place and really like it here,” Iguchi shared.  

Students interested in getting involved with JASA can find the organization online at myengage.umsl.edu to connect with the members and find out when the next event will be hosted.