Traditionally, the first stop on the Pomona College tour is in Oldenborg. For those of you who don’t know, Oldenborg doubles up as our language residence and dining halls. Pomona offers, on any given year, between six to eight language residence halls for students to live in. Essentially, the program is one to model an immersive experience in a language without leaving sunny SoCal. Fun fact: it’s riot-proof in design and the namesake of the Borg alien race in Star Trek.
For me, the first time I went into Oldenborg was the third week of my freshman year. I was studying Japanese as my language (something I had wanted to do for a few years by that point), and, surprise, it wasn’t easy. We had a language table requirement every three weeks – one day, every third week, we were required to go to Oldenborg for lunch to attend the Japanese Language Table. Sine introductory days were Wednesdays, and about 90% of my class waited until that last possible Wednesday to go.
For someone who could only say “Hello, my name is Justin,” and, “What time is it?” with any level of comfort or dignity, this was one of the scariest experiences of my academic career. We all sat awkwardly, munching on some vaguely international cuisine (I believe Wednesdays used to be Italian day) and trying to smile, giggle and nod at whatever our professors were saying. Later that semester, seeing as I’m from Las Vegas, I tried to say that I went to the Strip for dinner with some friends on my birthday. Turns out, I said that I went to a strip club instead. Laughter, humiliation and ridicule ensued.
These two separate incidents served as a nice precursor for my entire experience studying Japanese: languages, I learned, were not for me. I had taken Latin for seven years and was reasonably good at it, but I wanted to try something new and challenge myself in the “spoken language” field. Turns out, that didn’t really go according to plan. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but something didn’t click with Japanese and its three beautiful alphabets, and that scared me.
For years, I had this mentality in my head that I was going to take Japanese in college, study abroad in Japan (more on Study Abroad later), be an International Relations major, and somehow have time for everything else I wanted to do as well. Now, as an Anthropology major who knows no spoken language beyond a basic grasp of English, I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Then, however, it seemed as my world was crumbling with every kanji quiz I bombed.
I took several things away from my time in Japanese: First, spoken languages aren’t for me. Second, and more importantly than the first, plans don’t always go according to, well, plan. Flexibility, change and progress are all things which happen – especially in college – and I can’t be afraid of that. And, finally, probably more important than both of the aforementioned lessons, there’s always a silver lining.
This story has been pretty angst-ridden and sad up until this point – what, you may wonder, was that silver lining? If it wasn’t for Oldenborg, for Japanese, for the freshman writing seminar or for OA, I wouldn’t have made one of the best friends I have today. This friend, unlike me, actually did continue Japanese and did study abroad in Japan. He did live in the maze-like corridors of Oldenborg. And that’s, really, how I met him, befriended him, and realized that, above all, everything happens for a reason.
Arigatō, and sayonara! Join me next week for a discussion of why I didn’t end up Studying Abroad after all, and why, in the end, that didn’t really matter.
Until next time,