KCP students at a restaurant.

KCP Alum Brody Stejskal on Returning Home

“Welcome to the United States of America, thank you for flying with us today.” It was not until after I had already landed that my return to the United States had finally sunk in. 6 months and more than 6,000 miles (10,000+ km) later, I returned to America nothing short of a changed person. The city which had initially felt like home to me now felt different, even foreign. As I wheeled my bags out of the gate and passed through customs, I felt a culture shock of sorts. However, this sensation was different from my entrance to Japan. Whereas my arrival in Japan shocked my senses by its sheer difference, my arrival back to Chicago was something closer to a culture shift.

KCP students at a restaurant.My time completely immersed in Japan had not replaced my American cultural identity, but rather had challenged, expanded, and complemented it. Looking at the signs and the billboard advertisements, I found myself in surprise to see English, rather than Kanji. In the several days readjusting to my life back stateside, here are a few of the subtle differences that I noticed.

Studying abroad, you make friends that last a lifetime. At a Tabeodai (all you can eat) Korean barbeque restaurant in Shinokubo.

Perhaps the most immediate difference for me is size. The best word to describe space in Japan would be “compact.” In such a high-density area like Tokyo, everything must fit and space is a premium. Back home, space was abundant and in the Midwest, the vastness of America seemed to overflow from every suburban front yard and strip mall.

Going hand in hand with the aforementioned openness of space, I realized just how dependent Americans are on cars. The United States truly is a car culture—and that’s coming from someone who just returned from the country of Toyotas, Hondas, and Mitsubishis! In Tokyo, everything was easily accessible by foot. Need a quick bite to eat? Walk on over to corner store down the block. Heading to class? You can be there by foot in ten minutes. Need some retail therapy? You guessed it, solvitur ambulando. The best times were walking back from KCP with my friends taking in the same commute, but never seeing the same thing twice. Now, I can’t go so far as the local library without needing to grab my car keys.

At the top of a mountain view in Kamakura during the United States overnight trip.It’s the small things you miss when you’re back. At the top of a mountain view in Kamakura during the United States overnight trip.

Finally, another slight difference I noticed is the pace of life itself. Manhattan may be the city that never sleeps, but Tokyo is the city that is never still. The constant thrum of city life was perhaps the most noticeable absence in my return back home. However, the stillness that I found waiting for me was not entirely different from the peace and quiet of my visits to the Japanese countryside. And to see my friends back again, was like rekindling old fires. I only hope to catch up again with my life long friends that I made at KCP

I was afraid that when I returned to the United States, I would quickly lose my cherished memories of my study abroad in Japan. However, after being able to so fluidly make these comparisons between American and Japanese cultures, I know that such fears were completely unfounded. I am forever thankful to Japan for a place I could call home for six months and for enriching the home to which I returned.

The class photo was the Sports Day, KCP field trip right after our picnic.The class photo was the Sports Day, KCP field trip right after our picnic.

However, the stillness that I found waiting for me was not entirely different from the peace and quiet of my visits to the Japanese countryside. And to see my friends back again, was like rekindling old fires. I only hope to catch up again with my life long friends that I made at KCP.

Brody Stejskal is a KCP Winter and Spring 2019 alumnus. Visit here to read more of Brody’s posts!