Brittany Rock, Author InterviewLearn more the author
Brittany Rock recently moved to Japan on a teaching assignment with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, though she started her adventures abroad when she studied in Italy at John Cabot University.
""Why not go to a hibachi?" I stopped to think for a moment, but had to tell him that I have never seen anything like that here."
You recently moved to the Land of the Rising Sun as an English teacher for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. What type of placement are you in?
I have been placed in a city with a population of half a million in the northern Kanto region, a two hour train ride from Tokyo. I have my own apartment in an area close to downtown which was already prepared for me by my employers before my arrival. I spend most of my week at a high-level all-girls senior high school, and one or two days visiting other high schools within the prefecture.
You studied abroad in Italy with John Cabot University. What is one thing students should know studying in Italy?
It is very easy to take studying abroad in Italy like an extended vacation, especially with the culture of "dolce far niente", but please try to take your time there somewhat seriously! Speaking with the students who had chosen John Cabot University as their primary university often expressed annoyance over the study abroad students who did not participate in study groups, take projects seriously, or did not make an effort to learn the language. John Cabot has a lot of enriching academic opportunities that you should take advantage of!
Japan and Italy are very different countries, are there any cultural similarities?
I would say that the biggest similarity between the two cultures is the family dynamic. Both countries have a male-dominated patriarchal society where it is often the man of the house that works to bring home the money and the mother stays home to take care of the children. Many children do not leave the house until they are married and end up taking care of their parents when they retire, often moving in together again. Other than that, I was surprised to find my stereotypical image of food in Japan rocked when I saw just how many authentic Italian pizza shops they had! Both Italy and Japan take their food very seriously and I have never been to a bad restaurant in either country.
One of the requirements for participation in the JET Program is for participants to learn Japanese. How is that going?
It always amazes me how fast it is possible to learn a language when you have to use it on a regular basis for grocery shopping, navigating public transportation, and making small talk at the local bar. I tried to do some self-study prior to my departure but was struggling to pick up the basic writing systems. A month after I had arrived, I had learned hiragana, katakana, and a little over 100 kanji characters! Feeling confident, I signed up to take the N5 Japanese Language Placement Test on December 1 and am currently awaiting the results which will be announced in January.
You worked with Youth For Understanding, a well respected educational organization. How did your experience as admissions counselor and special orientations coordinator help you prepare for life abroad?
When it is your job to prepare young people for their study abroad experiences, it becomes second nature to apply those lessons to your own travels. You understand the attitudes that can hinder or help your time abroad as well as prepare yourself for the inevitable culture shock without letting it overwhelm your experience. I have also come equipped with a plethora of coping methods! Also my time at YFU also gave me invaluable connections and friends around the world that I can call on for support whenever necessary!
You mentioned in your "10 Ways To Make The Most Of Study In Rome" article on An admiration that "host families are the best resource for international education." Homestays are different experiences in different countries, would you recommend students have a homestay in Japan?
I would 100% without reservation recommend staying with a host family in Japan. Generally speaking, Japanese people are among one of the most kind and hospitable people I have ever met. They have a special word "omotenashi" that is difficult to translate into English, but it essentially conveys the deep care that Japan takes when welcoming its guests.
With the JET Program, though I have my own apartment, I was also assigned a "host" family that welcomed me into their home for a weekend just a few weeks after my arrival in August. So far we have kept in touch and I went with them to a local fall festival and they have even invited me to spend New Years with them! It’s a great way to not only practice my Japanese, but to see how Japanese people really live. On the JET Program, as with any other study abroad experience, it is so easy to just spend time with foreigners like yourself, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to step outside of my comfort bubble.
You have debunked several myths Italian cuisine, pointing out the fact that fettuccini alfredo, chicken parmesan, and spaghetti and meatballs are nowhere on the menu of Italian dishes. Are you planning to debunk any myths surrounding Japanese cuisine?
One of the first differences in Japanese food in America and Japanese food in Japan came when I was talking to my dad how I was really craving a steak. He innocently suggested, "Why not go to a hibachi?" I stopped to think for a moment, but had to tell him that I have never seen anything like that here. At a dinner party with my coworkers they asked me if we had Japanese food in America and I described the experience of the hibachi restaurant to their great amusement. Their response: "That's not Japanese at all." Another myth that I have found talking with fellow foreigners is that they thought all Japanese food was so healthy. While it’s true that Japanese people are very health conscious, there is definitely plenty of delicious deep fried, creamy, salty things on every menu to make sure you don't get too skinny.
You have a YouTube channel which features a wide variety of music and artists. Which song reminds you most of your adventures in Italy? Japan?
Oh wow, my YouTube channel hasn't been updated in ages. It’s mostly bookmarked pop music videos sorted into playlists that reflect my mood at the time. Most of it isn't worth mentioning. However, simply listening to Italian music brings me back. It’s such a beautiful language. As for Japan, I am still searching for my niche in the Japanese music scene. Haven't found anything I have connected with yet.