Preparing the Next Generation
of Global Leaders

Experiencing Japan as a Black Woman

Posted on December 02, 2019


Why did you decide to study abroad?

I wanted to go abroad because I'd been interested in learning Japanese since I was a kid and had decided to go ahead and start learning when I got to college. I was doing well in my language courses, but it was as if I had hit a plateau and wasn't improving after a certain point. I was always aware that immersion was the best way to gain language skills. Since becoming proficient in Japanese was the only way I would be allowed to graduate, going to study in Japan was a no-brainer. Also, I just wanted to go. I wanted to get away from campus and experience something new.

How did you pay for your study abroad experience?

My university transfers financial packages to cover study abroad! I was also awarded a scholarship by the Office of Global Education at my university.

What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?

I wish I knew all the technical language needed to fill out official government paperwork. I got by just fine and I understood the most out of the group of people I went with, but still it was a huge headache.

I suggest doing some research on what clothes are appropriate before going to your host country. I'm from Florida so a lot of my summer clothes are tank tops, but in Japan you're not really supposed to show cleavage. It wasn't a huge problem, but it was just one more way that I stood out.

Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

I am an African-American female. As such, I got a lot of stares. In Japan, this is the case for all kinds of foreigners, not just black people. It's just twice as apparent when you're black. One of my friends (who is also black) said that people actually filmed her on the train! There's also the prevalence of skin bleaching/whitening in beauty products. People would just casually suggest you use a whitener the same way they would suggest a face mask. As much as I was annoyed by those kinds of things, I also got compliments on my skin tone. I wasn't sure if they were facetious gestures or if Japanese people didn't see dark skin as negative per se, they just didn't want it for themselves. I'm not really sure.

How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?

I passed my university's proficiency test after returning, and gained a Japanese minor. I think my experience taught me a lot about how to adapt to different situations and how to communicate across cultural and language barriers.

Any additional comments or thoughts that you have about your study abroad experience

I don't know if this is a result of my study abroad experience, but after going, I'm so much less afraid to relocate. I lived in the same state my whole life and the only significant change I ever had was going to college in DC. Now I don't think I would mind living in any other state or moving to another country.

Author: Tauri Tomlin

Share this article: