Daigaku Z: Aletheia

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column describing Z’s journey to learn the Japanese language while at the University of Pittsburgh. She impressed the East Asian Language and Literature department with her first-year performance, but she stumbled over the summer semester’s Accelerated Program course. Still, she is nothing if not persistent, and now she faces the second year of the program once more. This is (the continuation of) her story.

Welcome back to the second year. I feel I owe you all an apology for dropping off the face of the earth so suddenly after the third week of the summer, but unfortunately a rather dramatic health issue forced my hand into doing something I would not have preferred to do. Thus, I had to withdraw from the accelerated program. I would really rather not dwell on why that is, and I trust I will not be pressed for further information on it. Besides, everyone who needs to know, already knows.

So here we are again, at the beginning of a fresh year in college. Things are certainly different for me this time: for one thing, I’m already out, and I no longer have to fear the secret of my gender being a Damoclean blade over my head. Also, I know where the better food is on campus, and I have been able to give directions when asked. Those last two are in my opinion better indicators of my comfort at being back at my second alma mater– at least, for all intents and purposes.

The first time I was in college, at Gannon University in Erie, I was not what one could consider an extrovert. I still am not, of course, but compared to my current demeanor it is night and day. In 1999, I did not have any great swelling of emotion upon returning to classes; seeing my friends was good, yes, but it was hardly what I had been looking forward to all summer. The start of the semester was a rather ordinary affair, and I didn’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other.

This past week, though, I have looked forward to seeing again every one of my friends, all those who I met for the first time last year and spent a summer away from. I met up with one of them on Monday, explicitly to catch up ahead of when we would be meeting in the next day’s class anyway; on Tuesday I found even more of the people I had been looking to reconnect with. It wasn’t something I had really thought too much about during the break, but as August ended and the first bells approached it was such a strong feeling.

It’s easy to think that college is the first time that we are “on our own”. Several of our safety nets are stripped from us as we leave home and move into our dorms. But what we learn at university isn’t limited to just the facts and methods of our trades. College’s lessons, like most schooling, are as much social as they are academic. We learn how to do our jobs in the wider world, but we also learn to build our own safety nets. We create the web that catches us by making connections to others– and to ourselves.

The Japanese word for coming to a place, kuru (来る), is different from the word for returning home, kaeru (帰る). 15 years ago, it felt more like I was coming to Erie. This week, though, I was home again. ただいま.