Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Meaning in Small Encounters

January 4, 2024
By Dushaun Thompson, CAS '24

Dushaunone of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents, shares his experience abroad during the Fall 2023 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

Sunset over ocean
Beach near Nagabeta Kaishoro Sea Road.

Selecting a favorite among my many treasured adventures in Japan feels partly like a fool’s errand, yet one trip stands out prominently in my memory– Kyūshū, one of Japan’s four main islands. There I visited Kumamoto City and saw many sights I had yearned to see for years, from the iconic Kumamon to the One Piece statues created for the post-earthquake Kumamoto Revival Project, to name just a few. But the memory that comes to mind first when I think of Kumamoto is not a place or a sight, but a person.

He was a coast attendant near the Nagabeta Kaishoro Tidal Road, where you can find a walking path that rises out of the ocean after low tide passes. He excitedly asked me question after question about my origin, my story, and what I was hoping to find in Japan. Not only was it a wonderful opportunity to put my Japanese to practice, it also gave me a chance to reflect on myself. He told me about his life in Japan, and how although many tourists come to visit, few try to embed themselves into the culture to the point of only speaking Japanese as much as I have tried. I wound up sitting with him for well over an hour, watching the sunrise set over the seabed road. As our time together drew to a close, we captured the moment with a photo, and he promised he would feature me on his blog. We bid farewell and went our separate ways.

Dushuan and the man he met
Dushaun with the coast attendant he met near the Nagabeta Kaishoro Tidal Road.

I continued the rest of my trip as planned, but I found that he’d left a significant impression in my memory that couldn’t be shaken off . When I checked his blog later, I found that he had described my background accurately, but ended the post with two words: “Good man.”

It was just two words– it wasn’t much in an objective sense, just as our encounter was no longer than two hours. Even so, in their simplicity, these words resonated deeply in me, validating me not merely as a foreigner, a gaijin, but as a person. The warmth that this recognition instilled in me remains difficult to articulate.

Our encounter was well over a month ago now, but I find he still responds to my social media posts with an infectious positivity.

In the grand scope of things, it was only a single encounter on a single day of a half-year study abroad trip, but it’s an encounter that’s become one of my core memories of my time in Japan. In fact, I’ve found such seemingly minute memories filling my consciousness to the same extent as the grand vistas and cultural landmarks that I plan my trips around. Memories like receiving a gift of persimmons from an older man in my residential community, befriending the owner of my favorite local ramen shop, connecting with fellow fans of my favorite bands at concerts… these are people I will likely never see in my life again, but they remain with me regardless.

Preparing for my life after Penn means thinking about things on a much, much larger scale than I’ve ever had the need to in the past– a scale that frightens me every bit as much as it excites. I have my time in Japan to thank for learning to appreciate life on a smaller scale.

Tidal rode stretching out to ocean at sunest
Nagabeta Kaishoro Tidal Road at Sunset.
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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.