All posts by Aiko Dzikowski

A Japanese Welcome in Northern India

My fellow “Tibetan Studies in India” program participants and I had been exploring the Northern Indian town of Sarnath for the first time. As we walked along the side of a dusty dirt road, we came across two brightly-painted stores. Tired from traveling, and overwhelmed by a host of new and unfamiliar experiences, I was suddenly struck with excitement.

On one of the stores read the following hand-painted sign: “おみやげ” or “gifts” in Japanese. Despite having read this word countless times before — both in class and during my travels in Japan — I had never before been so struck by this commonplace phrase. As we got closer to the store that accommodated this unexpected touch of familiarity, I heard a voice call out to me.


Now, as an Asian-American woman who’s experienced her fair share of cringeworthy pick-up lines, I was immediately inclined to grimace and move on, but something about this greeting sparked my intrigue. “Irasshaimase,” repeated the stranger, and in that moment I felt enthusiastically at ease. Loosely translated as “welcome,” this phrase was said to me in near-perfect Japanese by a man who I would have otherwise assumed to be entirely Indian. As I continued to approach the store, the man — again, in Japanese — asked me how I was doing, and in Japanese I began to answer.

Much to my fascination, the man began to explain the story behind his fluency: he worked at this eye-catching store selling Buddhist ritual items to tourists and visiting monks — many of who are from Japan. His boss’s wife had moved to Sarnath from Tokyo, and together they had three children who visited the store often. He recognized from my chocolate-brown hair and almond-shaped eyes that I, too, was a person of mixed Japanese heritage.

Amazed by his talent for everyday language apprehension, and touched by our ability to connect interculturally as a result, I began to cultivate a friendship with this man throughout the course of my month-long program. The man’s name was Ramesh, and each time my friends and I visited his shop, he and I would discuss everything from the products he sold to the lives we lived in India, the United States, and — of course — Japan.

As we spoke in what felt like our own secret tongue, I began to feel pride in my language abilities, an appreciation for our cultural differences, and — eventually, despite being so obviously out-of-place — a sincere sense of belonging.

Aiko Dzikowski is a student at Smith College.
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To Lead is to Follow: Learning from Others and Listening to One’s Internal Voice

“What am I doing here?”

The question, no doubt, came to mind as I failed to understand the language used by my classmates and professors, as I ran to catch the 8 am train, or as I stopped by a nearby kale smoothie joint on my way home.

That isn’t to say that I wasn’t having a good time. I loved being in Japan and in the town I consider my second home. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I had received funding for my summer language intensive, and I appreciated the independence and empowerment that came with something as simple as riding public transportation.

I loved it all, but I simply didn’t know what I was doing — or what I should have been doing, for that matter. What was I learning from this experience? How would it contribute to my future goals — whatever those may be?

I continued with the monotony of everyday life. Wake up. Go to class. Come home. Sleep. My language skills were improving minimally, and I found myself immersed in a culture I had already been accustomed to since the moment I first visited Japan at age two.

Things changed when I typed in a simple search on Google: “Kyoto University Field Hockey.” I wasn’t expecting much and yet, lo and behold, my nonchalant search yielded thrilling results. I was introduced to an assortment of season recap videos, player descriptions, and—much to my delight—an email address and open invitation for “students of all backgrounds and interests.”

As a field hockey player at Smith and soon-to-be junior captain, I jumped at the chance to re-immerse myself in team culture and physical activity, and I was eager to incorporate foreign strategies into my plans for the upcoming season.

I clicked “send” and what followed still remains a bustling, heartwarming blur of new friendships, athletic perseverance, and riveting cultural experiences. A two-day tournament on the countryside, the organized chaos of the Gion festival at night, and a makeshift “octopus ball party” are just a few of the many memories I will cherish forever.

Some of my fondest memories are those I now share with my captain at the time, Maki, a senior meteorology major with a passion for field hockey unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. Her unrelenting hospitality, compassion, and discipline continue to motivate me as I navigate my way through leadership experiences both within field hockey and beyond. She has solidified my values in terms of what it means to be an effective, inspiring leader, and she is who I envision when I think of “my captain.”

My summer experience in Japan was more than just a cultural and linguistic excursion: it was an opportunity for me to grow and learn from the leadership of others, and to follow my instincts and personal desires. By finding guidance in both others and myself, I learned to address change and monotony, to engage with my interests and future goals, and to appreciate what each new person and experience brings.


Aiko is a junior anthropology major currently studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam. As a neuroscience minor and translation studies concentrator, she is particularly interested in studying the relationship between language and culturally-influenced thought processes. Her hobbies include field hockey and pottery, and she hopes to someday work for a non-profit organization in Kyoto, Japan.

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