by Jessica, Hakuba 2013-14
Dorm life is something that I have always wanted to experience for some reason. The idea always seemed exciting to me, or maybe that was the way American college dorms were portrayed in movies. Like a sort of big party where every night there was something happening.
Surely dorm life working wouldn’t be the same. Not at my soon to be job working in Hakuba, Japan. Japanese are sophisticated and mature and very dedicated to their work. This is what I had told myself.
So I took my flight from Sydney to Narita without a single expectation in my mind – yet at the same time I had stereotype images floating around in my head that I didn’t realise I held.
That first night I lay in my bed tired from a long day of travel and my ears twitched at the sound of music.
“Is that a guitar I hear?” Coming from downstairs it definitely sounded like a guitar being played. Walking out my door I am greeted with shouts and more music. My newly met friend Krista walks past and I question her about the noise,
“Is that normal?” I ask quizzically.
“Also if you don’t smoke or drink you will be by the end of the season.” She nods her head indicating down the stairs to the racket.
The next night I went down to that common room and I was greeted by a mix of races sitting around a small table smoking and mixing alcoholic beverages with coke from a vending machine. I got a huge welcome, and met everyone – the Japanese workers excitedly speaking English,
“Nice to meet you!” Enthusiastically shaking my hand like westerners would in greeting.
“Hajimemashite,” I laugh at their eagerness.
“Sugoi! Jozu!” Shaking my head I laugh again.
“Jozu ja nai.”
The meeting and greeting went on for the whole of that week but then never really stopped. New staff were always coming and old staff leaving, that at times there seemed to be a new face every day.
But from my first day I some how felt at home. Never a day past I wished I could be anywhere but there. I couldn’t explain why but I guess because the whole dorm just opened up to you and embraced you in two arms from get go.
There were lots of different races living and working at my resort, so that not only did I make Japanese friends but also friends from around the world. Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Philippines, Hong Kong, Germany and then there were us Australians. Quite a few of us. If you’re worried about there being too many foreigners there though, don’t be. We were all still well out-numbered by the Japanese!
I lost count of how many times I went to Karaoke. Of how many drunk people I had to help up the 30 minute or so hike back to the dorm at minus something degrees at some time past midnight with work the next day.
We went to Japanese pubs and took over the whole establishment. Were on friend terms with the staff there. One foreigner worker managed to get a drink named after him after making the staff create it.
We let off fireworks together at New Years eve and of course we all snowboarded and skied together.
The only time the common room was empty before 8:50pm kick out time was when we were all out at night skiing. After a long day of work every Saturday we were rewarded with the chance to go boarding or skiing. Most of the dorm was out there together, the only time most of us could all hit the slopes as one.
After the mix common room closed the boys and girls would go their separate ways. As dorms are separated for each gender. The good ones who were studying English or Japanese or even German and Thai would go back into their gender’s own common room and continue to study. The Japanese girls loved helping us foreigners out with Japanese as much as they loved us teaching them English. So we had a good exchange programme going.
Some times study was hard though, as we could be busy having a snack party or watching a hilarious Japanese comedy on TV.
Dorm life at a ski resort is one of the best experiences you could ever have – best experience I have had in my life so far. I have made so many friends from around the world and still seeing them now while travelling Japan after work has finished.
You know you had it good when staff were showing tears the last week before we all had to say good bye. You know it was a special time we all shared when even boys cried on that last day. Or even newly come together couples had to part ways.
The staff at the dorm had became my new family away from home.
You don’t actually have to drink or smoke to hang out with everyone. Many of us didn’t smoke and some didn’t drink. Just know that many staff do, and that smoking is especially popular among Japanese staff.
If you feel home sick talk to your friends, talk to them if you have work stress too. They will listen. It is better than keeping it all pent up inside you and keeping you down. In a foreign country sometimes even the small things can seem huge. Talking about them with people has a way of putting them in perspective.
Do not worry if you cannot ski or snowboard. There will be someone there who is willing to help you. You won’t be the only beginner.
Bring games or movies to play in the common room. They can be a great way to make Japanese friends at the beginning of the season when you don’t know many people, and may lack a conversation-starter.
You all get to eat together at breakfast and dinner and it is a great time to see everyone before and after work. Breakfast is awesome but beware of dinner and a whole heap of deep fried everything.
If you are studying Japanese, study casual Japanese too. Don’t focus solely on formal. Everyone was very relaxed with speech and encouraged you not to speak too formally!
You won’t spend much money while you are working but you will be eating out on occasion with your friends. Okonomiyaki is awesome. Hot pot parties too. Also it is always good to have a healthy snack stash to eat with everyone.
Even if you can’t speak Japanese, somehow you can still communicate. It is amazing how much you can understand without understanding words. Don’t be quiet, go start a conversation. You get points for trying!
I hope you are good at remembering names. Being the foreigner it is like everyone knows you, yet you don’t know anyone.
So in the end, dorm life was as exciting as I had hoped it would be. Parties and socialising and study and eating. Maybe it is like American college?
I loved my roommates, my friends and colleagues. Dorm life is one thing in life you must try and I can’t imagine any place better than in a foreign country in the snow.
Thank you everyone for the great memories!
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