Episode 69 │ Where Would Beyoncé Go? (NAGOYA)
Updated: Sep 22
"Soon as I found out that just about anyone could study abroad, I was like, 'Wait. How do I do that?'" (Amanda, Episode 69)
(Announcement #1: This is the second to last regular episode of this podcast in 2020. Got episode 70 coming on October 27th, and then I'll be closing out the year with another one of my "Ten Cents" episodes on November 2nd.
Announcement #2: I was recently a guest on Black Girl Film Club where we talked about 'The Lion King', my favorite movie! Listen to our conversation here.)
This week, the latest guest on Young, Gifted and Abroad is an internet friend of mine by the name of Amanda Oumiya! We've been Facebook friends for a number of years, and over the summer I finally got a chance to ask her about her experience studying abroad in Nagoya, Japan for a year. Amanda not only studied in Japan but also later worked, got married, and started a family there all while moving to different cities within the country, so she's seen Japan from many different angles! Currently a stay-at-home mom, Amanda also creates online content about cooking, including photos and tutorials about making bentos (Japanese-style lunch boxes) and a podcast she runs with her sister called We Got To Feed Y'all.
Growing up with her dad being in the military meant that Amanda moved around a lot. She and her family mostly moved "up and down" the East Coast, but they also lived in Germany for Amanda's kindergarten through 2nd grade years. She went to college in the state of Georgia, where she earned her bachelor's degree in middle grades education from Georgia Southern University. Her focus was on language arts and reading, and she was especially keen on teaching English to non-native learners of the language. Amanda's interest in ESL was inspired by what she knew of her father's own journey coming from Nigeria to the States, as well as by the international and immigrant students she assisted while at Georgia Southern.
Amanda also minored in Japanese, which was another interest sparked by her father. She would often spend weekends watching movies with her dad when she was younger, and the Japanese movies and anime they saw stuck out to her the most. Then and now, part of why Japan appeals to her so much is its culture, a deep-seated one dating back thousands of years, in which seemingly everything from the language, holidays, and other customs has a rhyme or reason for it. Georgia Southern didn't have many Japan-related courses while Amanda was there, but she took all of what was available. She'd come to college not even considering studying abroad as a possibility, so studying in Japan wasn't on her radar either. But then, she started seeing information about study abroad options during her sophomore year, and one of those options included a partnership that Georgia Southern has with the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (NUFS). There were prerequisite courses she needed to take in order to have the credits to apply for this program, but if she was accepted, that meant she'd be living in Nagoya for a whole year. And thankfully, she got accepted! Along with a group of other GSU students, Amanda moved to Nagoya in 2009.
As Amanda explained to me, the NUFS student exchange program has two tracks: a cultural track (including Japanese art, film, and topics covering other nuances of Japanese culture) and a language track (including levels anywhere from beginner to advanced). Amanda took both. During her first semester she did the cultural track, learning about the Japanese education system, taking an "incredible" film class that dove deeply into various Japanese films, and having her mind blown by a "no holds barred" culture class where the professor was very frank about some of the more unsavory aspects of Japanese society—including sexism and child abuse. Her second semester was focused on Japanese language classes. She appreciated how the structure of it helped her proficiency improve, but it was also the most difficult part of her NUFS experience. Whereas the culture classes were taught in English, her Japanese classes were taught in Japanese, and it was hard making that leap from English-language to Japanese-language instruction. On top of that, the abundance of activities that were available on campus plus the allure of being in Japan for the first time among other young people her age meant that there were a lot of distractions. Basically, one had to be very serious about studying Japanese in order to get the most out of those classes, and Amanda didn't have the time to be as serious as she would've liked. But she did her best, and being immersed in the local culture and making Japanese friends helped shape her language skills outside of the classroom too.
It was also during that second semester that Amanda dug deeper into teaching ESL. She did a two-week internship where she shadowed an assistant language teacher (ALT) at a local elementary school. Once she did that internship, she knew she wanted to come back to Japan to teach for a living (more on that later). She also had a side hustle teaching Japanese kids at a small school run by a woman who would eventually become one of Amanda's closest friends. They developed a close bond that has lasted a decade, and to this day Amanda affectionately refers to her as her Japanese mom, or okaasan.
Because NUFS specializes in international studies and foreign languages, the university was very accommodating to its international students, so much so that Amanda felt "babied" to a certain extent. From housing to finding their way around town to even visiting other cities, NUFS arranged so much for the students that Amanda had to make an effort to be more independent. She did so by going on her own trips with friends to places like Yokohama, Osaka, and Kyoto, taking care to explore areas outside of what NUFS had already set up. Overall, Amanda had a phenomenal time during her first year in Japan.
Amanda returned to Georgia in 2010 and graduated the following year. The only thing she was sure of about her life at the time was her desire to return to Japan, and so she moved back through the JET Program (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) in 2012. This time she was placed in Sapporo, the capital and largest city in Hokkaido, which is Japan's northernmost prefecture. (For comparison, Nagoya is in the central region called Chuubu.) She worked as an ALT at two high schools in Sapporo, and while teaching is often only a means to an end for English speakers seeking to live in Japan, JET was almost perfectly suited to what Amanda wanted to do at the time. Her background in education made her feel incredibly prepared for this role, and while she wasn't able to fully utilize her skills all the time, she flexed her teacher muscles when she could. At one of her high schools, Amanda's role was limited to assisting in the classroom only when called upon by the main English teacher. But luckily her other high school was very enthusiastic about foreign languages, and Amanda was basically given free reign to teach her class however she wanted: she planned lessons, chose learning materials, and designed the entire curriculum herself. Outside of teaching, Amanda enjoyed the local cuisine (Hokkaido is known for its fresh seafood), explored nature when the weather permitted, and adjusted to living in snow for the first time in many years.
Hokkaido is also where Amanda met the man who would later become her husband. She lived and taught in Sapporo from 2012 to 2014, and was on track to continue for a third year when her now-husband's job transferred him to Fukuoka in southern Japan. Amanda ended her contract with JET and moved to Fukuoka with him. As a married couple, Fukuoka is where they had their first daughter. Amanda had been continuing in her passion by doing English tutoring, but her daughter's birth marked the beginning of her new journey as a stay-at-home mom. Then the family moved to Nagoya for a couple years, which is where they had their second daughter.
The odd one out
2017 saw Amanda's family relocating for her husband's work again, but this time to the United States. She was very honest with me about how vulnerable that period was, living on the West Coast for the first time ever with two very young children and limited family support due to her relatives being on the opposite side of the country. In addition to post-partum depression, Amanda found herself taking on her husband and children's culture shock as well as her own. And it didn't help that people in their "nice" neighborhood would assume that Amanda was her children's nanny or babysitter. (Amanda lives on the East Coast now and still encounters such racist assumptions from time to time.) Today her family lives in New Jersey, and although they've adjusted more, America still doesn't truly feel like home for any of them. Amanda sometimes feels like the perpetual martyr or "odd one out" in her family, endeavoring to make sure everyone's okay but not truly feeling rooted anywhere herself due to moving around so much.
On the upside, however, Amanda's various interests and increased free time due to her kids getting older have enabled her to think more about what she wants to do for herself ("I don't just only identify as a mom"). She documents all the various Japanese dishes she cooks for her family, and even has a small business selling bento goods and showing people how to make bentos. And in 2020, she and her sister started the We Got To Feed Y'all Podcast. Her sister is also a stay-at-home mom to two young children, so in each episode they discuss parenting and the planning and ingenuity involved in feeding their families. In the future, Amanda would also love to have her own English school or tutoring program where she can once again support people who are trying to learn English.
Amanda is eager to return to Japan when it's feasible to do so, and she and her husband are even considering moving back there someday. She isn't yet sure where in Japan she'd like to go next, though. Nagoya is an enjoyable and comfortable hometown for her, but it gets entirely too hot there for her liking. Sapporo was livelier and Hokkaido Prefecture will always be important to her family, since that's where her in-laws are. And she made a lot of good girlfriends in Fukuoka when she lived there too. Amanda has jokingly dogged Tokyo out in the past, but that's actually the area that she's currently eyeballing. She thinks her family might do well living in the suburbs or outskirts of Tokyo: close enough for work and other activities, but not so close that they feel drowned in the hustle and bustle of that mega-city. She's also incredibly interested in going to Taiwan, where she almost went to do part of her teaching practicum during her Georgia Southern years. For now, Amanda can be found on Instagram (@kilamamaxoxo and @klbentos), Etsy, and We Got to Feed Y'all.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Where Would Beyoncé Go? (NAGOYA)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Nagoya G.A. (Amanda's blog, co-created with former boyfriend)
"Don't sell your soul for a Japanese man" (Amanda's feature in The Japan Times)