The Study Abroad Newsletter

Small Kine Colds or Whatevas

Keola Spencer

Linguistics and Japanese Studies major
Hokkaido University, Japan

Keola in the snow My name is Keolakawai Spencer, and I have been studying at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan since September 2019. At UH Hilo, I am a Linguistics and Japanese Studies double major, so it seemed natural for me to branch out into Japan in order to further my language studies. As the UH Hilo Linguistics program is under Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani, one main focus that is implemented into our curriculum is the importance of preserving indigenous language and culture. Current-day Japan is home to two main indigenous groups: Ryukyuans and Ainu, with the former residing in the southern-most islands, including Okinawa and Amami, and the latter residing in the northern-most islands, including Hokkaido and some parts of northeastern Russia. With the encouragement of my wonderful adviser, Dr. Yumiko Ohara, I decided to set off into the snow-covered city of Sapporo and enroll in the year-long 日本語・日本文化研究 (Japanese Language and Culture Studies) program. Here, I take courses entirely in Japanese. The most difficult course I am taking is definitely the Ainu Studies course, which details the unique history, culture, and language of the Ainu people.

Everyday seems like a new adventure, especially in the extremely cold climate that Hokkaido is known for. In terms of memorable events, truly experiencing seasons for the first time has certainly left an impression on me. When I first arrived to Sapporo, my light jacket was sufficient to survive the chilly night. However, after one month of comfortable weather, the snow came almost instantly. In class, a student interrupted the teacher's lecture by pointing to the window and exclaiming that it was snowing. My teacher laughed and said, "Go ahead and take a picture. You'll enjoy it for this moment, but soon, your interest will disappear and become complaints." She was right. That night, returning to my dormitory, which is a 45-minute walk from campus, I realized that I was not prepared for the extreme change of weather. Nonetheless, with snow falling at an incredible speed, businesspeople were still bolting down the streets in their uniforms and suitcases, schoolkids were still zooming past on their bicycles, and tourists were still snapping photos of trees that were holding the final leaves of autumn.