Some things are just difficult to learn unless you´re in the correct setting. Japanese is a good example. A college classroom is okay for learning Japanese, and unfortunately better than what I can do right now. Studying abroad is the only way anyone ever seems to actually learn Japanese and I don´t think that will ever happen for me.
Since I no longer have the burden of college, or the luxury of the being forced to study, I´m at a bit of a loss as to how to maintain my Japanese. I know just enough to make forgetting things really easy, and not enough to make the skill actually useful right now. I didn´t touch Japanese for over 2 years between when I took it highschool and college. I take it as a credit to my character that I didn´t forget it and actually slightly improved over those 2 years.
I don´t know why I bother maintaining my Japanese now. What are the chances of me ever going to Japan? Unless I specifically move there or try to find a job there, I don´t see myself very likely using it. Maybe I like the challenge of learning to write more characters, but I find it hard to justify why I spend time on it. I´ve never been out of the country and hardly left the midwest of America. I didn´t make a choice never to travel. It just never happened.
My friends think this lack of travel experience is a huge problem. I find it hard to see why. Many of benefits of study abroad are things I already consider well within in my skill set. I´ve managed to have a good amount of culture shock here at home. I´ve had to actively seek it, but I have always found it. Despite my lack of first hand international experience, I am a fairly international kinda guy. To my friends though, my apathy to travel is nothing short of a sure sign of an underlying phobia.
Travel reminds me a Zen koan I read somewhere once. Went something like this:
A student once went to see his master. When the student arrived and found the master kept a pet bird in a cage. The student asked the master why they kept the bird caged when it should be free to go where it wanted. The master opened the cage and as the bird flew away asked, ¨and how will the bird escape this? ¨.
Don´t hold me to the authenticity of that Koan. I simply want to use it to illustrate my feeling on travel. I´m pretty sure no one will accept it as an explanation, but there it is.
Once I am in a new place, what will I do there thats different from here? That´s all that really matters to me. Traveling somewhere simply to escape the midwest isn´t really a good way to become free. Of course, this all might be the rationalization of someone who is afraid to travel.
I recently tried to use Skritter to learn Japanese. It´s not for me. I can hear my old Japanese teacher deploring how it doesn´t teach proper writing style. I personally feel like I should be able to study without it.
I recently decided I should read more Japanese Wikipedia. Even better, I should edit English Wikipedia to contain some of the information in Japanese Wikipedia. This would really help my ability to read and make me feel like I´m at least doing something productive (whether this is actually productive is a debate for later). I think that is something I can do and be happy with, even if it´s as close as I ever get to going to Japan.