No Vacancies: My Independence Abroad

Zac Jones Japan

While researching Osaka in preparation for my education abroad program, I realized that I would need to book a hotel for one night in between when I arrived and when I could move into my apartment. I scoured the rail maps for hours, trying to make sense of them so I could book a hotel near one that would take me to campus the next day. I found Toyonaka Station, a few stops away on the monorail from the designated Osaka University stop. Perfect! I booked my hotel and anxiously waited for my departure day to come.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m stepping off my first 14 hour flight in Japan, exhausted, hot, and a little scared. It’s 11 pm, so the trains have almost stopped running. I know it will take me over an hour to get to where I need to go, which isn’t enough time to catch a connecting train; I take a bus to a Hilton in the heart of downtown to get my bearings. Confused as to what my next step should be, I ask every cab driver in the vicinity if they can take me to my hotel. For some reason, they all wave me away and claim to have no idea where it is, despite the fact that I have a map printed out for them to see. After the fifth straight denial, I go into the Hilton to see if I can get some real help. There, a concierge that speaks really good English gives me the worst news I could imagine: I had booked my hotel near Toyonaka Station…in Toyonaka the CITY, which was conveniently three hours away.

Suddenly I got desperate, and I used every last coin I had to call the entire roster of hotels within walking distance. Each time, I was told there were no vacancies and that they couldn’t understand my Japanese, and was abruptly hung up on. Thus, I walked the streets of downtown Osaka at midnight, dragging my busted suitcase and wondering how safe it was to sleep in the open like the homeless. Just when I reached my absolute limit, a woman walked past me and eyed me slowly, then doubled back to speak to me. She spoke limited English, but enough to understand that I was homeless for the night and afraid, and she offered to take me to an internet café. She spent the night with me and helped me figure out how to e-mail my family to tell them that I was alright. In the morning, she took me to a food market in the basement of a department store, and got me free samples of almost every local food to try for breakfast.

When it was time for me to get on the subway to head to school, I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been. Somehow this woman had taken an entire night out of her time to show kindness to a confused American dragging an over-sized suitcase and looking like he was about to cry at two in the morning. Without her, I don’t know how I would have survived that first night. So thank you, Kaori, for showing me the kindness that I was to come to associate with all of Japan, and ensuring that I could continue on to begin my studies at Osaka University. Hontoni, arigatougozaimashita.

[Disclaimer: My program was a direct program, one of the most independent programs we offer at UK. This meant I literally signed up for major independence abroad because I had no one to guide me upon arriving. If you’re worried about going abroad for your first or second time, we offer a huge variety of more structured programs – just ask us! Challenges are just one part of studying abroad and education abroad can be for everyone!]

Photo courtesy of Zac Jones.


Zac Jones is junior at the University of Kentucky studying International Studies, Anthropology, and Japanese. Zac participated in the JShIP program at Osaka University during summer 2014.