The flight to Tokyo was exciting for the SJMC Japan study abroad students, who couldn’t wait to say hello (konnichwa in Japanese) to Tokyo. The journey was packed with challenges, delightful moments, delicious food and bonding experiences.

The trip to Japan has been on every student’s mind for months, with countless hours spent planning and preparing. While many students got ready by ordering yen and purchasing individual pocket Wi-Fi, others faced unexpected challenges along the way.

Among the group, digital media innovation major Laura Restrepo Posada faced a unique set of challenges in preparing for the trip. Two months before the trip, she began experiencing intense stomach pain. Despite multiple clinical appointments, no correct diagnosis was found. 

“The trip to Japan is a dream that I have been working on for more than a year and just letting it go wasn’t an option,” Posada says. Despite the gamble of missing the trip, a pre-departure trip to Colombia for a second opinion (diagnosis: manageable stomach irritation) proved beneficial. Sticking to easily digestible foods, she returned in time to participate in SJMC Japan and has enjoyed the journey so far with minimal discomfort.

While some students experienced some issues pre-departure, others found time to honor a Japanese tradition. 

A few days before the trip, SJMC Japan Academic Program Director Gilbert D. Martinez enlightened students on a key aspect of Japanese culture: the significance of gift-giving. To foster cultural exchange, he suggested students bring candy for their Japanese peers.

Kimberly Garza, a public relations major, prepared in advance to show her respect for the unique Japanese tradition. Garza didn’t just stop at candy. She added a thoughtful touch by including adorable Hello Kitty stickers. These gifts go beyond treats – they’re a way to express student’s appreciation and respect for Japanese culture, setting the stage for a meaningful exchange filled with cultural understanding.

Despite the differing preparation among the students, most were set to land in Los Angeles, before tackling an 11-hour flight to Japan. A few students on different itineraries flew direct from Toronto, Houston or Dallas.

After the first flight, most students felt more energized and sociable. Upon landing at Los Angeles International Airport, they split into smaller groups to find food and locate their gate. One group of students spotted a Hi-Chew wrapper and jokingly remarked that it was a sign they were “getting closer to Japan” (literally). This lighthearted moment brought them closer and shared a good laugh.

While all were feeling the excitement of travel, students had mixed emotions about their in-flight meals.

Airline food has certainly evolved over the years, ditching the days of mere peanuts and pretzels for hot meals on long journeys. However, the trip on United Airlines offered a glimpse into the reality that in-flight dining can still be a bit of a gamble.

Students on the 11-hour flight shared varied experiences when it came to the onboard meals.  While some dishes received positive reviews, others left passengers feeling less than satisfied.  It seems the key to a happy belly at cruising altitude might lie in strategic menu selection.

Students sitting toward the back of the plane were disappointed as some of the more popular dishes ran out before the cart reached their seats. Those in the last rows were left with vegetable stir fry for lunch and eggs for breakfast, which didn’t quite meet their expectations. In contrast, most others who enjoyed sesame chicken for lunch and pancakes for breakfast had a delightful dining experience.

For international studies major Tobi Jaiyeoba, it was a unique taste of Japan. Her lunch options included yakisoba stir-fried noodles and beef teriyaki with rice.

Despite these challenges and obstacles, students were relieved to settle in their hotel rooms and rest up for the first full day in Tokyo on Tuesday.

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