Ask Mai Taniyama how she chose which country to study abroad in, and the only answer she could give was "intuition."
Having never traveled outside of Japan before in her life, and unlikely to see another such opportunity in the foreseeable future, Mai was at first overwhelmed by the choice before her. A semester abroad. Her one chance to travel and experience a different culture. Where would she go...?
She had no particular favorite, but that wasn't to say she wasn't interested. In fact, every country looked so interesting and worthwhile that she couldn't possibly choose between them. Mai had spent hours pouring over brochures. Considering her concentration in English, it only made sense to go to an English-speaking country, but that still meant choosing between the likes of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, and more. How was she supposed to choose?
In the end, Mai went with her gut. She had been wavering back and forth between the US and UK for nearly a week, but at the very last minute, something within her screamed: America! America!
And that's how she wound up at an university just outside of Boston, with a quiet, laid-back suburban campus, close enough to the city that she could easily go sight-seeing on weekends. So far, despite the jetlag, Mai had managed to successfully move into her dorm and gone through orientation. And tomorrow, classes would finally start.
But now, she was having second thoughts. Spring semester began in January, and as she was beginning to find out, New England winters were blistering. She'd been here only a few days now, and already there had been a snow storm, effectively bringing her sightseeing plans to a halt. Today, she'd only managed to visit the dining hall and grocery store before freezing winds forced her to take shelter in her dorm room for the rest of the day.
But it wasn't only the weather that discouraged her. Mai had to admit, she was feeling overwhelmed. Everyone here spoke so fast, it was hard to keep up, making her feel stupid whenever she tried talking to someone. And the thought of taking classes entirely in English intimidated her.
She ought to be excited. She had dreamt of this for so long, had saved up for it, working two part-time jobs and studying her butt off to make the grades. She'd only just gotten here...so then why did she suddenly want to go home?
Curled up in bed, Mai sighed. It must be the culture shock setting in. She felt a little pathetic being homesick so soon, but she couldn't deny that right now, she just really wanted to hear a familiar voice.
She supposed that, at times like this, most people would call their family. Since she didn't have that option, Mai decided to try ringing her friends. It was morning in Japan right now. Maybe she'd be able to catch someone before they left for school or work.
After trying a few numbers, someone finally picked up. "Hello?"
"Hi, Keiko! Guess who's calling?"
"Mai? Oh my gosh, is that you? You're calling from America right now?!"
"That's right! Good ole U.S. of A!"
Keiko let out a small squeal, before quickly lowering her voice. "Oh, sorry, forgot I was on a train..."
Mai laughed. "Mind having a chat during your commute?"
There were the expected questions. What's it like over there? How are you adjusting? Are the food portions really that big? Are you ready for your first class? And...
"So...met any cute American boys yet?"
Mai snorted. "Saving that for last, were you?"
"No, seriously! Go find yourself a foreign boyfriend! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Mai! You've gotta take full advantage of it!"
"That's not why I'm here, though!" Mai groaned.
"Oh, come on. It might do you some good. Like maybe help you get over Daidouji-kun."
Mai huffed. "There's nothing to get over, Keiko. He's ancient history."
"But you haven't dated anyone else!"
"I just haven't found anyone I like. Besides, I'm trying to focus on school now..."
Keiko scoffed. "Since when did you become such a serious student? Relax! Go to some parties! Have a fling with a hot guy! Enjoy your youth!"
"Keiko! I'm trying to be a responsible adult here!" Mai laughed.
"Mai," Keiko sighed, turning serious, "I'm only telling you this because someone's got to. I know you have it rough, but don't forget to have fun too, alright?"
Mai smiled, tears in her eyes. "Okay. Thanks, Keiko."
"Oh, here's my stop. I've gotta go. It was great hearing from you, Mai! Good luck and stay safe!"
After she hung up the phone, Mai lay back in bed, suddenly contemplative.
Keiko was right. This was her one chance to live and learn in a foreign country. She had to make the most of it. So what if the weather was lousy or her English wasn't perfect, she would adjust. And as for her loneliness, she would just have to make new friends, among the other visiting students and local students too. That was all part of the experience.
Mai nodded to herself. And why not attend a party or two? It couldn't hurt. Even better if she found someone to go with...
She stared up at the ceiling. "A cute American boy, huh...?"
Actually, there was someone...well technically, they hadn't really met. She wasn't even sure if he was real or just a figment of her imagination, but...
Since the day she'd arrived here, she kept seeing him in her dreams. A teenage boy. She couldn't quite recall his face now, but she was sure it wasn't anyone she'd met before. Or at least remembered meeting.
He never did anything noteworthy. He always just stood in the background, watching her silently. Most of the time she hardly took notice of him, but once or twice their eyes had met, and he'd smiled at her.
Who was he? Why did he keep appearing in her dreams? Maybe he was someone she'd seen at the airport, who for some reason had become burned into her subconscious. Or something like that.
Whatever. Real or not, he was too young for her anyway. Shaking her head at that silly thought, Mai cracked open one of her text books. Stupid jetlag. Hopefully reading about classic literature would put her to sleep.