Postcard from Abroad: “Live Together, Thrive Together”

By João Branco Chaves, Contributing Writer

João Branco Chaves ’25 at a temple. (Photo Courtesy of João Branco Chaves)

March 3rd, 2024, 5:00 AM, Mt. Minobu Kuonji Temple (身延山 久遠寺), Japan. After spending the night at the Temple accommodations, we woke up early to attend the morning Buddhist service. The service was followed by an almost two-hour detailed tour of the Temple grounds by two of the Temple monks. We were lucky enough to enter rooms and spaces that are typically closed to the public. As we entered the final prayer room, the monk brought our attention to a sentence written in Kanji characters on the wall and asked for our silence. He then read “共生共栄” which in a literal translation to English means “coexistence and mutual prosperity of two or more entities without antagonism towards each other” or a simplified  version “Live together, thrive together.” This sentence concluded a 48-hour spiritual retreat that I and a group of fellow Temple University Japan- Tokyo Campus students had the opportunity to participate in. The goal for these two days was to expand our knowledge and engage in both Shintoism and Buddhism religions, as well as to step into the unknown and reflect on the past, present, and future.

You might wonder if I have ever practiced those religions or if I even speak Japanese to understand all the prayers and services that we attended. The answer is no. I do not practice those religions, nor can I say I have an understanding of Japanese (I have been learning the language for two months now, but that is all). However, I know that participating in this weekend trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and keep expanding my horizons. When looking back at this trip, the reality is that until today, I was unable to put into words what I experienced during those 48 hours. If I were asked to describe that trip in one word, I would say magical. Although, the word magical does not describe how unique and transformative the spiritual retreat was. Spending one day at the Shrine and the following day at a Temple truly allowed me to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reflect on many aspects of my life.

Opportunities like this are what have led me over the last five years to engage in multiple study abroad experiences. At the age of 17 I left Lisbon, Portugal, where I am originally from, and I moved to Singapore to complete my last two years of high school at United World College of Stough East Asia – Dover Campus. As I then moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, United States to complete my undergraduate studies at Gettysburg College, people asked me why I wanted to do a semester abroad within my abroad experience. I always said, “Making the world my classroom has been one of the best gifts that life has given me. Therefore, while the scholarships exist and the opportunities are out there, I want to keep stepping into the unknown with hopes that I will become a better person and make meaningful friendships and connections.”

(Photo Courtesy of João Branco Chaves)

Therefore, over the last few months, I have been able to make Tokyo, the biggest city in the world, my classroom. While double majoring in business, organization, and management and theater arts, I have been able to expand my passion for traditional Japanese theater by attending Noh (能), Bunraku (文楽), and Kabuki (歌舞伎) performances. Alongside this, I have been expanding my knowledge of Asian business models by analyzing different case studies in my Introduction to Asian Business class. However, being abroad offers more than just the study component. Studying abroad has also given me the opportunity to build bridges and create meaningful connections by making new friends and meeting people from all over the world. It has given me the opportunity to participate in a Sushi (すし) workshop with Chef Morris and experience a live Sumo (相撲) tournament with my class and Japanese Professor, Matsuhashi Sensei.

Yet, living in Tokyo and having all of these great opportunities around Japan for almost the last two months has been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. It has shown me that not everything goes as planned and sometimes some unexpected feelings and situations come along. For instance, the feeling of being alone in such a big city and not having friends right away is something that no one is prepared for or can be ready for. I experienced such a feeling in my first few weeks in Tokyo. Even with all my previous abroad experience, these down moments are part of the journey. These are the moments where I am asked to look around and understand how my life journey ended up in Tokyo, and realize it is in my hands to make my experience the best I can make it.

Whether in Singapore, the United States, or Japan, life abroad has given me the opportunity to learn from mistakes, celebrate the small things in life, and enjoy every moment to the fullest, knowing that one thing is certain: what we take from life are the memories, so we might as well enjoy the moment at the fullest and establish meaningful connections when we can.

This article originally appeared on page 21 of the No. 2 April 2024 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.

João Branco Chaves ’25 visiting Mt. Fuji. (Photo Courtesy of João Branco Chaves)

Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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