Sediq is from Mazar e Sharif, Afghanistan, and moved with his family to Kabul in 2010. A medical doctor by training, he had been working for the UN and other international organizations when he decided to apply for a scholarship to continue his medical studies.
In 2014, after a long application process, Sediq received a scholarship to study public health in Kyoto, Japan. Although he had never lived outside Afghanistan before, Sediq was excited about the move.
“I’d been interested in Japan for a long time – the Japanese culture, the Japanese attitude towards work. Japan in general has a good reputation in Afghanistan.”
Upon arriving in Japan, Sediq was struck by how different Kyoto was than what he had expected.
“Japan is a developed country, one of the top three economies in the world. I thought there would be 50, 100-story buildings! But Kyoto wasn’t the way I thought it would be; it’s a beautiful old city with a lot of temples and historic sites.”
The cherry blossoms, clean air and relaxed lifestyle of Sediq’s newly adopted city quickly won him over.
“Kyoto is a very beautiful city, I love it. It’s my second home. Even now, I miss my small apartment and neighborhood, my classmates and professors.”
Sediq’s family wasn’t able to join him when he first arrived in Kyoto, so he had to adjust to life as a bachelor. This included cooking and cleaning for himself.
“I lived in a hostel with a lot of internationals. There was a shared kitchen, and it was very nice. I’m not a good cook [laughs]. It was one of things I suffered a lot with! I had to adapt. It took me a month, but I slowly got better.”
Everywhere Sediq went in Japan, people were curious about his background and country. Likewise, when he visited home for the holidays, his family and friends had many questions about life in Japan.
“People hear about Afghanistan a lot – Afghanistan is on the news, whether it’s good or bad. When you say you’re from Afghanistan, people are curious. They want to learn more about the real situation.
When I’m home visiting family, everywhere I’m going people are interested in hearing about Japan. Especially about chopsticks! People ask, “How can they eat with sticks!” I brought a few pairs for my cousin as a gift.”
Sediq did not find Japanese culture too difficult to adapt to. In many ways, he says, it is similar to Afghan culture. However there were still things he missed at home.
“Japan is still part of Asia, and their culture is like ours. People are very respectful – the Japanese bow, and we put our hands on our hearts. They take their shoes off going inside people’s house, and we do the same. When they invite friends, we follow almost the same formalities.
Traveling from ten or twenty poorest countries in the world to one of the most developed nations in the world, you’re amazed with a lot of things. Yet you miss your friends, your family. You even miss the dust in Kabul! It takes time to be integrated in a different society.”
By seeing new parts of the world, Sediq believes, we get a new perspective that we can bring back to our home countries.
“I think it’s very necessary for us to travel and for us to see different people, different attitudes, different cultures, different ways of doing things. It’s very important, especially in the particular situation of Afghanistan, to go outside and see other nations and come back. Almost 40 years of war has caused the country to suffer greatly, and people have kind of gotten used to that. They accept the abnormal as the normal. By going out, you’re motivated again to not accept the way things are, but to change them.”