I believe it was around my freshman year of high school that I began to understand the true magnitude of our world. I began to realize that our world is comprised of many diverse people, diverse ways of thinking, has tons of new things to learn, and tons of new things to experience. Because of this realization, I decided to study abroad during my time at university. Actually, part of the reason I chose to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was because of its many reputable study abroad programs.
But even before then, I had developed an interest in other countries, languages, and cultures. In high school, I studied Spanish and Chinese, which were both quite fun (my high school did not have Japanese courses, sadly). In America, there are many people who use Spanish, so knowing a bit of it can be useful. I decided to try taking a Chinese class because I had always heard that Chinese was the toughest language to learn, and I liked a good challenge. It ended up becoming my favorite class. Since I enjoyed learning about China and learning Chinese, I chose to major in East Asian Languages and Cultures in college. I wanted to learn even more about other countries. Before entering college, I wasn't yet sure what language I would focus on studying (between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean). But because my academic advisor was also a Japanese teacher, the first day we met, she told me all about the university's Japanese courses and Konan University's Year in Japan Program. That day, I decided that I would study Japanese.
Ever since I was a kid, I've liked various things that originated in Japan. For instance, Studio Ghibli movies, Nintendo games, manga, etc. are all things I enjoy even today. As I got older, I developed an appreciation for history and culture, too. Therefore, I figured learning the language of the country from which my favorite things originate would be a good idea, and thus my interest in Japanese as a language was set. And in order to improve my Japanese, I wanted to study abroad. I'd never traveled abroad before, and studying abroad seemed like a good challenge. While studying abroad in Japan, I think I can improve as a person, become more independent, and practice having open-mindedness. Those are my motives for studying abroad.
I have had a ton of fun experiences while studying abroad in Japan. Meeting many new friends, living with my wonderful host family, and trying new things has easily turned this into the best nine months of my life. It’s impossible to pick a favorite experience because simply everything has become a precious memory.
Until now, I have done and seen various things. We went to Koya-san in Wakayama, Ginkakuji, Byodo-in, Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari Taishi in Kyoto, Senso-ji and Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, and many other beautiful places. I had never seen anything like a Japanese shrine or temple before coming to Japan. I’m really impressed at how well-preserved the culture is here and how Japan manages to keep in touch with its history, even in modern times. It’s wonderful to see so many people participating in festivals and spiritual rituals and such.
However, Japan’s modern infrastructure is amazing, as well. Osaka and Tokyo are huge! I was really surprised when I first visited those cities. I think they’re even bigger than Chicago or New York. You can eat anything, buy anything, find anything, and do anything in these cities. It’s awesome. There are times it can be a little too busy and crowded, but the pros tend to outweigh the cons, and there are plenty of people who love to live in big cities. On the other hand, Japan’s countryside has a different atmosphere. It’s quiet, surrounded by beautiful nature, and the lifestyle there seems to go at a more relaxed pace. But I think either place is good, Japan’s cities and countryside.
Besides traveling, the activities that encompass my everyday life as an international student include hanging out with my friends, chatting with my host family while we watch TV, serving as an English tutor for university students, studying, and going to karaoke. I like this way of living, and I get to discover new things every day, which is fun. I highly recommend the study abroad experience.
Before coming to Japan, I really worried about whether or not I could really do it, study abroad. Living in a foreign country is not easy. You must become accustomed to a new and potentially very different lifestyle and every day you run into problems or misunderstandings. What was mindlessly easy in your home country can become an intimidating obstacle in other countries, especially if you don’t really know the other country’s language. But even if you do know the language, it can still prove difficult. But, in those difficult and often discouraging moments, if you adopt the mindset of, “This is a fun and interesting challenge,” then without a doubt you can create good experiences. This is the mindset I’ve brought with me to Japan in order to combat my anxieties about studying abroad, and I truly believe it is this mindset that has allowed me to live happily here!
I’ve always heard from people who studied abroad, “My study abroad experience changed my life.” Before coming to Japan, I wondered if such a thing would happen to me, too. Would I change? I thought maybe it was a cliche to believe so.
But, as it turns out, I really changed.
It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it, studying abroad. In just nine months, I’ve gotten so much better at Japanese, I’ve become more independent, and I’ve gained so much more confidence in myself. The “me” of nine months ago was afraid of the unknown and making mistakes. But now I can face new challenges and experiences with confidence that I’ve honestly never had before, and it feels absolutely wonderful. I’ve gained a more positive and fun outlook on life since coming here.
I’ve managed to become quite accustomed to the Japanese lifestyle. Before I started living here, I couldn’t understand Japanese very well. I had studied for two years at university, sure, but actually hearing and using Japanese in real life, with native speakers, couldn’t compare to simply running drills in the classroom. I couldn’t even understand what the convenience store clerks or what the train conductor’s announcements were saying, which negatively affected my confidence and made me afraid of speaking. But now I feel as though I can do anything on my own here now, using Japanese. There’s still plenty of vocabulary and grammar points that I don’t know, and of course I still have many moments where I can’t understand what’s being said, but compared to nine months ago, I have definitely, without a doubt, improved a lot. Improving my Japanese was one of my main goals in studying abroad here, so I’m very happy and proud of myself for achieving that.
I’m very happy in Japan. My host family is wonderful. I’ve made so many awesome friends. All the food here is delicious. I never want this study abroad program to end.
From here on out, I will continue to study Japanese. I intend to return to Japan, one way or another. After graduating from university, I’m thinking about becoming an English teacher in Japan. At Konan University, I served as an English tutor for my part-time job, and it was a lot of fun, so I imagine teaching English would be a good route for me.
There are still many places I want to visit in Japan, and I certainly want to see my host family and Japanese friends again, so I shall return. It’s thanks to my host family, my Japanese friends, my fellow exchange student friends, and the teachers and staff at Konan University that these nine months have been the best of my life.
Sincerely, thank you, everyone. Thank you, Japan.