Abby is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Japan
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
When I was initially presented with the opportunity to study abroad, I had a difficult time deciding between London and Japan. Although both of the programs offered the experience of a lifetime, I quickly realized that if I was given the opportunity to live in a different country, I wanted to go somewhere that was completely different from where I have grown up my whole life. Therefore, there was no question that the Japan program was absolutely perfect for me. Additionally, as an Asian woman, I felt that not just traveling to, but actually living in an Asian country for the first time in my life would be extremely insightful, fulfilling, and rewarding.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
One cultural experience which I believe made a lasting impression was when we were given the opportunity to participate in the Nezu Shrine Festival. We lived close to the Nezu Shrine, a Shinto shrine, and we were asked by local members of the community to help shoulder a portable shrine during one of the festivals. Even though it was quite a challenge to bounce the shrine off of our shoulders for a few hours, it was one of the best experiences I have ever been a part of throughout my entire life. Not only did I have a phenomenal time, but I also knew that I was participating in an important part of Japanese culture. By joining as one with the Japanese people who had invited us to assist them, we created a strong friendship with the locals, an occurrence that is quite common and unique to the Japan program and also, we honored the Shinto Gods and kept them happy by exerting all of our energy into bouncing the shrine off of shoulders as a sign of gratitude and thankfulness for once taking their land and building upon it. Being aware that our actions encompassed a deep cultural meaning made a lasting impression on me, and I will never forget the experience.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Although this sounds a bit cliche, my overall study abroad experience was so, incredibly life changing. I absolutely loved every second of the four months I lived in Japan, however, they were also the quickest four months of my life. The weeks flew by faster than I could have ever imagined possible, because it seemed like I was always having the time of my life and learning so much. Although Japan was undoubtedly overwhelming and challenging at times, this is an aspect of my experience which I truly treasure. I don't think I would've gotten as much out of the program as I did if I hadn't been thrown into a culture which is so drastically different from the American culture. I now feel much more comfortable with my identity. I believe that living in Japan challenged me to go beyond what I once thought my limits were. Through doing this, I discovered within myself, a new level of independence and ability to adapt to all aspects of a new lifestyle. Additionally, I feel confident in saying that my study abroad experience encouraged me to become much more comfortable with my identity as I was able to learn more about myself and who I want to become. It was truly eye opening to be able to be part of the majority and minority at the same time for the first time in my life. As an adopted Korean, being among the Asian majority in Japan was an opportunity which I feel unexplainably thankful for. Contrastingly, I was also perceived as the minority in Japan as I was almost always viewed as an American. My study abroad experience confronted me with a challenge to learn how to balance my multiple identities and become more secure with my identity and proud of who I am and am becoming. Additionally, my study abroad experience wouldn't have been the same without the amazing people who were apart of it. The group of students from CSBSJU who I lived with were the ones who sincerely made my time in Japan what it was. I know that we will always have a special bond, a love for Japan, and endless inside jokes that we will look back upon and laugh about for the rest of our lives. We were also given the opportunity to live with students from Malaysia, Bulgaria, and Nepal. We not only became exceedingly close to them, but also, learned much about their home countries, furthering our cultural awareness and knowledge. And of course, I could never forget the countless Japanese individuals who so quickly became my lifelong friends. I believe that the Japan program is extremely unique in the fact that we, as American students, are so deeply immersed within the Japanese people since we attend a Japanese university. Resultantly, I was given the opportunity to meet so many new Japanese people every single day through occurrences as simple as asking someone a question at the supermarket. The people are SO kind, caring, and patient and always eager to talk and form relationships. Lastly, my host mother and sister are undoubtedly the best people I have ever met. They welcomed me with open arms and although the program had only one scheduled weekend for me to stay with them at their home, I ultimately ended up seeing them very frequently throughout the four months. They genuinely became my second family, and not a day goes by where I don't think about them!
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
From my experiences abroad, I gained a strong sense of the Japanese culture. I think it is crucial to become familiarized with other cultures in order to develop into a worldly and knowledgeable individual, and because the Japanese culture differs so greatly from that of America, I believe that I was given an exceptional opportunity to take a lot away from the experience. I took classes that I would never have taken otherwise including Japanese Politics, Japanese Traditional Arts, Social Development in Japan, and Japanese Business. I also traveled around Japan to areas which hold great historical significance such as Hiroshima. Additionally, it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the Japanese culture through actually living in it, interacting with the Japanese people, and taking classes under a Japanese professor. My time in Japan encouraged me to expand my perspectives beyond those which I have gained through living in America. Lastly, as a Communication and English major, studying abroad opened my eyes to the endless opportunities which Japan has to offer. Before going abroad, I honestly never thought of moving out of the country after graduation, mostly due to the fact that I feared leaving and putting myself into a completely new and foreign situation, however, I can now happily say that I am now deeply considering teaching English in Japan upon my graduation from CSBSJU.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Do not hold yourself back from anything! I didn't want to regret anything so I tried everything that was presented to me throughout my time in Japan. I ate foods I never thought I would ever even try (intestines, salmon eggs, pig feet), explored more cities than I would have ever thought possible, and used a language on a daily basis that I was challenged to pick up in four short months. Force yourself to step outside of your box and change your life: consider a program which challenges you mentally, physically, and emotionally. In turn, you will learn so much about yourself and be presented with a once in a life time experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.