My Adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun | UMD Study Abroad Blog

Top 3 Take-Aways and Why UMD Students Should Consider Studying Abroad

My study abroad experience has taught me a lot of valuable lessons , but these three seem the most important. The first lesson I learned while abroad was to be grateful in all circumstances. There were a few weeks near the beginning of my semester abroad during which I had limited financial means, which resulted in having to ration my food until I could buy food again. During this time, I ate things I usually wouldn’t, such as buttered noodles. This made me realize that I had been picky and ungrateful to some degree at home, making my family accommodate, for example, my apathetic attitude towards pizza. Living on rations of butter noodles made me realize that pizza sounded great. After this experience, I intend to be more thankful and accept whatever I am given.

The second lesson being abroad has taught me is that being so far away from my friends and family is really tough. Although I am enjoying my exploring Japanese culture and learning a lot, I miss home much more than I anticipated. However, thankfully I have been able to communicate with them regularly, which has been a blessing. 

The third lesson that studying abroad has taught me is that I need to live in the moment. I have the tendency to want to plan ahead and worry about future problems too much. This causes me to become stressed and overwhelmed, so I must try to take one day at a time, dealing with each day’s challenges as they come. Also, spur of the moment plans are sometimes the ones that are the most fun, so I need to allow myself to participate in them once in a while without worrying about future finances as heavily. I may only get to be here in Japan once, so I need to let myself go out and experience everything I can before I return home.

UMass Dartmouth students should consider studying abroad because it is an adventure through which you learn more about the world and yourself. By attending a university abroad, you will learn about the culture of the country both in class and outside of class. You may even befriend some people of other backgrounds, which will give you more opportunities to see the world from a different perspective. Furthermore, if you are able to stay connected, this friendship could last a lifetime. Attending school events, festivals, trying new foods and learning about your classmates are all valuable and culturally informative experiences unique to studying abroad. These experiences and observations can also help you reflect on our culture, as compared with that of the country you visit.

In regards to personal growth, living abroad especially alone makes you more independent. In my case, I live by myself and cook my own meals most of the time. I must go grocery shopping and figure out how to get wherever I want to go, or tag along with someone. This is my first time providing for myself completely, without a meal plan or family members helping out. As a result, I have become more independent. However, being so independent has made me more thankful for my family members back home who have provided for me in the past and been there to support me every step of the way.


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Surprise!

The thing that has surprised me most during my study abroad experience is my ability to rely on my faith.Back home, I think I’ve always been too independent and hard on myself. When faced with a problem, I would run around in circles trying to find a way to fix it. This habit did not transfer when I can to Japan largely because I am so unfamiliar with my surroundings and situation, that usually there was nothing I could do to fix the problem, so I had to entrust it to God.

This has now taught me to let go and let God work things out whenever I find myself faced with a situation I feel like I cannot handle. When I begin to worry or become afraid due to a given circumstance, whether that means getting lost in Japan or being unsure on how well prepared I am for a test, I just do my best and trust the rest to Him. Sometimes I panic at first, but after the initial shock wears off, I am able to face the challenges with a calm mind because I know He is in control.

This has also allowed me to get over daily disappointments quickly. This is a decided improvement from my usual dwelling on and overthinking them so that I end up making myself upset or thinking that someone is upset when they are not. He gives me the peace to let it go, knowing that it just was not meant to be.

Having the perspective that everything will work out, somehow, has also helped with my depression. Although being away from my family and friends has sometimes caused me to feel immense loneliness that spirals into depression, I know that God is with me through it and that it will not last forever. The depression will pass, I just need to wait it out and stay positive. 


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Top 5 Things to Do in Japan

The first thing that a visitor to Japan should not miss is seeing the bamboo forest. Even if you aren’t very interested in bamboo, the atmosphere created by the environment is incredible. The sound of the bamboo swaying in the wind and being surrounded by such enormous vegetation is truly something to behold. There is also a shrine there, which you can buy souvenirs at or get a stamp from.

Although I have not yet gone myself, Nara park is somewhere I think everyone should visit while in Japan. It is the place  am most excited to visit. We will be going in December. The special thing about Nara park is that there are deer everywhere, which you can interact with and feed. I plan on taking many pictures and videos! I love animals in general, but since the deer is my spirit animal, I have a special place for it in my heart. 

As far as food goes, the two places I would suggest you visit first are a ramen restaurant and a place that sells crepes. Ramen is a famous Japanese dish, and is said to be quite delicious, but some people like myself have only been able to eat the packaged version which you microwave. Since I have never had prepared ramen in America, I cannot compare them unfortunately, but restaurant ramen here is very satisfying and wonderfully tasty. Although the broth is a little salty, it not as overwhelming as in the packaged version, which is one thing that makes it a lot better for me. It turns out that ramen is among my favorite foods here in Japan, despite greatly disliking its convenient counterpart.Another awesome thing about eating ramen here is the variety of broths and toppings to choose from. I personally enjoy eggs and onions in mine.

Crepes are very different here compared to back home. First of all, they are a dessert here while I have seen them served for breakfast in America. They are very cute, coming rolled up in a cone-shape with the filling inside. I ate my filling first, which consisted of ice cream and custard, and then ate the crepe itself which was covered in the yummy filling. This crepe was a cold one, but they also sell hot varieties, which I hope to try while I am here in Japan. Since I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of eating it with some friends, I think it is something I would definitely recommend.

The last place I wanted to include was a tough decision, as there are quite a few places I would want to recommend, but I think I will go with Umekoji park. This park is not unlike other parks, but its location is ideal as it is not far from Kyoto Station and it is also near a train museum and Kyoto Aquarium. A park is a great place to go with some friends to have a picnic or play games together, or even just talk. There are sometimes vendors nearby selling food, so you can also perhaps try something new. Plus, given its location, you can decide to head to the aquarium or museum afterwards and easily walk to the station to get home.


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Career Connections

My study abroad experience has made me more open to alternative paths to the type of career I wish to pursue. For starters, learning Japanese definitely makes my original dream of making comics for a Japanese company more possible. The best way to do this may be to teach English in Japan for a while before finding a way to get into this field. However, I do not think this is the right choice for me, because despite enjoying my time here in Japan, I could not live so far away from my friends and family for such a long time. If I only came here on business trips every so often, that would be doable and a better fit for me. 

This realization broadened my scope of options, as I determined that what I want to accomplish primarily is to move and connect people through my stories. Therefore, I am considering looking into the american comics industry. I would even be happy if I were able to become a novelist, perhaps just designing the covers to my novels. Although, there is one Japanese comic company which I recently found out has been employing people from all around the world, which is exciting and could be a way to work in the Japanese comics field without leaving home indefinitely. They have an application where people like me can create comics and read them, which could be a good start to getting my work out there and perhaps one day noticed by a comics company.

While making my career goals more flexible, this experience has also inspired me to shoot for my dreams with a new fire in my eyes. I will keep writing and drawing, developing my work each day so that one day I can fulfill my dream. Being here has made me more determined to work on my web comic, since it will be a great way to reach people and practice the process of making comics, so that in time it becomes almost second nature.

I have made some connections with other students which I hope I can keep in touch with after I return home. Learning about various other cultures, including of course Japanese culture, and finding out more about how people from different backgrounds view situations is a wonderful opportunity. I hope we can inspire and learn from each other, even when we are millions of miles away.


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Cultural Immersion

Unfortunately, my engagement with the local community has been minimal, since I am not sure how to get more involved, especially with my low level of Japanese comprehension. However, I have a Japanese Conversation Buddy who I meet with on weekly basis. She has told me about a few nearby food places that I should try, including the university cafeteria and a seasonal treat served only at Japanese McDonald’s. Aside from this, I have spoken with a handful of Japanese students affiliated with the International Affairs Office, as they helped us move into our apartments and apply for our national health insurance.The longest conversation I had was about the difficulties of learning the Japanese language, and the complicated nature of kanji, which even Japanese students struggle with, according to him. In both my International Negotiation and Comprehensive Japanese classes, I partnered up with a Japanese student for a class activity and we were able to chat for a little while after we finished.

The rest of my interaction with the local community has been limited to walking past them, standing next to them or buying something from the store they work at. Although, I did attend an event held by a local organization called KyoTomorrow that specifically wanted international students in attendance. The event took place mainly at a park, where we ate lunch, talked and played some Japanese outdoor games. I will be attending another event hosted by them this weekend which is an edamame festival.

While living here for the past month and a half, I have observed a lot about the local culture, but my initial observation was that Japanese people are usually very reserved and quiet when waiting in an elevator or riding a train. Also, most people that I see are walking by themselves.Once in a while, there will be a group of friends talking quietly or a mother and her children, which is quite heartwarming. When asking for directions, the local community is very helpful, doing their best to answer the question, even if they are not sure themselves.Another observation I have made is that in regards to transportation, most people seem to walk or ride their bikes around the city instead of driving around in a car. There are, of course, still cas on the road, but there are a lot more people walking and riding bikes than I have ever seen in America. Japanese bikes even have baskets for groceries along with a seat for a child.

I love all the new things I am learning, at school as well as in my travels. I like that the crosswalks have a light that tells you when to cross the street. Talking with other students is something I look forward to, as  want to make more connections and form friendships here. So far, I have liked most of the Japanese food I have tried, and look forward to trying more.

Like I have mentioned in past entries, being alone most of the time has been hard to adjust to, since I am used to having friends or family with me. Fortunately, I have been able to keep in touch with my family through the internet, but I hope to have more opportunities to go out with classmates or attend local events.The other adjustment that I have not quite been able to make is getting used the longer days of classes and the frequent tests. Towards the end of the week, I feel really drained. Hopefully I will become accustomed to this soon, making it more manageable. Until then, I will take my days one step at a time and give it my best!


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Academics

So far, studying in Kyoto is a really nice experience. I enjoy walking to school and being greeted at the entrance in the morning. The various events that different organizations put on are also pretty cool. I was able to figure out where my classes were pretty easily too, which was a relief.

My schedule on Monday and Tuesday consists of just the two daily periods of Comprehensive Japanese. Monday’s class is before the lunch break and Tuesday’s class is after the lunch break. During lunch time on Tuesday, I meet with my Japanese Conversation Buddy, though so far I have been eating at home before our meetings. On Wednesday, my classes start later in the morning. I have my Kanji class before lunch and my daily Comprehensive Japanese after lunch. Thursday and Friday are both early starts. I have 4 periods of classes on Thursday; my daily double period of Comprehensive Japanese, followed by International Negotiation and Special Japanese 6. This is my fullest and longest day of classes. On Friday, I have my Comprehensive Japanese class and Current Japanese Society.  Usually get home around 6 pm every day but Monday.

The Comprehensive Japanese classes are taught by a different professor each day, except Wednesday where the professor switches out during the break between periods. Typically we have a vocabulary quiz to start class. After that, some professors have us do book work while others have us pair up or go around the room asking and answering a question that is part of the current lesson. Sometimes we do both. PowerPoints and picture cards are also employed and read aloud by the class. The students in my Comprehensive Japanese class are other international students from different countries. International Negotiation and Special Japanese 6 also have Japanese students in them. Special Japanese 6 is a class for studying Japanese animated films and thinking about how they compare to Disney films. 

Got this cute little guy in Ise

My favorite place so far at the university is the outside sitting area near the cafeteria and the bookstore. I like to sit there to eat my lunch. At the moment, the eat thing I have discovered at my university is NINJA. This is the place that runs the Japanese Conversation Buddy program and they hold interesting events like eating lunch with some animals. The second best would be all the different places to get food on campus, which will give me the opportunity to try some more Japanese foods. Plus, it’s good to know about them in case I am unable to prepare lunch in time for class.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


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Adjusting

For the most part, everything about being in Japan is completely new to me. For example, living alone and walking to school is new for me. In college, I share a dorm room with my sister, so we usually eat meals together. Also, since the sophomore dorms at Umass

Taken on a bridge in Ise

 Dartmouth do not have kitchens, we didn’t really have to go shopping for much except quick microwavable meals and snacks. Granted, I accompany my mom when she goes shopping and help her choose what to get, but this too is different from shopping alone with my own money to make meals for myself. 

A discovery I made that I have found that I love is having a lunch break built-in to class schedules. Back home, you just eat whenever your schedule allows or you have to eat during class, which isn’t my favorite thing to do since usually it results in me not eating much because I am too focused on my work. This lunch break gives us a great break to refuel and socialize between classes. Another of my favorite new experiences is having classes with other international students. It is a wonderful way to learn more about other cultures, and get to know people from a wide variety of backgrounds. This makes this study abroad experience even more culturally enlightening. 

I have discovered that being so far away from home has made Christmas shopping even more exciting, as I am always thinking of my family and when I find something that is perfect for them, I pick it up. I find that even more than usual, I am excited to see their reactions and delight at what I give them to show how much I love them. I am looking forward to Christmas time this year not only because it is the most important time to me, but additionally because it will be when I am reunited with my family and friends. 

Although the public transportation systems are complicated and may take some time to fully figure out, they make it possible to explore and travel much more easily for those without cars than back home. It does of course help that there is a train station within walking distance from the apartments. With public transportation, making plans for the weekend can consist of a much wider variety of locations. 

Adjusting to my new social setting will probably take the longest amount of time for me. Since all of my friends and family are not with me, I have to adjust to not being able to spend as much time with them. Furthermore, I need to do my best to make new friends here, despite my shy nature. 

Being a newcomer in a different country is a great way to learn new things about yourself and the world around you. It also presents new circumstances which help you grow. My time in Japan has allowed me to grow in my faith, trusting that He knows the path before me, so I  have nothing to fear.


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Arrival

My first impressions of Japan were in Tokyo, since we stayed there for two days before moving into our apartments in Kyoto. Tokyo was crowded and busy with lots of screens, which reminded me of Time Square in New York. Also, of course everyone was speaking Japanese, which was a little disorienting at first. Tokyo’s atmosphere was overwhelming for me, but fortunately Kyoto is much less busy. Kyoto has an interesting mix of old-fashioned and modern architecture. Japan does seem to have a certain smell about it, but I can’t quite pinpoint it. My best guess is that it smells like green tea. The weather is really hot here, which makes walking more exhausting. Thunderstorms seem to be pretty common here, and it has rained a few times. 

Vending machines are everywhere here, but so far I have only seen ones that sell drinks. Reflecting on this while I walked to school, I thought that they may have vending machines on every corner to prevent dehydration. Considering the fact that so many Japanese people seem to walk or ride their bike instead of driving around, having drinks readily available everywhere is a smart and healthy decision.

My apartment is small and simple, but it works perfectly for my needs. I worry that I may not be able to figure out how to work the washing machine. Another concern of mine is that I will not separate my trash correctly, as it is a complicated process here. Paper and cardboard, plastic, bottles and combustible trash/food trash are the categories which all trash must be separated into.

The university I am attending seems okay so far, though I am not quite used to getting there or navigating the campus itself yet. The International Affairs Office staff and NINJA cast are very helpful though, which makes me believe that I will be able to get help with my studies if I need it. Considering how little Japanese I know, I foresee myself needing assistance at some point. 

 


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Departure

Preparing for my trip to Japan was both exciting and stressful. Since this will be my first time out of the country and being away from my family for such a long time, I am quite nervous. Packing was a bit harder than I thought it would be, but I prioritized and took advice from others who have been on longer trips. The studying portion of the preparation was very informative and helpful, however finding the time to study was the difficult part, with all the summer plans. Fortunately, I managed to complete my studies of the hiragana and katakana alphabet with encouragement from my best friends that assured me that it was okay if I had to leave them to study for a while.

My greatest fear is that my family and friends will fall apart without me, since we’re all so close. I also fear that without them, I will be overcome by my depression, finding myself lonely in a new place. In regards to my studies, I fear that I will become frustrated with myself, not being able to understand Japanese well enough and fall behind in my classes. Other fears include missing my flights or my SIM card not working properly.

Navigating the airport was a bit overwhelming and confusing at first, but I was blessed to have a family friend with me who is more used to airports, she helped me figure out where I needed to go. Saying bye to my family was hard, but I tried to make it quick so I would not miss my flight. I was there early enough to navigate to the correct gate, even after making a few mistakes. The second airport was easier, since I did not have to worry about my luggage and had a better understanding of how to find the correct gate. The Narita airport was very disorienting, as all I had to guide me were signs and I had to hope I as doing everything right, since I don’t know enough Japanese to ask or understand what the airport personnel were saying. It seemed like forever before I was through customs, and I was hoping and praying that my group was still there. It took me a while to find my luggage, but I did find it after asking someone at the airport. Thankfully, my group was still waiting despite me not being able to ask them to wait for me.


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Experiencing Japan

Visited a botanical garden in Gion

In this blog, I will be detailing various parts of my adventure here in Japan. While this is an exciting and amazing experience, it is also a very big step for me, since before now I had never left my home state for longer than a week. Since my family is very close, I know it will be difficult being so far apart from them, but I think that the chance to explore another culture through immersion is far too valuable to shy away from.


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