It’s the beginning of the fall semester, and the perfect time to be looking at the education abroad programs for the upcoming Winter/Spring semester. Choosing to go abroad for any length of time can sometimes seem a bit daunting, which is why it’s always nice to connect with other people who have already experienced the process and ask them some questions. Luckily enough, I was able to sit down with Lauren Comberger, an International Studies major who did an exchange program at Meiji Gakuin Daigaku in Japan during the spring of 2015, and ask her a few questions about the process of preparing for an exchange and about her time there!
What lead you to choose Meiji Gakuin for you education abroad experience?
The main reason was that I had been studying Japanese, and wanted to go there to put that to use and to really be immersed. The Japanese you learn in a classroom vs. what you use in conversation is so different, so I wanted to get that other perspective.
What kind of classes did you take in Japan?
Well, I didn’t even pick my classes until 2 weeks after arriving, but that was because we got a trial week to sit in on classes to gauge what we were interested in before registering. I took all of my classes in English, but I took classes on Japanese economics, history, language, culture and society. All of my classes had some international students, especially the language one, but there was a lot of Japanese students in my classes. It made it really interesting to hear their perspectives in the culture and society classes!
Did you get homesick? How did you cope?
I would Skype my mom pretty often, but for the most part, not really, no. It was hard the first few days because I didn’t really know anyone and I was adjusting, but once classes started and I met new people, it was a really great time. Of course I missed my family and friends, but it was great to get a chance to make an awesome group of friends and meet a lot of new people.
What was it like traveling to a country with a completely different language/writing system?
First off, you really don’t need to know much Japanese to get around, just know the basics. At first it was a bit overwhelming but in Tokyo there are a lot of signs in English, so getting around the transportation system wasn’t hard to manage. I had studied Japanese a couple of semesters before I went, but even then I did a lot of gesturing and pointing to communicate. I started getting used to the area, but sometimes I could go traveling and if I was asking for directions I really just had to go for it. It was stressful because I was worried about messing up, but it was so incredibly rewarding to get to the end of a conversation or interaction and know that you did it in another language.
What did you feel like you got out of this experience?
Well, I stopped being afraid to interact with new people, and got pretty comfortable with asking strangers for directions. Though most of the changes I didn’t notice until after I arrived back in the US. I didn’t realize how much I had grown as a person, but that’ll happen after spending 4 months in a different country! I really noticed differences in myself and my relationships with others, and I learned what I wanted out of them. I had higher goals for myself because of what I had just experienced and knew that I could do it. It was a serious confidence boost.
If you could give one piece of advice for people who are considering going abroad/already made the decision to go abroad, what would it be?
If I could give someone one piece of advice, it’s what I wish I could go back and tell myself, which is: don’t be afraid to get out and talk to people and really interact with the students from the country you are in. If you’re in a country where you don’t really know the language that well, don’t be afraid of embarrassing yourself trying to communicate. More often than not you can get your way around by pointing and gesturing and knowing a handful of words, but even then, don’t be afraid to practice. And if I could talk to people who are considering going abroad, the main thing I would tell them is that if they were scared or nervous about it, do it anyway. Just do it.
What would you say is your best memory? Or maybe just your favorite thing about Japan?
Oh, the vending machines, for sure. They sell anything and everything, and they were everywhere. Honestly, there was one on top of Mt. Fuji!
Jillian is a senior at the University of Kentucky majoring in International Studies, focusing on the culture and arts of Asia. In the fall of 2015 she studied abroad at Akita International University in Akita, Japan.