Why did you choose this program? I chose this program because I had been studying Japanese for over a year and I really wanted the chance to improve my language skills as much as possible. One of the other main reasons I was drawn to the program was that it offered the opportunity to have a field placement at a Japanese organization. That was something not a lot of other programs in East Asia offered. I also really liked the fact that the program is located in the suburbs of Tokyo, so you could experience both the fast-pace of Tokyo as well as more normal life in the suburbs.
Describe your favorite class abroad. My favorite class abroad was the seminar class that went along with having a field placement. Our professor was phenomenal and never hesitated to discuss the best and worst parts of the Japanese workplace. The class almost ended up being like a giant therapy session for all of us where we could vent or laugh about all the new experiences we were having in our respective placements. The rest of my classes were also amazing because we would take field trips around Tokyo to places like Yokohama (my favorite) and Akihabara.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? I lived in a dorm in Barakinakayama, Chiba. It was an all-girls dorm and was about 40 minutes or so away from campus by train. I personally loved the dorm's location because it was right in the middle between school and downtown Tokyo, which made traveling on the weekends convenient. There were seven girls total from the IES program that were also at the dorm; the rest of the people there were from Japan as well as a variety of other countries. Our dorm manager was extremely nice and always making sure we were taken care of. I also loved the fact that we still experienced a lot of Japanese culture despite being in a dorm. For example, we always took off our shoes at the entrance and there was a traditional onsen-style bath (but also showers!) in the dorm.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? Studying abroad can seem terrifying and overwhelming at points (especially before you leave) but it ends up being one of the best experiences you will ever have. I wouldn't trade my time in Japan for anything in the world. Also, try to make a list of things you want to do before your study abroad program ends. The end kind of creeps up on you (especially because you are in denial that this amazing experience is about to be over) so it's a good idea not to put off doing all the things you want to try.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? My best memory from my time abroad was taking a field trip to Okinawa. It is a beautiful island of the southern coast of Japan that has a lot of history and controversy. We spent four days exploring the island and attending a ton of cultural events. We even got to play local instruments and try an Okinawan dance with drums. None of us were very good but we had a lot of fun trying! We also got to meet with Okinawan students and hear more about their life on the island and their thoughts on current events. It was without a doubt the best trip we took during the entire semester.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. My culture shock set in after about a month and it largely had to do with how much I was getting stared at. I am tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed so I was about as "foreign-looking" as you could get. The first couple weeks are kind of funny with everyone staring at you but when my culture shock set in it would make me really irritated. I also was getting irritated that I was still making some cultural mistakes, and I thought that I should know better after a month. Eventually I got over the staring again and accepted the fact that I was still learning and adjusting, but my two weeks with culture shock were rough. It's an emotional rough point where you start to miss your home and small things annoy you. However, almost everyone else also goes through culture shock so you will be able to find someone else to talk about it with.
“If I could do it over, I would…” Travel more. I was able to go to so many amazing cities but I wish I had taken a few weekends to hop on a train and head someplace I had never been before. There are so many places in Japan and four months go by so fast.
If you participated in an internship while abroad, would you recommend that future students take an internship and why? I definitely would! My experience at my internship was phenomenal and I still keep in touch with my supervisor. Even if it ends up being a less-than-stellar experience, it is a great thing to be able to write down on your resume.
Discuss: “Going abroad vs. staying on campus.” I would choose going abroad 10 times out of 10. I love IU so much and I was happy to come back to campus but studying abroad is an unparalleled experience. It expands your worldview so much and when coming back you just look at everything differently.
What fact about your host country do you think people would be surprised to learn? Not everyone likes anime or manga! I think that fact shocked a lot of people on my program. The reality is that many people will watch it mainly as children, kind of like how cartoons are for Americans. It's just because the Japanese government promotes anime and such worldwide that everyone thinks Japanese people are obsessed with it. I don't think that my university even had an anime/manga club.
How did you find scholarships for study abroad? I searched the internet like crazy to find scholarships for study abroad. I also checked out everything IU had to offer either by asking the Office of Overseas Study or my academic advisors. Some of my professors were even nice enough to forward me along
Would you recommend other students pursue any specific scholarship opportunities? If the program you are specifically going on offers any scholarship opportunities, definitely apply for them. For Japan scholarships, look into the Bridging Foundation Scholarship or the American Association of Teachers of Japanese scholarships.