College students often dream of studying abroad and how it’ll be the “experience of a lifetime”. More often than not, when you ask a friend how their time was abroad, they’ll reply with a short sentence or two, which ends up focusing around an enthusiastic “Fantastic!”. There has to be a more descriptive answer than that, right? What happens that leaves such an impact on participants? I believe the majority of students completely fail to put influential experiences into words.
My name is Josh Benner and I lived Mitaka City on the western edge of Tokyo, Japan during the Summer 2018 semester. If you ask me how my trip abroad was, I would respond by saying that it was one of the most rewarding, exciting, stressful 7 weeks of my life. In this post, I hope to holistically approach different aspects of living abroad and how they have helped me develop as a person, student and professional.
What was the first week like?
The first week living abroad was a whirlwind of emotions. I stepped off the plane and was instantly bombarded with a culture so incredibly different than my own. I had to take many short breaks throughout the week to process everything around me. The biggest challenge of my trip was communicating and figuring out where I needed to go. I have never been too confident in my Japanese skills, so I had to overcome my anxiety of using a foreign language to even leave the airport. Surviving this first week made me feel like all of the social fears at home were nothing in comparison. In this first week, I had to figure out how to use a foreign train system, ask for directions an obscene number of times, order food, check out at convenient stores, and hold conversations with people in a language that I was not comfortable with. In this short time, I had overcome so many challenges that doing anything in the US seemed easier in comparison.
What was the scariest part about going abroad for you and how did you overcome those fears?
I had so many fears about going abroad: the trip there, navigating, culture-shock, etc. In case you weren’t aware, EVERYONE has fears about studying abroad when it comes down to it. Who wouldn’t be at least the slightest bit nervous about living somewhere completely new?! I learned that I couldn’t let this fear prevent me from making this summer the experience of a lifetime. I had a metaphorical tattoo on my forehead that said “no regrets” in a sense. I got to the point eventually where I enjoyed putting myself in uncomfortable situations, simply because I knew I would grow as a result. Studying abroad is the perfect time for you to face your fears. In life at home, we often avoid uncomfortable situations and our insecurities and anxieties remain, because we can simply walk the other direction. But while studying abroad, you may be forced to deal with these things, but the rewards are incredible. For someone as shy as I am, I was able to grow exponentially. I still reap the benefits now, months after returning.
How did you handle classes while abroad?
One skill I feel like I truly mastered was time management. My goal was to make sure that I visited all the places I wanted, while still excelling in my courses. I had classes 3.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, all in Japanese. Classes and homework kept me busy, but I forced myself to make time to take the bus to the station for dinner with friends, or to the next town over to shop for a bit. Studying abroad is by no means a vacation. You’ll be tired, busy, and frankly a little sweaty, but the joy and excitement of simply living abroad and experiencing all there is to do will make the time and effort very much worth it.
In short, studying abroad is a time of rapid growth, as well as emotion highs and lows. If you have the opportunity about studying abroad or are still on the fence about whether you want to make the effort, know that you will hands-down have the time of your life and will benefit from the experience for years to come.