If you are student considering studying abroad, or a nervous parent, today’s featured mom, Erin, has some great advice for you. Her own son Gavin, a recent Standout Student, just returned from a year in Japan. Erin herself was an exchange student in Japan when she was in high school. Here is Erin’s unique perspective on the importance of studying abroad:
I will start by saying the exchange year will be a life-altering and life-long opportunity building experience for you. Study abroad has been with me for 22 years, since I went at 16 years old. Now my son studied in Japan with Aspect, and I spend a lot of time in Japan for work. It is what set me apart on my college applications. During my time abroad, I went from only knowing hiragana and katakana to fluency by the end of the program. My son, the same, and since August he is now conversationally fluent and has no problem with his school work. We text in Japanese all the time without issue.
When you come to Japan you not only experience the culture and language via your host family and school but you learn lessons. One of the most important life lessons you learn is what it’s like to be the only person like you, always being different, and sometimes not always accepted. This lesson in particular sets you apart from your peers at home who will likely never have to go through that. It also helps you see the world and society from a whole new perspective.
Maturity comes into play as well. You may think you’re mature now, but in the first few months away from home you change. Even with a host family, you must stand on your own two feet. By your very environment you become more adultlike, something you notice when you go back home and see your peers again.
Hardships: not many but there will be times where people may simply not like you because you’re American. It is your job as a student abroad to not change their mind but exude kindness and zest in everything you do. You in a sense become an ambassador. In many cases you may be the first foreigner people in your community have met (depending on where you get placed)
You will have some homesickness; life and getting around is totally different. But with the internet you can order things you miss. With wifi and apps you’re only a text away from family. When I went we had no cell phones.
I remember getting off my first train that day and standing in the middle of Shibuya, Tokyo. I was completely blown away. My son, the same. He has made amazing friends from all over the world, and become part of his host family.
This is me when I went…and this is my son 22 years later to the day on his experience.
As a mom, I wasn’t afraid to send my son because I had done it. I encourage you to be patient and understanding with your parents. Even though I wasn’t afraid, it’s hard to imagine not seeing your child for what is essentially a year. Missing birthdays, Christmas, holidays. Knowing they’ll have to make 99% of their decisions without your input. However I know as my son, you go off to college after your experience, this life changing year puts you leaps and bounds over your peers with maturity, confidence and a little bit of real world knowledge.
I say, go for it. Don’t hesitate, just go for it. It will change the rest of your life.
If you choose Japan, before you go, you should learn the following: Hiragan; Katakana; and buy some good books to learn vocabulary and basic phrases. Learn how to do a good self introduction in Japanese. Once you arrive, you’ll be amazed at how much your absorb and how fast you learn.
It’s also important to minimize your social media use. Don’t use English often and my personal recommendation is that you try to go as long as you can when you first arrive without it. That’s a family decision but my personal recommendation.
We thank you, Erin, for your sage advice:
Don’t hesitate, just go for it.