Here I sit wondering whether my past year has been a dream or not. If so, what an amazing dream it was. Perhaps you are someone who is thinking about studying abroad, someone who is already abroad, a study abroad alumni, or just someone who stumbled upon this blog. Whoever you are, thank you for visiting my page and thank you for being part of those who keep me inspired. For today, I start off with just a layout of how I did my study abroad process.
I made a lot of mistakes, did a lot of procrastinating, and a lot of stress managed to creep into my inner thoughts and actions. In the end, whatever happened during my trip broke me and showed me how fragile I really was as a ‘young’ adult. I do not want to scare any of you from studying abroad, but I do want to let you know, not everyone is adaptable to change. I am not talking about culture shock but instead the preparation time right before leaving for your adventure. With that said, here is my story.
Anxiety pierced my thoughts, and what normally would have been a brush off the shoulder, had now become part of my nightmares. Once you experience something, it becomes difficult to ignore those emotions which attach itself to this certain thing. In my case, that feeling was the safety blanket I had while living in Chattanooga.
Fall Semester Freshman Year
My first year of college started off with me as an undecided major, a friend from my childhood, and a cozy apartment room on campus. Things seemed peaceful and I had no care in the world except for keeping up my grades, which at the time, was not a difficult task. However, I did not realize that one meeting at the study abroad office would change my entire next year and a half. It all started in September when I received an email from the university about a meeting for those interested in studying abroad. Personally, I had never thought about studying abroad and once said aloud, “I’m never studying outside America.” Thinking back upon my early high school years, I really had no clue this statement would really kick me to the curb in the near future. Anyway, I attended the session and immediately became interested in studying in Japan. I honestly cannot explain why I chose Japan and even until this day I still cannot give you a reason. There was just, how should I put it, a force which compelled me towards studying in another Asian country whose economy, at the time, was a force to be reckoned with. Sure, I could have studied in Vietnam, a country dear to my heart, but learning another language was something I wished to learn.
After the meeting, I scheduled an appointment to meet with the head of International Studies, Dr. Hubert Prevost. For the first meeting the common questions of, “where do you want to study and what is your major” arose. Let me tell you this, freshmen year is meant for experience and boy was I experimenting with all sorts of majors. I went from a pre-art major, to undecided, and at that first meeting I was a pre-computer science major. Telling Dr. Prevost this, he began looking through programs which offered classes relating to computers. Unfortunately, many of these universities were not in Japan.
Is it worth it?
I looked at about four different universities in Japan and one university in Taiwan. Before declaring my major, I knew I wanted to try doing something involving computers in a foreign country. What better way than studying technology than in Japan, a country known for its technological advances?
Spring Semester Freshman Year
Things seemed to be going well, that is, until I realized computer science would be a difficult major for credit transferring between my university and a university whose native language was not English. I realized I had a decision, study abroad and maybe not graduate on time, or change my major which could incorporate studying abroad in a more fitting manner. At the time, I knew I wanted to study for a whole year abroad through ISEP (International Student Exchange Program); however, the program only had a select few which offered a whole year in Japan. I also had another decision, study abroad my spring semester of sophomore year, or my fall semester of junior year. As a freshman, all these decisions had to be made by none other than myself. Thinking back, I could have asked others for help, but my stubborn self wanted to make my own choices. Sure, my coordinator helped and so did a few professors at my university, but in the end, I had to make a decision.
Fall Semester – Sophomore Year
Time was closing in on me quickly, and I became more nervous and stressed out about the year ahead. I had chosen the route of waiting until my junior year to study abroad. The reason was because I had found a few universities which required either a semester or two semesters of Japanese prior to attending the university. For me, part of studying abroad in a different country meant learning a new language, and fortunately my university offered Japanese for the year. I took this opportunity by signing up for these classes and began my paperwork for ISEP. My first step was declaring my official major. I finally decided upon declaring myself as a computer science major with a software systems concentration. Along side this major I was also a international relations minor. At the time, I had been working at Sekisui, a Japanese chain restaurant in the South. During my time at Sekisui I learned quite a bit of Japanese traditions, different food, language skills, and proper etiquette from both my managers and sushi chef. It is here where I also met some of the most amazing people in my life, but is is also here where I began doubting my decision to leave Chattanooga. I knew I would be leaving the restaurant by the end of the year, yet I still chose to stay because I did not expect anything out of working at this restaurant. Boy, was I in for a world full of surprises.
Finally, now what do I do?
I submitted my paperwork for ISEP by the end of November and anxiously awaited for the response. In the meantime, I continued studying my Japanese and enjoyed what little time I had left in Chattanooga. Things were going well and I could not wait for the new semester to begin. There was not much I could do except wait and announce the news to my parents. The thing about studying abroad is letting your friends and family know about the decision. I had very few friends who I had mentioned to about studying abroad, and my parents always knew I would be leaving the country one day or another. Although, they figured I would be gone for five months and not a whole year. Whoops.
Spring Semester – Sophomore Year
Yet again, I changed my major, well more of added another major. Instead of keeping my status as a single major with a minor, I became a double major in both computer science and international relations. I knew I was asking for a world full of work, but something told me to go ahead and go full force with it. The new semester brought about new friends and brought closer relationships – something I did not prepare myself for. Then again, how can you really prepare yourself for these things? Great relationships do not come so easily and sometimes they come at the moments when you least expect them to. For me, this time just so happened to be during my life where I knew I had to say goodbye so soon. I have zero regrets of meeting those friends at my workplace and I have zero regrets of studying abroad. Time moves on when you wish it stood still, but lives must continue even without your presence.
Congratulations, you’ve been accepted
I remember this day so clearly. I was laying down in my friend’s guest bed during my spring break to Charleston, South Carolina. I opened my email to check up on a few things and noticed an email from ISEP and Chukyo University, my first university of choice in the program. Without hesitation, I read the email and realized my application went through and that I had been accepted for my exchange to Chukyo University in Nagoya, Japan. I had all sorts of emotions racing through my head, both excitement and nervousness flowed through my veins. Once I returned from break, I made another appointment with my study abroad advisor about the whole situation. Honestly, I just remember that day being a blue except for a pile of paperwork and date deadlines. I remember thinking, “Here it begins” and from then on I made official preparations for my study abroad program.
I didn’t have much to work with when I wanted to study abroad. So I wanted to give some advice to people who were interested. These may not be the best advise, but some of it might help relieve some future headaches and stress. For the next time, I will go into more detail about about paperwork for Japan and the four months of wrapping things up in Chattanooga before studying abroad for a year. I believe the next update should be a bit more helpful for those who are feeling anxious about leaving his or her home for a while. Until then, here’s a run-through of my process while waiting for an acceptance letter.
- Attend a study abroad session
- Read, watch, study various countries
- Speak with study abroad advisor or previous study abroad alumnis
- Read travel blogs
- Research various study abroad programs and attend study abroad fair
- Ask yourself, should I study for a short term, semester, or year
- Figure out a budget
- Find out if your host university choices need a requirement language
- If so, find a way to get ahead by learning this new language
- Finish paperwork in a timely manner, preferably a week in advanced
- Once paperwork for program is finished, have fun and start reading more about your selected university choices
- Once accepted, have fun, figure out what other paperwork you must finish, and prepare yourself for the times ahead
Until next time~