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Sara Cook

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Global Studies and Japanese
Program: UNC Summer in Japan
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Term: Summer 2019


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I am a Japanese major and knew I wanted to do a homestay program and improve my Japanese skills in Japan. Studying abroad, particularly in order to study a language, seemed like a necessary experience and opportunity that I don't think I could have managed easily after graduation. UNC Summer in Japan provided the perfect duration, time frame, and multitude of experiences that I wanted to gain from a study abroad program. I am only able to study abroad over the summer, the program arranges housing with a native Japanese family (who I absolutely love and consider part of my extended family now!), it's an 8-week intensive program which allows me to knock out two of my required Japanese courses as a Japanese major along with the Experiential Education course for our general education requirement, is taught by a UNC professor which makes it less overwhelming to adapt to the new surroundings, and also included cultural excursions with my peers to Kyoto and Hiroshima! It was the perfect program for me, especially because it also allotted time for me in the other 4 weeks of the summer to work and continue traveling in Japan before and/or after the program!


What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I love forming new relationships, meeting people from different cultures, and that I am better at adapting to new environments than I thought! This program helped me to put myself out there, become more independent and self-motivated, and I learned that living abroad by myself is something I can definitely manage. By going on this program, I am more determined to teach English in Japan and more confident in my ability to not only speak Japanese, but also to live in Japan.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
I have so many fond memories of exploring Japan with my peers and spending hours at the dinner table with my homestay family talking about our cultures and our day, but one of my absolute favorite memories from the program was traveling to Kawaguchiko, a town near the base of Mount Fuji, and staying at a traditional Japanese inn with my host family. We ate together at a sushi restaurant, sang karaoke together for over two hours, played a competitive game of ping pong, went to an onsen (a natural hotspring public bath), and also went caving! It was a family trip I will not soon forget, and it made leaving Japan incredibly difficult. While I loved every minute of my study abroad experience and studying Japanese with my friends, my homestay family was by far the most invaluable and wonderful aspect of UNC Summer in Japan.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
No matter which program you choose, always remember that you could be studying your subjects at UNC but this may be the only chance to study in your respective program's country! If you have to choose between studying another couple hours and exploring the country and learning about the culture firsthand, definitely prioritize forming relationships and experiencing your program's country and culture while you're there. Additionally, in terms of financing your study abroad program, definitely apply to smaller and less competitive scholarships rather than only applying for the big scholarships like the Phillips Ambassadors scholarship! I was fortunately able to secure the Asia-Freeman scholarship, but I wish I had applied to more smaller scholarships because those really do add up. Don't put all your eggs in one basket!


Would you do it again?
I would most definitely do it again. I wish I could go every year!


How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
For UNC Summer in Japan, the same courses offered in Japan are also offered here at UNC by the same professor, Aratake-sensei. Because my classes were Japanese classes and I was in Japan, I was able to dedicate all my time studying the language and actively use the language both in and outside class with my peers, professor, homestay family, and make new native Japanese friends. Being able to practice Japanese and new grammar patterns in a real-world setting with native speakers helped my Japanese skills improve dramatically within a short 8-week period. If I had taken these same classes at UNC, I have no doubt that I would have learned the material half as thoroughly in more than twice the time, and my confidence in speaking Japanese would be incredibly small.


How do you identify?
Scholarship Recipient


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
My financial situation only inhibited me in terms of going on trips on the weekends, or whether I could splurge on meals with friends or have long karaoke sessions. However, this was not a major obstacle and it didn't inhibit my experience. I do not feel as though I missed out on any huge events--if anything, my friends and I enjoyed spending time at the student union building without spending much money and this helped us to strengthen our friendships.


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
There are so many things you can do and experience without spending an exorbitant amount of money in Japan. Your host family will provide you with two meals a day, and if you get super close with them you may even get lucky and have a host mom who will make lunch for you! You can also join clubs at your program's university and just hang out with friends at parks and at school without a lot of pressure to spend money. Of course, don't be afraid to be the only one not purchasing anything at stores! Save up your money for travel if that's what you want to prioritize, but otherwise money should not be a huge limiting factor while abroad in Japan.


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
You can always talk with your host parents, contact the program director, Aratake-sensei, or an affiliate of the program who you will meet at orientation. They are all incredibly helpful and only want the best for you and your study abroad experience! Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help if you need it. Support is always there, you just have to ask.