About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Major: Sociology / Minor: Japanese
Program: UNC Summer in Japan
Location: Chiba, Japan
Term: Summer 2019
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I chose to study abroad because I wanted to improve my Japanese skills through a language-intensive summer course and improve my understanding of Japan's people and culture by meeting a homestay family and students. UNC’s Summer in Japan program led by Japanese professor Aratake-sensei offered a seven-week accelerated version of Japanese 203 and 204 through Kanda University of International Studies and would pair me with a host family in Chiba, Japan (a city 45 minutes east of Tokyo). It also featured trips to culturally significant cities like Kyoto and Hiroshima, where we would visit important sites like Kinkaku-ji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and the Genbaku Dome (The Atomic Bomb Dome). It seemed like a very good mix of academic, social, and cultural experiences.
What did you learn about yourself?
Through living in Japan for almost two months, I realized more than anything the ability I have to accomplish my goals. Traveling to Japan itself was a long-hoped-for dream I was finally able to accomplish through the Aratake-sensei’s program and the UNC Study Abroad Office. While I was there I also overcame many different challenges that taught me I’m capable of more than I’d previously thought. For example, getting to know and living with a host family was a completely new experience, but I became close with my host father and 10-year-old host brother, and we ended up having lots of great memories together like visiting onsens (public bathhouses with natural hot spring water) and watching JEF United Chiba (the local J2 League team) soccer games together. During the trip, we also had a free weekend to travel with our classmates, and I planned a four-day trip to Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, for me and a few friends. I researched the cities we would visit, trains we would take, sites we would travel to, and booked our AirBnB. Although we were traveling eight hours north in a completely new country where we had yet to master the language, we were successful and all had a fantastic weekend. I returned to my host family (and later to America) with a new confidence - if I was capable of planning and executing such a trip in a foreign country, I could really do more than I thought.
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from Japan is the trip Uonuma, Niigata, (west Japan) with my host family on the first weekend of the program. My host father’s cousins had invited him to Uonuma to participate in their annual rice planting. Uonuma is famous for its high-quality rice, and my host father’s cousins owned a few rice fields. They explained that planting rice by hand is a rare experience, even for native Japanese, so I was very thankful and fascinated by the trip. We spent that Saturday planting rice together in the muddy rice fields, and then went to an onsen, or public hot spring bathhouse. At onsen, men and women have separate open shower and bathing areas, with various types of indoor and outdoor hot baths. I was a bit worried about bathing alongside many other strangers, but after I got past my initial fear it was a very relaxing experience, and my host family took me to various other onsen during the program. I was moved by my host father and his family’s hospitality and kindness during the trip, and I will never forget my experience in Uonuma.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
I have a few pieces of advice for future study abroad students. One is, try and learn as much about the country before you visit so that you can better appreciate and understand their culture. That could be through historical books, novels by native authors, UNC classes, or even just Wikipedia. Also, it’s normal to be very nervous and afraid before you go and at the beginning of your trip! As you grow accustomed to day-to-day life and meet native people in the country you visit, you will begin to feel more at-ease and eventually confident in your ability to live there (or at least, to live there for a few weeks or months). I’d also suggest, of course, to be open-minded about new experiences, especially ones that are very different from your native culture, and remember that everyone’s study abroad experience will be different, so it’s best not to play a comparison game between yourself and others you see going abroad.
Would you do it again?
100%, no doubt about it. I would love to visit Japan again, and am hoping to do so either before or right after I graduate!
How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
The classes I took abroad (Japanese 203/204) featured the same coursework as they would at UNC, but the pace was much faster. We had seven weeks to cover two semesters worth of Japanese, so each day we had three hours of class and quite a bit of homework. We had to study about eight new kanji characters and two new grammar points a day - about three days of Japanese at UNC. Although this was understandably more difficult, we also had invaluable listening, reading, and speaking practice outside of the classroom as we explored Chiba and Tokyo, talked with our host family over dinner, or watched game shows on TV. I personally appreciated the faster coursework, as it was a good challenge, and felt very rewarded being able to practice the new grammar and vocabulary I learned almost as soon as I learned it.
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