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Charlene Nguyen

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Biology (B.S) Major w/ Chemistry & Japanese Minors
Program: UNC Summer in Japan
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Term: Summer 2023


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I started to learn Japanese during my Spanish class in High School. Since then, it has become a passion of mine to continue learning about Japan and its language! Although I started as someone who reads manga for fun, this only grew my interest of wanting to explore Japanese culture. I chose this program to not only fulfill these goals, but also give myself a chance to go somewhere out of my comfort zone. I wanted to challenge myself in speaking in a language that I was not confident in, so I will not be afraid of talking. I wanted to push myself to go out of my home and explore the things Japan had to offer. Most importantly, I wanted to bring back many stories to share with my family.


What did you learn about yourself?
It was hard balancing schoolwork with wanting to have fun. It was hard being adaptive to these terms while living in a country you are not familiar with. There were many times where I wanted to give up or I thought I could not finish the program with a passing score. Yet, I was determined enough to make it though the end while achieving both areas of academics and social life. And it was all due to having a support system throughout my trip abroad. I learned that I do not have to be alone, and there are people who are there for me. There are my classmates who share the same sentiment by the amount of work we have to complete. There is my host family who understand the difficulties of learning Japanese and help me with the practices. There is my family who communicate with me daily despite being on the other side of the world. There are so many people who I met to which they all show their support in me being in Japan. So despite arriving to Japan alone, I was able to leave knowing the amount of people who are there for me.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
This may be a simple answer but going shopping with friends in Harajuku! I do not like to go shopping in general, but shopping in Harajuku was very lively and fun. There is a sense of chaos that irritates everyone but to me, it was just fun bouncy around everyone and going into many stores, viewing their items, and talking with people too. It was also my first time hanging out with friends, as usually I would go straight back home after class ends (the summer heat is unbearable). It helped me be closer with them, and I just found myself having a fun time socializing with them, something that I thought I would not have time for.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Although events may not be perfect as you expected to be, or you find yourself in stressful situations, it is only a temporary matter. Reflecting back on it, it will be a small part in your big journey abroad. There were several situations where I found myself lost, upset, or even scared that things did not go the way that I wanted it to be (for me, i 'almost' missed my flight to japan :<). I thought it was the end to a journey that I never began. Fortunately, I was able to remain calm and found myself to be back on track to departure. It was an eventful situation that I caught myself in but now, I thought of how silly that experience was. Thus, Unexpected things are bound to happen, so be prepared for them! Do not get yourself in too much trouble but I think you should make the most out of your experience! We only get to achieve this opportunity once, and it should be wasted on making fun memories!


How do you identify?
Student of color, First Generation College Student, Rural County Resident, $5,000 Summer Study Abroad Fellowship Recipient