Thomas Turner

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Chemistry (BA), Japanese (double major)
Program: Keio University
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Term: Spring 2018


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I chose to study abroad to solidify social connections in Japan, serve as an ambassador for black Americans while abroad, and refine my Japanese language abilities. I chose Keio, because it was the university that gave the strongest indication that I would be able to interact with Japanese students in ways similar to how native Japanese students would: famous school baseball games, opportunity to take classes with Japanese students in Japanese, living in dorms with Japanese students, etc.


What did you learn about yourself?
One of the most exciting things I learned during my time in Tokyo was finally gaining a clearer idea of how to acquire a foreign language. During my initial 6 years of Japanese language study, I made little progress in comprehension and speaking ability. It was not until I went to Keio and began exploring the process of how humans acquire a second language more in depth that I realized what methods were ineffective and how I should properly approach Japanese acquisition going forward. This ultimately lead me improve my Japanese ability significantly while abroad and once home, insights that I hope to pass on to fellow tar heels as well.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
A group of Japanese and international friends and I made an impromptu decision to bullet hike to the summit of Mt. Fuji towards the end of my stay in Tokyo. After some fairly painless planning, we arrived at the 5th station around 8 pm and planned to summit the mountain at 4 the next morning to catch the sunrise with no plans to sleep in one of the various huts along the trail heading up the mountain. Anxious and excited we began our hike. I quickly realized I had no clue what I signed up. The trail zigzagged the mountain face for what seemed forever and by station 8 -we still had hours to hike at the pace we were going- I did not see myself ever getting to the top of this mountain. But we continued as a group with my new Kiwi friend who I met at station 5 encouraging me that with each step I was getting closer to the top. One step at a time. I focused on each step, and each step became a goal accomplished for me. Soon enough we made it to the summit to the most beautiful and emotional sunrise I had ever seen. I had never done anything like this before, but despite all the hard work and nearly frozen feet, I had felt incredibly proud to have successfully summited Mt. Fuji.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Any former study abroad student will come back with a mountain of advice for aspiring students. Out of all these, the most powerful piece of advice I could give, although it might sound cliché, would be to embrace the uncertainty and see every hiccup as an opportunity to become a better you. While abroad, you will be confronted with your fair share of unfamiliar situations. You will not understand everything going on around you anymore. You will more than likely get some strange looks from others from time to time. But more often than not, these situations provide the most memorable learning experiences and opportunities to leave a positive impression on the native population. So if you find yourself debating if you should go to the restaurant with no sign of tourists or anxious about going to the club interest meeting where no one speaks English, you should do it. These are the moments that will define your study abroad experience.


Would you do it again?
Without a doubt, I would participate in this experience again. It has defined the 2nd half of my college career, and I only wish I could have gone for longer


How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?
While I did not take any science classes at Keio, this experience solidified my desire to have language and culture play an important role in my future career. no matter what field one intends to pursue after graduating, I believe that an international experience as valuable as study abroad can only serve to broaden your opportunities. During my semester at Keio I met people and learned about scholarships and opportunities to pursue postgraduate internships, jobs, and programs that I plan to apply for after graduation.


How do you identify?
Student of color, Scholarship Recipient


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
As a black person in Asia, you might encounter some people who are weary of you. Stares and strange questions are common. But that also puts you in a position to serve as the intermediary between their culture and black American culture. They may never have actually met a black person and may say things that would be insensitive in the States. You have the opportunity to be an ambassador, and correct negative stereotypes and spark interest in our culture and history. At the same time, if you do not want to be an ambassador while abroad, that's ok too! But just being aware that their prior exposure to black culture might only be through movies and music can help you transverse these situations if they do arise.


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