This column (as I need to keep reminding myself) is, at its core, all about discovering Japanese culture from what could be considered unusual or oddly specific perspectives. But one of the best ways to learn about a foreign culture is through study abroad. As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts, I studied abroad in Japan for the spring semester, and had the time of my life. Yes, it was fun, but it was also an optimal opportunity to get my hands dirty (or feet wet, whatever phrase you prefer) culturally and linguistically.
And so, considering just how awesome an experience it was for me, I thought I would devote a post to touch on how to get on the right track towards study abroad. Study abroad is like that iceberg meme—much focus is placed on when you get there; but this long-anticipated moment is the result of a LOT of hard work. So I thought I would bring up a few points to keep in mind, if you are thinking about starting or have already started the process to study abroad.
1) Do a little ~Introspection~
A vital question to ask yourself is “why do I want to study abroad?” It’s one of those sentences that your mind automatically answers with “Uh, because I want to?” while glossing over study abroad pamphlets. But it is a serious and valid question that must be addressed before even choosing your program. It can validate, critique, or instigate your plans. Why are you studying abroad? And why this country or program? Is it just because your friends did and you want to follow suit? Do you want experience, or a chance to step out of your comfort zone? Do you see it as a challenge, or a way to discover yourself? As for me, I wanted to study and experience a culture and people that have been a large part of my life and my identity as a biracial person, and to pursue academic areas (such as linguistics and translation) that are part of my career goals. And believe me, this introspection is going to do wonders when you’re doing applications and statements of purpose (just saying).
2) Money Money Money
A more logistical concern surrounds finance. You really want to go abroad, but then you see a cost sheet for your program, or remember your tight financial situation. The thing to remember, however, is that there are always opportunities to help finance your experience, but this also requires the initiative to seek them out and pursue them. A lot of the scholarships and grants that you will find may give you the “There’s no way I’ll be able to get that” mental flinch. But go for them anyway. I applied for the Benjamin Gilman scholarship—applying to a big program like this was a first for me—because there was an opportunity staring at me in the face (and people had recommended it), that I had to take a shot at. And I got it. That, together with other scholarships from my university, made my experience possible.
3) Tick-Tock Goes the Clock
DON’T PROCRASTINATE. Says I, someone so articulate in procrastination that I should have a professional degree in it. But the fact remains that you’re dealing with deadlines that will usually be as hard as the sidewalks you walk on. You are working with (and hope to actually be with) institutions that are working with who-knows-how-many prospective applicants. You will also be working with two different governments (again, depending on your program) to get visas, passports, airplane tickets; and this is not including potential duties that may need to be done abroad (I had to deal with tonnnnns of paperwork in Japan too).
It may help to think of this article as a memoir of things I needed to remember when I was preparing to study abroad, during which I learned important lessons about time management, responsibility, and a bold use of opportunities.