From anxiety, discovery, to excitement, John Xu shares his emotionally enlightening journey of studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program to Hong Kong Science and Technology, Hong Kong.
Studying abroad for a semester in Hong Kong was not only the best decision I’ve made in college, it was the best decision I’ve made in LIFE. I remember when I first decided I was going to commit to a semester abroad, I almost wasn’t able to because I signed up too late. Every week that led up to leaving the country I’d get more anxious, just because of the fact that I’d never spent an extended amount of time out of the country. I knew I was pushing my comfort zone and that it would help broaden my horizons on a global scale and give me more diverse career opportunities, but it was still nerve wrecking anticipating the process I was going to put myself through.
However, as soon as I stepped off the plane in Hong Kong and hopped into a taxi to my university, I realized I had made a great decision. From the moment you arrive, you begin to realize the difference in culture and environment of the country you’re studying abroad in compared to back home. Those difference were exciting for me; from the food to the city life, to the university environment, everything I did was exciting because it felt so fresh and unique. It seemed like every other day I was experiencing a “once in a lifetime” moment that I had to document and cherish to the fullest extent. I was able to extend these moments by traveling to 7 other countries in Southeast Asia during my semester, allowing me to experience the differences in all of the Asian cultures. By the end of the semester, I had made friends with so many people all around the world who had also chosen to study abroad and gained not only the perspectives of people in Hong Kong but everywhere around the world. I truly feel like I built something special with the group of people I became friends with there and that we would always stay in touch.
Coming back home, I realized how much I had changed and grown as a person. I now feel confident in myself to tackle problems ahead of me and create unique solutions to tasks at hand (I backpacked across 9 cities in Thailand and Myanmar for 17 days straight!!). Before leaving for Hong Kong I couldn’t have even dreamed of doing such a thing. Returning from abroad I feel a deeper appreciation for the comforts of life that America provides and I’m thankful for things that I had always took for granted in my daily life. Biggest of all, I’m happy that I now have a global attitude for my career after college, my goal is to be able to make a difference in the people and places, not just around me but in the world. I’m already planning out my next trip abroad, and I can’t wait for you to get started on your journey too. Don’t pass up the opportunity to make the best decision of your life!
Faculty Director for 2017 Freshman Global Lab, Professor Knemeyer, recounts his first trip to Germany and talks about what he hopes students will find in the city that the New York Times ranks #10 in its 2017 “Places to Go” list.
Over the past decade, I have traveled to Germany more times than I can remember and Hamburg has become one of my favorite places to go. In fact, I now consider it my German hometown.
My first trip to Germany didn’t include a stop in Hamburg. Instead, I the visited the more known destinations of Munich and Berlin. However, during soccer’s World Cup in 2006 I was able to get tickets to a match in Hamburg. I figured I would apply to a less well-known city in order to improve my chances. Thank goodness I did!
As a logistics professor it is easy to fall in love with this picturesque port city. I have taught courses there, I have studied language there, I have discovered relatives there, I have taken lots of Fisher students there, I have made life-long friends there, and most importantly I have grown as a person there.
One of my personal goals is to provide opportunities for Fisher students to expand their view of the world we live in. As someone who grew up in a small town in Ohio, graduating high school with 40 other students, I had a very limited understanding of what it meant to be part of a global economy. Travel, and more importantly, purposeful travel is a great way to open up a much broader view of what is possible in your business career. The goal of my program is not to go on a vacation, but to provide an extended period of time to immerse yourself in a distinct culture and learn about business concepts in a place you can experience them firsthand.
Hamburg is of the busiest ports city in the world. We will explore the city, from the Holy Roman Empire to WWII, from sweet Franzbroetchen to the local flavors of the Night Markets. Around every corner a new adventure awaits! The city’s outstanding transit system, water tours and bike rentals provide easy access to the world class museums, diverse neighborhoods, lively music scene, great restaurants, and other wonderful activities the city has to offer.
This program will allow you to take two of your core courses (International Business and Logistics Management) while spending four weeks in Germany. I am very excited about sharing a town with you that I have grown to love! You will learn about some important knowledge needed to succeed in global commerce, you will experience a different culture, and you just may learn something about yourself as a person as you learn what it is like to live in a place outside of the United States. I will be there to help, but you must take the first step by applying to our program. I look forward to you joining us on this exciting journey.
Have you ever hear of Reading Week? Grainne Hutchinson explains this system at Trinity College, as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Ireland. Also sharing her tips and advice on how to take good use of the Reading Week.
One surprising difference between the Irish and the American University systems is the Reading week. Essentially every semester half way through there is a week where no classes take place. Students are encouraged to “re-read” through the class notes and readings but mainly the week is a chance to decompress from school. I know we have Thanksgiving break and fall break but there not quite the same as a reading week. I strongly prefer the reading week style of Semester but with Thanksgiving as late in the year as it is I can’t see the U.S. ever switching over. That being said, allow me to plead my case for reading week.
So this is kind of implied, but it’s a full week, basically spring break in fall and spring! Two days for fall break and three for Thanksgiving are short and hard to fit relaxing things into like travel and family. In a way, its not enough time to shut your brain off school mode as lots of teachers still gives assignments over break. A week, though, as with Spring break, is plenty of time to travel home, with friends or just have time to do other activities. It also gives time to distress, and returns to school with the same motivated mindset may students lose half way through the semester. It is kind of a weird system we have if you think about it, why do we only get a week in the Spring? Are we not just as stressed in the Fall?
Another point in its favor is the fact that it splits the year up into four equal parts. I have noticed, in my classes at least, that teachers use them as mini-semesters and they sort of wrap up what you should know and what you will be learning next. The week gives students a time to make sure they don’t fall behind or can catch up if they did fall behind. If you feel you don’t understand something its hard to dedicate time to it if you still need to be learning something new every week. A stop in course work can give them that time for further study, to be better prepared for the next half of the class.
I used my reading week as a time to travel (Went to Norway!) and work on schoolwork (Finished an essay!). A lot of the students here balance their time throughout the reading week, unlike a lot of people in the US including me. I think with the breaks so evenly spaced the year doesn’t feel as confining as our system, so students don’t feel the pressure to relax. I know personally I always want to get away on Spring break, as there seems to be pressure to make it count and by the time is comes around its much needed. Those are just my thoughts on the systems differences, though, and I would highly encourage students who exchange to Trinity to review class work at least once as teachers expect you to have a better grasp on the knowledge after the break and be prepared to build off what you learned.
As Grace Hutchinson continues her studies at Trinity College Dublin on the Student Exchange Program, she explores more of the culture and Island of Ireland. Hear about the Dublin Zoo to the Blarney Stone to the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland game, as well as her observations on Irish education.
Dia dhuit! (Hello) My first few weeks at Trinity have been great, though it is only the third week of class, so the course work is still on the small side. The rain has reduced to once a week, which makes it feel more like spring than fall. All the students have returned to campus, and the library is always packed with people as the course work over here is very dependent on readings. That’s not the only difference, as the courses here are also almost all graded on one essay or test at the end of the year, which makes me slightly terrified. As I am only here for one semester I won’t be here for the end of year exams, so my teachers come up with separate assignments, usually essays, to be graded on at the end of the semester. The Irish students I have talked to have advised me to keep the readings and familiarize myself with the Library for the essays.
School here is pretty similar in other aspects. For example, though Trinity is smaller than OSU there are still recitations or tutorials as there called here were TA’s or assistant professors give deeper insights and allows student discussion. I expected fewer people classes, especially coming from OSU, but it’s great that there are still non-lecture environments where you get to voice your questions. My advice to students coming to Trinity for exchange would be to pick classes you have a genuine interest in. As one assignment will determine your grade, and it usually involves a lot of outside research as well as applying what you learned in lecture, it can be frustrating and easy to procrastinate if you’re not interested in the subject.
On the less academic side of things, I took a trip to the Dublin Zoo! It was neat to see, but for someone who has grown up in Columbus with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and even volunteered there, it was a bit smaller than what I am used too. They did have a lot of different animals I never thought I would see on the small island of Ireland, including seven giraffes. Dublin is a City with limited space, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the smaller amount of space the animals had in their enclosures. It also made me realize and appreciate how great the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is!
I also took a trip down to Cork (a city on the west coast of Ireland) and of course Blarney Castle where, for those who don’t know, is the home of the Blarney Stone. After climbing a very scary tight spiral staircase my friends and I admired the view of the many gardens, and after some peer pressure, I decided that if I climbed all those steps with a cold, I might as well kiss the Blarney Stone. By doing this, it is said that you will receive the gift of better speech. It’s not a graceful process to do this. You have to lay down on your back and stretch out over a hole that you can see the ground through and kiss the stone. I don’t feel the effects of the stone now, but I will keep you guys updated. I do know that who ever kissed it after me might, unfortunately, receive the gift of my cold.
I also got the great experience of attending the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland (Finals). It took place in Croke Park where they host all All Ireland for all Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA ) sports (i.e. Gaelic Football, Hurling). The game of Gaelic Football is a weird mixture of Soccer, Rugby a bit of basketball and American Football. The All Ireland was between Dublin and Cork, as every county in Ireland has a team who play a sort of bracket to make to the All Ireland. Being in Dublin, there was a great turnout for them, but surprisingly there were just as many people who were there supporting Cork, who won out in the end. The President of Ireland, Micheal Higgens, even attended the match and shook each player’s hand before the match.
That’s all I have done so far, but don’t worry there are more adventures to come! I am also starting to get a bit homesick, missing my kittens. I’m looking forward to my classes and other travel excursions, hopefully, during the reading week when we don’t have classes! See you all real soon and love from Ireland! Sláinte! (cheers)
In preparation for 2017 Operations Global Lab, Professor Dickstein reflects on his own experience in Hong Kong and China.
My first passport in the early 70s explicitly banned travel to and acceptance for passage in China (as well as North Korea, North Vietnam, and Cuba). But with Nixon’s surprise visit in 1972 orchestrated by Henry Kissinger, relations gradually improved (sometimes referred to as the period of “ping pong diplomacy”, reflecting an early exchange of visits) and the door crept open. Coincidentally, I was in Hong Kong just months after this historic event, and any worries about using my U.S. passport for entry into Canton (now Guangzhou) were dispelled by a U.S. consular official who simply used a magic marker to cross out China from the list of banned countries. In the years since I have made four visits into China and twice as many into Hong Kong, a one-time British colony until July 1997 and a logistical gateway with its modern infrastructure into all of Southeast Asia.
I was by no means an “early mover” into China. Going back in history nearly 10,000 years China was the largest and most advanced civilization on earth. As recently as the 1270s, Marco Polo was “astonished at the wealth of China”. The Japanese invasions in the 1900s set back this progress, which was worsened further by Mao’s destructive decade of the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s that further impoverished the population. The past forty plus years have witnessed an unprecedented pace of development. Today, China is the world’s most populous country and the largest participant in global trade, with 2015 imports + exports of nearly 4 trillion USD. (The comparable total for the U.S. in second position is 3.8 trillion).
Our trip provides an opportunity to experience firsthand some of the world’s most advanced infrastructure (airports, high speed rail) and oldest culture. I am very excited to share with OSU students such exciting destinations that resonate in my personal life and business career and, hopefully, will prove an equally memorable event in yours. While my longevity does not quite reach back to the era of Marco Polo, I continue to view the country with a similar sense of wonder.
If you are interested in international business, cultural uniqueness and an exploration of an emerging country that increasingly shapes the world’s political and economic landscape, please join us for Fisher’s first undergraduate program in China, a two week exposure to business, politics, culture and even a great deal of fun.
As Grace Hutchinson starts her semester at Trinity College in Ireland, she shares her first adventures landing on the Irish island. From starting at her new school to traveling to amazing sites in Ireland.
For Fall Semester 2016 I decided to embark on the adventure on the Student Exchange Program. I chose Trinity College Dublin, located not surprisingly in Dublin, Ireland. I should tell you this is not my first visit to Ireland so I didn’t experience the usual culture shock (i.e. outlets must be switched on for them to work and driving on the other side of the road.) I actually have dual citizenship with the U.S. and Ireland as my father moved to the states for work, were in an adorable fashion he meet my mom. I have traveled to Ireland throughout my life visiting family, but I really wanted the chance to experience what normal long-term everyday life was like. You never really see the whole story of a city’s when you are a tourist. I was kind of shocked to find that a few students also studying abroad here were in the same situation as me, and had similar stories of visiting family throughout the years.
When I got my acceptance letter I started to worry about the logistics of finding classes and how to register for them, knowing that the European school system would be very different from what I am used to at OSU. How would I get to campus and navigate the paper-based registration system? I was directed by past exchange students to take a look at the Semester Startup Program (SSP) and would recommend it for anyone thinking of exchanging to Trinity. The SSP program helps international students not only get a good intro to Trinity, before the mass of students arrive, but also includes lectures that cover Ireland’s history, culture, and global connections. I have learned some things that even my dad didn’t know. For example, did you know that Ireland was one of the only countries in Europe to consistently have gender equal migration? We also visited some amazing sights including Croke Park, Trim castle and the Hill of Tara. Those are all must see places for anyone venturing to Ireland. (Croke Park: the national stadium where all GAA finals are or the All Irelands. GAA sports include Hurling and Gaelic football.)
Some of the work you will have to do in SSP is the graded assignments, three papers to be exact, as well as lectures every day. They haven’t been too overwhelming and I have to admit they have been a great introductory to U.K. spelling and Trinity’s Citation Policy as well as prepare me for school to start. My papers so far have been on W.B. Yeats and Robert Emmet, two people I really didn’t know about until this class. But don’t worry there has been plenty of time to explore and we have already wondered outside Dublin to the seaside town of Dalkey. We saw castles and boats but no dolphins. It also was not raining for our day of exploration which in Ireland is a very rare thing indeed.
When I first saw Trinity as a kid I though it looked like a castle, I really couldn’t imagine it as a school. Now that I am here and classes are about to start I still can’t see how people stay focused when the campus is so pretty and historical. Trinity is a lot smaller than OSU and it is completely fenced in with about three ways in, so I am really looking forward to the day when I learn how to avoid the many tourists that come to Trinity daily. I must now accidently be in so many trip photos. As of now, though, I’m currently working on my final paper for SSP and trying not to worry about signing up for classes, which I can’t do until the week before they start.
In preparation for his 2017 program, Dr. Neil Drobny reflects on his experience directing the 2016 Sustainable Business Global Lab in Denmark and The Netherlands.
The opportunity to develop and lead the Global Lab in sustainability is one of the highlights of my teaching career at Ohio State. And the decision to concentrate the experience on sustainable business practices in Denmark and The Netherlands was icing on the cake.
I have known for many years that physical, cultural and other factors in Europe have intersected to create conditions ripe for innovation and development of sustainable business practice. The Global Lab experience was an opportunity to validate and observe what I had come to know only through reading and second hand information. Similarly it was an opportunity to reinforce with students information that I had presented in the classroom.
The mix of visits to diverse business and cultural sites worked well together in conveying that sustainable practices are well integrated into everyone’s work and non-work lives. We learned for example from Unilever, whose world headquarters in Rotterdam we visited, that an early consideration of all new product development is what the sustainability benefits and footprint will be. If a new product idea does not score well on sustainability metrics, it is not pursued.
In Amsterdam we saw the world’s first (experimental) solar road, a roadway with solar cells built into it. At this point it carries only bicycles and very lightweight vehicles, but there is every reason to believe that the technology will someday be incorporated into major roadways. It was like visiting with Thomas Edison in his lab as he worked on the first light bulb
In Copenhagen we saw the benefits of sustainability-driven thinking in city planning. In the older part of the city building height was limited to five stories and streets were exceptionally wide. With a latitude comparable to southern Alaska, sunshine is limited. The wide streets and limited building heights enhance the penetration of sunlight in the urban core which is well-established as a key ingredient to overall well-being and productivity. Today the wide streets help with accommodating bicycles and street cars in addition to automobiles and pedestrians.
Seeing the robust construction and results of careful maintenance of a 600-year old church in Rotterdam underscored that in the region things are “built to last” – a key element of sustainability. Considerable interest was also added by the fact that the church was where the Pilgrims stayed the night before they “shoved off” for their voyage across the Atlantic.
For 2017 we will build on the success of the 2016 program by adding a visit to Lund University in Sweden and working with visit hosts to fine tune visits in coordination with course material in advance of the trip.
Diving deeper into the university community, David Drummond shares his insight to his Student Exchange Program location, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Learn about the university, classes, community, and how he has managed to assimilate.
My time at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has given me a fuller impression of Hong Kongers and the international community, a rich curriculum taught by very experienced professors, and opportunities to learn and interact outside my normal studies.
Campus itself is on Kowloon and to the east a bit on the coast of Port Shelter. In good weather, there is no better place to be studying in Hong Kong. Next to the water the dorms and academic facilities climb up a steep hill and provide beautiful views of blue water, islands, and plenty of sails. The downside to this location is also the weather. During my time here in the spring, most days are cloudy, grey, and foggy/misty if not rainy. I hear the humidity is something awful in the summer. However, waking up to a sunny day on a Friday feels amazing and motivates you to get outside and take advantage of it.
I have had different impressions of the local students here. By taking introductory business courses, like MGMT and MARK, I am in class with first and second year students. The biggest difference was that a lot of them come late to class, which surprised me and didn’t seem like it fit with my preconceptions about Asian studiousness. They also have a tendency to talk to each other in Cantonese while the professor is talking. I think I would attribute this mostly to their inexperience rather than culture, because the older students I know don’t behave as much like this. Still, it is definitely something to expect when taking these kinds of courses. Also, the cultural differences are clear in terms of participation. Local students are less open to participate in class, even more so than Mainland students! It’s common for professors to make an effort to not continue calling just on exchange students.
Because HKUST is a little further from the city, exchange students often form groups to go explore the parks on a hike or go out for dinner or to an event. For us, it has been super helpful to have a Facebook group just for our exchange students to post what they are doing and to find others who want to tag along. The university makes it easy to connect with other exchange students by giving us a book of names, emails, and a picture of each that we can reference. Extremely helpful when you forget someone! As someone who does not generally invite themselves into other groups I had to figure out how I was going to meet and hang out with new people once I got here. I’ve had plenty of opportunities through the Facebook group to meet other exchange students from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America, and most of my best memories are with these groups. For me, it was easier to set myself on something I wanted to do and invite other people along, but in my experience this group of multinationals loves getting to know one another and building friendships. This network is especially helpful for travel!
The courses I am taking have definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of quality of instruction. While my introductory courses are not the liveliest, the professors have had extensive experience and genuinely care about helping the students learn and understand the material and concepts. The business school is definitely feels like a top world program. Taking a global business course on Deal making in Asia and Emerging Markets has exposed me to some of the school’s top undergraduate and MBA professors in a unique model. Years of experience in forming deals and doing negotiations in Asia and other emerging markets comes together in this course which focuses on case studies and group negotiations. As my professor experienced negotiating in China, the other party will often keep asking the same questions over and over making a frustrating time for a westerner who just wants to get the deal done. However, after enduring the long drawn-out negotiation process my professor was told that he “ate bitterness well” and this was a sign of his trustworthy character. This is the type of information you are lucky to have access to.
HKUST also offers a plethora of involvement opportunities and ways to go beyond your normal studies. I have been taking an International Relations course taught by a professor with over forty years experience studying Chinese politics. This has given me the historical context to live and study in Southeast Asia and the unique application of my studies in a simulation game of an international conflict in the South China Sea. Just last week I went to interview a special correspondent for Reuters, through my professor’s contacts, who follows the current events of the crisis. Since Hong Kong is such a financial and trade hub, I was able to get information about the current state of affairs between countries in Asia directly from someone who actively studies it and was approachable. There are also lots of student organizations covering academics and social networking, however when I first arrived they were promoting them over a couple weeks with ‘chantings’. I still haven’t figured out how this works, but it seems like they just stand in groups of their organization next to all the others and yell chants for hours. I’ve been living in Hall IX, one of the newest, which has its advantages but not a lot going on. Some of the halls have learning communities that organize events and activities that can really get you involved with local students. There is also an international students’ association that plans trips and events around Hong Kong like kayaking, hiking, and cultural discovery. However it is all up to luck since you cannot request your hall placement.
In my first few weeks here, I planned a lot on going into the city alone to explore and get my bearings. I didn’t yet feel comfortable enough of the other exchange students and wanted a way to feel independent in this new home. I think this gave me the confidence to explore more of Hong Kong. The first bar I went to, I happened to meet the President of the OSU Hong Kong Alumni Association, and I’ve made similar contacts going to watch the super bowl or other events. His advice was that the best way to make connections is to actually, with no pretext, get to know someone, and that’s often hard to do when you’re with a big group of students. Most of my connections were developed through the exchange student group on facebook, but when you’re out in the city and meet some fellow expats it is always a good idea to ask them about how they got to Hong Kong, getting an idea about what opportunities there are outside the U.S. Since then I’ve made great friends here but being far enough away from the city it’s easy to get sheltered here on campus. I found my strength in a new place by making sure I could rely on myself first to have good time and then invite new friends along to enjoy it with.
About the Author: David Drummond, SP 2015, Student Exchange Program- Hong Kong
Want to know what the university experience is like at Thammasat University in Thailand? Learn from Melanie March’s point of view as she enjoys her time as a full-time student there on the Student Exchange Program in the “Land of Smiles”.
Just to clarify, I really do go to class here in Thailand! My parents confirmed this last week when they dropped me off for class at Thammasat University. I am taking a variety of classes here that includes International Marketing, Marketing Analysis, Operations Management as well as Beginner’s Thai.
These classes have been interesting and very different than my classes back at Ohio State. One of the biggest changes has been wearing a uniform to school every day. This has been very convenient in the mornings where you wake up and don’t have the energy to decide what to wear for the day. It also means that I have to wash it every day that I wear it because I sweat through it just walking to class. It’s about a 30 minute commute by foot and I get to take a ferry in order to cross the river to Thammasat.
Once we get to class we have fifteen minutes once class has started to sign in. Most teachers don’t start the class until after this sign-in period and then we have a 15 minute break in the middle of class to break up the three hour time frame. I wasn’t so sure about the break at first but it is a great time to stretch our legs or get some coffee. There is also an hour break in between classes that gives students plenty of time to get lunch at the pier or in the cafeteria on campus.
My favorite part about studying at Thammasat University in Bangkok has been the students that I have met here. They are some of the kindest people I have ever met and are very willing to get to know you. Exchange students are welcomed with open arms and staff and students alike are very helpful with any problems that we have had settling into Thailand. Most of the students have gone to international schools when they were in elementary school so they have been speaking English for many years. A majority of students also study abroad at some point in their high school or college career that allows them to have been in our shoes so they know what it’s like to be in a classroom and know very few people.
In the classroom, Thai students are extremely bright and some of the most motivated students. Many participate in international business case competitions that has taken them all over the world. They also go above and beyond on every task that is assigned which has shocked me because so many people only do the bare minimum in order to get by. Thammasat students are quick thinkers and only want to succeed and work hard to do so. It is motivating to see students my age doing so much and becoming the next generation of business leaders in Thailand.
If any person decides to study abroad, I highly recommend taking a language course. It really gives you the chance to learn the language as well as learning about the culture that you will be living in. It’s crazy to think there are people who lived here years without ever feeling the need to learn the language when I can see the usefulness in my everyday life. We just started learning the Thai alphabet which has been really exciting but also challenging. Thai is a tonal language which means that a word can have many different meanings if you say it with the wrong tone. As Americans we tend to have a rising tone when we are phrasing a sentence as a question which can be a hindrance since many times people will not understand you because it sounds like you are saying a different word than you are trying to say. I was trying to ask a taxi driver to take me to Thammasat but I kept phrasing it as a question using a high tone. When I say it with a mid-tone that does not fluctuate, taxi drivers will immediately know what I’m talking about.
Thammasat University is a school that has immediately made me feel at home. Although frustrating at times, I am so happy that I chose to study in Thailand where the people are welcoming and kind. It really is the “Land of Smiles.”
About the Author: Melanie March, Junior, Marketing. Student Exchange Program- Thailand.
Read more of her experiences in Thailand on her original blog!
Ending her studies in Japan on the Student Exchange Program, Phuong Tran shares her final thoughts living and studying in Tokyo. The challenges, the struggles, but also the new unforeseen opportunities that these brought and the better experiences she gained as a result.
I have just returned home and have some time to reflect on my experiences in Japan, I realize that I have failed to accomplish about half of the things I had planned. Am I disappointed? Only a little, because I have gained something else, which is even greater.
My student exchange, of courses, did not include only pleasant experiences. The first upsetting thing occurred to me even before I left the U.S. I was told that the dorm was full, and I had to find accommodation somewhere else. Finding another apartment was not that hard, but the total cost was almost doubled. More importantly, it had made it hard to communicate and hang out with other students who were staying at the dorm. There were times when I could not go to some events because the time and location were not convenient for me. I really wished that I had been accepted into the dorm so that I could have built a stronger bond with other international students.
My second disappointment was about school. When I did my interview for the program, the interviewer asked me what I would do if I could not take all the classes I had planned to take. I said I had another list of classes to substitute. However, that was easier being said that done. During the school orientation, I was kind of panic when being told I could not sign up for the two most-looking-forwarded-to classes, Business Communicating and Business Project, because of the schedule conflicts, my early-return request, and the class’s capacity. I pulled out my substitute list, but again, most of them could not fit into my schedule or not being offered this semester. I ended up taking two random business courses in order to fulfill the credit requirement.
With all those being said, I felt clueless and frustrated in the beginning of the program. Now that I think back, my problem was that I got fixated on a few objectives. Actually, after school started I soon realized I should not have been too worried. I did not have to look hard, new opportunities to learn and adventure came to me one after another. And all of these unforeseen invitations were what made my exchange’s experiences so wonderful.
As I mentioned earlier, I failed to get into my preferred business courses and thought that I could not be able to learn the “business culture” anywhere else. Fortunately, the other courses I got into also emphasized on group work and interactions between cultures. I appreciated that my professors assigned students into groups that had both international and Japanese students. We could not choose to work only with friends, but also new people, especially the ones from completely different cultures. Also, I was able to got a part-time job at school, which taught me the basic Japanese business etiquettes. Furthermore, there were many career events offered to international students either on or off campus. My most favorite one was the visit to Oak Lawn Marketing’s office, during which I could see an actual workplace and even participate in creating the marketing plan for a new product.
I had to admit that sometimes I felt lonely for staying in an apartment apart from others. However, I have met people whom I want to befriend for life. Also, the International Office at Rikkyo did a wonderful job on keeping us busy. They offered us many opportunities to experience tea ceremony, Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), Christmas parties, city tours, etc. After experiencing all of these exciting activities together, it was hard not becoming friends. When I first came to Japan, it took me a long time to get to my apartment carrying a big suitcase by myself, but when I left, my new friends helped me carry my luggage, which had been doubled in size, up to the gate. Just thinking of that made me feel so happy.
Beside that, staying in an apartment has not only taught me many things about living in Japan but also helped me improve my language skills. In fact, except at school, I only communicated with people in Japanese. If I had stayed at the dorm, there should have been someone I could ask for help, but living alone, I had to deal with all issues by myself. Actually, Rikkyo’s International Office provided many resources to support my life there. However, they were not always available and it took time to arrange a Japanese student to assist me. Thus, I had to go to the city office, bank, etc. by myself to complete all necessary paperwork. My thought was “Lets go see if I can handle this. If I can’t get things done, then I will ask for help later.” I was so worried at first but then I gained more and more confidence in using Japanese. Also, never once I felt I was treated unfairly for not speaking Japanese well. Japanese people are very very friendly and helpful, I can assure you that!
I still think having a clear objective for going abroad is a good thing, but now I believe that keeping an adventurous spirit and being open-minded is more important. In the end, we cannot predict our days in a foreign environment as accurate as when we are home. No need to be obsessed with the plan. My stay in Japan has taught me so, and now I appreciate all the experiences I had over in Japan, even for the unpleasant ones. If I had to talk about the study aboard experiences in only a few words, I would say, “It’s totally worth it.”
About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.