Making the Most out of Studying Abroad

Alex Nguyen
October 11, 2015

I've been thinking for a while now about what it means for me to be here in a different country away from most things familiar to me and how I've come to deal with life and the new experiences I've been having since arriving in Japan. Though there are many similarities between here and America such as similar technologies used and a generally similar pace of life, there are a plethora of other things such as the distinct culture, lifestyle practices, language (duh), and customs that make living here quite the unique and different experience. I've had a fair share of new experiences and opportunities come my way already, and I'm just here to relay some ideas I've formulated while putting them into practice myself in hopes that they'll benefit those who wish to really experience things for what they are. One of the first things I had to sort of relearn was to accept new opportunities and people with open arms, heart, and mind. Being a college student past first year in America, it's been easy for me to do my own thing and to guard myself from new people as I've already pretty much established my niche, but since coming here, it feels a bit like first year all over again. That's not to say that I'm completely averse to the idea of making new friends or trying new things in America, but rather I mean to say that one of the things I've come to really appreciate is just saying yes sometimes or doing things for the sake of experiencing something I might never be able to do again in the future. It sounds like a cliche study abroad mentality to be in, but I mean it's kinda true. I would not have made the friends I have now, both Japanese and American, had I not just gone with the flow and let go of any inhibitions I might have had. Being abroad is a bit of a cleanse in that I'm at the liberty to do whatever, experiment, experience, and exist in ways that don't have to be limited like they might be on a college campus in America. An even more general bit of life application I've been thinking about has been my willful and utter attempt at assimilation and immersion into the local culture. I'm studying abroad in Japan, so I'm going to use Japanese whenever I can to the extent to my ability. When I don't know how to say things, I'll look them up or I'll ask. The bottom line is I'm going to at least try. Sure, I could go an entire four months without really using Japanese and sticking to English and non-verbal gesticulations, but I don't know, that doesn't seem too fun to me. I went abroad to get a break, but I also wanted to learn-- not just about myself, Japan, and its culture, but also its language, which I've found beautiful upon first listen years ago. It'd be a waste to not at least try to improve my language skills. That's why I hang out with people other than just Americans, or why I try to incorporate bits of Japanese into my sentences, or why I'll go out of my way to explore somewhere in Tokyo and try to practice what I already know. The experiences I've had only feel enhanced as a result, and I can't say I regret them. I'll never really get the chance to have an extended period of living abroad like this again unless I moved here in the future, so I'm just trying to do all I can to get the most wholesome experience I possibly can. I guess the general theme of this entire post is that studying abroad should be something that's, in the end, worthwhile and enjoyable. I know I want to be able to look back and remember this semester fondly with a warm heart. It's only just begun, but I feel like I've already created some great bonds and experienced some unforgettable moments-- none of which would have ever really happened, or at least not to the extent that they did, had I not gone about them with a steadfast willingness and an honest desire to do them. In the end, I know I'll be grateful for the fact that I pushed myself out of my comfort zones and made myself vulnerable in a different society. I'll know that I tried and I'll know that I won't be able to regret anything, really. I'll know that I wasn't just some exploitative foreigner living in another country for four months partying away and eating "exotic" foods and doing "exotic" things only to go back to the comforts of America, but rather that I really and truly did see, learn, and experience a completely different culture and society firsthand to the best of my abilities. I mean, it is studying abroad-- not necessarily studying in terms of academics, but also sociocultural observations and humanizing experiences. It's more than a just a four month long break from the rigors of American academia or a really long vacation (which it kinda is); it's a life-changing experience, but that requires time, effort, and a willingness to be vulnerable and malleable. That's what I've known all along, but what I've really come to hold true to my core throughout this first month and a half of actually living it firsthand. Take note! Class over.

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Alex Nguyen

<p>Hi, I&#39;m Alex. I&#39;m a junior at Columbia University majoring in Urban Studies and dabbling in other areas of interest like race &amp; ethnicity studies. Outside of school, I like to eat, cook, take pictures, shop, have long conversations, and travel. Food, fashion, culture, literature, and music are all things I love. Black and gold are my favorite colors. Having lived in New York City for two years now, I feel quite at home. However, living in Japan is something I have wanted to do all my life, so I&#39;m quite excited to finally live out that dream. From the local culture to the food to the fashion, I&#39;m pumped to engage with it all during my semester abroad.</p>

2015 Fall
Home University:
Columbia University - CC and SEAS
Urban Studies
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