The Liminal Space Between Semesters

Keeli Wagner
February 5, 2020

The weirdest part about my study abroad experience so far has been explaining to everyone who asks how the semester split works in Japan. To be clear, I don’t profess to be an expert about it myself, but I do know that the Japanese spring semester typically begins in April, rather than January. This has left me in the unique position of being a student with no classes to take until I depart for Japan in late March. But what am I supposed to do with my life until then? How should I spend this three-month limbo?

It’s very bizarre to be on my college campus, surrounded by bustling college students worried about deadlines, class schedules, and group projects, knowing I currently face none of that stress and anxiety. Even as I’m sludging through the week-old snow and ice slush and struggling against the bitter Midwestern winter wind as I walk across campus, I’m detached from the epicenter of action, but still aware that it is happening: as if viewing it through a pair of those fancy opera binoculars. My current solution to this problem is working as much as I can. I work mornings at my university library, and I also picked up an internship to pass the time in the afternoons. Gone for me are the long hours spent in the library or student union waiting for my next class, or the periodic meeting up with friends between classes to grab lunch. It’s very different to have to say, “Sorry, I’m only free after 6,” and plan my social life accordingly.  

This is the closest facsimile to full-time adult living that I have experienced (I generally limit my working in the summer to about 30 hours a week, so it’s less of a drag), and so far, it’s a mixed bag. I never thought I’d say it, but I almost can’t wait to hit the books again once my semester starts in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, taking classes certainly brings along with it stress and anxiety, not to mention the time commitment. But taking courses also provides a high degree of variety to daily life. The endless monotony of office work, scheduling, meetings, commutes, and spreadsheets is starting to wear me down. (I will mention, however, that it is wonderful to go home at the end of the day and be able to relax… usually I just feel guilty for not doing homework).

With all that being said, here is my advice for things to do while in study-abroad-necessitated semester limbo!

  1. Plan, plan, plan!
    • Make a budget for possible expenses you think you’re going to incur while abroad (think: going out for dinner/drinks, omiyage or souvenirs for host family members/ family and friends back home, transportation, daily expenses, etc.)

    • Buy your plane ticket ASAP. I recommend the website Skiplagged: it’s an aggregate flight website that usually has decreased prices, as well as price tracking. Wait until the right moment to buy your tickets-- it sucks to overpay for airfare!

    • Make sure your student visa preparations are in order. In my case, students studying abroad in Japan have to wait until right before we go abroad to finalize the visa. However, in the meantime, we are supposed to contact our Japanese consulates to obtain the information we will need to complete the visa process. 

    • Plan what stuff you’re going to pack, and what you think you’ll buy in your study abroad destination. I personally am struggling to decide what clothes to bring with me to accommodate for both the wet and humid Japanese spring, as well as the hot and humid summer.

    • Plan what you’re going to do for a phone in your study abroad destination. I am leaning towards getting a local SIM card. This will change my phone number, but allow me to keep my phone and use it like a local Japanese phone.

  2. Schedule time to hang out with friends

    • This might seem strange to put so high up on the list, but I am miserable when I don’t have time to de-stress with the people I care about. For me at least, if I didn’t make an effort to see my friends as often as I can I would get stuck in a monotony of work, home, sleep, commute, rinse, repeat. 

    • This also serves as kind of a trial period before study abroad: y’all are living life according to completely different schedules now, and will be living life according to completely different if not time zones later. Use this as an opportunity to practice the skill of making time to communicate and stay up to date with the people you care about.

  3. Save up money

    • I’m working 45 hours a week. Which is a lot. However, it is necessary for me, because I’m still saving up money to cover the cost of my program! (kind of terrifying, but it’s where I am)

    • From a logistical standpoint, this is the best use of your time. I acknowledge it is exhausting to push against the grindstone endlessly… but future you will be grateful for it.

  4. Stay active (physically and metaphorically)

    • I’m trying to go to the gym at least a couple times a week. I know this might not be for everybody, but working out for even just an hour gets my blood flowing, gives me an activity that cleanses my mind of any stress for a while, and literally releases endorphins to improve my mood. 

    • If the gym isn’t your speed, find something else that’s fun to do in your spare time! Try to break up your daily routine a bit to keep things interesting. Also, trying new things is going to be a hallmark of your study abroad experience-- become comfortable with unfamiliar experiences while you’re still at home.

  5. Practice your language skills

    • Being in ~limbo~ means you are missing valuable classroom exposure and practice. Don’t let yourself slip up and lose recently-acquired grammar and language skills.

    • A friend of mine in our Japanese class gives me his notes and keeps me informed about what we’re learning (thanks Cory!). If it works with your professor and your schedule, see if you can even sit in on a couple of classes every week.

  6. Make some goals for your time abroad

    • Think about what you want to get from your study abroad experience, what you’re the most nervous about, and what you’re most excited about. Make a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goal addressing each. 

      • Right now my goals are: 

        • Do well in my classes

        • Become more comfortable expressing myself in Japanese in everyday conversation

        • Take a short trip to Kyoto (by myself maybe?)


If there are any other students stuck in the liminal space between semesters, I hope this list provides some guidance. I’ll talk to y’all later once I’ve arrived in Japan!

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Keeli Wagner

<p>Hi! I’m Keeli and I’m a junior anthropology major from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with minors in English, history, sociology, Asian studies, and Japanese (phew!). It’s a lot of work, but I love taking classes in the social sciences &amp; humanities because it’s so rewarding to learn about such a wide variety of disciplines. They help me understand the world’s complexity when it can be tempting to think otherwise.<br><br>I love listening to all kinds of music, drawing, finding cool art, listening to podcasts, watching anime, and sharing memes. I also love cooking with my friends-- there’s nothing more satisfying than enjoying a meal that we all worked together to create! I’m also a big fan of frogs.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Lincoln, NE
Explore Blogs