The World is My Backyard – A Tale of Growth and Experience


I was never a very social person growing up. I didn’t have time to be. I grew up in a small 1 bedroom apartment with my mom and sisters. My mom worked 12 hours or more a day and my sisters were never home. Since I was 10, I was responsible to take care of myself. That has been my life for as long as I can remember. After a 3 year hiatus from high school, I was eager to get through college as quick and with as few obstacles as possible. I had no idea what the real purpose of college was and I don’t think most people ever truly experience what college is supposed to be. The typical college experience, from what I’ve deduced after talking with several students, consists of going to classes, working part-time, going to parties, and doing stupid things while they still have very few responsibilities. Unfortunately, I never got that memo. I did my school work, worked my full-time job, and made sure I at least had food to eat. I would love to say that I always had a place to stay, but that would be stretching it a bit. I had a car and that car was my home for a large portion of that last 3 years. You see, times are tough for everyone and I am no exception. I worked full-time and it wasn’t enough. Going to school full-time just added to the tough times. However, that experience made me stronger in ways that I could have ever imagined.

I remember the first time I considered studying abroad. It was 2010, my second semester at Brookdale Community College and I recall clearly meeting Dr. Janice Thomas, the director of the International Education Center. She was just finishing a presentation to promote the schools study abroad programs as I sat and talked with her about going to Australia. I knew nothing about the world nor did I have any specific reason for wanting to go there. To be completely honest, I was terrified to leave. Once I saw the price of the program, I had an excuse not to go. At that point, I really didn’t have much interest in learning about the world, either. I just thought it would be a good opportunity to get away.

About a year later, a friend dragged me to a meeting for one of the campus clubs. She is Asian and wanted to attend the Asia Society club meetings, but was too shy to go alone. I didn’t really have much interest in it myself, but I went to appease her. I didn’t talk much for the first few meetings. I watched, listened, and learned from students who lived abroad, studied abroad, or who have cultural experiences that I’ve never been able to understand. By the middle of the semester, I was participating in discussions, making friends, and even giving presentations on things I was learning and studying on my own. Within about 8 weeks, my social skills reached a level I never thought possible. I loved this experience so much that I decided to take a leadership position for the club the following semester.

Since it was decided that I was the most experienced with money, I took the position as treasurer for the club. The other members and I worked so well together that we had the most successful semesters together in the club’s history. We put on events and organized trips that are really unheard of for a community college. I gained a lot of valuable experience in my two semesters as treasurer.

It wasn’t until after I graduated that I really considered studying abroad. I learned so much from being in that club, but realized that all I had was paper knowledge. I knew absolutely nothing about the world and what it’s really like. Once summer was underway, so was I. I went right to work, researching programs and preparing myself as much as possible for what was to come. During my time at Brookdale, I really developed an affinity for Japanese culture. It felt only natural for me to pursue this interest further. I found KCP in a study abroad book and decided this is where I wanted to go.

As I began my first semester at Kean University as a Physical Education major, I realized that there were no Japanese language classes in the school. This would put a serious dent in my plans. So, I did the only thing I could think of; Visit Dr. Thomas. When I went to her, she was very happy to see me and remembered me from our meeting almost a year earlier. I told her about my plans and we discussed my options. We had come to the decision that I would take Japanese language classes at Brookdale and put those credits into another degree so they wouldn’t just be for nothing. So, I was set, I would be taking classes at Kean and Brookdale that fall semester. You may ask yourself, “Wasn’t that difficult?” The short answer is yes.

While I’m going back and forth between schools, Dr. Thomas told me that it was time to start applying for scholarships. I thought, “Now? I’m not leaving for another year. Isn’t it early?” The short answer to that is no. There is no such thing as too early when it comes to scholarships. Waiting until last minute will cause your work to be rushed and will make you less likely to be considered. So, at Dr. Thomas’ recommendation, I got right to work on scholarships. I wrote essays for days, frequently bringing them in to Dr. Thomas for suggestion. Having a knowledgeable and helpful advisor will definitely help you when applying for things like scholarships because they know what the organizations want. If your advisor tells you to do something, it’s probably for the best.

Finally, after two semesters of Japanese and 6 scholarship applications and essay’s later, I get some good news. Of the 6 scholarships, I was awarded and received 5 of them, for a total of about $15,000. Not only was my program at KCP paid for, but my airfare and personal expenses were taken care of as well. All of my hard work was really paying off. I was so proud of myself and the only person more proud of me and what I was doing was my mom. Unfortunately, she never found out about those scholarships. During a same-day surgery in May, she had complications and was hospitalized. After being in a coma for about 2 months, she died. Losing my mom, my biggest supporter, and one of my best friends, was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I was so crushed and depressed for the rest of the summer that I had contemplated not going to Japan. However, with the love and support of my friends and family, I realized that my mother would not want me to stop living my life. In fact, she would want just the opposite. She would want me to live, explore and do things she could never have dreamed of doing. I dedicated my trip to Japan to my mother’s memory and refused to let anything hold me back.

Going to Japan was one of the greatest experiences of my life. An experience that has helped me shed my fear of the unknown and has inspired me to explore the world even further. I am sharing this experience because I want all of my readers to know that even with circumstances such as mine, you can still do it. Everyone has a chance to do something big. There is money and help available to you and it’s waiting for you, all you have to do it take the time to find it. I also want my readers to understand that we all have reasons for doing something or not doing something. Over the past few years, I have developed a philosophy I live by that can be described simply as “No Excuses.” I will not make excuses for things I have or have not done and I will not accept excuses from others. When I make a commitment, that commitment will be followed through to the end. Living this way has given my life so much more meaning because it’s easy to find a reason not to do something you don’t want to do or are scared to do, but it takes real heart to face those challenges and rise above them. My dog ate it, I woke up late, and I’ll do it later are the things holding you back from reaching your goals. If you want to be successful in business, love, or any other facet of life, make no excuses. Take that semester abroad you’ve been thinking about and don’t let anything change your mind. You only liable limitation is yourself.