5 Realities of Study Abroad

Hey there again!

So when this blog is published I will have been in Nagoya, Japan for one full month; the longest I have been abroad, and the longest I have been away from home. My honeymoon phase is slowly coming to a close, and the harsher realities of living in another country are finally setting in. As I have probably mentioned, I am the first to study abroad, or even leave the country in my family, and so everything I do, I do it for the first time. I have come across some struggles that I wish I had learned about previously before I landed on the mainland of Japan. For example, when studying abroad, it is important to make sure you have money on you at all times in case of an emergency such as taking the wrong train and purchasing the wrong train ticket! Luckily for me, I have local friends who were able to help me, but I never want to be caught without cash again! Taking trains costs you, and taking the wrong ones will cost you even more! Now I always carry a little extra cash on me just in case!

So here I have compiled a list of things to consider before you study abroad, and hopefully, I can give a prospective study abroad student somewhere a little peace of mind.

1.) You will miss your hometown/family/friends

Oh my oh my, I was the queen of stating that I wanted to leave town and never come back! I told my family this, my teachers, and I told my close friends they’d have to come visit me because I wasn’t going to come home ever again, etc. I’ve lived in the same town of Toledo, Ohio my entire life, and I wanted nothing more than to run away to some new city and live independently. I had a countdown set on my phone since January for when I left, and I never felt unsure or nervous.

That has certainly changed a lot.

While I have only been gone about 27 days right now, I can already feel that these next ten months will come with feelings of being homesick. I do Facetime my family, and occasionally text my friends but I am in a different time zone, 13 hours ahead of everyone else! Sometimes I see things on social media and feel a little left out. I never thought I’d feel this way. However, I always remind myself that I’m doing something amazing, unique, and for myself. I won’t be gone forever unless I choose to be. I’m not just sitting around, and I certainly don’t want to spend all of my time wishing I was back  home! I accept the feeling of homesickness, but I remember that I’m doing great things!

2.) You will get lost a lot. A lot. 

I knew it would happen at least once… I understood when it happened twice, but after getting lost over a dozen times I thought I was seriously just the worst at directions! I’ve walked to the train station three times with friends, but the one time I go alone I end up passing the station by about ten minutes worth of walking! It’s not just me, but a lot of the international students studying at Aichi University here in Nagoya also express feelings of confusion, and loss of direction. For some of us, it’s the fact that we walk, or bike everywhere now. I personally am used to having my nice car to drive to and from work, school, activities, etc. However, now I am stuck with just my legs, and I find it’s easier to wander down random side streets and end up in a completely unknown area. Another issue I personally face involves Japan itself for Japan is known for its many railways. I hadn’t ever ridden on a train before until I came to Japan. Including the fact that everything from buying the tickets, to finding the right gate is in Japanese and you’ve got yourself one completely lost American! As the first month comes to a close I am becoming more familiar with my area of town, where I live, work, and attend school. I am slowly growing more accustomed to it, but I know I’ll get lost again for sure somewhere else some day. I just chalk it up to being in a new place! It’s going to happen to anyone moving away for the first time.

Another issue I personally face involves Japan itself for Japan is known for its many railways. I hadn’t ever ridden on a train before until I came to Japan. Including the fact that everything from buying the tickets, to finding the right gate is in Japanese and you’ve got yourself one completely lost American! As the first month comes to a close I am becoming more familiar with my area of town, where I live, work, and attend school. I am slowly growing more accustomed to it, but I know I’ll get lost again for sure somewhere else some day. I just chalk it up to being in a new place! It’s going to happen to anyone moving away for the first time.

3.) Did I mention carry extra money on you?

This one is important!!

This wasn’t helpful only when I had to purchase extra train tickets but sometimes I’ve found myself 30 minutes away from home and starving, or in need of a cheap umbrella because of a sudden downpour. You may think “Oh that’s so obvious!” but trust me, the last thing you want is to be stranded without a little extra money in your wallet! Especially if you happen to go to a country where your native language is not spoken! Also, another personal realization, but Japan doesn’t often use credit or debit cards! From my experience, cash has been the main form of currency. So even if you think your personal card from your home country may work, you should absolutely double check! I find it difficult to even find an ATM around here!

4.) You are responsible for yourself.

So, I know I am a university student and an adult, but I entered this program with the expectation that it would be a bit more monitored. For example, we are required to find our own way to school, figure out the complex railway and bus systems, find our banks, make monthly bill payments, and schedule health check-ups all on our own! At first, I was shocked. How am I, a foreign person with little Japanese experience, supposed to take a subway to a train station, and from there find my specific bank, and pay for my apartment all without the assistance of any Japanese person?! I felt so panicked and anxious thinking about doing these things in a foreign city! I was used to having help with these types of things, but I now realize this is another advantage of studying abroad! You gain tremendous independence.

I am starting to learn how to live alone, and take care of myself without constantly calling my mom for help! Sure, I expected more assistance, but I have adapted and learned on my own instead. How else do you learn a language or culture unless you immerse yourself in it? And sure, I definitely got lost at the station and had to ask a stranger for assistance, but it’s only made me that much braver! Don’t constantly live under the wing of someone else!

5.) You will never be completely alone

Before I embarked on this journey I wondered to myself, “Will I be alone when I get there?”. I was traveling with two other students from my university, but I wondered how close we’d become once we settled in. I wondered if I’d make any new friends, or if I would be treated as the scary English speaking foreigner! I wondered if my classes would pave the way for new friendships.  Well after one month I can confirm that no, I am most certainly not alone here! Not only have I made a strong connection with the students traveling here from the United States like me, but I have met students from France, Germany, Thailand, China and Korea! We have a group chat, and we talk to each other when we feel unsure about something. We set up a time to walk to school together, and we hang out and eat lunch.

It has only been a month, but I do not feel as though I am alone here, and I know I can only make more friends as I spend time on campus. I saved this one for last because I believe it is the most important.  What is the point of studying abroad if you spend all your time locked up in your room? As long as you’re willing to try, you can’t go wrong. Meeting new people has done nothing but helped me feel more secure about living here, given me opportunities to go out and do new things, and improve my language skills by having people to practice with! The reality of studying abroad is that you will inevitably meet new people, but those people will be ones that impact your trip tremendously, and give you wonderful memories. I can’t wait to see where my new friendships go!

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My new friends and I at Nagashima Spaland Resort!