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Journey to Japan

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“This experience has changed me in so many different ways. It’s helped me develop an even greater interest in other cultures and a love for traveling. I hope to return to Japan in the near future, and I look forward to new adventures abroad.”

Hello everyone! My name is Ashley Johnson. I’m a recent Illinois State University graduate, with a B.A. in English studies and a minor in East Asian studies. Before finishing my last year at Illinois State, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Japan, during the spring 2019 semester. I chose Japan for my program of study because I’ve had an interest in the culture since I was young, and always dreamed that I would one day visit the country. I love learning about different cultures and languages, and I wanted the chance to learn more about Japan through my own experiences.

I’ll admit that, before my departure, I was worried. This was the first time I had ever left the country, and I was worried that I would have a hard time adjusting. I knew enough Japanese to get around, but I wasn’t confident and was concerned that communication was going to be a struggle.

However, being in Japan was an amazing experience that contributed to both intellectual and personal growth. Being in a foreign country pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things as well as meet new people. Even though it is possible to get around without any background in the Japanese language, I was glad to be able to hone and improve my language skills by talking to the local students and even just asking for directions in Japanese.

One of the things I was most excited for, in Japan, was the food. The only Japanese foods I had back home were sushi and ramen, so I was looking forward to trying many different dishes. I ended up falling in love with okonomiyaki (which is a type of Japanese pancake made with eggs, cabbage, various meats, and condiments) and ended up eating it at least once a week. I also spent time with my speaking partner, and she introduced me to her favorite foods like omurice and inarizushi. She even taught me how to make Japanese curry rice!

I was also really excited about was the courses that the university offered. A minimum of 14 credit hours were required, with five of those credits being the mandatory Japanese class and the remaining credits being whatever else you wanted to take. They offered a number of fun and interesting classes, such as a class about geishas and samurai, ghosts and yokai, kimonos, J-pop (Japanese pop music), and anime. They even had a class where you learned how to draw and create your own manga! I decided to challenge myself and took a koto (Japanese harp) class. It was the first time I had really learned how to play a musical instrument. It was difficult, but I had so much fun.

I attended classes five days a week; however, my workload wasn’t overbearing so it allowed me to have a lot of free time to explore Japan. During the week my friends and I would travel to Kyoto and Osaka, which were both only a few minutes away (by train) from school. The weekends allowed us to travel further out to places like Nara (where we visited the many deer that roam the park), and Kobe (where we attended the Lunar festival). During spring break I decided to take a shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo, where I visited the Pokémon Center in Ikebukuro, the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba, and the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

By choosing to study during the spring semester, I was able to be in Japan during sakura (cherry blossom) season! During this time I visited Arashiyama to participate in hanami (cherry blossom viewing). The trees were a beautiful white, pinkish color, and during this season, there were so many sakura flavored foods and drinks. There’s a lot to see and do in Japan, and I’m so glad for the opportunity to learn and experience so much. This experience has changed me in so many different ways. It’s helped me develop an even greater interest in other cultures and a love for traveling. I hope to return to Japan in the near future, and I look forward to new adventures abroad.

To read more about my experience in Japan, the places I visited, and info on the scholarships I received for study abroad, visit my blog!

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