Appreciate the Little Things

On Friday morning I woke up at 7:30 in the morning to go hiking with one of my friends in Golden, Colorado. As we were hiking along the South Tabletop Mountain trail, I took in the scenery around me and realized that in about a month, my surroundings would change significantly. I realized that the snow-topped mountains to the West wouldn’t be there anymore. I realized that the distant skyline of Denver would be thousands of miles away from me. It was quite a humbling feeling–although it was also kind of scary–to know that I’d be moving thousands of miles away from home for the second time.

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For those of you who don’t know, I made the decision to move to Colorado when I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time in my life. I distinctly remember my dad telling my sister and I that we would be going to Colorado for a ski-trip, but I was extremely resistant since I was happy where I was at the time: I had a lot of friends in my 5th grade class, I loved my teacher, and I certainly didn’t want to miss out on interesting tales from the time that I was absent. Basically, I was the type of ten-year-old who wanted to remain where they were, and any threat of changing normality scared me.

After much persuasion from my dad (and the fact that I really didn’t have a choice in the matter), I reluctantly agreed to go to Colorado. We arrived at the Denver International Airport early in the morning and went to pick up our car rental. After a quick lunch in Denver, we headed towards the mountains via 6-West, and eventually I-70. Our car climbed through the foothills and finally we were surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the mountains stood tall above us. I had never seen such an amazing view in my entire life, and that’s all it took.

From that day on, my heart knew where it wanted to be. I changed from wanting to stay in Mattawan, Michigan for my entire life to wanting to explore the world around me. And as previously stated, that small experience was what motivated me for seven years to find a way to live in this beautiful state. There was much more to the world than a small town in Southwest Michigan, and I wanted to take advantage of that.

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Now here I am, eagerly awaiting my departure to the next chapter in my life, just as I did three years ago when I was moving to Denver. I get to fulfill one of my life’s dreams yet again at such a young age, and I couldn’t be more grateful. But it goes to show that even the smallest things can influence one’s passions, motivation, and life-goals. Whatever those experiences may be to you, I hope you take them and hold them dearly to you. I hope they give you the strength to push you through the dark times and shine in the good. Although they might be small things to everyone else in this world, it can mean the world to you, and that’s what truly matters.

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In the Meantime

I have never traveled to a foreign country by myself. Ever. In the past, I’ve always had my parents to accompany me, protect me from cultural differences that I was unaware of, and plan activities to do in the places where we traveled. While the absence of these accommodations give me much more freedom as opposed to in the past, it also implies many challenges that I will have to face during my time in Japan. How will I handle the culture shock when I first experience it? Who will explain the differences between American and Japanese culture to me when I’m off campus or exploring? What should I do to make as many native-Japanese friends as possible? The possibilities are endless; however, with help from my university’s Office of International Education (OIE) and some personal research, I’ve attempted to minimize the fear of being on my own in a foreign country and emphasize the importance of my experiences abroad.

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-Insert stereotypical picture of Mt. Fuji-

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve typically experienced Japanese culture through–in my opinion–extremely biased lenses. And the reality is that I cannot fully experience another country’s culture unless I immerse myself in it. This obviously isn’t as easy as it sounds, but my school has been extremely wonderful by providing tips specifically oriented towards travelling to Japan. Here are some interesting things that my adviser with the OIE pointed out to me:

  • Before leaving the US, bring a gift for the people that I will meet at my dormitory. A food-item that is specific to my region of the United States will probably be the best gift to get.
  • Be prepared to have an encounter with a 置換 (chikan–lit. a molester, pervert). If someone touches you, grab their hand, raise it in the air, and yell “置換!”
  • Start doing research on the things that you want to do, like visiting tourism websites and researching festivals that will happen during your stay.

Not only have I consulted with my OIE, but I have also been speaking to a Japanese-native through a language-exchange. We’ve been able to talk for hours about a variety of topics such as fun things to do in Nagasaki, college-culture in America, festivals I’ll be able to attend during study abroad, and much more. It’s such an amazing opportunity as I’ve been able to learn more about the culture through his first-hand experiences, and I have also been able to practice actually speaking in Japanese. I feel that my ability to express thoughts in Japanese has increased dramatically, so I wonder how this will translate from studying Japanese in America to studying Japanese in Japan?

I’ll end this blog with some tips that I think will be helpful for prospective study-abroad students.

Tips for prospective study-abroad students:

  • If you’re interested in a language-intensive program:
    • Find a tutor (if you go to DU, the library has some awesome tutors) and have conversations with them in the language that you’re learning
    • Find apps that can provide you with language-exchange; HelloTalk is a great app for that
    • Practice with students who are also learning your language
    • If your school has a culture club for the country you’re travelling to, try going to one of their events
  • Thoroughly research the culture and customs of your host country
  • Do all of your paperwork and documentation as soon as you possibly can: there’s a lot more than you think
  • Be open-minded

*Obviously, there are a lot of other things that you can do, I just can’t think of them right now lol