How has study-abroad changed my life?

So, as you might’ve have figured out, I live and work in Japan (albeit temporarily), and I owe it all to studying abroad. I met Hiro through a fellow CSU exchange student at Waseda, and three years after I came back to the states, he offered me this job which has been the catalyst for this little jaunt around the world. Another former exchange student has asked me to put together a little video explaining how things are going, and how my time abroad has made an impact on my life. I’ve also written a little bit to accompany the video. I hope you have as much fun watching is as I did making it. Sorry there isn’t more yo-yo in it, I had to keep it under 10 minutes!

A little about my experience…

I never expected language study to play a large role in my education, but when I saw Japanese on the list of language classes available, I knew right away that I had a great opportunity. I soon discovered my passion for the language, and developed an amazing circle of friends within the program at my school.

I hadn’t considered it before, but some friends recommended I look into the study abroad programs available at Sac State. I ended up traveling to Japan in 2005 to visit and see how I liked the place, and decided to apply for Waseda, with Yokohama as a backup. I was accepted to Waseda for 2006-07. Study abroad has been, for me, one of the most formative experiences of my life. Your mileage may vary.

At Sac State, I majored in graphic design and Japanese (a special major due to the credit accrued from my time at Waseda), and almost minored in photography. During my time abroad, I studied a variety of subjects and found a new passion for phonology. Through a stroke of luck, I made friends with Hironori Mii, former Yo-Yo World Champion and one of two Japanese Yo-Yo Masters. We only hung out a few times while I was in Japan, but kept in touch after returning to the states. When he graduated from business school in Chico, he invited me to come do the graphic design for his new company in Japan. It had been around 2 years since I came back from my time abroad (don’t expect things to move terribly fast). Fast forward six months, and I’m helping launch an online yo-yo store expecting to pull in 3,000,000 yen in the first month, and shooting for 10,000,000 yen a month by the end of next year. I’m responsible for the logos, the website, the advertisement, and all the product photography. I get to hang out with some of the most talented yo-yo players in the world, eat amazing food, and I’ve had the unexpected privilege of making use of all my areas of study, as well as being able to practice some of the hobbies I’ve picked up along the way.

And my journey has just begun. My friend has made it clear that this gig doesn’t have to be temporary, but I’ve made plans to spend an as-yet undetermined amount of time traveling around Asia. In another month, I’ll be heading towards China to learn Mandarin, Tibet and Nepal to hike the Himalayas and Annapurnas, India to do yoga training, and Thailand and South-East Asia to relax, surf, rock climb, and stay in monasteries to expand my understanding of myself and the world. On my way back I will probably stay in Japan somewhat longer, and continue my work for this company, but who knows what will happen in the coming years. I may not exactly be taking the standard path laid out before me, but I could not be happier with the direction I am going. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t studied abroad.

And now some advice for you: The most important thing you bring with you is your attitude. Even if you have the exact same experiences I did, there’s no guarantee you’ll experience them or feel the same way about them as I did. To get the most out of your time abroad, you must come with an open mind and be willing to accept things that you don’t understand, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Maintain your curiosity and passion for learning, and strive to absorb as much as you can. Take every opportunity to practice your language skills. Pick an interest and find a club or circle to join; there’s a group for every interest from music to adventure. Even the most mundane things can be a great learning experience. You’re in a foreign country, learning a new language, savor it. 10 months goes by quicker than you think.

Try to document your time abroad somehow, both for your own sake further down the road, and for other people you want to share your experiences with. Keep a journal, start a blog, keep your facebook or flickr account updated. It’s an easy way to preserve your experiences. I look at photos I took back then and the memories come flooding back.

If you have the will and the opportunity, live with a host family–it can be a very rewarding experience. However, do not take this decision lightly. The host family is not only doing you a huge favor by opening their home to a total stranger, but they are also excited to have you there. If you don’t intend to interact heavily with them and become a part of the family, or if you want to live by your own rules, don’t bother. It’s regrettable when a placement doesn’t work out, but it can sour a family’s will to host future students. Dorm accommodations are available, so if you aren’t completely sure about it, do NOT inconvenience the families or your resident adviser.

Don’t underestimate the importance of staying in touch with people back home. Friends and family alike are not immune to falling out of touch. Find a way to communicate with people back home in a meaningful way. Phone cards, skype, and facebook are all great, but don’t forget to send things home every once in a while. Real mail is such a rare treat these days. Likewise, stay in touch with the friends you make here. Other exchange students and Japanese alike can be great assets in the future if you let them; you never know who will have a major impact on your life.

The road is hard but it is worth traveling; you must learn to focus on the process and not the conclusion. This goes for all things. Remember this and your life will be a happy one.