From Tokyo to Salt Lake City

Why did you decide to join an SAF study abroad program?

Because I wanted to improve my English. I also wanted to gain new experiences in the world that I didn’t know. In my freshman year in college, I did a short study abroad at a language school in Australia for two weeks during spring break. However, it was very short, and I didn’t really have opportunities to interact with the local students, so I ended up going home not being able to improve my English so much. 

That’s when I decided to try study abroad again, this time, in the environment where I can take courses with local students. Until my sophomore year in college, I spent most of my time engaging in club activities, and I wasn’t studying so hard. When going from sophomore to junior, I looked back on my college life, and I felt unease because I realized I hadn’t accomplished much. Therefore, I decided to do study abroad hoping that I could learn a lot from my experiences of studying at a university and living in an environment which culture is different from Japanese.

Why did you choose to study in Utah at the University of Utah?

Yes. Utah is very popular for outdoor sports, and since Reno was not a big city, it is less likely to encounter danger. I was born and raised in Tokyo, so having a campus whose backyard is mountains and living in nature was such a fresh experience for me. During weekdays, I went hiking after school, and on weekends, I went to national parks. I also took a class which I got to do camping in a desert and went snowboarding so many times. I had a great time while I was there.

Please discuss the courses at your sending university. How were the classes different from those at your home university?

Taking courses at University of Utah, I was surprised how serious the teachers were towards the students. In most classes at Japanese universities, we have lecture style courses where teachers talk and students just listen. However, in American classes, classes are more interactive, [with] students asking teachers questions and everyone discussing based on these questions. It was very exciting for me to ask questions and get answers in class. Although, I had a lot of assignments to do.

What was the biggest challenge during your study abroad, and how did you overcome it?

When I just started my study abroad, it was hard for me to speak up in class. Even when I was talking to someone one on one, if it was in a group, and I was the only international student, it was hard for me to follow what my classmates were saying. Sometimes, I couldn’t follow simply because I had no knowledge [of] the TV shows that they were talking about. However, I didn’t give up. I talked with my friends who have done study abroad before and international students from other countries, and got an advice. They said, “Not saying anything is bad, so say a word at least; get their attention and tell your thoughts at your own speed.” I tried that. I also started asking questions when I didn’t know or understand. My classmates kindly answered my questions and helped me out, so I stopped hesitating. Since then, my classmates started seeing me as their friend, and my relationship with them has gotten better. I learned that speaking up with confidence is very important in American culture.

Did you attend any activities outside the classroom?

I didn’t belong to any organizations while I was there, but I hosted a big “Japanese and Korean food party,” inviting 80 people including my friends. Also, my Japanese and Korean friends made some Japanese and Korean food, and we tried to spread our culture. I also volunteered in Mexico and [worked as a] TA in Japanese classes at the University of Utah.

Tell us about your dorm life

I had a Japanese roommate and two American suitemates. My American suitemates were very nice inviting me and my Japanese roommate to events, helping us out correcting our English papers, explaining about American politics on the election day. When I had my birthday and times I was feeling down, they wrote some messages on the bathroom mirror, and they made me very happy. Also, one of my suitemates took me to her parents’ house in Georgia for Christmas, and I could experience the real American Christmas. In terms of cleaning, we wrote our roles on the whiteboard and took turns. When it [came] to meals, every day we ate at the school cafeteria, and sometimes on weekends at restaurants near campus.

How do you think you will use your study abroad experience in your future career?

Through my study abroad experience, I think I became a person who is not afraid of challenge. I gained confidence going through a lot of difficulties and learned how important it is to be active making friends and studying and everything. Nothing happens, and there is nothing you can achieve if you don’t take any actions. I was good at listening to others but not so good at speaking up until I did my study abroad. However, I became able to speak up and tell my opinions and thoughts based on my own standards after learning and accepting a lot of cultures and different values. I think I will be able to use these skills [in the workplace] and pretty much anywhere in Japan in the future. While I was job hunting, companies gave me [positive] feedback on my experiences and challenges and [for] improving my English during study abroad. I felt that the fact that I had to stay for one more year at college to do study abroad was not a big issue for the Japanese companies.

How was the support from SAF?

The staff from SAF Japan office gave me a quick response whenever I was worried about something. Their support was good so that I could do study abroad feeling at ease.

Do you have any messages for future study abroad students?

If you are thinking about studying abroad or have a chance to do study abroad, I strongly recommend that you do. First, I was worried about leaving my friends in Japan and staying for another year in college, and I wasn’t so sure, but now I would be horrified if I hadn’t done study abroad (laugh). During the 10 months of my study abroad, so many things happened that changed my life and my values. I feel lucky being able to do study abroad while I was in college.

If you’ve already decided to do study abroad, I want you to spend every day with 120 percent energy before you leave Japan. I also think it would be a good idea to set a goal and start working toward it. If you do this, I think you will also be able to feel your own growth. You might think that the time during study abroad is forever, but actually, it will be over in a second. Interact with foreigners in Japan, go to places and absorb a lot from experiences, and I think you will have a wonderful time during your study abroad. Cheers!

Name: Asami Umehara
Home University: Keio University
Host University: University of Utah