Taking a step toward my dream
Broaden my perspective by studying abroad
I was determined to apply for an exchange student program, since I first entered ICU. When I was in my 9th grade, I participated in a cultural exchange program offered at my junior high, and had a chance to stay in California, US for two weeks. Partly because it was my first visit overseas, everything I saw and experienced there was so new and exciting to me that it made me want to go overseas again.
In addition, I thought that if I went abroad again as a university student, after improving my English skills, I would be able to dive into the local society more deeply and encounter foreign lifestyles and their underlying culture and customs, which would be completely new to me. Doing so would in turn broaden my perspective of the world and things around me. That's why I participated in a student exchange program.
Three factors that contributed to improving my English skills
I think there were largely three factors that helped me build my English skills to a certain level before actually studying abroad.
The first one was the ELA (English for Liberal Arts Program). In ELA, students are placed into classes of different levels called Streams 1, 2, 3, or 4, based on their English proficiency. I was assigned to Stream 3, the level where the largest portion of first year students is placed. In ELA classes, students read many articles, discuss and present ideas, and write papers intensively right from the first year. These activities helped me build the foundation of English skills required for studying in the university.
The second was classes in linguistics, which I chose as my major. Most linguistics classes use textbooks written in English. This meant that I use a lot of English every day, and my linguistic classes being so interesting, it was not much of a burden for me and my English ability had improved before I even knew it.
The last was the "W-courses" *. ICU designates some specialized courses taught in English as "W-courses" ("writing courses"). These courses have a significant writing component and strive to improve students' academic research and writing skills. Through these courses, I was able to acquire academic writing skills and broaden my vocabulary.
Two to three specialized courses taught in English are designated as "W-courses" each semester, to provide training in discipline-specific writing skills. In the W-Courses, students are assigned a greater number of writing assignments than they would receive in other courses. They also have the option to receive individual tutorials from designated tutors outside of regular classes to further strengthen their academic writing skills.
New type of exchange program where students get to study in two other countries, two other societies (each for a half year)
The exchange program I participated in is offered by the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA), an organization of 29 liberal arts educational institutions including ICU from 15 countries around the world. A big feature of this program is that students get the opportunity during a one-year period to study at GLAA member universities in two other locations around the world*. Ever since my study abroad experience in junior high, I always wanted to study in the US again, so I went to Ohio Wesleyan University (Ohio, US) from mid-August to mid-December in 2015, and to Franklin University (Lugano, Switzerland) from mid-January to mid-May in 2016. I chose Switzerland as the other country to visit because it adopted unique diplomatic policies without becoming a member of the EU and I also had the impression that Switzerland is a wealthy and pleasant country.
I took marketing courses in both the US and Switzerland. It was interesting to find that Japanese businesses are discussed from entirely different perspectives in the two countries. Classes I took in the US viewed Japanese businesses in a confrontational model, positioning Japanese industry against US industry, whereas the classes I took in Switzerland shed light on the strengths of Japanese firms, their advanced technology enabling manufacture of compact and highly functional products, emphasizing that there is a lot to learn from Japanese companies.
I realized that people in different countries view and discuss Japan in different ways, which gave me a chance to look at Japan from a new perspective myself. Based on this experience, when thinking about countries of the world, I have come to incorporate views from a third-party country rather than solely basing myself on a Japanese perspective.
*The exchange program offered by the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA) will be suspended starting in AY2017.
Studying abroad means hardship and growth
The hardest thing of my study abroad experience was, after all, overcoming the language barrier. Although I did have the level of English ability required for applying to the program, I needed to brush up my English skills even more, to be able to learn together with the local students. When I first arrived at the local university, I was frustrated because I couldn't actively take part in the class discussions. But I was determined to make my study abroad experience a meaningful one. So I asked some classmates to help me with my study and I studied together with them to adapt to the new class.
At first, I was hoping to experience different cultures and views to gain insight and a broader perspective of the world, just like I did when I went to study abroad during junior high. This time, however, it turned out to be more than that. I was able to experience two foreign societies, got to know many people there, and shared valuable learning experiences with local students, which helped me become more proactive and flexible than I ever imagined.
The most attractive thing about studying abroad is that it offers you a chance to test yourself. You will surely encounter a situation or hardship that you have never faced before. The important thing is to have the courage to take a step forward toward your goal. If you can do that, I'm sure the experience will be fulfilling. If you have the slightest interest in studying abroad, I urge you to take the challenge.