Learning to Step Outside My Comfort Zone
SEA Program Motivated Me to Apply for the Exchange Program
At the time I entered ICU, the exchange program did not interest me. I had never lived abroad, much less away from home. I was a shy around people I met for the first time, and the prospect of living in a foreign country for a whole year where no one speaks Japanese was daunting.
Some first year students in ICU take part in the 6-week Study English Abroad (SEA) program during the summer. Although I hesitated to join it, a friend dragged me to the introductory meeting, saying I would miss a lot if I did not attend. But after hearing the exciting experiences of the program and encouragement from my friends, I found myself applying for it. Even then, the anxiety for the challenges almost forced me to cancel before departure. But the 6 weeks at Tufts University in the U.S. changed my view on living in a new environment. I then began to think of applying for the exchange program.
I did not have to do extra work to prepare myself for studying abroad: I simply did what was required in the English language classes. At ICU, English is not just a subject of study, it is used as a tool for studying. We are required to read a lot of English materials for each class, while we also brush up our communication skills with various opportunities to practice what we learn. Language study requires constant effort day in and day out. You cannot expect to improve dramatically in one day. Studying at ICU naturally improved my English because I was reading and speaking the language every day.
Building Empathy to Solve Social Problems
I was interested in the relations between East Asian nations. That is why I I chose to go to Hong Kong in my junior year, where "East meets West," to study international relations at Hong Kong University, a top-tier institution in Asia. HKU students work very hard: I was impressed with how competent they were. Deluged with a heavy load of assignments every day, it was not easy to keep up, but my classmates inspired me to take studying more seriously. This might be why my grades there were better than I expected.
During my stay in Hong Kong, students organized sit-ins in the streets in protest against proposed reforms in the electoral system. Friends from my dorm and classes were taking part in these demonstrations. Witnessing these acts of civil disobedience firsthand, we discussed the issues in lectures. At this point I realized that events occurring around the world were not distant problems unrelated to my life; we need to empathize with everyone affected by things that are happening on this planet. Through this experience, I gained a new perspective for my major.