McKenna participated in the Japan Study Tour program in June 2019. She spent three weeks with other uLethbridge students visiting and studying in Sapporo. McKenna made so many wonderful memories during her trip. Read about her experience!

Why did you choose your program and destination?

Japan has always been number one on my travel bucket list. I am half Japanese, so I have always wanted to learn more about my heritage.

There is no better way to learn than to immerse yourself in the culture!

Traveling with the university allowed me to explore all possible opportunities. We were exposed to so many different aspects like, hands-on cultural experiences, classroom instruction, free time to do exploring, building unique relationships and so much more. The U of L had our best interest and this trip was so beautifully organized and planned.

What was the most memorable experience of your time abroad?

This is one of the tougher questions, because there were so many memorable experiences! If I had to pick one, it would be the people. Meeting and living with my host family was unforgettable. They adopt you into their family for a short time and create such a meaningful, memorable experience for you. They really did become my home away from home. We were also paired up with peer partners. These individuals take you under their wing and set aside all of their free time for you. They took me on so many great adventures and taught me so many things. I am sure they enjoyed their time and learned from us, just as much as we did.

Were there any challenges? How did you overcome or cope with them?

The language barrier was definitely the biggest challenge. I had very little experience with the Japanese language, but put my best effort into learning, so I could be respectful and communicate to the best of my ability. I was honestly scared about the language barrier and I did not want to disappoint or offend anyone with my inability to speak Japanese, but the university students and staff from Hokkai-Gakuen, and my host family were always so accommodating. They would always try their best to communicate the correct message and teach us so many new things. They were all so eager to practice their English with us, but also provided us with opportunities to practice our Japanese. My host mom did not speak very much English. We relied a lot on Google Translate and gestures.

It was so much fun trying to communicate with each other, like a big game of charades. It always ended with us laughing after we finally figured out what we were trying to say.

Has this education abroad experience helped you personally, academically or professionally?

This education abroad experienced helped me in all these areas. Personally, it helped me gain a lot of knowledge about my Japanese heritage and how different, yet similar, the culture is as a Japanese Canadian. I am a very independent person, usually, but when it comes to something unfamiliar to me, I like to depend on others. This experience really pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me, in a good way, to become more comfortable and confident in certain situations. Academically, I experienced the Japanese way. They take their studies so seriously and dedicate all they can to make sure they achieve high, but yet they still leave time for themselves. This was something that I admired and it left a good impression on me. I feel I have been a lot more focused and dedicated to my studies since I have returned.

I believe Japan is a very formal country. Their whole culture is built on respect. Respect is a huge asset to have in a professional world. Giving respect has always been something I strive for, but after returning home I have focused on it a lot more. I try to appreciate everything and every one.

What was your experience like when you returned home?

Obviously, I was sad to return home and to leave the memories and people from Japan behind. But, it was so great coming home and being able to share my experiences with my friends and family. To this day, I still get questions about my trip and I am always willing to share. My host sister actually came to Canada a year after I had returned home to practice her English. It has been so much fun getting to connect with her again, and show her what Canada has to offer.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

If I could do it all over again, the only thing I would do differently is have more knowledge about the Japanese language. I would have loved to practice growing my knowledge of the language, instead of starting from the basics.

Would you recommend trying an education abroad program to other students?

Yes, I would 100% recommend an education abroad program to others. The U of L had our best interest at hand. The trip was well organized and full of educational experiences. Some advice I would give is attend the information sessions for the different abroad programs. They offer a lot of pre-information about the experience and there is lots of things to consider.

When traveling, I would always be open minded, flexible and respectful. You are entering a different culture with new customs, and sometimes things are different or things change.

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