Michaela participated in the Japan Study Tour program in June 2019. She spent three weeks with other uLethbridge students visiting and studying in Sapporo. Read about her experience!

Why did you choose your program and destination?

When I was first looking into going abroad with the university, I came across information on the study tours to Japan and Korea. They seemed like such an amazing experience and a great way to get a taste of a new country and culture. As for Japan specifically, my grandfather lived in Japan when he was younger and often went back to visit with my dad, so I grew up seeing pictures they took and trying some candies they brought back for me. It always seemed like this amazingly beautiful country with yummy candies (and it is all that and so much more), that I just had to visit.

What was the most memorable experience of your time abroad?

My most memorable time was a trip my host family took me on to a nearby town called Otaru. I had miso ramen for lunch which originated in Hokkaido, the northernmost island where we were, and I quickly realized that my noodle slurping skills were far more inferior than I thought! Everyone had finished their noodles so much faster than me! We then went on to a small boat tour that took us to a dock on the other side of the bay, and on the way there we fed treats to the seagulls by throwing them in the water but my host father, who is much braver than me, would hold the treats in his hand and the birds would fly full speed to catch up with the boat and eat them out of his hand! It was amazing! Later on, while we were walking around the town, I tried something I did not know existed... It was cheese ice cream! My host sister Emika and I also went into a music box shop (something that Otaru is famous for) and while we were looking and listening to different music boxes, I happened to pick up one that played a song from My Neighbour Totoro, which is a Japanese animated film that I watched over and over and over again throughout my childhood. When I winded it up and let it play Emika and I both recognized it at the same time and jumped up in excitement! As we looked through more music boxes, it seemed to be the only one that played that song which made it feel even more special.

This day was so memorable to me because I had such an amazing time with my host family who were so eager to welcome me and introduce me to their country and culture. I felt so loved and connected to people I had only met a few weeks prior.

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

The most prominent and probably the only challenge was the language barrier. Unlike some students on the trip, I had not taken any Japanese class yet, and so at times it was harder to connect. However, every single person I met was so friendly, kind, and encouraging that it was easy to make friends and practice the Japanese that I was learning while we were there. If there were any problems that I may have encountered, I had so many loving people there to help me through.

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

I would say that it helped me with all three but I think this experience helped me the most personally. I am a quite naturally shy and anxious person so I think meeting so many new people and being met with nothing but kindness, helped me come out of my shell. I became more comfortable introducing myself to new people and initiating the conversation. I am also the type of person to try and do everything by myself. Whether it be writing an essay, work, or moving furniture, I am the type of person to try and do it alone.

One of the most important skills I learned while abroad was asking for help when I need it.

It is very hard to study a language and navigate a foreign country all by yourself. Luckily for me, I had so many new friends to help me study and guide me through Sapporo.

What was your experience like when you returned home?

At first, the jet lag was incredibly stubborn. I was wide awake at 4 a.m. for about a week. On the bright side, Lethbridge has a beautiful sunrise and coffee is always available at most corners. After a few days of rest and unpacking, I went back to work. It felt a bit strange to be back, almost as though Japan was from another lifetime, but in fact, it was not. I think this feeling helped me realize all that not only the university, but the world has to offer is so much more than anyone could imagine.

There are so many new experiences waiting for you if you look around.

The following semester after the study tour I registered in a Japanese class and am continuing to study the language with the plan to go back as soon as possible.

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

The only thing I would have done differently is to study the language a bit before having left. While I made so many new friends and connected with so many new people, by having more knowledge of the language than I did at the time, I would have been able to make even deeper connections with even more people. I also maybe would not have gotten stuck on the wrong side of the metro line...

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

Yes. Yes. Yes. Go to as many new places as you can! It's such an enriching and exciting experience that you cannot find anywhere else. I encourage any student who has even the smallest thought of studying abroad to go do it. You make memories and friends that will last a lifetime and, not to mention, all the new delicious foods you can try!

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