Now a freshman at Clemson University studying psychology, Amelia Hall had a senior year of high school quite unlike anyone else. Not only did it abruptly come to an end due to the coronavirus pandemic and transition to online classes, but from August 2019 to January 2020, she studied abroad in Japan. Staying with family in Saitama prefecture and attending a local high school, Amelia spent a semester immersed in a culture obviously very different from the one she had always known, having been born and raised in South Carolina.
Her Campus (HC): When did you begin thinking about doing a semester abroad? How did you get the idea?
Amelia Hall (AH): I first thought about studying abroad during my freshman year of high school. The year before, my older brother and I went on a trip to Japan and we stayed with our aunt that lives there. I enjoyed it a lot and became really interested in the culture, so I wanted to go back.
HC: What ultimately pushed you to do it?
AH: I’d been wanting to for a while, and my parents supported me in doing so. Ultimately, all the doors were open and the opportunity was there, so I said, “Why not?”
HC: Did you have any fears going into the experience?
AH: I was afraid of being away from my family for so long, how I would do with the language and making new friends.
HC: How much Japanese did you actually know before you went there?
AH: Only introductions and numbers, really.
HC: So, would you say being immersed in the language like that helped you learn it?
AH: Definitely. It was easier to pick up because I was hearing and trying to speak it every day, especially at school. But it took lots of studying. I didn’t have to do the classwork at school, so whenever my classmates had a quiz or something of that sort, I would study vocabulary instead. I also kept a notepad with me to write down words that I heard but didn’t understand.
HC: What were some of your expectations for your time there, and did they come true, or were you surprised?
AH: I think I expected things to be more difficult than it actually was. My class and teachers were more than welcoming, which made integrating so much simpler.
HC: What are some of your favorite memories from your time there?
AH: I made great friends there, so my favorite memories are from hanging out with them. For New Year’s, my friends and I rented Kimonos and went to a shrine, which is something I remember really fondly.
HC: Did you face any hardships while there?
AH: Hardships with the language, for sure; it was so difficult communicating my thoughts and issues both at school and at home. Luckily I didn’t face much homesickness because I was living with extended family. So that was something I was nervous about but didn’t really end up being a problem.
HC: What are some differences between America and Japan that you never considered before?
AH: The biggest difference would be general public respect. You have to be quiet on public transportation and take care of personal trash, all with respect to the people around you. Group identity is huge in Japan. Also, I never really considered scent; this is another part of public decency, but Japanese people take smelling nice to a different level. I don’t mean extreme perfume stuff, though. They hate that.
HC: Looking back, what do you think you learned from that experience? If you hadn’t gone, would you be the same person today?
AH: I learned to be more outgoing and take opportunities when I can, otherwise, I’ll regret it. I also became much more adaptable. I would definitely not be the same person; in fact, these skills were very useful for me entering my freshman year of college.
HC: Do you ever want to go back?
AH: I always think about going back. Texting my friends through our time zone gap is very difficult, and I want to see them again so badly.