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ICU x Study Abroad – how we prepared and what we could during SA

 Why did you decide to go study abroad?

Ellie: Always wanted to live abroad for a long period of time and challege myself!

Satomi: I decided to apply for the study abroad program because I originally wanted to apply to a school in the States after high school. However, it wasn’t really realistic as schools are extremely expensive and I went to a normal Japanese high school so the process of applying was a bit difficult. 
One of the reasons why I wanted to spend time in a foreign country was because I wanted to know what it was like to live as a foreigner. For most of my life, I’ve lived in Japan where I am part of the “majority group”. I’m not saying I want to experience racism and oppression, but I do think it’s important to understand what my race or ethnicity can mean in other parts of the world.

Yukiko: Since I first entered ICU, I was thinking about study abroad. I wasn’t sure where to go, but I wished I could go somewhere for one year because I have never been out of Japan for such a long period. After I declared to major in Public Policy, I become interested in Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland. At the end, I chose to go study abroad in Sweden because of the courses the university offers.

 How to choose a university for myself? What should I know before going abroad to study?

EllieIn my case, since I wanted to learn Art Psychology in the first place, I looked up universities that offered that course. Lucky I found one of ICU’s partner school that offered it, so decided to apply there. I think the best way to decide a school is to first think what you want to study, and then look up schools that best covers your interests. It makes it much easier to write your application essay as well. Also, it’s important to think if you want the school to be located in the city or in a rural area. I loved the fact that my school was in London. 

You should keep in mind that time flies! Always try to enjoy every bit of it and experience many new things. 

Satomi: There are many ways to choose a university but it all comes down to what you prioritize. When I chose universities, I prioritized the experience and my study of interest. For me studying abroad was pretty much all about the experience. I wanted to be in a country that would allow me to explore and see new things. 
During the application process, I already knew that I wanted to major/minor in MCC and Asian Studies, so I had to make sure I was going to a school that had great classes in both areas. This really helped me narrow down the choices because I had to choose a school that had a flexible class registration system. I realized that many schools either do not offer media-related classes for exchange students or did not allow students to take classes from multiple majors. While it is time-consuming, it is incredibly important to look through classes that are offered to exchange students, because sometimes there are classes you are not allowed to take.

I didn’t go so I can’t say from experience, but what I learned from my seniors was to always think ahead. For example, if you want to have a career after ICU, you will have to job hunt while you are abroad. As someone that has started the process, it is not easy to stay organized even in Japan, so I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to job hunt while abroad. I also think you have to really think about why you want to participate in study abroad, especially because of the pandemic. This year you may be able to go and take in-person classes, but I’m sure there will be social distancing procedures and maybe even lockdowns. If you prioritize experience more than learning, you may want to think about attending because you pay a lot but may not be able to experience everything the country has to offer.

Yukiko: What I know for sure is that for those who are not native English speakers, you need to check the English requirements as soon as possible. It varies from university to university, and country to country as well. So if you are interested in study abroad in the US or the UK where the country’s language is English, you should start studying for TOEFL or IELTS. Also, make sure which English test is more suitable for you and your dream school because most universities in the UK only accept IELTS, while both TOEFL and IELTS can be accepted in other countries. The sooner you start studying English, the better the score you will get. I changed my first choice university because I couldn’t reach the score my previous first choice school required. So, for those who are not confident with your English, please start studying it more than you usually do!

Did you use any scholarships?

Ellie: I got 150,000 yen per month using a scholarship from the Gyomu Super Dream Foundation which helped me a lot to manage a life in London. They did not consider the student’s economic situation in the selection process so anyone joining an exchange program can apply. A lot of study abroad students from ICU use this foundation, Tobitate, or Jasso. I highly recommend looking into these scholarships if you are joining the study abroad program. 

Yukiko: Yes, I used the scholarship that Keidanren (経団連) offered. The scholarship aims to enhance the study abroad experience for some selected university students (ICU is also selected!) with 2,000,000 yen at their disposal. The students are required to get a GPA of 2.0 or higher, and a statement of purpose. Those who are selected can take the next step: an interview in which you need to show your academic interests and explain why you need to get the scholarship. The scholarship has no requirement of students’ economic situation and the scholarship can be used at one’s disposal, which means you can use it for whatever you want! To learn more about the scholarship please check this website

What did you enjoy the most? Any favorite classes?

Ellie: Since I went to a school in London, traveling to Europe was a lot easier and cheaper—it was the best! However it was sad that some of my plans were canceled due to COVID. 

I enjoyed classes on Art Psychotherapy and Dance Movement Psychotherapy since they were what I wanted to learn. The classes were cool in the way that they were taught using actual therapy sessions, so in a way I was in free therapy groups while also learning about the methods.

I also had two other favorite classes. One was a class on London theaters. We would be given tickets for a show in London every week and watch it, keep a journal and discuss it in class. Another favorite was about art practices in society. We had a lot of in-class art projects which was something we do not have at ICU, so that was nice. 

Yukiko: Unfortunately, due to the COVID situation, I only attend the courses remotely from my house in Japan. So I have a time difference and sometimes I need to stay awake until 1 AM to participate in the class. But, the classes are fun and interesting most of the time because these classes are exactly what I wanted to learn and ICU could not offer! I am interested in welfare policies in Sweden and mostly in childcare policy such as parental leaves in Sweden. Through readings and classes, I enjoyed a class called “EHG195 Growth and welfare in a historical perspective”. I learned how Nordic countries, including Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, developed the welfare policy through history and how it affected people’s attitudes toward women’s participation in the labor market. 

Was there any culture shock or anything you had to over come during study abroad?

Ellie: Unfortunately my dorm room had several problems which caused rain to leak into my room. Also the flat’s boiler broke and caused another leakage resulting in our flat not having hot water for about a month. So negotiating with hall managers and trying to solve those issues was hard. But I feel like I became a lot more strong after going through all the hassle. 

Yukiko: I think the toughest thing for online classes during study abroad is a time difference. Since Sweden is 8 hours behind Japan, I need to stay awake until midnight to participate in the class. Although attending class is not a requirement for the grade, I want to do so to feel study abroad at least from the classes. It is hard to say that you can soon get used to it cause I do not yet even after 6 months have passed already since I started SA. But if you want to learn something different from ICU or something ICU hasn’t offered, it doesn’t matter whether it is online or not in my opinion. You can learn something still and actually, I could get some resources for my dissertation. So, for those who worried about the time difference, overall I would say if you are truly interested in the course another university offer, you should take the chance!

What essentials and nonessentials did you bring from Japan?

Ellie: This probably depends on where you go, but I realized that you don’t have to bring a lot of Japanese condiments. Some people take miso and ponzu thinking that they will miss them, but in the age of globalization, it is not that hard to find Japanese seasonings in big cities. 

Also if you have a love for shopping, don’t bring too much clothing. You will probably buy stuff and everything won’t fit in your suitcase on your way back. 

Honestly, looking back I can’t really think of anything that you should take with on your exchange. You basically can get everything you need once you settle. So as long as you have your passport, visa, and your credit card, you’ll be fine. 

What do you miss about London? What things would you do if you could go study abroad?

Ellie: I miss the wide variety of vegan and vegetarian options they have at supermarkets in the UK. Especially the frozen vegan nuggets I used to eat a lot. Also since Japanese supermarkets don’t have hummus, I really miss that too. For lunch I almost always had hummus with pita and veggies. 

I also miss going to theaters to watch musicals. They had relatively cheap tickets and there were so many shows going on every night. I wish I would have gone to more shows. 

And just in general I miss my life in London because it was a pretty cool city to be in. A lot of cute cafes and markets, tourists attractions, jazz bars, museums, vintage shops; the list goes on. I met so many people with diverse backgrounds and living close to them was fun and had a huge impact on my life. I miss those days. 

Satomi: If I could go or had actually gone to London, I’d want to explore the country and Europe in general. I’ve never been to European countries but I am really interested in the history and the arts. I love traveling so I would try to sneak in as many weekend trips as possible!

Another thing I would do is experience what it is like to work abroad. I hope to eventually pursue a career abroad, so I think it’s important for me to actually experience and know what it is like. 

Yukiko: I think the chance to get to know more about friends who I met in the class is quite a few. So if I had a chance, I would definitely hang out with them and enjoy some delicious food in Sweden. Also, I was dreaming of seeing the aurora in northern Sweden, so I will go to Sweden just for that someday! 

How do you think exchange programs will change from now because of the pandemic? Is it worth it doing it online?

Ellie: At the moment the in-person programs will probably still be limited, but I feel like there would be more online programs that people can participate from anywhere that is much more affordable. It would be nice if that allows more students to have the opportunities to interact with people living in different countries.

I did not take courses taught online so can’t speak from experience, but unless there is a class you absolutely want to take that is not offered at ICU, maybe it isn’t worth it. But I probably would not do it since I feel like study abroad is more about the life abroad and the people you meet, and the memories you make together. 

Satomi: I think many schools will have “hybrid classes” or “mixed classes.” The school I was supposed to attend had a mix of in-person and online classes because of the pandemic. I think this will create new experiences for students that will attend exchange programs from now on because you might have less opportunities to get to know people.

Unlike Ellie and Yukiko, I did not participate in the exchange program, not even online. This was because my school did not allow only participating online. Although the school was enthusiastic about exchange students coming to campus and participating in-person, ICU banned students to travel abroad. The school did not offer the option of only taking online classes so it was impossible to attend in any form. However, I will say that even if I did have the opportunity to take online classes, I wouldn’t have participated anyway. One of the issues for me was that the school I had chosen required ICU students to pay additional fees. I was not satisfied with online classes at ICU so I figured why participate if it was going to cost even more when I might not be satisfied with the learning environment. I also wouldn’t even get the full experience of being abroad so it wasn’t worth attending if I couldn’t physically go.

Yukiko: In my opinion, as hard it is, online classes can also offer good opportunities to learn about a different country and to attend the class in English with international classmates from Europe, the US, and Asia. I actually got appendicitis during study abroad, but at that time, some of my Swedish friends and a French friend of mine helped me to finish my assignment. Also, because I have group projects, I can get to know about them even online. So I think it still has many advantageous points to take online classes for study abroad. Maybe I feel this way because I don’t have to pay extra money for study abroad cause it is an “exchange” program. So I thought if I need to pay tuition fee for ICU anyway, it is better to get the opportunity I cannot learn in ICU. 

Yukiko Takei

ICU Japan '22

Hi, I am Yukiko and am currently studying at the University of Gothenburg as exchange student remotely, majoring in public policy.
Ellie Eshima

ICU Japan '21

Ellie is currently a senior at International Christian University, majoring in Psychology.
Satomi Hayashi

ICU Japan '22

Hey, I'm Satomi Hayashi, apart of Her Campus ICU Japan! I hope to have fun writing and working with fellow Her Campus members!!
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