Study Abroad Stories: Perspectives from ICU and Birkbeck College

It’s 2 a.m., I can’t sleep, Taylor Swift is playing. This could be one of the countless nights I’ve spent lying awake in the past few years. However, this time, I’m in Tokyo. My family and friends are exactly 5,954 miles away and nine hours behind me. I have been studying abroad at ICU for six months now and my time here will be up in just four short months. And I still can’t believe it. Through my study abroad, I have become more independent than I ever was in my London dormitory and more confident in myself; I’ve made a significant jump in my Japanese and made some of the best friends I could ever have.

An international life has always been something that appealed to me. My mum moved to the UK from Ireland, and my dad was sent around the world by his company and now lives with my step mum in Norway. I have countless cousins and distant relations spread across the US, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and Italy. When I was younger, I always thought I would travel by becoming rich and famous – being an author was my dream job as a kid. As I got older, I became more confused about what I would study but eventually an interest in Japanese pop culture (stereotypical much?) bloomed into a degree, and now a year in Tokyo. A year abroad is something I think everyone who can, should 100% do.

The way I started the process of studying abroad is actually a pretty dumb story. I didn’t actually realise my University offered an exchange program with ICU and so was signed up for a three-year degree of studying Japanese and English Literature. My plan was to finish the degree and then do a yearlong course at a language school somewhere in Japan. I heard some classmates talking about going on the year abroad in my first few months and immediately went into research mode. It took a few emails between me and the Humanities admin before I could switch my degree during the summer break. Towards the middle of my second year I had to fill out the application form for the various universities that I could attend and started to prepare the paperwork for a visa. A visit to the Japanese embassy was followed by a week wait, and then I had everything prepared. Of course, this didn’t all happen immediately, and there were long periods of waiting without hearing anything. The whole process took around 10 months and most of the decisions and control were completely out of my hands. In fact, the only things I had complete control over were listing my preferences and booking my flights. Everything from when I could legally enter Japan on my visa, to if I could live at a dorm, was completely out of my control and all I could do was wait and hope for the best.

Of course, every experience will differ, especially from country to country where procedures can vary wildly. I interviewed Shion, a second year ICU student who is preparing to go abroad next year at one of the University of California campuses.  He was born and raised in Tokyo and attended international schools here.

  1. What made you want to travel abroad?

Well, I was born and raised in Tokyo, but attended international schools here. My mother went to school in California, and so I wanted to apply to schools there. However, it’s too expensive to study in the US for four years so I couldn’t solely attend university there. Since starting at ICU, I have also been eager to experience a more academically challenging environment in English.

  1. What is the application process like at ICU?

For non-UC schools it is one essay and a written questionnaire, followed by an interview before the decision. However, UC has extra procedures. Everything has to be physical (on paper) and they are very specific about details, but not very punctual about giving the applicants information.

  1. What do you hope to gain from the experience?

I would like to learn in a more rigorous academic setting. I’d like to absorb different values from the Californian environment and widen my scope of how I view the world.

Although I have never personally studied in the US, I have found that the expectations of students in both Japan and the West have been completely different. It’s not that one is necessarily better than the other – I believe they both have their merits – however, I think that it could be very useful for students to experience both types of education. After all, experience is never a bad thing! As I have found out from studying in Japan, learning in another country that is so different to your own can also really broaden your perspective and world view.

Studying abroad has completely changed my life and is something I think everyone should do. I wish I could spend more time here, but sadly my year is rapidly drawing to a close. I would encourage everyone to take part if they can, especially since ICU has such a wide range of universities for people to apply to.