Saddle Up Your Horses!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post, I realize.  It’s one of the reasons I had trouble viewing myself as a writer – consistency and self-discipline is hard, especially when there are so many other things demanding attention that have greater consequences if left unfinished.  However, ultimately, it all comes down to how important it is to me.  If I value you it the way I ought to, then I will find a way to make the time to do it.  So, here we are again!  I’m going to get back to writing and this time we have some new adventures!

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In this new set of up-coming posts my themes and approach may change a bit.  There are a lot of new life experiences on the horizon, and I want to bring you along for the ride!  We will explore and learn together and see first hand the steps toward realizing our dreams!  We’ll at least be realizing some sort of interesting things along the way!  As soon as I considered everything that is coming in the latter part of 2016, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is going to be quite the adventure!”  That reminded me of a song that I feel is very fitting by Steven Curtis Chapman called, “The Great Adventure.”  I encourage you to listen to it and get excited for the adventures that await us ahead!

This semester at college I have been working like crazy!  17 credit hours plus an application to study abroad and the accompanying applications for scholarships to fund the trip – it might as well be 24 credit hours with all the tasks I have to do!  Stressful as it has been, and an easy excuse to not write in my blog, this work load also represents some very exciting times in life.  The drudgery of exhaustion and overwhelming deadlines and assignments will be worth it!  So if you’re in school, planning to go to school, or been there done that, know that it is worth the effort and struggle!  I still have a ways to go before I graduate, but I want you to join me for my remaining time at college because it is sure to be a life-changing experience that should not be kept secret.  My future blogs will hopefully now be more of a story, a journal if you will, to share the things I’m learning as they happen.  My desire through this approach is that (1) you would be motivated to attempt similar challenges and experiences that appeal to you and (2) that if you face similar challenges, that the lessons I share along the way can help make your path smoother and easier, or at least highlight things deserving of attention.

So, saddle up your horses!  We have a trail to blaze!  Our trail is leading us to Japan!  That’s right, we’re setting up for international travel, but there is a lot of preparation to do before we go.  That’s the “saddling up” part.  If you’re a broke college student and want the benefit of international travel to add to your life experience, knowledge, wisdom, discernment and of course your resume, then you have to get creative with getting the money you need.  There are a lot of ways to travel abroad if you want to, so if you’re flat broke, don’t let that stop you.  There are all kinds of programs to help people get international experience.  Global experience has become quite the commodity for becoming a competitive job candidate.  Our world is getting smaller all the time when it comes to business, relationships and communication.  If you don’t have some international “street smarts” under your belt, you might find it harder and harder to compete in the job market, regardless of what you want to do.

So, how do we get some experience?

For students in school, there are a lot of programs.  Certain companies also offer programs and options to adults who aren’t in school, but that requires separate research.  For now, let’s look at what I have found for college students.  Find the university’s Study Abroad office and speak with a counselor.  Generally, there will be some kind of video or initial orientation as an introduction to the idea of studying abroad to cover the basics that everyone must know.  At my school, they call it “Study Abroad 101.”  They also have a survey to assess just how interested students are in studying abroad and where they might like to go.  After meeting with an advisor, getting my questions answered and where to find specific information on the places that might be a good fit for me, it was up to me to spend time researching my given options.  So, let’s go through what I personally looked at for this trip.

I knew I wanted to go to Japan – after all, my major is Japanese and I have been there once before in the military, but that was a tainted experience because I was working so much I didn’t get to experience as much of the culture.  Once the country was selected, I needed to choose a Japanese university to attend.  I had at least five or six options through my school.  I had to look at each one individually to determine the benefits and drawbacks, it was a difficult decision.  There is Akita University, which is small and has a wide variety of international students and is situated in a scenic, mountainous region.  There is Doshisha University, which is in beautiful Kyoto where they have the most amazing Sakura Festivals with gorgeous blooming flowers everywhere – or so I’ve heard.  There are a few others in the countryside, but then there are Sophia and Waseda Universities in Tokyo.  Tokyo, as most everyone knows is a bustling urban metropolis, which might be intimidating to people who prefer more open spaces.  I do prefer more space, but for the sake of the experience, I am actually enticed by going to school in a foreign city because I know it will be chalk full of interesting things to see and do!

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Location aside though, it’s also important to look at academic value.  Akita is great for Liberal Arts students, but may be a bit more lacking in the extent of Japanese immersion that might be available elsewhere because so much of the school is made up of foreign visitors, and fewer native Japanese students.  Doshisha is reputed to be an excellent and intense language immersion school with heavy course loads in Japanese language skills.  The only downside I found to that is that almost all classes do not offer more than 2 credits each, and for most of the program requirements at my home university, I would need at least 3 credits for a class to be able to transfer as sufficient credit toward my degree.  That means I’d likely have to take a lot more classes than I would at another university for the same amount to transfer.  Sophia and Waseda are both great choices, but for me, the deciding factor was Waseda’s reputation.  Waseda University has a reputation as a very prestigious school.  When seeking comparison opinions from others, I was told that it would probably fall somewhere between UCLA and Harvard.  Maybe not quite Ivy League, but definitely a school that employers would recognize as an accomplishment if admitted.

I was offered three preferences, in order of preference.  I chose (1) Waseda, (2) Sophia, & (3) Doshisha.  I was notified probably a few days to a week later, after I had processed more paperwork to enter the exchange program, that I was accepted to the Waseda Exchange Program.  By the way, each school is associated with different types of study abroad programs as well.  Some of the programs are through formal organizations which provide more guidance and structure for students traveling abroad.  They often have more rules and restrictions associated with them, but also provide guided tours and assistance with navigating the foreign culture and economy.  There is more structure in those programs, but that also means they are a bit more expensive.  The Exchange programs are the cheapest option, and they offer more personal freedom.  They have no guided tours and there is more flexibility to pick and choose your own experiences and tours through local means.  However, this option also means that students need to feel confident enough to navigate the foreign environment mostly by themselves with little to no help from US organizations.  Since this is not my first time visiting Japan, I did not feel at all uncomfortable with the idea of “going it alone” so to speak.  Of course there will be advisors through the school and certain government agencies that are available for information and help if needed, but unless I seek them out, I am pretty much on my own, and that suits me just fine.  I feel that my Japanese language ability also allows me to sufficiently ask locals for help when needed also, but these are factors that each person must assess for themselves to determine what feels right for them.

Well, this is certainly getting to be a longer read than I had intended, and of course there are many more things to share, but for now, this is a good start.  I hope it is informative for anyone looking to study abroad, especially if Japan is the intended location.  I will continue explaining the process as things progress!

Next time we’ll look at the application process and funding options for an adventure like this.  There is a lot of preparation that goes into making opportunities like this come to fruition, but it is totally worth it!  Don’t be afraid to take risks and work hard to be able to do amazing things!  Life should be interesting and full of wonderful experiences, good and bad, thrilling and challenging, because that will be much more enjoyable to look back on when you’re older, and it will also help you become a better, stronger, smarter and wiser person much faster than staying home or never leaving your comfort zone.  So, saddle up your horses and blaze a trail that inspires the imagination!  Live a life worth living!

The Great Adventure

By: Steven Curtis Chapman

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