The Start of a New Beginning

By: Holly Toner
Major: Japanese
Rikkyo University, Japan Academic Year Exchange

Adventure is a common theme in life. I think at least once everyone thinks to themselves, “I want to see the world.” Unfortunately, for a lot people, the fear of pursuing such a dream holds them back from amazing opportunities.

My name is Holly, and I’m an advid speaker of following one’s dreams. But, I haven’t always been this way. This August I will be leaving to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan. For some, studying abroad is an easy decision, but for others, like myself, it’s an extreme struggle to take that step forward.

I struggled as a child, and when I was five years old I came across a lovely photo of blooming cherry blossoms in Japan. At that moment I knew, this is where I want to be. I never told anyone of this dream, and actually, as I first arrived at WMU to study Biology, I forced myself to believe, dreams are unrealistic. We have a tendency to do that, don’t we? We turn our biggest desires into a childish thought for various reasons. Maybe someone told us we couldn’t accomplish such a thing. Maybe in ourselves we think we should focus on something more “important”. But in the end, I think we are simply afraid. We are afraid at failing at something that we hold so important. It’s easy to think of all the reasons why going abroad is a “bad” idea. When the simple desire to just go should be all that matters. Though I had thought, “this is a dream I can never accomplish”, the image of the cherry blossom was always something I could go to to draw strength.

This year I decided I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. I wouldn’t let the pressure from others or the pressure from myself hold me back. The start of Summer 2014 I told myself, live this life for YOU. I decided I wouldn’t graduate this year with a degree in Biology and changed my major to Japanese. I have always done what I thought was expected of me and never truly followed my heart. I wanted to change that. I think when it comes to study abroad, a lot of students decide they shouldn’t go because their parents question this choice. However, I have learned that in the end, this is your life, and for the things that will bring you the most growth and happiness, those are what will give you the biggest struggle.

That Summer, I began talking closely with WMU’s Study Abroad office and my Japanese advisors so they would take me seriously as both a student and as an individual. I met truly amazing people through the Study Abroad office who to this day continue to support and encourage me on my journey to Japan. I’m very lucky and grateful to have become close friends with such people. Finding others that share a common passion as you helps give you incredible strength and begins to shape your whole world in the direction of your dreams. Before I knew it, everything in my life was pointing to Japan. I felt for the first time, I might have a purpose.

Do you ever wonder sometimes, “why am I here?”, “what’s the point?”, “what was I meant to do with this life?” For me, these are questions I have always thought. By making this one simple choice, to study abroad in Japan, I have grown more the past eight months than I have my entire 23 years of existence. I have re-discovered my love for the world. I have learned that I want to experience many different cultures. I have witnessed how life changing just making the choice to study abroad can be, and I hope to share this feeling with others when I return from my trip. (I know you’re reading this study abroad office. *wink*wink)

I haven’t even left the States yet, and I have learned so many things about myself and the people around me. We all long for adventure. The first step for me was simply saying, “I WILL see the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan.”

waldo picture
Photo: Holly Toner


Photo on 4-16-15 at 20.05 #4


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