The Best Year of My Life

Michelle Moore
Japanese and Global and International Studies Majors
Ritsumeikan University, 2015-16 Academic Year

During the 2015-2016 academic school year I studied abroad in Kyoto, Japan at Ritsumeikan University. In contrast to a normal study abroad experience I personally never felt any sort of culture shock or down period during my trip. I even planned to study abroad in Japan again in the future before I graduated from Western.

I was part of the intensive Japanese language program at Ritsumeikan therefor my classes were all based around learning the language. I found the classes to be at just the right challenge level for my ability and had no complaints based on the classes or the placement test. If anything, there was a challenge not in the classes themselves, but in my ability to balance emphasis on studying for the classes versus time spent enjoying the culture of the country I was in. In the end my grades were below the standard of what I normally would have held myself to, but I had already consciously concluded that it was worth it to be able to travel and enjoy the country I was in to the fullest. Even with not being able to put as much studying in for the classes as I normally would have in exchange for cultural experience and immersion, I am proud of the improvement in language I was able to achieve (although I really think it is more due to the Japanese friends and Japanese roommate I ended up living with rather than the classes themselves…).

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My favorite parts about my study abroad where the little vacations I got to experience while traveling. When I first arrived, I visited some friends in Tokyo Japan. I got to go to the Ueno zoo and my friend, Shohei forced me to hold a chicken (pictured left)… Later I also visited Chiba and got to sight see with three other study abroad students as well as two more WMU study abroad alumni’s who were currently a part of the JET program (teaching English abroad in Japan). I was fortunate to see first hand what one of my options was for my future after graduating. While I am not too big on becoming an English teacher abroad, visiting my friends who were participating in the program helped me see that it was a viable option that I could stick through to eventually find something else- it wasn’t a dead-end ultimatum that I would be stuck with for the rest of my life. Plus, it has a proper salary and provides housing. It seems like a nice just in case option.

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Here I am visiting my friend’s in Chiba 

As far as life in Kyoto went, I was able to make a bunch of friends and genuine connections that I think will last me the rest of my life. Coming out of the year at Ritsumeikan, my most valuable thing was the friends I made. When I was feeling stressed out from classes or from thinking about a mysteriously unidentifiable future, someone was always there to force me on a calming nature endeavor to one of the many temples or shrines that Kyoto is home to. Like Arashiyama~ or storm mountain if you want to be extra and translate it. (You can see the mountain on the picture to the left). In hindsight, I wish that I had taken more initiative to travel around the local places like Arashiyama on my own, but luckily, I had many friends who always helped to jumpstart the trip for me. After my trip to Japan I also vowed that in my future study abroad I would become the biggest tourist ever and visit all the places I could. I also vowed to not live in a dorm where the showers and toilets were community shared, but that was a sort of valuable experience. Not that I would do it again if I have a choice. One time having my French friend exclaim “Oh so that’s what an American body looks like” while we sit naked together in the community shower is enough times for me. It will forever be remembered in my heart as a cherished study abroad experience as with every other day that I lived in Kyoto.

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On a random side note, one of my most favorite aspects of Japan was that, while it rained a lot, not one time did I see a worm come out of the ground during the downpour or the aftermath. That made Japan’s rainy days some of the most beautiful memories in my mind. I could wholeheartedly enjoy them for what they were, not despise them for what they dragged out of the ground. Thank you Japan, and thank you Western Michigan University for letting me experience one of the best years of my life. I knew when the year was up that I would undoubtedly study abroad again before I graduated.

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