Ashley Bell - 2015 Program Participant

International students dressed in traditional Japanese clothing in Nagoya, Japan

IES Abroad Nagoya Spring 2015 Group

Why did you decide to study abroad?

It has always been a dream of mine to study abroad. I also am studying a language, so I decided to apply to go for an entire academic year to really immerse myself in improving my language skills.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Nagoya?

I have always wanted to go to Japan, but through my university there are not many study abroad options outside of Tokyo. I chose IES Abroad in Nagoya because I wanted to really discover Japan outside of the top tourist destinations.

What was your favorite part about Nagoya?

Nagoya is located right in the middle of Japan, so when traveling to other parts of Japan it was very convenient. Nagoya also has a personality all its own; it's not as fast paced as Tokyo is and is known for having some delicious miso flavored dishes. It really is a good location to explore as much as it is to live comfortably in.

What made your program unique?

This was the only program that I had the option of choosing that was outside of Tokyo, and I think that makes it pretty unique. Tokyo is a wonderful place, but I feel that it is a bit overrated. Within Nagoya I didn't feel like I was constantly getting swept up with all the tourists like I did when I went to Tokyo. I really felt like Nagoya became a second home.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

IES Abroad staff really helped me to learn about and adjust to Japanese culture. They would organize events and concerts, to see taiko drums or Beauty and the Beast in Japanese, and would plan trips to Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Nara, just to name a few. These IES Abroad sponsored events and trips made it really easy to get out of Nagoya, or even stay and experience a little bit of Nagoya that I wouldn't have thought it doing by myself.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have traveled around by myself a little more. IES Abroad planned so many things for us to do, but most of the time we were restricted to following schedules. If I had decided to go to these places with my own plans in mind, I think I would have experienced them differently.

Describe a day in your life in Nagoya.

I would wake up and get ready for school. My host mom would make me a delicious breakfast, and I would play with my host sister before leaving to catch the train. After a 40 minute commute, I would arrive at school and spend the morning in my Japanese classes. After lunch with my friends, I would have an English taught class about some aspect of Japanese society. Afterwards, I would either go to dance club practice or hang out with my friends for a bit around Nagoya. I would be home in time for dinner with my host family.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

I really loved going out to karaoke with my friends. Karaoke is one of those things that is not often done in the U.S., but it is a very popular pastime in Japan. My first few months in Japan I usually went out to karaoke once a week; it was kind of weird and embarrassing at first.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I lived with a host family. I loved having home cooked meals and learned a lot about local cuisine from my host mom. My family was really unique because they were young (about 10 years older than I am) and loved reggae music. They didn't fit the mold of the typical Japanese style family, and that in itself made living with them so fun. I also had a two year old host sister who was learning Japanese at the same time I was; it was pretty funny to see us improve our language skills together.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part about studying abroad was learning a new language. I am an easily adaptable person, so learning new customs and expectations of my host country didn't really bother me as much as utilizing a new language did. Japanese grammar is backwards in comparison to English grammar, so in order for me to speak and think in Japanese, I had to change the way I thought about everything. You can learn a lot about a culture when you study another language, and although it was difficult, I found that studying abroad for the entire academic year definitely helped to understand my host country better and use Japanese with more ease.

What surprised you most about Japan?

Something that really surprised me was the hospitality and helpfulness of the Japanese people. When I first arrived, I could not understand Japanese well. Despite this, I had many people try to get to know me better and learn about American culture. On a brief visit to Tokyo, there were many occasions when people helped me out on the streets and gave me directions, even going to the lengths of leading me to the place I needed to go (even though they had never met me before). Although it was apparent that I had probably just arrived and might have seemed like just some tourist, everyone tried their best to make me feel as comfortable as possible. From a Western perspective, Japanese people are often seen as cold with very little emotion, but in reality they are very kind and generous people.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Being a shy person, I found that in some cases it was easy to communicate with locals and in other cases it was a little more difficult. Since I lived with a host family, I often got to meet and befriend other families.

In contrast, the students at my university often treated me like I couldn't speak Japanese (by speaking to me in English first) and did not want to approach me for the potential fear of being forced to speak in English. At Nanzan, in particular, there are many students who are bilingual or are studying another language, so after I joined a dance circle it was very easy to make friends with other English speaking Japanese students. Japanese students who only spoke Japanese were often a little harder to approach and from my Western perspective, did not want to have conversations with me.

I think it is fairly difficult to communicate with the locals when you do not have connections or try not to become involved within the community. Japanese people try not to burden others and I think there is this fear of speaking English (and idea that all foreigners want to have a conversation in English), so many Japanese people did not approach me and speak to me without me initiating contact first.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Japan?

Before studying abroad in Japan, I wished I would have known that in some aspects of society, Japan is low tech. As strange as it might sound, Japan does not have free WiFi (even on my university campus), so I could not use my laptop or phone. This was really difficult to adjust to, especially since I began to use Google Maps more frequently to navigate around Nagoya and the applications LINE to talk to my friends within Japan. Due to my family also having no way to contact me regularly from the U.S., I ended up having to rent a pocket WiFi a few weeks after I arrived.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

Having a better understanding of everything I learned when I was in Japan is definitely the biggest benefit of studying abroad in Japan. At my home university, I typically learn about a variety of different things, but since I am doing no more than reading an article or taking notes on it, I never really gain a complete understanding of of the topic and end up just thinking of it as just facts.

Being in Japan allowed me to practice the language I was learning, visit historical places that were discussed in my history class, meditate at a Buddhist temple with my religion class. and really see how Japanese society functions around me, in regards to the topics discussed in my society class. Everyday I was experiencing what I was learning, and compared to any class taken back at my home university, studying abroad has really helped to solidify concepts, reasons, and ideas of a different culture.

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Nagoya?

I recommend packing for the season. Japan tends to be really hot and humid in the summer, then it gets really cold with chances of snow in the winter. While I was in Japan, I had to buy undershirts and sweaters for the first time, because it never gets cold enough to buy those kinds of clothes in California. I also suggest buying toiletries and stuff from your home country and bringing them with you, since they tend to be a lot more expensive and in smaller quantities or containers.

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

I highly recommend IES Abroad, especially its Nagoya program. If you really want to immerse yourself into learning Japanese, the Center for Japanese Studies at Nanzan University is a great program. The IES Abroad Nagoya staff are just as wonderful, and have some really awesome trips and experiences for students to indulge in.

Now that you're home, how would you say studying abroad has impacted your life?

I think studying abroad has really impacted what I want to do after I graduate and what career I find myself in after I graduate. I am definitely more open-minded and see things differently compared to before I went abroad. I have a strong desire to go abroad again, but for now, I am going to get involved in anything relating to international clubs/study abroad/language study at my university.