Gabrielle Margocs - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I applied to an international program in order to use and develop my knowledge of Japanese language and culture, experience a place and people outside my own, and open my mind to new and different ideas, behaviors, lifestyles. Also, to get a taste of living overseas and to see if I could possibly work there (or abroad anywhere) in the future.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku Gyoen

What made you pick IES Abroad specifically?

I liked the partnership with my home college, its reasonable prices, and great reviews.

What was your favorite part about the location?

It was close to both the big city (Tokyo) and natural/countryside locations.

What makes IES Abroad’s program unique?

It has a large focus on not just learning the language, but also learning the culture and everyday life in Japan. The program gives you guidance to keep learning throughout the program, but also independence to go out on your own and experience what you'd like.

What did you appreciate the most about the IES Abroad staff in Japan?

They were always available to answer questions and give advice (from serious matters to fun tourist spots), held a variety of workshops throughout the semester, and kept all students in mind when planning trips and activities.

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

Stayed longer! And I wish I started speaking/practicing my Japanese from the very beginning (instead of taking a bit of time to battle through shyness).

Describe your average day in Japan. 

I would wake up a bit early, have breakfast with my host mom, take the train, walk to campus (40 minutes total), go to class, eat a small packed lunch with classmates, visit friends' meet-up spot and make plans, go out to a local joint (bar, arcade, restaurant, park), return home, eat dinner and do homework/study with my host family, explore homestay town/visit a regular coffee and tea spot, then go to sleep while thinking about the wonderful memories made that day.

What activities did you enjoy most on your free time?

I enjoyed visiting quieter places around/outside the city, exploring and being able to talk with others as you travel quaint and kind communities. From finding those "hole-in-the-wall" cafes to neighborhood parks, there was always someplace to be traveled, and it wasn't always the huge tourist spots.

The coast in Kamakura, Japan

Kamakura (my favorite!)

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

Homestay! Best part was being able to fully immerse myself in Japanese lifestyle and culture, participating in the local community, using the language with everyone, and eating traditional and home-cooked foods.

What was the most difficult part about studying abroad in Japan?

My hardest part of studying abroad was keeping myself determined to use the Japanese language, even if I was around people fluent in English! I tried to use Japanese as much as I could, and even through making mistakes, I learned a lot from everyday use. There is no equivalent to practicing a foreign language in its home country!

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

For me, it was not difficult to communicate with locals. Many people were open to helping you, if you asked politely. Many people I talked with knew some English. Knowing basic Japanese does help though (I had about three years studying before), and I believe showing that you're making an effort to speak and understand Japanese is also respectful.

What surprised you most about Tokyo?

What surprised me about Tokyo was how large it actually is! It's easy to get lost, especially while riding the train and in stations. But once you get used to it, the train system becomes wonderfully convenient and easy.

What do you wish you knew before studying in Japan?

I wish I knew how expensive travelling could be. While train tickets were always an understandable price in my eyes, I wanted to travel to surrounding areas a lot, and the fees added up. Independently travelling though my public transport was always worth it in the end though.

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

Pack clothes that you can layer! Weather can be all over the place, from muggy to cold to raining, so having outfits that work around that is beneficial. Also, people in Tokyo tend to dress more conservatively and nicely; basic jeans, skirts, and dresses are common.

Girl holding a cat in Japan

Me and my host cat

How has your experience in Japan impacted you?

Aside from broadening my mind on how I view the world as a global citizen (seeing cultures, societies, world happenings other than my own in a more inquiring and mature light), I would like to work abroad and teach others of my own culture as well now.

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

I would definitely recommend the IES Abroad Tokyo program to students. The staff at IES Abroad are friendly, helpful, and considerate of your academic and outside interests! They aided me with my independent travelling and exploring, and offered tips and tricks to make the most out of my study abroad experience both in and out of school. If participating in the homestay program (which I love and highly recommend), the IES Abroad staff do an amazing job matching students with a family that is right for them.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

If I could study abroad again, I would either want to go to Taiwan (some of my host family is from there) or England (I've always enjoyed British TV!). Of course, going back to Japan would be lovely and beneficial to my studies though!