When I decided to study abroad, I figured I would return having had the same experiences most other study abroad students have: a new perspective on life, improved language skills, etc. But my two most fond memories are not at all what I would have expected.
The first is living with a host family and having siblings for the first time. I am an only child, so moving into a home with three children under the age of 10 was an extreme change to say the least. I quickly learned how to play with them, anticipate their needs and decipher their speech (it isn’t always easy to understand children in the first place, let alone in a second language). It was challenging at times, especially when I would try to have time in my room by myself and still be able to hear them from the second floor of the house. But I came to delight in their giggles and smiling faces. I loved being able to joke around with my 9 year old host brother and laugh at his silly antics. I was amazed at the Lego castles and robots my 5 year old host brother would build for me on a daily basis. My heart melted the first time my 2 year old host sister ran into my arms for comfort when her brothers were bullying her. I had never before felt the bonds that siblings have and I have come home with a better understanding of them. I also developed a confidence in interacting with children that I didn’t have before.
The second is making friends I wouldn’t have otherwise ever met. Around halfway through our program, a large group of Japanese Studies Program (JSP) students took a trip to the Kansai area of Japan. On the island of Miyajima off the coast of Hiroshima prefecture, we stayed six to a room in a traditional style inn. We bonded immediately, getting to talk about more than the usual classroom banter and really got to know each other as people. I became close with two WU students I had only spoken to a few times and two students from different universities in particular. Once we returned to TIU and resumed classes, my new friends and I continued to go out together during our free time. We still talk on a daily basis, over a month after leaving Japan. I feel that participating in JSP and going on the Kansai trip fostered new bonds that could only have happened as a result of studying abroad.
In the end, I do feel like I have a new perspective on life in some ways, and I do feel that my Japanese language abilities have improved. But for me, studying abroad has helped gain a new branch of family in Japan and lifelong friends.