Pros and Cons of Doing a Foreign Exchange Program in Japan

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What anime fan wouldn’t want to visit the land of the rising sun, where anime was born, right? While doing an exchange program is an amazing opportunity, it may not be for everyone. Considering an exchange program is a big decision and should not be taken lightly or done on a whim. If anyone has ever wondered about going abroad to Japan, hopefully this article can help in some way.

I had been interested in Japanese culture since I was a small child, and had always wanted to experience life in a foreign country firsthand. I also want to create my own manga someday, so I thought, “what better way to truly understand manga than actually experiencing and studying the culture and language it originated from?”. I’m also in my last year of high school and thought that now would be my best chance before I got mixed up in college and all those crazy things that happen during graduation. These are my personal reasons for studying abroad in Japan, but of course that’s something that varies person to person.

If someone is considering studying abroad, it’s important that they have a solid reason for wanting to do it, or else their time abroad could easily be wasted by indecisiveness. If one is not quite sure what they want to accomplish, it’s hard to accomplish anything. They need to be open-minded, willing to follow another society’s way of life, and adaptable. It’s not easy living in a different country at first, and not being open to new mindsets and ways of life makes it nearly impossible to understand others. Another important thing to remember is that if someone chooses to go abroad, they will probably be away from their family for a long time, so it is important that one doesn’t have any major separation anxiety. Contacting one’s family too much is discouraged since it can make it harder to adapt to a new country as well. Basically, people who are brave and willing to change are a good match for studying abroad.

If those few paragraphs didn’t scare anyone off, I’ll talk about the pros of studying in Japan (finally, haha). I think one major pro of studying abroad in Japan is that a lot of Japanese students think foreigners are really cool, especially if one is from the U.S.A or has good English. For a while, it’s like being a celebrity. Everyone wants to talk to that person and shake their hand, but a lot of students are shy as well. It’s a great chance to make a new self-image, be a bit more outgoing and initiate new friendships. Another awesome thing about Japan is how nice, respectful, and trustworthy the general population is. Once on an outing that the exchange company had organized for the exchange students living in my prefecture, my friend left his borrowed umbrella in a convenience store at the train station. We couldn’t go back until the end of the trip, but at the end of the day it had been turned in at the station’s lost and found, and he was able to get it back. That’s normal in Japan. In my home country I’d worry about things being stolen, but not Japan. Of course, people still need to use their common sense and be careful, but the “danger” level in Japan seems a lot lower than other countries. Also, the food, snacks, and candy in Japan are simply delicious. I could probably write at least ten pages about how amazing convenience stores in Japan are.

Now for the cons. As much as I love Japan, It’s not perfect. Being a foreigner in a still mostly monocultural society is a double-edged sword. While a lot of people from my school were really nice, sometimes people stare at foreigners when they’re out, and honestly it made me a bit paranoid at times. During my school’s sports festival, I actually heard some girls standing not too far away from me talking and laughing about how weird it was that my name was embroidered on my new P.E. clothes in English instead of Japanese characters. I had been really proud that I had bought clothes that matched everyone else’s so I wouldn’t stand out during the festival, but it’s not possible to completely blend in if one’s not from Asian descent. Being really popular can have setbacks at times too. Though I do have friends that treat me normally, some people can be a little too much, and it ends up feeling like they think of one more as a novelty than an actual person. The language is really difficult as well. Don’t expect to pick it up in a month or two. It takes real dedication to learn Japanese. Another few problems with Japan are that the people can still be somewhat sexist when it comes to women, and a lot of Japanese people think their country is literally perfect and free of racism or prejudice. On a lighter note, it’s somewhat funny at first and much annoying later when people say how surprised they are if one can use chopsticks well (I’m American, not an idiot). It really gets old quick, along with repeatedly being asked if one has a significant other by groups of students. One time, I was literally asked this question three days in a row by the same person.

While I may have seemed to focus more on the cons of Japan in this article, I really believe studying abroad in Japan was the right thing for me to do, and I don’t regret it. I think many other people can benefit from it as well. Studying abroad is not all fun and games, but despite everything it’s really worth it. Cons like sexism and cultural prejudice aren’t permanent after all. The more open-minded people who visit other countries and show them how understanding foreigners can be, as well as sharing their personal culture with those who want to learn it, help break down those walls and foster global understanding and acceptance everywhere.

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