This time, Junko talks about her experiences abroad during her high school years. There is no age limit on studying abroad, so anyone thinking about studying abroad, please take a look!

One of the best ways to learn a language is to immerse yourself into that culture completely. While I grew up being able to experience both Japanese and the American Pacific Northwestern cultures, I also had the wonderful opportunity to experience the Chinese culture.

When I was 15, and just about half way through my sophomore year at my school in Oregon, I decided to pack up my suitcase and join my Dad who, at the time, lived in Suzhou, China. While there were many reasons for the drastic move, one of the major factors that pushed me towards this decision was the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity to live in China like this. When you’re still in school, I believe that it is easier for one to experience a countries culture from untainted eyes. Where you are more adventurous and ready to take risks that you may second guess when you are older.

So I moved half way across the world to a foreign land where I didn’t know the language aside from “thank you” and “hello” in the worse accent ever. I went in blind with high hopes for adventure and experiences in my backpack. I soon found myself at the only international school at the time. There, I would meet kids from all over the world who would open doors to things I have never imagined possible.

I enrolled into Chinese class where I struggled to pronounce words properly. This still didn’t stop me from diving into the lessons to try to catch up with the class. I followed my Dad all over town on errands and jumped at every chance I had to use the little Chinese I knew. The more I spoke with the locals, the faster I improved.

Once I made friends, I ventured out into areas of Suzhou that I had never been to with my Dad. Mainly places he found to be too crowded or dirty. I found it intriguing and full of surprises. Although, looking back, I know that some of those trips into the heart of the city were quite dangerous…life lessons though, right?

With all of this comes the aching isolating feeling. Homesickness. Language barriers. Utterly miserable melancholy that sets in. Soon after the novelty of being in such a new country set in, I was hit with a wave of missing my friends, family and life back in America. I at least had my Dad and my cat that I had stubbornly moved all the way to China with me.

While yes, many people who study abroad will not have the luxuries of having a parent and a pet with them during this time, I wasn’t just visiting, I had moved my whole life there. But the feelings that you feel are all the same. I struggled to move past a certain point in learning Chinese, which was far more discouraging than I had ever imagined. I had trouble getting used to the stares and picture taking from the locals. I also missed the wide array of food that I had access to in America.

But of course, feelings come and go. I got over the feelings of homesickness by using Skype and Facebook to keep in contact with friends. At the time GoogleTalk was still popular and I used that to talk to many of my friends. I sought out American food that I could find in the local area to satisfy my cravings and also pestered my Mom to send me recipes so I can learn to make some of those home cooked meals. These feelings will never go away, but you learn to adapt to them and find ways to decrease those yearnings. And at the same time, you also move forward with the life you are currently enjoying, because being homesick only takes away from the experiences that you can only have at that moment.

I personally got through a lot of these rough patches by going out with my friends, pestering my cat and diving into school activities (at the time). And thanks to that, I was able to do things that I still look back on in awe. Did I really do that? Was I really that active?

I did.

I was.

You can too. You just have to keep your mind open and move forward. It’s ok to miss your friends and family. It’s only natural. But don’t let that be the factor that holds you back from learning and experiencing from that moment because you won’t ever get that chance again.


[Photos by: Junko]