Michael Henry (AY 2010-2011)
I can say with full confidence that I was able to make the most of my experience abroad. From day one, I fully immersed myself in the culture, walking around the city’s wide streets and narrow alleys hoping to find a new experience— and the experiences were plentiful. A hint of wisdom to all those who choose to move through life without risk nor adventure: By staying on the main roads, I would have never found a Western-style bar that just happened to serve giant pancakes. There would have been no jii-chan (elderly gentleman) to give me free ramen on the weekends. There would have been no Chinese immigrants to play basketball with on the riverfront. No snowboard shop tucked away in the crevasse of a library. No youth hostel on the mountain overlooking a spa village. No kindergarten that paid $30/hr for English instructors. No jazz restaurant in the basement of a high-rise. No bento lady around the corner to provide free dinners after 11PM every other Friday. No sushi shop hidden beneath the train station. No random African drum circles. No salsa dance club in the outskirts of the city. An undergraduate experience lived out by millions of others is not worth the money. Do not be afraid to be bold and see what life is like outside of the States!
But do keep in mind: Your experience abroad is truly what you make it. For me, every single day for 9 months included new faces, new conversations, new connections, new food, and new opportunities to grow. Yes, you will be pushed out of your comfort zone. Yes, you will have awkward moments. Yes, you will be in situations where you do not know how to respond. It is through these experiences that you are able to learn about yourself in ways that would never imagined. The Michael Henry that left for Japan on September 5, 2010 was not the same that returned to America on June 1, 2011; he was much more confident, more mature, more self-aware, and happier than he could have ever imagined. You are one application away from being a better you.