Nathaniel Ung studies Bio-engineering with a minor in Asian Languages and Cultures. In fall 2016, he traveled to Japan to study at Akita International University through IE3 Global. Read on for his reflections from his time abroad:

When I first arrived in Japan, I was sure of almost everything I would do there in four months. I would take my necessary courses for baccalaureate core, and some classes towards my minor in Japanese. I knew beforehand that I would not take anything for my Bio-engineering major, but looking back, a break from science courses wasn’t so bad. My study abroad allowed me to think about things outside of my major, and about what I can improve in myself, mainly my lack of interaction with peers. I have always been a quiet person who goes through the routine of school, looking at the computer for a couple hours, and doing the occasional volunteer activity, such as showing elementary students the applications of science in everyday life. However, Japan gave me opportunities that would go against my usual routine, and allowed me to figure out my interest in working abroad in Japan as either a teacher or an engineer.

I studied at Akita International University for four months as an exchange student, and those four months changed me, improving my outlook on the present and giving me more options for the future when I graduate. Even though AIU is in the countryside of Japan, I participated in many different activities. One I especially enjoyed was volunteering as part of the Research and Community Outreach Services (RCOS), a group within AIU that hosts many different projects within the local Akita community, such as weekend camps and English teaching. I loved teaching school children English, as many had a strong interest in learning the language. The kids were also excited to speak to me about America, and specifically the attractions Oregon has to offer if they ever choose to travel. They taught me how to play various games that really tested my language skills, such as their own version of rock-paper-scissors where the winner has to say a Japanese phrase and point in a direction. If the loser looks in that direction they lose, otherwise the game keeps going, but at a faster pace.

On the weekend camps with kids, I spent a total of four days teaching them how to write the lower case alphabet, with plenty of games to help them remember. I used a combination of English and Japanese to interact with them, and we all had fun playing games, learning, and cooking food. Although it was just me and other college students cooking barbecue, they enjoyed all of it. I also participated in the local rice harvesting, where locals showed students how to harvest rice, and cooked the crops for us to all indulge in together.

Of course, my experience wasn’t all about teaching; I enrolled in different courses to fulfill my OSU requirements. I took Japanese 206 at AIU because I had previous Japanese experience, but you can start learning Japanese there without prior knowledge. My class for example was taught entirely in Japanese—the teacher never spoke to us in English. When I came back to America, I was placed in the 300-level series of Japanese, which helps my minor a lot. One thing I should mention is that the campus is relatively small compared to OSU. With around 2000 students total in the university, including exchange students, I ended up getting to know my peers well. I got along well with my classmates in Japanese class, joking around in Japanese and even doing group skits for projects. For my baccalaureate courses, I took Sociology and a course about Social Movements. Discussions in these two course were interesting, as we spoke under different viewpoints: Japanese, American, European, or Indonesian, among many others. One discussion focused on the importance of seniority in different countries, and hearing some Japanese students actually detest the seniority system in their country was fascinating.

My time in Japan was amazing and opened my eyes to other things outside of America. Meeting new people, learning a new language and culture, and changing my school life for a short time allowed me to make some changes to my life here in Oregon. I try to plan my schedule better to include a social life, and I interact with more of my peers by going to movie nights or having meals together. My study abroad experience also got me thinking about applying for the JET Program—spending one year in Japan to teach English after graduation. I truly did enjoy teaching children, and being in a new country gave me new ideas about working in Japan for my major, or pursuing other work opportunities abroad. My time over there was short, but it gave me a new outlook for my major and the future.

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