Interview with Japan Study Abroad Alum: Barbara

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Barbara is a Cell and Molecular Biology major who is hoping to someday become a Dermatologist and work with children who are suffering from skin diseases. She was one of the inaugural members of the ‘Japan: Beyond the Classroom’ trip (now called USF Japan Study Program) with Professor Mako Nozu and earned scholarships from the Honors College for study abroad. This was not Barbara’s first time traveling abroad as she had already traveled with an ambassador group to Australia during her 9th grade year of high school. She has always loved traveling and has a goal to visit as many countries as she possibly can in her lifetime but before that one of her main goals is to visit every state in the U.S and has already visited 1/5 of them. As a GloBull Ambassador, she is eager to take questions from students interested in studying in Japan (durdenb@mail.usf.edu)

What are the top reasons you decided to study abroad?

One of the main reasons I decided to study abroad was the fact that I was told that a program like the one I went on didn’t happen very often. It was kind of a ‘Once in a college career’ type of thing was the way I saw it. When this trip came along I just had that feeling inside that no matter what I was going on this trip and that’s what I did. That feeling was another of the reason’s I decided to study abroad. You know how people are supposed to get that feeling of their heart beating out of their chests when they fall in love with someone? Well that’s the feeling I get when I travel and I know that a certain trip is the one I want to go on. It’s happened now multiple times, first when I learned about the trip to Australia, next when my mother and I decided to take a trip to Alaska for my graduation, and again when I learned about the Japan trip. My heart was really the one that made me decide to go on the trip and it was such a great experience that I’m glad it did.

Why did you choose Japan?

I have always had a love for Japan, ever since I was a child and I watched my cousin play Pokemon Blue on the ride to my grandmother’s house for his birthday. From there it only grew as I got older and learned more about the culture, the heritage, and the pride the country holds. Watching Ninja Warrior, National Geographic, and seeing photographs from the country solidified my love for this island off the coast of Asia. But my want to travel there never really solidified until I had to make a presentation in high school about ‘Where would you like to visit before you die?’ and originally there were so many places that had made the list. But as I narrowed the list down by how much I actually wanted to visit them I ended up with my final country which was Japan. I spent months researching the culture, the costs of travel and things to do there, then I got props for my presentation and went all out for it. From the moment the presentation ended I had decided that I would go there one day but knew it would be hard going to a non-English speaking country. So when this trip came up with Nozu-sensei who was from Japan and would be arranging things I thought it was the best time if any for me to go. I wouldn’t have to worry about learning everything there was about the language (since I didn’t really have enough time to learn everything) to book things on my own. I would just get to go and enjoy the country with much less worry about the language barrier.

How did the study abroad credits fit into your degree?

My study abroad credits didn’t exactly fit into my actual degree of Cell and Molecular Biology but it did fit into my Honors College requirements of either taking a language for 2 semesters or traveling on a USF sponsored trip to a country that did not speak English. There were multiple people like myself on the trip as well as engineering students (mostly computer engineering) who were taking the trip simply for the enjoyment of going to Japan and seeing the country they had dreamed about first hand. Then there were the couple International Studies majors who were doing something similar to me but it was the final step in their degree to graduate. So among the group it was a great mix of people doing it for degree reasons as well as doing it for the pure adventure of it all. Study abroad doesn’t have to specifically fit into your degree or career goals. All that it really needs to fit into is how you see it and if you really want to go. You will never regret traveling abroad, what you will regret is not doing it at all.

What is your favorite memory from the program?

My favorite memory from the program would have to be when we were able to visit an engineering high school in Oita. Being able to interact with students that were the same age or only a year or two younger than me was great. To see the similarities and differences between us and just how similar we are even though we speak different native languages and have grown up in different countries. Watching the boys talk about video games of all kinds and the girls talking fashion with broken English and Japanese was just a sight to see. Then playing games with them in the afternoon just brought out the fun in all of us. The room was filled with laughter, the usual anger at losing, and memories of doing similar things with our other friends. After leaving the school I remember thinking that Walt Disney was right when he wrote, “it’s a world of laughter and a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes and a world of fears, there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all. There is just one moon, and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone, though the mountains divide, and the oceans are wide, It’s a small world after all.”

Why do you recommend the Japan Study Program to other students?

Well the main reason I recommend it is because if you think about it later on in our lives, when we don’t have the chance to get scholarships and assistance with travel costs, it will be a lot harder to get to places like Japan and by then we’ll have less time to visit as well. We’ll be part of the work force with little to no time off while now in our college career we get 3 months off during summer to do whatever we want to do with our time. That is time to do things like this, go to places you want to visit before the chance slips away until possibly after you retire.

If there is anything you could have done differently during or before the program, what is it and what would you do if given a second chance?

During the program if I had a chance to do it all over again I would be a lot more adventurous. While I was already adventurous it was always when other people suggested ideas of places to go. All the places I really wanted to see were already on our normal itinerary so I was sated with seeing those and going on the little excursions other people suggested. But now if I was able to go back and do it all over again I would make sure that I was the one suggesting the places to go to with people. I would also have tried to make better friends with the other members of the group. While we did become friends during the trip it wasn’t as close of a friendship as I have with my friends back home. The close bond is what gets me to go out with people and do things with them because I know how much fun it is going to be hanging out with them. During the trip I didn’t do that and that’s where I kick myself looking back. Rather than opening up fully I just opened one door so it was hard for people to get in and interest me. So if anything else that would be where I would start and that’s what I would do if I was given a second chance.

 How do you expect the experience to affect your future profession/career?

The world we’re in is an international community. In the healthcare field Joint Commission is requiring doctors, nurses, and other medical workers to take online courses about how to interact and respect people from different backgrounds. The same is happening in other countries as well, when we went to the high school the main reason we were asked to come was so that meeting us would hopefully inspire them to want to learn English. So that they would be able to speak with us and others later on in their careers as engineers. They realize that the world is becoming international and in the near future we may be working together and we need to be able to understand each other. Both in language and in culture. Going on this trip, and others, has made me more sensitive to others cultures. It has shown me that while things they do may not seem right because of how I was raised I have learned to see that they may be thinking the same thing with me. An example is being raised in the U.S I was taught to say ‘Bless You’ when someone sneezes, and out of reflex while I was in japan I said it when a person on the subway sneezed. After I had said it I got some looks from the few people that could understand what I had said much like the face I had probably made when I first saw a non-western style toilet. Being able to experience that kind of difference has taught me that no matter how other people may think you have to respect them because your ideas may be as foreign to them as their ideas are to you. As a doctor this will be important because I will be working with other professionals of different backgrounds as well as seeing patients that come from all over. Having respect for them will make the atmosphere of the office, care involved and experience of the care better for all involved.

What was the best $10 (or less) that you spent on the trip and why? 

The best $10 (¥1,000) or less I spent while I was on the trip would have to be on a bag that I bought at the Golden Pavilion. The reason for that is because I bought it due to the fact that I had gotten too many things from this trio of school girls to carry on my own since one of them was fragile. The story behind it goes like this. While we were walking through the area around the Golden Pavilion I was surrounded by this group of 3 school girls and their 2 teachers. Apparently they had been given an assignment to interview an English speaking tourist and get their answers to some questions. So when they asked me I agreed and let them ask me questions and afterwards they surprised me by giving me a small glass wind chime along with some origami they had made as well as a few other little things. Nozu-sensei was lucky enough to be there and got a picture of me with the girls so I can always remember it as well as I will always have the bag that I bought afterwards.

What tips do you have for saving up money/raising money to study abroad?

  • Ask your close family first and foremost as soon as you decide to study abroad. Tell them you’ll do chores for them, tell them giving money to you can be birthday/Christmas presents for X number of years, tell them anything you think will get them to give you money.
  • Create a Go Fund Me and send it out to all your friends and non-close family and tell them why you want to do it. My friend raised the entire cost of her trip in just a couple months through sending the link to her Go Fund Me to everyone she knew on Facebook.
  • If you have a job and don’t have tons of bills to pay then set aside a certain amount from each paycheck to go towards study abroad. If you just set aside $10 each pay period then with 2 pay periods a month then in 12 months you would have $240. I’m just using that as an example because of course you would want to set aside as much as you possibly could afford to.
  • Set aside scholarship refunds if you get them. This is what I did, and it was the main way I was able to pay for my trip with my mother only chipping in some money as a Christmas present (refer to the first tip).
  • Cut back on things you don’t absolutely need. Cut out a Starbucks coffee a week and you would be surprised how much that money would add up over time.

What did your friends and family think about your decision to study abroad?

Well when I first told my family I was going to go to Japan they were all accepting, my uncle made jokes for good fun, and I got plenty of jealous messages from my friends. But in all they were very supportive, and I got lists of souvenirs that people wanted which ranged from a silver spoon to a Yukata. I’m lucky enough to have a cousin who is a Marine who had been stationed in Okinawa for about 6 months and had a bit of experience in Japan. He gave me all kinds of prophecies about how I would be treated (which never came true because he forgot that I’m not a big marine walking around in fatigues almost all the time), told me to eat cat on a stick (which he forgot he visited Korea as well and that’s where he ate that) and gave me many other hints which only about 2 or 3 actually helped. Even with all that it was nice to have some insight ahead of time about other things he did while there and I did learn from some of the things he said. But that’s beside the fact. The important thing was that they all supported me and wished me luck and well wishes on my travel. I’m lucky enough to have a support system like that. They accept my choices no matter what I do, and I know that can be a rare thing. I’m glad to have them and without their support I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things I have, including going to Japan.

Barabara

Above: Kinkaku-ji Buddhist Temple (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto, Japan in the early afternoon light

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