Imagine spending a semester in a faraway location while experiencing a different culture, language and education system.
That’s just what international relations major Riley Toole did this past fall. As a part of a St. Thomas exchange she spent the term in beautiful Sapporo, Japan. She brushed up on her second language at Hokusei Gakuen University.
Toole’s journey was smooth sailing, but not before she ran into a few minor flaws at STU’ s front offices.
“The problem was that there was no advertising for it, and no real help to do the exchange,” said Toole. “I was really considering approaching somebody in the administration about a position coordinating this kind of thing. It’s academic advisor Shauna Foote’s job, and she did a really good job explaining the program, but I think that she was really busy, and could not really do any more for me, so they need help.”
Toole believes the university’s exchange program is suffering because this lack of attention.
“The culture exchange is really important, especially in university because you see other people’s perspectives, and you are not just trapped in this Western world of thought where everybody is cool with liberal arts.”
After a few headaches and a bunch of paperwork, Toole was off to the land of the rising sun.
Despite all the runarounds, Toole admits a benefit of STU’s exchange is its modest prices in comparison to many other programs.
“I had to buy my flight, but I did not find the overall cost any more expensive than a semester here because I was not worried about paying rent or buying food because I had a host family, and they gave me an allowance.”
Toole arrived into Sapporo, the capital of the northern Japanese island called Hokkaido, on Sept. 10. After spending the first week in a university dorm, she was placed with her host family where she lived the remainder of her stay.
“The weirdest thing was that objects would talk to me. You would press a button and the washing machine or the microwave would sing songs or talk. The cars would also talk, when you opened the doors, it would say ‘konnichiwa’.”
The culture in Japan is, in some ways, much more liberal than Western society. But can also be much more conservative.
“There is a very strong respect for elders, and you really have to watch what you say around them, and never talk back.”
However, generation Y in Japan is obsessed with fashion and animation. Toole found that to be an uncomfortable change.
“I did feel really weird about how they were obsessed over how people looked all the time. They would wear lots and lots of makeup, and give themselves a double eye lid. It’s like they don’t want to look Asian.”
Toole was not alone on her exchange as she was surrounded by fellow exchange students from across the globe.
“We had a lot of fun with the whole group of exchange students, learning about and sharing each other’s cultures.”
Dining at the world’s best sushi restaurants and drinking your face off while singing karaoke until your vocal chords bleed may be perfect for some, but for Toole there is no place like home.
“I got homesick, especially around Christmas time,” said Toole. “But I think for anybody who is really interested in learning about a different place, making friends and connections, then doing an exchange is right for them.”
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