Something happens the first time you study abroad. You have an amazing experience, you see life from a new perspective, and then you have to return home. Almost immediately, you’re scanning the horizon for the next opportunity to get out there and go somewhere new. You’ve just caught the travel bug!
Going in, every student has a different level of comfort with international travel. Some are already familiar with it and look forward to more. Some have gone on distant vacations with their family, but never alone. Others, however, have never even been on an airplane before they set off across the globe for their program. All of them will go home more practiced and confident than before.
So, why does travel lead to more travel? First, the way study abroad is organized forces you to step outside your comfort zone. You know there’s a program waiting to receive you on the other end, but usually you arrange and make the trip on your own. You also have to figure out most of your personal travel inside the destination country. However, the program provides a safety net of advice and support (and if necessary, rescue!). This can make you feel less vulnerable and thus ease you in to taking steps outside of your comfort zone.
Second, overcoming the language barrier in such a concrete way creates confidence. It’s harder to book a flight in Japan than in America since you have to navigate websites and airports that operate mostly in Japanese. Things that Japanese people know (security is no big deal, there are no gacha-pon past that particular gate) are unfamiliar to you and can be quite confusing. But once you’ve made it through, it feels great. You traveled across half the country and didn’t get arrested for carrying sweet potatoes! Hooray!
Third, study abroad sometime necessitates and often encourages solo travel. It’s great to explore the country with friends, but going it alone is also a wonderful opportunity. Japan is a good place for this because it’s relatively safe and you can go pretty much anywhere in the country using public transportation. If you’ve never been able to before, you’ll find that making your own schedule is incredibly freeing. You can go somewhere on a whim without having to get the thumbs up from five other people.
If you’re nervous about travel, you should do your best to educate yourself—just not too much! Remember that airplane horror stories are not the norm. Learn what you need to for your safety and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re anything like me, facing an actual train timetable in a station is much more helpful than reading about it online. Our blog post on trains in Japan is a good start.
If you’re already confident, embrace it! You can make the most of your time abroad by exploring your surroundings both near and far. You may become a resource for students who don’t have as much experience, and they’ll thank you for passing on a little bit of that confidence. Just don’t forget to leave time for solo adventures!
Whether your trip to JCMU is your first or fiftieth time away from home, it won’t be your last. You might just find that you’ve developed a need to see the world. So, no matter how daunting the first step out of your comfort zone seems, you’ll find it easier and easier to keep going.