If you think about the things a graduating senior is doing in the spring of senior year, navigating a foreign country probably isn’t one of them. But while most people take this time to reminisce on their past experiences in college, I knew I still wanted to create new ones.
My name is Miki, and I’ll be spending my last semester as a college student abroad in Japan.
Hello! I’m Miki Ding. I’m a 4th year student at UC Berkeley, majoring in cognitive science- the interdisciplinary study of the mind through neuroscience, computer science, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and culture. I’ve always loved learning about how people in other countries approach the same problem in different ways so I knew that during my college career I wanted to go abroad and witness the effect of culture first-hand.
Despite all the hardships that come with graduating early, I could not be more thankful that everything worked out so that I could experience the roller-coaster ride that is living in another country. I will be in Yokohama for the next 4 months, studying in the Global and International Studies program of Meiji Gakuin University!
Preparation: Job Hunt and Pre-Traveling Essentials
As a senior, I knew I finally needed an answer to the ever-present question of “What are you doing after college?” Because job-hunting while I was in Japan would be difficult, I had to secure a full-time job in the fall semester, before I left the country. From July to September, I dedicated all my time and energy into the recruiting process and ultimately landed a position as a software engineer at Capital One.
With this huge burden lifted off my shoulders, I could finally start to think about my upcoming travel. This included making sure I prepared my passports, completed my health check-ups, and submitting all my travel documents to both Gilman and to University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP). As a Japanese dual citizen, I got to forgo the visa application process, but in exchange, I could not apply to the Japanese Student Services Organization (JASSO) scholarship, which offered nearly $800 USD every month! This led to a lot of number-crunching and scholarship-hunting on my part to make sure I could sustain myself.
By making sure I took care of everything in my control when I was in America, I knew I could enjoy my time in Japan, care-free.
Overcoming Mental Obstacles
Even though I was logistically ready to be abroad, I still don’t think I was emotionally ready. I was nervous about meeting people I connected with and didn’t know if I could even enjoy a new country if I didn’t enjoy the people I was in the same program with. I had spent so much time building my community back at home that I felt doubtful I would be able to recreate a similar sense of belonging so far away, with people I didn’t know.
Without a back-up plan or knowing anyone in the program, I really felt like I was going in blind.
Talking with friends who studied abroad previously, however, helped a lot because they reminded me that everybody else was probably feeling the same way. That thought has reassured me as I go out of my comfort zone to befriend more and more people.
It has truly been rewarding to meet people from all different backgrounds. Although I initially had a lot of doubts, I only feel thankful that I was worried for nothing.
As we enter week 3 of the program, I have only felt a sense of awe everyday. I can’t wait to see what else is in store!