Robert Avila, The Paisano
This summer I was lucky enough to be chosen to participate in UTSA’s three week semester immersion program at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies in Kyoto, Japan. I spent almost a month studying, sightseeing, and experiencing what it’s like to live in an entirely different culture. How do you describe the greatest experience of your life so far? What do you tell those who ask? It is difficult to do. What I can say is, as someone who has never traveled outside of the country it was an eye opening, life-changing, experience.
Is study abroad expensive? I don’t think so. For me it was affordable but, it may depend on the program. Financially, without a scholarship it can be difficult to pay out of pocket but, the expenses, at least for me, were very similar to that of taking classes at UTSA. The study abroad program at UTSA does an excellent job of providing students who apply with scholarships. The only real difficulty I would say can be competition for the select amount of students that can be taken. All programs require a 2.5 minimum G.P. A and the rest is selection based. If you are lucky like me, you can be a replacement for a better student that couldn’t go.
I woke up alone… on a matt on the floor in a foreign country. No matter what seminar or discussion UTSA had to prepare me for a new country, there is nothing like the first day waking up in one. I went into the program not knowing anyone very well, and it was a little frightening. To wake up in a new country without anyone you know is difficult. But, after a few days, it’s not. The people with you are students just like you, some from other countries, all with the same fears and doubts. But, you’re all here, all open-minded, intelligent, and here for the experience. You take classes with these people, spend every day with them, and get to know all of them. Homestay is just as welcoming as well. My homestay family was kind, loving, and easy to be around. You find things in common, baseball, PlayStation, girls, laughing, and the language barrier becomes no issue at all. These people become like your own family and become friends you always keep regardless of distance.
Japanese people are too … polite, friendly, and helpful. It is something I would not have believed if I had not experienced it myself. Anywhere I went I could ask for directions, in Japanese or English, and even if they had no idea what I was saying they would politely stop to help. I lost my cellphone in Japan three times. Once on a bus, once in my own room, and in a pub. The first two times my Japanese assistant Kodai helped me call, track, and have my phone back to me within the hour. The last time my assistant, the police, and finally a Japanese girl found my phone after two weels and it has been mailed to Texas as I write this. I understand this is a silly example but, consider how much effort was put into finding my dumb cellphone and how it was found every time. It is a cultural of being respectful and polite. I cannot recommend Japan enough to anyone looking to visit Asia, especially Americans. I cannot tell you how many times I heard a Japanese person say, “I love America.” There is a loving relationship between our countries that I did not know existed.
Living in Japan is Aweful…ly nice. Kyoto is the exemplary architectural and cultural view of traditional Japan. There are shrines all over the city and famous tourist’s destinations are never as far as thirty minutes away by train. It is hard to describe the effect some of these places have on people who haven’t seen them. Fushimi Inari felt otherworldly. Thousands of red arches stretched miles with a massive shrine visited by thousands weekly. During the month of July there is a month long festival called Gion Matsuri which center piece is a parade in which massive traditional floats are built and carried through the streets by the people. To see old women and children, men in business suits and teenagers work together to pull a rope carrying these floats to set up across the street, made me openly weep. It is a place of unwavering tradition that everyone respects, something I could never dream existed.
There are things I cannot explain simply by writing. I can explain how Canadian students can drink almost as much as Texas or that British students are so sarcastically they often forget what the truth is but, I cannot relay to you what it’s like to find this out. If I told you me and Mathieu made so many mistakes in Japan, it would be hard explain how much of a good thing it probably was. There is nothing like the experience. To have the knowledge that you can go anywhere in the world with anyone and find a way to enjoy life is amazing. It’s an inner confidence I never knew I could have. You can never truly judge another culture until you have gone and seen it for yourself. To know what it is to travel, to meet people, to see and experience something different than you know has to be done. I recommend study abroad to anyone who has the desire and I challenge you to take the risk and put your fear aside because it is worth it.