It’s never too late to pursue your passion! Michael Duong thought it was too late in his sixth year at University after switching his major. He decided to take the plunge anyway and delayed his graduation by a year to embark on a dream journey that combined study and tourism, and he’s sure glad he did.
A Richmond, British Columbia native, Michael is currently working towards a degree in Global Development from the University of the Fraser Valley. He chose to participate in the study abroad program a full six years into his university experience. Michael’s goal was to study at Chuo University in Hachioji, Japan. A friend had recommended the University as a great school, but it also has the added benefit of being close to Tokyo – a big attraction for Michael.
Pro Travelling Tips
Michael had been to Japan twice before this trip and loved it so much that if he didn’t go for this study abroad experience, he was going to travel to Japan every year anyway. Even though Michael had already visited Japan, knew the culture and geography, he still prepared before his trip.
“I studied Google maps around the area I lived, the university and the train systems to make sure I wouldn’t get lost, it was hard since there was over a hundred train lines”, he recalls.
With research, experience, and the Internet, he felt reassured about travelling and could always use his phone to navigate, just in case he got lost. To become accustomed to his new home, he arrived two weeks early, which also gave him the opportunity to have some vacation time before his semester started.
Education: The Good and the Unexpected
When Michael started his semester, he recalls all of his Professors being very accommodating. Their policy was to work with students based on their ability, especially if classes were taught in Japanese. However, Michael was immediately struck by an unexpected cultural difference in how Japanese prefer to use PowerPoint presentations. In Canada, you are taught to keep the writing on slides to a minimum and emphasize the verbal presentation, whereas in Japan, students were expected to fill the entire slide with text.
Another surprising part of the trip was that the majority of Michael’s fellow students were interested in speaking English rather than Japanese. He found it hard to enhance what he already knew of the Japanese language when none of his classmates wanted to speak it and, in hindsight, Michael wished that he had asked them to speak more Japanese to him so he could expand his vocabulary during the trip.
New Life-long Connections
Studying abroad exposed Michael to more than just the Japanese culture and language. Since he made friends from around the world during his study, he was also able to learn about the culture and customs from his friends’ hometowns, creating a truly international experience.
“The university provided us with many opportunities to make new friends through parties hosted by clubs or organizations”, says Michael.
While Michael participated in these events, he felt that he made some of his closest connections in the classroom. The studies they shared forged deep friendships with enduring contacts. Michael is planning to go back to Japan in May of this year, as well as Germany in July, to visit them.
Gaining Work Experience Even When You’re Studying
Michael wishes to teach in Japan one day, and was able to gain valuable experience on how the Japanese education system worked by volunteering. During his free time, he helped Japanese students with their English at a Junior High School. Currently, Michael plans on finding a job in an international center with a college or university.
“…I was able to understand the benefits and struggles that an exchange student goes through when they’re away from home”, says Michael. It’s an invaluable insight that helps motivate his pursuit of a career at an international center helping international students.
- “Do it”, he says. You never know what’s out there until you take the risk!
- Consider getting a part-time job to gain experience and make some extra money during your time abroad. “I was able to pay for quite a bit with a weekend job in conversation labs with senior students.”
- “Be open-minded to anything that is culturally different. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
- “Make as many friends as you can!”. Since the exchange is only a semester, use that time to make exciting memories with the people you meet.