5 Steps To Study Abroad

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So you want to study abroad? You’ve fantasized about traveling to far off places, experiencing the culture, speaking a new language, and tasting foreign cuisine. However, despite the concept of living abroad making you starry-eyed, you may not know the best way to start planning such a trip. I recently returned from a six-month study abroad in Tokyo, and I am going to explain the steps I took to get there.

Step One: Deciding Where to Go

For some people, deciding where they want to travel is a no-brainer. For me, I had been interested in Japan for about as long as I could remember, so it had been my travel goal from the start. For some, the decision is not so easy. It can be daunting to pick one place out of the entire world to choose. To help you pick, making a list of your interests and expectations can weed out some options. Love soccer? Check out places in Europe or South America where the sport is popular. Noodles are your favorite food? Italy or a country in Asia might be your best bet. Even your dislikes can help you choose a place. Afraid of tsunamis? Avoid beachfront locations. Don’t want to learn a new language? Go somewhere that you already know the preferred tongue. After you’ve compiled your list, then you can work on the next step.

Step Two: Finding an Academic Program

If you’re lucky, your school will have a program available in the country you want to visit. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll have to be a bit more creative. If you don’t want academic credit, you don’t have to worry about finding American accredited programs, but you may also have difficulty finding scholarships. If you need academic credits, find programs that are either accredited or have connections to an American institution that can transfer those credits for you. You’ll want to contact that particular institution at this point and ask if they allow students at other institutions to concurrently enroll. This is what I did when I studied in Tokyo. I attended an international language school called KCP International but had my course credits transferred through Western Washington University. It may cost an extra fee to do this, but it shouldn’t cost a fortune, and it will open up the opportunity for a variety of academic scholarships.

Feel free to communicate with your study abroad advisor during this process. They are a wealth of information about a number of options you can choose regarding the international study. Once you’ve chosen an institution, bring it up to your advisor so that they can clear it.

Step Three: Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy

This is the part that will wear you out if you’re not careful. Between your school, the U.S. Government, and the government of the country you are visiting, you will have plenty of paperwork and requirements you will have to figure out. I cannot stress enough that you need to GET STARTED EARLY! It took me around two full years between initially talking with my study abroad advisor to actually departing for Japan.

Depending on your stay, your steps will be different. Is your country on good terms with the United States? What kind of travel insurance is the ideal one for you? Will you be flying or using some other mode of transportation? Will you have to apply for and receive an international visa? Where is the nearest consulate for your destination country? Can you bring prescription medications and, if so, how much? Will you live in dorm housing, a homestay, or will you have to arrange housing for yourself? Will you need to research and request for disability accessible amenities? Do you have to make down payments on anything for your trip? When is the best time to book travel tickets? All these and many more are questions you are going to have to figure out during the prep stage.

Use government web resources, your university staff, and your international contact to address unexpected questions. You may need to get a physical or vaccines depending on the country or program you attend, so be sure to get that done well before your trip. If this step is done well, it can save you a lot of headache down the road.

 

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Step Four: Raise Money

While you shouldn’t wait to start building your savings, you’ll probably need to apply to a program first in order to apply for some scholarships. As boring and annoying as applications can be, it can make or break your finances. I was able to receive several thousand dollars in funds from outside organizations and federal and university scholarships. Your advisor can probably recommend some scholarships for you, but a quick internet search can provide country, language, or field-specific scholarships to apply for.

Keep good track of what you’ve applied for and received, as well as application and disbursement deadlines. For many scholarships, you’ll probably need a transcript as well as letters of recommendation. I recommend getting these one time and then saving the copies to send off to however many scholarships you apply for. Many scholarships have other requirements such as writing papers after the study abroad, completing service projects, or even working for a specific entity for a specified amount of time, so please read the fine print of whatever you want to apply for. For extra liquid funds, some students get help from family members, start crowdfunding campaigns, or work to build up savings. Between my savings from two summers and winters of interning and delivery driving, as well as a generous gift from my grandparents, I had enough cash to pay for my program fees and live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities on earth while only taking out a small safety net loan. As long as you’re willing to set realistic expectations and work hard, you likely won’t have too much difficulty getting the funds you need.

Step Five: Getting Ready To Go

You’ve gotten your passport and visa, you bought your plane tickets months ago, you’ve made mental lists of everything you want to see and eat once you arrive, and you’ve even been studying your target language with renewed vigor. Now you just have to make sure your affairs are in order.

If you have a long layover before you reach your target country, I highly recommend getting a hotel room near the airport. I made the mistake of booking a sixteen-hour layover in Shanghai Pudong Airport after my fifteen-hour long-haul flight betting that the in-airport hotel would have a room available. Upon fumbling my way through Chinese customs and immigration, I hoisted my luggage on a cart and made the incredibly long trek to the hotel only to find that they were completely booked. None of the seats in the airport recline, so I was reduced to lying on the floor of the very cold international terminal, using my jacket as a blanket and maneuvering my travel pillow into a very uncomfortable headrest. All and all it was miserable, and the few hours of sleep I did get left me sore, stiff, and cranky just in time for my flight to Narita Airport.

Also, don’t forget to go to your preferred local bank and request currency for your target country as well as any countries you stop at in between. You don’t want a delayed flight to make you choose between the unfortunate airport exchange rate or starving to death in terminal C. Always remember to weigh your baggage in both pounds and kilograms before you leave and to pack only what you need. Don’t be like me and pay an extra hundred dollars on overweight charges because of a pair of ice skates I only used once.

Make sure to read up on your airline carry-on policy and to pack your carry-on bag in such a way that you can easily access its contents. You’ll also want to check the country safety rating provided by the state department for your target country and all countries you’ll stop in. The rating for China went down just a few days before I was going to leave the country. This allowed me to decide against my plans to visit the city during my layover. Look up the country’s emergency numbers before you leave and research sim card options online. I purchased a data-only sim card for my time in Japan and it was a more cost-effective tool than buying a sim card with data and a cell plan. Ultimately you’ll have to choose which option best fits your location and budget. Once all your incidentals are in order you are ready to go! However, no matter how prepared you think you are, life will still find a way to bring in odd, confusing complications to your trip. Just remember to remain flexible, and that this will probably become a funny story in a month or two.

Wherever you decide to go, I wish you the best of luck and happy travels. Studying abroad can provide a rich experience that you can learn so many things you’ll never find in a book. I know I enjoyed my experience more than words can say. If you found this useful, don’t forget to share this post and check out what else we have on the Union University Library Blog.

Bon Voyage!

 

*written by Ruth Duncan

Book Review: “Shoji Hamada: A Potter’s Way And Work” by Susan Peterson

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In my opinion, I find that sometimes the most interesting biographies are the ones whose people aren’t too well known. Oftentimes household names have so much in the way of lore and common knowledge that, in many ways, we already know some of the best parts. This trend continued in the book Shoji Hamada: A Potter’s Way and Work. For those who don’t know, Shoji Hamada is a former living national treasure in Japan due to his work as a folk potter. He has become internationally renowned in the ceramics community, his works becoming synonymous with Japanese mingei (民芸 meaning “folk arts” or “art of the people”) ceramics. Having spent four months with Hamada, author Susan Peterson has written a charming glimpse into his life, home, and work.

The book is based in the small town of Mashiko located in Tochigi prefecture and about a two-hour drive north of Tokyo. As the book was written in 1970, the context is of what Mashiko was like during Hamada’s time. However, I had the privilege of visiting Mashiko during this past spring break, and it was wonderful to compare with what was written during Hamada’s life with how the town has changed throughout the years since Hamada’s fame. Shoji Hamda’s house has been turned into a museum of his life and work, and it was fascinating to compare the images from the book’s photo galleries to the real thing. After reading the book, I can’t imagine not wanting to visit.

This book covers anything and everything one might want to know about the potter and his work, but even so, it is still an incredibly easy read. The language is accessible to people who have not studied pottery, but also enriching for those that have. The book covers everything from his workflow, techniques, glazes, kilns, family life, and even the way Hamada himself thinks. The book is not a detached biography written by historians years after the death of the person, but rather a living telling complete with the thoughts and actions recorded in these first-person accounts. The photo albums scattered throughout the book are both an enjoyable and invaluable addition to the biography, as seeing the work for oneself is both contextually important as well as very interesting to see the stages of his work and life. If you are at all a fan of the arts, even just a little, I would definitely recommend this book.

 

*written by Ruth Duncan

Book Review: “Norwegian Wood”

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Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. Life is like that.

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood debuted in 1987 with the original title “Noruwei no Mori” or  ノルウェイの森. The tie-in to The Beatles’ song of the same name is immediately obvious, and while the book is not specifically about music, the different songs that pop up throughout the story shape the setting.

Norwegian Wood takes place in 1960s Tokyo, where civil unrest and government protests are daily occurrences at the main character’s college. Toru is a new college student who’s not really sure what he’s doing with his literature/drama degree. When a girl from Toru’s past, Naoko reappears, Toru must come to terms with their mutual friend’s death. Naoko’s struggles with mental illness create conflict in their growing relationship, and Toru tries desperately to be close to her in any way he can while at the same time noticing another girl- one who’s much more available- Midori.

So, where does the music come in? Well, as it is mentioned early on and several times throughout the story, Naoko’s favorite song is “Norwegian Wood.” She likes several other Beatles songs (“Michelle,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Julia”) and her roommate plays these songs for Naoko on her guitar. Toru can really only play one song on guitar (“Up On The Roof” by The Drifters), but at least he tries!

The song “Norwegian Wood” is played at key points throughout the story. An older Toru begins his tale by reflecting on his relationship with Naoko- every time he hears “Norwegian Wood” in a public place, he still thinks of her. Naoko’s roommate, Reiko, plays the song for Naoko while they are living in a sanatorium; Reiko also plays the song after a major event toward the end of the book.

Reiko gave her fingers a good flexing and then played “Norwegian Wood.” Again she played with real feeling, but never allowed it to become sentimental . . . “That song can make me so sad,” said Naoko. “I don’t know, I guess I imagine myself wandering into a deep wood. I’m all alone and it’s cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me.”

The song is a constant reminder of relationships, sadness, wistfulness, and the 60s- all major themes of Norwegian Wood. It’s an introspective novel, as the main characters are constantly figuring themselves out, but it’s also relatable to a wider audience with its song cues. If you grew up in the 60s, the politics discussed and the way dating works in Norwegian Wood may be familiar to you, just as it is to the older Toru looking back. If you didn’t grow up in the 60s, then let the nostalgia of The Beatles take you to a time you’ve never experienced.

While Norwegian Wood is not available at the library, you can request to receive it through Interlibrary Loan. You can also read 1Q84 and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, both by the same author.

 

Content note: This book contains some explicit scenes, dark themes, and language.

*Quotes taken from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

**Post originally published (with a few edits) here.

Featured Book: “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

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Haruki Murakami is a world-renowned Japanese author. He just recently debuted a new book, Killing Commentadore, and is well-known for his previous books such as 1Q84, Sputnik Sweetheart, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, etc. Typically, you’d expect a Murakami book to be strange yet familiar, and to feature characters who experience loneliness, isolation, intrigue, and great epiphanies about love and human understanding. However, if you pick up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, you’ll get a glimpse at the man behind the famous fiction- a man who is not just a writer, but an avid runner.

Murakami explains that everything he knows about writing, he learned from running. He goes on to encourage writers to nourish two disciplines: focus and endurance. Both of these apply to running as well.

Murakami also reflects on aging and the life lessons he’s picked up along the way. On the art of self-acceptance, he writes:

This is my body, with all its limits and quirks. Just as with my face, even if I don’t like it it’s the only one I get, so I’ve got to make do. As I’ve grown older, I’ve naturally come to terms with this. You open the fridge and can make a nice- actually even a pretty smart- meal with the leftovers. All that’s left is an apple, an onion, cheese, and eggs, but you don’t complain. You make do with what you have. As you age you learn even to be happy with what you have. That’s one of the few good points of growing older.

Even while realizing that his aging body may not be as fast or as sturdy as he may wish, Murakami keeps running throughout, averaging a marathon a year (!). He keeps his eyes on his goals and steadily moves forward. This book documents in particular his goal of running in the New York Marathon, a prestigious race. The reader can keep pace with Murakami as he describes each rung of his journey, along with anecdotes and scattered reflections along the way.

If you’re interested in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, check it out from the library! It’s only 179 pages long, counting the Afterword- it’s a quick read that still accurately describes a long process.

Fun Facts You Might Not Know About Anne of Green Gables

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This month marks the 110th anniversary of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. The beloved classic has sold over 50 million copies worldwide — more than The Odyssey, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Pride and Prejudice — and has been adapted for stage, film, television, and radio over 35 times. Here are some facts you may not know about the world’s favorite spunky red-headed orphan:

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She was an instant hit.

Many works that are now considered classics and must-reads were initially met with mixed to terrible reviews. Even J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, now the third-highest on the all-time best sellers list, was initially called “death to literature itself” by a New York Times reviewer. Montgomery’s work suffered insignificant amounts of public criticism, if any, and was popular enough to be translated into other languages within a year of its release.

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She encouraged resistance against Nazis.

Anne of Green Gables was banned in German- and Soviet-occupied Poland during World War II because the main character embodied individuality, loyalty to family, and resistance to authority. The Polish resistance movement issued unofficial Polish translations of the book to it soldiers to remind them of the values they were fighting for.

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She inspired great writers.

Popular writers have drawn inspiration from Anne ever since the first copy was published. Novelist Margaret Laurence credits Montgomery with starting women’s literature in Canada, and Mark Twain called Anne “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.” Margaret Atwood, author of recently popular books such as The Handmaid’s Tale, has written essays about Montgomery’s works and cast Megan Follows (Anne in the well-known 1985 movie) as the lead in her play, the “Penelopiad.”

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She is a cultural icon in Japan.

Akage no An (Red Haired Anne) was introduced to Japan during the educational reforms of 1952. The series and its authorized prequel have both been adapted into anime, and two schools in Japan (the Anne Academy in Fukuoma and the School of Green Gables in Okayama) teach their students how to speak and behave as the admired character would. Green Gables Heritage Place estimates that over 8,000 (5%) of its annual visitors are Japanese, and it is partly thanks to the generosity of Japanese fans that the house was able to be restored after a fire in 1997.

Want to check out the Anne of Green Gables series? Find it here in our catalog!