Studying in Canada, a challenge despite my disability, gave me confidence and positive attitude

Sao Shirotani
Faculty of Global Studies, Department of Global Studies, 4th year
Period of study abroad: July 31 - August 19, 2023
Destination: University of Victoria, Canada
Type of Study Abroad: Short-term Study Abroad Program

Every year, many Sophia University students study abroad in countries all over the world outside of Japan. How did they manage to find their way through the differences in languages, cultures, and lifestyles? Here are some voices of students who studied abroad.

-What made you decide to study abroad?

I had originally hoped to study abroad as an exchange student, but due to the Corona and my upcoming graduation, I had almost given up on the idea. Around that time, I happened to be chatting with a friend and learned that there was a short-term study abroad program available. I was tempted by the fact that it did not require as much preparation as the regular exchange program and that I could do this during my summer break, so I applied right away.

-How did you choose your study abroad destination (country/university)?

I wanted to visit Canada once, and the fact that I could study business in English instead of just learning foreign language was a key factor in my decision. Therefore, I narrowed down my choice of a study abroad program and finally chose the University of Victoria in Canada, my desired location.

-Did you have any concerns before going abroad to study?

My biggest concern was whether or not people around me would accept my hearing impairment. I had informed the staff at my host university in advance, and I was able to speak to my professors beforehand. As a result, I could attend classes without any concerns, and I gained confidence that I could talk about my disability in English to someone I meet for the first time.

-What did you do to prepare for your study abroad and what do you wish you had done?

I did not prepare on my own much. Sophia University provided study abroad guidance three times before my departure, so I was able to interact with other students and felt secure about joining a program. During the guidance, I also learned about presentation skills and how to raise questions openly from professors who studied abroad, and I managed to take advantage of these lessons and become an active participant in the program.

-What was the atmosphere like at the university and among the students?

This is a photo from a visit to the Butchart Gardens in Victoria.

The host university was on summer break, so there were no regular students, but only those participating in the program. The total number of students in the program was about 40, 60% were Japanese, 30% British, and the rest were from various countries including China, Korea, and Mexico.

-How did you expand your circle of friends?

My English roommate whom I shared a room with.

At first, everyone started making friends with people from their own country. Gradually, through parties and events included in the program, everyone got to know each other better. There were many opportunities for group work in class, and at the farewell party at the end of the program, everyone already had begun to miss each other.

What are some unique charms of your study abroad destination, or what are some new discoveries you have made?

I rediscovered the cosmopolitan nature of Tokyo. I didn’t really realize it when I was living there, but even though the urban areas in Canada may be big in size, compared to Tokyo, I found the atmosphere to be completely calm and relaxed. I realized that living in Tokyo is almost like studying abroad in its own way, especially for someone like me coming from a rural area.

What was the most striking or shocking experience for you?

I was shocked by the different values of my roommate. While I was there, I lived in a dormitory on campus, and I shared a bathroom with a British student. After she showered, she would wander around barefoot where we walked wearing outside shoes, which surprised me. This was something that may not happen among Japanese students, so I now look back and think it was a good learning opportunity for me.

What were some of the problems or challenges you faced during your study abroad? How did you overcome them?

I was completely unable to understand the British English of the students in the program. One of the participants in my group was a woman in her 40s, and I was so impressed by the way she was taking on challenges at any age, doing what she loves to do. Since I could not understand her English at all, I tried to communicate with her by asking her to write her ideas on a piece of paper. In the end, we were able to complete the group presentation.

Compared to before and after your time abroad, how did you grow and how has your awareness shifted?

I went hiking in the mountains near the university.

In terms of my most significant growth, I no longer worry so much about how people around me think of me, in a positive sense. In small ways, I think I became more proactive in speaking up in class and talking to new people. Even if I make a mistake, I am now able to think that it is better than to regret thinking, “I should have done this or that”.

-What would you say to someone who is wondering whether or not to go to study abroad?

There are various programs offered by Sophia University. The short-term study abroad program that I joined is highly recommended for those who think that an exchange program may be too big of an engagement, but just learning a foreign language is not enough. Studying abroad is not only about studying in a classroom, but also about enjoying yourself to the fullest and also about living life away from home. If you are considering an exchange program in the future, I hope these factors could be helpful for making your decision.

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