Checking in with UNC Charlotte Exchange Students in Japan

Article by Dr. Yongling Gorke

ホット チョコレートとアメリカーノ コーヒーを ください。ここで飲みます. (One hot chocolate and one Americano please. For here).

Joshua Obregon ordered drinks in Japanese at the Blue Bottle Coffee in Ginza, Tokyo, where he met with one of his fellow exchange students from UNC Charlotte, Beau Pray, and Dr. Yongling Gorke, assistant director for international education who was visiting Japan after her faculty-led spring break study abroad program in Asia.

Joshua is a senior (equivalent) studying accounting and international business at UNC Charlotte. He is currently participating in a year-long exchange program at Chuo University in Tokyo. Beau Pray, a junior (equivalent) at UNC Charlotte is a double major in marketing analytics and Japanese language. He is studying as an exchange student at Sophia University. They are two of the eleven year-long exchange students in Japan, and both have completed their first semester at their exchange universities.

Joshua started as an accounting student at UNC Charlotte, and later realized his passion for international business. Hence he is now pursuing both majors. When asked about his plan and decision to participate in a year-long exchange in Japan, he shared that it was not a straightforward journey. “I took one semester of Japanese language course and then I had to stop because of lack of time due to my accounting major. However later on as I began to pursue international business, study abroad became a requirement. I had a great experience and learned about Japanese business culture in a content course taught by a Japanese faculty, and therefore, I decided on Japan as my study abroad destination”. Prior to coming to Japan, he was nervous because his Japanese language instruction was limited; he was pleasantly surprised that he was placed at the intermediate level at Chuo University and noted that in the international students population, there were quite a few true beginners of Japanese. “I take a Japanese language course here, in addition to a business course taught in English”. After a semester, he felt he made a great deal of progress and became more confident in communicating in Japanese.

Beau has had a short career in mechanical engineering and realized that his passion lies in another field. He returned to school to study marketing and Japanese as double majors, and this year-long exchange may just be the beginning of his future career plan related to Japan. Currently, he is taking an intensive Japanese language course at Sophia University. “I have had 先生 (sen-sei, professor/teacher in Japanese) at UNC Charlotte who are very strict, but the level of intensity of language learning is not comparable when compared to this immersive environment”. Always smiling, Beau accepts the challenge in Japanese language, just as he navigates his way around on campus, as an international student, and in the city of Tokyo, as a foreign resident who needs to take care of insurance, utilities, and everything that you need to live in a country.

The two students shared a lot of accomplishments during their first semester in Japan, such as climbing to the top of Mount Fuji, making friends with international students from all over the world, and showing other people around Tokyo. They also overcame quite a few obstacles, including losing a wallet (later returned to him) during the first week, missing family, and getting used to a different lifestyle as well as culture. Beau said that he has found a favorite place in a park near the international student form, where he would spend time practicing Japanese outside his classroom.

For Joshua, he has received full emotional support from his family on his decision to study abroad. “My dad came from Mexico and he moved to the US so that his children could have a better life. He said that my trip to Japan would be just like his trip to the US, where I would be exploring a whole new possibility”. Of course, he had to save up for the cost of studying abroad, which according to him, was not as difficult as he thought it would be. “Once I decided to study abroad, I reduced the frequency of eating out, and bought less things. I did not think my lifestyle changed much, and I was able to save up for one year’s living cost in Japan.”

“Actually, the cost of living in Japan for one year is less compared to living in Charlotte. We pay the same amount of tuition, so I think I actually save money by studying abroad”. Beau added. He further explained that he generally needed $40 a week on gas commuting to campus, but here in Tokyo, utilizing public transportation and exercising a good amount by walking, $40 would be sufficient for one month of transportation cost. The apartment near campus has gotten so much more expensive and in comparison, the international students’ dorm in Japan is very reasonable”. Beau added that while it may be counter-intuitive to think that way because Tokyo is generally considered to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, however, if one carefully calculates the cost of living and plans wisely, studying abroad is not only affordable, but also economical.

Two hours passed by very quickly, and the students’ experiences were not only impressive, but also so encouraging for believers in international education and study abroad. The students have shown confidence, maturity, and good planning skills, many of which are honed through their time in Japan. The students are now transitioning into their Spring semester, which will start in early April. They have said goodbye to some old friends who have completed their studies, and look forward to meeting new friends who would be joining, not only from UNC Charlotte, but also from other parts of the world.

The Ginza area is an area filled with beautiful neon lights, and enriched with diversity from not only Japanese visitors, but also people coming from all over. It was very comforting to know that adding to this great mix are our Niners, who are studying diligently and making every progress to 21st century global citizenry.