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Just Be Yourself

Name: Aina Shimodaira

English Education Course (Undergraduate)

Study Abroad Period: September 2022 - June 2023

Host University: Southern Oregon University, USA

1. Description of the university

I studied at Southern Oregon State University (SOU) in Ashland, Oregon in the United States. SOU is a small university with about 6,300 students and is surrounded by nature. Most of the classes had only 10-25 students, and the professors were very supportive and helpful, making it a very comfortable learning environment for exchange students. The faculty includes Art, Business, Communication, Education, English, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, Music, Psychology, and Sustainability. I majored in the Education Department. In my major, Education, students can take classes such as TESOL and Social Emotional Education, which are rarely seen in Japan. There was also a class in which you visited a preschool attached to the university, so I was able to see American education with my own eyes. In addition, students can take classes in camera/photography, Native American studies, yoga, pickleball, etc., which are also rare in Japanese universities.

The student population had a high proportion of white individuals, and perhaps due to the COVID-19 situation, there were few international students. If you are looking for a large, urban university with diverse students, SOU may not be the place for you. However, you will definitely meet kind and warm people at SOU.

2. Studying at the university

I primarily took education-related courses during my studies. Additionally, I enrolled in classes on subjects such as gender studies, communication, and yoga. A typical day during my study abroad involved attending classes, working on assignments, having dinner, and then continuing with assignments. It was a daily routine immersed in studies. Especially during exam periods, I had to write multiple reports, so I often found myself studying in the library until late at night.

AS_photo_2.jpgMost courses required reading from textbooks before each class. The amount of reading varied from 20 to 40 pages for a single class, sometimes even reaching 100 pages. Unlike Japanese, I couldn't just skim through the text, so it took me some time to complete. Additionally, there were presentations, mock classes, creating picture books, reflecting on readings, and mid-term/final reports. Although every assignment was challenging, I felt that they contributed to strengthening my abilities.

Moreover, the professors were kind and understanding towards international students. One of my professors told me, "I focus more on the content that you write than your English, so don't worry too much about the English." One common element in all classes was group discussions. There was a significant amount of time dedicated to discussions during class, and the classes progressed through exchanges of opinions with the professor and classmates. Expressing my thoughts in English was challenging, but when I could articulate my opinions, it boosted my confidence.

3. Life at the university

Regarding shopping, there was a supermarket within a 5-minute walk from the university, so I often went there for groceries. Additionally, there was another supermarket where you could buy groceries at a slightly more affordable price, accessible by bus. Also, if you went downtown, a vibrant area about a 25-minute walk from the university, you could find various goods and second-hand clothing.

On weekends, I sometimes visited downtown, went to Lithia Park, and played pickleball with my friends. I occasionally took the bus to the neighboring town of Medford, where there were more restaurants. During longer breaks, I traveled to California, the Oregon Coast, New York, and Seattle. I also stayed at my friend's house during the winter break.

4. What I learned from my experience

AS_photo_3.jpgThrough my study abroad experience, I learned to accept myself, understanding that "it's okay to be myself." There were moments of self-doubt and loneliness, especially when I felt inferior due to my English proficiency. I often found myself envying others and disliking aspects of myself. However, gradually, I learned to accept that I may not be like everyone else, but it's okay to be myself. I believe this experience will serve as a strong pillar of support, helping me face any significant challenges in the future.

The feelings of loneliness and inferiority have also heightened my ability to empathize with the emotions of minority groups. On a personal level, I used to be an anxious person, stressing over minor issues, but the various experiences during my study abroad journey transformed me into someone who approaches things with the mindset of "It will be fine," avoiding unnecessary stress over small matters.

Furthermore, I developed the ability to see things from diverse perspectives. Realizing that what I took for granted is not universal to others and interacting with people from various backgrounds broadened my horizons.

Lastly, I want to express my gratitude to those around me--individuals I met during my study abroad who exuded positive energy and supported me, as well as my family and friends who were there for me at all times. This gratitude motivates me to give back, aiming to be a source of support for others, just as I have received assistance.

5. Advice for those who considering studying abroad

If you are currently wondering about whether to study abroad, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I understand there may be concerns about finances, daily life, language barriers, and more, but once you take the leap, things tend to fall into place. Even if there are risks involved, the value gained from the experience is immeasurable. Surely, the experiences abroad will contribute significantly to your personal growth and become unforgettable memories. I am cheering for you! Additionally, if you ever need advice or have questions about studying abroad, please feel free to reach out to me anytime!

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