Public Health Perspectives Study Abroad: Japan
For my STEP Signature Project, I went on the 2019 Public Health Perspectives Study Abroad trip to Japan. During the program, we learned about how geographical, cultural, and sociological factors influence health in Japan and drew comparisons to our own experiences in the United States. Over the course of 2 ½ weeks, we attended lectures at the Universities of Tokyo and Azabu, and took field trips to public health disaster sites, including the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, Hiroshima, Minamata, Toyama, and Okawa Elementary. This made for a dynamic learning experience and an unforgettable trip.
One of the most significant transformations that I experienced was becoming more independent and self-reliant. This was the first time I had ever travelled outside of the country by myself, without my family there to do the planning and decision-making. It was exciting but nerve-racking. Before departing, I researched the places I was going so that I knew some of the cultural norms and could orient myself when I got there. This took time, but was necessary as I didn’t have my parents as a crutch. Before the program started, myself and a couple others decided to travel around Japan by ourselves. This also required planning, and gave me the opportunity to take initiative in finding places to stay and activities to do while there. Furthermore, I, myself, found my plane flights and was financially responsible for covering the cost of the entire trip. This was all new to me, since previously I had just been along for the ride on the vacations my family have taken. This trip forced me into more of a leadership role where I took on a lot more responsibility, and I am now confident in myself because of it.
There were many points during the program that aided in my growth as an individual. While in country, I became a professional at navigating my way around a new place. There were many times when our program leader told us to meet at a specific location at a certain time, and we had to find our way there. Often times, it would be thirty to forty minutes away. This was beneficial for me because I was put in a situation where I had to take action and figure out how to get where I needed to be in a foreign country where I did not speak the language. Sometimes, when google maps failed, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone and ask a local for help despite the language barrier. This taught me to find different ways to problem solve and as a result, I have grown in independence.
Because I was able to step out of my comfort zone, I had a lot of unforgettable interactions that would not have happened had I stayed in my own little bubble. The ones that had the most impact on me, personally, were the times spent with the University of Tokyo students. I loved getting to know them and what their lives were like in Japan. They were eager to talk to us and practice their English, as well as get to know what our daily lives were like in America. These interactions gave me a unique insight into Japanese culture, specifically from a student perspective, which I can most relate to. Because of this, I was able to appreciate the differences in American and Japanese culture more than I would have if I had not met these students. Some of my favorite memories from the trip were the times we spent with them, outside of class, as they showed us around Tokyo. I felt like I got to know them on a personal level and formed friendships that I will treasure for a long time.
Furthermore, I learned how to effectively manage my money while travelling abroad. Japan isn’t cheap, so I had to weigh my options and make choices on what was most important to spend money on. Like I mentioned earlier, I funded the entire trip myself (with help from STEP and scholarships) which I had never had to do before. This experience helped me become more financially responsible and self-reliant.
My growth as an individual will undoubtedly aid me in my academic and professional goals in the future. I am planning on going to medical school which means I will be taking on a lot of responsibility. I need to consider my grades, taking the MCAT, my work experience, volunteering, and a plethora of other things as I begin the process of searching for medical schools to apply to. Now that I am more confident in myself and my ability to take initiative and overcome obstacles, I am better prepared for this process. And even further down the road, when I (hopefully) become a physician, I know that I am capable of taking on a leadership role and will be able to better help patients due to my experience abroad.