To acquire wisdom, one must observe

A world apart during a semester abroad in Japan

Not everyone chooses to study abroad, but for those who do, the experience can leave a lasting impact on one’s life—expanding one’s perspective of the world, making new friends and fully immersing oneself in a different culture.

Last semester, Ben Percival ’18 traveled across the globe to Japan, where he studied for nearly five months. He selected the CET program in Osaka, one of Japan’s major cities. Through this program, Percival completed an intense language course, essentially learning the equivalent of two Brandeis semesters of Japanese in just one. Additionally, he took two elective courses, one of which was on anime culture. The work was rigorous and exhausting, says Percival, but the reward was entirely worth it.

The CET program is designed to give its students as much interaction with their selected country’s culture as possible, so although homestays are not an option, CET students get to stay in off-campus residence close to Osaka Gakuin University, through which they take classes and are paired with a local roommate. “My roommate from CET has now become one of my best friends,” Percival said. “When I first got to Japan, I couldn’t speak Japanese very well, and my roommate didn’t speak English either. Yet we became close friends quickly.”

One of the challenging aspects of the program is that its students may not speak English while in class, with their roommates or even with each other. The CET Japan program draws people from all over the world, and Percival described how amazing it is that he now has friends from Iceland, Finland, Germany and beyond. CET places students in small groups, encouraging close bonds that allow people to gain even more from their study abroad experience.

CET also provides many field trips and excursions over the course of the semester. Percival traveled to other cities like Kyoto and Tokyo, experienced traditional events such as matsuri (festivals) and visited historic temples, castles and preserved samurai towns.

One of the benefits of studying through a Japanese university is that CET students could also be directly involved with the native Japanese student body by participating in extracurricular clubs. While in Japan, Percival was an active member of both his school and local rugby and judo teams, competing in tournaments and games alongside his new classmates and friends. He even received his first black belt in judo while in Japan. During his university’s major cultural festival, he was asked to join in one of the events, a competition to see who could deliver the best marriage proposal (all in good fun, of course).

Arguably, one of the best parts about living in a different country may be the variety of food to try. Japan has a well-known food culture, given the popularity of ramen and sushi here in the States, but there is so much more. Percival describes how Japan’s convenience stores and vending machines are vastly superior to their Western counterparts. In the convenience stores, one can do nearly anything, such as buy food, clothes and even pay bills. The vending machines, just as amazing, can be found at almost any street corner, and offer a wide selection of hot and cold drinks, as well as food. Best of all, the convenience stores are open all night.

Surprisingly, Osaka’s nightlife is nearly as active as the day. Many activities, such as karaoke, restaurants and massive sports centers the size of malls are open during the late afternoon and throughout the night, providing endless entertainment for night owls.  Percival noted that among his best memories of Japan were the times spent with his CET roommate and friends staying up until the early hours of the morning hanging out at the karaoke rooms, playing sports at the athletic center or even just throwing barbeques in the backyard.

Needless to say, Percival worked as hard as he played, having to balance his social time with his many assignments and extracurricular activities. Studying abroad teaches one the necessary balance among these aspects of life while accelerating one’s learning far beyond the rate of learning solely in the classroom setting. Furthermore, one is able to explore the famous locations of their country of interest, learn the subtleties of the culture and make endless connections with new people.

Percival is an environmental studies major who has had a passion for studying Japanese language and culture since high school. Growing up in Samoa, he has strong connections to the Pacific area, and he hopes to have a career that unites countries of the Pacific in the effort to improve environmental regulations, practices and sustainable living. He believes that Japan is a key player in improving the global environment and plans to return to Japan after graduation.

To students planning to study abroad, or who are at least considering the possibility, Percival offers this advice, “Go into the experience with an open mind and willingness to learn. You’ll have one of the greatest times of your life, learn more than any class could teach and meet people you’ll never forget.”

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