By: Chloe Laszlo '25
Every child has dreams; some want to be astronauts, singers, or ballet dancers but not everyone goes on to fulfill those dreams. I feel incredibly lucky that last semester I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, Japan, which is right outside of one of Japan’s largest cities, Osaka.
I still remember how it felt when the plane was landing. I could see the top of Mt. Fuji from my window, and when it disappeared from view, Osaka’s thousands of shining lights took its place just as the plane reached the ground. I made my way from the airport to one of Japan’s famous trains, my first of many many train rides. Through the window, I saw so many unique Japanese houses, skyscrapers, and boxy cars racing by. There was even a man a few seats away from me snoring! The moment it truly hit me that I was actually in another country was when I was sitting in that very first train car looking around at a world so unfamiliar yet so exciting. Soon I arrived at Kansai Gaidai, and my life in Japan had officially begun.
My day-to-day routine usually consisted of a 15-minute walk from my dorm to the campus. The streets were packed with other international students and Japanese people on their way to class or work. I was surprised by how many people rode bicycles. It was so different from where I’m from where most people only ride bikes for fun not as a means of transportation! Once I reached school, I attended either my Japanese, culture, or business classes, and once they finished, I headed to the cafeteria for lunch. There were so many different kinds of foods available for me to choose! Some of my favorites were karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and mayo on rice, katsudon (pork cutlet with egg on top of rice), and Japanese curry.
Some days, when I didn’t have time to go to the cafeteria or I just wanted a snack, I went to the 7/11 that was right on campus. Japan’s 7/11 is nothing like it is in the US! There were so many unique snacks and drinks, delicious ready-to-eat meals, and hot foods such as curry bread, karaage, and potato croquettes, so it quickly became one of my favorite places to go to. When I had tests or quizzes to study for, I would head to the library. My favorite place to study was in the Learning Commons on the fourth floor, a quiet room with window seating and lots of tables specifically for students to study at and receive help if they needed it. I loved sitting by the window so I could see the beautiful campus and Hirakata’s skyline.
Because I lived and took classes with almost exclusively international students, I wanted to find a way to get involved with Japanese students, so I decided to join the photography club. I was the only international student in the club, so it really stretched my Japanese skills, but I had so much fun meeting new people and communicating with them in Japanese. Everyone was so kind and helpful, and they always explained things to me when I didn’t understand something. While in the club, I submitted a photo to be displayed in an exhibition and helped run the club’s table for the school’s Cultural Festival. I made Japanese friends and so many memories with the club members.
Even though I didn’t have a car while I was abroad, thanks to Japan’s train system, I could easily travel anywhere I wanted! I traveled to Nara where I fed and pet deer; Kyoto, where I tried authentic matcha tea and mochi on the grounds of an ancient temple; Arashiyama, a beautiful tourist town near the bank of a river with an amazing bamboo forest; and Kobe, where I hiked to a waterfall hidden next to a shrine, tried Kobe’s famous beef, and saw an unexpected statue of Elvis!
I made so many memories in Japan and tried so many new things like Japanese barbeque and karaoke with my friends that I never could have experienced if I hadn’t gone abroad. During my time at Mount Union, I became friends with Japanese students from Kansai Gaidai, so I knew from their stories about their home that I would love being there too; however, only hearing about a country is completely different from experiencing it for yourself.
While I’m happy that I’m back on Mount Union’s snowy campus and reunited with my old friends and professors, I also miss Japan and all of the wonderful experiences I had there. More than simply studying abroad, I was able to fulfill one of my dreams, and I’m so grateful that Mount Union fostered that opportunity.