It could have been any day, the day I thought about studying abroad in Japan. It was a flicker through my mind, an interesting concept to ponder. I browsed the internet leisurely, seeking to find out what it took to be an exchange student. That day probably changed the course of my life.
As I read about exchange programs and studies abroad, I grew more and more entranced by the idea. I realized with a jolt that my absent-minded dreams of Japan could become a sharp, solid reality. I knew Japanese. My grades were great. I could do it. As simply as that, as stray wish evolved into a most beautiful possibility. Japan. The country I’d admired since I could walk, the homeland of my mother, the birthplace of the language I loved. And perhaps my soon-to-be destination.
I dove toward this goal with a motivation I had never felt before. I concentrated on every Japanese aspect of my life. What had once been the second culture I took for granted, suddenly grew to be the focus of my thoughts. I strove to understand the Japanese news headlines I saw. I studied children’s books like they were textbooks. I deconstructed every Japanese phrase my mother spoke, translating them with an attention I’d never bothered with before.
I could have sat for hours, imagining the places I might go, the people I could meet, the hardships I would learn to overcome. The next year could change me as a person in so many ways. I used to think, even at a subconscious level, that I would go through school, elementary to middle to high school, attend college, find a job, buy a home, do everything everyone else did, in the same way thousands upon thousands had done before me. But with the prospect of being an exchange student, I saw that I don’t need a path to follow. I can step right off the road of expectations set out before me and fly straight in the the wonderful wilderness of opportunity. My feet aren’t grounded on the road that myriad pairs of feet have already worn down. I don’t have to watch tantalizing dreams pass by. After all, studying abroad would be so much more than just academic enrichment. It would be chasing the dream I discovered with everything I have.
Fears and doubts sometimes bring me down, but recovery comes quickly. Studying abroad isn’t something that could end in failure, as long as I do my part. Until now, I had never felt this degree of determination to succeed. I am confident that as long as I hold fast to this determination, to my love for Japan, my optimism, and my individuality, I will make it through any challenges overseas, and come out the other side a better person.
But what about afterward? How will I look after a year in Japan? How will I tackle the future? It’s almost impossible to imagine, because it’s almost impossible to imagine myself after being an exchange student. Who can say how I might change, or what I might learn?
There are some things that are certain. I know I will own a view of the world that is so much bigger than before. The chains of expectation will have been broken, and I’ll stand free to survey my future. I’ll see the world as a map instead of a maze. I’ll know the feeling of wonder, because I’ll know how it feels to draw my own path, choose my own way, find my own future. With such glorious possibilities within my reach, how can I resist studying abroad?