Are you thinking of studying abroad? Immersing yourself in another culture, exploring somewhere new and stepping outside of your comfort zone? That is exactly what exchange students Isac Lago, Miyu Morishita and Yuka Nakata did when they decided to come to Eckerd College for the spring and fall semesters of 2019. All three describe their first impressions of the campus as incredibly beautiful, open-minded and freeing.

“Everyone here seems to be enjoying life while at the same time being very focused and hard-working,” Morishita, from Japan, said.

Nakata, also from Japan, agrees, saying that the students here seem to enjoy studying, unlike her college back at home where studying is a necessity rather than something pleasurable. Still, the differences between the colleges were clear.

“In comparison to our home university in Japan, it is more domestic though. The students here seem to know a little less about other countries and cultures as it is the case at our home university,” Nakata said.

Despite some differences to their home universities all three students fell in love with Eckerd at first sight for its beauty and the easy-going attitude of its students.

However, with this new adventure also came new challenges. When asked about certain difficulties they faced in their new environment, they all referred to a language barrier with English, especially with regard to terminology specific to their studies. 

“It took me about a month to fully understand the terms and phrases used in the classroom,” Lago, an economics major, said.

However, it got better over time and now Lago, whose mother tongue is Swedish, rarely faces these types of problems anymore. 

“If I’m still unsure about certain words I simply ask my friends now,” Lago said. 

Morishita and Nakata both said that their understanding of the English language got better over time, not only in the classroom but also in everyday life.

Rachael Becker, coordinator of overseas programs believes that the most common difficulties for foreign exchange students is overall differences in the education systems. 

Eckerd, as a liberal arts college, presupposes students to take classes outside of their major and puts great focus on a hands-on college experience with a great amount of reading and writing tasks. Hence, international students might be overwhelmed by the workload at the beginning. 

“The professors at Eckerd are very supportive and helpful. I suggest engaging with them in the classroom as well as scheduling a meeting and attending their office hours in order to solve any upcoming problems or challenges,” Becker said.

Attending classes regularly as well as engaging with classmates and professors is key, according to Becker, to solving any initial difficulties adjusting to the new education system and course load. 

“Make sure to plan ahead and thoroughly research universities beforehand. Getting an idea of the place in advance can help to prevent future regrets or second-guessing early choices,” Becker said.

While abroad, Becker thinks it is most important to make sure to stay on track with one’s studies and not to fall behind with one’s grades in order to make studying abroad an overall worthwhile experience.

For these students, going abroad has been a challenging yet valuable experience. Despite initial challenges with language barriers and cultural differences, Lago, Morishita and Nakata managed to adjust to their new environment by working hard and fully engaging in the community.

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