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6 posts categorized "Lauren Hill"


Studying Abroad in Japan with Anxiety

Before I talk about my experience dealing with anxiety while studying abroad, I should add this disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional of any kind. I am just a college student who has been diagnosed with anxiety. I am writing about my own experiences and how I cope with my triggers. Also, people with mental health conditions react to different situations differently and have different ways of coping. While I hope that this entry will be helpful to someone, anyone with a physical, mental, or emotional condition should consult with a licensed medical practitioner before making the decision to study abroad. .


I would think that anyone living with anxiety, of any kind, knows just how hard it is to do things that should be “normal everyday activities.” For me, being in crowded places, going to new places, or talking to new people can be difficult. Now just imagine being in a foreign country and that feeling being amplified by one hundred. It's a pretty daunting thought, I know, just thinking about it used to give me anxiety. However, I am very glad that I did not let my anxiety hold me back from coming to Japan.


Coming here is a huge change, something that sounded incredibly scary for me, but Tokyo is one of the most amazing places in the entire world, in my opinion. There were challenges everyday for me, but having anxiety just seemed to make those challenges even harder. My biggest fear in coming here was the massive train system. I was terrified of just how crazy the maps seemed to look, and how getting on a wrong train could take you somewhere you have never been. It was a terrifying thought. But, once I got here and started to understand the train system, it is actually pretty easy to use in my opinion. The stations were a little confusing at first, but I have never seen such a complex system set up in such an easy manner. I have gotten lost quite a few times, of course. But the more I rode the trains, the easier it got to navigate the city. Within just a couple weeks I had almost all of my lines and platform numbers memorized.


Another main anxiety of mine in coming here was getting lost and not being able to get to where I needed. Before coming here I had 4 years of Japanese, so asking for directions and getting help wasn't too big of a fear. But just the anxiety of getting lost in a place as massive as Tokyo was daunting. Thankfully, whenever I do get lost, when I ask for help people are more than glad to help me. I don’t even have to use difficult Japanese; simple phrases like “where is this train going?” and “where is this?” have worked fine. The Japanese people I spoke to always pointed me in the right direction, or even reminded me which stop was mine when we were on the same train.


I know I said that I have anxiety about talking to people, so yes, asking for help from random strangers is scary, but at the same time I feel much more relieved when I’m able to find out where I’m going.


For me, the best way to deal with anxiety is to find ways to ground myself when I encounter “triggers.” For example, trains still make me anxious, but what helps me is listening to music and tuning out the world around me while I am on them. However, I have to be careful to know when my stop is! Another way I deal with my anxiety is traveling with people on the trains to different places. Going with friends is much more fun than going alone! With the anxiety of getting lost, the easiest way I have found to battle this, is to always carry a map with the train lines that I need to take. That might seem like a hassle, but they are always in my backpack just in case I can’t communicate what I need.


The ways in which I deal with my anxieties will be different than yours, so the methods that I use might not work for you at all, but for me, listening to music and having the train maps with me makes me feel calmer. While that might not be your thing, the important thing to do is to find what helps you battle your anxieties and try to make sure you can have those things/do those things when you start feeling anxious.





Christmas in Kyoto- What we did during the winter break

For those of you who are studying abroad in the fall semester, there is a week and a half winter break. That might not seem like a long time, but the amount you can accomplish is amazing.


Personally I am not really a very Christmassy person, so not going home wasn't too big of a deal for me, but for others it was very hard not being able to be home with family during the holidays. But, what better way to counter that than to go out on an adventure in Japan with your friends?!


My friends and I decided to go to Kyoto for four days. Kyoto has been one of the cities that I have wanted to visit even before I came to Tokyo, so having the opportunity to go was amazing! Also, if you plan it right, you can go for a kind of insanely cheap price. We were able to go to Kyoto via train, get a hotel looking out over the Imperial Palace’s garden, and visit at least 5 shrines for about 150 dollars. Which is crazy cheap!


We started our adventure at around 9 in the morning and traveled by train for about 8 hours, which was a lot more fun than it sounds. The scenery was beyond beautiful! We passed the ocean, Mount Fuji, and beautiful forest landscapes. I didn’t realize just how big Mount Fuji was until we passed by it. Most mountains in Colorado are tall and connected, but Mount Fuji is a force of its own..



Once we arrived in Kyoto it was dark, but we were excited to have made it a good 8 hours away from Tokyo. And personally, for me, being so close to the mountains was amazing. It felt like home, being so close to them. Our fearless leader planned the rest of the days for us perfectly. We started off visiting beautiful temples and shrines,  but just being in the mountains and its calm nature was enough for me. Being out in the open all day surrounded by trees and flowers completely relaxed me from all the stresses of school. It was like time stopped for a while and I could enjoy Japan for all of its beauty without worrying about school.


The atmosphere at each temple is hard to explain and is definitely something that you would have to experience for yourself. But the architecture and symbolism were beautiful. At the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple you could drink from one of three fountains depending on what you wished to be blessed with; love, good studies, or money. My friends and I each took a turn drinking from the fountain, hoping to be blessed with good luck for love, wealth, and studies. Even if you don't believe in that sort of thing, it is a cultural experience that you can only get here in Japan.


Another fun thing to do at shrines is buy omamori, which are little good luck charms for different aspects of life. When we visited the love shrine, my friend and I bought each other love-seeking charms for each other in hopes of finding some soon. While it was mostly just because they were cute, they are also a good way of remembering a fun time with friends in a new adventurous place. You can also buy your fortune for the New Year by paying 100 yen and then shaking this tin container and pulling out a stick with a number on it. You can get either a good or bad fortune depending on your luck. My friends seem to get the best fortunes! Getting fortunes was fun, but some of them were written only in Japanese, and translating them was challenging.


Besides going around to beautiful shrines and temples, just the time spent with friends was enough of a treat. During the school year things tend to get really busy, so finding time to hang out with friends is a great treat. Being able to relax and run around a new place together, get lost, create new memories, and try new food are wonderful memories that I am never going to forget. 

It’s important to remember your studies of course, but it is also important to give yourself mental breaks and enjoy your time here. You may be here only once, so take in everything you can and make the most of it. Winter break might be short, but if you plan right, you can pack it full of amazing adventures all over Japan.







Transitioning to Tokyo from a Rural Area and My Trip to Miyajima

Living in Tokyo has been amazing. I love living in a big city with tons of people and things to do. Every day you can go explore something different or have a unique cultural experience! Going out and exploring at night with all of the lights around you is personally one of my favorite things to do. The entire city seems to change once the sun goes down and turns into a twinkling walkway of lights.

But, being from rural Colorado, one of the hardest transitions in coming to Japan for me has been not being able to see the stars or be around the mountains or open spaces. Something that was always relaxing for me after a hard day would be to go out and look at the stars, or just go sit somewhere quiet in the mountains to think. In Tokyo, however, it is a rare occurrence to see the stars when you are in the heart of the city. Having grown up near the mountains my entire life I feel slightly disconnected from a part of myself that I wasn't even aware I really had.


On the bright side, however, CIEE has some sponsored events where we get to travel outside of Tokyo and into some more rural areas. Our trip to Hiroshima City and Miyajima has been one of my favorite excursions so far. While Hiroshima City was an amazingly beautiful experience, it deserves its own post because of its solemn nature. For this post I wanted to focus on Miyajima, and show that the mountains and stars are still here in Japan. They may be hidden and harder to reach, but being able to explore different places to find them again is truly amazing.

On the island of Miyajima I was beyond excited. The whole island was practically the mountain and full of different trails you could take. Just being near the mountains again made me feel more at home and grounded. I felt reconnected with a part of me that had been longing to see the mountains and to be surrounded by nature. Even just having dirt trails dusted with leaves underneath me and animals (deer) closer to me made me feel more at peace. While we didn't have time to hike up the mountain, we did get to take a cable car and overlook the other side of the island and ocean as we went up. It was truly breathtaking seeing all of the leaves changing to gold and orange. Just being in the mountains again was so relaxing.


Being on top of the mountain was even greater. You could see the entire island and ocean below it. There are no words to describe the beautiful scenery. For those of you who come from more rural areas, this is definitely the place for you. You feel right at home up on the rocks of the mountain overlooking the gorgeous scenery with the cool mountain air against your face. The trees and nature sounds are soothing and remind you of home, so much so that I didn't want to go back down the mountain and back into the city life. It was just too relaxing and peaceful, I felt like I was back in Colorado for a little bit.

As much as I love Tokyo, not having the mountains and stars at my fingertips has been a very hard transition for me, but I just have to remember that over 70% of Japan is mountainous so I just need to travel outside of Tokyo to find them. I haven’t had time to do so yet, but I definitely want to go out and explore more now that I got a taste of home again.


On the rare occurrence that I can see the stars from my dorm, I am lucky enough to have an open roof to go out on and star gaze. While this doesn't happen very often, it is a nice treat to see them peeking through the clouds every once in a blue moon. And seeing them just reminds me of home again, which is a comforting feeling knowing that I’m not that far away from the things that were once so close.


Everyone experiences some kind of homesickness at different parts of their time abroad, which is completely natural. I would recommend finding something that can remind you of home while you are here so that it doesn't seem so far away. It doesn't have to be a big thing, just something small that reconnects you to your home. For me, this has been being able to go to the mountains and seeing the stars. Now that I have been to one mountainous place I am determined to go out and find more so that I can give myself some much needed relaxation.





Making Japanese Friends While Studying Abroad in Tokyo

One of my main goals during my time here in Japan was to make Japanese friends at school and in my dorm, allowing me to be more immersed into the Japanese culture.

However, making Japanese friends was more challenging than I expected. The language barrier and cultural differences can be intimidating for both parties. It can be scary going up and speaking only Japanese. It can also be intimidating for the Japanese person because they may feel pressured to talk in English. 


Talking in the other person’s language can be scary, so it’s almost easier to not communicate at all. But it’s important to push through that fear in order to break the boundaries of your comfort zone so that you can get everything you can out of your time here in Japan.

 Personally, accepting these challenges has been a wonderful experience. While I still get frustrated at times working on getting past the language barrier, I have been able to make amazing Japanese friends whom I can practice my Japanese with. While this has been a very difficult process, it is well worth the challenge. The Japanese friends I have made are absolutely fantastic and I love them to death. There is a mutual helping of understanding because they speak English to me and I respond in Japanese, which allows us both to further our language skills.


 Not only do you get more language practice with friends, but also you get to go out and explore new places with them. This is one of my favorite things to do, going to new places that I otherwise wouldn't have known about and getting to spend time with friends. It’s an even greater way to further immerse yourself into Japanese culture.  Some of my new favorite hangout spots have been places that my Japanese friends have shown me. And coming into the kitchen space in the dorm is even more welcoming now that I have more people to talk to and interact with. Being asked to join activities, get food, go to onsen and other trips is an amazing treat. But getting to know and understand people from a culture different than your own is an even greater experience.

One of my favorite experiences so far with the friends I have made at my dorm is just being invited to different food parties. Not only do you get to try delicious new food, but it is also great language practice in a relaxed setting. You get to find out more about your friends and your language abilities.


One of the best ways I have found to overcome language and cultural barriers, and make friends, is to join clubs or circles. While I am not officially part of a circle yet, I plan on joining one next semester. My friends in circles have participated in a lot of activities and made a lot of friends, and it seems to be another amazing experience. Many circles may accept you with open arms and add you to their family. Because of this family setting it is easy to make new friends and connect with lots of different people. All of this might sound really intimidating if you are shy. If you are as shy as I am, you probably are hesitant about putting yourself out there. But, this is probably the best way for you to make new friends and further enhance your experience here. I have no regrets being pushed out of my comfort zone, because without that happening I wouldn't have made the friends that I have, or experienced the things that I have. It was really scary at first, but now, it just feels like my friend group expanded into an even larger family.



Studying Abroad in Japan: New Friends, New Families

For some people, going abroad is a terrifying experience because they are leaving their home, friends, family, comfort zone, and everything that is familiar and entering into a seemingly uncontrollable set of experiences. However, that shouldn't be a reason in stopping you from going to somewhere new and exotic because you can be a part of at least two new families right from the get-go!


Studying abroad through CIEE has given me two amazing new families. One of the families that I have been surrounded by is the CIEE student family with everyone in my program who I got to know and love. Then there is the dorm family consisting of all the CIEE students who live in the same dorm, and then expanding out to the people who already live in the dorm. And then there are host families or student club/circle families whom some of my friends have been accepted into. From all the bragging about amazing cooking from their host parents and adorable children becoming like their siblings, it seems like another amazing experience to have.  


All of these amazing people I have met have cared, loved, and looked after me like we have been friends since we were in kindergarten. The rate at which ties grew between us is just mind-blowing.  For me, one of my closest friends in this program was my roommate on the first night. Ironically, that person was later staying in the room right next to mine in the dorm. Then, some of my other closest friends somehow all congregated together that night to go to dinner. Those friends just morphed into a new family with barely any time passing. I didn’t even really see it happening, these people who are from all over the word come together under one program and just mold into one giant family that's always caring for one another. It’s an amazingly comforting feeling to know that even after being here for just about two months I already have a solid support system that I can go to at any time. The amount of love coming from all of these new people is unfathomable, and it makes me feel right at home.


Now I’m not saying that you won’t get homesick. Of course you will miss your family and friends back home. And in being in such a different place than where you originally lived can be a very difficult transition. But the families I have gained here makes being so far away from home more bearable.  Personally living in the dorms, these people I have met are people that I see and interact with everyday just like I would do with my family back home. We eat meals together, watch movies, go grocery shopping, take the trains to and from school, and sit and do homework together.

There are no words to describe how thankful I am for all of these people. They have made the transition into a new country so much easier, and make me feel a little less homesick. While I’m sure we will all have our ups and downs, these people are always there for me because they are experiencing the same joys and challenges that I am.


Not only that, but because we are all in Japan there’s a pretty high chance we all have some major things in common. Which makes starter conversations soooo much easier. Even if it seems like we are just going to be friends, the bonds in which I have made through all of these experiences knitted us into a family, and it's a relieving sense of comfort to have all of these different people and groups of families to catch me and support me.  WP_20141029_006

Cultural Experiences in Japan

Wait, you mean fun cultural activities are built into the program? No way…. This was probably some of the best news I heard during CIEE orientation. I have never encountered another study abroad program that offers activities as an integrated part of the program.

This is an amazing opportunity to explore and immerse yourself even deeper into Japan’s culture.


Activities range from movies, tours, museums, visiting historical sights, glass blowing, origami, visiting the Studio Ghibli museum and much, much more. Not only do you get to go out and explore Japan more, but you get to create deeper bonds with your friends by doing fun activities together in a country you love.


One of my favorite experiences so far was the trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum. I grew up watching “My Neighbor Totoro”, and my love for his movies only grew from there. The museum displays art from all of Ghibli’s works, and there are no words to describe the pure beauty of Hayao Miyazaki’s original sketches.  There are panels of ideas for parts of the movies, water color pages to test color palettes, and most exciting of all, full scale replicas of the Spirited Away Bath House, Totoro’s house, and Castle in the Sky’s coal mine. (Sorry I don’t have pictures, but cameras weren’t allowed). The memories of seeing his work, however, will forever be ingrained in my mind. And, the full-scale replica of the bathhouse was amazing!! The smallest, most intricate detail was sculpted into every inch of it. Even the inside was replicated to perfection. Definitely a must see site.

Personally, my favorite Ghibli movie is “Princess Mononoke”, so being able to see the original sketches of the Forest Spirit, Yaku, and Mononoke herself was amazing. For those of you who don’t know, “Princess Mononoke” has some CG graphics, but most of the movie was drawn by hand. The detail and realistic aspects of the movie just blow my mind, so seeing some of his frame-by-frame work just made me appreciate the movie even more. All of the little, extra details that go into his movies just show how talented he and his team are.

Looking at artwork might not seem like an exciting thing, but for me, it was like watching my favorite characters come to life before they made it to the screen.  And, even if you aren’t into artwork, there is a pretty fantastic gift shop full of adorable Ghibli creations. While I wish I had the money to buy a lot of it, sadly I couldn't. Maybe next time.


You might not feel like you have time to go out on these explorations, but if you don’t try at least a few of them you will be missing out on parts of Japan that you otherwise wouldn't be able to experience. And that will be something you will regret for the rest of your life. For most people this is probably going to be the only time they will ever be in Japan so why not take it for everything it has? Go out, have a blast, take a ton of pictures, and have even more crazy stories to tell when you go back home. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and something that will not only help you grow as a person but give you mind blowing experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have had.