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    Posted March 17, 2014 by
    Toride, Ibaraki, Japan
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

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    Packed like a Sardine on a Japanese Train

    It’s 1:26AM and the train is saturated with the scent of stale air, sweat, and beer. Hundreds of bodies are packed like sardines on the Chuo line from Shinjuku to Takao, most middle-aged Japanese businessmen trying to make it home on the “last train.”
    There is a smattering of young adults.
    I am the only foreigner.
    But I don’t feel out of place. This crowded Japanese train has become familiar. It’s the same story every Tuesday and Friday night, rushing home to make the late train to the dorm after another long afternoon at my internship. In a matter of months, Japan has become a second home.
    By plucking you out of your element and tossing you in a new, uniquely different environment, study abroad can teach you how to become the person you want to be. You can be the savvy traveler, the technical genius, and the edgy artist. And if you feel at home in a radically different culture, if you’re at ease with change, or if you are calm in a jarring new environment, you will probably be ok with whatever life throws at you.
    The risk of study abroad is that, if done right, it will broaden your horizons and open you up to a whole new world of possibilities. Watching the sun rise over the summit of Mt. Fuji, skiing down the slopes in Hokkaido, fishing and eating raw squid in Hakodate, being shoved by Japanese station attendants in crisp, white gloves into a crowded train at Tokyo Station, dancing along with a festival in Asakusa, and belting your heart out at a lonely karaoke bar in Shibuya at 3:00AM… those are the joys of study abroad. You can’t “buy” these kinds of experiences from the safety of your own home or college dormitory. And once you experience them, you can’t go back to the way things used to be.
    That’s the real danger of study abroad – it breaks the status quo. Study abroad contradicts what you know to be true and turns you into a traveler, thirsting for the next adventure. Sadly, most college students don’t get to study abroad. They have strict core requirements, unpaid internships to give them a leg up in the job market, classes only offered every other semester, job hunting, financial restrictions, and a million other reasons they can’t take a semester off to see the world.
    To me, that’s the biggest failure of American colleges. They don’t prioritize study abroad. As a double major with a string of extracurricular activities, I understand how difficult it is to block out time for study abroad.
    It messes everything up. But I promise you, that is a good thing.
    Study abroad is single-handedly the most memorable experience of my college tenure. If I could do college all over again, I would probably picked a different major and drink less – but I wouldn’t change my study abroad. Study abroad changed my life… and if you let it, it can change your life too.
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