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Vincent Nguyen

Japan: Tokyo - Temple University in Japan

Fall 2022
School or College
School of Science & Engineering
smiling man by Japanese shrine


How did studying abroad affect your academic and/or professional career?

As an aspiring physician, studying abroad has had a tremendous impact on both my academic and professional career. It taught me so many lessons of getting out my comfort zone, appreciating new ways of thinking and living, experiencing new challenges and opportunities, and embracing discomfort. While studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan for the Fall 2022 semester, I had the opportunity to explore my other passions beyond science courses at Temple University of Japan. Two of my most memorable classes included an intro. photography class and a practical Japanese class for study abroad students. I never once considered myself as a photographer by no means. But after going through this class, it challenged me to think of new and creative ways on how I can capture the hidden beauty of reality and share it to others through my photography. During my practical Japanese class for study abroad students, I not only learned useful phrases in Japanese, but I also learned about the cultural ideas and values in their society. It was an eye-opening experience to compare and contrast our experiences as study abroad students with the unique interactions we faced while living in Japan. Most importantly we learned how to appreciate and respect the cultural norms of my host country. These two courses have been a completely different experience from my sciences classes at Tulane, but I’m extremely thankful to have explored other passions and interests of mine.

How did you explore your hobbies, interests, and passions abroad?

Every day, I challenged myself to explore something new no matter how small the activity or event it was. In Tokyo, there was always something to do since its regarded as the world’s “largest metropolitan area.” There are separate regions that have its own unique element for everyone to explore their interests. Harajuku is a district in Shibuya and is renowned for its vintage clothing stores and fashion. Shinjuku is known for its night-life with countless clubs and bars surrounded by bright neon-lit lights. Akihabara has 9-story buildings filled with anime and manga. If you want a more traditional route of seeing beautiful parks and temples, Tokyo has many of those areas as well. My exploration of trying new foods, meeting new people, traveling to new places, experiencing each region for its own unique cultural element wasn’t only limited in Tokyo. Due to Japan’s complex and intricate public transportation system, I traveled throughout Japan using subways, buses, and shinkansen (bullet train). Some of these places included Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hakone, Kamakura, Yokohama, and Hiroshima. Since Japan heavily invests into its public transport. system, it can be a quick, easy, and more importantly cheaper alternative for you to have weekend or even day trip.

Why would you recommend your respective abroad program or location?

I would highly recommend studying in Japan because there are so many unique customs, values, and cultural heritage because of its diverse history as one of the oldest societies in the world. You can experience a blend of traditional customs while also experiencing the modern-life of Tokyo. First off, Japan welcomes everyone from its clean streets, polite and friendly people, and safe environment. The public transportation is easy, fast, and super convenient to bring you to anywhere you want to go. Convenience stores like 711 are found everywhere (within walking distance), open 24/7, and has delicious, cheap foods/drinks. The diverse scenery from the fall foliage (aki) to the cherry blossoms offers stunning and breathtaking views. One of the my proudest moments in Japan was climbing the notorious Mt. Fuji-san. It was a 7-hour (non-continuous) of rigorous hiking up towards the summit with my friends. You are constantly challenged, both mentally and physically like never before. Funny enough, you are even humbled when you see 70-year old's hiking past you. But the view was worth it. The clouds look like soft pillows rolling over the horizon while the stars shine brightly over your head. We hiked overnight to see the sunrise at the summit. As I waited for the sun to rise slowly, I realized what a huge accomplishment it was for me knowing I embarked a journey with hundreds of other people to finally make it to the top. And there you see the rising sun.

What should students consider when applying and preparing for their time abroad?

When students are applying and preparing for their time abroad, students should consider their financial situation, how they should balance coursework with social life, and how to make the most out of their experience. Before traveling abroad, it’s important to have a budget and have money on the side knowing you’ll spend most of it in your host country. You have to make the most out of your experience, since this will probably your only chance to study abroad while you have the time to do so. Also, since you are both a student and a traveler, its important to know what obligations and responsibilities you have in order to find that balance of also exploring your host country. Finally, you shouldn’t let uncomfortable situations like trying new foods, meeting new people, or exploring new places deter you from making most out of your experience. Don’t let these barriers limit your experience, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Did your identity impact your study abroad experience?

My identity didn't impact my study abroad experience. As an Asian-American, many Japanese people would try to start conversations with me in Japanese only to have a rude awakening that I wasn’t able to speak Japanese. Otherwise, I never felt uncomfortable about my identity affecting my experience in Japan. I also had friends from a wide range of ethnic diversities, and they too never felt like they were being looked down upon. There were many instances where people would stare at us, but that didn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. It was important for us to keep in mind that this could’ve been their very first time encountering foreigners. As a result, they seem extremely curious, but never mean any harm or bad intentions.

Share a story about a time you experienced cultural immersion.

In my Practical Japanese class for Study Abroad Students, we went on two class-field trips throughout the semester. During our first class-field trip, we went to Fujiyoshida, which is a town near Mt. Fuji. There we learned the importance of regional revitalization and I had the opportunity to experience a Japanese onsen for the very first time. In the beginning of our field trip, we had a presentation on the efforts of regional realization and learned about the cultural importance of revitalizing depopulating areas throughout Japan. The presentation provided me with a new perspective into some of the challenges of depopulation among communities all throughout Japan. After hearing about the initiatives used to try to revitalize these areas, I had a greater appreciation for the collaborative effort that people were making to revive local communities. Additionally, my experience of getting into a Japanese onsen was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. In a Japanese onsen, you typically are completely nude when getting into the hot spring. I’ve never felt so vulnerable and uncomfortable due to it being a completely different concept as here in the U.S. During the onsen, rather than thinking about if I was going regret this decision or not, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the hot springs to help clear my mind and alleviate fatigue from my body. Then, I started to notice my surroundings and there was a sense of commonality and shared experience of tranquility among everyone despite being in a state of 100% vulnerability. I’m truly glad I got to get out of my comfort zone and learn how to become more willing to try and experience new things. This onsen experience taught me about the significance and role onsens have in the larger context of Japanese culture with its historical and present-day implications. Ultimately, it taught me how to become more vulnerable to new experiences, and become more appreciative to traditions and customs of Japan.