Below is a Q & A between Global Education and Millersville alumnus, Wesley DeMarco
Wesley studied abroad at Kansai Gaidai University, in Hirakata, Japan in his senior year. He graduated with a degree in Computer Science.
What were your goals for studying abroad at the time?
I wanted to immerse myself in the language and culture and improve my language skills.
What is one thing that happened during your study abroad experience that really impacted you?
I think the whole experience was life changing. There was one time that I got terribly lost trying to get to my host family’s place during the first month. (I have an awful sense of direction). I had taken the train from Hirakata station but had no idea how to get home from the station. I called my host family and they told me to get on the next bus. Unfortunately I got off the bus early because I wasn’t paying attention and heard the name of my stop (they were just listing the places they were going to stop) and couldn’t get my bearings so I asked a girl coming out of a Daiso (a local convenience/grocery store in Japan) and I asked her how to get to Kadoma Danchi. She said pointed saying “I think it’s that way, but it’s really far. I don’t think you can walk there.” She told me to come with her, her house was really close and she got her Dad. He said that yes it was pretty far to walk. He then offered to drive me. In my state of mind I was extremely relieved and grateful, in hindsight it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to get in a car with strangers in a foreign country but Japan is very safe and they were extremely nice people. In the car, I got the usual questions like “where are you from”, “what are you doing in Japan”, “What school do you go to”, and “Your Japanese is so good”. Before long I saw out the window a bus stop that I knew was right near my host family’s place and I knew how to get home from there. I told them I knew the way from the bus stop and thanked them profusely before getting out of the car and heading home. I really wish I could meet them again, but that was an experience that really showed me how wonderfully friendly and hospitable Japanese people can be when someone is in need.
Can you share something you did during your first experience?
I did the usually site-seeing around Kyoto and hanging out with new friends. I also spent a lot of time with my best friend who I knew before coming. He lives in Kyoto so I would take the train to visit him and experience Kyoto not from the tourist perspective but that of someone who lives there. One of my favorite experiences there was in April. I had been wanting to go to the Sakura festival in Kyoto but was having trouble finding the right time. There’s a small window when the trees are in full bloom and you have to fit that with your schedule and with the friends you want to go with. It also rained making the window smaller and I only really had a week. I ended up going on a Friday night, at my very last chance before the flowers would pretty much be gone. I went with my best friend and another friend who had studied at Millersville about a year earlier. We went to the 夜桜 (Yozakura), night viewing of the cherry blossoms at Maruyama Park in Gion Shijo. It was beautiful, all the trees were illuminated from below, there were tents set up on the side of the walkway selling food and we walked around the enormous park, watched the trees, ate dinner, and talked. Then, we left to walk around Gion a bit and we walked into a beautiful cobblestone alley lit by ceremonial lanterns. It was identical to the picturesque image I had always had of ancient Japan. Suddenly there was a gust of wind and the air was filled with the cherry blossom petals that had been weekend by the rain. Words just cannot do it justice.
What are you doing now?
I am working as a Software Developer in Tokyo, Japan. I’m building middleware and tools for videogame development.
How did your study abroad experience at Millersville lead you to where you are now?
I don’t think I would be nearly as confident with my language skills and also, even though it’s a different part of Japan I feel like I know my way around much better than I would have otherwise. I know the train systems and understand the culture and customs which really helps to not have to get used to the lifestyle while I’m trying to get used to a new job. I don’t think I’d have had the courage to move here if I hadn’t already lived here during my study abroad.
Now that you are back in Japan, is there something or someplace you would like to visit again?
Absolutely, it’s a little expensive of a trip but I will most definitely be visiting Osaka/Kyoto as soon as I get the chance and I may try to go to Kyoto every year for the Sakura festival.
How is being abroad different this second time around?
I don’t have the school to help me so there’s a bit more responsibility, but I have some wonderful friends here who have helped me through some of the more difficult procedures. Also, Japanese companies take extremely good care of their employees so I’ve had quite a bit of help there as well.
How does this new area of Japan compare with where you lived while studying abroad?
I studied abroad in a region called 関西(Kansai) or Western Relation. I am currently living in a town called 下北沢 (Shimokitazawa) in Tokyo in the 関東 (Kanto) region. There are some significant cultural differences. For example the people are a bit warmer in Kansai. But in the end, it’s the same Japan, the people are still friendly, and the dialect is easier here. The broadcast dialect is spoken a lot around Tokyo.
What advice would you give to other thinking about doing experiences abroad after graduation?
First, go for it! It’s going to be scary. That’s unavoidable. But if you can, try to study abroad first while you’re still in school. Having a school to help you through your first time makes it a lot easier and helps alleviate a lot of the fear. Try to build a strong network and support group and make friends while you’re there too. Just having people in the country to cheer you on and be there for you if you need to talk etc., can be a huge help. Finally try to get as good as you can in the local language. Dealing with all the various procedures of such a big move can be confusing enough without having to deal with it in a language you’re not very good at.