My name is Naomi Oki and I am a rising senior on the women's soccer team at Babson. Coming from Waimanalo, Hawaii, a place over 5,000 miles away from Babson, I never expected to study abroad. Freshman year I was set on staying at the Babson campus for all my four years because I thought that moving across the country was enough of a challenge. As I grew comfortable at Babson and my friends began to search for different abroad programs in my sophomore year, I became curious. I found myself interested in studying in Tokyo, Japan. Being a Japanese-American, I thought this would be a perfect way to learn about where my ancestors came from. I also never thought I would have an opportunity to live in a huge city again. After many internal arguments, I decided to study at Waseda University for the spring semester of my junior year.
The program at Waseda University is very unique in many aspects, which made me question whether I should go or not. The first being the academic schedule in Japan. The spring semester at Waseda starts during the beginning of April and continues until the end of July. This meant that while all my friends at Babson were on their spring break, I was still at home waiting to start my semester. This also shortened my summer break to two weeks to spend with my family and friends from home. I kissed the idea of a summer internship away once I applied--something Babson students can hardly imagine.
Waseda University is also very different than Babson. With tens of thousands of students, the campus is never empty. To get to some classes, I had to take eight escalators just to get to the right floor. The buildings were relatively close together, but to get anywhere required swift movements to avoid running into other students. While I enjoyed this switch of scenery and bustling environment, I am excited to go back to Babson where I can stroll to class and walk straight into a room where I know more than half the class on the first day.
Another unique aspect, and my favorite, was the international community. Tokyo is a city that attracts people from around the world with its liveliness and interesting culture. American expats and students seemed like minority. I met people from Canada, China, Singapore, Cameroon, Switzerland, Britain, Taiwan, Malaysia, Finland, Germany, Korea, Côte D'ivoire, and more. I was beyond grateful that everyone I met spoke at least a little English. Communication was something I took for granted before having only minimal Japanese skills. I would find myself stuck in rooms being surrounded by Japanese, French, Korean, and Chinese conversations, searching for a way to fit in. When I looked uncomfortable enough, someone came to my rescue and spoke to me in English.
After spending most of my life on an isolated rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I did not realize how large the world really is. I thought of the world in a very narrow way, thinking that my experiences made up everyone else's experiences. After meeting and getting to know people from all over, I discovered how unaware of the rest of the world I was. I never understood the power of an American passport until I heard stories of others getting stopped and interrogated for their own country's passport. I was amazed to hear of people going to different countries for high school, living in a place they barely knew at such a young age. I felt odd only knowing one language and regretted that it took me so long to decide to study abroad. I learned many different things from very different people, but we were all in the same place and crossed paths in that moment. It made such a large world seem quite small at times.
Even after being separated by distance and time differences, my short four and a half months was worth it. Although I was unable to travel to many different countries like other study abroad programs offer, I was still able to experience the world. Now that I am home, everything seems like it went back to how it was before I left. No one will really be able to understand the exact experience that I went through, but I know I will have the memories with me forever. If you have the opportunity to travel abroad, take advantage of it. No matter where it is, you will be able to learn and grow from it. As intimidating as the world is, it is smaller than it seems.