Abbey: "I thought I went to Japan with a positive open mind, but I came back with even broader horizons and having accomplished far more than the goals I had set for myself."
After studying Japanese at high school and university, I was finally given the chance to go to Japan, an opportunity I had been waiting half a lifetime for.
My very first memory of Japan was seeing a picture of Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) when I was 10 years old. I had never seen anything like it and was instantly captivated by its striking architecture. I decided I would take a photo of it myself one day.
I spent six months studying on an exchange at a university in the mountainous prefecture of Okayama. I studied a multitude of subjects in an international environment with students from all around Asia.
Living on a mountain in an area only accessible by bus and living away from family and support in a foreign country pushed me to be more mature and independent, giving me the courage to travel by myself for the first time.
My most unforgettable memories are from my time engaging with new people through volunteer teaching.
At one junior high school I visited during the winter, the students only had access to a foreign English teacher fortnightly. Despite the classrooms being cold enough to see your breath, the children were so grateful and eagerly grasped the opportunity to learn English. During times when I lack motivation in my Japanese study, remembering this experience reminds me to appreciate the opportunity that is in front of me.
Travelling around Japan in different homestays was thoroughly enjoyable. Places like Hiroshima, Nagoya and Kyoto were so diverse, each offering a unique flavour of Japan and its culture. The kindness I received from friends and those who helped me during my stay in Japan was overwhelming. Despite being so far from New Zealand, I had never felt more at home.
In Kyoto, I fulfilled my childhood dream. Despite the winter cold, I strolled around all day in a kimono with full hair and makeup. I walked under the endless tori gates of Inari Shrine, looked across the city from Kiyomizu temple and passed through the giant Buddha of Ryozen Kannon temple.
I went on foot as much as I could, to take in every gorgeous detail of the city. Making a stop at every third shop, I ate ample mounts of green tea ice cream and traditional sweets. However, the day was made by finally seeing Kinkakuji in all its glory. I couldn't believe that in one day so many of my childhood dreams could be fulfilled.
When she was 10 years old, Abbey saw a photo of Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) and decided she would one day visit Japan
I thought I went to Japan with a positive open mind, but I came back with even broader horizons and having accomplished far more than the goals I had set for myself. Within just half a year, my Japanese ability had grown substantially, as had my leadership skills and study habits.
Before going, I was unsure if I would be able to work and live in Japan. However, the experiences I gained through study, work, volunteering and immersing myself in the culture around me gave me priceless knowledge that helped me to make decisions about my future career. After graduating, my aim is to work as an English teacher in Japan.
I could never have imagined how amazing this exchange would be or how much it would affect me.
Abbey studied in Japan with the help of an Asia New Zealand Foundation Japan Study Grant.