Name: Hugh Blackburn
Major: Asian Studies/ International Relations
Graduation year: 2014
Destination Abroad: Hirakata City, Japan
Term Abroad: Spring and Fall 2013
Program Type: Towson Exchange
Q: First off, tell us a bit about you.
My name is Hugh Blackburn, I was an Asian Studies (Interdisciplinary studies) Major, I graduated in 2014. I studied at Kansai Gaidai University is Hirakata City, Japan during the Spring and Fall 2013 semesters at their Asian Studies Program. I was also fortunate enough to receive the Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship’s Critical Need Language Award for my study abroad.
Q: How did you choose where to go?
I chose my destination of Japan simply because it had been my dream for many many years to go there. This dream had been my impetus for a lot of life decisions, including going to Towson. Once I was ready to leave, I chose Kansai Gaidai because of it’s fairly intensive language program and well-reviewed homestay program. I wanted to give myself every advantage in learning Japanese, as I wanted it to be a major part of my undergraduate education.
Q: What were your expectations going into your exchange?
I tried very hard to go into my study abroad program with as few expectations as possible, I knew that this was probably the best way to go into such a thing, and that it would lead to the fewest misconceptions. However, my homestay without question exceeded my expectations. My host family was incredibly kind, accommodating, and understanding. I owe much of my progress in Japanese to the long talks I had with my host mom watching the evening news. Aside from that I simply lived in the day, taking everything as it came about, and I wouldn’t do it again any other way.
Q: Tell us about your favorite place in your home away from home.
Choosing a single spot as a favorite is all but impossible. I have too many to narrow it down that far, so I’ll give three. First, there is a small village on the far side of Mount Kurama in Kyoto prefecture. My group stopped there for lunch on our way to climb the mountain at a ryokan. The atmosphere of the little village was beyond charming. In the snow-covered hills and blanketed houses I came to a new understanding of Japanese aesthetic concepts of Wabi and Sabi, and simultaneously some of my favorite memories there (One of the pictures is of me standing in that ryokan.) Second, as plain as it is, is Hirakata City Station, the constantly energetic hub of the area. There’s a korean barbeque place in one of the buildings adjacent to the station called Chifaja. It was all-you-can eat for 2000 yen (about 20$), and that was enough for me to go back at least a dozen times during my year there. Third and finally is the entire city of Kyoto. The blending of old Japanese culture and buildings that remain utterly untouched since long before the second world war intertwining with the buzzing energy of a vibrant modern city speaks to the very soul of the Japanese experience. I never knew what it was like to fall in love with a city until I met Kyoto.
Q: What was the most difficult thing you had to do while abroad?
The hardest day I had was going home, or perhaps the day I made the decision to come home rather than stay another semester. Studying abroad was a dream come true for me, and the idea of having to go home was akin to being awoken by means of a bucket of ice water. Aside from that, my hardest day was definitely the day a friend and I decided to study for finals at the school, only to find that it was closed. We wound up studying in a Karaoke booth of all places. Which is not terribly inconvenient really, in Japan they’re very much like a restaurant where every group has their own enclosed booth with a karaoke system. In all seriousness, balancing studying hard enough that my study abroad didn’t become a vacation abroad with grades, nor just another year spent studying with my face buried in a book, only in Japan, was a difficult trick. I made a point of spending at least one day every weekend doing something interesting, preferably with lots of people.Q: What do you say to all those who are concerned or afraid or uncertain about going abroad?
To everyone considering studying abroad: stop thinking about it and just do it. You won’t miss a semester or two, you won’t regret it (Seriously, when is the last time you heard someone say they regretted studying abroad?) it looks good on a resume, and it sounds good in an interview, and it will give you good dreams for years to come. What’s to lose? Time? Life is short, Carpe Diem my friends.