Alumni Spotlight: Haley Tolle

Haley graduated from college with degrees in East Asian Studies and English. She is an aspiring author who hopes to use her writing to share Japanese culture and a love of travel to her readers.


Why did you choose this program?

I was bound and determined to go to Japan. I made this decision the second that I found out that study abroad was even possible with my double major, and I chose this program because it was the most ideal for my situation. It was the most cost-effective with its scholarships and general fees, and it was one of the few Japanese study programs that didn't have a language prerequisite. This was vital for me because I was learning Chinese on campus, and I couldn't afford to take online Japanese classes that may not even qualify.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program provider helped me with many things once I got there, such as handling housing, figuring out my phone situation, and other vital details, but I was mostly on my own before I got into the country. They provided deadlines and suggestions for handling paperwork and plane flights, but there's only so much clarity that can be gained from explaining these things. In the end, I just had to take the plunge and figure some things out for myself.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

This might seem sappy but go to Japan (or any country!) with an open heart and an open mind. I was one of the few people in my program who really didn't have culture shock. Some could argue it's because I over-researched almost everything, but I genuinely believe it was because of my mindset. I never looked at something unfamiliar to me with disgust or anything like that, but rather with curiosity. Instead of complaining about it being different from my country, I strove to ask why it was different, and asked around and researched until I got my answer. I would also try anything twice, whether that was a food or an experience. The first time to get the shock factor out of the way, and the second time to get a real idea of what it was like. This really made a big difference.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

(This, of course, is from the perspective of living in the girl's dormitory). You'll wake up bright and early most days since your earliest class is also your almost-daily Japanese language course. You'll have breakfast in the public kitchen, possibly take a shower if they aren't all occupied, then hurry out to catch the train. From the dormitory it's technically a straight walk to the stop...or you can take a fun detour, passing a small, old shrine, the Lawson store and the backside of the Pachinko parlor along the way to get there about two minutes faster. This is vital if you're like me and find yourself leaving with only 5 minutes to spare in the morning!

Most of the morning and early afternoon is bouncing around between the IES office and Kanda University, where your classes are mostly held. Some days you'll even have a field trip, particularly through your IES courses, although sometimes those are reserved for weekends.

Then, for the most part, you have the late afternoon and evening to yourself. There are plenty of places to explore in Kaihin Makuhari itself, with different shopping centers, arcades, and plenty of places to eat. With your monthly transit pass, you can also stop anywhere free of charge between where you're living and the Kaihin Makuhari stop. My favorite place to go was the mall near Minami Funabashi.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Honestly, my biggest fear was the fear of the unknown. I'm from a small town in Ohio, so going to Japan held a lot of unknowns for me. I didn't even know how to take public transportation, let alone what flying on a plane would be like! Not only that, but my Japanese was pretty limited. I knew "hello", and "where is the bathroom?", but that was about it.

Overcoming it was tricky, because I was wholly convinced that if I researched enough, and if I asked enough questions, I would magically gain all the knowledge I needed to be mentally sound. Obviously, that wasn't the case. It's kind of like asking someone to describe the color red to someone who can't see - you can't do it, right? No one could explain the train system to me because it was second nature to them. The same went with all of my other questions.

In the meantime, though, I took note of how I was experiencing these things. This became the basis of my own thesis, which quickly became putting the experience of being a foreigner in a new country onto paper, in a way that an audience can understand. It's definitely difficult, but it's also definitely possible. I still genuinely believe that you really won't truly understand until you experience it yourself, but I'm also aware of thousands of people who, when put in my position, would let the unknown stop them from even stepping foot on the plane. I'm actively trying to find a way to give people that extra push.