Denise Alvarez

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose CIEE first and foremost because of their scholarship and financial aid help. As a low income Hispanic student traveling and studying abroad was a far fetched idea but CIEE’s tremendous generosity and help allowed me to experience Tokyo, Japan during my junior year of High School. Second after having read the program’s itinerary and comparing it with other programs I realized I felt that CIEE had exactly, if not more than what I was looking for and with CIEE I went to four different cities in Japan and learned a lot of the local culture, customs, food and language.

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

CIEE offered meet up points and airports, set us up with a language test before we left to check our level of understanding of the Japanese language and they had a lot of webinars and were on call the entire time. My mom was very paranoid about letting me go off with strangers to such a faraway country but CIEE was kind enough to keep her updated and called her frequently until they confirmed I was safely in their hands at the Narita airport. They provided us dorms, showers, buses, food, and great tour guides. As a full scholarship recipient there wasn’t much I had to organize on my own as everything was provided for.

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

Please study the language beforehand, it’s a courtesy to the native people of the country as well as a courtesy to yourself because if you find yourself not knowing how to speak or communicate at least at the basic level it’s going to be difficult to navigate yourself sometimes.

Also one month goes by very quickly savor it as best as you can, I came in the program very shy and came out very confident but I feel like my shyness prevented me from fully getting to know more people and more of the city, let yourself be free mentally and you will enjoy the experience much more. I always tell my friends to not be shy with your fellow peers as you will be each other’s family for the time you are there and to trust yourself and your instincts, it’s all strange and overwhelming at first but you will adapt.

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

Busy but fun! Depending on the day but usually we have classes in the morning Mondays to Fridays and then after class you could either have free time and explore the city on your own or you will be put in groups and do prescheduled activities such as calligraphy, meditation, exploring parts of the cities. We also took a week off of Tokyo to visit Kyoto and Hiroshima, we did not have classes that week but we did get to explore many parts of the two cities both with the entire group and on our own. We also had three days visiting our designated host families.

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

I was certainly nervous but my biggest fear would have to be if I was going to be well received by others in the program and if I was going to manage to get out of my shell. I realized I didn’t have anything to worry about because by the third day I was already having a blast with everyone. I realized people aren’t so difficult to get along with and that I should let go of the fear of being reserved and how others perceived me because when I did let go it became much easier to be myself and get along with others!