Alumni Spotlight: Stijn Bekker

Stijn is a student in his early twenties living in his native Netherlands, with a passion for travelling that awakened in him when he went to Berlin for the first time. After saving up some money for big travel plans, he decided to push his boundaries, and go to Japan for a unique experience.

Why did you choose this program?

In one of my classes at university in my first year, I had a classmate who promoted World Campus. She explained what it was and invited us to a presentation. That year I did not go, but the next year a different classmate introduced me to World Campus again and that year I signed up. I decided to do so because I was very much interested in Japanese culture, but my knowledge was limited to Japanese pop-culture and history. World Campus offered me a chance to get to know things about Japanese culture that I either did not know or only had theoretical/academic knowledge about through personal experience instead of through textbooks. It offered me the chance to get to know Japan a regular tourist doesn't.

Another reason why I decided to join was that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and push myself. I hesitated about joining that first year because despite my interest in the country, I was too nervous about having to perform once a week and interact with the host families. But I wanted to grow, and just went for it.

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

Once in Japan, the program provider takes care of pretty much everything. However, participants have to research flights and book tickets to Japan on their own. My friend and I didn't fly back home the same day the program ended, so we also had to choose a hotel to spend the final night at.

Once every week there is a personal day. On this day, each of the participants has to decide what they're going to do that day. It is possible to do something on your own, but most likely you're going to do something with a group. In any case, you have to plan and pay for everything yourself that day.

The program provider didn't assist me with buying travel insurance, but that didn't matter. It's much easier if you do it yourself.

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

Three weeks is longer than you'd think. And you do A LOT every day. You're going to be very tired by the end of it. So while you'll probably be fine at first, as the program goes on, you'll have increasingly less energy. There is no way to completely avoid this of course, but it might a good idea to temper your excitement a little bit and watch how much energy you use. You don't want to be a mute in your third week.

The second thing I want to give as advice and what I want to say to others, I'll tell in my answer to the second question below this one.

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

An average day looks as follows:

You wake up in the morning not too early, but you can't exactly sleep in early either. There is a busy day ahead! You'll have breakfast with your host family, shower, brush your teeth and all that morning jazz. After all this your host family will either bring you directly to the meeting point for that day, or bring you to a train station from where you'll take the train to the meeting point on your own.

After all participants have gathered and the counsellors have explained again (at the end of last they you'll have gone over the plans for today together already), you'll do whatever it is that you're doing that day. You might take the train to a nearby town and tour around that town. You might take the buys to a shrine. You might go do some other things. The point is, the program is varied. Then, after you're done with that day's activities you'll go back to the meeting point from where you'll be picked up by your host family or take public transport back to your home station.

The evenings are all for the host families. Chances are that when you get back, it's almost dinner time. Dinner will be god-like, I can assure you that. And after a nice evening together, you'll go to bed, probably at an earlier time than you're used to. At least I did so. Whether due to jet-lag or having had an intense day, I do not know. But you'll need your energy for the next day...

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 a bit nervous about the host families, but that was still exciting to me. No, my biggest fear before signing up and going was the weekly arigatou event. Every week the participants and counsellors perform a show for the host families to thank them for their kindness, generosity, and willingness to host us that week. This show involves dancing, a trivia quiz with trivia from all the participants' countries, maybe (depends on how many people from your country participate) a country act where you perform something from your home country (what this is you can decide), some singing, you get the gist.

Now I don't like going on stage. I don't like giving presentations. I have performance anxiety. So I really was not looking forward to it. But then the arigatou event day came, and I was bloody nervous before we went up... But then we did our things and it was. Amazing. I loved it. I felt so good! So happy! So alive! Were we any good at dancing? Of course not. Almost none of us are trained dancers, but that didn't matter. It was fun to do and the host families loved seeing us dance. And all the other acts we did were just as fun and just as liberating. Liberating? Yes, liberating. As I said, I had performance anxiety. And while at the end of it I still had performance anxiety, it was a lot less than before. World Campus cured me for a large part of my performance anxiety! And now I'm actually part of a team that does Japanese dance! I can hardly believe it myself.

World Campus was a literal life changing experience. And, if you're like me, don't worry about performing or being stiff or whatever. You will get over it. Trust me. Everybody who goes is going to be a better person when they come home.