Alumni Spotlight: Jessalin Grace Urbano


Jessalin Urbano is a Senior at Penn State University studying Japanese and Linguistics. In the future she hopes to become a Japanese-English translator.

Why did you choose this program?

I was impressed by the university's reputation and location. Moreover, I heard that their Japanese program was relatively intensive, and as I was going primarily to improve my Japanese, that was ideal. And any programs without a full-year option were out of the question for me, since I'm a Japanese major.

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

They helped a lot with entering the medical system, which I needed as I was diagnosed with chronic urticaria shortly before going abroad. Also, practical questions about medicine and the area were easily answered by IES staff. Finally, IES helped immensely with departure, as did the departure sessions that the university put together.

I did have to navigate issues with roommates on my own, although they were not major. Plus, all the Japanese students in the dorm were super helpful and friendly. I also went on vacation on my own during winter break, but previous trips organized by IES gave me the framework for how to do so.

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

Go to Stella to hang out/study if you want Japanese friends. That is the best place, as Japanese students who go there are more likely to be looking to be friends with international students. Also, all the food is at least mildly sweet, so good luck with that. If you can, try splitting grocery costs with roommates and just eat dinners together, since it'll save a lot of money.

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

It depends on what Japanese level you enter. Based on what I saw with my friends, it seems that levels 1-2 are relatively light, so you'll have a lot more free time. But levels 3+ are really intensive, so most of your time will be spent studying. Also, for all levels, the classes are really long. I usually started Japanese class at 9:20 and finished (on most days) at 12:30 with one fifteen-minute break. Then there are other classes too.

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

It sounds silly to me now, but I was really afraid that the big Tohoku earthquake would hit while I was there. But the thing is, Japan is well-prepared for events just like that, and also Nanzan is in one of the safest areas for a natural disaster since it's really elevated. Other than that, I wasn't really afraid of much.

Among the places you traveled, where was your favorite?

Kinosaki Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture. I can't stop talking about it; it's a gorgeous small town with a bunch of amazing hot springs on the west coast of Japan. Really easy to go cheap with it (once you're there, the train is a bit expensive) and there was so much history. Not only is there the beautiful hot spring town, but also there is Izushi, a "little Kyoto," a beach, and Genbudo, a natural cave made largely from hexagonal basalt rocks, and it's beautiful. For anyone interested in the more traditional/natural aspects of Japan, I highly recommend it!