Alumni Spotlight: Amber Bunnell


Amber Bunnell studied abroad during the fall of 2012, from September to December, in Osaka, Japan. She is originally from Savage, Minnesota, and will graduate from Macalester College in St. Paul in 2014, with a double major in English and International Studies.

What made this study abroad experience unique and special?

Amber: I think what makes the CET program most unique are the endless opportunities for cultural exchange. CET pairs each American participant with a Japanese roommate, who supports them in adapting to life in Osaka. My roommate picked me up from the train station when I arrived in Japan, explained grammar points to me when I was confused after class, took me to a Jay Sean concert, and hung out with me nearly every weekend. She was an integral part of my study abroad experience, and we still talk a lot.

During my CET semester, I was lucky enough to live in a house with her, two other Americans, and two other Japanese girls (so we were three different pairs of American-Japanese roommates) and we all became close friends. Some of my favorite memories are of us all sitting around our kitchen table, speaking Japanese while we cooked together or studied English and Japanese. I still keep in contact with them, and I hope to visit them in Japan again after I graduate. I expected to make friends while on study abroad, but I never thought I would make such lifelong connections.

What did CET in Osaka do for you and what did you need to do on your own?

Amber: CET hooked me up with great housing, great classes, an internship, and a fantastic support network. The Resident Director is the kindest person you'll meet, and incredibly helpful. An American who has lived in Japans for years, she can share great perspectives from both sides. CET also helped with all manners of Japanese bureaucracy (for example, registration, health care enrollment, emergency cards, and obtaining the Certificate of Eligibility needed to apply for a Visa), and the Resident Director checks in with you often to make sure you are happy and healthy. I really had to worry about very little except taking care of myself. You will be responsible for your own food, and finding your own job if you want one. But I was very comforted and motivated to see that the CET staff was behind me every step of the way, supporting me without even being asked.

Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.

Amber: Osaka is known as "the heavenly kitchen!" There are so many must-try local specialties, including okonomiyaki (a sort of fried pancake with cabbage, kimchi, noodles, cheese, mayonnaise, beef, seafood - whatever you want - fried inside!), and takoyaki (fried octopus balls - I swear, much more delicious than they sound!). Located on the coast, Osaka is also a fantastic city for fish - salmon and tuna sashimi still top my list of favorites. Finally, I even had the opportunity to try whale meat one day in class! But the "exotic" food options aside, meals in Osaka were inexpensive and delicious and many, like curry rice and steaming bowls of ramen, have become serious forms of comfort food for me.

Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits you noticed about your country.

Amber: Tons! One thing I noticed right away was that everyone rides bike in Osaka! Elderly women, business men in suits, students of all ages, everyone. It was refreshing to be in a place where instead of driving cars, people took public transportation or bikes wherever they needed to go. Similarly, I was amazed by the train system! You can get anywhere in the country on a train! Other things that fascinated me include: super high-tech toilets, purikura photoshop-photobooths, and garbage trucks that play music (it's to let people know they should bring out their trash, but I thought it was the ice cream man).

Did you run into a language barrier while studying abroad?

Amber: I studied Japanese for two years before studying abroad, but the dialect spoken in Osaka is a little different from the standard language. However, local slang was fun to learn and easier to understand than expected - Osakans get really excited if you can speak Kansai-ben (their dialect), so they are always willing to teach you, and to speak more standard Japanese so that you can understand them better. As I shared a house with three Japanese girls, my language skills improved really quickly. My housemates - and Osakans in general, for that matter, don't really speak a lot of English (especially compared to Tokyo). This forces you to come out of your shell and use Japanese for daily communication - which can be hard at times, especially if you are experiencing culture shock. But I think being forced to speak in Japanese was a good thing for me in the long run. Not only did I return with much-improved language skills, but I also returned more willing to take risks and step out of my comfort zone in a general sense.