Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Houston


Ashley Houston is originally from the Chicagoland area, but currently resides in the Twin Cities working as an Academic Advisor for master’s programs at Capella University. Ashley traveled the world via the Peace Boat’s 69th world voyage in 2010. Ashley is headed out to Massachusetts this fall to start a Master’s in Intercultural Relations at Lesley University and work for Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture.

Highlights: One of the highlights of my trip was the time I got to plan and go on side trips. It gave me confidence in my ability to be an independent traveler and organize an elaborate series of reservations within a country other than my own. I organized a beach weekend in Shirahama for Golden Week and an ambitious Spring break trip to Okinawa, Beppu, and Nagasaki. They turned out perfectly and allowed me to see just how far my language skills and knowledge could take me.

Another favorite memory was the presentation I did for my Peace Studies course with a classmate from Finland. We tackled the issue of the conflict in Darfur. Our 2-hour presentation took an immense amount of prep work, but was extremely well received by the class and our instructor. It was a truly amazing experience to see all of the research and work come together!

Morning: My mornings in Japan were fairly routine. Whether I was in my homestay or living in the dorms, I got up around 7am for either a Japanese style breakfast (rice, miso soup, and fish) with my host family or a quick meal with my multicultural flat mates. I would then make the short ride over to campus on my rented bike. My morning classes consisted of spoken Japanese language, reading and writing. We spent time with peers practicing dialogues, playing grammar games, creating dramatic videos, and listening to beautiful music. The language instructors were inspiring in their ability to make the program fun and creative rather than sticking to wrote work and recitation. The mornings always seemed to fly by!

Afternoon: Lunches for me were typically in the cafeteria, where I would choose from a myriad of delicious choices—from curry rice to pork cutlet to chicken and egg rice bowl. Occasionally, a few friends and I would head across the street from campus for a piping hot bowl of ramen. After lunch came the culturally related courses taught in English. For me, this included Issues in Contemporary Japanese Society and Culture, as well as Peace, Development, and Democratization: The Asia Challenge. These courses were the most exciting because they contained foreign and native students all learning together. They also focused on such detailed and interesting topics that I was so energized to go to class every day. Once my coursework was over, I would head over to practice with the Lacrosse Circle. I was the first foreigner to ever request to join their team which was awesome in itself! It was an amazing experience to participate in a sport in another country and the team was very welcoming. I learned new drills and Japanese terminology I wouldn’t have otherwise. My teammates became close friends while abroad, inviting me to dinner parties and group outings. Some have even come to stay with me in the States during their own study abroad programs.

Evening: After a full day of classes and sport I would settle down in the evenings for chats with my language partner, host family, or dorm mates. It was a time for me to process everything, complete homework and relax. Whether it was utilizing my language skills to buy movie tickets, discussing cultural idiosyncrasies over dinner, or sharing stories with friends from other countries, every evening was something different. It was great that I had a chance to learn a ton about other cultures than just Japan by living in the dorms and being a part of such an international program. On the weekends, evenings were spent out with friends enjoying karaoke and a delicious meal, going on a short trip to another city by train, or attending cultural events/concerts. I tended to keep a pretty busy schedule because I wanted to see and experience as much as I could.