Alumni Spotlight: Helen Sayen

Give us an intro!

A young girl posing for a picture.

Helen: Hailing from Pennsylvania, Helen is a senior interdisciplinary major at the University of Redlands, located in southern California. When not engaged in her studies, she enjoys reading, creative writing and archery. She is no stranger to travel -having spent part of her childhood overseas- and she loves learning about other cultures on a firsthand basis.

Why did you pick this program?

Helen: I had studied in Japan once before, when I was a junior in high school, and back then I was located in a town just outside of Nagoya. In a way, it was like returning to an old home, and I admit I experienced plenty of nostalgia in my first few months abroad.

I was also drawn to the language-intensive aspect of the program. I had already completed my home university's Japanese curriculum, and I wanted to challenge myself while moving forward. Nanzan promised a rigorous course of language study, which they certainly delivered.

Beyond that, the promise of travel was extremely appealing. It's not always easy to find the funds to travel around on your own, and IES made sure to give us unique experiences at each location.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

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Helen: I say go for it! There’s so much that can be learned through studying abroad that you would never be exposed to by staying home. It’s very easy to rely solely on what the news and internet tell you, but experiencing various cultures firsthand opens you up to interpreting that kind of information in different ways.

Taking the time to fully understand and interact with locals and crossing the language barrier really help you understand both domestic and international situations much better.

Beyond better understanding, there are experiences to be had abroad that you simply cannot have in your home country. There are new foods, people, arts, and activities that you can only do in your study abroad location.

My particular group got a special tour of Todaiji Temple, one of Japan’s National Treasures, and we even visited an interactive ninja attraction that taught us about the history of their culture and what it really meant to be one of the Shinobi. It’s these little pockets of history you can’t really find anywhere else that truly make study abroad worthwhile to me.

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

Helen: Beware Culture Shock. It’s a normal part of any study abroad experience, but while you think you may not be susceptible, it can sneak up on you. During the first few months on my stay in Japan I found myself frustrated with a series of hospital visits that were not providing any conclusive results.

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I found out later that my issue was exposure to new allergens, but in my head I was thinking the Japanese healthcare incompetent. Needless to say, the Japanese healthcare system is perfectly fine, and I realized I was going through Culture Shock over not being able to see my doctors in the States.

I saw a lot of my classmates getting caught up in similar frustrations, but one of the biggest hurdles in overcoming this was a rampant denial that Culture Shock was –at least in part- involved in the problem. I also denied where my frustrations were coming from at first, but once I rode out the wave I felt a lot better.

It's very easy to get caught up in the differences between cultures, comparing your usual lifestyle with that of your host country, and wanting to change where you are to fit within your comfort zone. Taking time to blur the lines and acknowledge that there are benefits in both lifestyles helps you settle down, and brings a new appreciation for your surroundings. Keep an open mind, and be patient.