Student says international friendships are biggest upside to studying abroad

Clay roof tiles adorn traditional Japanese homes, local spotted deer lazily wander through the streets and an American exchange student is in the middle of it all.

This American is Eric Fowler.

Fowler is studying abroad through Central Michigan University at Nara University of Education in Nara, Japan and is nearly finished with his first semester abroad.

According to the University's website, Nara University was home to a total of 64 foreign students as of May 1.

Fowler said in an email that his interest in Japan and its language started at a young age and grew as time went on.

“My love of Japanese culture began in the sixth grade when my best friend showed me a movie titled “'Battle Royale,'" Fowler said. “The film was about kids a little older than (I was) having to fight each other and it intrigued me so much that I then began to look up more Japanese-related things, such as music and dramas."

Fowler has been keeping a blog where he tells others about the exchange program in an attempt to help others thinking of studying abroad in Japan. In one entry, he shows pictures of a famous temple called Todai-ji and discusses the large and famous Buddha statue within.

He also has a YouTube channel where he has been uploading videos on topics ranging from pre-departure packing and visa information to showing viewers around famous temples like Todai-ji.

“It gets kind of hectic when it comes to changing between English and Japanese,” the Dearborn sophomore said. “Often, I end up in situations where I'm supposed to speak Japanese but I end up speaking English and vice versa. This often makes for pretty interesting situations, especially when I'm speaking to my Japanese friends who don't understand English or when I speak (to) my English friends who don't understand Japanese."

With the holiday season starting, Fowler said he missed out on the celebration of Thanksgiving.

“I did not have the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving due to the fact that Thanksgiving is only celebrated in America,” he said. “Many of my international friends wished me a happy Thanksgiving, but, in the end, it’s not the same without your family, so of course Thanksgiving in America is better."

The region Fowler is in is known as the Kansai area, and its residents have a slightly different culture and speech habits than other parts of Japan, such as Tokyo.

“I love living in the Kansai region," Fowler said. “In the beginning, I was little hesitant about choosing Kansai because I wanted to learn standard Japanese. In the end, I am happy with the decision that I made, because the people in Kansai are so prideful about their area and when they accept you and begin to teach you their distinct accents and language, you begin to feel part of something that is way bigger than what you originally imagined."

Fowler, like many other students who decide to study in a foreign country, said some of the best experiences are the international friendships.

“So far, I think the most valuable experience that I have had is making so many friends from around the world,” he said. “I never imagined that I would be friends with people from Romania, Chile, Russia, Indonesia and even India. So, the fact that I've made so many international friends in such a short time, to me, seems to be the most valuable thing I have experienced. These memories and friendships will last a lifetime"


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