When I applied to University of Missouri – St. Louis, I never thought I would be learning Japanese, let alone signing up for a year-long study abroad trip to Japan.

It actually happened by accident. My counselor informed me that I would have to take a foreign language for my degree and three years of French taught me how to ask for the bathroom. I had two options: try to survive French II, or choose a new language. Well, Japanese sounded like the easier option.

I quickly found that my love of Japanese culture extended to its language. Japanese is incredibly hard, but mastering it comes with an incredible sense of accomplishment. So, as my senior year quickly began to approach, I didn’t want to just drop my foreign language like the majority of liberal arts majors do. I truly love Japanese language and culture and found that I wanted to include it in my life and career. This began my quest toward a study abroad trip.

The first thing I did was express an interest. I visited the study abroad office, located in room 261 in the Millennium Student Center. There, and online at http://www.umsl.edu/services/abroad/index.html, one can find a list of study abroad programs organized by country or length of time.

Some universities only offer classes in the country’s language and culture, while others offer additional degrees in areas such as business.

I chose Kansai University in Osaka, Japan, because it focuses entirely on language and culture. Studying business is the only other degree option in Japan and that is not for me.

I then filled out the application form and began writing the study abroad essay. The essay requires you to write exactly what you expect to do with your study abroad experience. I wrote about what I hoped would happen while I was abroad, what I hoped to learn and experience and why I thought this experience was essential to my future. Writing the essay allowed me to dream about what might happen while abroad and got me more enthusiastic about the process. I had to write my essay in both English and Japanese. It’s preferred that before you study abroad you have some foreign language under your belt, but this is not required.

I also needed letters of recommendation. After obtaining these, I had to choose the classes I would take while abroad and fill out a course equivalency form. The course equivalency form helps to figure out the amount of credit a student will receive for classes taken at a foreign university. My professors helped me with this, and after it was finished, I once again began to get excited about my trip.

Of course, I had to acquire the standard documents for leaving the country, like a visa and a passport. My passport took a short amount of time but a large chunk of my money. Luckily, it will be valid for ten years. Some countries do not require visas depending on the length of stay. In Japan, one only needs a visa for a stay of longer than three months. Kansai University helped me with my visa process by setting it in motion, making it easier to get the visa on my end.

I also needed insurance, specifically Medex and HTH insurance. This is essential for a safe trip abroad. HTH insurance is medical insurance and Medex is security insurance that takes care of emergency transportation and evacuation plans if a natural or political disaster occurs.

The best step was attending the pre-departure orientations, which covered issues I hadn’t even thought about and provided resources for preparing for them. One issue the orientations covered was culture shock and reverse culture shock. While I knew going to another country could be stressful and hard to get used to, I didn’t realize that oftentimes coming home can be just as stressful. The orientations prepared me for this possibility.