Tokyo to Meadville: reflections on a year at Allegheny

A year ago, I was at the American Embassy to get a visa for my dream journey to the United States. However, I was in between the sense of accomplishment to get a chance to study abroad that I had dreamed of since when I was an elementary school student and the reality that I might not be able to go to study abroad due to COVID-19 restrictions. At the time, I couldn’t imagine I would be living such a fulfilling life in the United States a year later. Now, reflecting on those days, I am deeply moved.
Hello Gators! My name is Emi Ariga. I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. I am majoring in Sociology and minoring in Journalism at Keio University. I have been studying at Allegheny College as an exchange student since last August.
Studying abroad in the United States has been my huge dream since I was an elementary school student.
Coming to Allegheny College, I had a number of hopes. I have been studying at a very large university located in the center of Tokyo, and Allegheny was filled with everything I wanted to experience, such as taking classes with a small number of students, easy-to-access faculty members and living in a college town, to name a few. I still cannot believe I am here. It is as if I am dreaming.
I am delighted to share what I have experienced in these past nine months, knowing how hard it is to recap everything I’ve done.
I have been able to participate in several activities here which I had never done back in Japan. I have not only made various friends, but also participated in some dance performances, performed in a piano recital, participated in a Model United Nations conference, traveled around the US, modeled, took part in some events led by the outing club and worked as a reporter and photographer for The Campus. It was an irreplaceable nine months where I was able to meet versions of myself I did not know previously. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to both Keio University and Allegheny College for giving me such a wonderful opportunity. I am also very grateful to all professors, staff and friends who kindly supported me as an international student at Allegheny College as well as my family, friends and dance teammates who supported me far away from Japan.
What I have learned here was filled with something new for me, and my college life was completely different from the days I was in Japan.
I experienced dormitory life and room sharing for the first time. The nine months I spent in the beautiful, brick Brooks Halls, feeling the rich nature around me, was wonderful.
There are also some great things that I felt when I lived in a college town. I felt that it was easier for me to concentrate on my studies and club activities because of my living environment which has everything I need. I commute to my university from home where I live with my family, and since I am a member of a dance team, I often get tired of using many transportation systems to get to a studio, so life here was very compact.
I was very impressed with the liberal arts system.
For a student who had never taken classes in a small-sized class before, I was surprised at the atmosphere that all the students passionately contributed to, creating a class with the professor. In Japan, we usually take classes with about two hundred students in a large classroom. There are few remarks in the class. By comparison, I still remember being very impressed with the students who actively expressed their opinions in many of the classes I took at Allegheny.
As an international student who hasn’t studied outside of Japan, connections between professors and students helped me a lot not only with my classwork, but for my research project. Most professors came to contact me as if I am part of their family, both inside and outside the class, which made me feel a wonderful connection between professors and students that can only be experienced in the liberal arts system. At the very beginning of the last semester, I struggled with expressing my opinion, and sometimes I had a hard time dealing with a lot of reading assignments, but thanks to the professor’s kind support, I was able to get through. Again, I would thank all professors from the bottom of my heart.
Having said that, I have faced a lot of unexpected cultural differences, and having many opportunities to know what I used to take for granted was not normal here on a daily basis.
For example, in Japan, we have a unique culture of not communicating so actively and feeling each other’s thoughts without talking. Since I was not accustomed to saying what I thought straightforwardly, it was a bit hard for me to get used to. Besides that, we usually take off our shoes when we enter the house and take a bath filled with hot water, but I was surprised that baths are not here at all.
On the other hand, I have found some wonderful discoveries that I would not have known if I had not lived in the United States. For instance, people having small talk when you meet your friends or acquaintances on campus was very surprising for me. No matter how close your friends are, we do not often talk that much in Japan. Also, I feel that it is nice to say positive words casually such as, “I like your clothes!” and, “You look amazing!” In this way, I would think that there are several discoveries that I can not see in Japan that are also the harvest of this study abroad program.
I am glad I picked Allegheny College as my dream stage and I still can’t believe I actually did it, something I have dreamt of as a little girl.
Sadly, I have to leave this wonderful college in a week, but again, I would love to send a massive appreciation to all those who were part of my dream journey. If you have any questions about Keio University or if you are planning to come to Japan, please reach me out at my email address. I am more than welcome and would love to interact with incredibly inspiring Gators even if I go back to Japan. Go Gators!