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Study Abroad Student Voices

Advice to Future Exchange Students

Mirjam Puur
Estonia
Short-Term Exchange Student
Graduate School of Regional Education, Art and Science

Studying in Yamagata University has been a life-changing experience for me in more ways than one. I decided on this particular university for my exchange study, because I wanted to be surrounded by beautiful nature rather than urban landscape and also see various aspects of Japanese culture that might be inaccessible to people who only go to mainstream destinations. I have had two separate exchange study periods with STEP-YU, one from 2010-2011 and the current one from 2014-2015, because Yamagata left a deep enough impression on me to want to return to this amazing place.
My first time in Japan was also a first time for living alone so naturally I was a bit scared. Studying and managing everyday life in a foreign place can be difficult, but with the help of the university, other exchange students and new Japanese friends it became a fun experience which I will never forget.
If I had to give advice to future exchange students participating in STEP-YU on how to spend the precious time given to them, I would say four main things. Firstly, study a lot. There are many interesting activities besides going to the lectures, but the knowledge gained from passionate and wise teachers will prove very valuable. Secondly, challenge yourself as much as you can. This is the perfect opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, try new things and maybe achieve something that you never thought possible. Thirdly, contribute to the studies of others as well. Teach people about your own country and culture, because that's something only you can do. And finally, enjoy yourself. Japan has so much to offer and it's up to you to use those opportunities to the fullest and make your stay in Yamagata totally awesome.

What I learned from the Japanese Confectionery

Hyunjong Son
Inje University, South Korea
Short-Term Exchange Student
Faculty of Education, Art and Science

The first time I encountered the Japanese confectionery was about a month after I had come to Japan, when I was gradually getting accustomed to life in Yamagata.
On the way back from shopping, I happened to come across a Japanese-style confectionery store whose short split curtain was fluttering in the wind. Inside the store, the clerks and customers were talking and laughing, and before I even knew it, I had entered into the store. I was wondering what to buy when the owner handed me a Nama-Dora, a bean-jam pancake with cream. Though the Nama-Dora looked plain at first, the sweetness I felt at the first bite was nothing like anything I had tasted in the past. I fell in love with the taste and this experience developed into a relationship between this Japanese confectionery store and myself. The owner of the store makes Japanese pastries and is also a painter. He draws not only the landscapes of Yamagata, but also abstract painting with a variety of themes such as wind, music, blistering heat, etc. While viewing his wonderful water-color works of art, I learned a lot from the owner's remarks. "Don't be caught up in the current; be creative and create new ideas no matter how much you are criticized from others and no matter how much you suffer;" "Always be polite to others, whether in business or everyday life. Try to see things from the other person's perspective;" "Keep in mind that we are given blessings from nature and remember to take care of nature;" were some of the words of wisdom he passed on to me.
The owner's philosophy overflowed into his Japanese confectionery store, and it seemed that many customers came to his store from faraway places. Every time I went there, I had something to learn, and my values changed quite a bit. The delicate sweetness of the Japanese pastries the owner makes with great care make the people who eat them happy.
I would rather not only go seeking glamorous things, but instead, I would like to be a unique person, though with a low profile. Perhaps what I learned from the Japanese confectionery was some wisdom for how to live my life.

Overcoming Weeknesses through Soccer

Kiya Okhlopkova
M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University, Russia
Short-Term Exchange Student
Faculty of Literature and Social Sciences

When I started my year in Japan as an exchange student I felt like I wanted to experience something brand-new in my life. Something I had never thought of before. So me, who could never have been called an athletic person, entered the Women's Soccer Club at Yamagata University. I should admit that the girls in the club were shocked because it was the first time a foreigner entered their club.
The Women's Soccer Club has very strict discipline and a severe mode of training. We have practice five days a week, three hours a day. We practice during rainy days and on the snowy ground, no matter how cold it is. When the ground is in too bad of a condition, we do muscular training in the gym or on the track and field outside the campus. In other words, we never waste time during our practices. For the girls, soccer is not just a game, but it is an important part of life. It feels like they are not even able to imagine their life without soccer.
In one year of playing soccer, I have lost 13 kilograms. I have been training so hard that both of my legs were covered in bruises. I even got a partial ligament injury on my birthday. Even so, I am still the worst player in my team. To be honest, sometimes after practice I went back to the dorm and cried. Never in my life had I felt so hopeless and useless as I did while playing soccer. But Rome was not built in a day, and eventually even I made some progress. After half a year, I stopped stumbling over the ball and joined many soccer matches as a forward player.
Many times I felt like I did not want to go to practice, especially when it was 5 A.M. on a Sunday morning and we had to go to the nearby town for a game, riding in a car for three hours in a row. I could fight my weakness only because the other girls supported me all the way. Because of them, I started doing things I was never able to do before. Because of them, I got a unique chance to participate in a national championship of women's soccer in Osaka held on 24 December 2013.