Cars headed down a busy highway in Shibuya.

Why I Almost Didn’t Go on Exchange

From mouth-watering food to New Year’s celebrations, going on exchange to Tokyo has been one of the best experiences of my undergraduate career. With all the joys I’ve blogged about, it may be hard to believe that just a year ago, I had serious doubts about going on exchange. Today, I’m going to share these reservations, and what changed my mind.
  1. Program Requirements
Fulfilling program requirements was a major hurdle I faced when planning my year away. In my second year, I was double majoring in International Relations (IR) and Peace, Conflict, and Justice (PCJ). I enjoyed both programs, but when looking at course options abroad, I realized that in spite of IR and PCJ’s significant disciplinary overlap, meeting the requirements for both would seriously restrict the courses I could take in Tokyo. While both programs actively encourage their students to go abroad, pursuing them simultaneously presents challenges. To limit the possibility of not meeting program requirements, I switched into the Peace, Conflict, and Justice specialist program with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This involved an application process and requesting permission to take various core courses co-currently in fourth year. While changing programs may seem like a drastic measure, doing so allowed me to take advantage of the University of Tokyo’s course offerings in Asian studies. I was free to take the courses that interest me without fears of having to take a fifth year.  
The Sobeys grocery store Emi worked at, at night.
Thank you, summer job!
2. Finances Before I fully looked into exchange costs, I thought that heading to Japan for an entire year would be out of the question. Luckily, the Centre for International Experience has financial aid options that can help ensure your time away is without financial burden. Last year, I received a Centre for International Experience Award, helping to make this year possible. 3. A WHOLE Year? When considering my exchange options, I knew that I'd find a semester away too short. Staying in Japan for an academic year from fall to spring felt like the perfect duration. But as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Japanese school year runs on a different schedule, with the longest break of the year running from February to April. This limits exchange options to either a semester, or a full calendar year. But the more I thought about heading to Tokyo, the more I began to see a year away as a bonus rather than a deterrent. I wanted to see the beauty of Japan in all four seasons, from the fall leaves, to the winter snow, to the spring cherry blossoms. The prospect of learning more about Japan drew me to spend a year away. 4. Grad School My law school aspirations also almost kept me from going on exchange. Because transfer credits do not count toward GPA, going abroad can be a lost opportunity to make your applications more competitive. Some Canadian law school programs take a “Best two” or “Best three” GPA, only looking at your highest-performing years of undergrad. As such, going on exchange could mean missing out on this advantage. My academic performance in first and second year was not perfect, but I felt that the once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend the year abroad as a student in Japan was more valuable than marginally bringing up my GPA. 4. School Clubs A highlight of being at U of T is getting involved in student organizations. Back on campus, I participated in the executive teams of the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Society (PCJS) and the University of Toronto Japan Association (UTJA). In my deliberations of whether or not to go abroad, I considered how a year away would affect my involvement. I didn't want to leave my friends behind. I also feared that the combination of friends graduating, new students, and people forgetting my existence would make re-assuming a leadership role impossible. In spite of these concerns, I felt that the best opportunities for learning lay abroad. I’ve been involved in student leadership since my freshman year of high school. Now, I felt, was the time to try something new. I had a long list of reservations about going abroad, but since coming to Tokyo, I haven’t once regretted my decision. If you are considering going on exchange in the future, be sure to check out the Centre for International Experience website to learn about all your options!

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