Stanford in Kyoto, Spring 2014-15 Major: Product Design College year while abroad: Sophomore
questions and answers with Santos
Why did you choose to study abroad in Kyoto?
When I was quite young, I had a bit of exposure to Japanese culture and language through my grandfather, who grew up in Taiwan as part of the Japan. This gave me kind of a lasting fascination in Japan, and I decided to study the language at Stanford. I wanted to study abroad and somewhere different and Japan has a culture completely different to western countries due to its history. The program was a great fit for me because of the amazing cultural experience as well as developing my language skills.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Kyoto?
I think most people in the United States have a very romanticized version of what foreign countries are like, and Japan especially. The truth of it is, is that despite tremendous cultural differences (and language barrier), the person to person relationships you develop really bring you to the same plane, and allows the experience to feel intimate in a personal way.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Kyoto?
Most people tend to unload academically abroad by taking less units so they can spend more time exploring the country. For me, this was a good break from the usual stress of an engineering course load at Stanford. I was able to refocus on what I really wanted to get out of my remaining time at Stanford when I got back, and how to achieve that in an academic setting. As I spent more time trying to learn outside of the classroom on the streets of Kyoto, I think I have a different idea of what education should be in context.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
The most important thing I learned about myself was how I thrive around other people. I think that most people associate “extrovert” with “outgoing”, but actually it has more to do with wanting to be around with other people and interacting with them in general. It proved to be pretty challenging for me being in a new place and with limited language skills, but I still developed some meaningful relationships with other people. I also got to develop previous relationships even further, by learning to open to the few people around me who had shared, American experiences.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Not having a network of people I knew, at all. I really had to put myself out there to make new friends, especially over the summer, and I learned how to better interact with people. I think my most shining moment was showing up to a random Japanese university’s water polo practice and breaking all sorts of collegiate athletic rules by getting into the pool with them.
How was your experience living with local families?
I absolutely loved it — I still talk to my host mom. After a few months I truly felt like part of the family, and can’t wait to see them again.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Riding trains — to get anywhere and everywhere. You kind of set aside a certain amount of train time after awhile and you don’t even notice it.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Kyoto?
Just being part of the metropolitan expanse that is West Japan — there was unlimited adventures for me to go on, and basically whenever I wanted. Seeing excitement became part of my everyday life.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Kyoto?
Over the summer, a friend and I purchased a 2-person children’s raft and went to the beach for the day. We paddled out over like 8 foot waves, and then rode them into shore (and wiped out) until we were beat-up and exhausted. After that we got sushi, and then watched the sunset on the top of his apartment block over konbini snacks as we talked until the early morning.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Delicious, Fun, Trains, Bidet, Rare
What was the host organization for your internship?
Nifco - a mass production plastic fastener company, that makes a lot of parts that go in Japanese cars.
What was your favorite food you had in Kyoto?
Okonomiyaki! A west Japan specialty, especially in Osaka, it’s one of the few foods in Japanese cuisine that is really heavy, messy, and feels like Japanese soul food.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My mp3 player — it got me through tough times, provided a soundtrack to the best times, and lulled me to sleep on all the trains I rode.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Kyoto?
Kohh — Japanese rapper, “It G Ma” is absolute fire.
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.