Not only was Mississippi University for Women senior Ashley Morgan able to mark her 20th birthday at 20,000 feet in the air, she was also able to celebrate it in a place where turning 20 is like being a rock star.
The Vickburg native’s ‘coming of age’ experience was made possible through a study abroad opportunity at the Aichi Shukutoku University located near Nagoya, Japan.
For about 10 months, Morgan, an interdisciplinary studies major, learned Japanese and more about the culture as a part of her special studies. Born into a military family, Morgan said traveling to another country was not a huge adjustment, but traveling alone was another story. “This is the second biggest trip I have ever taken since my trip to Scotland,” she said. It was just in May 2014 that Morgan traveled to Scotland as a member of The W’s Ina E. Gordy Honor’s College—her first study-abroad experience. For her second, “I spoke very little Japanese,” she said.
Morgan was soon greeted by a representative of the Aichi Shukutoku University, where she stayed in the international dormitory, noting that many of the students who lived there were from Europe. The students had private rooms and shared common spaces.
From about 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., she took Japanese and learned about the culture. She was also encouraged to participate in club activities such as Karate and basketball. “Everyone wanted me on their team because of my height, which is 5’10”.”
“I became friends with a student who is in public service. The students there were interesting, very helpful and encouraging,” she said.
One of her best experiences was celebrating her birthday (Aug. 27) during Coming of Age Day in Japan. Turning 20 in Japan is like turning 21 in the United States, but with fancy kimonos—some so expensive that they have to be rented or borrowed. And, there are many gatherings and parties in public places welcoming the new young individuals into adulthood.
“I actually had to buy my kimono from a second hand shop,” she said. “The process was absolutely foreign to me, but fun. I even had a group of girls who asked if they could take their picture with me because of my height.”
Morgan said she is grateful for the chance to study abroad. She learned about The W’s program in a classroom in 2012. “I decided right then, if I get a chance to study abroad, do it.”
She believes other students should do the same. “I feel like The W is very encouraging in getting students to try new things. By studying abroad, your understanding of the world is a lot less limited.”
While there may be some fear because of language and culture barriers, Morgan said that should not stop an individual. In observing a group of Japanese high school students during her fl ight back to the United States, she described how the students were laughing and having fun like typical high school students. “At the end of the day, people are all the same,” she said.
Whether it be study abroad or study away, Erinn Holloway, the new coordinator of The W’s study abroad program, hopes more students will travel to other countries and learn about their cultures.
“I am really excited to explore new opportunities and increase the interest in our program,” said Holloway, who assumed the role Aug. 3 and served as interim coordinator the fall semester of 2014.
Holloway, who also teaches Spanish, said she would like to see the program expand beyond the humanities department and spill over into areas such as nursing, culinary and business.
One example she provided was a nursing student traveling to another country to help provide immunizations. Another opportunity she described was a business student visiting another country to learn about their economy.
“We’re so tied to the euro,” she explained in her reference to a business student traveling to another country. “What happens in Greece affects what happens in the United States.”
The W’s study abroad programs have been held in England, Scotland, Spain, Mexico and Belgium. There is also interest by faculty members to pursue opportunities in Oaxaca, Mexico, and India/Nepal for 2016 and 2017.
Most of the university’s study abroad programs are open to all qualified students and even interested community members. She said, “The possibilities for study abroad offerings are endless.”
Holloway added, “Our program is open to anybody who is interested in continuing education, learning a second language or living in another culture. Study abroad is a life-changing experience.”
In the future, Morgan hopes to return to Japan to teach English. “There is a lot of opportunity for teaching there, and with my study abroad experience, I now have more of a global market appeal.”
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Visions.