Students travel for foreign education and culture immersion


Josie Bacon poses on the steps of Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine located in Kyoto, Japan.

Lucy Buller, Reporter

As many students on track to graduate prepare for four years of college life or other forms of post-secondary education, a few have other, more atypical plans. For some, these plans involve out-of-country travel and possible language barriers, due to their desire to study abroad. Senior Josie Bacon has already had the privilege of studying abroad, leaving Newton her junior year for a very different year of high school in Hanamaki, Japan.

“One day I came across the idea and thought ‘is that really possible for a high school student?’” Bacon said. “I became really intrigued with the idea and instantly fell in love with the possibilities when I researched more about it. I wanted to really grow as a person and I knew that I would also have to rely on myself a lot when going abroad.”

Japanese high schools are significantly different from high schools in the U.S., with changes in importance of education specifically post-secondary education.

“Education is the number one priority in Japan and it can get very intense for seniors especially. In Japan, they have one chance to take their college entrance test and they work extremely hard,” Bacon said. “It’s not rare to see a student coming to school on the weekend to study or staying several hours after school to get things done. Everyone wears uniforms in Japan and your cell phones should not be out at all if you are on school grounds, even on the weekends.”

Bacon added that in terms of education, their respect and work ethic are some of the best in the world, although Japanese schools tend to lack more creativity and individuality than American schools.

Though senior Jayden Smith has attended Newton High School for all four years of her high school career, she plans to study abroad in the near future.

“Studying abroad for me just makes sense. As of right now, I plan on majoring in intercultural studies and learning about different cultures and ways of life. I plan on attending John Brown University in the fall, and they have an Ireland abroad program, and you go for a semester. We still do classes over there and travel around Ireland,” Smith said. “If I decide not to do the Ireland studies, they have different semesters in places like Ecuador, Lithuania and South Korea. I don’t have a preference as to where I go, but it is going to be a challenge learning enough of another language to be able to thrive in some of the locations.”

According to International Student, the top three benefits to studying abroad are seeing the world, education and taking in a new culture. Many students who choose to study abroad are leaving their hometown for the first time. Studying abroad brings new foods, customs, traditions and social atmospheres. Study abroad programs also bring a better understanding and appreciation for the nation’s people and history, as well as give students the opportunity to witness a completely new way of life.

Smith plans to start small with her first study abroad in college, but wants to make a career out of it eventually.

“I want to travel to different countries and teach English as a second language. Gaining the right skills at a younger age will make it easier for me to pack up and leave my home,” Smith said. “Eventually, I plan on getting a Masters degree in Intercultural Studies, and that will open up a lot of doors both nationally and internationally. Ideally, I would like to do a semester abroad my junior year [in college] which will allow me to really get a feel of what a career abroad will be like, and will also give me time to prepare for whatever location I am going to.”

The Power of International Education’s Open Doors report estimates that roughly 10.9% of undergraduate students study abroad at some point during their four years of college. In 2017-18, almost two-thirds of all students studying abroad were women. The skills learned when studying abroad are all things that businesses look for when hiring, and such traits will only become more important in the future.

“I think it is important to travel and studying abroad allows for that at this point in my life. It will allow me to be more adaptable because I am well aware that whatever location I end up attending, there is going to be a large cultural gap,” Smith said. “I have made friends with a lot of foreign exchange students in the past years, and they have inspired and motivated me to want to travel and try to immerse myself in a different way of life.”