High school is a stressful time for anybody—especially if you don’t know what you want to do after you graduate. As the deadline for university applications approaches, you start to consider what you want to gain from your post-secondary experience.
My name is Mikiko, and I am currently a first-year student at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California. Even during my last year of high school, I still didn’t know what I want to be or do as an adult, but I knew I wanted to broaden my view on the world before entering the workforce, so I pursued post-secondary education.
Growing up, my parents did not have a preference as to what kind of field I pursued. They encouraged me to consider applying for universities outside of Ontario (notably Soka University of America, because my father had had a positive college experience from attending the Soka University in Japan).
Despite the suggestions I got from my parents, I mainly searched for universities close to home at first because I did not want to be too separated from my family and friends in Canada during my time at university. However, as I searched through local universities, the unique aspects of the SUA experience lingered in the back of my head. For instance, the idea of small class sizes, which increases the attention each student receives, and the mandatory study abroad program during the junior year were some of the core aspects that appealed to me. Besides being intrigued by the stories I heard about SUA, I wanted to try experiencing the world from a different environment. I figured that by studying in a different country, I would be able to achieve precisely that.
During my third year of high school, I started to take the idea of studying abroad seriously. I was thrilled when, after the extensive application process of U.S. universities, I was accepted. Also, thanks to the school’s generous financial aid I was fortunate to receive a scholarship and need-based financial aid that covered most of my costs of attending the university. Thus, with everything ready to go, my university life at SUA began.
Upon the arrival on campus, I encountered several surprises.
For first-year students, school started a month earlier than other students because of orientations and an intensive course called Core. I was pretty disappointed at first because I graduated from high school in June, which meant that I only got a month of summer vacation. But I learned a lot about different religions, philosophies, and the beliefs during the intensive course, so in the end, I think that it was worth coming a month early for it. I was also surprised to see that the classes were similar to high school in the sense that they were small—there were only about eleven people in our class. But instead of having the professor lecture us about the readings, there were a lot more class discussions that encouraged the participation of everyone. This meant that we had to do all (or at least most) of the readings, but it also meant that we all learned the class materials reasonably well.
I was equally surprised to see that there was a fair number of international students like me in the first-year class—this year alone, we had students from 20 different countries (including the U.S.).
I was especially pleased when I discovered that the laundries on campus were free, which meant that I did not have to collect coins to wash my clothes.
I was lucky to be assigned a roommate who is a local student with whom I got along very well. For the first few weeks, we talked about the similarities and differences of American and Canadian life. Thanks to her, I was not only able to avoid looking too much like a tourist, but I was also able to see how life is for people who grew up in a place that is different from my hometown.
Learning outside of the classroom also takes place in the form of Learning Clusters that happen during winter block. I will experience my first learning cluster, but I am excited for the upcoming one in January.
Studying away from home also meant that I had to be a lot more independent. I had many “firsts” during the first month alone—my first time living away from my parents, my first time setting up my bank account, etc. The warm community at SUA made the transition from home to university easier. During the first few weeks, there were many activities hosted by the Student Orientation Leaders—who were open to answering any questions we had—and there were also many informational sessions that taught us all of what we need to know as international students. Many of the upperclassmen were very welcoming as well.
Throughout the semester, I have benefited from the multiple resources offered on campus. For instance, the professors are very friendly and open to help any time students are struggling. Also, the Facebook page that includes most of the people from our university—a space where anyone can ask about any recommendations. People ask questions about classes or university life in general on there all the time, and those who have recommendations suggest the best answers. The sense of community that it establishes makes it seem like our whole student body is like a big family.
As a way to get involved with the school, I decided to join the swim team. At first, the main reason I wanted to join was to reduce the chances of getting my freshman fifteen, but as I attended morning practices, I discovered that the coaches were very supportive, and swimming at the beautiful pool at our campus became a way for me to cope with the stress from school work.
Although I still have a lot to discover, both at SUA and from the life outside of Canada, all in all, I am happy and fortunate to be able to receive a post-secondary education at the beautiful campus of SUA. Through the learning that occurs both inside and outside of the classroom, I hope to become a global citizen who can make a difference in today’s society.