In January 2017, Kaho started her study abroad program here in Adelaide as a Year 10 student. Now in her second term of study, she is making the most of everyday, very conscious of her own development.
It all happened like a bullet
Since she was little, Kaho had always thought “I want to experience life outside of Japan.” That feeling became increasingly strong in her second grade of junior high school (Year 8) when she took part in a language study program in the US, and the idea of studying abroad became instantly real when her friend told her that she was going to study in Australia. After hearing that Australian schools offer students a lot of choice on the subjects they study, she thought to herself, “I want to go there and learn more about the things that interest me.” Then, in her second term of Year 10 she had a discussion with her father, telling him about her desire to study abroad. He understood her feelings and was very supportive, immediately working with her to get the ball rolling and make it happen. Fast forward a few short months and Kaho was standing on Adelaide soil.
“It was like a bullet! I hadn’t done any special preparation for studying here or taken any extra English lessons, so it was pretty tough at first.”
Memories of Adelaide
In fact, the Shimizu family had lived in Adelaide before. Kaho was only two and a half years old when they returned to Japan so she has no real memories of her time here, but she says that she heard about how great Adelaide is from her parents. Understanding the great things about the city, such as the friendly people, ease of living, and safety, it was a natural decision for Kaho to choose Adelaide as her study abroad destination.
“Arriving here I found that everyone, my homestay family, school teachers, the people I happened to meet on the airplane, was really kind. It made me think that we, as Japanese people, need to learn this type of kindness.”
3 weeks, and then 3 months
Even though she was surrounded by kind people, in an environment well-suited for overseas students to study, she still experienced many tough times when she first arrived.
“My first three weeks were really tough,” says Kaho who started her studies here really strong, but soon began to miss Japan and become homesick.
Understanding that feeling down was counter-productive, bit by bit her motivation increased, she got over her feelings of homesickness and even began to feel motivated with her school studies when she hit a brick wall; this time it was the language barrier.
“Even in my favourite subject, Maths, I couldn’t work out the answers because I didn’t understand the questions. But once I understood the meaning of the questions , I could answer them in less than a minute.”
“I also wasn’t used to preparing for, or doing presentations so it was really hard.”
Those tough times continued for the first three months.
“My host family, parents and two younger host sisters, all go to bed at 10pm, and I didn’t want them to worry about me staying up late”, says Kaho, so she too would go to bed at 10pm, only to wake up at 3am to do her homework.
Then, in her fourth month of study here her mother flew out to visit her on a surprise trip from Japan.
“My mum came to Adelaide and it was when I was showing her around the city that I realised how much my English had improved.” Friends close to Kaho also noticed the change.
“At first, when we went to the shops together, I always relied on my English speaking friends to order for me. But, before I knew it I began ordering what I wanted for myself! I didn’t notice until my friends pointed it out.”
Kaho also explains that she soon began to easily understand her teachers in class. Each time something happens that makes her conscious of how much her English has improved, it makes her realise how all her efforts early on helped build her confidence, and the smile on her face tells the story.
“I had prepared myself for everyone around me to say, ‘It is hard at first’. I really did have some hard times, but now, looking back, it was better than I expected!”
Now and into the future
“At the orientation session on my first day of study here, I sat next to a student from China and we have become good friends, often going out together. Becoming friends with people from other countries and learning about their cultures is not only fun, but communicating in English is great practice, so it is also really good for our own development.”
Even though Kaho, who says that this interview was the first time in a long time that she had spoken so much Japanese, admits she still sometimes struggles with communicating in English, she is beginning to lay her roots, enjoying frequent conversation with her host family and living the local lifestyle. She also explains that living so far from her family in Japan has helped her to appreciate them and really understand their importance.
Kaho is currently studying the Intensive Secondary English Course (ISEC) designed to help foreign students prepare for High School, but she is about to enter mainstream classes and make lots of local friends, with her dream for the future to become a mediator between Japan and Australia.
“I want to find lots of great things about both Japan and Australia and I’d be really happy to work in a field where I can benefit both countries!”
Finding her future dream here in Australia, Kaho is walking life in her own way.