An experience I will never forget.

We have talked about how to make the most out of your post-secondary experience, and there are reasons behind it. Sometimes, small efforts can pay off in ways you never expected. For me, it was an all expenses paid one-week trip (yes you read it right) to Japan to participate in a research project.

I got an opportunity to go to Japan as a research assistant with few other students. How, you may ask? To qualify to become a research assistant, there are three things you must prepare. First of all, you need to maintain a GPA above 80%. Secondly, you must score at least 80% in a research-related course. Finally, you need to have references from a student and a professor of the school.

The research belongs to the Soka Education Research Centre on Global Citizenship (SERC-GC) of the University of Guelph-Humber. It centers around Soka education, which means value creation and its application in the global context.

So, here are some takeaways from me as an international student going to another country for a research project.

Japan feels like a different world

Osaka city during our trip

VIA Harry Nguyen

During our trip, we went to three different cities: Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka. In only one week, we got to see many dimensions of the country. From the vibrant city life to the peaceful countryside, being able to see them all was truly a transformative experience.

Shibuya intersection of Japan

VIA Harry Nguyen

In Tokyo, there is a saying that “after the last train, a second city comes to life.” This sentence is enough to describe how crowded the city is. There was always something to discover when we finished all the research work at 8 p.m. At the famous intersection of Shibuya, you could see people walking around and exploring.

the alley of Hiroshima

VIA Harry Nguyen

In contrast to busy cities like Tokyo and Osaka, Hiroshima brought a whole different vibe. Here, time seemed to move more slowly. With the mountainous terrain and its abundance of trees, Hiroshima looked like an unsolved mystery. The city’s charm lies not in the frenzied energy of urban sprawl but in the subtle whispers of history etched into the lines of its timeless architecture.

The people are incredible

a group of Japan students take picture with a foreigner

VIA Harry Nguyen

Aside from the research project, the trip also allowed me to interact with so many locals. The common factor among them? They are extremely respectful and nice.

the bullet train of Japan

VIA Harry Nguyen

I know what you are thinking, Canadians are also polite and always say “sorry.” But the way the locals showed us respect was something I had never experienced. For example, when you are a little noisy on the subway, instead of telling you directly, they will softly pat your shoulder to signal you to be quiet.

group selfie in a hot pot restaurant

VIA Harry Nguyen

Another subtle detail I like about Japanese people was how delicate they were. Although we were just a research group, they welcomed us with open arms. Aside from showering us with souvenirs, they also took us out for a group dinner. Such gestures have created a long-lasting impression on every one of us.

A country of unbending spirit

the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

VIA Harry Nguyen

One of the purposes of the trip was to discover the impact of the nuclear bombs that were dropped on two cities in Japan, which are Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, the Peace Memorial Museum was one of the places we visited.

a tragic story of a nuclear bomb victim

VIA Harry Nguyen

For me, the topic of nuclear weapons is familiar in textbooks only. It was only through this visit did I understand the impact that the bomb had on the people here. Trust me, some of the stories of the victims will leave you shocked.

the shopping street of Osaka

VIA Harry Nguyen

On the other hand, I was also surprised by how fast the country recovered. Imagine this, Japan was hit by the catastrophe in 1945. Now it is 2024, in only 60 years, Japan has become one of the most developed countries in the world. This demonstrates their resiliency, determination, and discipline that inspired us.

The once-in-a-lifetime experience

group photo with people from different races

VIA Harry Nguyen

If there is one word to describe this trip, I would choose “transformative.” I mean if you think about it, it’s not like you can always go to another country for free. Especially as an international student like me, this trip is even more meaningful. It marks the first time I traveled abroad without any support from my family.

now and then of a man in front of Tokyo Tower

VIA Harry Nguyen

The trip was the second time I visited Japan. The last time I went to Japan was back in 2006 when I was 5 years old. After 18 years, I came back and the feeling this place gives me has not changed at all!

Reflecting on diversity and inclusion

a group of foreigners driving Mario Kart

VIA Harry Nguyen

The trip also helped me understand more about what exactly diversity and inclusion is. Not only in Canada do I see so many international students and immigrants, but I’m also lucky to see them in big cities in Japan like Tokyo and Osaka. Instead of speaking English, it’s so cool to see people of different races speak Japanese.

group selfie in front of Sensoji Temple

VIA Harry Nguyen

I have heard so much about globalization in class and on the news. But to truly witness individuals throughout the world embrace and explore the culture of the place where they choose to stay is a beautiful experience for me. It makes me appreciate all the efforts that are made to strive for equality and equity.

Overall, words alone can’t describe how much I enjoyed this research project. So, if you ever get a chance take advantage of every small opportunity you see and if you have a cool experience you want to share let us know on our Instagram @shareignite. We would love to hear it!

Feature photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

Want to make a move? Discover interview tips from IGNITE managers to land a job with us!

Follow us on InstagramFacebook and TikTok for all things student life.