The University of Iowa


March 8th, 2018

One day you are tackled by time and realize that you have only a week to go before spending the next semester of your life in another country. Then you suddenly find yourself stuffed in the middle of a Boeing 777, with a stomach full of airplane food and butterflies. 

That is how I feel, anyway, as I restlessly glance at the small screen attached to the seat in front of me and see that there are still 4 hours and 36 minutes until arrival at Haneda airport.

I am quite literally in a state of transition, moving between two stages of my life—pre-study abroad and post-study abroad, with heaps of time in which to look back on why I’ve chosen this experience, and what I hope to accomplish.

And as I savor the strange taste of the unexpected future, I think it’s possible to be so busy (and overwhelmed) with the demands of applications, housing arrangements, insurance, classes, and other preparatory things, that one can lose sight of what they are preparing for.

Take a handy example: me. After feeling a sense of security in these past months of preparation, the realization that this trip is actually happening left me reeling, trying to remember why I chose this experience in the first place.

interior plane

But since starting my college career and discovering two paths that I almost feverishly love—literary translation and linguistics—this trip has also accrued academic significance. And in keeping with the theme of discovering myself, it has also become a sort of training period for me to stretch out of my comfort bubble, take risks, and apply ichigo-ichie, a classic Japanese saying which describes the concept that this moment with this person at this time and place will never happen again. It is often a product of chance, but also something that you can make possible by getting out into the world. I don’t remember the exact moment I wanted to study abroad, but ever since it happened, I wanted to make this trip an enterprise toward two main goals—learning more about Japan, and learning more about myself. The reason for both was and is my Japanese heritage, and a lifelong desire to see where I fit in a life of two cultures. I’ve always had an innate desire to claim Japan as “my country,” but never felt like I could—hence the desire to explore what you could describe as a hole in my identity.

“Once in a lifetime,” a phrase we are more familiar with, can sometimes carry a sense of undue pressure, tinted with a duty for action, as opposed to the resigned celebration in ichigo-ichie.

And so, if you ever find yourself in my position, acutely bewildered and unsure about the big, gaping unknown that awaits when your plane hits the tarmac in your study abroad country, it may help to remind yourself of all the awesome reasons why you chose this experience in the first place. This experience itself is our ichigo-ichie, an oasis in time in which we can do what we love and revel in the exhilarating moments of uncertainty and adventure.

Onae parker

Onae Parker is a linguistics and Japanese major at the University of Iowa. Winner of a 2018 Gilman International Scholarship award, she will be spending the semester in Tokyo, Japan, as part of the University of Meiji Exchange program.

Interested in going abroad? Learn more about first steps