16:58 PM

First UHCL-Japan exchange makes students' study abroad dreams come true


Flying over 6,500 miles from Nagoya, Japan to Houston is a 15-hour ordeal and as Kento Yuasa can confirm, the jetlag is serious. However, as the first Japanese exchange student ever to enroll at University of Houston-Clear Lake, Yuasa said he is not intimidated by that. “I have already found some friends,” he said.

Empress-Akira Sullivan, UH-Clear Lake’s first-ever exchange student to study abroad in Japan said the same about traveling from Houston to Nagoya. “It took two days to get there, and translating signs from Japanese to English was a challenge,” she said. “But I knew this experience would broaden my mind and experience.”

Sullivan, a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Anthropology with a concentration in International and Global Studies, said it was worth the flight time and the challenge of getting through the airport.

Yuasa traveled under a J-1 student exchange visa, established by the U.S. government and designed to enable students earn college credits in a foreign country that would transfer back to their home institution.

Sullivan said she always hoped for an opportunity to live abroad.  “I’ve always been drawn to Japan,” Sullivan said. “That is because my first name Empress-Akira and part of my middle name, Takeshi, is Japanese. I am a military child. However, we never had the opportunity to live overseas. Thanks to UHCL my dream of living abroad has come to fruition.”

She attended classes during the fall 2022 semester at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, where she also worked as an English language lounge tutor two days a week.

“I had such a memorable experience,” she said. “I got to travel to almost all the major cities in Japan—Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, Kyoto. Okinawa was my favorite.”

She said she picked up a bit of Japanese, learning to write her name and learned different ways to say “hello.”

“Those things helped me get by, but my main concern was getting lost. I found people to help me every time,” she said.

Yuasa, who is also studying anthropology, arrived on Jan. 17, and said he would remain in Houston for a full year. He specifically chose UHCL because he wanted to be the first Japanese student to enroll in the exchange program.

“Being the first is what made me excited,” he said. “I considered other countries where English is the main language, like New Zealand or Australia, but I did not want Japanese students around me so I would improve my skills in my environment with native speakers.”

He said he was welcomed in Hunter Hall and people took him to buy groceries. “I think it will be helpful to spend a year here and experience something new,” he said. “I will learn a new culture and see and do things I have never done. I want to be more involved in class discussions. I want to be active and express my opinion about culture.”

Both said that UHCL’s Education Abroad Office had helped every step of the way.

“We are here to help students select programs, help with financial preparation and scholarships and stay with students until every step is complete,” said Global Scholar Advisor Larisa Landry. “We maintain communication with everyone and we encourage parents to come to our information sessions and be involved as well. We always begin by saying students should come to our events and our one-on-one sessions, and begin the applications at least six months in advance. You need a lot of preparation. We are here to help with everything.”

Sullivan said that people who think they cannot do this should just give it a try. “There are amazing opportunities,” she said. “There are grants and scholarships for studying abroad, which Larisa recommended to me. I couldn’t have done it without her guidance. I had a great experience and I just wish I could have stayed longer.”

She had a list of goals to accomplish while in Japan.

“I wanted to visit all the major cities, ride the bullet train, and learn the history of the kimono,” she said. “I had the opportunity to be professionally dressed in a kimono while I was in Tokyo. I was shown a great deal of respect for trying to learn more about Japanese culture. I immersed myself in the traditions, language, and way of life, but also had a chance to share my own heritage.”

Yuasa said Japan is a very popular destination for American students because of the pop culture, the food, and the beautiful rural areas. “I haven’t been off campus yet but I want to travel to downtown Houston and do more traveling.”

Learn more information about UHCL's Education Abroad programs online.