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Interview with Mike Gehrke

When and where did you study abroad?
I studied in Nagasaki, Japan at the Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies.  I got there near the end of March, 2013, and came back in August.

How old were you during your study abroad program?
I actually celebrated my 29th birthday while I was there!

Did you have any children before going abroad?
Yes. My son Gabriel was nine when I went.

How did you prepare for your study abroad experience?
I took some Japanese language classes before going, which weren’t required, but I found to be helpful.  Some of the other students I met there hadn’t taken any Japanese before going, even the other adult students (and I was surprised to find that I wasn’t even the oldest one there!)  Of course, I made sure my son was taken care of while I was away, making various arrangements with his mother and my family, and ensuring all my other obligations were covered well ahead of time.

What were your fears before going abroad?
My two biggest fears were how I was going to pay for the whole thing and being away from my son for such a long time.  I received a few scholarships that helped out a lot with the financial end of it, and thanks to my family, and Skype, I was able to keep in contact with my son every day.

How did your study abroad experience go?
I don’t think it could have gone better!  I made a lot of really good friends, immersed myself in the culture of Japan, saw a lot of gorgeous sights, and had many incredible experiences that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

How did you benefit from studying abroad?
I think my experience has made me more aware of the rest of the world--not just Japan but the rest of society as a whole.  I feel more confident about myself now, constantly reminding myself that I lived in a completely foreign country for four months, so the challenges I face here all seem a little easier.

Did you have any advice for other non-traditional students who are thinking of studying abroad?
The best advice I can give is to never think that going abroad is something you can’t do, or it’s too hard.  I convinced myself for a long time that it wasn’t possible, but after looking into it and seriously thinking about it, I found a path that got me there.  There’s a path for you too, and all you have to do is follow it.