Toward a new world, driven by what I want to do


What do you do when things aren’t going your way? The COVID-19 pandemic forced Department of International Studies student Kana Endo to return from studying abroad in the United States, drastically reducing her opportunities for international exchange. Nonetheless, she managed to create opportunities for international exchange, and in 2022 she went to Mongolia as part of the United Nations Volunteers program, one of our Global Leader Internship programs. She tells us what she learned through various forms of international exchange.

Kana Endo Fourth-year student Department of International Studies, Faculty of International Studies Kana Endo transferred to Meiji Gakuin University in April 2021. She enjoys encountering new sights and people in new places, and she also loves good food. She hopes to visit various European countries in the future. On her days off, she enjoys going to cafes. One of her favorite quotes is, “Wherever life plants you, bloom with grace.”

I wanted not just to learn English, but to learn in English

From a young age, I had opportunities to experience cultures different from Japan. My family interacted with a German family we met through a Christian kindergarten I attended, and starting in middle school, I began learning English from an American living in our neighborhood. My interest in English continued, so when it came time to advance to high school, I chose a high school with a strong English curriculum to further my English studies.

In my third year of high school, I wrestled with the decision of whether to attend a university in Japan or to study abroad. I very much wanted not just to learn English, but to learn in English. A friend who had studied in New Zealand shared that sentiment, telling me, “If you want to learn in English, you should go to an English-speaking country.” Ultimately, I made the decision to go to the United States.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed my student life

I chose Lane Community College in the US and enrolled in 2019, but in my second year, from around February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant classes were being conducted online or were canceled, and stores in town were running out of daily necessities. The situation did not improve, so I ended up bringing all my belongings in the US back to Japan and continuing my online classes from here to complete my community college program. That meant I could not attend my graduation ceremony, so I received my diploma by mail.

My original plan was to graduate from community college in two years, then transfer directly to a four-year university in the United States. However, returning to Japan prompted me to rethink that plan. While I could comfortably engage in everyday communications in English, studies at a four-year university involve more specialized subjects than what I’d learned at community college. I was concerned about whether I was capable of that, whether I could grasp and deepen my understanding of specialized content in English at that point.

Having gone to the US straight out of high school, I felt there were gaps in my knowledge that made it impossible for me to speak in a language other than my native tongue about unfamiliar topics. I thus entered Meiji Gakuin University’s Department of International Studies in the Faculty of International Studies, hoping to establish a thorough education in Japan and become able to discuss what I had learned in both Japanese and English.

Joining Meiji Gakuin and Volunteering with the United Nations

Despite the ongoing pandemic, after entering Meiji Gakuin I found an internship assisting in online international exchange classes for junior and senior high school students and assisting in Japanese language classes, through which I tried to create opportunities to interact with students using English. While participating in internship classes, I learned about the Global Leader Internship Program. When I mentioned it to Professor (Emeritus) Takeo, who taught the seminar I was enrolled in, I learned that he was one of the program’s founders, and he encouraged me to give it a try.

Most programs under the Global Leader Internship Program had been canceled due to COVID-19, so I could only apply for UN volunteer work in Mongolia, but I decided to go without hesitation. I had returned to Japan in the middle of pursuing my dream, so I was looking for an opportunity to do something abroad while studying at Meiji Gakuin. Further encouraging me to go to Mongolia was the fact that it would be a different experience from studying abroad and that I wanted to test myself in a non-English-speaking country.

From September 2022 to February 2023, I worked as a public relations assistant at the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Mongolia. I had a variety of duties, including posting press releases, news, etc., about our activities to social networking sites, supporting youth volunteer promotion activity events, assisting the UN Resident Coordinator, and supporting meetings. I would go to the office every weekday to perform those duties. I felt a great deal of responsibility doing public relations in the name of the United Nations, but my office colleagues listened to me without treating me as just a student volunteer, and I was able to look for and find things I could do as a student and as a representative of young people. It was a work environment that respected flexibility and diversity.

I also felt that young people in Mongolia are interested in social issues and the realization of better communities and are proactive in taking action. At the United Nations Youth Advisory Panel (UNYAP), I was impressed to see groups of students and others in their twenties discussing social issues every week at the UN office. When I attended the Model United Nations at the National University of Mongolia, I was also impressed to see students expressing their opinions in English. During my internship activities, I realized that Mongolia, a place I had initially associated only with grasslands and yurts, is facing social issues due to urbanization. For my graduation thesis, I am researching changes in Mongolian family dynamics resulting from urbanization and how these changes relate to broader societal shifts and issues.

What’s important not only for international exchange

My experiences abroad in the US and Mongolia allowed me to experience being a foreigner firsthand. I noticed and learned how one is treated, how people look at you, in various situations when you’re a foreigner. During the pandemic in the US, I was hurt when I boarded a bus and a passenger intentionally coughed while looking at me as a discriminatory act against Asians. In Mongolia, around eighty percent of the office staff were Mongolian, so conversations among them were in their language, which left me feeling excluded. I had a Korean roommate during my time there, but while there was a local Korean community she could engage with, I sometimes felt alienated.

I might never have noticed such feelings of alienation and exclusion without experience overseas. Although it can be painful, I came to believe that the experience of feeling like a minority does not have only negative aspects. It allows us to face ourselves and construct a more established identity, and it gives us a chance to think about what we should do when dealing with others.

As a result, I try to remember that people around me have different values and ways of thinking than I do. Taken in the sense of “understanding differences from oneself,” this is something that is applicable in any place, not just situations of international exchange. Even in Japan, there are people with various roots, experiences, and backgrounds, and there are also differences between generations. Even in such situations, I believe it is important that we not say they are just different from us and thus exclude or distance ourselves, but to respect them and consider what we can learn from them because of their differences, and to be willing to compromise. In doing so, we come to understand each other’s differences.

At the Department of International Studies, I learned about issues facing Japan and the international community from a variety of perspectives. I feel that learning about other countries has taught me to look objectively at Japan, where I was born and raised. I started out with the vague idea of wanting to study “something international,” but enrolling at Meiji Gakuin allowed me to learn things that will greatly benefit me here in Japan. I am looking at career paths that will allow me to use my experience to play a role in connecting Japan with the rest of the world. I hope to contribute to Japan in some way by supporting people like me who want to study abroad and by communicating Japan’s good aspects to the rest of the world.

Things happened during the COVID-19 pandemic that we never anticipated, and sometimes we find ourselves unsure of what to do. But there are things we realize and learn by stepping away from what we’re familiar with and taking action in a new place, and taking on such challenges gives us confidence. I am shy and withdrawn in some ways, but I hope to continue challenging myself in various ways, driven by my strong desire to try things.