HOUGHTON - Usually, a mass of students from other countries flock to Michigan Technological University every year for a technological education, and United States citizen Chanavia Smith wanted to do something similar.
Smith, a senior studying social sciences with a concentration in law and society and a double minor in diversity studies and international studies at Michigan Tech, will be leaving in the fall for Osaka, Japan, where she will attend school and live the culture for an entire year.
"I've been asked this question a lot," she said when asked why she picked Japan to spend her senior year of college. "Japan is an interesting place and Japanese culture is very welcoming and totally different from the American culture."
Already living more than 500 miles from her home in Detroit, Smith is eager to make the trip to Japan soon, and has spent much of her summer taking college courses about Japan and reading about the culture.
"I am taking an introduction to east Asian culture at Tech," she said. "I also have a Japanese culture tutor making sure I don't have culture shock."
Smith said she wants to avoid "the American way" when she arrives and is not as much concerned about the differences in languages, despite it being completely different.
"It's going to be interesting but I'm not too nervous," she said. "My tutor taught me a few greetings and I'm learning the alphabet."
Smith is able to go to Japan thanks to the competitive national Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which she won. Gilman Scholarships offer grants for academic studies abroad to U.S. undergraduates with limited financial means, and the goal of the program is to better prepare students to "assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world."
While in Japan, she will study at Kansai University and focus on international relations, international law and Japanese. Her hopes are to motivate students of color to participate in study abroad programs.
"During the 2010-11 academic year, only seven students of color from Michigan Tech studied abroad," she said.
When she returns, she will graduate from Michigan Tech in December 2013. And a year is a long time, Smith said, especially with the holidays in the middle.
"Christmas is a big time for me and my family and my boyfriend," she said. "It's going to be fine. I'm going to be very, very homesick but I'll be fine."
These days, Smith is keeping busy working part-time in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and with a transition program.
"I'm working constantly," she said.
Seeing as Smith has already spent several years in the Upper Peninsula, a major difference from her native Detroit, she said she's sure to do well in Japan.
"Michigan Tech prepared me for that," she said.