My Tokyo dream | Inquirer Opinion

My Tokyo dream

I vividly recall application season during high school days. During lunch breaks, my peers would discuss their desired courses and universities. Being enrolled in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics strand, most of my classmates aspired to be engineers or doctors. Growing up with two physician parents, I assumed that I would follow in their footsteps, but when it was time to choose my preferred course, I was at a loss. Despite seeking advice, going to counseling, and conducting research, I couldn’t envision what I would be doing in five years. I knew I wanted to be great. I wanted to leave my mark but I didn’t know how. I felt unprepared to make such a life-altering decision, but the application deadline was quickly approaching, and I ultimately settled on mechanical engineering.

I had the opportunity to study engineering at a prestigious university, where I formed lifelong friendships and felt empowered as a female engineering student. However, the uncertainty I experienced during the application process never dissipated. I remained lost and, this time, afraid. I feared that I had made the wrong choice, forcing myself to go on the wrong path. Ashamed of my struggles, I chose to push through for as long as I could rather than stray from the standard.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic happened, forcing most of my college education to be conducted online. Unfortunately, my mental health deteriorated, and I found myself struggling to keep up with my studies. I would often doze off during class, causing me to miss crucial lessons. Eventually, I made the tough decision to take a break, but the delay only compounded my loss of motivation. I had never felt so directionless, so lost. I felt like a piece of wood traveling at the mercy of the current. I felt so powerless.


Trapped within the four walls of my room, I searched for an escape and found myself watching videos of people traveling to or living in Japan. As I watched these videos, I felt myself smiling, knowing that there was still a place in this world that I had yet to explore. I asked my parents for permission to apply, and they agreed as long as I took responsibility for everything. While still studying engineering, I researched universities in Japan and applied to an engineering program in Nagoya, based on a friend’s recommendation. Every night, I prayed that I would be accepted and envisioned myself as a university student in Japan. Watching videos about the life of an exchange student, I grew increasingly excited. When the results came in, I was devastated to learn that I had failed, but for the first time, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. The clouds of doubt had disappeared. I had a goal.


This time, I applied for a liberal studies program in Tokyo while continuing to study for my thermodynamics midterms. I came to the realization that I wanted to pursue fields that genuinely interested me, such as writing and art. I had been conditioned to believe that it was impossible to make a living from these pursuits but at this point, I feared that I would only fail myself if I had let this opportunity go. A week before my birthday, I received an email notifying me that I had been accepted. I was ecstatic; I could finally live my dream. However, fear still lingered. I worried about what people would think, given my rocky academic history. I wasn’t sure whether it was wise to pursue my dream at the cost of my future. Should I push through and graduate as an engineer, or seize this opportunity for an escape? All of these thoughts flooded my mind. I could feel my heart grow heavier and heavier as I sunk deeper into my doubt. Until something snapped. I had to be true to myself. I needed to overcome my inner demons. I had to help “me.”

After giving up my engineering studies, I’m now studying in Tokyo. I can say that this has been the best decision I’ve made for myself and for my future. I’m learning more about myself every day. The longer I stay here, the more I come to understand that no one is hoping for my failure or scrutinizing my every move. Everyone is too busy living their own lives. Letting go of other people’s expectations proved to be one of the bigger hurdles in my life but also proved to be the most freeing. I learned to live for myself. By paying attention to what I wanted and what I could achieve, I discovered what truly mattered in my life. There is power in what I can do today.

Although it may seem cliché, everything really does happen for a reason. If I had not experienced the delay, I would never have considered studying in Japan. If I had never gone to Japan, my perspective on life would have never changed. I feel powerful and capable because I no longer hold the same beliefs as the girl who felt trapped within the four walls of her room. The path that led me here was meant to be. There is no point in dwelling on the past or waiting for what the future has in store when you can make something of today.


Cassandra Raymundo, 21, is an International Liberal Studies student at Waseda University. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan.

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