Grace - Waseda University

B Arts
Semester 2, 2018
It hurt, it hurt, and then it was fun. In between the homesickness, I had some of the best experiences of my life, and now that I'm back, I find myself homesick for Tokyo.

Academic experience

I studied a series of Japanese language courses through Waseda University’s Centre for Japanese Language. These included a core comprehensive Japanese course, alongside courses focussed on kanji, listening comprehension, cultural experiences, and so on. What I enjoyed most about the system at Waseda was the inclusion of “themed” courses which taught more than just language skills, or focussed on very specific aspects of learning the language. However, I did struggle quite a lot with the number of contact hours required by my course. Doing the equivalent of 8 units at UQ, I was initially attending over 20 hours of classes a week, while still having to make time for homework and study alongside, and my mental and physical health suffered for it. I overcame this by interfacing with both UQ Abroad and the faculty at Waseda, who allowed me to semi-drop from some of my courses to a more reasonable workload. The enrolment itself was very smooth, with a comprehensive group orientation by the university helping all students to set up their MyWaseda accounts and explaining how to enrol in courses.

Personal experience

I think the biggest thing I gained from this exchange was resilience. There were times, living out of home for the first time and struggling with my workload in a new country, where I wanted nothing more to give up and go home. I cried so, so much, more than I ever had in my entire life. My parents told me constantly that if I was suffering that much it was okay to come home, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I stuck it out through those tough early months, and I know that if I had to do it again I could. It sounds dramatic to say it, but I survived. And alongside that, of course, my Japanese language skills improved greatly. In the first 2 months of my exchange I was part of a club at Waseda called Waseda International Festival (WIF), run by domestic students wanting to bring both local and international students together through dance. My group leaders, Suzuka and Manami, spoke little to no English, so listening to and talking with them twice a week every week for 4 hours at a time greatly improved my confidence with Japanese. Not only that, but I made a number of friends with other international students both in WIF and residents of my dormitory. I didn’t go to Japan expecting to come out with so many friends from all over the world, but that’s what happened, and I feel so grateful for that outcome. Regrettably, I was very busy with classes throughout my entire exchange, and so didn’t have a chance to get out of Tokyo (other than my final week during which I visited a friend in Hokkaido), but I really got to love the area of the city I lived in, and miss it like a second home even now.

Accommodation

I technically lived off-campus, and I say technically because my dormitory was only a 5 minute walk from the Waseda University campus proper. The dorm in question was one of 3 dorms owned by Waseda, Waseda Hoshien, and I loved it. I loved that it was close to campus, so I never had to spend money on public transport to get to class, and I loved being able to step out of my room and go see my friends in the next building over. As far as advice goes, I would really recommend applying for the Waseda dormitory option that they offer early in the exchange process. There’s no guarantee you’ll get it, as dormitory spaces are limited and decided by random lottery, but it’s really worth taking the shot. The rent was in the range of 70,000 to 80,000 Japanese yen a month, which isn’t exactly dirt cheap, but is about what I expected for having my own room in a building so close to campus in the middle of Tokyo. I’d also advise that you get to know your neighbours in the dormitory, whether that be the people on your floor or people from the other building. It really helps having a support network close by when you’re all alone in a new place.

Costs

I mentioned earlier that rent cost between 70,000 to 80,000 yen a month. I was lucky to spend almost nothing on daily transport because of the closeness to campus, but public transport isn’t too expensive in Tokyo, equivalent to Brisbane I’d say. The cheapest fare on the train (for a few stops) is 170 Japanese yen. Entertainment such as karaoke can be expensive if you don’t have a large group, but there are plenty of exceptions and places that will do deals for certain hours and days of the week. Travel to Japan and home at the end of my trip cost me somewhere in the range of 1500 to 2000 Australian dollars. The true expensive part in Tokyo is groceries. Eating out at restaurants is very cheap, and almost always delicious, but if you’re like me and like to cook for yourself and eat in your room most of the time, prepare to spend a pretty penny. Most vegetables are roughly twice the price they are at home, and any meat outside of fish is similar. I didn’t do a great job of keeping track of my overall budget, but I would say the UQ Abroad estimate of $12,000 to $15,000 is a good range to aim for. I don’t think I passed that range even after 5 months of living there.

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me was definitely homesickness, coupled with stress. I’m not very good at making close friends easily, and I’m also sensitive to pressure. As I mentioned earlier, I cried so much, almost every day in the early months. I missed my friends, and my family, and all those little small comforts of home that you don’t think about until you have them, like a nice piece of rye toast (most Japanese bread is very thick and soft and usually very, very white). The only way I managed to overcome my homesickness was just to keep on keeping on. After having my workload lightened a little, I was able to spend more time with my friends from my dormitory, and that definitely helped. Being alone is just about the worst thing you can do when you’re homesick, so even if the last thing you want to do is see a face less familiar than your parents, go and do it.

Professional Development

I think the independence I developed as a result of living on my own and supporting myself has made me into a more mature and self-sufficient adult, as well as the resilience I mentioned earlier. As far as it goes from a professional standpoint, I think having had experience living in Japan for an extended period of time will help me as I move into my goal career of translation and interpreting. There are a lot of nuances to spoken Japanese that I wouldn’t have even come close to learning if not for immersing myself in the language firsthand every day.

Highlight

I had a number of highlights, but I think one that really stands out to me is performing my group’s swing style dance as part of WIF at the Waseda University Festival (Waseda-sai). I don’t consider myself a dancer, and prior to joining the club had zero experience, but that first performance after all our efforts (only about 6 weeks of efforts, too, as the festival was very soon after the beginning of semester) felt incredible. Joining WIF forced me to become more confident in myself, and I learned a new skill at the same time. It may not be particularly Japanese to learn to dance swing, but I know that joining a club like that is the kind of thing I would never ever have done at home, so to me it’s an exchange-exclusive experience.

Top tips

This is going to sound gloomy, but my number 1 piece of advice is to know your limits. I didn’t bother applying for a reduced load prior to the start of exchange, despite normally taking a maximum of 6 units a semester at UQ, because I expected the 8 unit equivalent to be the same as 8 units at UQ (which is to say, roughly 12 contact hours a week in a Bachelor of Arts). As I mentioned earlier, it was much, much more than that, and I struggled. Be aware that you cannot, in any fashion, withdraw from a course past the 3rd registration date (at Waseda), which is only 2 or 3 weeks into the semester. I missed this deadline and thus incurred 3 fail grades on my transcript (though as you only receive UQ credit for courses you passed, this won’t damage the future of my GPA at UQ). It caused a lot of grief to both me and I’m sure the UQ Abroad staff who had to deal with my back and forth of emails for the better part of a month trying to sort out a solution that wouldn’t damage my GPA. If you normally take a reduced load, apply for that reduced load. Even if you don’t normally take a reduced load, consider applying anyway, to save yourself some grief and allow yourself more time to fully enjoy your exchange. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I do wish I’d done more with my time there, made more of an effort to go out and about with friends and see more than just the city. Do whatever you can to make sure you don’t have the same regrets.