Mina - Keio University

B International Studies
Semester 2, 2018
If I learned and grew so much in these six months I can’t imagine what a full year would do.

Academic experience

While I was in Japan I took a variety of courses that included Japanese language and political science (heavy focus on Japan and Asia). The political science courses allowed me to build on my development background and offered me new perspectives on current global development as well as the historical underpinnings. While I thought I had a general understanding of the history of Asia, these courses went into meticulous detail which helped shape my perspective in a way that otherwise would have not occurred. Additionally, the language courses took my Japanese to a new level. 

The challenges of the courses were compulsory attendance and ambiguous assignments. Unlike university in Australia, Japan requires that you physically attend classes and have no more than several absences in a semester. Additionally, a lot of the assessment didn't have task sheets or a guideline of what the professors wanted. However, teachers are more than helpful once you approach them and ask. I believe that they enjoyed knowing that you wanted to succeed in their classes. 

The enrolment process consisted of filling out a form with your desired classes and handing it back to the student office. However, with Japanese language classes it was slightly different. If there were too many students in a classroom the teacher would conduct a 'lottery' and draw names out of a hat. If your name was not drawn, then you were unable to take the class.

Personal experience

I gained a multitude of things during this experience. The things I am most grateful for are the friendships I built and my language improvement. Without this exchange experience I never would have been able to achieve this level of Japanese. Additionally, my personal skills also developed. Never having lived in another country by myself before I gained an acceptance of vulnerability. And with that, I learned how to ask for help and become solutions oriented.

Accommodation

My accommodation was with one of the university's dorms. My dorm was mixed with exchange students and Japanese students. Being in this dorm allowed me to build amazing friendships with both Japanese and international people. The advice I would give future students is to think about what you need on an individual level and what you need going on exchange. It's an amazing opportunity to make friends and to give yourself an instant support system. However, if money is a concern and you like your own space it may be worthwhile to explore other options. It is important to note that to rent an apartment formally in Japan can be quite difficult. The alternative option may be to look at share houses rather than a dorm or an apartment.

Costs

The prices in Japan are quite like Australia if you take into consideration the value of the dollar. On my exchange the Australian dollar was not worth a lot in comparison to the Yen. Due to this, things were a little bit expensive but nothing outrageous. Rent in Japan is month to month, and I paid around $800 a month inclusive of amenities. It is important to note that most dorms are located quite far from the actual university. This means that transport can begin to add up. 

I applied for a student suica (go-card) which meant around $250 for 3 or 4 months of free access from my dorm station to my university station. While it seems expensive it is the cheaper alternative. Transport was generally expensive, especially when you must rely on it every day. 
I did quite a lot of travel while in Japan and it was also expensive. Being on a student visa means that things like shinkansens will be expensive as you wont be able to apply for tourist discounts. A standard shinkansen ride is around $150. However, budget accommodation can start from $50 per night and there are so many cheap eating options. 
All in all, having more money in your budget allows for a better experience in my opinion. Trying to save money during the week by going grocery shopping and save for those experiences you can't have back home.

Challenge

The largest challenge during my experience was coming across unwanted attention. This was truly difficult for me as there were some members of my dorm that made me feel very uncomfortable. This effected my experience because I began to isolate myself at university, social outings and most unfortunately at my home. I no longer felt comfortable to enter common room areas and it effected my mental state. I was constantly on edge leaving my room in fear of unwanted attention. 
It was only in the latter half of the semester that I was able to regain control of the situation. While I still avoided being in public areas when I didn’t need to be there, I decided I wouldn’t let it affect my whole experience. I made fantastic friends who also went through something similar. I wish I could say I stood up to these people, but I was too scared to. However, this made me grow. Now I have full confidence in myself that if ever a person made me feel uncomfortable, I would stop the situation immediately.

Professional Development

The skills I have developed during this exchange were monumental. My Japanese has vastly improved and my confidence has grown exponentially. Any problem I am faced with, I have no doubt I can find a solution to now. Additionally, I feel like my cultural awareness and interpersonal relationship skills have become strong. I believe these things will aid me in life and whatever profession I enter in the future.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience were the amazing friends I made and how my Japanese improved. I have made such deep connections with many people and from these friendships I've learned so much more about the world. My Japanese has finally been used in a practical setting and this has been the sole reason to my improvement.

Top tips

My ultimate advice is to just do it. The personal growth you will experience is worth it alone. However, the more practical advice I would give is to save more money than you think is enough. You don’t want to limit yourself from the experience of the country. Additionally, things will go so wrong, but you need to trust in yourself that you’ll get through it, and you will.