Karla - Ritsumeikan University

B Arts
Semester 1, 2019
My student exchange was truly life-changing, the skills I’ve learnt, the people I’ve met, and I honestly feel like it’s done wonders to improve my character too

Academic experience

I enrolled under the IJL (Intensive Japanese Language) program offered by Ritsumeikan. There are 7 different levels offered, so it really caters for anyone of any Japanese ability. Before I arrived I had to complete a placement test online, and based on that and a couple of other things they decide which level to place you in. In the semester before I came I had just completed JAPN3102 and JAPN3140, and was placed in Level 5, which I found was a perfect fit for my ability at the time, not too challenging but not too easy. 
In Level 5 you are required to have a comprehensive Japanese class every day, as well as a listening/speaking class twice a week and a writing class once a week. As each period lasts for 90 minutes you get heaps of exposure time to the language, and I found myself improving really quickly. The classes and teachers are well organised, and the schedule they hand out at the beginning of the semester they stick to quite rigorously provided there are no natural disasters.
I really loved the Japanese classes at Ritsumeikan! Because of the high amount of class hours we had, the classes didn’t seemed rushed at all and we were able to take our time and ask as many questions as we liked, and go through really thoroughly and understand the content. There was a lot of homework but it’s not too hard really. 
In order to meet the credit requirements of a full time load at UQ I also took a few other courses, what they offer varies from semester to semester. I chose to take Shamisen classes as part of the Traditional Arts program, and every week travelled to Gion and trained under a professional Shamisen player. All of us taking the course were beginners so the atmosphere of the class was pretty relaxed, but it was also all taught in Japanese so it was a good chance for me to practise. We all had a really good time in the course, it was a good change of pace from the day to day classroom, library, study routine.

Personal experience

I have far too much to write here than what is probably allowed, but will try my best to sum up the good bits. 
Friendships! Think about it- it takes a pretty interesting person to go on exchange to Japan, and here you are, living amongst several hundred people from all over the world who have decided to do just that. I can’t express the love and gratitude I have for the friends I made on exchange enough. Every night we would cook in the kitchen and laugh and share stories with each other and taste each other’s food. Weekend adventures, group chats on Line, spontaneous hikes, random approaches. My heart aches with happiness thinking about it. I feel like friendship can’t be explained, it must be experienced to be appreciated. 

Exploring! This formed a major part of my experience. I began by joining the NRC, which is an outdoor circle (club but less intense) and exploring Kansai with everyone. During Golden Week we camped on an island which only had a population of 7 for 2 nights, one of the coolest experiences ever. I also got really into mountain climbing, which is lucky because Kyoto is literally surrounded by mountains. I set a goal around the beginning of my exchange to climb 10 mountains and I climbed my tenth mountain in the final weekend I was in Japan! 
My most memorable hike would have to be Mt. Horai. On the way down the mountain my friends and I decided to take an alternate path and ended up in a beautiful tiny village with no buses or trains (or convenience stores). A little old lady came out of her house and invited us inside and gave us a tour, then told us about the public transport situation (or lack thereof). In the end we walked 12km along a highway to a town called ‘Wani’, literally ‘crocodile’, to take a train back. A very good adventure!
Language-wise, my Japanese is 100x better than when I left, but keep in mind that I tried to be proactive about improving it. From class alone, yes, you will definitely get better, but if you want the full experience you have to put yourself out there! Join a circle which had mostly Japanese people, join the language exchange program, take classes with Japanese students if you can. It all adds up!
As for personal skills, I got waay better at cooking on my exchange. With such an abundance of weird stuff in the supermarket I challenged myself to try new recipes and ingredients all the time, and as such got really good at making balanced, tasty meals and using up all of the ingredients in my fridge so that nothing went off. I spent a fair bit of time in the kitchen but I really enjoyed it and cooking served as a sort of meditation for me to take my mind off study for a bit. Not an academic skill, but a very important life skill in my opinion!


I lived in International House Taishogun, it’s the closest dorm to campus and also the newest. I would highly recommend it simply for its proximity, it’s only about a 15-20 minute walk to campus and also close to a train station. Living in a dorm also makes a massive difference to your social life, it is much easier to make friends when you’re sharing everything and constantly living amongst each other. I visited Utano a few times and it was cosy and a little older than Taishogun, but as it only had 40 people everyone knew each other and it was surrounded by lovely scenery. Ultimately you should choose a dorm which suits what you prioritise.


I didn’t eat out too much at night and mostly cooked my own food, but ate at the University Cafeteria for lunch almost every day (about 600-700 yen, I eat a lot though). Apart from food and transport I didn’t buy much ‘stuff’ per se, so if you like shopping then you should budget more. Rent was 44,000 yen a month. If you don’t plan on working while you’re over here, I say budget about $12,000 for everything, including plane tickets.


I would sometimes find throughout my exchange that I lacked the initial motivation to begin things, or go out places or organise things with friends. If I searched hard enough I could find an excuse which would allow me to stay in my room and ‘study’. I used to get that feeling a lot too back in Brisbane. It’s called ‘The Comfort Zone’, and all of the things which make life worth living are outside of it! The only solution I found to this was sheer will, I would force myself to make plans with people and get outside and say yes to almost everything, and you know what? I never did once regret any of those times which I went out, and they made my exchange the amazing experience I can think back on and appreciate today.

Professional Development

My language skills have improved in a way which simply wouldn’t be possible in Australia, so I hope that I am able to utilise them in whichever job I do in the future. I also think my ability to empathise increased substantially, as well as my ability to communicate with people of different cultural backgrounds. I feel like I cherish friendships a lot more now and am more likely to make an effort to get to know people from all different walks of life.


100% the awesome people I have met and become friends with. Everyone is so full of stories, and the world is much smaller and interconnected than it seems, and sometimes you find out that you’re connected to a complete stranger in the oddest of ways. I unexpectedly ran into a Japanese student at the university who I first met when I was 14 as she came to my high school for 2 weeks. What are the chances? Life is full of these amazing coincidences.

Top tips

First, don’t be stupid like I was and WAIT until you get your Visa until you buy your plane tickets!!! I wasted so much money!! Don’t think you’re being smart by getting cheap tickets in advance because you’re throwing your money away let me tell you that. 
Prioritise your health! Keep up an exercise routine and add lots of veggies to the food you cook. It gives you study energy and stops you from getting sick so that you can enjoy every day to the fullest.
Mix up your routine. Study in different spots, talk to different people, walk a different route. Variety is the spice of life, and I’ve got plenty of stories which start with ‘so I decided to do something different that day…’.