Yasmeen - Keio University

B International Studies
Semester 1, 2019
The most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life.

Academic experience

Keio University’s academic system was extremely different to that of UQ. 8 subjects are considered a full-time load, and some subjects were intensive, only lasting half of the semester.  Consequently, it was a learning experience, both academically and for personal growth, to balance assessment for 8 subjects, opposed to the usual 4 I would take at UQ. Furthermore, the enrolment process was very stressful. Although it was explained to us in great detail, and we were given clear instructions, most of my courses were based on “lottery”. The first week of classes are not content-dense, but more-so are used as a means of expressing your interest in a course. If a course was capped at 25 students for example, and more than 25 students showed up to the first class, a random selection was made as to who could enrol in the class. I was lucky enough to be picked for the ones that I wanted, but it was a very stressful experience for me. Additionally, the syllabus for classes, as well as lecture materials, were all given in printed form. The structure of all the courses were very clear, and each syllabus entailed a description of each week as well as assessment pieces. What I enjoyed most out of the academic system were the passionate professors who were clearly invested in what they were teaching. Although I major in Peace and Conflict, I was able to take courses in Japanese foreign policy, as well as philosophy. Exploring different subjects was extremely interesting and challenged me academically and has contributed greatly to my considerations for future studies and career paths.

Personal experience

Out of all the things that I experienced, my semester abroad allowed to be to grow and to learn more about myself. The people that I encountered in my dorm were genuinely the most incredible people I have met in my life and have contributed to me forming different ideas and opinions about the world around me, as well as myself. I really enjoyed exploring the touristic parts of Japan as well. From the beautiful temples to the hustle of Shibuya, there is always something fun to do in Tokyo. More than anything, however, I wanted to enjoy the small slice-of-life experiences. I specifically chose to do my exchange in Japan because after studying the culture and the language for so long, I really wanted to experience what it was like to live as part of a community. The daily commutes during rush hour, the 24-hour convenience stores, listening to the sound of cicadas during summer by my local river, getting lost down random streets only to bump in to stray cats and small shrines; it is the little experiences like these that added up to what has been the most incredible experience of my life. My original impressions as to what personal skills I would develop were along the lines of learning more about Japanese communication styles and daily lifestyle habits. In actuality, I learned a lot more about a variety of different communication styles. Going to a university in which there are people from a diverse array of cultures and societies really taught me the most culturally appropriate and culturally relative ways to communicate with such people. This, to me, was the most important personal skill that I was able to develop on my exchange.


I lived in a university-subsidised dorm called Plume IS. The best part about this was the communal lounge downstairs. It was always lively and was an excellent chance to meet new people. Weekly communal cooking nights and movie marathons truly contributed to my experience. The commute was a little far, but nothing unbearable. The university were very prompt in reminding us about when rent payments were due. Furthermore, they were very understanding if any mistakes were made – I know some friends who mentioned that they would be reminded both in writing and over the phone if they had missed a payment. 
I remember before coming to japan wanting to stay in independent or share housing. Whilst the idea sounds fun, finding accommodation alone in Japan can really be challenging. The system of applying for housing, whether shared or individual, requires that you have a guarantor (which you cannot have unless you have friends or family who live in Japan). Not only that, but the friends that you make in dorms really contribute to the exchange experience. I know it sounds cliched, and I used to think the same thing too, but I will never take for granted my experience of living in a dorm.


The biggest cost for me was food and transport. Our rent was approximately 68,000 yen per month, which at the time of writing translated to roughly $940 AUD a month. Transport was also costly, but commuter passes are available so that you pay a set amount up front and get free transport between the stations closest to your living arrangement and to your campus. For me, this ended up being about $200, but excluded my trips to other areas. For me, I found food here to be very cheap. Food and vegetable prices are comparable, if not cheaper than Australia. Also, if you have no dietary restrictions, I observed that convenience store meals are inexpensive and can be nutritious. If you are looking for Western-style foods in supermarkets though, these can be quite pricey, so it’s best to immerse yourself in Japanese cuisine. I budgeted for $700 AUD a week and lived very comfortably, with lots of nights out, souvenirs and presents for myself.


The biggest challenge for me on exchange was the workload. I had read so many testimonials of people travelling every weekend and enjoying all the touristic attractions in the country that they went to. In actuality, most of my nights and weekends were spent doing assignments and readings. I felt pressured by family friends back home, who would constantly ask about what exciting things I was doing.  
Also, removing yourself from a familiar context can really throw you into a situation where you learn a lot about yourself in a very short amount of time. I wasn’t expecting the type of personal growth I have gone through to have occurred, and at times it was a little overwhelming. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it was certainly something I was not expecting, nor had it even crossed my mind.

Professional Development

* Cultural sensitivity and awareness
* Communication skills - language specific and cross-cultural
* Self-confidence in new and challenging environment
* Independent and self-directed learning
* Critical self-reflection skills


The highlight of my experience were the afternoon walks with my friends alongside a river right next to my dorm. It was a great way to destress and talk about trivial things with my new friends, who had expansive opinions on all kinds of different things. It was really fun to learn from everyone in this way.

Top tips

Google Maps was the most helpful app during my time. It told you how crowded trains were at particular times, what train car to board for fastest transfer, average costs, and was very up-to-date with any delays. 
Buy a mobile plan before you arrive. I used Sakura mobile. It was affordable and easy to set up, and you can customise your plan based on what you need. 
If you can, find yourself a friend who is fluent in Japanese to help you with administrative things, such as National Health Insurance or Registering Your Address. The Japanese bureaucratic system can be very confusing and involve several steps for just the one process, so if you aren’t fluent in the language, it can become quite a challenge.