Wynette - Keio University

B Science/Arts
Semester 1, 2019

Academic experience

Regarding academics, Keio University is completely different to UQ. However, whether it is difficult or easy is dependent on whether you take the JLP or the KIP program. The Japanese Language Program or JLP is the more intensive program, however it is ideal if you want to improve your Japanese proficiency. Let it be known that these classes would take up most of your week – consider yourself lucky if you were able to get a three-day weekend.

When taking JLP, you will have to undergo a placement test before the semester begins and a placement test for every class that you want to attend. The teachers will tell you whether they recommend the class to you or not on that basis. So, make sure you study before the placement test! The classes themselves are taught in an immersive style like that of UQ (the teachers will teach Japanese in Japanese – very rarely will they use English). Of course, you can take JLP if you are a beginner Japanese learner – those beginner classes will be taught in a mixture of Japanese and English. However, as JLP is the intensive Japanese class be prepared to study a lot!!

The Keio International Program (KIP) is, in my opinion, the more relaxing program. You can still take up to four Japanese classes to help improve your Japanese. These classes are like that of the JLP, however, you only need to take a self-evaluation test before attending the class. Other than Japanese classes, you can also take classes taught in English from most departments in the school. Be wary, some classes say that there are limited spaces in the class. To choose the students, the teacher might draw a lottery (e.g. take a ball out of a bag with your student number on it) or even ask you to write an essay about why you want to be in this class. Be sure to have back-up courses that do not have a class restriction just in case you do not get picked for that class.

For KIP, there is such things as full semester courses or half semester courses. Full semester courses will be 1.5 hours long, once every week, every week of the semester. Half semester courses (either first or second half) will only be for half of the semester but they are 3 hours long. Basically, if you plan your schedule nicely you could have a four/five-day weekend to travel!!

Personal experience

I challenged myself in ways I never thought I could if I stayed in Australia. To be able to live independently in foreign country takes a lot of courage and I am so proud of myself to be able to say I have done an exchange program. Not only did I learn a lot about Japan, but I learned a lot about the world through the various international friends that I made along the way. I was able to visit South Korea during Golden Week and a lot of the other students travelled around the country/outside the country.

This exchange was my first time in Japan and so I did not know what to expect. However, I know that my Japanese language ability has improved since returning home. One of the biggest problems I had was the confidence to make mistakes when speaking Japanese. Of course, when you live in the country you are forced to use it – so even though I know I made a mistake, I know that mistakes are the way that you learn the best. 

Of course, going to school in the middle of Tokyo (one of the biggest tourist destinations of Japan), you learn to live with the hustle and bustle of Japanese commuter life. From being crammed in rush hour trains to spending the afternoon in Yoyogi park to watch the cherry blossoms, Tokyo really offered a lot of variety in my exchange experience.

Accommodation

I stayed in Motosumiyoshi International Dormitory (MID) which is one of the most expensive dorms that you could choose from – but it is so worth it! This dorm along with the Tsunashima SST dormitory is one of the newest dorms and so the rooms are super clean, and the furniture is new. However, unlike Tsunashima SST, MID is two stations closer to Mita campus!

Full time Japanese students and International students live at this dorm. So, if you put in the effort you can make friends from all around the world! Be aware that some dorms split Japanese and International students (e.g. Shimoda). Due to the shared kitchen and cafeteria/lounge areas you are guaranteed to make friends which is something that I enjoyed. Keep in mind that the floors are separated by genders so if you make friends of the opposite sex you can only really interact on the first-floor lounge.

When you receive your acceptance pack from Keio University there is advice that you must start up a bank account in order to pay for your accommodation. You do not have to do this! You can pay for your accommodation in cash. Depending on your dorm you might be required to pay in different areas. For example, if you stay in Motosumiyoshi Residence, rent is paid at convenience stores. However, if you stay in the Motosumiyoshi International Dormitory, rent is paid at Hiyoshi campus. All you need to do is take your cash and pay at the specified places.

Also move out dates for the dorms must be on a weekday. Be mindful of this when planning your flight/s home.

Costs

You would find that most of your money is spent on commuting around Japan. However, student commuter passes (like our commuter gocard) allow you to travel free from your home station to your university station. All stations between the route are free as well. If you go even one stop ahead of your normal route it will only charge you for that one stop. So, take advantage of this!!

Keep in mind that it is mandatory for you to pay for Japan’s national health insurance while you are there. Depending on if you are staying for a semester or a year this could cost between $50-$100 AUD. This can also be done at any convenience store.

The rent to stay at MID was ¥75 700 which is about $1000 AUD. I received the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program Grant which ended up covering most of my rent! If you are an Australian citizen this will be of help to you!
Food is cheaper in Japan; convenience stores will often have delicious snacks for ¥100 (about $1.50 AUD). You can even get meals with side dishes and drinks for less than $10 AUD.

As a student you can get student discount tickets for the Shinkansen and night buses if you want to travel outside of Tokyo. Keep in mind that as a student you would not be eligible for the JR pass if you plan on travelling. The Shinkansen is expensive! They can range from ¥13 000 ($180 AUD) to ¥30 000 ($420 AUD) so try to keep that in mind. 

If you find yourself tight on money, you can also work during your exchange. The most popular jobs for exchange students are English Conversation teachers. In those jobs you get paid to speak English to Japanese people of all ages. When you receive the welcome package from Keio, there is a paper that you can sign to be eligible to work in Japan. When you show the immigration officer this when you arrive, they put a stamp on your residency card and then you are good to go!! (Some jobs will require you to have a bank account as well.)

Challenge

Any administrative procedure that required a visit to the ward office was one of the most difficult experiences I had to go through. It was not only time consuming (about 2-5 hours), but it was also a very demotivating process. When you arrive in Japan you must register your address and health insurance at your respective ward office. When I went none of the staff spoke English, but my dorm provided English translations of the paperwork we had to fill out. It was quite an anxious process because we were filling out official documents. I study Japanese at university, however, I am not well versed in governmental vocabulary and legal systems to feel one hundred percent confident at the ward office. When I visited the ward office at the end of my exchange, they did have an on-call interpreter that communicated between students and the official via an iPad. Just in case you do not have this available, I highly recommend going with someone who understands Japanese, like your dorm RA or a friend to alleviate the stress of this visit.

Professional Development

Aside from the increase in cross-culture communication and Japanese language proficiency, I think one of the biggest skills that you earn on exchange is the ability to understanding cultural differences and overall cultural awareness. If you decide to come to Keio specifically, please try and take a class by Joseph Shaules (I recommend ‘Deep Culture Difference: Understanding Japan through Cross-cultural comparison). It will truly enrich your perception on experiencing culture and I think it is a valuable skill in any job as it will allow you to create long-lasting relationships and connections with people from all around the world.

Highlight

Climbing Mt Fuji! Mt Fuji can only be climbed in summer so if this is one activity you want to do make sure you attend the spring semester! It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I highly recommend it to everyone! You do not have to be the fittest person, you just must be prepared for the climb (they can provide hiking gear at the 5th station). If you plan on doing it don’t forget to bring snacks, oxygen and plenty of water!!

Top tips

-    Send things back home regularly so you don’t have to worry about being over the weight limit when coming home
-    If you understand Japanese (of all levels) there is this app called 乗換案内 which has the schedules for the trains. You can organise it in accordance to whether you want to get to your destination quickly, through less transfers or through the cheapest options. It even updates if there are train delays. It was a huge life saver.
-    Always have your ID on you. Sometimes if you spend a lot of money at stores like UNIQLO you can get it for tax free – you just must show your passport so keep that in mind.
-    Legal age in Japan is 20 so if you want to really experience nightlife be mindful of that
-    Never say no to experiences!!!
-    Sakura Mobile is reliable for supplying data for the entire trip – you can purchase it before you fly and receive it at the airport