Mariko - Hitotsubashi University

B. International Studies

Academic experience

As I wanted to credit all of my courses studied on exchange to my Japanese major at UQ, I did not take any courses taught in English. The majority of my courses were advanced Japanese language courses, although I also took part in an international relations course (taught in Japanese, for Japanese students), and a seminar (for third-year Japanese students). Some of the courses appeared quite challenging in the beginning, but after a few classes, I realised that the work was entirely achievable. I am particularly glad that I tried taking that international relations course, as it completely immersed me in academic Japanese, which helped my language skills immensely.

One of my biggest challenges was learning to adjust to a different academic system, in which requirements (marking criteria, assessment structure) were far vaguer (sometimes to the point of nonexistence) than those at UQ. I can't say I adjusted to the difference so much as I suffered with it out of necessity. My advice would be to attend as many classes as possible during the first week (Hitotsubashi's 'trial week'), and enrol in well over the required number of courses. After a few weeks, once you have gotten a proper feel for your courses (how they are taught, what the classes are like, whether they will be useful, and so forth), you can then drop the courses that you do not want to take.

Personal experience

I gained greater insight into the sort of person that I am - how I like to do things, why I like to do things that way - and this level of understanding gave me a grounded confidence in my personality and character that I've never quite felt before. My language ability skyrocketed, and I can now read Japanese relatively comfortably and write without agonising over every tiny little particle. I have met genuinely lovely people from all over the world. I have finally visited Hiroshima. I can't list what I've gained from exchange. But I have gained. You will too.

Accommodation

Nagasaki Peace Park

I lived in Hitotsubashi University's student accommodation in Kodaira, about an hour's walk from the university. The Kodaira campus hosts students (some with their families) from several universities. Most of the Hitotsubashi exchange students lived in shared flats, but I was assigned to a different building. I had my own room, with a bed, shelves, fridge, desk, sink and toilet, and I shared kitchen, laundry and shower spaces with a dozen other students (mostly postgraduate) on the same floor. I still don't know why I was assigned a different room, but I am glad that I as, because it afforded me privacy and space when I needed it. My advice to future exchange students would be not to worry about what room or building you will be assigned to. Either way, you will adjust, you will make new friends, and you will soon learn to call your room 'home'.

Budget

Budget considerations depend almost entirely on you. There are necessary expenses, including rent (5,900Y per month) and utility fees (upwards of 10,000Y per month, depending on how much you use). Transport costs are important to consider as well. Taking the train from the Kodaira dormitory to the Hitotsubashi University campus in Kunitachi costs around 300Y in total, one way. To save money, most exchange students rented bikes. I chose to walk (partly because I enjoy walking...and partly because I cannot ride a bike). The walk is easy - one hour, mostly level, and a good way to get a little bit of exercise (or to warm you up during winter!). Expenses all come down to how much you have, how much you are willing to spend, and what you are willing to spend it on. I would personally recommend living modestly (walking where you can, cooking for yourself, carrying cash instead of using a card), and then splurging on things that really mean something to you (for me, this included comfortable trips to Nagasaki, Hakone, Hiroshima and Kyoto). It makes for a far richer experience overall.

Professional development and employability

I have developed strength of character.

Highlight

Watching a beautiful sunrise over Tokyo.
Riding a Japanese bullet train (they're amazing - you ought to try it at least once while you're here).
Eating 'mitarashi dango' (sticky rice cakes with a sweet sauce, accompanied by bitter green tea) in Kyoto.
There was no single highlight. Just a running succession of highlights - one after another after another after another...

Top tips

  • Anything is achievable. No idea is too crazy, no plan too far-fetched. If you want to do something, or go somewhere, badly enough, you can make it happen.The only limitations are your fears (which are surmountable), your health (eat well, sleep well, and get a flu shot before coming to Japan during winter), your budget (live modestly so you can spend where it counts) and your willpower (you have to be the one to plan things and do things - don't expect that opportunities will always come to you).
  • Do not attempt to do everything. Do not feel the need to be involved in every single little thing that you see or hear about. It is impossible, it becomes quite stressful, and it will burn you out. Quiet moments to yourself can be just as valuable as spending a night out with friends.
  • Be present in every moment. It doesn't matter if you are with people or alone, if you are sitting in class or shopping in central Tokyo, if you are visiting a different city or just popping into the local convenience store. Be present in every - single - moment. Because by the time your exchange experience is over, the whole thing will feel like a dream, and a part of you will genuinely doubt that any of it happened at all.
  • Seriously consider going on exchange for a year. A semester might seem like a long time, but really, it's nothing.
Mariko - Hitotsubashi University