Jessica - Ritsumeikan University

B. Business Management / Diploma of Languages
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

At Ritsumeikan University I was enrolled in the IJL Track (Intensive Japanese Language Track). In this track, I studied comprehensive Japanese (5 classes a week), Japanese listening & speaking (2 classes a week) and Japanese writing (1 class a week). I also studied 2 subjects from the OSE Track (Open Study in English Track), Japanese Society and Geography of Japan and Kyoto. The Japanese language track was definitely intensive, which was good because my Japanese improved more than I was expecting in just one semester, however it was a little bit of a struggle to keep up with the increased workload and class hours. The university was also very strict on attendance and most classes had attendance barriers so if you skipped more than a few classes you usually couldn't pass the subject.

Personal experience

I gained a lot from exchange, but the most important thing would have to be the friendships I made. Staying in the dorm meant that I got to see my friends every day and that made it a lot easier to form strong friendships. I also met a lot of students from Ritsumeikan university that I intend to stay in touch with now that my exchange has ended. It was hard to say goodbye, but now I have a lot of new places that I plan to visit so that I can see everybody again.

I was lucky enough to do my exchange in Kyoto, which meant that I had somewhere new to explore every day. Exchange meant that I was able to revisit all of the big touristy places that Kyoto is famous for, but it also gave me the time to explore the smaller and often overlooked places in both Kyoto and outer Japan that I might have missed otherwise.

Accommodation

Rice Terraces in Takashima
Rice Terraces in Takashima

I lived in the Taishogun dormitory (i-house I) which was about 10-15 minutes walk from Ritsumeikan University. I was a little apprehensive at first about living in a dormitory because I've never had the experience before, but in the end, I was happy/relieved that I chose to stay in a dorm rather than live off campus in a separate apartment. I found that living in Taishogun ended up being a lot easier than if I had found my own accommodation and the RMs and the manager's office were easily accessible if I had any questions or issues. Taishogun is a newer dorm, so the rooms (which are private) were modern and clean with plenty of space. The shared areas such as the bathrooms and kitchens were also large, clean and easy to use and while the showers were public you still get your own separate shower room that you can close and lock with a door so it's not just a big open space. Living in the dorm also allowed me to make friends a lot easier than if I had lived on my own and I saved a lot on transport fees being able to just walk to campus. I can not recommend staying in a dorm over separate housing or accommodation enough.

Budget

I would recommend at least having $8000 per semester for exchange in Japan - if not more if you can. You don't want to spend your time abroad worrying about whether or not you have the money to visit new places, travel, eat out or experience things with your friends. 

You want to make sure you have enough to cover rent (roughly 45000 yen per month if you stay in a dorm inc. water, electricity and internet), transport (which in Japan is very expensive, roughly 3000 yen a week if not more depending on how much you intend to travel and if you live close to campus), food (in general I found it cheaper to eat out - groceries were expensive), textbooks ($50-$80 per semester), health insurance, bicycle permits, cooking supplies etc. and still have enough left over for domestic and possibly international travel during your breaks.

Professional development and employability

Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium
Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium

I thought that because I was only able to do exchange for a semester and not a year that my Japanese skills might not improve as much as I wanted or hoped, but I found that my knowledge and understanding of Japanese language, society and culture improved more than I was expecting in just one semester of exchange. 

I also found that having to navigate my way through a completely new city and country helped me to become more aware of my surroundings, organised and independent. As I graduate this semester I plan on using the language, cultural and personal skills I learnt on my exchange in future language studies and my future career.

Highlight

This is a hard question to answer - there are so many things I loved about my exchange experience. The 2 major highlights for me was the friendships and the places.

In particular, I loved having the time and ability to explore the smaller, less-known areas of Japan. I've travelled to Japan a few times before, but I've never been able to experience the people and culture the way I did on exchange.

Top tips

The advice I would give to other students considering exchange would be to not go into it expecting everything to run smoothly and work the first time around. From start to finish there's always something that needs doing (health insurance, orientation, picking your subjects and working and your timetable, paying rent, working out the bicycle system and public transport etc etc etc.) and it's easy to get caught up in trying to get all the "admin" stuff sorted as quickly as possible and in one go. It's much easier and less stressful to just take each thing as it comes and sort it out one thing at a time.

Jessica - Ritsumeikan University