Lisa - Waseda University

Bachelor of Economics
Semester 1, 2018
The experiences and people I’ve met on this exchange have made a huge contribution to my personal growth in such a short period of time.

Academic experience

I enrolled in the faculty called School of Political Science and Economics (SPSE) at Waseda University. The courses I took were: The Japanese Economy 1; Environmental Economics; Economics of Resources and Food; Study of Economics (Energy Economics, Environment and Policy) and Economics of Human Resource Management. 

What I enjoyed most about the Japanese academic system was that class schedules were based on a timetable running from 1st period to 7th period, just like in high school. Therefore, the 50 minute lunch break was an opportunity to have lunch with fellow exchange students enrolled in other faculties since we didn’t share the same classes. Some percentage of the overall grade was also dependent on attendance (around 20%)  so there was less weight and hence pressure towards mid semester and final exams. 

A challenge I faced was that lectures were not recorded. So it was important to attend every class and take diligent notes in preparation for exams. Furthermore, the lecturers did not have designated weekly consultation hours like UQ, so it was up to the students to organise office hours if they had any trouble with problem sets. 

The enrolment process at Waseda is conducted in three rounds, each of which have a specific timeline and deadline for which a specific step must be completed. In round 1, the courses that students wished to take could be tentatively selected. However, this does not mean you are officially enrolled in the course. It is only in round 2 and 3 where the courses selected may be dropped or added. Finally in round 3, if there is over-enrollment in a course, a lottery will be drawn to determine which students are successful to enrol in the course since there is a fixed capacity. Therefore, it is only after round 3 (the final round) where which of the selected courses can be taken for the semester can be known. SPSE was very helpful in provided a step- by- step handout outlining the steps and deadlines in the orientation.

Personal experience

Being born and raised in Australia and speaking Japanese with only my parents and distant relatives, growing up I’ve always been curious as to how the Japanese youth interact and the slang they use. From this exchange, I had the opportunity to have first-hand experience fulfilling this curiosity by joining a circle  (Japanese term for ‘club’) for international and exchange students called ‘Niji no Kai’. They held various events each month, of which was a chance to meet Japanese students from Waseda, as well as from other universities in Tokyo. Since there are over 500 people in the circle, you are bound to meet someone you get along with at each event. Examples of events I’ve attended include a cooking festival, where teams competed in cooking cuisines of different countries, and a music festival where I performed a piano solo. By frequently going to these social events, I was able to develop my interpersonal skills and build my confidence as I learned how to drive a conversation. 

Living in Tokyo for an extended period of time, I was able to live like a true local with knowledge of the best places to eat and shop. Public transportation in Tokyo was also very efficient so it was easy to explore new places. For example, Yokohama is only a 30minute train ride away from central Tokyo, famous for its China town and seaside shopping mall with unique boutiques called the Redbrick Warehouse.

Accommodation

I lived in a share-house 30 minutes from campus by train and 15minutes away from a train station by walking. Living on my own, it was nice to come home to warmth and laughter as other residents gathered in the common room or kitchen once they come home from work. Although a sharehouse means the bathroom and showers are shared, it also means there is less responsibility in terms of cleaning as a cleaner comes twice a week. In other words, less time dedicated to chores and budget spent towards cleaning products. 

Advice I would give to future students about housing is that location is very important. The closer the housing is to a train station, the more expensive monthly rent would be. Also, to take into consideration how many trains transfers are needed to arrive at your university. Japan, especially in cities, is very populous so rush hour in the morning and afternoon can be stressful as you constantly need to dodge a sea of people coming from all directions. The fewer train transfers are needed, the easier and less stressed you will be navigating your way around train station as platforms and exits can be confusing in the large main train stations such as Tokyo, Shibuya and Shinjuku station. 

A few days before the semester starts, the Center for International Education (CIE) at Waseda holds an orientation for all exchange students. They give you handouts and advice regarding starting your new life in Japan, such as how to start a bank account, forms needed to obtain a student pass for public transportation and suggested phone plans. A separate orientation is held for each faculty, where they will explain the enrolment process and how to obtain your student ID. It may depend on the faculty, but SPSE also organised a student check-in half way through the semester, where each student had a meeting with a faculty member to discuss your academic progress at Waseda and whether there are any concerns or issues. This was very helpful since there were no tutors or consultation hours for any of the courses.

Costs

With my housing being 15 minutes away from a train station by walking, it was comparable to that of Brisbane. In terms of food, a general basket is definitely more expensive, especially fruits and vegetables so it would be wise to buy them according to the season as Japanese supermarkets tend to predominantly stock domestic or local produce. 

You will notice that convenient stores in Japan (7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart) stock very well made lunches boxes and sandwiches so a lot of students will purchase their lunches. Although convenient and delicious, it amounts very quickly so I recommend buying groceries and making your lunch at home.

Professional Development

During my exchange, confidence in my Japanese grew as my vocabulary expanded immensely beginning from using simple phrases in daily life such as grocery shopping to having a conversation with Japanese students at the circle events. Simply hearing Japanese conversations also helped in becoming more familiar with the language as you pay attention to the intonation. Interpersonal skills were a weakness of mine that I wanted to develop, thus having more confidence in using the language, then leading to being able to effortlessly initiate a conversation allowed me to have more confidence in myself overall.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was the people that I’ve met, from fellow exchange students to Japanese circle members and everyone in between. Having conversations with different types of people, especially from that of a different culture than one I’ve been born and raised in enabled me to have a broader perspective and an open mind.

Top tips

Advice I would give to other students considering going to Waseda University would be to join a circle. There are over 500 circles so there is bound to be one, if not few, circles that will spark your interest. There are sports circles such as tennis, snow sports and basketball, as well as circles that a more unique to the Japanese culture such as karuta (a Japanese card game). All the circles set up booths for recruitment all around Waseda campus at the beginning of each semester so this would be a chance to meet members of the circle and learn more about their activities. 

I understand approaching people in a foreign country while using a foreign language can be daunting, so I would recommend to at least join an international circle as this is where you can meet fellow newly-arrived exchange students that are currently having the same experience as you. There are two that are officially registered at Waseda: WIC and Niji no Kai. Making new friends within these circles would help you in alleviating homesickness that you might experience a few months into your exchange and of course make your overall exchange a truly memorable experience building global connections.

Quote

The experiences and people I’ve met on this exchange have made a huge contribution to my personal growth in such a short period of time. It allowed me to build more confidence within myself and more optimistic for the future.