Kayla - Keio University

Bachelor of Arts
Semester 2, 2017 and Semester 1, 2018
During this exchange, my Japanese improved drastically, I made so many wonderful memories, met people from across the world, and got to experience Japanese culture and lifestyle firsthand.

Academic experience

I was in the Japanese Language Program, so I studied primarily Japanese language courses, with some KIP courses as well. I really enjoyed the content available in the courses, because I could study Japanese and Japanese culture in depth. However, because JLP courses are worth only one taniĀ (credit), I had to study a lot of them at once, which gave me a very intense workload, so I had to make sure I was organised and kept track of all the homework and assessments due every week. But I enjoyed the fact we had one class per subject per week, so it gave me time to work on homework and assessment between classes. The class registration process was pretty straight forward, at least - you had a trial week to attend all the classes to see whether you liked them or not, then in the following weeks you could add/drop classes to your schedule as you wanted. The only downside is that JLP can be very competitive, so if you don't score well in the level check tests for that particular class, you will most likely be unable to attend it. But the staff are very helpful, so if you're troubled during registration, it's easy to seek help and support.

Personal experience

I made a lot of friends - not only Japanese friends, but also friends from various countries around the world. I highly recommend making friends with Japanese people when you can though, especially if you want to improve your Japanese, because there's not much opportunity outside of class to practice it. I also had the opportunity to travel to some small towns near Tokyo, such as Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, and Chino in Nagano Prefecture, which I probably wouldn't have travelled to if I wasn't on exchange. I also got to explore Tokyo and Yokohama in depth, visiting many places I've never been before. I also improved a lot in my Japanese speaking and comprehensive ability - a lot more than I would if I continued my studies in Australia. My confidence improved, and I learnt to be more independent, as well as how to handle stressful or difficult situations by myself.

Accommodation

I lived in one of the Keio University dorms; Tsunashima Student Dormitory. If you're interested in living at a Keio dorm, they usually offer the option when you apply for exchange through Keio. I chose Tsunashima because it offered our own living quarters (refrigerator, bathroom, bed, washing machine, internet and air-conditioner) as well as cooked meals for the dorm members. However, if you prefer cooking your own meals, I highly recommend another dorm, as there's no kitchen in the Tsunashima Student Dormitory.

Costs

On average, living costs per month were around $1500 for me. This included rent, transport, food, and spending money on entertainment and goods. But the first month - or few months - costed closer to $2000-$3000 because of the initial rent payment and settling in. I recommend researching the most efficient way to transfer AUD to yen to save money when overseas, since the transfer fees are what hit you the most when living in Japan.

Professional Development

As expected, my Japanese improved greatly being immersed in Japan. I learnt how to communicate effectively in many scenarios and compared to before I went to Japan, I have a lot more confidence in my abilities and being able to navigate any situation in Japanese.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was joining one of the many clubs/circles at Keio University. Although I intended not to join any initially, by chance I was asked to try out a lesson with the Japanese Traditional Dance Club, Takara, and I stayed in the club from October until I left in July. The members of the club were really warm and friendly, and the club was a fun mix of both Japanese and foreign exchange students, so I got to practice my Japanese, but still was able to communicate with people from other parts of the world. The teacher of Takara was also very, very kind, and although there were times when we had a language barrier, she was very patient and eager to teach me "nihonbuyo". The club president was lovely, bubbly and fun; she even came to the airport to see me off when I left Japan. I'd never learnt traditional Japanese dance before, so this experience was very unique. I also was able to wear a yukata every lesson, and I've learnt how to put on a yukata properly by myself now. I made many friendships and awesome memories with Takara, and plan to return to see them all again in the future!

Top tips

First of all, if you're considering doing JLP at Keio, make sure you do ample revision of what you've learnt previously before the level check test, as it's very easy to score low in the test and be placed in a level lower than you should be at. I also highly recommend joining a club, especially ones that are unique to Japan, as it's a great way to learn and practice Japanese and to make new friends. Keep a schedule or a diary for classes because you'll need to keep note of homework and due dates a lot. JLP loves tests, so be prepared to have them weekly. KIP students have also said their Japanese classes were difficult, so be careful with what level you choose to enter into. Do extensive research into things such as bank accounts, SIM cards, etc. before you arrive, as you may not be able to buy a SIM card if you don't have a credit/debit card, and/or if you're under 20 years of age, and not owning a phone number means you can't do certain things such as open a bank account and vice versa. I had a lot of trouble at first when I came to Japan, because I was 19 and had no credit/debit card, so I couldn't purchase a regular SIM card to use, and as a result didn't have a phone number to get a bank account, so I couldn't receive any money I transferred from overseas. On that note, make sure you have heaps of cash ready and available, especially when you first go to Japan, because it's a cash-based country and you might not be able to rely on your card as much as you can. Don't be afraid to ask for help, though, and if you find yourself in any trouble in Japan, talking to other exchange students may help a lot since they'll be going through the same experiences and problems as you.