Jason - Waseda University

Bachelor of Science
Semester 1, 2018
A once in a lifetime experience, would definitely take up the chance if I could do it again.

Academic experience

I used my elective credits overseas and studied Japanese language at Waseda University. I was part of the Centre for Japanese Language which only offered Japanese language courses. Waseda’s academic system was quite different from that of UQ. University ran 6 days a week with 7 periods each day. Each period was 90 minutes. In the CJL program each period worth of contact was worth 1 Tani. I needed to take 13 Tani to gain the equivalent of 8 Units of UQ credit (equivalent to a full-time academic load).

The most challenging part of the academic system was probably the enrolment process. Waseda offers its courses via a lottery system over 4 periods of registration rather than a first in, first served basis. We would have to select the courses that we wanted to do and wait until the results of each registration period came out to see if we were successfully enrolled in the course we wanted.  I was lucky enough to sign on to all my courses in the first round of registration. However, I knew of a few friends who did not get their enrolment sorted even after 3 rounds of registration and had to end up taking courses that weren’t their first preference.  

Course wise, Waseda’s academic system was quite sound. I had next to no knowledge of the Japanese language when I arrived in Japan, but I was able to find courses that accommodated to my level. The only hiccup that I faced was probably in one of my level 1-2 courses where the whole course was conducted in Japanese. That was definitely tough, particularly at the start, where I didn’t know what was going on, but the other students were more than happy to fill me in on what was happening. Other than that, my courses were quite enjoyable, and the teachers were all very friendly and helpful.

Personal experience

Studying abroad was a completely new experience, I arrived in Japan with almost no knowledge of the language, in fact, I couldn’t even say thank you properly at the convenience store! It was every bit as daunting as it was rewarding. By learning the Japanese language while in Japan, I was able to get closer to the culture and the people and explore beyond the touristy image of Japan. It was an amazing experience and I was able to meet so many people from all across the globe and make many Japanese friends. 

Learning a new language definitely opened my eyes to nuances in communication between different cultures and really helped me appreciate the importance of communication skills. Being a beginner of the language, it was definitely a little daunting to use the language in everyday life and to strangers that I hadn’t met before. However, I didn’t let that stop me from practising and meeting new people, my mindset was “what do you have to lose, you’re on exchange!”. Taking this approach, I think I was able to experience my exchange to the fullest and meet so many more people that I might have otherwise never talked to.  

Japan is a country famous for its limitless array of attractions and whilst I wasn’t able to explore all the places that I had in mind (there was a lot!), I was able to explore quite a few parts of Japan including the Kansai region, Okinawa, and of course, Tokyo where my University was situated. Each city had its own distinct vibe and it was really interesting to see how not only language but even the mannerisms differed between regions. For example, in Tokyo and many other regions of Japan, people line up on the left, but in Osaka, everyone lines up on the right. I was never able to figure out why, but I found this to be very memorable. Okinawa was definitely my favourite place that I visited in Japan, the island had a very tropical feel, beautiful beaches and amazingly clear waters.

Accommodation

Waseda University offers quite a wide variety of accommodation options, including University affiliated dorms, apartments and share housing. As with the registration process, spots for the University dorms were determined by random lots. There were three different university dorms, but you were unable to pick which dorm you wanted to apply for, so a lot of the process was left up to luck. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into the Nishiwaseda International Student House which had ensuite bedrooms (which I had also wanted!).  

The dorm, itself was only a 10-minute walk from the main campus where I had all of my courses. I had never lived in a dorm-like environment before, so living there was a completely new and exciting experience. The dorm was full of exchange students from various countries, and I was able to meet some of my closest friends in Japan through the close-knit environment. Being Japan, the rooms were quite small, but I didn’t think it was too much of a problem as I had planned to spend as much time as I could out there exploring Japan. 

The only problem with my dorm was probably the kitchens. My dorm was split into 5 floors and each floor was gender specific, so males were on the 1st floor, females on the 2nd and so on. Each floor had roughly 50 students and just one shared kitchen. Kitchen space actually wasn’t a problem because the actual kitchen was quite large with 4 stoves and a sizeable eating area, rather it was the fact that many dormmates wouldn’t clean up after themselves. This really disillusioned many of us to cook meals. Thankfully, eating out in Japan was actually quite affordable and almost on par with buying groceries and cooking your own meals so this wasn’t too much of a problem.

The university offered quite a bit of information on accommodation options, however, aside from the dormitories, students would have to deal with directly with a 3rd party university-affiliated agent. Being in Japan, there were quite a few regulatory processes and paperwork to fill in once you’ve settled in, but the university held information sessions for those of us living in the dorm. Those who lived in other accommodation were not always as fortunate and I know of several people who had to do the process by themselves.

Costs

My dorm room at Nishwaseda International Student House was quite affordable at around 1000 Australian a month, however individual apartments could cost up to 2000 AUD a month. Food wise, groceries were a little more expensive than in Australia, particularly the fruit and vegetables. Eating out in Japan was much more affordable compared to Australia, I was able to find plenty of sizeable and healthy meals for only around 7-9 AUD. Transport around Tokyo was quite expensive, living in the dorms, I could skip out on daily transport fees. Those that had to travel to university could apply for a commuter pass which would give them discounted travel to and from university only. Entertainment in Japan was quite comparable to that in Australia, movie tickets were around 15 AUD and a night out would usually end up costing around 40-80AUD. Travelling around Japan was quite expensive, but we were lucky enough to get a hold of tickets during sales. There are also student discounts available for Shinkansen tickets. Overall, I was able to get by comfortably and do quite a bit of travelling with around a budget of 14K AUD.

Professional Development

Living in a country I hadn’t lived in before was a really new and challenging experience. I was constantly put in new situations, many of which were outside my comfort zone. Having been able to overcome many of these challenges, I think it definitely made me more independent and confident in my ability to handle new, alien situations. I also believe study abroad really broadened my views of the world. Personally, before the exchange, I knew the world was huge, but it had never really felt that way. After having met so many people from all around the world, I’ve begun to really appreciate how global our society has become and just how powerful technology is in bringing all of us together.

Highlight

During my exchange at Waseda I participated in quite a few different clubs, but the highlight was definitely the Waseda International Festival, WIF for short. WIF was an international cultural exchange club where members partook in the performing arts such as dance, drama and choir. I was part of Hip Hop and Samba dance groups and really enjoyed my time there practising and hanging before our final performance in Okuma Auditorium. I had never tried dance before, but it had always seemed so fun, so I figured why not give it a try in Japan!  At the start, I was definitely a little shy and embarrassed to make mistakes, but the members were all so welcoming, and the dance leaders were really supportive. It was a really comfortable environment where I could enjoy dancing without much worry or embarrassment. I was able to meet a lot of wonderful people through my time at the club and the final performance in Okuma Auditorium was definitely amongst the top highlights of my time in Japan.

Top tips

Definitely plan ahead, Waseda University’s application process has a lot of paperwork, don’t be afraid of it, but also don’t leave it to the last minute.  The Waseda University exchange staff team was quite helpful, so make sure to email them if you have any questions. Japan’s semester dates are quite a bit different from Australia’s so I wasn’t able to stay behind and travel because UQ’s semester 2 had already begun. Make sure to keep that in mind when making your travel plans for Japan.