Elena - Keio University

B Advanced Humanities (Honours) & Dip Languages
Semester 2, 2018
I gained so many things from this exchange, it's hard to list them all.

Academic experience

I did the Japanese Language Program for a semester at Keio. Because I needed 14 tani to transfer across to my degree, I ended up taking 8 JLP courses (each worth 1 tani) and 3 courses from the International Center (each worth 2 tani). Before the semester started, all JLP students had to take a placement test to determine which comprehensive Japanese level they were at. If you disagreed with the level you were placed at, you were able to take separate placement tests for all the other JLP classes. That being said, it is unlikely that you'll be able to change your level, someone even left the course because she was frustrated that it was too easy. I also found the content quite easy, but it was good revision and allowed me to enjoy the rest of the experience without any stress. But if you're looking to really push yourself to improve your language skills, all you can really do is study as much as possible before the placement test and hope that you'll be assigned a high level.

Personal experience

I gained so many things from this exchange, it's hard to list them all. Not only did I make fantastic friends, I also travelled around the country quite a lot, and even went to Hong Kong and Macau for a week! It was wonderful to see and experience so many new things, as well as gradually get more and more comfortable speaking Japanese. Before coming on exchange, I felt very nervous whenever I used Japanese, but now I feel so much more confident. I came to accept that making mistakes and looking silly is totally okay, it's just part of the language learning process.

Accommodation

I lived in the new Motosumiyoshi International Dormitory, and it was such a great experience. The reason I chose that dorm was because I had the luxury of my own room and bathroom, but shared the kitchens and common space with everyone else - I was able to hang out with people whenever I wanted, but was also able retreat to my room if I needed to study or recharge. 

The best thing about living in a dorm is that you become a family. I grew so close with my dorm mates, it made the whole experience that much better. Living alone can be nice, but I think it can get quite lonely. If you're in a dorm, there's always someone to go out with you for karaoke or dinner - it just makes things more fun. Plus, the new Motosumiyoshi dorm is very clean, tucked away and a nice breather from the city, opposite a German-inspired main street that has so much character, and only a ten-minute walk from Hiyoshi campus. I honestly could not recommend it more!

Costs

The greatest expense I had was transport. Even with the student discount on your PASMO or Suica, it can be quite expensive travelling around Tokyo. I also think you end up travelling more than you think you will, or at least will want to travel more than you think you will. During the holidays, nearly everyone went on some sort of trip, whether it was to Osaka, Hokkaido, or Hong Kong. So I think factoring in some extra money for last minute travel plans is a good idea.

Food is not too expensive, but I am practically vegan, so found it a bit more expensive than others, mainly because a lot of restaurants with vegan options tend to be considered more 'fashionable', and thus hike up the price of their meals. Fresh produce can also be quite expensive, especially fruit, so I would recommend meal planning in order to help budget.

Overall, I spent around $15,000 during my exchange, but that included a trip to Hong Kong, two trips to Kansai, and a couple of weekend trips to places like Hakone and Enoshima. So if you're on a stricter budget, you should be fine as long as you don't travel too far and check out more of Tokyo instead.

Challenge

The biggest challenge I faced was in my second month of exchange. I began to miss my friends and family back home, and started getting frustrated at really small things. Even though I was able to call my friends and family whenever I wanted, what really helped me was maintaining a growth mindset and just giving it time. All of the things I was feeling were completely normal, I was simply at the peak of adjusting to life in a new country. In fact, after that month passed, I felt completely fine and now feel incredibly connected to Japan, so much so that I definitely want to go back and live there in the future.

Professional Development

I mentioned this before, but I really learned that it's okay to make mistakes - when you're learning a new language, mistakes are bound to happen! It's a great lesson to learn, and will definitely contribute to my professional development.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was most definitely meeting so many wonderful people. I now have friends from all over the world, and was able to learn so much about their home countries and cultures. Learning to operate in a completely new environment was also eye-opening and great, you really get to know yourself. Even the difficulties were incredibly rewarding.

Top tips

- Opening a bank account is NOT necessary, especially if you're not working
- Always carry cash with you, most people use cash over cards
- Be respectful of others e.g. don't walk while eating, don't be loud on the train
- Arrive with a growth mindset!