Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts, 4th year
Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts, 4th year

Academic Experience

I completed the Showa Women's University Intensive Japanese Language Program which involves 8 compulsory Japanese classes each week that went for 1 ½ hours. I also chose to participate in the Calligraphy and Badminton classes so that I could interact with students at the university. The classes are amazing and a large portion of your grade is attributed to attendance/participation. There was a class dedicated to communication in different situations, another about Japanese pop-culture, and one for grammar which split students up based on ability which I really appreciated as it allowed me to ask heaps of questions. Of course, there was also a class that covered keigo and email/letter writing which I found a little difficult but it was extremely helpful and applicable.

One unanticipated obstacle I encountered was that throughout the semester I realised that I had more trouble understanding men when they speak Japanese as, with Showa being a women’s university, I had less practice speaking with them and there are subtle language differences between genders. It wasn’t a huge problem but it was not something I accounted for when I was choosing which university to apply for. However, that being said, I would definitely recommend Showa Women’s University to my friends as the smaller student population means that the Centre for International Exchange (CIE) staff members really take care of you throughout your stay and I much prefer the smaller, more intimate classes where you could get to know your teachers and peers. You also get a ‘big sister’ to help you settle in and sort all your paperwork out at the beginning as well as a host family to show you every day Japanese life.

Personal Experience

Showa Women’s University had a club called ‘Chawa’ and the students in this club work with CIE to bring opportunities and experiences to the exchange students, and through them I met lots of new friends and experienced so much. We went on a scavenger hunt around the Setagaya area, I volunteered to help the club at the school festival, I sang at their Christmas party and attended many of their other events designed to give exchange students a good look at the Japanese culture.

I also had the most amazing host family and was very lucky that they welcomed me into their home and showed me everything from normal everyday life to teaching me to ski to taking me to Disneyland. However, other students weren’t so lucky and didn’t have as many opportunities with their host families (conflicting schedules etc) so it’s really up to the luck of the draw when it comes to that kind of thing. But also try not to put pressure on your host family to go and do crazy or expensive things with you all the time because it’s really just the opportunity to speak with them, experience the everyday life and share our culture that I valued the most.

Accommodation

I stayed at Showa International House which is an apartment complex 2 minutes from the university. 

They have self-contained units with everything you need; fridge, stove, sink, microwave, kettle, bathroom, bedroom, washing machine and a little veranda with wifi included. It was the cheapest option for accommodation as the building is a bit older but I would recommend it as it is extremely close to the university, you’re neighbours with the other exchange students and there isn’t any curfew holding you back from a late night konbini run.

Budget

Money is tricky because it varies from person to person depending on how much you’ll travel and what things you’ll do, but for me, I was lucky in that the rent for Showa International House was only 45000 yen/moth and I worked at an English after-school once a fortnight for some extra spending money. Fruit and Veg is a bit on the expensive side in Japan so it was important to set aside a comfortable amount of money for the groceries. However, there are loads of cheap-ish restaurants (about 1200 yen for a set meal) with real Japanese food in the area where I lived around the uni so I ended up eating out a few times a week. There’s also a cafeteria at uni with meals around 200-500yen.

Public Transport is not too bad but concession fees are not offered to university students. It’s only about 200 yen to get to Shibuya from the Snagenjaya station by train (I fell in love with the train system, always on time and running so frequently ) but it’s around 500 yen to get to Shinjuku station because stopovers make the trip more expensive (I don’t really know how it works).

Some other costs you might not think of include things like sending mail home (I sent a package of my stuff just before I left). You can send by boat which is the cheapest option (about $50 for 5kg) but it takes 2-3 months, and on that note; travel light when you come here so that you don’t have to hold back on the shopping! And the health insurance which was 8000 yen for 5 months.

Professional Development & Employability

It was all very scary and I hardly understood a thing in the beginning but it’s funny you don’t even notice how quickly and drastically your language and understanding improves throughout your stay. The classes are great for providing structure and what to focus on. One class follows a textbook which focuses on the situations that exchange students might find themselves in and what to do/say, and on several occasions I applied the things we covered to my everyday interactions.

Also, as a part of the intensive program, we received the opportunity to participate in an internship at the end of the semester after graduation if we wished to do so. I spent a week working in retail at GAP Japan where I learned how to interact with customer and co-workers. It was also a great chance to apply the Keigo I had learnt.

Highlights

The highlight of my exchange was the experience I had at New Years with my host family. They took me up to Morioka where their extended family lives to teach me to ski because I had mentioned that I had never seen snow before. But apart from learning to ski I also got to experience what the family does in the home on New Year’s Eve, like eating soba and mochi, and we visited the temple on New Year’s Day all dressed up in kimono.

Top Tips

I believe that when going on exchange, the most important thing is to not be shy and participate in as many events as possible so that you can do what you came there to do: experience things. Experience the culture and the people and practice practice practice your Japanese! There’s no faster way to learn the language.

So my top tip is: You can sit in you room and study Japanese by the book whether you’re in Australia or Japan, but you can only learn the language or experience the vibrant culture while you’re in Japan, so go and get out there while you have the chance.

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