As part of the third year of my Bachelor of International studies degree, I spent a semester abroad at Shimonoseki City University (SCU). Shimonoseki is a relatively small town on the southwestern tip of Honshu, and while considered almost countryside by Japanese standards, it’s actually a decently sized little city containing most things you might need with all the rest available in the larger city of Kitakyushu some 45 minutes away by train.
 
As a small university of about 2000 students, SCU is a huge change from UQ. Day to day uni is not hugely dissimilar to high school in Australia so expect to be spending 4 or 5 relatively full days in class, with 10 minutes in between periods, and a single hour long break for lunch.

Barring one or two exceptions, all the subjects on offer at SCU are taught in Japanese, and although you might be taking 6 or so Japanese language subjects with other exchange students, these’ll only fill a bit over half of your tani requirements. This forces you to take a number of standard subjects with normal Japanese university students. I’d only been studying Japanese for two years before departure so I felt pretty well out of my depth. But both the teachers and the support staff at the International centre were consistently great, and helped out as much as they could.

Additionally, every exchange student is also assigned a local student as a tutor. Mine was just getting ready to go on exchange to America himself, but he still helped me with both uni and general life things, and we wound up spending quite a bit of time just hanging out. It’s a good system, as it effectively guarantees that you’ll have at least one local friend to help you stay alive and keep sane.

Although there were around 40 other exchange students, aside from another guy from UQ, three Koreans, a Turk, and a Thai gentlemen, they were Chinese and spoke little to no English. Though we were from different cultures, our common plight meant that I inadvertently wound up making some interesting friends, and our lack of any other shared language forced me to speak that much more Japanese than I would have otherwise.

The university and some of the circles(clubs) organised quite a few events for exchange students, particularly earlier in the semester, and I’d definitely recommend going most of the time. They were usually interesting, and they’re a good way to interact with both Japanese people and the other exchange students in different settings.

Unless they make separate arrangements, all the exchange students live together in a single dorm type thing some ten minutes away from uni on foot. Everyone has their own room already furnished with all the necessities (gas stove, washing machine, microwave, fridge, shower, rice cooker, electric kettle, tv, etc.). Internet isn’t provided by default, but most of the exchange students were walked through the sign-up process for a local provider a couple of days after showing up. I’d advise doing it, because other than the international centre at Uni, free internet is non-existent. Expenses wise, I was put in a larger room but was still paying just 28,000 yen a month in rent. I can’t speak to winter, but in summer utility costs will vary depending on your lifestyle and how good you are at enduring heat. Food wise, the uni has a cheap cafeteria that’s pretty good provided you’re not there during the packed lunch hour, and other than fruit and vegetables, groceries are generally affordable as well. I managed to keep up a pretty standard western diet at home as well as eating out fairly regularly for about 5000 yen a week, but you could survive on much less if you omit things like bread, cake and the occasional larger meat.


Ultimately, while probably not as hectic as a uni in a bigger city, Shimonoseki City University is a great choice if you want to seriously improve your Japanese language ability and more deeply engage with the lives of average Japanese. I learned a lot here, and I can’t recommend going on exchange enough.


Tips:

  • For any additional necessities a hundred yen shop is the way to go. Along with any other bigger city-ish things you might want, there’s a bunch of them scattered around Kokura in Kitakyushu.
  • Others have no doubt mentioned it, but Nomihoudai (all you can drink) is by far my favourite terrible Japanese idea and you should jump on any chance you have to go.
  • For those only staying for a semester, If you want to travel, get it done before uni starts. Other than maybe a long weekend for golden week, there are no holidays, and you’re probably going to be too bogged down in homework or little assignments, to freely go too far.
  • Not too many visibly foreign people make it as far out as Shimonoseki, so expect stares. You’ll get used to it soon enough.

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