Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of International Hotel and Tourism, 3rd year
Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of International Hotel and Tourism, 3rd year

Academic experiences

I was a part of the Maple Program at Osaka University.
This was a one year intensive language program where the classes either focused on Japanese language or Japanese culture.

Most of the classes I took were for Japanese language because I wanted to improve in that area as much as possible, but I also took some cultural classes like Calligraphy, Japanese Mythology, and Japanese Politics (these last two were taught in English).
The language classes were intense at first, but after a few months I no longer felt overwhelmed, and now I am able to understand and fully enjoy all of my classes.

Mt Fuji

Personal experiences

I have been able to make many new friends on exchange.
Most of them surprisingly have been fellow exchange students from all over the world who were also studying in the Maple program, but I have made some Japanese friends too.

I have also been able to visit a lot of interesting places and events during my stay.
For example, I went to a illumination event on Christmas Eve at Osaka Castle; I went to a UNESCO world heritage protected village called Shiakawago; I stayed near Mt Fuji during the start of spring; and even saw zombies during Halloween at Universal Studios Japan (the zombies were a bit scary but very convincing because they actually drag some people to the ground and 'eat' them).

But regardless of the places that I visited, I have been able to meet amazing and interesting people, and experience things that I would never have been able to otherwise.
I am now a lot more confident in myself too, after travelling around on my own.

Also, through the Maple program, I have been able to travel to certain places and experience activities that I would not have been able to do on my own.
For example, I was able to create my own traditionally fired piece of pottery, and create a design on a traditionally-made lacquer plate, make incense, and try zazen--a form of zen meditation--at a Buddhist temple.

Tori gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Accommodation

I lived on campus in a girls-only dormitory.
For each unit we had 2 exchange students and up to six Japanese students.
There was a communal kitchen, bathroom, and laundry but the showers and bath were in a separate building all together.
There were other dormitories that had the showers inside the building or private showers, but unfortunately students cannot choose which dormitory they get to stay in.

UNESCO World Heritage site Shirakawago Village

Budget

The rent for my dormitory was quite cheap in comparison to the other dormitories (approx. $135 per month).

Food is also very reasonable priced for the most part too, but if you are cooking for yourself, you will need to watch which supermarket you go to because fruits and vegetables can be quite expensive.
I recommend creating a daily or weekly food budget (depending on your lifestyle) if you want to cook for yourself.
But for me, I found that most of the time it was cheaper to just eat at the university cafeteria during the week since most of the meals would cost me less than $5.

Also, public transport for the most part is cheaper than in Australia (especially the buses) but because of where the campus is the only access we had to trains was by either bus or monorail.
The bus is definitely the cheaper option (approx. $2.60 one way to the closest train station), where as a trip to the same destination on the monorail would cost more (around $4).

I recommend having at least $1000-$2000 available per month, because the temptation to travel around and try out new things is too hard to ignore (or it was for me).
Also, I recommend having a little extra put aside for travelling during the holiday, and for all of the awesome souvenirs you will be tempted to buy.

Wearing a yukata at Osaka University's Summer Festival in the rain

Academic development and employability

Participating in an exchange to Japan has helped me to improve my Japanese tremendously because I have been exposed to the Japanese language on a daily basis.
I have also had the opportunity to practice using what I learnt in class out in Japanese society when shopping, eating out, or hanging out with friends, which is an opportunity I didn't have in Australia.

Also, I think that participating in an exchange shows potential employers that I have a wide range of experiences, am open-minded to different cultures, and happy to travel and interact with a wide range of people.

Highlight

It's very hard to pick a single highlight from my stay in Japan because I have had so many unique and interesting experiences, but perhaps one of the most memorable experiences was my trip to Takayama.
I stayed in Takayama for a few days and took a tour out to Shirakawago (a UNESCO world heritage protected village).
Even though it was the start of spring, the area still had a lot of snow piled up from winter.
The piles of snow often stood higher than my shoulder.
It was the first time that I had ever seen so much snow.

After the tour, when I was back in Takayama, I explored town and found several different shrines and temples, and a small shop where the shop keeper taught me how to make the area's traditional cloth doll (called a Sarubobo).
I also met a kind grandmother who ran a souvenir shop.
She approached me wanting to practice some English phrases that she had written down.
While I made some corrections we started talking in Japanese, and by the end of the conversation she had given me a bottle of locally produced apple juice and a few apples because I was from Osaka University and Osaka is where she was originally from.
I was absolutely amazed by this exchange but also very happy that I had made a connection in such an unexpected way.

Shopping in Namba

On the last night of my trip I met a fellow Australian family on holiday.
We happened to be eating at the same restaurant.
When their meal arrived they didn't know how to eat it, and because the waitress couldn't speak English I volunteered to help explain how the meal was eaten.
The waitress and Australian family were grateful for the help and once the meal was finished I ended up having a lovely conversation with the Australian family.

We talked about their holiday so far and I gave them some advice on places to go and some things to do during their stay.
Because I would like a job related to tourism and Japan, being able to help that family was lot of fun for me.
Also, because I was travelling by myself, it was wonderful to be able to meet such nice people (both Japanese and fellow tourists) and to see and experience such an amazing area while there was still snow around.

Top tips

My advice for students who are considering going on exchange is:

1. Have confidence in yourself (particularly if you are wanting to go on exchange to a non-English speaking country).
You may not think that your language skills are up to it, but believe me, you will improve drastically by submerging yourself into the culture.

2. Get involved.
Try joining a club or society group.
This will give you a better chance of making local friends with similar interests.

3. Get out there.
Travel around and do some sight-seeing.
Try travelling to some non-tourist areas with local friends and you might just be surprised by what you find.

And finally,

4. Budget.
With all of the fun that you are having it's easy to lose track of how much money you spend.

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