- What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? My program was formerly known as the Language and Culture program at Doshisha University. I took 10 language classes and 2 elective classes: US vs. Japan in Animation, Japanese Culture. The language classes at Doshisha were rigorous compared to those offered here at UCSB. I had three hours of Japanese language classes every day. What made it rigorous was that the language instructors taught Japanese by using Japanese. It forced us to immerse ourselves in the language even in a classroom environment.
- What was your favorite class abroad? My favorite classes are the Japanese language classes every day. It’s tough and sometimes I would feel like taking a break at the end, but it’s rewarding. I learned new kanji every day.
- Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience. No, I didn’t.
- How would you describe your host institution? Doshisha University’s Imadegawa campus consisted of a mix of Japanese students and international students. The school runs on a bell schedule, like high school, so everyone gets lunch at the same time, which may be something to be concerned about if you wanted cafeteria lunch.
- Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? As far as I know, you can join most of the social clubs, and some are geared towards foreign students. I didn’t join any clubs, so don’t take my word for it, but I know there is one called “Musubi,” which just started in my semester. It’s geared towards socializing between international students and Japanese students.
- Describe your housing situation. I applied for housing through the university’s housing application, which was part of the paperwork when applying. I got a single room with a fridge and AC at a dorm called Casa Kitayama. It’s about $700 US dollars per month for rent, which is quite cheap. However, you have to pay cash, using a machine at the local post office. Perks of Casa Kitayama was the cheap rent and not having to pay extra for utilities like water and electricity, which came in handy when summer came around. The downside was the lack of cleanliness of the dorm. The dorms don’t have cleaning staff, so you would have to clean up after yourself. This includes the bathroom (sinks, toilets), shower drains, and kitchen appliances (you clean what you used). It became an issue in my dorm when someone would cook a large meal and left all the pots and pans in the sink. Someone would also forget to flush the toilet. Don’t be that person abroad. We did have a caretaker who would be in the dorm from Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm. If anything needed repairing, the caretaker would be the person to go to. The thing is, however, she spoke only Japanese; so, you would have to communicate with her in Japanese to the best of your ability. Or get another international student to help translate for you. I forgot to mention that Casa Kitayama is an all-female dorm, so no males allowed, not even if he’s a friend or relative. If you’re caught, you’re thrown out of the dorm. Don’t risk your housing.
- Where did you eat most of your meals? I started out cooking my meals. Grocery in Japan is more expensive than in California. The variety of vegetables was different from what I was used to, so it affected my diet. I ended up eating food from the convenience stores (mainly Family Mart) and bento stores half the time. Part of the reason was because of the lack of cleanliness caused by other dormmates, as I mentioned previously.
- How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? An average meal while eating out would be about $10, if you want to be cheap. If you want to be cheaper, eating a meal from the convenience store would be about $5. One way to budget would be to look up the supermarket’s website and see what sales occur on which weekdays. There was one supermarket near Casa Kitayama that would have Egg Tuesday, in which the eggs would be on sale (they don’t sell by the dozen, but by 10 eggs). Supermarkets generally have a sale each day after 8 pm, though there may be a lot of shoppers who just got off work. Other than that, I don’t have much for budgeting. Food was my largest expense while in Japan.
- Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals? Yes, it would be very hard to find meals. It’s possible if you’re planning to cook for most of your meals. Eating out is a different story. Most countries of East Asia love meat, especially pork and beef. It’s easier to be pescatarian, as the Japanese diet centers around seafood, though be aware that seafood will be prepared to be eaten raw in many places.
- Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. I love eating food, so it’s hard to choose. One memorable dining experience was at a French-style bakery restaurant called “Shinshindo,” close to one of the exits of Kitayama station. Their bread game was takai, especially if you dipped the bread in their house special curry. It’s not Japanese, but it was great. Expensive though. The house special curry plus the bread service (endless bread) and drink cost about $14.
- What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? I miss Japanese milk. Perhaps it’s due to different pasteurization process, but the milk tasted smoother and creamier than whole milk in the US. Hokkaido milk, which I bought and inhaled on my trip to Hokkaido, was awesome. Cereal never tasted better.
- Describe your host city. I lived in the city of Kyoto, so I was at the center of everything. If you like city life, that’s great. The shopping district Shijo was a couple stops from my school, so it was easy to go shopping (for take-out food) after school.
- Was it easy to get around? For day-to-day life? Yes. It was very easy to use the subway to get to and from school. I would recommend applying for a student pass for the subway and bus (if it’s needed), because it saved money in the long run. $2 one way may seem cheap but it builds up.
- Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students? To a certain extent, yes. However, there was an incident of sexual violence that happened to another international student (not a UC student). I would like to say that there’s no racial discrimination, exoticism, or fetishization abroad—but there is. So, even if Japan is considered “safe,” remember that there is no such place that is 100% safe. Be aware of your surroundings and those around you. Also, please check Google for the weather, especially typhoons. Although you get enrolled in a program that alerts you and your parents, it doesn’t alert you for every single thing. So, it’s best to check local news and Google.
- What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? I went to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens during cherry blossom season, which was nice. I also went to the Kyoto’s Pokemon Center to buy souvenirs.
- Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. Mainly having to do paperwork all in Japanese. I never considered how much more of a hassle paperwork can be when the language is not English. Another thing was navigating your way at the local ward office, where you have to do paperwork. After getting used to Japanese food, I started missing the variety of cuisines I had here in California: Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, etc. While there is Chinese food, it’s quite limited unless you go to Chinatown.
- How did you handle culture shock? I bonded with other international students in the dorm over our struggles in a foreign country.
- What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? The subway system. And public cleanliness.
- Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad. When I landed at KIX, I took the Haruka line from the airport to Kyoto main station. Here was where trouble happened. Kyoto main station is confusing if you’re not experienced in navigating through the building and its different levels. Certain railway lines were on the second floor. Certain platforms were on the west side instead of the east side. It was convoluted. So, I was confused on how to make my way to the subway platform once I got off the train. After trying to read the signs with my limited Japanese, I asked the station attendant. I was still confused. He spoke so fast and my tired brain could not handle it. So, I tried asking in English. He responded in Mandarin. This went on a couple times until I realized that he was responding in English all this time. My brain was just so tired that I thought he spoke in Mandarin. After that, I was finally able to make my way to the subway platform. Anyway, after that, I had trouble with finding my way to my hotel after getting off at a station. For almost an hour, I was on the streets of Kyoto at night, trying to find the right street. I eventually found it after I realized that I was walking in the wrong direction and retraced my steps. I finally arrived at my hotel right before the front desk closed at 10:45 pm.
- What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal? My fear that my units weren’t going to be counted for my major or minor. But it did happen. My units transferred as UC credit, but most of my units transferred as lower division units. I have one class that I can petition for my major, but it does not replace a 4-unit class.
- What was your biggest challenge abroad? The language placement exam. Since the language classes transferred back as lower division units, I can conclude that I failed to place at a level at which my units would fulfill requirements for my Japanese minor.
- How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? I have become more introspective due to the language barrier.
- What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? This program is designed for language learning. However, here are the caveats. If you want the classes to count for your language major/minor, especially upper division work, be sure to score high enough to get into level 4 on the placement exam. If you’re going in with no experience in Japanese and you don’t plan to petition these language classes to count for major/minor, then you’re good.