Leila V., Japan – Waseda University (Asian Studies)

Fushimi Inari Shrine

History and Culture in modern Tokyo whose roots are hundreds of years old.

ACADEMICS

1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?

I took GE and Major classes for East Asian Cultural studies. They were extremely similar to UCSB courses both in the subject matter and in the style of lecturing. The homework, projects, presentations and essay formats were similar to my classes here and the professors were understanding and available. The difficulty level was quite similar. The grading system however was a bit disadvantageous as the grades in Japan are 100-90=A+, 90-80=A, 80-70=B, 70-60=C, and 60-50=D. Therefore professors may give you a C expecting you to pass the class but when your grades are transferred back to UCSB it will show up as a D on your transcript and will not be a passing grade. The Professors had office hours, were available by email and would hold workshops occasionally too.

2. What was your favorite class abroad?

One of my favorite classes while abroad was Japanese Literature after 1945 which explored the psyche of the country after World War II, through the American occupation, and more recently through novels and short stories. I also enjoyed a class on race and ethnic relations which explored some of Japan’s problems with xenophobia and racism.

3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.

I volunteered at an english camp for kids for one weekend. It was a really fun experience but I would recommend it to someone with a firm grasp on the Japanese language as the kids only knew a few words in English.

HOST INSTITUTION

4. How would you describe your host institution?

My walk to class

Waseda was a beautiful campus in a slightly urban area of Shinjuku. The campus itself was made up of skyscrapers and was in a relatively busy area but not too crowded like many people imagine Japan to be and not fully removed from the city like ICU. The campus was a bit smaller than UCSB laterally but the student population was around the same size. It was about an hour from the closest airport and a quick train ride to most places in Tokyo.

5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?

There are many circles at Waseda some are specifically for english speakers/international students, and some are just general clubs for the whole student body that may require more Japanese language knowledge.

HOUSING

6. Describe your housing situation.

I was living in the Waseda provided dorms that was arranged through the school. I was in a double with a random other student. It was around $440 a month and a single was only $540. The dorms had a communal kitchen but private bathrooms. You could also choose to do a homestay through the university or find an apartment independently from the school. It was furnished with bedding, blankets and a pillow, a desk and chair, a small closet space, and a small fridge. No drawers were provided. It was about a 7 minute walk from the dorm to the campus. Along the way to and from school were multiple places to buy groceries, restaurants, convenience stores, etc.

FOOD

7. Where did you eat most of your meals?

There was a cafeteria but I didn’t frequently use it. I typically ate at the many restaurants that were nearby or made my own food. Convenience stores had a large variety of extremely cheap and good food. 

8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

An average meal would be between 6-12 dollars. There are very affordable options. Ramen would be around $6-8 dollars. Japanese curry was around $7-12. 

9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

Japan is an extremely healthy country and most of the food is as well. However being vegetarian or vegan isn’t very popular and these options could be difficult to find. Many meals that would appear to be vegetarian actually have fish sauce or a meat base/broth. So it could take extra care/time to find options.

10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

There was a 2 Michelin star ramen restaurant down the street from my dorm and it was both delicious and affordable. Most memorable however may be shabu shabu which is Japanese hotpot, making your own food with your friends is very fun.

11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

Probably ramen, nothing beats the original, or kare, Japanese curry.

HOST CITY

12. Describe your host city.

Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba

I was living in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo. The school is in a quieter area relatively but Tokyo is obviously Japan’s largest city and hosts the largest amount of foreigners and international students. Shrines can be found next to nightclubs. The past and the future collide in this unique setting.

13. Was it easy to get around?

Public transportation was very cheap and very accessible but sometimes it could be confusing. Google maps surprisingly was pretty helpful with train lines and transfers, only occasionally was it wrong or slightly off. All signs and maps should have English alongside Japanese. The trains are clean, on time and major lines arrive every 5 mins. The worst times were rush hours when trains would be packed like sardines. 

14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?

I have never felt more safe than when I was in Japan. Crime is very low even to foreigners who are usually targeted. I’ve heard of pick pocketing but never known anyone who has experienced it. I was catcalled sometimes in certain areas or men would simply come up to you and start trying to have a conversation. I lost my wallet twice on the subway and both times it was returned with nothing taken, when I had all my cards and usually cash inside. I would often take late night walks near campus/the dorms and only once did I feel unsafe because I was followed by a man for a little while.

Biggest Bronze Buddha in the World

15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

Karaoke is a hugely popular pastime in Japan, there’s also many festivals held in parks or near parks for food and culture that I went to like the Thai festival and the Vietnamese festival. 

HOST CULTURE

16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

One of the negative aspects was being objectified and exoticized as an American woman. There was a lot of staring because you stand out. Japanese culture isn’t very straightforward so sometimes people will not come out and say what they want/are thinking but will be more subtle. People are really curious about you and will be helpful. Once a man thought me and a friend were lost on the subway and offered to help us look at the map to figure out where we were going.

17. How did you handle culture shock?

I talked with other Americans about it and we helped each other navigate it sometimes.

Mt. Fuji

18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

How kind and understanding they can be. They can be very helpful to people who are clearly not from Japan about Japanese customs or even how to work food vending machines, the servers will help you figure it out with a smile. A lot of people are very curious about foreigners and want to hear about what you’re doing in Japan and how you like it.

TRAVEL

19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

Me and friend took a bus to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and as someone who is interested in Japanese history, culture and religion seeing some of the oldest and grandest temples, shrines and buildings was really cool. Plus the bus was quite affordable $120 there and back.

REFLECTION

20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

Traveling alone. It was way easier to get around than I thought it would be. I wouldn’t super recommend this but I didn’t even buy portable wifi because the amount of free wifi provided by the city is incredible, so using google maps was really convenient.

21. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

Staying focused on school. I loved a lot of my classes but there was so much to see and do that doing homework seemed mundane. Save traveling for your breaks and weekends though and capitalize on learning about your country from people who actually live there!

22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?

I’ve always been independent but this helped me to grow even more and to be more comfortable being by myself and boosted my confidence in myself. I feel even more capable of doing things on my own and taking risks.

23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

Take a chance and experience something/somewhere in a super unique way. Being able to walk the streets of Tokyo after class and seeing places you may have only seen online is amazing. Especially if you’re wanting to expand your horizons, learn about a new culture, and learn more about yourself and what you’re capable of.


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