Lynnee M. L., Japan – International Christian University (Asian Studies)


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

In addition to Japanese language courses each term, I took classes on Japanese history, politics, and religion. The classes were much smaller than those at UCSB and the professors were big on student participation. My first Japanese class was so small that by the end of the term we all felt like family.

2. What was your favorite class abroad? 

During my last term abroad, I took a colloquium course in history which focused on religion and imperialism in Japan. Each class the three other students and I conversed with the professor about what we had read, challenging our own worldviews and logic. It’s the most challenging class I’ve taken at university, but also the most rewarding.

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

I participated in two volunteer trips with Team Asunaro, a group created in response to the 2011 Triple Disaster with the purpose of supporting survivors. During separate trips to Tohoku and Yamanashi, other ICU and UC students and I assisted with various tasks and conversed with people affected by the disasters. The incredible kindness and generosity of the people we met was truly moving.


1. How would you describe your host institution?

Friendly. The campus is bilingual (English and Japanese) and both students and professors are welcoming. It is so easy to get involved on campus. There are lots of on-campus activities explicitly to help international/exchange students interact with Japanese students.

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

ICU has a variety of cultural and athletic clubs available for UC students to join. I joined the movie club, which was relaxed compared to most other clubs on campus. We met each week to talk about and watch movies, and sold yakiudon during the annual school festival in fall. It was a fun way to experience college life in Japan with Japanese students.


1. Describe your housing situation.

I lived with a Japanese host family. My Japanese improved quickly because I was speaking it everyday, and my host family taught me a lot about life and culture in Japan. I learned how to cook takoyaki, visited the base of Mt. Fuji, and watched Japanese variety shows with my host mother. It was a wonderful experience!


1. Where did you eat most of your meals?

I ate breakfast and dinner with my host family and usually ate lunch at the dining commons on campus or at a convenience store (Japanese convenience stores are amazing).

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

Living in Tokyo, it was easy to get most of my meals for between ¥300 and ¥500 ($3-$5). When it came to budgeting, transportation was the biggest expense.

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

Before going to Japan I had been a vegetarian for 8 years, but chose to start eating fish to prepare for my time in Japan. It’s difficult to avoid fish in Japan because fish products are used to make many common food items. It’s possible to not eat fish in Japan, but the trade-off is not experiencing much of the amazing food available.

If you’re lactose intolerant, however, Japan might be perfect for you! As someone who loves milk and cheese, I was saddened by how scant and expensive dairy products are in Japan.

4. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

In Japan, New Year’s is traditionally a family holiday while Christmas is for couples. Thus, I didn’t have a traditional Christmas dinner while abroad, but my host parents treated me to a traditional New Year’s feast. Each dish was meant to grant a different kind of luck for the New Year, ranging from good relationships to longevity.

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

Onigiri (rice balls) from the convenience store. They come with a variety of fillings and make a convenient and delicious lunch. I haven’t gotten used to cooking for myself again and miss being able to simply buy onigiri.


1. Describe your host city.

Tokyo is an enormous and diverse city. Near the water are Shinjuku, a modern shopping hub centered around the world’s busiest train station, and Asakusa, featuring the oldest temple in Tokyo and a variety of bustling shops. In contrast to the city’s crowded center, I lived and attended school in a quiet neighborhood dotted with farm fields and parks.

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

I felt safer in Tokyo than in Isla Vista, although I heard many accounts of sexual assault on trains. Most trains have cars designated as women-only cars during rush hour.

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

Attending festivals and exploring the many unique locations within Tokyo were my favorite weekend activities. Near ICU is Kichijouji, a modern town filled with vintage clothing stores and shops selling sweets and boba tea. Kichijouji’s Inokashira Park is the perfect place to spend a warm afternoon.


1. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

Everything. From the layout of the streets to the currency, and the food, nothing seemed familiar.

2. How did you handle culture shock?

No matter how different Japan and its culture seemed on the surface, the kindness of the people I met was the same. The support I received from my host family, staff at the UC Tokyo Study Center, and friends I met abroad allowed me to cope with culture shock. Because of the wonderful people I spent time with, Tokyo came to feel like home.

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

The phrase “otsukaresamsa.” “Tsukare” comes from the verb meaning “to be exhausted” while “o” and “sama” are honorifics. The term is often used by coworkers at the end of the day to mean “good work,” but students often used it to greet each other after classes and I always said it to my friends when they seemed tired from working hard. There’s no English equivalent that conveys the same tone and it’s the one phrase I wish English had.


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

As mentioned above, I loved attending local festivals. In early February some friends and I went to Shimokitazawa, a few stops away from my local station, to participate in the the Tengu Festival and Setsubun mamemaki. We watched as a procession of floats, shrine attendants, and men dressed as Tengu (a legendary creature from Japanese folktales) paraded past the neighborhood’s antique book shops and vintage stores. As crowds swarmed around the parade they were periodically showered with beans meant to ward off bad luck. I was hit in the face with beans multiple times, they must have been lucky because I continued to have an amazing time abroad.


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

I had never taken a language class before and grew up speaking only English, so I was worried about my aptitude for language learning. The immersion of living with a host family and ICU’s amazing Japanese Language Program soon dissipated this concern. I’ve returned from Japan with a new language through which to communicate and new-found confidence and excitement about learning languages.

2. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

Honestly, every day was a challenge. Because of linguistic and cultural factors, and plain old homesickness, living abroad can be stressful. By being positive, being present, and taking advantage of opportunities to immerse myself in Japanese culture, I overcame everyday difficulties and created a rewarding and enjoyable experience for myself.

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

Before going abroad I was a nervous, cautious person. The challenging and rewarding experience of living and studying in Japan helped me overcome the fears that often kept me from trying new things and meeting new people. Life is short, but it can be amazing; the important thing is understanding that you have more to lose staying in your comfort zone that venturing outside it.

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

Aside from the obvious “do it!” I recommend, if possible, applying for your visa in person. I submitted my application through the mail with a self-addressed return envelope, but my passport and visa were lost in the mail on the way back to me.

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