What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
My program was specifically centered around global studies, so most of the classes I took were related to international relations, economics, and contemporary Japanese culture/society. I was able to take major courses for both my Economics and Global Studies majors, and I even got a GE credit too! Since the classes I took were taught in English, and there were Japanese students in my classes who were learning English, the class content was a bit easier than my classes at UCSB. Most of my classes consisted of lectures and group discussions, and most of my assignments were group projects and papers. Class size was also much smaller than UCSB classes. My largest class was about 20 students and my smallest class was 5 students! Because of this, I was able to form really strong connections with a lot of my professors.
What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite class that I took abroad was Inter-Cultural History, which was a comparative history class on indigenous people in the US and indigenous people in Japan.
Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad?
I was able to work at my host university’s International Center on campus. My main job was to speak with local Japanese students who were interested in studying abroad in the US or were interested in learning about American culture.
How would you describe your host institution?
My host institution (Meiji Gakuin University) was fairly small, in both number of students and actual campus size. Most of my classes were in two main buildings, which also happened to be close to the bus stop so it was very convenient. The bus ride to campus was about 20-30 minutes, and the bus stop/train station was conveniently close to my dorm. Also, you could see Mt. Fuji from my campus!
Describe your housing situation.
I lived in dorms which were provided by the host university. I had my own single room, that also came with it’s own kitchenette and bathroom! Local Japanese students, UC students, other American students, and students from other countries all lived in the dorm. It was really cool to be able to interact with students from Japan, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Wisconsin, and other UCs all in one day! We also had RAs and a dorm manager who took very good care of us.
Where did you eat most of your meals?
My dorm had meals included; breakfast and dinner served from Monday to Saturday. Other than dorm meals, I usually ate on campus or at restaurants nearby my dorm. My host university had food trucks that would come to campus every day, which was really cool!
Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
While dietary restrictions could be pretty limiting in Japan, I know many students who were vegan/vegetarian and were able to survive! Most of them cooked their own food, or had friends help translate menus and such.
Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
My favorite meal abroad was definitely the home-cooked meal my homestay had made for me. With my program, we had the option of staying with a host family for a day, and for dinner my host family had this amazing homemade sushi spread. They also had gotten me a birthday cake, since my birthday was coming up, which was a really nice surprise and almost made me cry. The cake (strawberry shortcake) was delicious too!
What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
DEFINITELY good cheap sushi. And Onigiri.
Describe your host city.
I loved Yokohama as a city. It wasn’t too big or small, and had it’s own charm to it. It wasn’t as crowded as Tokyo, but there was still a lot to do. It also has a bunch of rivers and waterways that run through it.
Was it easy to get around?
Public transportation in Japan is amazing; super clean, always on time, and not too expensive. Even if you don’t know Japanese or are having trouble, google maps is a really good resource and most train stations have attendants who are happy to help you. The only downside is that trains can get very crowded during rush hour times.
Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
The thing that I probably miss most about being in Japan was how safe it was. Crime is very rare, and even when my friends had left their wallets in public spaces they were able to go back and find that someone had turned it in to a near store, with all its contents still there! I never felt afraid going anywhere alone, even in the dark. I think it’s important to just be smart and aware, the only times I’ve heard of students having problems was when alcohol or other foreigners were involved.
What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
Yokohama has this cute amusement park called Cosmo World that I highly recommend checking out. It’s famous for it’s ferris wheel, but there are a bunch of other rides and good food too!
Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
The biggest cultural difference was that Japan is much more orderly than the US, for a lot of things there is a very specific, proper protocol. Luckily as foreigners, we often have a bit of leeway and can make mistakes without too much backlash. It’s also pretty easy to learn the “dos” and “don’ts” after a little time.
How did you handle culture shock?
I didn’t have too much culture shock, but when I did I found it really helpful to lean on my fellow study abroad students, since we were all having the same experiences. It’s really important to remember that you’re not alone when you’re struggling, and that you can reach out to others for help.
Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
As part of my program, UC students went on a field trip to Hiroshima, and it was honestly life-changing. Not only did we learn a lot about the atomic bombing and peace studies, but we also learned a lot about the local culture and people. That trip was definitely one of my favorite moments of my abroad experience.
What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
I was honestly most afraid of not making friends while I was abroad, but I ended up making very close friendships with both other UC students and Japanese students. I still talk to all of them, and have even made plans to have reunions and such!
What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge was definitely the language barrier, since I came to Japan with absolutely no Japanese skills. I had a really rough time in the beginning, but then I made friends with people who knew Japanese and were happy to help me with any communication. I also even took beginners Japanese, and learned a lot of helpful phrases myself!
How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
I think that I’ve become a lot more self-reliant, since I had to take initiative a lot while I was abroad and there wasn’t always someone there to hold my hand or walk me through certain things. I had to be resourceful, and learned a lot through my experiences.