Journey Back

In May I’ll be leaving Japan for Korea.

As part of the preparation for my next journey I needed to go back to the university where I spent my year abroad to get my transcript from that time.

I spent my year abroad at International Christian University in Mitaka, Tokyo.  It wasn’t my first time in Japan, but it was an important step in bringing me to where I am.

The main school building at ICU
The main school building at ICU

Choosing a place to study abroad can be a difficult decision, especially if your university is like mine and has multiple places to choose from.  At the time there were 5 or 6 choices just in Japan.

Waseda and Keio were definitely the most famous of the bunch, but I decided against attending them.  For me the primary reason was that Keio and Waseda had special programs for exchange students.  There were special English based classes about Japan in subjects like literature, history or economics that only exchange students could take, and of course special classes to teach Japanese.  I’m sure students with a very high level of Japanese would be able to participate in regular classes with Japanese students, but I wasn’t that confident in my Japanese level.

At ICU it was a different environment.  Foreign students entered as OYRs, or One Year Regular students.  The key point being that we were “regular” students.  ICU’s selling point is the quality of their English education, and as part of that, even Japanese students have to take a certain number of regular courses (not EFL) in English.  That meant there was a wide variety of classes offered in English, and they were not necessarily populated entirely by foreigners.  In addition, there are so-called JE or EJ classes that are offered in a variety of Japanese and English, so lectures might be in Japanese with English textbooks, or vice versa.  As foreigners, we could take any class offered as long as we felt up to the language requirements.

I went to summer school before the regular year started, and ended up finishing the Japanese language program in the second of the three trimesters.  For my third term I was able to take a couple of JE classes that were relevant to my major back at my home university.  It was a good opportunity to test my language abilities and get to know the regular Japanese students.

The other good thing about being a “regular” student was that there was no barrier between the foreign students and the Japanese students, and we were free to participate in any club or student activities we wanted to.  That was where I made most of my friends – friends who are still among my closest friends in Japan today.

Everyone has a different idea of what they want to get out of their time abroad.  Everyone goes into the experience with different levels of Japanese, and different academic interests, so different programs will appeal to people for different reasons.  But don’t overlook the importance of the social aspects and integration into the school and the country.  The most common complaint I heard from people in other programs was that they wished they had had more interaction with the regular students.

Whether you go to a school that makes it easier to integrate, or to a school that keeps you a little more removed, making an effort to get to know people in the country you are visiting is an integral part of the experience, and worth all the effort it takes!

The entryway to ICU with cherry trees... in February
The entryway to ICU with cherry trees… in February

**This was 13 years ago, so programs at all of the schools mentioned above may have changed.  If you are planning to study abroad, take sometime to really look into the kind of program it is, and get advice from people who have been there before if you can.

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