A really cool perk to my study abroad program is that it actively connects us with prior participants in the program in the hopes that we’ll learn something from them since they lived where we’re going and did what we’re about to do. The orientations were incredibly helpful, but I think the alumni meeting was by far the most helpful.
There were two alumni that showed up for Japan — Jenifer, who studied in Osaka Fall 2016, and James, who studied in Nagasaki during the Spring and Osaka in the fall (I’m not sure about his year but I think 2015). Both of them were so nice and welcoming, and I could tell they were beyond excited to talk with us about Japan! 🌸
I think what I enjoyed most about talking with Jenifer & James was that their stories were real life. They told stories about really funny situations (Jenifer once got on the local train to go to Kyoto from Osaka and it took her three times as long to get there because the train stopped at literally every stop), stories concerning language experiences (James said he was always searching kanji street signs the first month until he became familiar with them), stories about getting wasted (James) and how to find your way home.
At this point, the study abroad program coordinator was like “James! Oh my gosh!” but we all went “This is real life, Liz!” and she laughed and let us carry on. Japan’s drinking age is 20 and all of us (except one) are 20+, so naturally there’s a chance we’ll drink at least once. 🍻
They also gave us tons of tips, including which train cards were the best to buy, how to navigate on the streets and avoid getting hit by cars, and why not to buy a bike (bike insurance is a thing! OMG). They also told us to be careful of last trains because it could mean hunting for a 24 hour karaoke place just to have somewhere to sleep until the morning. I knew about these, but still! Useful to know about 24 hour karaoke, ha.
It was really interesting to hear about the school as well. I will be attending Kwansei Gakuin University, which is one of four top universities in the Kansai region. This is a fancy way of saying I’m going to a very well known school in a fairly large region of Japan. I can confidently say that it’s one of the most beautiful universities I’ve ever seen.
I’m just so in love with this school already and I haven’t even started yet! 😍
At KGU I’ll take their advanced language track program, which means I will have language classes Monday-Friday, every single morning, before either going to other elective classes or doing whatever it is I decide to do with my time in Japan. I’ll have to take 7-8 classes in order to fulfill the 12 credit minimum since classes are only worth 1-2 credits (the U.S. is 3 credits), but according to Jenifer & James the only difficult classes are the language classes.
The language classes are incredibly fast-paced, and the professors don’t mess around. Attendance is mandatory and, since KGU is private, there are rarely holidays for students. Even Golden Week, a time containing a fair number of Japan holidays, doesn’t apply! 😱 We also learn an insane amount of kanji and vocabulary, and it’s possible to take entire classes devoted to learning kanji, grammar, speaking skills, and more. The program is really geared towards making students that take it seriously achieve a level of fluency that’s impossible to achieve in the States.
I can honestly say that my excitement only continues to grow the more involved I become with people that have gone/are going to Japan. I added Jenifer & James on Facebook and they told me to contact them with any questions, whether they’re language-related, Japan-related, or just general “hey, do you have recommendations for this?” questions. Like I said — they were super nice. (Bonus: They both came back extremely proficient in Japanese.)
I realized after the meeting that while I know I will not want to come back from Japan, I can’t wait to come back and share my experience with future study abroad students. I would be more than happy to attend an alumni meeting like this but be on the other side as an alumni! We only met for 2 hours, but it was an incredibly fun time and I loved listening to Jenifer’s & James’s stories. Their answers to questions I and others had were answered honestly.
For now, I just keep waiting for news from KGU
It’s a bit difficult waiting and I’m constantly wanting to check my email to see if it’s here or not yet, but patience is a virtue, right? I won’t buy my plane ticket until that email is in saying I made it and I’m going so for now it still feels like a not-quite-real thing. Who knows? Maybe it’ll feel that way until I’m getting on a plane headed for Japan. ✈️
Photos courtesy of KGU’s Facebook page.