Study Abroad Alumni Meeting

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.

ICOCA is a rechargeable contactless card for the JR West rail network. It stands for “IC Operating CArd,” but is a play on the phrase 行こか ikoka which is a Kansai way of saying “Shall we go?”

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.

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  • Tara
    2017 May 8 at 4:54 AM

    That’s so great the study abroad alumni came to share their stories and tips with you guys. I agree that hearing their stories are great, and it gives it a more realistic feel to the whole thing. Btw, you should also consider a 24-hour manga cafe if you want a quieter place to doze instead of a karaoke joint, haha! Or if Japan has a 24-hour McDonald’s or coffeeshops like Korea does . . . XD Just had to throw it out there.

    ICOCA cards or any transit cards in general are my best friends. I have the Seoul-based one, and I cannot live without it for it’s useable on all buses, trains, subways, and some cabs here 🙂 I used the ICOCA and the Tokyo-based one, PASMO, when I went there. Those cards are definitely handy.

    I think it’s great you’re going to a pretty darn good school! And all those language classes — you’ll definitely leave Japan fluent XD Ahhhh! Just reading about this is making me so excited for you. I cannot wait until you get the official word that you made it. I have no doubt on you making it, but the waiting is also killing me XD

    • Sydney
      2017 May 8 at 7:32 PM

      There are also love hotels, which are convenient overnight travel stops for a decently cheap amount (if you can find them)! Realistically, getting stuck because you missed the last train isn’t such a huge deal in Japan considering all of the random places you can go. And if you’re fine walking…well, walk. 😛

      There are so many transit cards! They’re like credit cards, ha. But since ICOCA was so highly recommended by these alums I’ll definitely be getting one, and if overtime I find a better card I’ll consider that one too. I’ll do a lot of train traveling to and from school, so it’ll be a good idea to have a nice card!

      I hope I leave Japan with a level of fluency! It would make the entire year even more worth it beyond the personal experiences and whatnot. I’ll be making a post about the acceptance I’m sure, so no worries. 😉

  • Michelle
    2017 May 16 at 6:03 PM

    Those pictures are beautiful! I know that’s a great opportunity in Japan you have! <3

  • Brandy
    2017 May 16 at 8:08 PM

    I’ve always LOVED how cherry blossoms look. They’re so gorgeous.

    I hope you have a great time in Japan. It’s going to be a long trip but so worth it once you get there!

  • Claudine
    2017 May 16 at 8:26 PM

    Aww, alumni meetings are great! I had one of those when I arrived in Taipei as well (but it was a more informal setting). I agree, through these things you will get lots of insights and tips that you won’t get anywhere else, and they’re all based on students’ real-life experiences! 🙂

    Wow, the campus looks beautiful! And the language classes sound really intense, but it will be worth it if you finish the classes and come back being very fluent in Japanese 😉 Good luck and wishing you all the best!

  • Kya
    2017 June 12 at 9:53 PM

    That is so great that you were able to speak to people who had completed the same experience. You would be able to learn a lot from them. 😀

    Wow. The university looks amazing!

    It sounds like it will be an intense learning schedule, but I am sure that you will do so well. If you have a passion for what you are learning, it can be more fun and less ‘work’. Plus, you have the chance to learn the language thoroughly!

    Hope you get that email soon!

  • Georgie
    2017 June 20 at 2:19 AM

    I’m really excited for you! I am glad that Jennifer and James gave you so much insight. Sometimes, alumni or people in the same position as Jennifer and James can give you some really valuable information that you wouldn’t normally think of. I also didn’t know there were 24 hour karaoke places…! Wow, not that I would really wake up at 3am feeling like I need to use my singing voice haha. But eep – not a good thought that missing the last train would leave you stranded like that!

    KGU looking STUNNING, although, I’d vouch that it isn’t always that pretty, in other seasons anyway. I think it’s still left a huge impression on you, for sure. It sounds like it will be really intense, studying there, but I think you will still find a lot of free time to explore the new city you’re living in. You’re in it, after all – so that means you can apply what you learn wherever you go.

    I have no doubt that you’ll visit your friends and family back at home and be fluent in Japanese! I’m kind of envious but also know it’s going to be a lot of work, eeep! You’ll do well, though. You have loads of support

    • Sydney
      2017 June 23 at 6:00 PM

      I’m not too sure why karaoke is 24 hours in some places, but I think it may have a bit to do with the “work hard, play hard” mentality many Japanese people have. The again, we have 24 hour karaoke here and you’d be surprised how, when you’re out with your friends, you suddenly want to sing at 2 in the morning. ^^

      I’ve seen a ton of pictures of the school throughout its seasons and it does in fact look like that all of the time! Lol. Winter is usually snow-covered, though when it isn’t the trees aren’t as pretty, but I think it’s worth it if springtime looks like that. I just love the sakura!

      Ah, I’d really love to come back at least comfortably conversational. I’m going to work hard at it and hopefully be successful! Thank you so much, Georgie. <3