Why did you choose your host university?
Okayama University wasn’t my first option. Kansai Gaidai had issues with UniSA while NUFS required us to have studied Japanese for at least a year which I haven’t. So I had to choose Okayama University. However it was a blessing in disguise for me as I felt that everything Okayama University had to offer was to my preference compared to my initial host university options. I have no regrets choosing Okayama University.
What was the university like?
The main campus was huge. The bicycle was a quick mode of transportation around the campus. We were recommended to get one as soon as we could. Naturally, on the first day of arrival, we were paired with student tutors during the orientation and they took us to buy a bicycle and other essentials. There were many bicycle shops nearby and it was easy to get a second-hand one.
Classes were chosen from the syllabus especially tailored for exchange students. Short-term (maximum period of one year) exchange students were called EPOK students and we had to take classes made for the EPOK programme. This year we were required to take a total of about 7-10 classes a week which could be about 4-5 courses including the Japanese Language courses. Japanese Language courses run in the morning and consist of 4 classes a week (almost every day). Before the semester started, we were required to take a placement test in order to stream us into different level classes. Although the Japanese Language classes seemed intensive, it was not too bad and in fact, I felt there needed to be more as I really enjoyed them and wanted to progress faster.
The EPOK syllabus consisted of classes that were run in English and they were in the afternoon. Most of these courses were non-examinable. Assignments and assessments for these courses were easy. These classes were casual, fun and interactive. I took the Study of Japan course and Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Study of Japan was enjoyable as we went outdoors and on field trips. We learned about Japan and the Japanese culture. There was also an optional homestay programme. This would be a recommended class to take. Introduction to Sociolinguistics was also interesting. We learned about how language is affected by society and regions, specifically in Japan. I learnt many things about the Japanese language that we were not covered in my other Japanese classes. This course has certainly helped me understand the Japanese society more.
What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?
Although my experience was a short one, I gained life-long friends and I am grateful to have made good friends. Through their friendship with me, I have learnt a lot about people in general. It has widened my perspective about people and their different personalities. I am now able to appreciate the different sorts of people in life. I also managed to pick up a lot about the Japanese society and through my everyday life there, I now understand why they do or don’t do and say or don’t say certain things.
I was also more open and bubbly there as I was constantly around people especially at the dorms. It was also the fact that I was only going to be there for a semester that I decided I should make the most of my time enjoying every moment. This has certainly changed my approach to my life back at home here. I would also say that I am more patient now. There were many times during the time of my exchange there that my patience was tested. At times, I felt like I could blow up but I had to remind myself to keep calm and reflect instead of acting upon my emotions.
What accommodation options were available to you? How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?
As exchange students, we get priority to the Kuwanoki dormitory which was a couple of minutes bike ride from the campus. There was also the International House which was just behind the library. However that was only for research students.
The accommodation was very affordable and although the room is slightly small compared to the size that we may be used to here, it was comfortable and cosy. The rooms in South wing were slightly bigger compared to the ones in North wing however they were old and may not look the best. Rooms in North wing were newer but slightly more expensive than South wing. I had a room in North wing by default and I find it really comfortable after a while as it was just enough for one person. I loved the fact that the room was for one individual with personal bathroom, kitchen sink and electric stove. Despite the lack of space to do any heavy cooking, it was still enough to whip up a nice warm meal. The bed was given but we had to get our own bedding materials which can be ordered through the university before arriving or bought at a home centre nearby.
Overall, Kuwanoki Dormitory is probably the best accommodation to be in for exchange students and the fact that you’ll be surrounded by other exchange students or international students, there is a sense of community and belonging with people whom you may even call family.
Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries?
Being there for only a short time, I didn’t travel much to other cities. I decided that instead of travelling out of Okayama possibly every weekend, I wanted to stay in the Okayama prefecture, explore the convenient areas, and do as many activities I can with my friends, both locals and exchange students, so that I can say I actually lived in Okayama.
Other than that, I managed to go to Osaka twice by bus and visited Nagoya and Tokyo during the Golden Week vacation.
Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.
Basically, just observe what the locals do and be aware and conscious of your surroundings. I took on important advice given by the school, my student tutors and continuing exchange students. I met people through the campus life orientation day during the first week upon arriving. I had the opportunity to talk to some people during the campus tour. Apart from that, always take the effort to be open and friendly. I was also lucky to be able to join a ‘Circle’ which is a leisure version of a Club and met more Japanese students there.
Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?
Yes, I am more confident with my transferable skills for my future career through all the values and life skills I learnt during this exchange. The courses I did there helped me figure out the things I am actually more passionate about and as such, gave me a clearer idea of what I may want to pursue in the future. My network circle has definitely extended and they may be valuable contacts in the future.
What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?
Do it!! It will be one of the best, if not the best, experience ever! If possible, I would recommend doing it for a year or for whatever maximum time you can. Make sure to do extensive research on the place or university you choose because that will ensure you a smooth preparation.
|Being in a new city, with unfamiliar faces and/or a different language, it may be overwhelming, daunting and nerve-wrecking. However, that should not stop you from going out there and be open to accepting new experiences and new friendships. Take initiative if you want great things to happen - make friends, go out exploring, meet new people, do as many activities to stay active etc. Always have a positive attitude and don’t be shy to ask for help or talk about the problems you may have. Observe and be aware of surroundings because there are many cultural differences to take note of and be considerate about.