SSG: How to get here.

I've done a few posts for the "Student Survival Guide", like acquiring cellphones, electronic dictionaries and using the trains... but I forgot one of the most important things about being an exchange student, and that's applying to be one!

Please note that I'm just a student myself; I'm not an expert or representative. So I'll be writing from my own experience. 

I am a student from a university in Hawaii, studying at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies. NUFS is an excellent school that really watches out for its students, setting you up with monthly stipends, housing, bank accounts, field trips, etc. The Office of International Exchange will even help you out with work permits, if you'd like to tutor your native language at the NUFS or NUAS Language Lounge.

There are two programs at NUFS- Culture and Language. 

If you want to start or continue studying Japanese, then you enrol in the Language program. You'll have three hours of grammar classes three days a week, plus an Oral class on Mondays, and reading and Kanji on Fridays. 

I am not sure if the same is true for beginner classes, but at an intermediate-advanced level, all of my classes are in Japanese. My text books are also all in Japanese. However the beginner level text books are written with English explanations. 

In addition, Language students can enrol in Culture classes for more credits. These are conducted in English. They have a wide range of interesting topics, which change for Fall or Spring. For example, you can take Japanese Pop Culture, Japanese Food Culture, Tourism Management in Japan, and even Judo! This semester I'm really excited to take "Service Learning Across Cultures", which will allow us to volunteer in local orphanages, teach English and help out with community service. 

The cultural program requires no Japanese classes- so even if you don't speak Japanese and don't want to learn, you can come to NUFS to take classes. However this may set you back in school credits. Not to mention, culture classes only meet once a week in the afternoon- so if you are only in the culture program, you will have a lot of spare time on your hands. 

Nagoya is about six or seven hours south of Tokyo by bus. It's much quieter, and even though it has its Industrial areas, in comparison I find it rural. I like it though. Personally, I think the location forced me to get out and speak Japanese with real people. (Not that I don't like speaking Japanese, I'm just very shy!)

By the end of Fall semester, I could call services on phones, understand keigo and communicate. Then I could go out to visit friends and chat away informally. I was personally very impressed with my progress. 

On the other hand, a friend of mine was studying in Tokyo, and I was surprised to see her Japanese hadn't really progressed. She said she rarely hung out with Japanese students, and couldn't understand natural speech. We were at the same level when we came to Japan. 

I'm not going to lie, it takes motivation, thick skin and hard work to do the language course. Even if you make mistakes talking with people you have to keep at it, that's how you learn. I think of language like a muscle... when you're working out, it hurts when you start right? Because tissues break then build up thicker layers, becoming stronger. Your skills are just like that. Mistakes are embarrassing and they sting, but they make you stronger in whatever you do. 

Hopefully that didn't scare you. And it shouldn't. Journeying out to learn a foreign language is something you should be proud of, and want to work at. At least I think so...

Now that we have some background, let's address a few myths about studying abroad.

"You have to be fluent in Japanese to study in Japan."

Wrong. Though I took four semesters of Japanese at my University, many students came without studying Japanese at all. Is it a good idea to take Japanese before coming? Absolutely. My minimal, scrapped-together Japanese saved my ass when I first came to Japan

But literally, many students came without being able to read furigana, katakana or kanji. When Placement tests began, all they had to do was say they couldn't read Japanese, and they were taken to another classroom where, guess what- they started learning to read Japanese. No matter what level you are, you can come study Japanese in Japan. 

To be comfortable living here, I'd recommend knowing at least beginner's Japanese. But even if you don't, many pick it up the longer they stay here. 

"Studying Abroad will be too expensive."

It depends. For me, Studying in Japan was exactly the same tuition cost as studying at my home university. I just paid my tuition normally, and my university handled the cost with NUFS. It may vary by university.

To help with living expenses. NUFS offers a scholarship to all foreign students. Your rent is automatically subtracted from this each month, so you don't have to worry about paying a landlord or housing office out of pocket. The remainder of the scholarship is yours to make your life in Japan fun and comfortable. 

The text books are dirt cheap, compared to the US. In Hawaii some of my text books were $180+! My Japanese textbooks on the other hand, are as cheap as 1,500-2,500 yen, and I only need two or three each semester. 

The biggest cost may be travel. I was devastated when I started looking for flights to Japan, and thought, I may not be able to come after all. I scrambled and had a huge yard sale before school ended, and got even more depressed when I only made about $60. But I got back on my feet, and took up lifeguarding at the YMCA all summer, working every day and saving everything I could.

Finally, I found STA, a student travel agency that helps find discounted flights and travel deals. My agent helped me find a decently cheap flight to Japan. In the end, I still had to ask my parents for help with the ticket. But when they saw how serious I was about going, and how hard I worked, they agreed to loan me the money. :)

I still rely on my STA agent, who also keeps in touch to make sure everything goes as planned. If something as little as a flight number changes, maybe even four months out from departure, she emails and lets me know. 

Even after my terrible experience with Delta airlines last September, I emailed my agent to tell her. She helped change my schedule so I could fly a different, but just as affordable airline. So I guess my point about travel is, don't get discouraged, where there's a will there's a way... and you'd be surprised at how helpful people can be. 

"Studying Abroad will set you back in credits."

Since I attend school on mostly scholarships, I was worried studying abroad would push back my graduation date and jeopardise my plans. However, after talking with my International Exchange advisor, I found out that wasn't true at all! 

The typical course load at my university is capped at 15 credits a semester. Here at NUFS, if you take all your language courses and two culture courses, you also earn 15 credits per semester. My advisor even helped me find courses that corresponded with requirements for my major. Ask at Academic Advising, if there's an Office of International Exchange at your school. 

"It's hard to sign up; you need to apply like a year in advance!"

Typically, this is accurate. I got extremely lucky with my chance to study in Japan. 

As you all know, last March Japan was struck by Earthquakes and a tsunami. After that, many exchange students, even in Nagoya, were evacuated. Many students who planned to come to Japan changed their minds.

My Japanese teacher knew how badly I wanted to come to Japan, but I could never convince my parents to let me go. One April afternoon, she announced that the Advisor for International Exchange would come in to talk to us about an open spot in Nagoya. She made direct eye contact with me. The advisor told us that if we wanted to apply for the spot, we had to do it the same day, before deadline. When he left, I asked my teacher, "Should I go? Am I good enough?" and she told me I'd be perfect for it.

Instead of going home I went to the office to talk to the Advisor. I brought up all the urban myths I've just covered, all the reasons my parents said it was a bad idea. And as it turned out, all of those fears were false. Studying abroad in Japan was totally possible- and right within my grasp. 

From there it was a whirlwind. I had to complete the paperwork and applications other students had months to work on. I had to apply for my passport, my Student Visa, get (really awful) photos for immigration, and book my flights within a month. But it was totally doable. Compared to the horror stories I'd heard, it was painless. Or maybe I was numb to it because I just wanted to come, haha. 

So a lot of people tell me, "I always wanted to do what you're doing"... and I think, if you want it badly enough, nothing can stop you. 

If you do it last minute like I did, it's a lot of information to swallow at once, and it seems to have a thousand steps before you finally get here. But when you are here, standing at the top of the hill and looking back, you're proud of the climb right? When you were at the foot of the hill, did you think you had it in you to climb that high? 

Till next time,

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