Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Study Abroad Experience: Year at Hiroshima University

Atomic Bomb Domr
Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima
Before I started college, I knew one thing I really wanted to do before I graduated was to study abroad.  I knew I wanted to wait a year or two before actually doing it, so I did a lot of research my freshman year exploring different options I had at my school.  I ended up going on exchange during what would have been my Junior year in college ('08-'09), and I think this is an ideal time to study abroad.  I think most schools will require at least sophomore or junior standing anyway.  Before I go any further, I will say that every school is different, and each program will have different requirements, but I'm just sharing my experience.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa has a couple of options for those wanting to study abroad.  There is MIX or Manoa International Exchange or UHM Study Abroad.  Knowing I wanted to study somewhere in Japan, I chose to go with MIX because there are many more options as far as which schools are available, where as UHM Study Abroad only has two options. 
I wanted to do something different, so I decided to apply for Hiroshima Univesity's study abroad program.  I chose Hiroshima because that's where my family came from, and I wanted a different experience.  The requirements for the program I applied for included having a 3.0 GPA and 1 year of Japanese language.  Letters of recommendation, statement of purpose and transcripts were also needed to apply, and I think this is pretty typical at any school.  The application process was pretty long.  I first applied with the Center for Japanese Studies at UHM, and after getting accepted through them, I applied directly through the school.  I started the applications in October and didn't get my final decision until April of the next year.  Not quite sure if this is typical or not, but waiting for the final decision can be quite nerve-wracking.
Dorm doom
Funding is also another thing to consider when studying abroad.  There are many scholarships available, but I will admit, it's not cheap!  I tried to save as much money as possible before leaving for Japan.  In fact, the entire summer before I left, I worked 3 jobs to save money.  I was lucky enough to qualify for the JASSO scholarship.  All schools in Japan will offer this scholarship to exchange students, regardless of the school (although the number of recipients will vary) since it is government funding.  It included a relocation allowance (basically to cover airfare and your first couple weeks) of 120,000-yen (~$1,200 in a prefect world) and a monthly stipend of 80,000-yen (~$800).  I was very lucky to have gotten this scholarship, because it helped me out a lot!  Truthfully $800 a month is a lot, especially living by yourself, but I did a lot of traveling, 飲み会 (drinking parties), karaoke, and other fun things, so the money went pretty fast.  I did have to pay monthly rent at my dorm which was 5,000-yen (~$50!), shared utilities (gas, water and electricity) at about 10,000-yen a month (~$100), cell phone at about 2,000-yen ($20) and health insurance and pension.  The monthly expenses were really very cheap compared to living here in Hawaii, and so were groceries and eating out. This will vary depending where you live though, since we lived in a pretty rural town.  I had a post office bank account, which is very simple to set up and easy to use.  Living on my own taught me to manage my money well.  Thankfully I'm quite good with money so I didn't make any extravagant impulsive buys, but I have to admit my phone bill was sky high the first two months after calling home so much.  I didn't have internet in my dorm for about a month so I couldn't use skype, thus I made long-distance calls on my phone and paid dearly for it (about $300!)
Korean Food night in our dorm
Being away from home and my girlfriend was something that I thought I would be able to handle pretty well when I left, but oh I was wrong.  Bring in a foreign country all by yourself, knowing no one was really hard for me at first.  Once I started to open up and make friends it got easier day by day, but the first month or so, I was really homesick.  I tried to keep busy so I could keep my mind off of things, and most importantly get out of my dorm room.  Since I had no internet there wasn't much I could do, but when I was stuck in my room, I would watch movies.  I swear I watched "10 Things I Hate About You" (my favorite movie btw) at least 15 times!  I just kept telling myself it would get better, and indeed it did.  On top of that, the first few weeks were mentally tough, being surrounded my Japanese all day, every day was very tiring, but also very beneficial.  Just being in Japan and doing everyday things (going to the grocery store or post office) helped to improve my Japanese.
Hirodai Campus
The actual classes that I took were relatively easy.   I took a placement test for my language classes and got places in level 3 classes.  We had the option of taking the upper level classes simultaneously so I took level 3 and 4 classes together.  I ended up taking 6 classes my first semester, 5 of them being language courses and 1 education class.  Each class is 90 minutes and only meets once a week, so I found myself having a lot of free time.  At first this was hard for me to adjust to, since here at home we have shorter classes that meet more frequently.  Work load for each class was easily manageable, and I thought the classes were easy compared to schools here in the US.  If you know anyone else who's studied in Japan, I'm sure they have a similar impression.
Kiyomizudera, Kyoto
 I found that college life in Japan is relaxed compared to the states.  Like in high school, many students participate in extracurricular activities (サークル・部活動).  I participated in a weekly English Cafe, which was an English conversation social night held once a week.  A friend of mine also got me to participate in a latin dance club where we learned salsa.  I met a lot of new people and made new friends this way, so I highly recommend joining a club!  As it is in the US, drinking is also a big part of college life.  I don't drink much, but I think I had the most alcohol I ever had in my life while I was in Japan.  We had parties or went out to bars practically every weekend.  Alcohol is also relatively cheap and no ID is required for purchasing alcohol, nor do they check ID when you order a drink.

For anyone reading this who is considering studying abroad, DO IT!  If money is holding you back, apply for scholarships because there are a lot of opportunities!  Studying abroad was a life changing experience for me.  I learned so much about myself, grew more independent and outgoing, and my Japanese improved immensely.  No matter where you study abroad, you will make your experience memorable!  Take risks, try new things and step out of the box.  I did, and I don't regret any of it!  Except maybe that this experience sparked my interest in traveling the world, and now I want to see everything! 
If anyone has any questions, feel free to leave them here.  If anyone else has studied abroad I'd love to hear about it!  Lastly, thank you for reading this 'till the end :)

1 comment:

  1. Wow you have a lot of stuff going on! I love japan. I wish I could go there but I don't even have my passport yet. :/ It's been my DREAM to be in japan. Sigh......but I hope everything goes great!

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