Recently I’ve read not just one but two awesome posts about people who studied abroad – the first from the wonderful Rhyme and Ribbons, and the other by the lovely Darling Magazine. Both posts have great insights and advice for those studying abroad – but I thought I’d throw my experience into the mix as well, as I studied in Japan.
I’d been studying Japanese since I was 16 – because I really REALLY wanted Japanese friends. I had this amazing idea of going to live there, when everyone would want to be my friend and that I would live in this heaven of happiness. This was fueled as well by the month-long trip I took when I was 17 with my Japanese class, where it really was everything I had dreamt of – everyone was happy to see us, the food was amazing and it was just so much fun.
I got to study in Japan in my third year (out of four) at uni. The UK uni I went to was Liverpool John Moores and we had sister schools all over Japan. I really wanted to go to Fukuoka or Kurume to be near the classmate I was dating at the time but I ended up being sent to Kinjo Gakuin University in Nagoya. I REALLY didn’t want to go there – it was a GIRLS university (which don’t exist in the UK) and what’s more, it’s a Christian university (which also doesn’t exist in the UK). As the only girl in my Liverpool class, I was obliged to go.
I needn’t have worried – I had THE BEST YEAR and I still consider to be one of the best years I’ve lived so far.
Nagoya is a port city between Osaka and Tokyo; a very exciting place, without being dauntingly big. It’s famous for pork schnitzel with thick miso sauce, designer-obsessed young women with hair set into flowing curls, and the thick Nagoyan accent. Kinjo Gakuin University is a relatively famous university (and there are SO many universities in Japan – even in Nagoya there seemed to be a college at every tube stop) but is famous for being a training ground for rich young women who want to marry well. I affectionately called it the Wife Machine.
There were about 8 or so Korean exchange students, 2 Chinese, 2 French, 1 Thai and 1 Aussie. We all got on really well, and I made particularly good friends with the Korean girls. After being dumped in the second week by that guy from my class, I set out to go back to the UK better than him in every way, and studied Japanese SO VERY HARD all the time – preferring to speak with people who didn’t know English and therefore could only speak Japanese with. In the first semester I studied in the very easy Japanese classes with the French and Aussie girls, but after my hard work I was allowed to study with the Koreans and Chinese in the second year – which was ridiculously challenging but stretched me the way I wanted to be stretched. (Side note: Chinese writing is somewhat similar to Japanese; they share an alphabet. Korean is very similar gramatically to Japanese. So it is usually much easier for these to learn Japanese than it is for us Westerners).
I also attended classes meant for regular Japanese students – the ones I remember were “teaching small children” which was really fun with an American male teacher called Matthew, and a translation class with LOADS of students. It was really challening, and each week one student would be chosen to read a section of the translaton homework, with a mic in hand. I remember when it was my turn I studied so hard because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the Japanese students. This was also the class which I apparently shared with the pop sensation Nishino Kana, though I didn’t know her.
The best thing about the year was being able to be free in Japan, to explore and walk around and interact with people, just like I had wanted to all along. The butterflies that I got when I tried something new were amazing, and from humble beginnings where it took me over 2 hours to get a phone (and so took a photo – the first one in this post – to remember the eventual success) to being able to do pretty much whatever I wanted to in Japanese.
The downside was that I had a terrible time over Christmas – my first one away from my family. Christmas day was a normal working day in Japan and while I had the day off of uni (the good thing about it being a Christian uni!) it upset me to see all the businessmen walking to work in their suits when they could have been spending time with their families. I felt lousy the whole day, but went to the supermarket in the afternoon and I remember really clearly a Japanese couple stopping me and wishing me Merry Christmas. I thanked them but tears welled up afterwards – it was such a nice and welcome gesture.
I found it really hard to make friends with the regular Japanese students – especially as they would often want to speak in English when I so desperately wanting nothing other than Japanese. These girls were richer than I could ever imagine to be, and always had the latest Louis Vuitton handbags. I learnt all about designer brands that year – I’d never even considered them before I went.
It was such a magical year in which I learnt so much. I lived on next to no money, tried everything that came to me, and made some amazing friends for life. I really wish more people had the chance to study abroad as I think it really helps you grow as a person.
I think there are a few others out there who have studied abroad, so please do share your top memories and advice in the comments!