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Aoife Day-Chu

(she/her)
SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Human Resource Management | Beedie School of Business › International Business
Study Abroad › Exchange

Program:
University
Location:
Experience Faculty
Going on exchange broadened by mindset and boosted my confidence.
Experience Details
Semester
Spring
Year
2023
Skills
Introduction + Preparation

About five months ago, I landed in Japan to study at Waseda University. While it might seem as simple as submitting your application to SFU's ISS and to Waseda, it required a lot of prep work that I've outlined below.

Previous Experience

I had been to Japan once on a two-week school trip back in 2017, plus I had been consuming Japanese content for years (including learning the language), so I already had a decent amount of knowledge about Japan and its culture before my exchange. I did make some friends, however, who had little to no knowledge about Japan before arriving, so if you're in that boat, you'll be fine (but make sure to do some research before you come).

Financial Preparation

I created a monthly budget spreadsheet to figure out roughly how much money I expected to spend each month. Whether or not I stuck to my budget is a different story.

I was working part time in the months leading up to my departure, so I made sure to save up my total monthly budgeted amount during those months. For example, let’s say I budgeted to spend $500 per month in Japan. That means I would save up at least $2000 ($500 x 4 months) during my eight months of working before leaving for Japan. In other words, would set aside $250 each month.

Packing

I think I started packing a couple days before my flight. My semester was from April to July, and I heard that Japanese summers were extremely hot and humid, so I mainly packed summer clothes, with a handful of warmer clothes to get me through the first month or so. I also brought all my own toiletries. Basically, the only things that I had to buy when I landed were some storage items, kitchen items, and towels.

Even though I packed a lot, I could have bought basically anything I needed in Japan. If I did, though, I would’ve ended up spending a lot more.

If you want to pack relatively light and don’t mind spending money on essentials upon arrival, you can forego basic toiletries and even clothing if you want to go on a shopping spree, and if you know you’ll be able to fit into most Japanese clothing.

I recommend bringing items you use frequently that can be difficult or impossible to get in Japan. For example, your glasses or contact lenses, your medication, any personal items like a beloved stuffed animal or a picture of your loved ones.

You should also bring either originals or copies of personal documents, just in case. I brought copies of my passport, birth certificate, and eyeglass prescription, just to name a few.

Travel and Transportation

I was able to book a direct flight from Vancouver (YVR) to Tokyo (NRT). If possible, I recommend flying into Haneda airport because it’s in Tokyo, whereas Narita airport is in Chiba and it takes over an hour to get into Tokyo, depending on your mode of transportation. Note that Haneda doesn’t receive as many international flights and is more expensive to fly into and out of.

Speaking of modes of transportation, for the cheapest way into the city from Narita airport, take the Keisei Line rapid train or Keisei Narita Skyaccess train, both accessible directly from Narita.

The main mode of transportation around Tokyo is the train. There are countless train lines that put Vancouver to shame. Luckily, Google Maps works very well with Tokyo transit and most signage is in both Japanese and English, making it relatively easy to get around. Japanese transit will feel very overwhelming at first, but you will quickly get used to it, as you’ll likely take the train every day.

Japan has various transit cards that are all equivalent to Vancouver’s Compass Card. I highly recommend getting one as soon as you arrive, and you can easily purchase one from most ticket machines.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

If you're reading this before your own exchange semester in Japan, you're already on the right track. Seeking out information from people who have been on exchange is one of the best research methods. I also recommend researching Japanese etiquette (I personally like to use YouTube and Reddit for day-to-day stuff), as well as learning at least two of Japan's three writing systems: hiragana and katakana. Many signs and menus are in English, but knowing how to read a bit of Japanese is extremely helpful. In your research, make sure to also learn some common phrases like asking for directions or if a store sells a certain item.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

There were two orientations: a general orientation for all exchange students and an orientation for exchange students studying at Waseda’s School of Commerce. The general orientation was a series of online videos and PDFs with general information about moving-in procedures in Japan and general rules of the school. The School of Commerce orientation was in-person and involved receiving our student IDs and instructions on how to register for courses. There was no social aspect to either orientation, but that doesn't mean you can't introduce yourself to the other students there.

Accommodation and Living

There are three main options for accommodation while studying at Waseda University: on-campus exchange student dorms, off-campus housing partners, and finding your own apartment (or similar accommodation).

On-campus dorms and housing partners’ accommodations are decided by lottery, like many things in Japan, as you’ll learn. This means that you submit a housing questionnaire (an online form) for the housing lottery by a certain deadline, then a computer will randomly choose who gets a spot in which accommodation. On-campus dorms and even off-campus housing partners are quite competitive, so it’s best to start looking for accommodations on your own before the lottery results are announced.

I, personally, didn’t do this and just hoped that I got some kind of accommodation, which I luckily did. I ended up at one of Waseda’s off-campus housing partners, about 40 minutes away from campus. While the commute was longer than I would have liked, it was also very affordable at a little over $500 CAD per month. That being said, the cost was low for a reason, but I digress.

Learning and Adaptation

The format of lectures varied based on the instructor, but my classes consisted of a lecture on the course material followed by a group discussion, only a lecture on the course material, or solely group discussion. Keep in mind that Waseda classes are 100 minutes each and instructors do not give any breaks. This can be a bit of an adjustment, but it’s not too bad if the class is interesting. Schedules follow a period system, so classes generally start and end at the same time, unlike SFU where some classes can be scheduled at 9:30am to 11:20am, or 10:30am to 11:20am. The grading scheme for most of my classes consisted of 50% weight on a final exam or project and the rest participation or small assignments. Some instructors will grade your assignments as the weeks go on, but it’s common for them to not tell you what your grade is at all. Class size varies, but my School of Commerce courses were similar to a third year Beedie class, around 30-100 students.

Accomplishments and Challenges

A challenge for me was trying to navigate a new country by myself. Japan is very bureaucratic with various procedures for residents, which can be challenging to understand, especially if you are not fluent in the language. Something that alleviated this was connecting with other exchange students through Discord so that we could help each other out, or at the very least, act as emotional support when encountering difficulties.

Studying abroad created many opportunities for me to travel and become more independent. When I came to Japan, there were so many places both within and outside of Tokyo that I wanted to visit, and I realized that the most efficient and simple way to visit these places would be to just go on my own. I went on my first ever solo trip to Osaka a couple weeks after I arrived in Japan. I was extremely nervous, as I had never travelled on my own before, let alone halfway across a foreign country. I remember when I finally made it to my hostel in Osaka and thought, “wow, I made it.” It was extremely fulfilling to know that I could navigate between and within cities that I had never been to before.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

Waseda has an Intercultural Communication Center (ICC) that hosts cultural exchange events for both domestic and international students. I got to try on a yukata, learn a traditional Japanese dance, watch a taiko drum performance, and more. The ICC is a great resource to use if you want an easy way to experience aspects of Japanese culture and even meet some Japanese students.

There are also dozens of clubs (called “circles”) for various interests, such as karate, music, and dance. Keep in mind that most circles require an entry fee, which can range from $30 to $100+. I, personally, didn’t join any circles, but I recommend checking out Waseda’s clubs days at the beginning of the semester to find any you may be interested in joining.

Wrap Up

While academics are important, experiencing life in a new country will be the most rewarding part of your exchange semester. Keep up with your schoolwork, but don't let it consume your life. You can always retake a class, but this might be your only opportunity to live abroad, so make the most of it.

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

For me, the most valuable aspect of my study abroad experience was the independence and confidence I gained. I realized that I am capable of so much more than I thought. I was forced to do and figure out a lot of things on my own. Before my exchange, I liked to stay in my comfort zone and was afraid to go to places alone, but now, I feel like I can go anywhere and do anything I want, and having company is just a bonus. By nature of doing things by myself once or twice, I realized that they weren’t as scary as I once thought. A year ago, I would never go on a day trip by myself, but during my exchange semester, I went to over 10 cities by myself.

Advice for Future Students

My first piece of advice for those going on exchange is to connect with other exchange students. Even though you may come from different countries or cultures, you are all in the same boat. Use each other as resources, not only for navigating life in a new country, but also for friendships that can last beyond your exchange semester.

My second piece of advice is to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, even if you start with just a baby step. Eventually, that baby step will turn into a regular one, and soon enough, you’ll find that your comfort zone has doubled in size.

Author

Aoife Day-Chu

(she/her)
SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Human Resource Management | Beedie School of Business › International Business
Study Abroad › Exchange
visibility  626
Aug 22, 2023