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Kane Swanson

He / Him
SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Marketing
Study Abroad › Exchange

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The study abroad program broadened my academic, social, and cultural perspectives, enhancing my values and intercultural understanding through comparison and contrast.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Spring
Summer
Year
2022
2023
Introduction + Preparation
Financial Preparation

I relied on my personal savings, scholarships, and some support from my parents. For scholarships, I highly recommend the “One World International Scholarship” and specific to Japan, the “Mitsubishi Canada Limited Student Exchange Awards.”

Packing

To minimize uncertainty and stress, I recommend creating a checklist of what you need. Personally, I created a checklist with categories for clothing, technology, toiletries, and documents. I highly recommend thinking carefully about what you really need or want to bring, as you will certainly be returning with more than what you initially brought and will have to leave things behind (Or you can just pay for more luggage on the return trip). Keep in mind that many things can be bought once you arrive. Finally, keep in mind the climate of where you are going. Since I did a two-semester exchange, I made sure to pack for all of Japan’s seasons. 

Travel and Transportation

I had a direct flight from the YVR to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Keep in mind that Narita is 1-2 hours outside of Tokyo, so you will need further transit. I recommend taking the train (Keisei Skyliner or Narita Express) or the shuttle bus, but taking the local train is cheaper however is not worth the stress unless you are already used to Tokyo. Alternative to Narita Airport, arriving at Haneda Airport is closer to Tokyo so if you have that option I would go for it. 

Preparation Tips for Future Students

I recommend organizing and preparing early unless you like last-minute stress. I created a document that detailed all my preparations from packing, to documents I needed, to important deadlines (for housing, submissions, etc.), to planning my arrival date schedule. By preparing early, you give yourself time to contact advisors about questions that will inevitably surface. Finally, I specifically recommend pre-ordering mobile data or buying a phone plan at the airport so you can contact people and translate. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

As a School of Commerce student at Waseda University, my orientations were minimal and sent in advance via email. My peers from other faculties had different orientation programs which were often in person so keep in mind it varies. These orientations will guide you for what you must do as a new entrant to Japan such as governmental registry so as long as you pay attention and ask clarifying questions to your advisors and peers, you will be fine. If you already know some other exchange students I highly recommend completing the legal requirements together such as going to the ward office to register your residence.

Accommodation and Living

My university, Waseda, offered limited exchange student accommodation through a lottery system. Fortunately, I was selected which made things easy. However, I met many fellow exchange students who were not selected, so be prepared to find your own accommodation. Just don’t leave accommodation to the last minute.

Learning and Adaptation

At Waseda University, classes are structured in 100-minute time periods. While the semester length is comparable to SFU, Waseda has only two semesters with longer breaks in between. The academic experience varies by faculty. In the School of Commerce, the workload was quite manageable compared to SFU's. Unlike SFU, course selection follows a three-round lottery system rather than a 'first come, first served' basis, so it's advisable to have backup plans in case you don't secure a spot in your desired courses.

Waseda offers classes taught entirely in English, although the selection is naturally more limited than Japanese-taught classes. However, Waseda provides unique courses not available at SFU, offering a Japanese perspective that adds a distinctive dimension to the academic experience.

Accomplishments and Challenges

Studying abroad not only provides unique academic learning but also opportunities for personal growth, independence, and cultural exchange as you explore a new world. Beyond my studies, I expanded my perspective on the world through the friendships I formed with people from various parts of the globe. My proudest development was learning to tackle unforeseen obstacles and navigate the unknown with confidence. I attribute this growth to the necessity of adapting to cultural shocks and the countless trips outside Tokyo, where I had to learn how to find solutions either independently or knowing to rely upon others.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

As you are joined by many other exchange students, everyone is immediately searching for friends. I was fortunate to receive accommodation from the university where I found many of my friends through merely being neighbours. As you will likely be taking classes taught in English, you will have ample opportunity to meet other exchange students and even locals who are learning English. If you are keen to make many local friends, I highly recommend joining a circle, which is essentially what we think of as a club (not to be confused with “clubs” which are much more intensive). Although some circles actively try to recruit foreign students, I highly recommend trying to join any circles that interest you even if there are not any other foreigners. For instance, I joined a football/soccer circle and despite being the only foreigner, was immediately welcomed and made many friends. It may be difficult to find a circle if you are coming in the fall as most do their recruiting at the start of the academic year in April, but the effort is very worthwhile. 

As for activities, Tokyo has endless places to explore and do. There is endless content online which can guide you such as Japan-guide and Tokyo Cheapo. I recommend regularly checking for upcoming events such as limited exhibitions or festivals. Beyond Tokyo, Japan has so much to offer and compared to Canada, traveling is very affordable.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

You know when something is so praised that it could never live up to anticipation? The study abroad program is one of those few instances where the experience lives up to those astronomical expectations. It is undoubtedly a highlight from my university life that allowed me to grow in all aspects of my life.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

Through the study abroad program, you are not simply visiting a new place but living in one. This extended experience as a student, rather than a traveler, provides numerous unique and enriching opportunities to connect with locals, other international students, and their cultures. You come to compare and contrast these experiences with your own values. I met people from all over the world and developed new interests in many cultures, which I would have otherwise been apathetic towards. Returning home, I not only gained a new appreciation for Japan but also for the countless things I had taken for granted in Canada, from the quality of cheese to the diversity of people in Vancouver.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Studying abroad provided me with access to unique courses and fresh perspectives, enriching my education beyond a Canadian-centric viewpoint. Additionally, I honed my intercultural communication skills by collaborating not only with local students but also with exchange students from around the world, overcoming cultural and language barriers. 

Advice for Future Students

Whether your study abroad experience is one semester or one year, it will go by in a flash. There will be things you wish you did but either did not know of or did not have time for. Therefore, I implore you to plan ahead and do your research so you know what you want to do while you are abroad. I was only able to complete one of my ‘must-dos’ of attending my favourite Japanese artist’s concerts by planning months ahead of even arriving in Japan. Finally, I recommend creating a scrapbook that you can ongoingly fill out with pieces such as photos, stamps, tickets, and messages from others. 

Author

Photo of me

Kane Swanson

He / Him
SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Marketing
Study Abroad › Exchange
visibility  249
Mar 6, 2024