As a Japanese major, my university required me to study abroad for at least a semester. However, my year, due to complications they were only allowing two students to go through our university program. Since my best friend Jenny and I wanted to be placed in the same program, we decided that using a third party program was the best bet. I searched through many study abroad sites and each one of them had only good things to say about CISabroad, and since their program was at the same university we would have gone to through our university, we thought it was perfect!
Krystal Sousley is a Japanese major who studied abroad in Kyoto for a semester.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
My university has a different person that works with students who are studying aboard through a third party, Matt. Matt was so kind in telling me all of the paperwork that had to be done for my universities side, which was not much. Everything else was done through CISabroad.
As soon as I got signed up for the program, CIS appointed me an adviser and a portal. The portal told me exactly what paperwork was due and when. Not to mention it also contained all of the information about my adviser and how to contact her. However, I never had to contact her through the portal. Almost immediately after signing up for the program she emailed me and set up a time for us to talk over the phone. She had a link where I could set up the time and date for the talk. This was extremely helpful when I had questions about finances and visas.
I think the most helpful part of having an adviser was for the visa process. CIS gets you the Certificate of Eligibility from the school and sends it to you (this is what you need to get a visa). All I had to do was fill out a visa application form from my closest Japanese embassy and send it along with my passport and the Certificate of Eligibility. Within a week I had my visa and was all ready to go! Aside from that and airplane flights, everything else was taken care of by CISabroad. It was so nice not to have to worry about finding housing arrangements and transportation to the school.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
The entrance exam is going to be really hard, you are not as bad at Japanese as this text will make you feel. Every international student at KUFS (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies) has to take the entrance exam for every semester that they are studying there; so people who will be staying for the whole year will have to take it twice.
Since this test is meant to place people into levels from complete beginner to basically fluent, it has a lot of ground to cover. So don't feel bad if you walk out of that room feeling that you weren't able to answer anything; trust me, every student I talked with felt the same way. I also felt like I knew nothing (and I have spent over three years studying Japanese) and surprisingly enough even though I thought I did bad on the test, I still placed in Level 5 (out of 9). So don't give up.
Also, be prepared for an oral interview as well. If you haven't brushed up on your Japanese in awhile it's best to start reviewing before you go. It is much easier to transfer down a level than to go up one.
Depending on how well you did on the entrance exam you may get asked different questions during the oral interview (it is a one on one interview with you and one of the Japanese language teachers). Some students got asked what a pen is or why they are learning Japanese. If they think you are at a higher level you may get asked some more intense questions like "what do you think of copyright laws" and "do you think there is an economic difference between the west coast and east coast of America?". Don't feel bad if you can't answer the questions that they are asking, they are just trying to place you in a level where you will succeed the best. If you tell them that you can't answer or don't understand they just move on to the next question.
Overall, brush up on your Japanese and don't feel bad if you don't think your exam or interview went well; you probably did way better than you think!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Monday through Friday, I would wake up at around 8:30am, since classes started at 9:10am and I only lived 5 minutes away from campus. If you go into school a bit earlier you can even have the 百円朝ごはん (one dollar breakfast). If you can stand getting up early, this breakfast is really worth it. You get fish, miso soup, rice, and vegetables for only a dollar.
Classes run from 9:10-5:20pm (depending on which electives you take), with a lunch break from 12:40-1:50. So if you tend to eat earlier you may need to bring some snacks, though be warned that you can only eat during the breaks. Some of the teachers will scold you if you eat during class time. This university even has school bells that tell you when class is starting and ending.
After classes are done I usually had about 30 minutes of homework to do at night (there wasn't much homework); however, my level was required to memorize around 20 kanji readings a night (which we would be tested on the next day). So if you aren't very good at memorizing, you may have to spend some more time doing the homework. Once the homework was finished, I usually went out with friends to eat and explore. Near KUFS there are 3 main train stations that will take you basically anywhere. And since trains run until about 1 am you can spend a lot of time in the nightlife areas (like Gion). Weekdays are actually the best days to go because girls get into the clubs for free on weekdays and the drinks are cheaper.
One weekend every month we would have an excursion with CISabroad. Our site director, Jeff, would come down from Tokyo and do fun activities with us. These activities are optional, but are so awesome that they aren't worth skipping out. For example: one weekend he took us to Nara, which is famous for having wild deer roam around. We got to visit the temples there, feed the deer, and each ice cream (Jeff pays for everything). After that, he took us to a shrine that closed down specifically for us, they did a shinto ceremony with us, and then served us an 8 course traditional Japanese meal. Plus, as we were leaving, they gave us a cute keychain!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Honestly, my biggest fear going into this was that I was going to make any long lasting friends. I am the type of person that gets really focused on doing well on my classes that I can struggle sometimes with a school and social life balance. This was quickly resolved since before coming to Kyoto all of the CISabroad students had an orientation in Tokyo for three days. During those three days, I got really close with all of the other students and even when our activities for the day were over, we would end up going out together at night.
While that issue was resolved, it transformed into a new fear: that I wasn't going to make any Japanese friends. At school, unless you are taking classes taught in English (like Global Issues), the classes are filled with only international students. While that is cool in its own respect, because you get to talk with people from all around the world, I didn't allow any time to get to get to know and speak Japanese with native speakers.
To overcome this, I ended up deciding to join a club. That was honestly one of the best decisions I made on my trip. You have to be progressive in order to join a club (you have to find the captain's email and contact them) but it was an amazing way for me to spend several hours a week with some awesome new friends. I joined the volleyball club and got to travel to games, spend time working out with some amazing girls, get better at volleyball and Japanese, and they even threw me a going away party when I left! After joining the club, I realized my fear was easily resolved by just putting in the effort to find the friends I was wishing for.
How do I navigate the Japanese railways?
Firstly, have a train card. Jeff gives all of the participants of the program a loaded train card during the orientation in Tokyo so you are already set. This card makes everything so much easier. You can charge it at stations and just tap and go when you want to get on a train. If you don't have a train card, you have to buy a ticket one at a time for the EXACT price of the distance you are traveling every time you want to get on a train. That's a pain, so get a train card.
Next, bookmark the yahoo transit app on your phone. It may look scary at first and you will need to be able to type in Japanese but it will may everything super simple and easy to understand. It lets you input which station you want to leave from and which station you want to arrive at. It gives you the set of trains (train line name, train name, and line color) you will take, what times those train leaves and arrives (and since Japanese trains are notoriously on time all of the time, even if you can't read you can just get off at the exact time and know you are at the right station), and which platform the train is one (so again if you can't read Japanese you can just go to the platform number and get on the train that is there at the time it says). This page also tells you how long in total the train rides will take and how much money it costs to get there. It was a lifesaver for me during my stay and it is much more reliable than Google Maps.