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Yes, I recommend this program

Going on the YIJ program is one of the best decisions I have made so far. Like many others, as a huge fan of anime (and Japanese language & cultures ofc), studying abroad in Japan has always been a dream of mine, and I am grateful that YIJ program and Konan University have completed my “Japan-dream” in a way that is even better than I could imagine. Although I must admit, before applying for YIJ, there has been a period of time where I debated with myself whether I should apply for programs that study in a more worldly known Japanese University such as Tokyo, Waseda University. Because of this, I consulted my senpai, who has previously participated in YIJ and studied in Konan University and has many friends involved in different study abroad programs. He said, “If you simply like the idea of having ‘a top university’ to look good on your resume, apply for a different program; if you want to enjoy and experience Japan from first-hand, YIJ will give you a never forgetting year.” Now that I think back, I know he was absolutely correct.

Who should apply for YIJ?
For those of you who loves to learn the Japanese language and Japanese culture, YIJ’s academic curriculum will make you (or at least made me) very happy. The Japanese teachers and Konan/KIEC staffs are very nice and friendly, you can always talk to them if you have any questions. For those of you who likes Japanese anime/games/manga/goods, go explore Sannomiya, and you will find your “heavenly realm”. For those of you who likes the city and nature, Kobe (where Kobe Beef and YIJ’s host school is located) has mountains on one side a beach on the other and in between you will also have a taste of the urban atmosphere (Osaka, the second largest city of Japan, is next to Kobe). For those who want to travel around Japan, Kobe is also not too far away from Kyoto and Himeji, and YIJ offers field trips that takes you and your other study abroad friends to live your Japan life to the fullest. For those of you who are social animals, you get to meet many other study abroad students who are also interested in Japan just like you, and if you would like to get to know more Japanese people, join a school club/circle, go to a Izakaya or a bar! If you are the more chill type of person who would appreciate some quality alone time, there are so many good (student-friendly priced) cafes around Kobe where you could read a book and enjoy the coffee and desserts, or you could do a self-travel as Japan is very safe to do so (PS: most Japanese hostels are surprisingly clean and cheap). For those of you who are tight on a budget, every YIJ students from the year I went were able to receive scholarships from Konan or the Japanese government. Konan University also offer tutoring job opportunities where you teach/talk with Japanese students in English and at the same time, develops your interpersonal and communication skills.

I hope some people find my review to be helpful, and if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me or talk to me on Instagram (if I don’t read the emails LOL)! I am more than happy to share some of my personal experience and maybe provide you some recommendations as to which restaurants or cafes are the best or what you could do to explore while you are in YIJ.
Instagram: @dasfada13

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I wish I had started traveling earlier regardless of my Japanese level! I wish I had worked even harder on developing my Japanese. I wish I had explored more and cherished the time and moments I have spent with the people while I was there a little bit more. Go YIJ! Go Konan University!!
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Yes, I recommend this program

It had always been a dream of mine to go to Japan, so as soon as I got the language requirement this program asked for out of the way, I focused all my energy into making sure I got in, and that effort paid off 200 times over. I loved every single second of my time in Kobe; when people ask me what I disliked or what was uncomfortable, I honestly have no answer. It was so much better than I could have ever asked for in every way!

My host family was wonderful. I don't know if they pick students or if the program assigns students to families, but whichever way it works, I felt like they were a perfect match for me. They were extremely supportive and accommodating, and the time we spent together was enjoyable and always a learning experience.

Konan University itself was also great. The campus was pretty small relative to my home university, but everything being so close together made it feel cozy and accessible, rather than intimidating. The convenience store and cafeteria being so nearby the building we had classes was great, since it allowed quickly buying a drink or something during passing periods. Students were very friendly too. I joined a club while in Konan, and it enhanced my student life a lot. Definitely join a club if you have the time.

I also loved the Kobe/Kansai area. Before starting the program, I was kind of wishing I was in Tokyo, but once I started, I fell in love with Kobe immediately. The Kobe area isn't overwhelmingly populated; most of the cities I went to had a nice suburban feel that I've grown up around and enjoy. A lot of super interesting towns, including Osaka if you want to visit a big city, are a 10-60 minute train ride away from campus, so you'll never get bored (my favorite town was Takarazuka, please go to Takarazuka!!).

My Japanese also improved a fair bit, which is natural if you're in a program of this type, but I feel the need to mention it. If you're like me and really want to improve your Japanese, this program is a good way to do so. Immersion and 3-hour Japanese classes every day go a long way.

All in all, this trip was amazing and unforgettable. If you have any hesitations about going, I say definitely go!! It will change your life.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
Go for the year, not just one semester. I should have stayed!!
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Yes, I recommend this program

Since it was my first time getting to leave the country there were a lot of things that I was nervous about but I can safely say that going to Japan for a year to study was worth every moment.

Kobe University was amazing school and I met many excellent teachers and lifelong friends who I still talk to even upon returning.

Kobe is a great city to explore and it is located next to many other large cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Himeji meaning you will never get bored of exploring.

There is also a lot of delicious food to find and Japan has many options but their choice of fish and deserts is quite expansive. Even having eaten there everyday I never got tired of what I ate and I look forward to trying more when I return.

Having been there for a year i have no hesitations saying if i ever had the chance to return I'd be happy to do so!

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Yes, I recommend this program

My name is Jiaao, I was in YIJ program at Konan University, Kobe, for one semester started from fall 2018 to the beginning of 2019. I will put this word before I start to talk about my life there. I would rather be there for one more semester even if I cannot graduate on time.

Everything that you have here is more than what you could ever imagine. Academically, it is a happy experience, but never an easy one. You will be placed in one of the several levels after an exam. Do not worry about whether you did good or not because no matter what level you were put into, you will definitely learn a lot. I was put into the highest level and one day when I talk about some grammar with my classmate at another level, I realize some of the grammar they learned is unfamiliar to me. I then realize that even though I am at the highest level, there is always more to learn. The morning class is always going to be your language course. The instructors are the teacher of Konan University. I was worried a little bit at the beginning because local teachers may not know how to teach foreigners, but soon I found out they are professionals. It's never a boring class because you will have a chance to hear more about cultures, stories, watching videos that related to the materials, and some times even going out to talk to the locals. You will have your own research topics to eventually make a presentation and talk about it to your classmates. They give you a chance to local areas to talk and learn about your topic so learning about it is not like sitting in front of the desk and searching it online. By the end of the semester, you will have a chance to take an official Japanese test which if you learned carefully in your daily classes I think you will pass it. Afternoon classes are those cultural courses such as art or history. These courses are taught in English just like the classes you have been taking in your University. I do not know about the other classes but the two that I have done were the art and the history, which during the weekend the professor will take you out to actually go to those places to learn more about the subjects. For example, for the art of Kansai, we have been to temples, shrines and traditional Japanese castles to learn about architecture, religion, painting, and sculpture. For history, we went hiking one of the local mountains and also temples and shrines. All these field trips were paid by Konan University except for the meals, so you do not need to worry about the train tickets or the tickets to the temples, the school will pay you back to you pretty much once you come back from the trip.

There are a lot of things you can explore in the campus. Circles and clubs are open to foreign students. I participated in Wataiko, the traditional Japanese drum club, and was performing to the audience both in the school festival and public show. Rehearsals were going pretty late but it was exciting, just like those rehearsals you have seen in animes, which you feel the atmosphere and joyful sense of achieving something by doing things with your teammates. You can legally work as a tutor in the Global Zone to teach English. There are games in the room which you can use to have better communication with the students. Most of the students that I met were shy, but they are willing to try so you wouldn't feel you are wasting your time here. You will have the chance to do presentations for the Japanese students on the topic you like to introduce your culture. For me, this is not only about teaching, but more about sharing cultures, which is always intriguing. School festival is once in a lifetime thing. It is the real SCHOOL FESTIVAL you saw in the animes and mangas!

Other than the field trip that you had in with your professors, you will have an official trip held by the University. I only did fall semester and we went to Koyasan, which was built by monk Kukai. Again, it is paid by the school and you do not need to worry about your budget. Those who did one whole year were going to more places, as I heard, such as Hiroshima, and Tokyo.

Study aside, let's talk about something interesting. Kobe is perfect in its location, you get Sannomiya, which all the traditional bars, anime-related stores, video games shops, and Karaoke were located. Frankly, who does not like drink beer and parties and games? These places are perfect to hang out with your friends. A lot of restaurants here were also great where you can do all you can eat and drinks, or high-level wagyu beef cuisine if you saved a lot of money. It took about an hour or a little bit more but no more than two hours to go to Osaka and Kyoto, which you get more historical attractions and Izakayas(Japanese bar)! You have to try the Manga Kissa(Manga Caffe) which you can even stay for a night if you talk to your host and school, again, once in a lifetime.

You will do the homestay while you are here in Japan. It really depends where you will stay but they are all not too far from the school which takes no more than an hour to go to school. I lived with a generous granny and a dog and two cats. There were days that I simply do not go out but just stay at home with lovely friends. I assume the hosts are not speaking English just like mine, but communication is never the problem. On the contrary, you will get improved even if you do not study hard but to chat with the host daily.

I miss the days that I had here every single day. I miss the days when we all sat together at Global Zone talk about our cultures, learn about each other's languages; I miss the days we were at the Izakaya, drinking beer, laughing together; I miss the firework show and the Karaoke; I miss the trips that we help each other to climb up to the highest mountain. Those days that I spent were the happiest time in my life and I dreamed to go back.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
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Yes, I recommend this program

I participated in the Year-in-Japan program in 2019 spring. Although the five-month period is not long, I have had a wonderful life every day.

YiJ is already a well-established, mature program, so you can get a colorful experience and enough support here. The facilities at Konan University are advanced, and the staffs are great; you can always get timely help.

In addition, Konan University has a Global Zone for international students, so we have our own space to study, eat, and communicate with others. Except for your assigned language partners, many local Japanese students also go to the Global Zone every day. If you want to improve your language skills and want to meet more friends, this would be a good opportunity.

The language teaching here is very good as well. Many Japanese teachers can provide you with all kinds of help, not only in class but also after class. If you have questions regarding the Japanese, they will be helpful to you. The workshops and study trips covered in Japanese classes are impressive, too. For example, during my semester, we participated in a Noh play workshop and experienced it under the guidance of professionals. As for study trips, we went to Shikoku and Hiroshima and participated in many interesting and meaningful activities. I think that I won’t have a chance to get in touch with these if I am just a tourist but not a YiJ student. What’s more, you can also choose two courses in Japanese studies, which can really help you understand more about Japan.

Jumping out of the study, YiJ provides you homestay opportunity, and they are very sweet and lovely. My host parents took care of me a lot, and they made me better fit into this new environment.

All in all, I am very satisfied with my exchange experience. I believe I made the correct choice to choose YiJ. So, please don't hesitate to sign up! You will never regret it.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you decide to study abroad with the University of Illinois at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland?

I always knew I wanted to study abroad when I went to college, but I hadn’t put much thought into it until the beginning of my Junior year. That seems to be the year when most students at Illinois decide to study abroad, and so I began looking into different programs, attending meetings, and filling out paperwork.

When it came down to a decision, I kind of happened upon Aberdeen by chance. Most students I knew either ended up going to Italy or Spain. Those were, and still are, the popular choices. I wanted to go somewhere a bit out of the box, so to speak, but nothing too crazy like Tibet. I had always been fascinated with the U.K., so I focused my search there.

My first choice was London, but none of the specific programs really appealed to me. (My girlfriend ended up studying abroad there at the same time, so I visited quite a lot, regardless). When I started looking into Scotland, Edinburgh was my next pick, but Illinois only offered art programs there, and I didn’t fit into that. Aberdeen really just popped up on my radar one day, and I fit right in with the general study program that was available. Plus they speak English (obviously), which was a big deal for a lazy American like me!

I began doing more research and liked the sound of it more and more every day. I finally just said heck with it, nobody goes to northern Scotland, so why not me? A bit of a gamble, but it really paid off. To be honest, choosing to live and study in any foreign country for an extended period of time is a bit of a gamble – and that’s what makes it so special and exciting!

What made studying abroad a unique and special experience?

First of all, I had great flat mates. That can’t be understated. I lived in a student village just north of the main campus that housed British first years and foreign exchange students. There were Americans, Italians, Kenyans, and all sorts of nationalities represented in this community, which was great for my exposure, but all my flat mates were true blue Scots.

There were four of them, and they really showed me the ropes and introduced me to so many cultural aspects of Scottish life, pubs included. Two of them even took me to stay with their families for a couple long weekends, really allowing me to get a look at life over there from the inside.

Secondly, Aberdeen really provides a great support system for exchange students, and their campus even evokes the feeling of a more traditional U.S. school, albeit much older. As well, Illinois provided a few structured events and trips for the larger group of Illinois students that were studying abroad all across the U.K. at the time, including a trip to London that was an absolute blast.

Speaking of traveling, I made it to London at least five or six other times, ventured out into the Scottish highlands, visited Glasgow and Edinburgh with my flat mates, and spent time in Madrid, Paris, and Amsterdam. And when I wasn’t traveling, I had a terrific time exploring all Aberdeen had to offer (it’s an extremely old city with a lot of great history). Located far to the north, with all the cloudy days and granite stone, it might not be huge a tourist destination, but it didn’t take long for me to feel like Aberdeen was home, and that might have been its best attribute.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Personally, I matured a lot that semester. I’ve lived with my family in Chicago all my life and went to school only two hours drive to the south. I had traveled by myself before, but nothing can really put some hair on your chest like venturing out into a new country on a different continent on your own. I really learned to appreciate other cultures and got to see firsthand exactly why Europeans think of us the way they do. I won’t get into that, but I can tell you that the greatest lesson I learned is that no society is perfect. There are good and bad people, mostly good, all across the world.

I learned as much from my friends over there as they learned from me. And I also learned to really appreciate what we do take for granted here in America. I can’t stress enough how beneficial I think studying abroad really is for personal growth. Academically, I became a better writer. The British school system, from elementary level up to university, puts much more of an emphasis on written communication and essay-based tests than we do. I think maybe only 25% of my exams in Aberdeen involved multiple choice. For someone like me, a communication major who now works in public relations, becoming a good writer was essential.

I also got to take my first, and only, philosophy class in four years of college. It was the basics, but discussions were a lot of fun! When you combine the personal growth and academic achievement, it really adds up to what matters – eventually graduating and becoming a professional adult. I’ve been out of school for a year and a half now, and I truly believe that my time spent abroad helped me mature to a point where I was ready to move on from school once it was time.

It also helped expand my network, and more importantly learn how to network! Networking is the number one skill you don’t really get taught just by going to school, but studying abroad forces you to reach out to others in ways you haven’t ever done before. I could drone on for days about why I loved studying abroad and how it’s helped me in life, but it honestly comes down to one main thing – I feel like I’m a better person today because of those experiences I had in the past.