I just returned home from studying abroad in Osaka, Japan. While I am very happy to be home, I also realize that I probably will never get a chance to study abroad again. Whether with CET or another program, study abroad is a must do.
I decided to study abroad for the fall of my junior year. It had almost nothing to do with my major, although I did receive credit for some classes that will go towards my major. Before I chose CET, I had taken one full year (two semesters) of Japanese language classes. During my time abroad, I wanted to find a program that would give me the best opportunity to learn as much Japanese as possible. CET, therefore, stuck out as a target program for me. I applied, got accepted, and filled out all my paperwork, got my visa, and headed to Japan.
CET's staff did a good job pre-departure of responding to emails promptly and answering all my questions, which I had a lot of. Like all programs, there are a lot of forms to fill out, and CET did their best to help me get everything done.
Upon arrival in Japan, we were guided by CET staff from the airport to campus. Getting to campus and getting settled in was easy and efficient.
The First Week
The first week was a long week. We had a lot of free time to get used to everything. I was thankful for that time, but it was dull for many of us because our Japanese roommates were still on vacation. I was dying to get out and explore, eat, play club sports, and do new things, but unfortunately I wasn't confident enough in my Japanese skills to try and go out on my own in a city I knew nothing about.
The first week of classes was an interesting and slightly awkward period. Everyone was at different levels in their Japanese language studies and the teachers had yet to finalize who was in which level class. In addition, every day, we were taken outside the classroom to learn how to do important things in Japan (buy groceries, ride the train, mail a letter). It was interesting and informative, but at times I felt we were a big inconvenience to the locals we were obliged to ask menial questions to.
Nevertheless, I learned basic skills needed to live in Japan.
After that first week, we progressed into our main studies from our textbook. I was placed into the level 2 Japanese class. Once I got used to my professors (先生), I really started to love my class. The pace at which we learned new grammar, vocabulary, and kanji was very fast, but because my teachers were so good, it was easy for me to do my best and enjoy the learning process. I cannot praise my teachers enough (I had two teachers that taught our class each for an hour a day). They were extremely patient, fun, and most importantly passionate about teaching. There was a mutual understanding that improving our language skills was our number one priority. The textbook we used (GENKI 2) was a very well designed and written textbook too. Learning was very straightforwards. I got out what I put in. With five students total in my class, we got a lot of personal attention, which really caters to my learning style. Overall, the Japanese classes were the number one strength of this program. In four months, we completed a full year of japanese. It's amazing how much we improved.
I lived in a shared house with five minutes away from campus. There were eight of us total, four foreign students, four local students, all attending classes at Osaka Gakuin University. We were each assigned a roommate, but we each had out own rooms. I am extremely thankful that the CET staff (Lauren Nakasato) arranged this for us. Because it was Japan, the space was small and limited, but it was satisfactory. My room had everything I needed(slow wifi/tv/sink/shared kitchen/American style bathroom, showers, laundry machice), although in the winter time it was freezing at night and we were only given one heavy blanket. Because there was no central heating, and because using our heating units were expensive, we were encouraged to tough it out and wear as much warm clothes as possible. But even if I wore everything at night, it was still cold. CET please give your future students more than one blanket. If you are a future student, pack long underwear. It sounded unnecessary to me, but I wish I had it. Other than that, the housing situation was awesome. All the roommates had part time jobs, but because there were four of them, there was usually a local Japanese student around to help with homework, answer questions, or come out with us. My housemates were awesome. My roommate was awesome too. We were all compatible, and I am thankful to have had them around. CET would not be the same without the roommate program.
The University we studied at has around 5000 undergraduates I think. I never could find the number online, but 5000 is what local students estimated. The campus is nice, small, and has a good cafeteria where you can get a filling lunch for 3/4$ which is great for students who didn't receive any stipend from their home schools. There is also a fully functional, American style gym where you can do any kind of exercise you want (treadmills, olympic squat racks, bench press, dumbbells, stretching room). There are three full time trainers there that can help you if you need a spotter. They are super nice, but do not understand too much english. Nevertheless, I went almost everyday. OGU is known for their sports teams, but not for their academics. Most students do not have homework, and they said that they did not have to work hard during class. But this is completely separate from the studying that we did.
Going into study abroad, I was very excited to join sports clubs/circles and meet new people through competition and having fun on the field/court. From what CET told me, and what is on their website (countless student clubs!), I had high expectations. Almost halfway through the semester, I still was unable to join any clubs. CET must change this on their website. It was very misleading. I had brought my baseball gear from America, hoping to play any level of organized baseball. I didn't care, I just wanted to play. But it was clear that the student clubs on campus did not want foreign students with limited conversational abilities to get in the way, which in all fairness, we would have. However, I sent many emails pleading for a chance to try out, and I was able to join the rubber baseball team, which turned out to be awesome. The guys were awesome, welcoming, and nice to me. The hardest part was getting connected. In reality, CET has little to no framework for foreign students to get involved in these clubs. From my experience I learned that getting involved in these clubs comes down to how bad you want to join and how persistent you are. In the end it worked out great for me, but I only got to play for the last two months of my trip. My suggestion for incoming students is to see what your roommates and housemates are involved in and ask to join in with their help.
Osaka is a crazy city. Osaka Gakuin is 15 minutes away from downtown Umeda which is a hub of nightlife, food, and sightseeing. You are also very close to Kyoto, Namba, and other amazing cities, both modern, and traditional. Many students were able to travel as far as South Korea on their three day weekends (which there were many of). Plane tickets are cheap and if you have the time, definitely travel around Japan. Its easy and its worth it. I wish I had travelled more around Japan. This again comes back to how much you want it. You get out what you put in. In the end it is up to you to go out and see Japan. Go for it.
My roommate and I were a very good fit. Many were not as fortunate. But because most of us lived in shared houses with up to eight people, there was always flexibility between roommate pairs so everyone had someone they could connect with. The language barrier was my biggest issue. I only had a years worth of Japanese before coming to Japan, so it was very hard for me to express myself fully. My roommate knew a good amount of English though so we were able to navigate difficult situations. There were some things we never were able to explain to each other, and it was frustrating, but in the end it was all right. Making mistakes was unavoidable, and it was best just to get over it and move on. My biggest difficulty with my roommate was that it was really hard to figure out what he wanted (what kind of food to eat, where to go, what to do on weekends). We both feared inconveniencing each other, and so we would get into the "anything is ok" conversation loop. I tried to explain that I knew relatively nothing about the Osaka area and that I will do/eat anything, but my roommate was form Okinawa so he also did not know the area. Nevertheless, we had a great experience together. We ended up playing baseball together on the same team. He is coming to America this summer and wants to go skydiving. Lucky me.
You get what you put in. CET gives you everything you need to start. The clubs experience was frustrating, but I succeeded in the end. It was cold at night sometimes, but I had an amazing time. I saw so much of Japan, learned so much Japanese, and made friends that I will keep forever. I am lucky. Some people did not have as good a time as I did. It all comes back to how far outside your comfort zone you are willing to go.