Monday, November 30, 2009

Brett - Osaka, Japan - Fall 2009

Hey! I’m Brett, and I’m quite possibly the first Elmhurst student to study in Japan. I’ve been here for almost three months now (really sorry for not putting anything up sooner), and it’s certainly been a lot of fun. I’m studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai (in Osaka) as part of their Asian studies program, but my major is actually computer science. I’m not sure what to write about so I’ll try to sum up my experience here as best as I can.
Being in Japan has been a really neat experience. Osaka is a big city and there are a lot of things to do here. Not only that, but you can take trains virtually anywhere in Japan over the course of a day (an hour if you’re not going far). Kyoto is particular has a lot of famous temples and shrines to visit and is located very close to the college. Not only that, but it’s also relatively easy to get on a plane and visit China or Korea for a weekend (though I haven’t). Depending on how you use your time abroad, it’s possible to get a lot of exposure to other countries and cultures.
One of the first things I was delighted to find was that just about everybody here is really nice. Not just the other Japanese students, but also the other study abroad students, but also just about anybody I’ve met around town as well. I think it’s probably because the university, which is a devoted foreign language school, is such a big part of the area that Gaijin (foreigners) really aren’t as rare a sight as they might be in other universities in Japan. That said, everybody has been really helpful and accommodating for study abroad students. Aside from that, I’ve met a lot of interesting people studying abroad along with me. In total I believe there are 469 students from 39 different countries. More than anybody else though, the Japanese students studying foreign languages at the university have been incredibly friendly, often striking up conversations for the chance to practice their English (English being the most common major at Kansai Gaidai).
Taking classes in Japan has been really interesting: for the most part my schedule has been dominated by language classes, but I’ve also had room in my schedule for a film study class of anime and a class that dissects and analyzes the religions in Japan. There are lecture courses relating to probably any topic you could want, from gender studies to social justice. Other popular choices are the art courses available: poverty and traditional brush painting, neither of which I was able to get into take while abroad. I was pleasantly surprised that though the brochure I read said that it was helpful to have some command of Japanese if you were thinking about studying abroad, language courses offered start at zero knowledge of the language and go up seven levels, so anyone can come here to study. My own experience was 4 years of Japanese from High school, most of it forgotten. I can comfortably say that studying abroad has made me more competent with the language then I ever have been. If I can continue to study independently after returning, I would say that the language itself will probably be the best souvenir I’ll bring home, cheesy as it sounds.
As for my accommodations, I’m living in one of the 4 dorms dedicated to study abroad students. The dorms are managed by nice people, and the RAs are a trio of very nice Japanese girls that will help you with just about anything from homework to ordering pizza for you. The rooms are very basic, though, and it surprised me. They aren’t much bigger than a dorm room at Elmhurst, but there’s almost no furniture. Instead, we’re sleeping on the floor with futons (something like a sleeping bag). Aside from the futon, there’s a coffee table and a small desk. Sleeping on the floor was probably the most difficult thing to get used to. Aside from the international dorms, some people have chosen to do home stays, which I know were recommended during the prep course. I don’t have experience doing a homestay in Japan, but I do know a couple people whose homestay family consists of a single middle-aged adult, by which I mean that (here at least) “homestay” doesn’t mean you’ll be living with two parents, a college student and their little sister. In any case, my non-homestay housing has suited me fine.
The diet here has been kind of weird getting used to. For the most part, most people I’ve seen usually eat: seafood, noodles and prepackaged junk food. Since coming here, I’ve discovered and eaten a lot of sushi, as well as many different kinds of udon noodle soup. I’ve also enjoyed some of the regional specialties, takoyaki (balls of octopus) and okonomiyaki (which I can’t really describe), and I’ve tried a number of new seafood like eel, squid and octopus, none of which I’d had before I came here. It was pretty difficult to force myself to eat these things the first time (‘cause they’re gross), but now I really like the regional dishes. I think it’s necessary to keep an open mind towards food when you study abroad; I’m sure other students have had to face similar challenges. There are traditional restaurants here,( I’ve seen plenty of McDonalds, KFC, and Wendy’s) and it’s interesting to see how the menus differ (teriyaki burger anybody?), but for the most part I try not to indulge in fast food; I really didn’t come to Japan to eat McDonalds, no matter how delicious teriyaki burgers might be. On another note, the Japanese love mayonnaise; they’ll use it on top of anything (even plain rice).
A lot of the students here (myself included) make a habit of going out for karaoke at night. For about $10 a person, you can get a private room for about an hour. It’s really fun to go as a group. In addition, many karaoke clubs include an open bar in the hourly rate, which means many times nights of karaoke turn into nights of drinking. The song selection though includes plenty of western music as well as Japanese, so it’s really not very hard to find something you can sing.
Last but not least there are the temples, which are just beautiful to go and see. While a lot of what you find there might be considered superstitious, it’s a lot of fun to go there and buy a charm (they have them for everything from traffic safety to test taking) and make a prayer. Temples sell plenty and it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs of your trip. They’re filled with all kinds of cultural monuments and it’s interesting to watch Japanese people come to make offerings. Also, usually temples are built into surrounding wilderness and even into mountain sides, which is as a rule kept serene and untouched. This means that visiting a temple can also be an enjoyable (and exhausting) wilderness hike.
So I think this sums up my experiences so far in Japan. I’m so, so sorry for not getting it up sooner.


Blogger jerkweedinspector said...

Few people seem to go to Asia from Elmhurst. I'm going to Korea in August (hopefully) and it's nice to get some perspective from someone already in the "area." I'm glad to see you're taking advantage of the opportunities there. I hope it goes well for you. Good Luck!

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Yishan Yang said...

Your experience in Japan seems very interesting and I hope my experience studying abroad will be just as interesting as yours. I am planning to study abroad in China for fall semester and it is very interesting to know that there is not that much cultural differences between these two countries. I hope I can be open to try new food like you did because it is very hard for me to try certain food that I've never had before.

5:54 PM  
Blogger evision said...

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