The Student's Guide to Becoming a Nihon Gakusei

Ready to Live Off Real Ramen in College?

If your answer to that is "hai", "sukoshi", or "mada mada", congratulations -- studying in Japan is probably for you! Whether you're a metropolitan socialite or a lover of the countryside, W&J has partnerships with various Japanese universities to suit any taste. There's the prestigious Sophia University located right in the heart of urban Tokyo, the fledgling Akita International University nestled in the quiet northern island of Hokkaido, or the sprawling and diverse campus of Kansei Gakuin in Osaka. Tuition, room and board are all covered by the college, and many courses can be found taught in English - but it's really not as much fun unless you aspire to learn the native language too. So before you start booking flights to Osaka or Narita, you need to think about two things:

[1] How much Japanese do you know? How much would you like to know?
[2] Is your major compatible with the courses offered at the university you're interested in?

Based on your answers, there are plenty of ways to go about this: Even if you don't know a lot of Japanese, that's not always a problem. Heck, Akita's entire curriculum is offered in English! But there's really no substitute for knowing the language -- assuming you want to fit in and have a social life there. For those who plan on waiting a year or two before going abroad, Ayano Ban teaches Elementary Japanese at W&J each year, though higher levels are only offered if enough students pledge to take the course.

If you're the impatient type and want to kill two birds with one stone, you can try an intensive language course at a Japanese university over the summer. These courses work outside the normal framework of Study Abroad, so W&J is less involved in it, but transfer credits are definitely possible, and in a few select cases, you can get reimbursed for the payments. It's all about investigating which universities are offering the courses, what kind of placement tests are involved beforehand, and how much money it'll cost you.

And if you just want to get your feet wet, there's always the Sociology Intersession trip to Japan - a whirlwind tour of the country with Edward Greb that is next scheduled during the '08-'09 academic year. You're shepherded around Japan's major cities at a breakneck pace, but competent tour guides keep you grounded and make sure you get the most out of the experience. A lot of students take the opportunity to test the waters before deciding on whether the country is for them - and the reviews are almost universally positive.

There is no lack of pathways to the Land of the Rising Sun; the only question is how much of an immersion you want.

One Student's Journey Towards Akita

Michael Nemeth is currently a W&J sophomore, but starting next semester, he'll be an Akita junior. "I started thinking about going to Japan in my freshman year," says Nemeth, "and did a lot of my research over the summer. I went to Viet Ha in the fall to talk about stuff like scholarship options - so it's actually something I've been planning for almost two years now. The earlier you start, the better, because there's a lot of stuff to consider."

Long term goals are a major part of choosing a university to study at, according to Ayano Ban. "If you want to be involved with another country during your career, Study Abroad is a very good option... but you have to be careful. Make sure that whichever university you choose has the major or courses you want." There have been instances of students running off to Japan without researching the courses available at the university they got into, and their stories never end well. Sciences are the hardest courses to find offered for English speaking students - business courses and humanities are a safer bet, and that's just what Akita has.

Nemeth is an International Business major with an interest in Asian countries - he's been to China and Japan through their respective Intersession programs - and he put a lot of thought into the choices available in Study Abroad before settling on Akita. "Akita's a really new school, only three or four years old, but their courses are mostly in business and global studies, which is exactly what I'm looking for." It's out in the middle of the Hokkaido countryside, so Nemeth will have plenty of time to focus on his classes and fluency, too.

In His Own Words: An Akita Prospective

"The first thing I did was research and keep my options open. I took Elementary Japanese my very first semester at W&J and went to China during Intersession. By sophomore year, though, I knew Japan was where I wanted to go. I did some research and looked at the different universities W&J is partnered with - Akita was perfect. They have all the courses I'm looking for, and even some that I wouldn't be able to take at W&J without a bunch of extra requirements that I'm not interested in.

Ban-sensei (ie. Ayano Ban) helping me on this made things a whole lot easier. She's able to talk to the people at Akita directly and help me keep track of all the stuff I need to send them. She visited Akita's campus during the 2007 Intersession trip to give me her first-hand impressions of it. She's even taken time this semester to tutor me using the [Japanese language] textbook from Akita's curriculum instead of W&J's. A lot of what I'm doing this fall is thanks to her - I can't wait to finally go."

Where to Start: The 3-Step Process

  1. First off, if you're ready to make things happen, talk to Viet Ha in the bottom level of Burnett -- he'll provide you with material on the various colleges in Japan, along with forms to fill out and a list of deadlines. However, don't rely on him to do everything for you: Study Abroad is a busy, busy department, and if you don't take the initiative in getting things together, your application may slip under the radar and fade into oblivion. If necessary, be a pest. There's nothing worse than missing a deadline you didn't know about, finding your plans dead in the water as a result. Seriously. Take the initiative or you'll regret it.
  2. Next, talk to Ayano Ban at the top of Old Main -- while she can't provide the same level of technical information as Viet Ha, she can offer a native Japanese perspective on both the regions you're interested in, as well as a guage for your proficieny in the language. If you've taken Japanese with her, she can provide a letter of recommendation for your applications and talk directly with the Japanese universities for you. If you don't plan on going abroad for another few semesters and haven't taken a Japanese class with her, heavily consider it. If you're not at least past the elementary level of the language before you go abroad, you'll struggle once inside the country.
  3. Finally, do your own outside research. The Internet is a wonderful thing. Use it wisely, and don't forget all the typical prep work either: Make sure you have a passport, book your flight early, find and apply for scholarships, and be ready for the onslaught of paperwork that will inevitably hit you. Get it done early or be prepared for severe migraine headaches.

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Copyright Disclaimer Thingy: Page text + photos by Dan Lifschitz