Japan receives many foreign exchange students. The mystical nature of Japan with its unique culture and long time period of isolation has made it an attractive destination for not only tourists but foreign students alike. Everyone’s perceptions and experiences of Japan is different depending on their background and how long they stayed. For short and long term students, that experience certainly does feel unique. I am a foreign third year student undergraduate with many friends who stayed here for either a semester or 2. Their experiences differ from mine because they have no long term obligations to Japan, but what does it feel like being a “ryuugakusei” (留学生) in Japan and what are some of the things to look out for while studying in Japan?
1. Japanese Language
It comes to no surprise, but learning the language is always a first. It is more important when you are planning to stay in Japan for a long period of time. In addition, most exchange students come to Japan to study either the language or the culture, so this always usually comes as a no-brainer. There are many ways of practicing Japanese. Japanese classes are usually taught in most universities. If you are staying for a semester, then learning the very basics of Japanese won’t hurt either. Looking at kanji in the station and trying to memorize the reading of those kanji is a good start. If you are more serious about learning Japanese, then going to language exchange programs (see: http://japan-work.com/archives/6430) may be a better option. Self learning through reading may also be a good option. In general, the earlier you know your Japanese, the better your experiences will be. This goes without saying, but is especially true in Japan as not many people are willing to speak in English.
In addition, language schools are a great way to learn Japanese quickly before starting your semester. The level in which students accumulate their Japanese skills in such a short time in language schools is astounding. Most of the students in the exchange program go to Akamonkai, a popular language school.
There are lots of things to see in Japan. If you are only here for a brief moment, then it is of course, advised that you’ve experienced as much as you can while in Japan before coming back to your country. Fortunately, you can even learn many things within a walk around your neighborhood. However, if you have the time for a one day trip, there is a plethora of locations that are available for you to explore.
If you live in Tokyo, for starters, you can always begin with a day at the popular tourist destinations such as Shinjuku and Shibuya. If you are not interested in shopping, then a visit to Ueno park or Odaiba might be preferred. Finally, if you are a fan of hiking, then doing some hiking at Nikko, Kamakura, or Takaosan can be a good option. You can never run out of places to hike if you live in Tokyo. Finally, paying a visit to Yokohama may be a good idea if you are looking to escape Tokyo and enjoy a breath of fresh air while remaining in a big city.
3. Part-Time Work
If you can work, then definitely try to do so. Working part-time in Japan will net you more than just money. Part-time work these days are very accessible, and comes with various forms. In addition to money, your Japanese language skill will definitely increase due to the fact that you will be hearing mostly Japanese and speaking Japanese to your coworkers, unless you are doing a different kind of job.
For starters, if you are not confident in your Japanese language, then working in a convenience store may be your best bet. Manual labor is also another job type that you can be certain that does not require much verbal communication.