The land of wonder that is Japan strikes curiosity in many around the globe, including myself. Ever since I was a child, I have always held a particular interest in Japan and its rich history, which ultimately lead me to pursue a degree in and specialize in Japanese history. I had always dreamed of going to Japan, but I come from poor family and always thought it was out of my reach to leave the state of Florida let alone leave the country. However, I was proven wrong when I began attending USF. The friendly and helpful staff in the Education Abroad Office helped me through the process and taught me that even if you don’t have money, there are still ways in which studying abroad can be possible for you.
My name is Haley Mayo and I am currently attending Kansai Gaidai University in Japan for the fall and spring semesters. To be able to attend a university in Japan can only be described as a dream come true for me, and it can also be one for others. I have a few tips for anyone planning on studying abroad in the future;
- Ask lots of questions! Whether you ask in person or email, the staff at USF are very helpful. I practically lived in the Education Abroad Office and bombarded my program advisor with emails, and they were always so friendly and willing to help me with whatever I needed.
- Visit to the Office of National Scholarships at USF. This was a place I found by accident, and while I didn’t receive any “national” scholarships in the end, the staff were still extremely nice and helpful. Here, you can speak with advisors that specialize in International Scholarships. They will help you find scholarships for your particular abroad program and help write your applications for them whether through editing or helpful advise.
- When looking for plane tickets, a great website I used was called StudentUniverse. When making an account, you have to prove your status as a university student, but once that has gone through, you are able to find student discounted prices for place tickets. I was able to get my place ticket for almost $200 cheaper than any other website I found.
- Work on all your paperwork as soon as possible! The earlier, the better. It is so much easier to get everything ready and finished before leaving if you space it out rather than waiting until the last-minute.
Now with that out-of-the-way, let me talk about my life in Japan so far!
The day of my flight was when I finally started feeling nervous. I had never left the country before, and would soon be away from my friends and family for almost a year. Yet, I was also filled with excitement for what was to come. After waving goodbye to my family, I left for my next big adventure.
The flight was long and not without complications. Halfway across the United States, my plane was forced to make an emergency landing in the middle of the night, and the rest of the flight was cancelled. If something like this happens to you, don’t panic. I called my flights customer service and they were able to fix my flight plans for me. My itinerary was different, but I still arrived in Japan only a few hours later than originally planned. There, Kansai Gaidai staff were waiting outside Customs to pick up arriving students. This was something you needed to sign up for weeks ahead of time, and they will have a list of the names of students that had signed up. If you did not sign up for their pick up service, it is up to you to get to the school on your own. The pick up service does cost 5,000 yen, so I advise using a money exchange at an airport before arriving. However, they do have currency exchange counters at the airports here as well if needed.
We took a long bus ride to YUI, Kansai Gaidai’s new dorm building. Every student has their own room with no roommates. While each room is small, it comes with a bed, large computer desk, a tall shelf for your shoes, a closet, a small side-table dresser, and a mini-fridge. YUI opened in April 2018, so everything is still pretty new and it can be hard to find pictures, so I have taken a few.
For the first week, the international students were free to go out and have fun before Orientation Week. I made many friends very quickly. Everyone is very friendly and even if you are shy, I guarantee you will make friends immediately. Me and my newly made friends went to Osaka City the second day after arriving, and it felt like an entirely different world.
It was difficult to navigate the trains at first, but something I found very helpful with that was Google Maps. Google Maps will be your savior while in Japan no matter what method of transportation you are using. I highly recommend downloading it to your phone for the duration of your stay here. I promise it will be the most helpful thing in the world.
The rest of the week we spent learning the area we would be living in. All of the best places to eat and have fun. My personal favorite place to eat is a ramen shop called Kurawanka Ramen. However there is a wide variety of places to eat in the area if ramen isn’t quite your cup of tea.
We went through Orientation Week where staff at Kansai Gaidai walk you through all the things you need to do and be aware of during your stay. At the end of the week, me and a few hundred other international students gathered together for a tour of Kyoto held by the school. It was extremely hot outside that day though, so most of us didn’t stay for long. I took a few pictures, but I plan to go again in November when it is cooler outside.
I highly recommend signing up for programs at Kansai Gaidai such as the Speaking Partner Program. Or if you decide to live in the dorms instead of homestay, they have a wonderful program called the Home Visit Program. In this program, you are matched together with the family of a local Kansai Gaidai student, and you can spend a day, weekend, or holidays with them. It is entirely up to you and the family to make plans, so it is not required that you stay there every weekend or holiday. You can spend a day with them, or even go out on trips together with them such as going to nearby cities or parks. I signed up for this program and have loved it so far. I was too scared to live with another family 24/7, so I chose to stay in the dorms. But I did still want to experience spending time in a Japanese family setting. This is the perfect program for that. I was nervous the first time we met, but we quickly grew close and time flew by so quickly as we talked about many different things. They are also known for making delicious okonomiyaki and soba, which are famous dishes in Osaka.
If this kind of program interests you, Kansai Gaidai takes in applications BEFORE you arrive. In fact, the deadline for applications is a few weeks before you will leave the United States. Many students here this semester told me they didn’t even know about the program and were sad that they couldn’t apply after arriving. Which brings me to my next point;
Look over EVERYTHING on the Kansai Gaidai website.
There is so much useful information about the school and different programs you can join, many of which require you to apply before arriving. So it’s very important you look over everything. I personally read over every single page of their website multiple times so that I would be prepared for as much as possible.
While you are here however, many events and activities will be sent to you via email or posted advertisements around the campuses. I signed up to take a field trip to Nara with high schoolers at a nearby school, where we got to dress up in traditional Heian clothes as well as visit Todaiji Temple which is famous for the deer that roam the temple and for housing the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world.
I have also been looking up events in Osaka every month on Google. It will show you many festivals and events happening at nearby cities and shrines that you may not hear from by locals or from the school. In fact, I went to one festival called the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri, and many of the locals either didn’t know about it or never went. It’s definitely a good idea to look up these events so that you can experience many Japanese cultural festivals.
The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri has been held every year for the past 300 years. The wooden floats are 4 tons and carried by men. Teams from surrounding areas all come to compete on who can run around corners with the float fastest without tipping over. It is rather dangerous and has led to some casualties in the past. Thankfully, there were none this year. It was fun to join the crowd and run after the floats as they zoomed by. At night, they cover the floats in lanterns and carry the floats down the streets more slowly. It is beautiful to see the lanterns glowing in the dark of the night.
If you’re looking to make some Japanese friends here, look no further than your very own dorm section! One of the benefits of living in the dorms is how easy it is to make friends, whether Japanese or other international students. Just spending time in your sections lounge or kitchen will lead to other students talking to you and making friends. Every month, each section has its own meeting. Many of them will also try to plan dinner nights after the meetings, where many of us will cook food together and socialize. It is also a fun way to try different dishes from around the world, as many of the other international students will be from different countries.
Every day has been thrilling and I have been having the time of my life. I still can’t believe I was given this amazing opportunity, but I am making the most of it by doing as much as I can. In future posts I hope to share more of my amazing experiences and hopefully give more useful advice to USF students who wish to come to Kansai Gaidai in the future.