Fall in Kyoto Past Review

By (East Asian Studies., Wellesley College) - abroad from 09/04/2013 to 12/19/2013 with

Columbia University: Kyoto - Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies / KCJS

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
The program was stressful at times and my language skills did not progress as much as I had hoped but in the end, I did enjoy my time in Kyoto and made many great friendships.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

KCJS prides itself on its academic rigor, and indeed it is a very demanding program. The workload is onerous, especially for the Japanese language classes, often leaves students with little free time to explore the city. In my experience, though my language instructor was open to hearing constructive criticism from students she was often unwilling to change her curriculum or schedule which was frustrating at times. The supplementary English courses are, in general, far less structured and demanding than any course taught at Wellesley.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The staff was very warm, accommodating, and eager to make sure that students had the best experience possible. Sometimes they could be a little overeager to help, which could make things awkward. There were a few incidents where they would call host families unnecessarily when they thought there was a miscommunication with students. Though they are always eager to help, sometimes they didn't follow through. For instance, I had hoped to find out more about some of my ancestors who were connected to Doshisha and while the staff seemed very keen to help and despite multiple requests they did not so much as provide me the name of a person to contact. Other students had similar experiences as well.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The program generally does a good job of matching students with host families and accommodating students who wish to have a more independent lifestyle by offering apartment and share-house accommodations. I lived in the latter for the duration of the program and while the facilities might leave something to be desired, the proprietors, an elderly couple who have hosted foreign students for decades, were exceedingly warm and inviting people who made me feel right at home.

* Food:

KCJS gives students a lunch allowance of 800 yen (about 8 dollars) for everyday of the program. Host families provide the other two meals and for students living in apartments these meals are self-catered. There are a couple of restaurants around Doshisha which are friendly to the student budget in addition to the cafeteria. I did not have difficulty procuring food at all though one has to keep in mind that dietary staples in Japan are much different from in the US so finding familiar food can be a challenge.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

There are plenty of opportunities to interact with Japanese students but the workload and busy schedule that comes with KCJS was often inhibiting. In addition, it can be very difficult to join on campus groups other than those dedicated to "cultural exchange" because the American and Japanese school calendars are different and not all student organizations are eager to have foreign members. KCJS also has a Community Involvement Project in which students find an activity or organization in which they want to participate such as English teaching in local schools or archery lessons to name a few. While an invaluable experience, these projects were often time-consuming and not very rewarding as it proved difficult to integrate.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

KCJS helps students sign up for the national health insurance plan. Though I did not have any experience with this system, friends who did need to see a doctor during they stay seemed very pleased. Because health care is socialized in Japan, doctor's fees are much more affordable than in the US.

* Safety:

Kyoto, and most of Japan in general, is extremely safe. I never felt scared when walking home at night. As with anywhere though it is important to remain aware of your surroundings at all time and exercise good judgement.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Transportation is very easy and affordable in Kyoto. While it is relatively easy to find cheap food, eating out is very expensive and adds up quickly. Books and other school items are comparable to that in the US.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $100
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Decide on a budget and then stick to that budget! Keeping receipts and tracking how much you spend is also a good way to be aware of how much you are spending.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

There is a "No-English" rule in the building where classes are held but after the first week, none of the students adhered to the rule. The program also facilitates a language-partner exchange for American and Japanese students to practice their Japanese/English.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? JPN232 (Third-year Japanese)
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Invest in a good Japanese-English dictionary or download an app onto your phone or tablet that also has kanji recognition software. A good one for apple products is called "Midori." Also keep in mind that you get what you put into the program. It can be easy and comforting to slip into English when talking with friends but if you really want to improve your Japanese, the best way to do so is to get in the habit of thinking and interacting in Japanese.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Other
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Location
  • Housing
  • Staff
* What could be improved?
  • Actually giving students free time to pursue other opportunities in Japan
  • Cultural exchange programs
  • Language and supplemental courses
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Contrary to popular study-abroad rhetoric, the workload of this program is actually quite intense and doing all the work asked of you would mean not having much time at all to explore the city or meet Japanese. While Doshisha is a college, the campus atmosphere is completely different from American universities and can be lonely and isolating.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.