A Year in Kyoto Past Review

By (Japanese Language and Literature., Wellesley College) - abroad from 09/02/2013 to 09/26/2014 with

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

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I loved delving deeper into Japanese culture, particularly with a city as rich in tradition as Kyoto. While the program has its weak points along with the strong, I felt that I improved my Japanese, gained a deeper appreciation for Japanese culture and fell in love with the city of Kyoto.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The language component was one of the primary reasons I chose to go abroad, and KCJS's Japanese classes are quite rigorous. Japanese professors draw on various media sources, including newspapers, film, and short stories, and try to make topics relevant to daily Japanese life. Afternoon elective classes are a mixed bag, and tend not to be as rigorous or compelling as classes taken at a home institution (although this depends on the elective and professor.)

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The program staff are very friendly and eager to help students adjust to life in Kyoto. Both teachers and staff are available to answer any questions regarding school, or daily life, and are a good resource in case any health issues or administrative issues arise.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived with a host family for the academic year and had a great experience. My host mother was friendly and warm, and always cooked delicious meals. She was always willing to help me with my Japanese and explain certain customs, and living with her provided me a chance to practice the new grammar and vocab I learned in my daily Japanese class. While I lucked out and had a wonderful host mother, housing satisfaction for other students was highly dependent on host family. Some students with host families had issues with their families, with a few students switching out during the semester, or even between the fall and spring semesters. While the program tried to resolve these issues to the best of their ability, it was a very stressful experience for some students. Other options to consider are apartments or guest houses, which provide more freedom and flexibility, but require you to make extra effort for Japanese practice.

* Food:

Food in Japan is far more diverse than sushi and tempura, and it is fun explore all the possibilities. The program provides a stipend for lunch, and you can choose to eat at the cheap on-campus cafeteria or around Kyoto. The cafeteria, while very cheap, tends to get repetitive after a while, so it's a good idea to explore the various restaurants around Doshisha. Food can range in price from a 250 yen beef bowl ($~2.50) to kaiseki that is hundreds of dollars. Breakfast and dinner were provided by my host family and usually included rice with vegetable side dishes and fish or meat. Students in apartments pay out of pocket for breakfast and dinner.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The program provides many options to interact with Japanese students and society, particularly through having local students in English elective classes, the CIP (community involvement project), and the language partner program. The program also organized other exchange opportunities throughout the semester. Despite these efforts, it was still difficult to feel integrated into the Doshisha campus community as the academic year in Japan is different from the American calendar. We went to classes while many of the Doshisha students were on break, and we were leaving for America in April when students arrived and recruited for clubs.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

All KCJS students were enrolled in national healthcare and the program took care of a lot of the paperwork that accompanied this. I did not have any health issues abroad and never went to the hospital, but other students in the program had good experiences.

* Safety:

I felt extremely safe in Kyoto, and never felt any unease when walking alone at night or around the city.

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)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Some weeks I did not spend any extra money because I traveled with my commuter pass and did not use my full lunch stipend, but other weeks I spent over $100 on transportation, food and other expenses.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? There are lots of free attractions in Kyoto, such as temples, shrines, and museums, and there are other places with student discounts. KCJS will subsidize a few events each semester. Avoid eating out a lot if you are living with a host family and trying to stick to a budget. I was able to purchase a "lunch passport" at a bookstore in the spring semester which gave discounted set meals at various restaurants around Kyoto, and was a good way to dine out without breaking the budget. Traveling, while very worthwhile, can get expensive, so look for cheap discount airlines (such as Peach and Jetstar), area or regional passes for trains, and hostels and business hotels for accommodation.


* 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

KCJS encourages all students to speak Japanese as much as possible, particularly with other American students, host families and language partners.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
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? Second Year Japanese, JPN 202
How many hours per day did you use the language?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
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?
  • Language Classes
  • Location (Kyoto!)
  • Trips
* What could be improved?
  • Elective classes (assignments and instructors)
  • Integration with Doshisha community
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Be flexible with your expectation for Kyoto and abroad and keep an open mind. Your time is what you make of it and try to strike a good balance between work and play--don't be stuck in the classroom doing homework all afternoon, but don't skip out on too many assignments.