Japan: A trip through and weird and wonderful culture Past Review

By (Chemistry and Economics, The University of Texas at Austin) - abroad from 05/30/2013 to 07/14/2013 with

IES Abroad: Tokyo - Tokyo Summer

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I gained a much stronger grasp of the Japanese language. While I am far from fluent, I was able to put what I learned in class into actual use. Being able to speak Japanese throughout the entire 3 day home stay program was exciting and rewarding. I learned a lot about Japanese culture, as well as the common misconceptions about Japan from the US.

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.

The course offerings were not diverse enough for my level of Japanese. The jump in difficulty from JP 200 to JP 300 was large, even though I had previously learned the majority of the content in JP 200. Nevertheless, the content and teacher for JP 200 were great. I was able to more strongly grasp what I had previously learned while still learning the new material.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administration was lacking. Very little information beyond the bare minimum necessary to travel and meet the program officials was available. There were no adequate details as to the living arrangements aside. The provided breakfast consisted of coupons to a cafe, which did not really provide for an adequate meal. There was no information about the showers, which were communal and without privacy, and was a shock to many. The internet was spotty and barely adequate, while the paid alternative was far more expensive than noted in the pre-departure information. Moreover, little could be done to change the class structures. It was difficult for many to move across levels if they felt their placed level was inadequate. Also, there was no room to accommodate students with Japanese proficiency in between the structured class levels. While many of these are minor issues, the lack of detailed pre-departure information caused some anxiety and stress. Nevertheless, the majority of the program was well-maintained upon arrival.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The living arrangements were great. However, the lack of privacy in the showers was shocking upon arrival. The internet was spotty as well. Also, the lack of air condition during the middle of the day made the Olympic Center unpleasant. The A/C was great in the evenings, however. Overall, the accommodations were more than enough.

* Food:

The meal coupons provided for breakfast were not adequate. The coupons were only useable at two cafes in the olympic center. These cafes did not provide much selection and were overpriced. As such, it was difficult to get a proper well-balanced meal each morning with the amount of meal coupons provided. A stipend, coupons to the center's cafeteria, or coupons to the center's convenience store would have been far more useful.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

The program did provide many seminars and orientations to help us understand the Japanese way of life. The Japanese student volunteers were an excellent way to get acquainted with the local culture. However, staying in the olympic center somewhat isolated us from the local culture. Arrangements on an actual Japanese college or university campus would better integrate us with the local culture.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

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)

While it was difficult to find cheap healthy food in Japan, getting around on <$100 a week was not too difficult considering breakfast was provided. It was easy to spend a lot if you are not conscious about spending, but food prices were not extreme for simpler meals such as ramen or convenience store food. However, this ease may have been due to the $1 to ~100 yen exchange rate as I traveled when the yen was relatively weak (usually it is a $1 to ~70 yen rate)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Around $80-100 a week on food. Travel expenses varied if I walked more or took the train, but usually <$20
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Be mindful about food spending. Drinks add up quickly, especially if the yen is more valuable. Convenience store food is a great way to eat cheaply on a more regular basis, and the selections are great. If you look around a little, it is easy to find filling meals for 800 yen or less (~$8 when I went)


* 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

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? JPN 610D
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? If you have taken at least 1 semester of Japanese, vocabulary is key. You will learn many of the grammar structures in class, but learning vocabulary and kanji (if you are up for it) would be the most beneficial for communicating around Japan. While it may take some work to communicate effectively without all of the grammar structures, you can still effectively communicate if you have enough vocabulary knowledge. Very few Japanese people know fluent English, but will be able to speak a few words or sentences.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • 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?
  • Climbing Mt. Fuji
  • Making new friends
  • Learning the language
* What could be improved?
  • Administrative communication and more program details
  • More integration with local college students
  • More diverse class offerings for the varied levels of Japanese proficiency
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? The class schedule and the group project's time commitments. It was difficult to plan more intense traveling and tourist activities prior to arriving without knowledge of the exam, seminar, and field study schedules. The group project near the end of the program took far longer than previously thought, which conflicted with the desire to finish up major tourist activities. Also, knowing how short 6 weeks really is. At the beginning of the program, it feels like you have a lot of time to travel and see Tokyo. This is not the case. It is definitely enough time to take things slowly, but if you want to see all the sights and truly enjoy the culture - you should plan effectively.

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 Nearly Native or Trail Blazer
Craving the most authentic experience possible, perhaps you lived with a host family or really got in good with the locals. You may have felt confined by your program requirements and group excursions. Instead, you'd have preferred to plan your own trips, even skipping class to conduct your own 'field work.'