Unforgettable in unexpected ways. January 23, 2020

By (Japanese Language, Literature, Middlebury College) - abroad from 08/19/2019 to 11/22/2019 with

Middlebury Language Schools: Japanese Language School

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My language levels visibly/audibly improved, I made life-long friends, I learned how to navigate myself using public transportation, I learned about Japanese culture through various host family programs... it was definitely worthwhile.

Review Photos

Middlebury Language Schools: Japanese Language School Photo Middlebury Language Schools: Japanese Language School Photo

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 academic rigor was lacking, but I viewed that as more of a good thing, as I had more space for socializing and exploring Japan. The resources were very good, and when I needed help editing an essay in Japanese, the program coordinators were there for me. I felt that my language skills improved, but the knowledge I gained from my content course was minimal.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

It seems they have everything thought out; even bikes were available for our uses. The program coordinators, Arakaki sensei and Eda sensei never hesitated to ask us how we were feeling, and helped us however they could to the best of their ability.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The living arrangements were exceptionally clean and spacious (compared to Middlebury). The only drawbacks were that I wasn't living among Japanese students but other exchange students and the wi-fi was spotty.

* Food:

As a vegan, finding food for me was difficult. I expected this, and mostly cooked on my own. However, I had only a microwave to depend on. Kitchens are not available to one-semester students, so I had to make do. I bought vegetables from the local supermarket and cooked them in dorm-provided bowls covered in plastic wrap. The dining hall had vegan dishes during lunch, and once I got a better understanding of the local restaurants, I was able to figure out where I could and couldn't eat. Once again, Arakaki-sensei and Eda-sensei tried as best they could to help, and when we went on program-sponsored trips, they made sure I had something to eat. What I did eat was delicious (even the microwaved meals)!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I didn't expect to be able to integrate in the first place, but it was made harder by the fact that I was only staying for a semester. No one seemed to really want to get to know me when I was leaving so soon. Joining a club helped, and I also did some activities through Glocal Mitaka to get more involved in the community.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I didn't experience major health problems while in Japan, but using my insurance and finding an English speaking doctor seemed very difficult. From what I heard from those who did have to use the health care system, it worked out in the end and wasn't too expensive. The program coordinators also offered to accompany us if we wanted. When I left the country, I paid roughly $30 for the national health coverage I had received during the duration of my stay.

* Safety:

If I had been in any other country, including my own, I would have been robbed or worse. Because Japan is so safe, I became less cautious with my things; lost my wallet twice, had it returned twice, and then permanently lost my ATM card in a separate incident. I got a new card once I returned to the U.S after the police in Japan told me they couldn't find my ATM card. The police were super helpful and friendly even as I was panicking. Public transportation is also super safe, however, one of my friends was groped even though we were all nearby when it happened. They did not wish to pursue any legal action, but there are resources for when this occurs. Everything outside of this incident was completely my fault and still turned out okay.

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

From what I could see from the other exchange students I was living with, Middlebury's program was the most rigorous, yet it still left me plenty of room to enjoy my time in Japan.


* 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)

I was able to keep to my budget mostly by saving on food expenses. As a vegan, I had to cook for myself anyway, and the groceries plus the dining hall food I could eat wasn't too expensive. Most of my expenses came from trips I planned with friends, and nights out at karaoke/restaurants. Transportation wasn't too expensive either; the local line to Tokyo didn't take more than $6.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? I spent about $70 on food and $12 transportation each week. I spent a little more initially when buying laundry/cleaning supplies ($20) and portable wi-fi since I had no cell service ($90).
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Talk to your bank before leaving to lower ATM fees if possible. If you're renting portable wi-fi like I did, split it with a friend. Cook for yourself if possible. When planning trips, go in large groups, use AirBnB, and book early. Visit shrines instead of shopping districts.


* 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

The language pledge is more flexible than Middlebury's summer language school pledge, but still stressed.

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? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? 200 level 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? While in Japan, keep the language pledge as long as possible; join clubs and make Japanese friends.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Exchange

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
* 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?
  • Explorations and Community Engagement Class
  • Small class sizes
  • The faculty and community partners
* What could be improved?
  • Accomodations for vegans
  • Host family options for 1 semester students
  • Counseling services
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? That JLP classes' focus is on kanji so I could study during the summer (it might have been mentioned); that buying a ticket to Haneda when we were meeting at Narita wouldn't actually save me any money...

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 Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:


Course Department: Japanese
Instructor: Shibukawa
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: Japanese offered by International Christian University. Compared to Middlebury's Japanese program, it is slower paced (less material covered over the course of a semester overall), but there is much more emphasis on Kanji. The teachers rotated halfway through the semester, which threw me off. The first teacher was very professional, the second couldn't manage to cover all the necessary materials in class. We did a few interactive activities (debates, field trip) that I found interesting and fun, and even the projects you were supposed to do on your own had to do with visiting local museums, tourist attractions, etc. We had two major exams, two major presentations, and weekly combined kanji/grammar quizzes.
Credit Transfer Issues: I never had the intention of transferring credit; my focus was on improving my language ability.
Course Name/Rating:

Studies in the History of Japanese Education

Course Department: Education
Instructor: Saito
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: It was challenging in that I couldn't read most of the PowerPoint slides and had to rely on google translate to decipher most of what was written on them, but the actual content wasn't at all challenging. There were only two major assessments in the form of essays for the whole semester (a midterm and a final). I liked the topic, but the dryness of lectures couldn't be ignored. No student led discussions whatsoever.
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't have any intention of transferring the credit.
Course Name/Rating:

Cultural Porfolio: Reflection

Course Department: Middlebury School Abroad Japan
Instructor: Eda
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: It wasn't challenging, but that wasn't the point. The class consisted of the teacher guiding us in building an online portfolio/blog site with all of our experiences/assignments from Japan. The portfolio building was fun to a certain extent, but some could see it as a bunch of busy work. Either way, i think it helped to solidify my writing skills in Japanese to a certain extent. The grades in this class were completion grades.
Credit Transfer Issues: I had no intention of transferring credit.
Course Name/Rating:

Cultural Portfolio: Exploration

Course Department: Middlebury Schools Abroad Japan
Instructor: Eda
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: This class served as a hands-on cultural dive into Japan and especially local Mitaka/Tokyo. A typical week would consist of readings and worksheets about varying topics (keigo, shotengai, katakana-go, etc.) and by the end of the week have an assignment relating to these topics but requiring us to visit local shops, or interview native Japanese speakers, and generally test our boundaries. This class also consisted of a field trip to far off Tottori, where we worked with students from another university to learn about the lumber industry/economy in rural Japan. It was rich in experience, and the value of this class goes beyond a simple letter grade in my opinion. Major grades came from a series of 5 essays (and a few presentations) on the aforementioned topics.
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't have any intention of transferring credit.
Course Name/Rating:

Community Engagement

Course Department: Middlebury School Abroad Japan
Instructor: Arakaki
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: This class was a deep dive into the local community through a short unpaid internship. Students can choose from a list of community partners and work at anywhere from an Elementary school to a publishing company to a local park. In class, we where expected to give presentations to fellow students about our work at our respective internships. Certain assignments (short essays) could be written in either English/Japanese. The end of the semester in this class culminated in a small symposium of sorts to which all the community partners were invited. It was an extremely valuable experience and challenging in unexpected ways.
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't expect to transfer credit.