Floating in Japan August 30, 2017

By (Middlebury College) - abroad from 08/27/2016 to 06/27/2017 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Tokyo

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Learning about Japan, the good and the bad was super worthwhile. Exploring nature in Japan and learning about how Japan does food was super fun. Even small interactions had a lot to teach on how different the world can be. The most important lesson I learned however was how to live there. That is to say, Tokyo and most Japanese cities are built so differently than U.S. cities that day-to-day life is vastly different.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Without a doubt, the most frustrating aspect of this program for me was the education. Rigor, intensity, and meaningful work was almost entirely lacking. The restriction of the program to only use Japanese for courses heavily crippled the education experience, but structurally, the education practices at the host university were frustrating to deal with and almost impossible to compromise with. I often felt as if I was on vacation, but that it was being interrupted with busy work and unhelpful, non-engaging classes. After my first semester, I was heavily discouraged from caring about the academic aspect of study abroad which unfortunately still took up a lot of time and was very unfulfilling. That isn't to say I didn't learn anything. However, what I did learn does not match the amount of time that was actually spent in class and the actual classroom experience was not worth the time. Dealing with the bureaucracy of the system and then individual classes added another level of frustration.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

It was overall very good when it was there. I personally enjoyed the freedom we were allowed when doing activities. That is to say that we, the students, very much had to figure and problem solve a lot of interesting and challenging problems on our own. At times the administration seemed very disorganized and although that did happen, everything still got accomplished in the end. However, during the 2nd semester, the lack of incoming students resulted in the program disappearing. The absence of the support and social space it previously provided made navigating the winter very difficult. The fall and spring were very good because the program and administration were active, but the winter term and overall experienced suffered as a result of their absence.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I was highly unsatisfied with this. This was the second worst aspect of the program. Our only housing options were a homestay or on-campus housing. Not wanting to commit to living in a home with strangers, I picked the college dorms which still resulted in sharing a living space with strangers and a lot of ridiculous rules and expectations. Even after engaging my house mates and trying to live by their rules, integration was still impossible because they, a long with much of the campus doesn't care about integrating temporary students. This was only one of the reasons, but living in the dorms was actually a huge detriment to experiencing daily life in Japan. I lived on-campus, away from the actual residence areas, and where perhaps I could have learned a lot about typical housing options in Japan, I was instead forced to stay in an unwelcoming dorm. Overall, living in a environment riddled with insurmountable cultural barriers that were out of my control was very frustrating and often, I was compelled to simply not come home. Personally, I don't live well with other, something that I already knew from previous experience and that wasn't going to change just because it was a "different culture" and "part of the study abroad experience."

* Food:

You can find amazing tasting food quite literally anywhere you go in Japan. The quality of food on average is significantly high. It is difficult to find 'bad food.' Even special needs, like allergies or dietary choices were easy to accommodate.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I basically didn't feel integrated at all. This is largely in part a fault of the coddling done by the university. By placing you on campus, it strips you of the need to do many everyday things that someone living off campus in an actual house or apartment would need to do. This involves actually engaging with the community to a certain degree. It is important to mention that Japanese society is socially difficult to penetrate. I did find some success, but it took a very long time to get there. This will vary per person though and I know I'm at fault for this shortcoming as well. The most significant contributor to this though was the on-campus culture which was ultimately very alienating and closed-off.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Never had an issue. I can't comment, but my friends who got sick were attended to very well.

* Safety:

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No

The "study" aspect of the "study abroad" heavily crippled the entire experience through various means. The housing, the education, the coddling by the school. It was only outside experiences and exploring Japan that really redeemed the year abroad for me.

Finances

* 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)

Unable to hold a job and make some income was very stressful, and unfortunately, I had to rely on money that I did not want to borrow to make up the remainder. the $2500 my financial aid gave me for the first 6 months was absolutely inadequate. The $2000 for the last 4 months was still not enough. Depending on activities and desire to travel, you can easily go through $100-$500 in a week. In regards to food, assuming you don't buy your own groceries, $150 is a reasonable expectation for just food per week. There WILL be other expenses. Its basically impossible to escape Japan's consumerist culture.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $100-$300
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Pace your outings. Be aware of how much you're going out and how much you're eating out. Using the train also costs money and that can add up. Buy a bike, you save tons of cash on bus rides. If you do go out, you WILL spend money. You might just buy a coffee or you might buy a new purse or jacket and it won't matter if you already went shopping the previous day. It is very easy to get carried away in Japan.

Language

* 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

Encouragement was was actually too high. It was detrimental to the experience in many ways.

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? Japanese 300 level at Middlebury Japanese Language School (Intermediate)
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? Go on dates. Even if you're not invested or romantically interested. Talking to Japanese on a date outside of the context of ICU or even within is a amazingly enlightening experience. Your Japanese will improve greatly.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local 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?
  • The freedom.
  • The fieldtrips.
  • The solidarity of being there through Middlebury.
* What could be improved?
  • Housing
  • Winter activities
  • Clarifying the expectations of the program.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? How frustrating and pointless the "student" aspect of study abroad would be.

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.'

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

16th Century Maritime History in East Asia

Course Department: History
Instructor: Csaba
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: Super interesting and very demanding. A gem of a course. It was taught by a foreign professor and he had a very different way of doing things than the Japanese professors. It was a small, discussions and presentation led course. It was not unlike the courses at Middlebury or other U.S. Liberal Art Colleges.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Politics and International Relations of Latin America

Course Department: Political Science
Instructor: Ohgushi
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: This was interesting course in terms of content, but not challenging. It was very challenging from a language perspective. Understanding anything the professor was saying was difficult. This was obviously more a personal problem, but the lecture heavy nature of the course made it difficult to keep up. The professor was also quite apathetic.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

History of the Middle East

Course Department:
Instructor: Yoshimura
Instruction Language: Japanese
Comments: A thoroughly interesting course. I did end up learning a lot of things as a result of the book review we had to write for our midterm. It was still a difficult course due to language comprehension issues. This professor was very animated and encouraged student participation.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

JLP 4

Course Department: JLP
Instructor: Various
Instruction Language: Japanese/English
Comments: Wasted too much class time per week and covered too few material very slowly. Often not worth attending class.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Approaches to Gender Studies

Course Department: Gender Studies
Instructor: Various
Instruction Language: Japanese/English
Comments: Interesting, but almost entirely lecture based. Little to no opportunity to participate or discuss. Not much homework. Good for Japanese listening practice.
Credit Transfer Issues: