If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be studying abroad in Japan, I wouldn’t believe you. My application process was surreal: I’d looked up a countless number of photos, blogs, and reviews of study abroad in Japan, and I couldn’t believe that I was applying to go to a country so different from my own. When I applied and found out that I was accepted into IES Abroad’s Nagoya Summer Program, I was ecstatic: I was going to Japan! I had a new perspective about the photos, blogs, and reviews that I’d seen and read. I would gather my own memories and photos just like those in the past who’ve studied abroad have done.
What I loved the most about studying abroad through IES is the support system that I had from the minute I was accepted and even now as an alumna. I remember feeling butterflies (a bit from excitement, a bit from nervousness) when I thought about my upcoming study abroad trip, but my advisor sent me a weekly newsletter and answered all of my questions (no matter how small or unimportant they seemed to me!).
The minute my plane touched down in Nagoya, two IES staff members greeted me in the airport. This was such a relief for me, as I had never been in a foreign country before--let alone one where the native language isn't English! The staff members were so polite and helped me and two of my fellow participants to the hotel that we'd be staying in for the weekend. On the train ride there, we introduced ourselves and talked about various aspects of American and Japanese culture (in a mix of Japanese and English) and just our initial reactions at being in Japan. It was comforting to have them there with me, and they assuaged any lingering fears or worries that I had about being in a country so far from home.
My first weekend in Japan was an orientation guided by two IES staff members. They gave us emergency resources, talked about some cultural differences and difficulties that we might face, and organized a traditional Japanese meal for us. It was a perfect transitioning weekend that helped me and the other participants become comfortable with our new home for the next 6 weeks.
I won't lie and say transitioning to life in Japan was easy; being in a foreign country for the first time, especially when you don't speak the official language fluently, is tough. Tasks that I wouldn’t give a second thought to in America like doing laundry and buying groceries were challenging. My advice to overcoming these challenges is this: observe how your Japanese classmates carry out their day-to-day lives and never be afraid to ask for help.
My time in Japan was short, but I felt like I had seen a lot and learned a lot about the places that I visited. Because of IES, I was able to see my host city in a new way, through several different cultural events like the community Tanabata celebration and the TAO drum performance. I also explored more of Kyoto than I ever thought I would; Kyoto is such a historically and culturally rich city with an abundance of shrines, temples, and historical landmarks, and our weekend field trip to Kyoto allowed us to visit a handful of the most famous landmarks in a short span of time. Although I was extremely tired after the trip, I'm glad that I had the chance to see so much of such a beautiful city. IES Abroad field trips supplemented an already incredible study abroad experience by helping me to see more of Japan, both geographically and culturally, than I ever thought possible.
One aspect that I loved about IES is that they organized these field trips and events, but the time commitment was never overwhelming. I still had free time so I could hang out with my new friends and go to karaoke or a local ramen shop, or plan small field trips of our own to museums and castles.
As far as academics go, Nanzan University provided a rigorous and highly beneficial language learning environment. We had classes 5 days a week, around 3 hours a day with a 15-minute break in between, and then homework on a daily basis. What I loved about Nanzan was that they provide so many opportunities for international students to interact with Japanese students, both inside and outside of the classroom. Every Friday, our sensei would invite Japanese students to our class and we would start off the class by having conversations with them for 20-minutes. There were also daily events such as the Japan Plaza where you could go and get homework help or just informally converse in Japanese, and other frequent events such as Coffee Hour where you could converse and play games with Japanese students. They also organized several field trips (some just for international students, some for international and Japanese students) to various places such as Shirakawa-go, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the mountains, and even a sumo championship held in Nagoya! The environment that Nanzan University provided was so inviting and fun.
If you attend, I highly recommend staying in the International Student Dormitories. For the girls dorm, you’re guaranteed one Japanese roommate, plus up to 2 other roommates from anywhere in the world! The dorms are more like 4-bedroom apartments with a shared bathroom area, kitchen area, and common area. The guys dorms are single rooms, but there is still at least one Japanese student on each floor, so you won’t lose the opportunity to converse with native Japanese speakers, even when you’re settled in for the night.
Despite only being in Japan for 6 weeks, it felt like a lifetime because of all of the incredible people that I met and places that I saw. Overall, I highly recommend studying through IES Abroad if you’re looking to get the most out of your time abroad and explore every nook and cranny of your host country, with the support of a genuine and caring staff.