Name: Erikah Taylor-Allen
Program: UMSL Exchange at Toyo University, Tokyo, Japan
Term Abroad: Junior Fall Year
My first time travelling to Japan was in the summer of 2018 with the Japan Study Tour. However, the two weeks there left me wanting more. Therefore, I decided to do an exchange at Toyo University for a semester. Needless to say, this experience was fulfilling and unforgettable.
I have no regrets choosing to study at Toyo over the other universities. I enjoyed and learned a lot from the courses there, taught by wonderful staff. The NEST program meant for students learning Japanese gave me the chance to truly immerse myself in the language and culture and be able to apply my knowledge outside of the classroom as well. There were also English-taught classes that allowed me to continue learning other topics, some of which aren’t taught at UMSL. This gave me the opportunity to explore subjects that I’ve always been curious about while still receiving UMSL credit.
I stayed in Toyo University International House for the majority of my stay in Tokyo. It’s only a 15 minute walk to the University and is a very convenient location for students as there is a convenience store across the street as well as restaurants and stores nearby as well. Nippori
Station, which is the final destination from the airport on the Keisei Skyliner, is a 15 minute walk to the dorm as well. There is a popular shopping street and a big shopping center as well. I did much of my grocery shopping in Nippori. Ueno and Akihabara are also nearby, so the I-House is a wonderful location for anyone looking to have a great tourist experience in Tokyo as well. Being nearby so much helped me to save money on travel expenses.
The I-House’s diverse makeup helped students to learn a lot about countries other than Japan as well. Students were able to form strong bonds with others whose culture differed from their own. This helped us all to see that we’re all quite similar despite our different backgrounds, and to have new unique experiences as well.
International students at Toyo are given the opportunity to be paired with a Language Exchange Partner, or LEP. The idea is that the two will help each other with learning a language (typically that the Japanese student helps the exchange student with Japanese). I was lucky enough to be paired with a very generous student that helped me with so much more than just my Japanese homework. Because of her, I was able to find a part-time job and travel to parts of Japan I never knew existed. This program helped me to find a friend rather than just a study buddy.
Toyo University offers two homestay opportunities in the fall opportunities nearby their other school locations. I chose to do the homestay in Itakura, Gunma Prefecture. This gave me a chance to see a lesser known part of Japan and have a break from the busy streets of Tokyo. It also gave me an opportunity to observe and participate in the daily life of a Japanese family. I had many firsts there, such as the first time to go to an onsen (hot spring bath), the first time to go fishing, and even the first time to try TKG (rice topped with raw egg). It’s actually quite good!
My host family made sure constantly that I was comfortable and having a good time. Needless to say, I had a great time with them. I even visited them a second time before returning to the USA. Everyone’s homestay experiences are unique and that’s why I recommend doing one when given the opportunity.
I can’t mention my experience at Toyo University without mentioning the English Community Zone, known as the ECZ. The ECZ’s purpose is give Japanese students an opportunity to practice speaking English and international students a comfortable space when they need a break from using Japanese. The staff are also students (two Japanese, the rest are international students). During their hours the students can talk to each other and play games. There is a presentation held by an exchange student weekly to present their home or cultural heritage to others, and also an event or party held once a month. Despite the fact that I came to Japan to study Japanese, I spent a lot of time at the ECZ because it was the easiest way to make friends. In fact, I made most of my friends there, so it is an important part of my exchange there.
I spent a lot of time at school but I still found time to go out and relax. I loved going out with my friends to get food or go drinking, going to karaoke, or visiting an arcade. I also spent my free time exploring parts of Japan outside of Tokyo. I visited Nara, Kyoto, Kawaguchi, Kamakura, and Kawagoe, all of which have beautiful nature that you won’t find in Tokyo. I also liked to go shopping with my friends, especially for clothing and skincare products. There are some places that may seem intimidating to those who aren’t willing to spend a lot of money but there are many thrift shops and such that one can enjoy if you just do a little research.
My time at Toyo and in Japan was such a rewarding experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It was the longest time I spent outside of St. Louis and without my family, so I had to learn quickly how to be more independent and responsible. Also, being that most people in Tokyo aren’t fluent in English, I had to constantly use Japanese. I even had to use Japanese at my job so I was able to improve my skills at such a quicker pace than I was able to in the seven years I’ve been studying this language. I was able to promote St. Louis and UMSL to many students as well, convincing a few to come visit or even study abroad here. Now, I want to also encourage others to study at Toyo and make the most of their experience in Japan.
Name: Molly Motes
Program: Japan Study Tour
Major: Japanese and English
Term Abroad: Summer during Sophmore Year
My name is Molly Motes, and I am a Japanese and English major. I’ve loved so many different aspects of Japanese culture since I was a child; from their religions, their pop culture, and their language especially, I couldn’t get enough. I had always wanted to go, and the second I found out about the Japan Study Tour, I knew I had to go.
The two weeks I spent in Japan taught me a lot not just about the language and culture- though I learned more about both of those things in two weeks than I could have imagined- but I also learned about myself on the trip as well.
With trips like the Japan Study Tour, it’s hard to pick out a moment that I could truly call my favorite. I got to experience so many different cities and new cultural experiences, and each one was so unique. Some moments such as being at a festival, at Tokyo Skytree, or at a sumo tournament were loud, exciting, and fun. However, I also enjoyed the quiet moments that involved walking around temples and shrines, walking past deer in Nara, and resting in rock gardens.
Going to Japan on the Japan Study Tour is easily one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I can’t even wrap my ahead around quite how many amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences I got to enjoy. I would go again in a heartbeat.
Name: Seth O'Connor
Program: UMSL exchange program through Rikkyo University
Term Abroad: Academic Year during Junior Year
Studying abroad in Japan was something that I had only dreamt of doing for quite a long time. Originally I figured it was far too expensive and too difficult to be able to travel abroad and do such things so I put it off on my list. However, after starting to attend UMSL and meeting new friends who were traveling abroad and who had traveled to UMSL I decided that I would try as well. This is where my trip to Japan starts.
After arriving in Japan, I had planned to meet up with my friends who came from Rikkyo, the university in Japan that I attended, and they were going to show me around Tokyo. While they were attending UMSL I was the one taking them around so this time it was in their hands to take me around while in Japan. Actually, I had stayed awake all night and didn’t sleep on the flight to Japan and also I arrived a few weeks before school was supposed to begin. This was partially due to me being incredibly excited and at the same time my attempt to beat jet lag. One of my friends picked me up from the airport and drove me around a lot of the major areas in Tokyo that you could see by car. Since I arrived kind of late in the afternoon and hadn’t slept. We postponed meeting my friends until the next day however, that night my friends parents had an amazing meal and greeting prepared for me when I arrived at their home. I can’t even begin to explain how welcomed I felt after entering and staying at their home.
The next few weeks I spent time going around with my friends and in general just catching up since I hadn’t seen them all in about one year. This was incredibly fun times and interesting for me since I had a year to improve my Japanese since seeing them. One of the most shocking things for me was, after I arrived, ordering food and how many different ways I was asked what I wanted to eat. Depending on the age of the employee who was asking me what I wanted the question changed. If they were younger some parts of the sentence were just omitted and if they were older the Japanese was extremely polite and slower since of course they knew I was a foreigner and had no idea on my Japanese comprehension level. It was extremely fun for me to try and put my Japanese to the test and even though I did make many mistakes, they were never once angry with me and would always try and explain and laugh either at or with me! This made learning Japanese extremely fun and never once did I feel I shouldn’t try and attempt to communicate with someone.
Once I started school, classes were almost every day of the week. It was surprising how many classes I had to take in Japan however the classes only meet generally once a week. It’s still not clear to me why however this made class and school extremely fun for me. I’m sure it’s partly because I was in an entirely different country but at the same time being able to take so many different classes at one time kept things different each day, which was interesting for me. Also, meeting new friends in school was extremely easy since most students wanted to either speak English or speak Japanese and learn about different cultures and ideas. While studying in Japan, I was surprised at how open minded and eager to learn about others the Japanese students were.
Finally, there were quite a few places that I was able to visit while studying there and also quite a few I just didn’t get the chance to see. I was able to travel to Kyoto and Osaka with my family when they came to Japan. The amount of history in these cities is absolutely astounding. In Kyoto I was about to see many shrines and temples and see a small part of the history of the city up close and personal. Osaka was all about food for me however I loved the city as well. My family wasn’t into the “trying new things” idea with food which really disappointed me since Japanese food, in my opinion, is the most delicious food on this planet. I was not able to go to Mt. Fuji and see the sun-rise which, quite honestly, was one of the major sights that I wanted to do when thinking of things to do in Japan. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t go but I remember being really busy during the times in which some of my friends were wanting to travel and see it. However, I am completely attempting to work and live in Japan in the future so I’m sure I will get the chance to see it again!
Name: Rachelle Brandel
Program: Semester Exchange at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan
Term Abroad: Fall semester during senior year
It actually took me a long time to decide to study abroad. I had always wanted to go to Japan ever since I was young, but studying abroad always seemed so Ivy League and it definitely wasn’t in my budget. But I finally made the decision to go, no matter what, when my grandmother passed away. I realized that life is short and I needed to fulfill my dreams before the responsibilities of a family and career came first. I chose to study in Japan because it has always been my dream to go there. I’ve always been enthralled with the fashion, culture, and style of Japan, so studying there was a no-brainer. I chose to go to Kansai University because it was in Osaka, Japan. Osaka is known for having some of the best food and entertainment in all of Japan and the people of Osaka are known for being fun, kind, and outgoing. There would also be fewer foreigners present, which meant less of a chance at speaking English.
The first thing I learned about Japan was that walking is a staple of life. But after walking and later trudging up hills and down staircases, I soon realized it was time for me to buy a bike. A bike is quite cheap in Japan, ranging from a mere $40-80 depending on the extras thrown in. The average bike will come equipped with a basket in either the front or back, a light (for riding at night) and a small tinkling bell. My bike turned into the Japanese version of my car back home; I got a sense of freedom back that I hadn’t realized I had lost.
Soon I was biking to parts of Japan I hadn’t thought to explore before. I figured out the path between my dorm and school and started going through neighborhoods filled with Japanese architecture. I ended up finding a small bamboo forest on the way home one day and, by leaving early one morning, was able to meet and talk with a group of adorable 5 year-olds who ended up being my morning companions almost every day.
Now, we still used our legs and even the trains from time to time (not even a professional biker could manage the hills surrounding Kyoto) but our bikes allowed us to reach out farther and even helped us to reach out to the surrounding community. Everyone, and I mean everyone, uses bikes in Japan; from business men decked out in $300 suits, to middle school children going off to school. The most amazing were the stay at home moms; these women could have a baby strapped to their back, two toddlers on their bike, bags of groceries in their basket and still peddle up the hill like a pro. Talk about super moms.
Our bikes also helped us to appreciate the moments when we decided to walk. We noticed more things going on around us, and would even talk to people we might have seen while biking. The steps we took up temples and shrines became sacred for us instead of a drudgery we wished would end.
While you don’t necessary have to get a bike, I’d suggest doing something unexpected and outside something you had planned or would normally do. Riding a bike introduced me to so many things I didn’t expect and made my study abroad that much greater.
Name: Anita Fike
Program: UMSL exchange at Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan
Major: Modern Languages - Japanese
Term Abroad: Sophomore academic year abroad
My first semester in Japan involved a considerable amount of adjustment and adventures. Merely getting oriented with the transportation and directions in Tokyo was quite the challenge. However, international groups at school played a large role in helping international students find their way and get started on making friends. The same groups (WIC and Niji no Kai) host quite a lot of events and are very welcoming for international students. They took us on small excursions to various parts of Tokyo such as a tour around Asakusa and the Tokyo Sky Tree. It was still summer at the time, but even though it was hot, it was hard not to have a good time with everyone. WIC even has a yearly event called Yataimura where the students split into teams, each with a country as a theme, and compete against each other with cultural food (I was in Machupicchu and we won first overall). Because of Yataimura I spent a lot of time getting to know people in WIC, particularly as we worked nearly every day for a couple hours to get preparations done. The best part was probably the celebration at the end, where everyone gathered in a nearby park and made announcements about the results.
A lot of friends, even though they live in Tokyo or may have been there all their lives, have surprisingly many places they have never been. Because of that, going to places like Ueno Zoo’s a first for not only me, but for my new Japanese friends as well. Other friends enjoy taking friends around where they live or know really well such as one of my friends showed me and some other exchange friends around Enoshima. We bought tickets where we could freely travel around the island all day, so we went from one end to the other, stopping at shrines and ended our journey with a visit to Kamakura. Traveling with friends to places they know and hearing about what they recommend and remember of it is probably one of the best parts of traveling with Japanese friends. It is also nice when you get to freely try whatever you want when in a new part of Tokyo, particularly when it comes to the food the area’s famous for such as the fried manju at Asakusa.
Around Christmas time, there was a lot of going around Tokyo to see the different illuminations set up in various parts of Tokyo. Because of school and jobs (particularly with job hunting), quite a lot of friends are busy, but even then they still manage to find time to go see movies with me and go to places such as the Tokyo Tower. New friends I’ve made are quick to offer help when school here has students do interview projects, and they really do strive to make international students feel involved with various activities. Niji no kai and WIC always have something going on, so it is rather easy to find events (such as snowboarding trips and homestay opportunities) and meet new people. Just recently we even went as a group to go see kabuki, another event that was a first even for some of the Japanese students. During school, both groups have lounges where students gather when they either have breaks from classes or lunch, a good time for meeting up with friends.
Since school has let out for break, I also took a trip to Okinawa. In part the trip was to see some new places I hadn’t seen when I was there previously, but the best part was most definitely seeing friends and my host family I had stayed with three years ago. Even though I’ve already been there, the second time was just as interesting as the first. After living for several months in Tokyo, it was really quite the change. People tend to lump most of Japan as being represented by Tokyo, but when you go somewhere else, a new Japan can be seen. In Okinawa I saw a Japan that I do not see in Tokyo, and all it takes to realize that is just by going there. In the same way, I thoroughly look forward to further travels with friends and seeing everything I can afford to before going back to the United States.