The decision to study abroad in Japan for a year was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was a bit nervous when I first committed to a whole year abroad; I knew that I would miss my family and friends and that there would be difficulties living alone in a foreign country. Yet I knew that I would never have this opportunity again, and so off I went.
I studied at Sophia University (called “Jyochi” in Japanese), located in the heart of Tokyo. I was enrolled in Sophia’s English-speaking department, and if the classes had not been offered in English I am sure I would not have been able to follow them.
During my two semesters there I took a full course load, which consisted of three elective courses and one mandatory Japanese course. The course offerings at Sophia were not quite as diverse as those offered at Villanova, but I enjoyed most of the classes I took during my time there. The Japanese language class was the most important class I took there, for obvious reasons. The campus itself was integrated with the Japanese speaking departments, so chances to practice the Japanese I learned every day were abundant. The teaching style was a bit different than what I was used to here at Villanova, but it only took a little while to get accustomed to it..
There was little on-campus housing available at Sophia, and so I had to commute every day for about an hour to get to school. This may seem extreme but many students do the same and I eventually got used to it. My first semester I lived with a host family, a situation which was set up for me by the program I went through: CIEE.
Living with a host family gives you an insight into daily Japanese life that you cannot get in any other way. It was a bit difficult at first adjusting to home-stay life, coming from the freedom that I had grown used to as a college student in America, but the experience was worth it. My host family and I got along very well, and my language skills improved dramatically in those few months.
During my second semester I lived in a Japanese dorm and that too was a good experience. It is not a dorm like American university dorms. The dorm was also an hour away from school, and its residents were mainly single businessmen instead of students. It was an interesting experience interacting with the diverse assortment of people who lived in the dorm.
The best thing about living in Japan was definitely the people. Most of the people I met and interacted with at Sophia and in Tokyo were very friendly. I also made many friends — both “foreign” and Japanese — during my stay. I met many of my foreign (non-Japanese) friends at the CIEE program events.
I recommend going through a program as it offered opportunities, such as trips to Hiroshima and Kyoto, that I would not have had otherwise. I also joined the lacrosse club at Sophia, which was where I met most of my Japanese friends. I was not able to play in games as I was not a full-time student, but it was a good time nonetheless. It was difficult at times communicating, but when you have something other than language in common you learn that there are other ways of communicating.
Living in Tokyo was an unforgettable experience. There was always something going on and I never ran out of things to do, places to see, or people to meet. Seeing the crowds on a Saturday night in Shibuya is a sight that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
I will always treasure the time I spent in Japan, and would go again in a heartbeat!