The first 30 days living abroad has honestly flown by! Between scrambling to pack my bags, an overwhelming and exhausting set of flights, to being flooded with new culture and experiences, my life has changed completely.
I left for Japan on August 24, 2018 to study in Osaka at Kansai Gaidai’s Asian Studies program during the fall semester of the fourth year of my Bachelor of Commerce program. After living here for over a month, there are many extremely unexpected and interesting things that I have experienced culturally, socially, and things regarding school and my visa that I thought I should share.
I’m not too familiar with the visa process for any other country, but from my experience with the Japanese one, you want to apply for it as soon as possible. I applied for my visa in April and didn’t receive the copy in my passport until mid-August. It is not the ideal situation to be waiting for your visa only three weeks before your plane is supposed to leave.
Keep in Mind:
- Apply for your visa early – the earlier the better.
- It’s surprisingly pricey so make sure you’re prepared. (Around $300 total)
- You must go to the embassy twice; once to drop off your passport and then to pick it up.
- You will never have enough passport photos. (I had to take five, not including the one already in my passport.)
If you thought picking classes for Carleton was a struggle, just try picking classes for Kansai! Not only are the websites organized mostly in Japanese, but they also only give you small introductions to what comprises the class. On top of all the language barriers and difficulty understanding your options, you can’t pick the classes until orientation day, which is September 3. Getting classes approved between Carleton and Kansai, finding a schedule that supports travel plans and picking business classes out of an Asian Studies curriculum proved to be an extremely stressful and confusing process. Not only did I need to find a course interesting, but then I would have to have it approved by Carleton, then approved by Kansai, and then I had confirm my choice – and I only had seven days to figure all that out.
- Keeping Friday’s empty (for studying of course!)
- Communicating to Canada with a 13-hour time difference.
- Figuring out the English translation for a set of Japanese websites.
- Stress, stress, stress! Especially if you’re fourth year and trying to graduate in April.
Sense of Home
This one seems straight forward and should be expected by someone going abroad but it was one of the hardest things to overcome at first. When you become so used to your daily routine, your friend groups and both your personal and social lives; changing it all at once can be a very uncomfortable feeling. I reminded myself to keep an open mind while meeting new people, during new experiences and to be open to new ways of thinking. This was the only thing that allowed me to connect with people here, who come from all around the world and who all have completely different senses of “home” than I do. I know, “Step out of your shell, blah blah blah”. As cliché as it sounds, it was the best way to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have and to open doors I never knew existed.
Things I learned:
- Tired today but glad tomorrow.
- Never say no.
- Stay connected to people at home.
- Take your own action.
- Everyone is experiencing the same thing.
I put my exchange savings before every other opportunity I had for more than six months straight, simply because I knew I wanted to have the most money I could have to spend on trips, food, and the little things along the way. The first few weeks (even with a well-planned budget) were way more costly than I expected or could have ever planned for. I knew how much my residence would cost, I had an idea on how much food would cost and I had enough of an idea of what day trips and train fares would cost. The only issue was the quantity or frequency that I didn’t properly account for.
Relatively speaking, things in Japan are either around the same price or slightly cheaper than in Canada; aside from a few specific items like milk, bread and fruit. My main takeaway from the last 30 days is to take the amount of money you think you’re going to spend and add about another 50 per cent. Obviously, that sounds like a large amount of money and could be avoided if you really stuck to a budget, but spending an extra two dollars here or extra ￥1000 there could mean the difference between a good day and a great day. Save as much as you possibly can and don’t stress about the over expenditures within the first few weeks. It takes time to adjust your budget here and figure out what you truly want to spend your money on.
- Student discount for train tickets – a whopping 0% discount!
- Upfront payment for my phone plan
- School supplies – packing them in my suitcase just didn’t make sense.
- A proper pillow! Who knew a bean bag was considered a pillow in Japan?
- School deposits and international student fees
The past month has been overwhelming between absorbing the culture, lack of sleep and seeing as much of the country as I possibly can. Within the first seven days of being in Japan I had visited three major cities, numerous shrines, and various landmarks around the Hirakata, where my school is located. All my spare time has been dedicated to going to places I have never been, getting lost on various subway systems, and taking an excessive number of photos. Although I’ve seen a large portion of landmarks and highlighted places in the surrounding area, there are still so many places to be found and discovered in the coming months.
- Fushimi Inari
- The DMZ
- Seoul N Tower
- Kiyomizu Temple
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Japan is in no way like North America in terms of numerous social norms and cultural representations. With all the research and planning I had done, talking to people who have visited Japan, or even my general understanding of different cultures was nowhere near enough to prepare me for all the new experiences I had in the first month. There are many things that are unique to Japan on its own and I feel that even after the first 30 days I still have no idea about half of the underlying characteristics that exist.
- Drinking or eating while walking in public will get you some dirty/weird looks.
- Be as quiet as possible on trains/buses. There are even warning signs not to be talking on the phone while aboard.
- Slurping is accepted… and it’s not really something I see myself getting used to.
- People have a way of being extremely organized, whether you’re riding up the escalator, waiting for a train or getting into an elevator, they are always orderly.
- Personal space is a little closer than comfortable, which I guess makes sense with a metro population of 20 million.
Overall it has been an incredibly overwhelming few weeks that has had me going nonstop. I never really knew what to expect by coming to Japan or how I could possibly prepare myself for such a drastic change in lifestyle from all I have ever known. Not only did the past 30 days teach me an incredibly large amount but it also gave me the chance to meet some amazing people. I still don’t know what to expect day to day and I think that is something I’m going to love about Japan. I’ll keep the list of interesting experiences updated as I go, but that’s wrap up to the first month across the world!
Braydon Armula is a fourth year Bachelor of Commerce student who is studying abroad in Japan.
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