First, a little background information. My younger brother, Gareth, has moved over to Japan for his second year of his degree. So here is a quick Q&A on his thoughts after his first week in a new country, living a new life abroad.
Write a little paragraph about yourself, what you’re doing, studying, plans for the future etc.
My name is Gareth, I am currently studying abroad at Yamagata University for the 2nd year of my degree at York St John University. My degree is TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) + Japanese. My plan for the future is to either pursue a master’s degree in Japanese Studies or work in Japan as an English teacher.
Why Japan? Were there any options for other countries around the world in the study abroad part of your course?
I’ve always been a fan of Japanese culture and appreciated its uniqueness. After working 4 years full-time in a fairly miserable job, my interest in Japan reemerged and convinced me that I should change my life and go to university to study it. As I’m studying TESOL + Japanese, we were only allowed to go to Japan, but other students can choose where they want to study but that’s only for a semester; my study abroad period is for the whole academic year.
How much preparation did it take to organise moving abroad? Learning the language, Visa’s, Passport, Injections etc.
From my experience, I can say it’s a fairly lengthy process with many complications; and it doesn’t stop when you move here! I applied in December 2016, found out which university was allocated to me in February and had to submit a lot of paperwork by April. I had to undertake blood tests, x-rays, injections, trips to the Japanese embassy in London etc.
How was it travelling that distance with a years worth of belongings with you? How did you find the public transport with your suitcases etc… and did you forget anything?
I travelled with two suitcases (23kg each) and two carry-on bags (10kg each) from the West Midlands, UK to Yamagata City in Japan. I got the coach to Heathrow which was fairly easy (despite it hitting a car on a crossroad in Birmingham), to then getting a 12hr 45-minute flight to Tokyo Haneda. Knowing that I would have to get the bullet train to Yamagata, I booked a hotel for the night in the Tokyo Station area. From the airport, you have lots of options to get into the center of Tokyo, but luckily having been there before I knew that the Limousine Bus service operated from the airport would get me direct to the station for a fairly cheap price (900 yen). Next came the hard part, dragging all the suitcases to my hotel but I managed in spite of the 30-degree heat and 80% humidity. The next morning, I caught the bullet train which Is a fairly daunting process if you’ve never done it before. Trying to get through a crowded Tokyo Station between the people and ticket barriers with my luggage definitely was a hard task but in the end, I managed. Once I found the platform and got on the Shinkansen (bullet train) it was a smooth journey!
Considering you’re not based in one of the “Big cities” what are your current feelings towards where your stopping? Yamagata
I’ve been here for just over a week and still settling in but I can say that it’s a very pleasant city with friendly, helpful people. It’s true that Yamagata is not a very well-known place in Japan, with many of my university colleagues going to Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe etc, I was initially skeptical as to whether it would have enough things for me and whether I’d fit in here. So far, it’s been really good! The weather here in Tohoku (northern Japan) is a lot cooler than the southern side of the country which is great for this time of the year because it’s more manageable. The winter however will have lots of snowfall which I’m sure will be an amazing experience. Another positive of living in this region is that it’s quiet, less crowded and generally more relaxed. The other day I travelled to Yamadera nearby, to climb a mountain which a famous Buddhist temple Risshaku-Ji is based. I took some awesome photographs and made me appreciate how lucky I was to be exploring and living in this part of Japan.
These photos were taken by my brother, Gareth, on his recent outing to the Risshaku-Ji Buddhist temple in Yamadera.
Have you managed to find everything okay? Local shopping areas, grocery shops, university locations, accommodation.
Everything is easily findable! Especially if you have a Japanese SIM card and Google Maps! There are supermarkets 5-10 minutes away and Konbinis (convenience stores) on pretty much every street. The university campus which I’m studying at is around a 30-minute walk away and I’m still learning my way around it. The accommodation is located right in the center of town and 5 minutes away from the station which is great.
Have you adjusted to the timezone, food and lifestyle differences yet?
The time zone out of those three is the easiest to adjust to. After a few days, you will have slept off the jet lag and feel normal again. I’m still trying to figure out the food here, shopping in a Japanese supermarket with a very limited knowledge of the language is always fun! But I feel that with each day I’m gradually adjusting and getting better. Lifestyle wise there are certain things that set apart Japanese culture from what I’m used to. From taking off your shoes and sitting cross-legged in a restaurant, wearing slippers everywhere inside and other little things reaffirm the distinctions between the culture I’m used to. It’s definitely been enlightening so far and I hope to learn more each day.
What is the biggest change you’re going to have to make to fit in with the Japanese way of life?
For me, it would have to be food. Changing my diet slightly to fit in here and try to cook more food. I can confirm there are no sausage rolls here which as David knows is 50% of my diet. Other than that, I can’t really see myself changing that much.
When does university all start again for you?
Orientation for the International Students starts on Monday, and classes fully begin on October 2nd. It’s worthy to note that the Japanese academic year starts in April and ends in February so technically I am joining half way through this year.
What are you looking forward to the most about your year of studying abroad?
Improving my Japanese, going to cool places, meeting cool people and taking some awesome photos and videos. Hopefully I will start up my Youtube Channel which will be a fun project this year.
Have you met any new people who are doing the same? Or have you met any locals?
I’ve met various international students from many different areas of the world. For example, North America, South America, Europe and other parts of Asia. We went to the British pub here and got talking to some random local guy who was really cool and he’s actually invited us to the Halloween Party there in October.
Whats next for you? (where do you want to visit in Japan)
I want to see a local football game. I want to visit Sendai which is the nearest biggest city as well as travelling to the northern island, Hokkaido. I have a big list of places to see which pretty much covers all of Japan but for now I think I’ll stick to Tohoku.
After one week in, would you recommend anyone to do this experience?
I would definitely recommend study abroad to any person willing to do it. If you decide to do it, you have to stick by that decision. Don’t do it to say you’ve been to a place, do it because you want to improve yourself, your language skills and experience new things and a new life. There will be a lot of times in the application process where you just want it to be done but eventually you will get through it all. Everyone interested in studying in Japan should apply and definitely check out Northern Japan too!
Here are his links below:
Thank you very much for reading, I hope this may answer a few burning questions people have on the topic of moving countries.