Japan – There and Back Again

Study exchange stories from Fukuoka, Japan in fall 2019.

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Studies at Seinan

Hello!

This time I will be telling about what kind of courses I have at Seinan Gakuin University and how my studies in Japan have been so far. As part of my preparations for exchange I needed to fill a Learning Agreement, which is basically to plan and keep track of what I do and how many credits I get during my time here. You make one before leaving, make changes to it during the exchange and finalize it after the exchange period. I made my original Learning Agreement at my home institution, but when I started at Seinan I realized it was incorrect in many places. I had misunderstood the progression of Japanese studies, so I had to do some changes to it.

Those who’re interested in studying at Seinan Gakuin or just want to take a look at the courses they offer, can check the class schedule for 2019-2020 over here: http://www.seinan-gu.ac.jp/eng/study_abroad/courses_offered.html

Mandatory

Right now I’m getting 16 credits altogether, which translates to 32 credits in JAMK’s measure. Japanese class is mandatory; there’s seven different levels of it and I’m in advanced group of Beginning Japanese class. I also have Japanese Orthography and Reading Skills. I had self-studied Japanese before, but preferred to start in the beginning class. Studying languages has always been to my liking, but learning Japanese here is so much fun because you can put the language to use right as you step out of the classroom.

The Japanese teachers are very supportive and I like the pace of the classes. The beginning class was divided in two groups; normal and advanced. Normal class is a bit slower in introducing Japanese writing system and language itself. The advanced class is faster paced and also meant for people who want to continue studying Japanese after the exchange.

Electives

Rest of my classes are electives. There wasn’t really any courses that would support my computer programming studies at JAMK, but I don’t worry about it too much. Study exchange is about the experience, after all. There are some courses that are only available to those who are in more advanced Japanese classes, but luckily I found many courses that are interesting.

First, I have Japanese Sports class, where we learn basics of judo. Then I also have Intercultural Communication, which is lecture/discussion based class. It’s one of the biggest groups, there’s probably almost 50 of us in that class. One of my favorite courses is Japanese Communication Through Anime and Manga. I like anime(Japanese animation) and manga(Japanese comics) and it’s interesting to perceive communication in Japan through that lens.

I also have both A and C courses of Traditional Culture of Japan. A is calligraphy class where we use traditional methods with ink and brushes to write in kanji. I already knew how to write my name in katakana(used for foreign words and names), ミルバ(miruba), but in calligraphy class we could come up with how to write it in kanji, which are the most complicated characters and used as bodies for most words and Japanese names. Based on the sounds used in my katakana name I chose to use 見晩 as kanji for my name. Its pronounced like my katakana name, and roughly translates to ‘to see the night’.

Course C is about Japanese festivals and folklore. It has given me a lot new information about Japanese culture and how the Japanese people go on about their lives. I’m also trying to do one course for JAMK as a distant student, since it is a course that will continue in Spring when I’m back in Finland. The workload so far hasn’t been too much to bear and I’m enjoying the studying and experiencing Japan equally.

 

My calligraphy tools. Paper, steel ingot for holding the paper in place, two brushes, ink stone and ink stick. Ink is made by rubbing the stick and some water against the stone.

 

– Mirva

Living in Fukuoka

Hello again!

This time I thought I’d write a little about living in Fukuoka and how I’ve settled down in my dorm. I’m still waiting for the culture shock to kick in properly, but so far I’ve really enjoyed my daily life here and I already know I will miss it dearly when it comes time to return to Finland!

Daily life

So let’s start with the dorm, shall we? As I’ve said in my previous post, I was lucky enough to get a room from Seinan International House. My room is spacious and has everything that I need for convenient student life. There’s a supermarket just a little walk away, and the campus is right next to the dorm.

As everyone got more settled down in the dorm, we started using the common kitchen together. It’s easier and more fun to make dinner together for many people at once. So far life together has gone smoothly, and everyone’s on my floor has participated on cleaning duty and overall kept the floor a nice place to live.

There’s two subway stations nearby, and it’s easy to get anywhere in the city quickly. To save time in the subway, I recommend getting an IC-card from the ticket machine. You can load it with your chosen amount of money and you can just walk through the gates without having to stop at the ticket machine every time. Subway is maybe not the cheapest transport, but it’s the most convenient.

Fukuoka Subway (Google Images)

Fukuoka has been called the most comfortable city in Japan, and I can see why. Everything’s close by, even though it’s a big city, there’s a lot to see and experience and you feel safe walking on the streets even in the evenings. It’s almost hard not to make plans for every day, and remember to have a relaxing evening at home every now and then.

Campus

There’s many facilities on Seinan Campus. There’s three official building for lessons and student affairs, two cafeterias, gym and sports grounds, and a huge library. I’m going to use the library for the first time today to do some of my homework, but I saw it on our orientation week. There’s at least six floors with a massive amount of books, computer and study rooms and such. There’s even a cafe, and also a whole room committed for watching movies that you can pick from the library’s shelves. I think there’s and entire floor just for manga (Japanese comics) as well.

I’ve also enjoyed our courses so far. The teachers are nice and energetic, and the covered topics are interesting. My Japanese is slowly getting better! I will make a post about my classes later on.

– Mirva

Two weeks milestone

Next Wednesday I will have been exactly two weeks in Japan. So much has been going on, that two weeks sound like such a short time! I met my Japanese buddy, Seinan student Asuka shortly after arriving to Fukuoka and she helped me to get to know the city a bit better. We even visited a shrine together and went to a fireworks festival! In the beginning I tried to keep notes of what was going on each day, but it didn’t work out as easily as I thought. There’s been so much to do that I’ve always felt exhausted after getting to my dorm room so I often forgot to write anything.

Udon noodles and tempura(deep fried vegetables and seafood).

I’m glad that I got to the International House Dormitory here. I’ve met many new people from many different countries, and it has been fun to get to know them all. There’s a bit over 50 of us in the dorm, but everyone has their own room with shared kitchens and common rooms at each of the five floors.

Together in miscellaneous groups we’ve explored Fukuoka while we still don’t have classes. Eating ramen, singing karaoke, going to the beach, sightseeing and shopping just to name some activities. Shopping centers are something else in Fukuoka, to say the least. There’s one always in a walking distance, and they’re huge, filled with various shops and food corners. There are shopping centers at train stations too, and one was entirely underground. We’ve been to quite a few of them, but I’m sure there’s still lot to be discovered. I also like walking down the smaller streets and finding little shops along the way. The regular prices are similar to Finland, groceries are maybe a bit more expensive. There’s also many second-hand stores that sell even famous brands in pretty cheap prices. Though if you know where to go, you can get anything quite cheaply here.

Fukuoka Tower.

For my own surprise, the culture shock wasn’t as drastic as I expected. Fukuoka is a very nice, welcoming city and I’ve settled down quite alright. It helps that I have other people from different countries around me. For me, it’s much easier to go explore new culture with somebody else, and it’s more fun as well!

One of my struggles in getting settled down in a new country was about shopping, actually. In the beginning it was always a bit difficult to do grocery shopping due to my lacking Japanese skills, and very few people speak English at the cash registers. I’m now getting to know what to buy and what not, but it’s always an interesting trip to the closest supermarket. It’s also a noteworthy little thing that when you pay, you don’t give the money straight to the cashier. There’s usually a little plate near the register where you place the money. It’s confusing at first, but I got used to it quickly.

Giant Totoro at a Ghibli store.

Fortunetelling strings at a shrine. You buy a fortunetelling ticket for 100 yen, and after reading your fortune you tie it on these strings.

Japanese garden behind a noodle restaurant.

We already had some classes last Friday, but tomorrow begins the first proper school week. Last week we had a lot of orientation, and I got familiar with the campus grounds. First thing in the morning tomorrow I have Beginning Japanese, and I’m very excited for that class!

 

– Mirva

 

 

 

 

Practicalities of going to exchange / thoughts before going

In this post I’ll talk a bit more in-depth about how my study exchange applying process went, and in the end I share some thoughts of leaving Finland.

Applying

I applied for exchange in February 2019. I chose Japan as my first choice because I wanted to go outside of Europe, and have always wanted to visit Japan. The applying for exchange through JAMK went smoothly, and some time later I got a call that I had been nominated for the school that I had chosen, Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka.

After that the real work began, when I needed fill a lot of paperwork for an online application. Throughout the process, I received a lot of help from both Finnish and Japanese schools, and even though it felt a bit overwhelming at times, in the end it was a great feeling when I could finally turn in all the needed papers. I suggest that if you find yourself in trouble at any point of the applying process, just turn to someone at JAMK or the exchange school!

Preparations for the exchange

I think it was in April or May when my application got accepted. I started looking into all the necessary preparations early on. Most important things to remember are:

  1. Applying for visa once you get your Certificate of Eligibility (applied for in the before-mentioned applying process)
  2. Buying flight ticket(s)
  3. Following instructions from the exchange school carefully / checking their website regularly
  4. Applying for the appropriate study/housing grants
  5. Making sure you have a place to stay at in your destination country (I recommend checking if your school offers accommodation!)

There’s of course a lot of other things that need to be taken care of, but I think if you can check all of the above off your do-to-list, you’re pretty well off already!

When applying for visa, it’s best to check in with the embassy what should be done. In Finland, Japanese embassy is located in Helsinki, but they reply pretty quickly to emails. The certificate of Eligibility is a document that Seinan Gakuin sent me after I had been accepted in their school. It’s necessary for obtaining a visa.

Also, about the flight tickets. I noticed that it’s much cheaper to get a two-way ticket than just a one-way-ticket. Finnair flies straight flights to Fukuoka until November this year, so my flight to Fukuoka has no stops and lasts a bit over 9 hours. On the way back, I have to first fly to Tokyo, but I don’t mind that.

Thoughts before departure

So, my flight leaves tomorrow afternoon. I have everything packed and all the documents should be in order. This will be my first time traveling on a plane alone, and I hope it’ll go smoothly and without much trouble. Actually, I’m most nervous about using the metro from the airport to my hotel in Fukuoka. It can’t be too difficult, right?

On Friday, I’ll meet my Japanese contact that was given to me from Seinan Gakuin. She’ll show me around Fukuoka, and on Saturday she’ll take me to the on-campus accommodation. I look forward to seeing where I’ll stay for the next 5 months, and meeting other people staying there. But before that, I’ll have two whole days on my own in Fukuoka. I probably spend them getting over the jet-lag  and getting used to the new country.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been stressed over the last couple of weeks. I’ve never before been in exchange, so this is all new and exciting to me. I’m sure I’ll miss Finland, my family and friends very much, but fortunately we live in a world where everyone is just a message/call away.

Overall, a bit terrified, excited a lot, and hopefully ready for my adventure in Japan.

 

– Mirva

 

Hello world!

Welcome to read about my study exchange in Japan! My flight to Fukuoka is tomorrow, but before that I’ll make a post of all the practicalities that went into applying and organizing the exchange, since I’m sure it’ll be useful to those who are thinking about going to exchange, be it Japan or any other country.

Before that, maybe introduction is in order. My name is Mirva, and I’m a second-year student at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences(JAMK). There I study computer programming, and hopefully I can someday make a job out of it.

I’ll try to update this blog at least every two weeks!

– Mirva