This spring semester, over 30 students are participating in JCMU’s Spring Semester Language & Culture program. The purpose of the program is to provide students with an opportunity to better their language skills while also enhancing their individual understanding of Japanese culture and society by letting them experience it firsthand. However, the program is much more than this! We asked our current spring students about their own personal experiences in Hikone in order to help provide a more personal account of life on the program.
For some students, the decision to study abroad was obvious due to their academic and career paths. As Amanda White told us, “I am a Japanese Language major and I wanted to practice speaking more. There was not a more perfect place to do so than Japan.” Jonathan Evans seconded these sentiments, stating, “I wish to become a Japanese translator so obviously I have to learn the language, and learning in Japan is the best choice in my opinion.” As Amanda and Jonathan were both Oakland University students specializing in Japanese language, participating in the language program was an easy choice for them. Other students found the decision to study abroad to be a tough one, but none currently in Hikone regret making that choice.
Upon their arrival in Hikone, many notice that the city is nowhere near as large as places such as Tokyo, but JCMU students see this as being part of the area’s charm. “Hikone is a quiet city, it’s nice to stay in and it won’t distract you like you lived in a big city,” according to Jonathan. However, that is not to say that there is nothing to do in Hikone – far from it. Jonathan noted, “Minami Hikone and Nagahama are both bike rides away and are really fun places to waste an afternoon.”
Students also make use of the city’s central and convenient location. As both a strategically and economically crucial area in Japan, Hikone is close to large cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya. During the weekends, many JCMU students look to take full advantage of their time in Japan by using trains and traveling to these large cities. “Since my time here is relatively short, every weekend I hop on a train to explore towns near and far,” says Amanda.
JCMU students have the option to live in a homestay or at JCMU’s on-site dorms, each with their own distinct benefits. Homestays are a unique experience available to JCMU students that allow them to live with a Japanese family and provides them with the opportunity to speak Japanese outside of the classroom and in a real-world setting. It gives them the chance to interact with Japanese people and the surrounding community, as well as to experience what everyday life is like for a Japanese person.
On the other hand, living at the dorms offers more independence and flexibility, as well as no commute to class. Students living at the residence hall also have access to nearby department stores and restaurants for delicious Japanese food. “Living in the dorm is the ultimate in convenience, especially during Spring Semester,” says Amanda. “If I wake up late, I can still make it in time for class. It’s a ten to fifteen minute bike ride from anything. It’s very convenient.” Jonathan seconded these sentiments, noting that he especially likes the freedom to do what he wanted living in the dorms.
Food is also easily accessible from the dorms. Several affordable restaurants are located near JCMU campus, including a Coco’s family restaurant inside JCMU facilities that offer student discounts. “I eat at Coco’s 10 times a month for the discount,” Jonathan says. There is also sushi, ramen, and, as Jonathan words it, “yummy katsudon” restaurants that are minutes away by bike. For students looking to make their own food, JCMU dorms are equipped with cooking utensils, pots, pans, and a rice cooker for our students. All of our spring students are familiar with the nearby grocery shops where they can buy their own food to cook, including Beisia, Cains, and Heiwado.
The intensive Japanese language course is the core of the spring semester program, and according to our students it lives up to its “intensive” name. Though the classes may be difficult, they are successful in drastically improving our students’ language skills in a short amount of time. “They’re busy,” Jonathan remarks, “but you’ll learn a ton through the stress.” Many others have also expressed great pride in how much more proficient they have become with utilizing Japanese in their everyday lives. Amanda notes that there is a jump in difficulty between level 2 and level 3, and has the following advice for future students: “If you’re aiming for Level 3, study kanji and vocab outside of class before coming. Be able to explain words, including parts of speech and other grammar related words.”
Students also take an elective course in addition to their language work. The classes’ topics vary from semester to semester, but students are always given the option to either take this elective course on JCMU campus or take a course offered by one of our two partner universities in Hikone (Shiga University and the University of Shiga Prefecture). Amanda is taking the Japanese Culture & Society: Law and Order course at JCMU campus and finds the course instruction to be similar to American classes. Jonathan is taking the Japanese Culture & Society: Social and Cultural Psychology class at Shiga University and states that “it’s like taking a psych class in America but it focuses on Japan and Japanese studies.”
In addition to intensive academic coursework, students have the chance to participate in various cultural workshops offered by JCMU that range from martial arts, tea ceremonies, calligraphy, kimono wearing, and more. “I’ve participated in a few, but the calligraphy one is the most enjoyable because I enjoy writing characters,” Jonathan tells us. “These activities have shown me other cultural activities in Japan that I didn’t know existed.”
Students also have many other unique opportunities to experience Japanese cultural practices and activities while at JCMU. Field trips to cultural sites, student clubs at the nearby Shiga University, and Japanese conversation partners are just some of the many experiences available to JCMU students that allow for a deeper cultural understanding of Japan they can receive outside of the classroom.
The Spring Semester Language & Culture program is an academically challenging study abroad experience, but also a very rewarding one. As any student who has studied abroad can tell you, studying in another country can be a lot of different things—fun, surprising, stressful, exciting—often all at once! Yet it is always life-changing and worth the effort. We would like to thank Jonathan and Amanda for their responses, and we hope that their words have inspired you to consider studying abroad in Hikone!
Click here if you would like more information about our Fall, Spring, and Academic Year Language & Culture programs. The deadline to apply for the fall and academic year programs is now April 29th, and the deadline to apply for the spring program is set as September 16th. If you have any questions about the application process or the program itself, please do not hesitate to send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org