The 2016-17 JCMU Academic Year Language & Culture program is well underway! In order you what life is like at JCMU, we reached out to Christopher Hyek, a current student on the academic year program, and asked him about his time in Hikone.
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Christopher Hyek. I am a fifth year student from Michigan State University. I study Japanese, Chinese, and Economics with the plan to complete all three majors by the end of this year. I’m from Roseville, Michigan but I pretty much live in East Lansing when I am not abroad.
What was your motivation for studying abroad in Japan? Why the academic year program?
I actually was on the 2015 JCMU Summer Intensive Language program and was impressed by the amount of detail the program had. Because of that, I decided to go on the academic year program the year after it. Although I have no specific plans for my Japanese skills relative to finding a career, it is something that I want to be fluent in. As such, I thought that a full year in Japan would put me closer to that goal.
Do you often travel and explore the area?
Yes, each street in central Hikone has something new around the corner. I initially spent time searching for places in Hikone that sold fresh vegetables, video games, and books. There are two farmer markets near the castle that I enjoy visiting to get good deals and to talk to the locals. When I am just going out to have a good time, I enjoy going to places like Sawayama and Konjinyama, two mountains in the area with nice views at the top (they are not too difficult to climb either).
What are the Japanese language classes like at JCMU?
Serious and realistic. They expect you to act like a proper student and come prepared for the materials for that day and have your homework done well – on top of being on ready to speak when asked a question. It may seem like a lot to ask for at first, but when you get adjusted to it they start to test what you really know and how well you can use Japanese. Instead of just teaching you a large amount of words to improve your vocabulary, they teach you practical language skills that you will use in your daily life while in Japan. Being able to talk with people in Japan about what you want to say is an amazing skill to have when learning a language. At the end of the day, most of the topics discussed in class are things that you will find to be useful in real world situations.
What elective class are you taking? Where is the class taught?
I am taking the Japanese Economy and Business class taught at Shiga University. Personally, as an economics major, this class relative to my normal economics courses is very laid back. There is little to no math involved, and it could even be considered a comparative culture class about Japanese economic policy. This is not a bad thing – in fact, it has been quite an interesting class to take. Being on Shiga University’s campus, I also have had many chances to meet Japanese college students. Despite not being what I had initially expected, the elective course exceeded my expectations.
What are some of the pros and cons of life in the JCMU dorms?
- You live right next to the JCMU classrooms – only a 1-2 minute walk away!
- Many of your classmates are also living in the dorms with you, so finding people to help with problems is quite easy
- There is a workout room and a decent game room that you can use when you are not in class or studying
- You will have the opportunity to socialize with others at JCMU since you will have people to relate to
- Many events are hosted at JCMU that you could not always do if you were not living right on JCMU’s campus
- You have the freedom of choosing whatever lifestyle choices you want when it comes to eating food or going out
- The wifi is not terribly good despite having a new system put in last semester
- You will have to regularly go shopping for food if you don’t plan to eat at restaurants all the time
- Get used to doing laundry and cleaning regularly
How is the food in Japan? Do you often cook your own food?
The food in Japan is great, though most international foods can be expensive. I am a lover of spicy food but with Japanese food lacking it for the most part it is an expensive taste to have while living here. I often cook to mitigate this problem by mixing spices to make up for the diluted spice in them. Cooking regularly has saved me quite a lot of money that I then put towards travel. It is probably the biggest piece of advice I can give to newcomers: learning to cook and shop smart will save you the money that you need to take expensive trips. It will not always be glamorous when you cook but the places you go to in order to make up for it (such as Tokyo) will be.
What would you say to other students considering the JCMU fall/academic year programs?
Come prepared! Many people looking to place into a certain Japanese language level take for granted maintaining and practicing what they already know, which causes them to end up getting placed in a lower level. Redoing level one, for example, can be tedious for those who do not want to spend three weeks doing nothing but hiragana and katakana again.
I recommend that you make an effort to go grocery shopping around the several major food retailers too. Not all stores sell the same thing and sometimes you can save quite a lot of money just by taking time out to know where the best deals are.
Last but not least, take the program seriously! If you really want to learn Japanese, then make sure to use the classes, faculty, and location to their fullest. Being lazy on your homework or neglecting a social life outside of the JCMU building will only slow down the growth of your Japanese skills.
We would like to thank Christopher for sharing his experiences with us, and we hope this inspires you to consider studying abroad in Hikone! For more information about Chris’s program, please visit the Academic Year Language & Culture program page.