We welcome all students to participate in our programs, including international students completing coursework at Michigan universities! Dozens of international students every year study abroad with JCMU. Such students face their own unique barriers and concerns regarding studying abroad in Japan.
We asked Ruipeng Lu, an international student from MSU and an alum of the JCMU spring 2015 program, to tell us in both English and Chinese about his experiences with JCMU (click the button above for the Chinese version). From affordable program costs to cultural growing moments, find out why he says “I greatly appreciate my study abroad experience in Japan with JCMU.”
My name is Ruipeng Lu, and I was a Chinese international student that recently completed my undergraduate education at Michigan State University. In the spring semester of 2015, I studied abroad in Hikone in central Japan through the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU). I learned about it throughout Ms. Nakano, one of my former Japanese instructors at MSU.
At the time I was taking Third-Year Japanese I (JPN 301) and was not sure if it would benefit me to have such a dual study-abroad experience from the U.S .to Japan. There was so much for me to concern about, and first and foremost was the schedule and the credits to be earned. One level of the Japanese language courses offered at JCMU covers the courses of two semesters you need to take here at MSU (for example, you may finish both JPN301 and 302 within one semester by taking level 3 at JCMU). Since I was already taking one of them, the course schedule did not seem not to match mine. However, I learned that I could actually take level 4 at JCMU so long as my scores on the placement test at the beginning of the program proved me qualified enough for the level 4 course. In fact, all JCMU intensive language students are required to take the placement test. This could mean that even if you already finished third year Japanese, you may be placed into level 3 at JCMU if your placement test results did not get you into level 4. Fortunately, you may still be able to take the level that you are looking to complete even if you do not initially place into it, after a thorough discussion with the JCMU language instructors in Japan.
As for the credits as well as the cost, it is actually more economical for international students at MSU to take courses through JCMU than it is to complete regular courses on campus. Take the JCMU spring semester Language & Culture program (what I completed in 2015), for example. This program offers 10 credits of Japanese language course, a 3- or 4-credit elective course, and an additional 1-credit “JCMU Experience” course, meaning that you would take 14-15 credits while in Hikone. The total cost for this tuition, including the program fee and the housing fee, would be less than $10,000 in total for students coming from one of Michigan’s 15 public universities (MSU included). Meanwhile, if you are taking courses of 14 credits at MSU, the total tuition would be about $17,500, which is almost the double amount of money you pay to JCMU – and this does not even include housing costs! Another thing I really like about JCMU is that we do not need to worry about transferring our credits from JCMU to MSU. Because JCMU is a Consortium of Michigan’s 15 public universities, credits are applied to your student account without any complicated procedures. To sum up, the program can really help international students like myself a lot both financially and academically.
This brings me to the next topic, the courses offered at JCMU. As I mentioned above, besides a 10-credit intensive Japanese language course in accord with my placement test result, I was also able to take a Japanese culture-oriented elective, with which I later replaced a high level IAH course I needed to take back at MSU. In most cases, JCMU offers the students electives that can be used to substitute either IAH (humanities) or ISS (social sciences) courses at MSU, but the JCMU staff members in their East Lansing office (MSU International Center, room 110) are always willing to help and make sure you know how the credits will show up as on your MSU account. Take my case for example. I had taken the two mandatory ISS courses here at MSU by the time I applied for the program, so an IAH course would be preferred. After the JCMU team discussed my situation with the office in charge of IAH courses, my request to substitute an IAH course for an elective at JCMU was approved. Therefore, when I came back from Japan, I did not have to take fourth-year Japanese or an IAH course at MSU. It saved me lots of time and money for sure.
There is one thing that I have to be honest about: the Japanese instructors at JCMU are generally stricter than those at MSU. As such, it is more challenging to ace the course unless you try your best. I was in level 4 and there was only a Taiwanese girl and I in the class, so there were no chances to zone out and we had to keep talking and sharing our thoughts with the teachers all the time. The good thing was that all of the instructors were very helpful, and they were always available to answer your questions whenever they were available in their office. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Harada, the Student Services Coordinator, was always willing to help us with our Japanese assignments and share his knowledge of the Japanese culture. This ended up being a huge benefit to our further cultural understanding.
Besides the program costs and the courses, I think another critical issue facing international students would be the language barrier. As a Chinese international student studying in America, it is not easy to adapt to a completely English-speaking environment. What would happen to us if we choose to study abroad in a country where people speak neither English nor Chinese? It turned out fine, because first and foremost, the staff at JCMU were very helpful. Second, the American students going there with you were generally quite friendly. Eventually, you would get along so well with the others that you would feel like you were one of them. I always hung out with my American friends and we often went on short trips to Osaka or Kyoto over the weekends from time to time. Sometimes, I even had to be an interpreter for my American fellows outside of JCMU, because there was not always an English translation on the signboard in a subway station. Many signs in Japan are written in Kanji (Chinese characters) only, so I would be the only person that could understand what the signs were saying. So honestly, I did not feel that the language barrier was a huge obstacle hindering me from fitting in with the others. In fact, thanks to this experience in Japan, my English actually improved a lot.
The only thing that might exclusively concern Chinese international students would probably be the tension between Japan and China. Some of us may get worried about whether there would be any hostility or unfriendly treatment to Chinese students, especially when it comes to interactions with the locals. Based on my own experience, although it is not guaranteed that there will not be any people with extreme political opinions, I can assure you that Japan is a quite safe country and most people in Japan are very welcoming and friendly. Take my host family as an example. I was worried about their reaction due to my nationality before I met and stayed with them. But several weeks later, we became very close. I frequently asked them to help with my homework, and sometimes I even helped my host mother with cooking and chores (I actually learned a lot about Japanese cooking from her!). We always had interesting conversations about the language, Japanese culture, and Chinese culture. Finally, we even reached some sensitive topics, such as the unpleasant history and the ongoing territorial disputes between our countries. I always believe that honesty and sincerity are two essential elements in human communication and obviously my host family did too. We had these deep conversations from time to time, and I was surprised to find out that it was absolutely unnecessary for me to feel embarrassed to have an honest conversation with them. Instead, it was rather harmful and detrimental to arbitrarily conjuncture one another’s thoughts. Overall, my homestay experience could not have been better, and I feel grateful for their kind hospitality. We still keep in touch on Facebook and sometimes send each other postcards and greeting letters. I’m also planning to go back to Japan this summer after my internship in New York, visiting JCMU and my host family there.
I greatly appreciate my study abroad experience in Japan with JCMU. This is not only because of how my language skills and cultural understanding improved, but also because it provided me with such a great opportunity to experience the lives and mindsets of many present day Japanese citizens. As Chinese international students studying in Japan from America, we seem to have more obligations yet more opportunities to get to know the Land of Sunrise, the neighbor that we know least.