Osaka Gakuin University (Japan)

Study Abroad Testimonial – Nicole

I attended the summer exchange program at Osaka Gakuin University (OGU), Osaka, Japan. I chose to attend the summer exchange program at OGU as I have always wanted to visit Japan and have a keen interest in the Japanese culture and language. I am currently studying law, thus, the exchange did not directly correlate to my studies. However, the experience will directly translate to my employment options once my degree is complete, and will certainly influence my choice of employer upon graduation. Ultimately, I would like to improve my Japanese language skills to a point where I may be able to work on secondment as a lawyer in Tokyo, as Japan is a major trading partner with Australia many law firms have branches or affiliated offices in Japan as well as clients based in Japan. Secondarily, I was motivated to study in Japan to observe the way Japanese tertiary students commit to their study loads. I was surprised by the fact that it is not greatly different to that of Australian students. I found most Japanese students hold part-time jobs, spend a great deal of time socialising, and while committed to their studies, their study habits do not greatly differ from Australian students, in fact, I visited one class in which no students turned up. I believe this shows the university culture at least is quite similar to the experience of tertiary students in Australia! The attitude and culture at OGU was very laid back, which made me feel very comfortable and at ease there.

Further Information

Name: Nicole Cooper
Program of study at CQUni: Bachelor of Laws
Host Institution & Country: Osaka Gakuin University, Japan
Period & Year of Exchange: Summer 2013, 2013

OGU appears to be a smaller university, the grounds are very friendly and there are always lots of people walking around and going about their everyday campus life. It is interesting to note that residing on campus does not appear to be a popular, or even normal living arrangement in Japan. I did not notice any on campus accommodation, and further, on discussion of the topic with some of the OGU students, it seemed like a foreign concept to them. The classroom facilities at OGU are very modern; most of the class room blocks have stairs, though I did notice some which had escalators inside them. There appear to be many extracurricular activities which students can partake in, ranging from sports to marching bands, I was lucky enough to see the marching band practicing which was definitely a fantastic sight, it would be great to bring this sense of community back into Australian universities, however, I believe the travel distance to and from university, along with mode of study is a major obstacle in this. One fantastic initiative at OGU was the English language centre, called 'iChat Lounge', this is a place where students can visit to practice speaking English with native English speakers and exchange students in order to improve their language skills. This is carried out through fun games and general conversation. It is an important part of the language education, particularly as English speaking does not form a large part of language studies in Japan. I was alerted to this fact through attending the class of Steckler Sensei, an American professor who has lived in Japan for 26 years. Steckler Sensei noticed the shortfall in the language syllabus and developed a program which has been piloted in some Japanese elementary schools which involves using drama and role play to encourage Japanese students to start speaking English; he advised it has been very successful in improving the proficiency level of spoken English amongst Japanese students.

Attending OGU was a very small part of the overall experience, which meant the summer school attendees were able to spend lots of time exploring Osaka and partaking in scheduled program activities. Upon arriving in Japan I made my way to the hotel where I was staying for the night, the next day I was greeted by Hiroaka-san who escorted me and two other students to our accommodation at Senriyama house. This was a train route we would become very familiar with by the conclusion of the program as the hotel was located in the Umeda station city locale, which is the hub for all the city activities in Osaka. Upon arrival at Senriyama station we took a cab from the train station to the house. The cost of the cab was 660 yen, it was very hot so this was certainly a luxury, I was not aware at the time that I would be traipsing the long distance (1.2km approx.) from Senriyama station to Senriyama house at least twice per day. As the days got hotter, however, I gave in and took a cab back to the house whenever there was one available. Along the way to the house, I noticed a couple of shops, one larger supermarket style store called 'Peacock' was located closer to the station and then a few convenience stores closer to the house. The area is largely residential and not too busy, which is welcoming and certainly mitigates some of the culture shock which is imminent when travelling from Australia, which by comparison is only sparsely populated. Upon reaching the house we were greeted by a very large bamboo surrounded complex with neighbouring golf course, Senriyama seminar house has a lovely outlook and is very private, which was certainly welcoming. We were then escorted inside for a tour by Hiraoka-san and introduced to the concept of house slippers! This was definitely a novelty to start with; however, it is certainly difficult to remember when you are not used to it! I would suggest bringing your own slippers, as I was not entirely comfortable wearing communal pairs – make sure they are brand new and have not been worn outside. The house consists of 4 levels; we were to stay on level 3! Lots of stairs, I will definitely credit the stairs with increased fitness though! Level 1 is a lounge of sorts with ping pong tables, a karaoke machine, pay phone, lounge chairs and it is where the bathrooms are located. More on these later!

Level 2 is another common room type area, with a kitchen (it is not available for use by students), dining tables, a second lounge area with a TV and bookcase. This was also where the course organiser Tao set up some Wi-Fi, this was very kind of her, and made the distance from loved ones at home easier to bear, however, as there were so many users it was a little unreliable at times. I would recommend hiring your own Wi-Fi from the Kansai airport, I was lucky enough to be able to use one of my coursemate's personal Wi-Fi and it was very convenient, particularly when travelling around and getting lost and trying to translate signs.

Level 3 is dormitory type accommodation; the dorms consisted of 4 bunk beds, large tables in the centre of the room, 2 balconies, and a wash basin with mirror, wardrobes, a small fridge and an urn. The beds were not really normal by western standards, the bunks themselves were quite normal, however, the bases were fabric covered wood. The mattress as provided by a rental company was approximately 2 inches thick and could be likened to a winter 'doona' in Australia. This was very uncomfortable to begin with, however, you do get used to it by the end of the 3 weeks. I am often prone to back pain from sleeping on uncomfortable mattresses however this did not result from these beds. This was a welcome surprise. The pillow is a little small, however, perfectly comfortable. Some course participants decided to buy futon mattresses to make their beds more comfortable, these are available at the department store in Kita Senri (2-3 stations over from Senriyama) and at the time were about $70 each. One fantastic part of senriyama house was the brilliant ducted air-conditioning. It works really well and in the hot weather was truly a godsend.  The showers… this was the main shock for me and just about the only part of the trip which made me uncomfortable. The shower rooms are traditional Japanese style, they consist of about 10 shower arms coming out of a wall with no cubicles or dividers. This was definitely a shock for me. I am a bigger girl and as such would not be a fan of exposing myself to strangers, or worse, friends. We tried to arrange to shower later, however, other participants also showered later; often I was unable to take a private shower in the mornings which was unfortunate. By the end of the three weeks I had gotten over a little of the shock and began to care less about getting walked in on, it was still a fright when getting walked in on by other participants, however, it became less so by the end. The only tip I can offer here is to either shower in bathers or to approach all the other participants and set up some kind of rotation amongst everyone.

Additionally, as regards the facilities of senriyama house, the residential location means there are not really many restaurants or food outlets in the vicinity. There are some restaurants and take away places in Kita Senri, however, there is endless choice in Umeda which is about a 20 min train ride away and costs 440 yen return. My evening meals consisted mostly of convenience store meals and bento boxes from Peacock. I ate out a few times however; it is difficult to muster the motivation after a busy day to take the walk about to the station in the evening! Some take away places deliver to Senriyama house, which is convenient; however, I found the food available at the convenience stores to be more appealing and cheaper than the delivered items.

Budgeting was not an issue for me; however, I know some people on the trip were quite restrained in what they were able to spend. Train tickets become a large part of the cost especially if you are planning to do sightseeing in free periods or want to eat out at a restaurant in the evenings, we were provided with a train card by Tao, the card was loaded with 4000 yen, enough to cover travel to and from the university each day, I was able to replenish the card's funds and would have spent approximately $200 AUD on top ups.  Food, alcohol and other consumables are very cheap in Japan! To give an indication; A large lunch meal at a restaurant near OGU consisting of seafood, noodles, rice, soup and unlimited iced tea is approximately 750 yen, a beer at a bar in approximately 500 yen and other supermarket items such as cup noodles, chocolate bars etc are about 100-300yen, so eating is not a big cost, I found the biggest cost to be buying souvenirs and gift, thus, it is an option you can avoid if looking to save money!

I did lots of sightseeing outside of the program. I visited Osaka Castle, Osaka Aquarium, Namba, Tennoji Shrine and a few other tourist spots. I also shopped extensively and sampled some fabulous Japanese cuisine! I had heard out some odd seeming Japanese cultural experiences prior to visiting, one of which is called a 'cat café' where people who have no time or space for pets can visit for a fee and get to play with cats while having a drink of coffee or other beverages. I sought out a cat café called 'Ragdoll' located in Namba, It was very interesting. By the end of the three weeks I was so used to the subway system in Osaka, a train can get you anywhere you want to go really, and once you get the hang of them they are an efficient and easy to use mode of transport. There is obviously a large cultural difference between Japan and Australia, there are a lot of social rules to abide by, or so the guidebooks say. I found that some of these 'rules' are routinely broken by the Japanese. I also found with laws, there seems to be a dual standard for locals and tourists. I believe the police will mostly turn a blind eye to foreigners who may not be privy to Japanese laws, such as smoking on the street being a finable offence. Socially, I really enjoyed getting to know the Japanese students, however, with my beginners Japanese and their lower English proficiency, we really only got to know each other on a superficial level. However, lots of laughter and smiles always helps to encourage conversation. I was invited by my language partner to dinner which was lovely. I have added all my new Japanese friends to Facebook and will definitely stay in contact. The university ran a few events to encourage mixing with other students in a relaxed, but structured setting. This was an excellent opportunity to get to know other students aside from designated language partners.

The highlight of my trip was the Noh performance, the university arranged for traditional Noh actors to attend campus to put on a show for the group and to explain Noh theatre. I had never heard about it before, however being a fan of the theatre, it was something I enjoyed immensely. I also really enjoyed the classes, I love learning languages and there is no place for it in my Law degree, so it was a nice change to be learning something I enjoy. It was also very practical in that we learned sentence to assist us in our daily life in Japan for the duration of the trip. I took on as much as I could, as following the conclusion of the trip; I stayed in Japan a further week. My knowledge from the prior three weeks helped me to navigate Japan with relative ease and certainly assisted in figuring out issues on my own. I had never travelled solo before so having made the most of a week in Japan on my own was a major accomplishment for me. I would have never have thought I could do it, and proving that I could to myself was certainly a defining moment in my life. Taking part in this program has helped open my eyes to a new way of living and has given me a sense of accomplishment, increasing my self-confidence and allowing me to grow as a self-reliant person.