Hiroshima University Program
Hiroshima University, Japan
Last fall (Fall 2006) I had the opportunity to attend Hiroshima University. For me this was a lifelong dream come true. I am an older returning student and never thought that I would be allowed to participate in the study abroad program but not only was I allowed but I also received the Asia Freeman Scholarship for study abroad in Asia.
I arrived in Japan the end of September of 2006 and took a week to do some sightseeing before arriving in Higashi-Hiroshima, East Hiroshima. The town is located in the mountains just outside Saijo, the sake-brewing center for Japan, about thirty minutes from Hiroshima City by train.
Prior to arriving I had studied Japanese Language but must admit that once I left the larger cities it became harder to find English speakers and the reality of being in another country began to sink in.
Upon arrival at the University every student goes through the initial enrollment procedures and is introduced their tutor. Tutors are volunteer student aids and their job for the first few days is to help you obtain the necessary documents you need to open a bank account, get health insurance, open a cell phone contract as well as take you to the grocery store and help you stock your room.
The dorm rooms are clean and each one has its own sink and toilet, western style, and each floor has a study lounge, showers and kitchen. Maid service is provided daily to help keep the common areas clean but is billed to the students as part of the dorm expenses as well as the utilities. Each dorm room has its own electric meter but the utilities; water, gas, electric for the building is divided by the number of residents. These bills are direct debit from you bank account each month and vary but can be quite expensive in the warmest and coldest months. The big negative of living in the dorm is that most Japanese students live off campus so the majority of residents are international students so the HUSA students tend to group together.
A few days after arrival there is a required two day orientation where students are encouraged to sign up for the home-stay programs as well as being informed of the course offerings and descriptions. This is also the first chance to meet the other HUSA students as a group and begin the process of making new friends from all over the world. For me being above the normal college age it was nice to see that there were a few older students but most were around the age of twenty-two.
After orientation we had a week to get to know the city and the campus, on the bikes loaned to us by the local Rotary Club, before taking the Japanese language placement test and starting class. HUSA students are allowed to take any classes offered on campus but must have sufficient language ability otherwise classes are limited to the ones offered through HUSA. Japanese class schedules are different than US colleges. Each class meets once a week for ninety minutes and on most days we had only one class. Most people missed the feeling of being challenged like they felt at their home university. The upside is that it leaves a lot of free time for exploring the area.
The second weekend we were taken to festival in one of the nearby fishing towns to bless the fisherman to help insure a large catch. People were in traditional costumes and many street vendors were selling local food. At this point we all began to feel acclimated to our new home in Japan. For the local children seeing such a large group of non-Japanese was as big a thrill. Many children would run up and speak the few English words that they knew and helped ease the way for us to begin speaking what little Japanese we had learned.
The biggest advantage of choosing a university in a smaller area is that we were forced to speak Japanese. In the stores and restaurants around UNI, Japanese slang for university, no one spoke English and although intimidating at first, proved to be the greatest classroom.
We were allowed to work fourteen hours a week but jobs were limited to teaching English and were few and far between. Several of the students from England, Canada and Australia had their TESOL certification and had more luck finding work.
Late in October is the Sake Matsuri, Sake Festival, in Saijo. All the breweries open their doors so you can see how sake is made, there are street vendors and performances and could be compared to a traditional October-fest in the United States.
On most nights you could find the local students studying at the coffee shop near campus of singing Karaoke. On weekends we would take the train to Hiroshima City to visit the museums and enjoy the city. There was one restaurant that catered to Westerners, the Shack, and the majority of staff spoke English. One of the servers I met had lived in Hilo for six months with her aunt that owns Café 100.
Fall is beautiful when the leaves begin to change color but is closely followed by a cold and snowy winter. Be prepared and bring warm clothes. You can even find hand warmers for your bike at the local store, YOUME TOWN, in Saijo.
Everyone was homesick at times but I would not trade the experience for anything.