First Week in Japan

I have only been a week in Japan, but I am more or less settled here, facing one year of studying at Kobe University. Of course there are things that are difficult to understand (misunderstandings about culture or language) or hard to get used to (walking at the left side of the road in my case) but the most important thing is that I already like living here. My Japanese adventure up till now in a nutshell:

volunteer abroad Japan

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Kokui Residence

Having spent two days in a hotel in Sannomiya, I packed my bags again to move into my dorm in the district of Nada (Kokui residence 国維寮). Every exchange student at Kobe University is appointed a Japanese tutor, who helps you finding the way to the dorm and university, dealing with many procedures and answers all your questions. On the first day of April, we met with our tutors and set off, heavily loaded, to our dorm. It was raining cats and dogs, and of course I did not buy an umbrella yet… Aside from the weather, everything went smoothly. First we had the procedures for the dorm, then we went for lunch, we spent the afternoon at the city hall for immigration registration and health security, went to buy a futon 布団 afterwards and shopped at the supermarket for food and other essentials.

The next day, we were guided around on university campus and opened a bank account. On Friday 3 April, I had a meeting with my teacher and went to see a Belgian friend who is living on Port Island. The tutors had organised ohanami (お花見 “watching the flowers”) on Saturday, something like a picnic in the park under the cherry blossoms, and we played games, ate snacks, and had a lot of fun.

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Today was Easter, so I went with some other foreign students to a Catholic Church in Kobe. The mass was half in Japanese, half in English. Except for the Japanese songs it was pretty much the same as in Belgium. Chocolate eggs were missing though. I compensated by treating myself on a “Belgium hot chocolate” at a coffee-house near the station.

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Some thoughts:

* My name appears to be quite difficult to remember, so most people shorten it to “An”, which makes up for a cute nickname: “An-chan”.

* The weather here is really unpredictable. One day it is so hot I get sun burnt, the next day it is raining and cold. And when it rains, it rains all day long. I am a bit worried about coming summer, though, because I am not so familiar with heat.

* The area I live in has tons of slopes. Guess I will be working out a lot. I am also glad I brought walking shoes.

From tomorrow on, university life starts. I normally will receive my (rental) phone tomorrow as well, so then I will be able to upload some nice pictures (thanks to Risa and Yonsu for the ohanami pictures in this post!). To be continued!

Kobe University

I’m in third year of Japanese Studies now, after which I will graduate, and will spend like most students of KU Leuven university a year in Japan before moving on to a Master’s degree. Last year we were introduced into the world of Japanese partner universities, scholarships, tuition waving and entrance exams. We had to choose 3 universities, and luckily I got approval for my first choice: Kobe University, Graduate program in Intercultural Studies. Why did I choose Kobe University?

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Rokkodai main building – http://www.kobe-u.ac.jp

* Kobe University is one of Japan’s major academic and research institutions, and embraces international programs and projects. Nowadays, Kobe University hosts over 1000 foreign students from 235 partner institutions, most of them graduate students (of which 101 European students as of November 2011). Its European Studies Centre is located in Brussels.

* Since 28th March of 2012, master students from our university can obtain a double degree at KU Leuven and Kobe University. This is made possible by the EU – JAMM Double Degrees, the first multidisciplinary master studies between the EU and Japan. Up till now, only a few partner universities join this program. Moreover, a comfortable scholarship is granted to most of the students.

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the main gate – http://www.kobe-u.ac.jp

* I have always hoped to study in the Kansai 関西 region (including Ōsaka, Kōbe, Kyōto and Nara). A culture freak like me prefers the historical roots of ancient capitals and merchant towns over the financial and economic power Tōkyō represents. 

Whereas the Kanto region is symbolic of standardization throughout Japan, the Kansai region displays many more idiosyncrasies – the culture in Kyoto, the mercantilism of Osaka, the history of Nara, or the cosmopolitanism of Kobe – and represents the focus of counterculture in Japan. – Wikipedia

* I would love to live a year in a metropolis. Life at the countryside can be peaceful and pleasant, but I like the unlimited facilities and activities a big town offers. Kōbe has a population of approximately 1.5 million people. I should be able to make some friends, don’t you think?

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The library evokes an art nouveau feeling – http://www.kobe-u.ac.jp

* There are exchange students from Kobe University currently studying here at KU Leuven. I also met some Belgian people who spent a year there. Everyone recommended me this university wholeheartedly and told me about some peculiarities who make me really want to go! Apparently the baumkuchen is delicious, the university’s location is very beautiful and people has a great sense of fashion.

* Speaking of location, the university has a magnificent view of the city and port of Kōbe, because it is built beside the foothills of Mount Rokkō. I was also pleasantly surprised to read that the university cares a great deal about environmental sustainability. They foster and support ecological-minded students and promote research and activities in environmental preservation. Since 2009, an elaborate report is yearly published.

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the horse riding ground – http://www.kobe-u.ac.jp

* Kobe University is not as old as Belgian universities, but still has an interesting history. Kobe University was – as is expected of a highly developed economical port town – established in 1902 as the Kobe Higher Commercial School. After the American occupation, in 1949, several universities and colleges were brought together in what is called Kobe University nowadays. They started off with six faculties. In 1992, the Faculty of Intercultural Studies and the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies was newly established.

I think I made it clear to you that I am really excited to go! I’ve never studied abroad before. Hopefully I get accepted smoothly and can start looking forward to March 2015. There’s no doubt this will be a great experience, and will stimulate and support my future Japanese study plans!