In September 2019 I travelled to Tokyo, Japan to study the Japanese language and East Asian politics at the prestigious Waseda University. One of the top universities in Japan, and having built the careers of many prodigious politicians, Waseda was the alma mater of our very own Professor Nori Hazawa at Bishop’s University. Being an International Relations Honours student, I knew that an exchange abroad was necessary to graduate, but more than that, it was an excellent way for me to see a part of the world in a more structured environment, whilst earning credits towards my degree. The process was streamlined, easy and well travelled by past students, so there were always resources to turn to.
As soon as I decided I wanted to further my elective courses in the Japanese language by studying there, I was provided all the information I needed to apply at the exchange orientation in early 2019. There were many schools to choose between, and in countless locations, but after some brief research I decided on Waseda. This choice allowed me to live in the middle of Tokyo, not 10 minutes by train to the biggest hubs. It also provided me with a recognizable name on my transcript for when I begin applying to grad schools.
One of the most notable difficulties I faced before leaving was organizing my paperwork. Though streamlined, each country and school has its own requirements for students applying to study abroad and it took me more than a few hours to collect everything they needed. Furthermore, as I was a double major student at the time, I needed twice the “yellow sheets” (code word for course selection and approval forms) signed and submitted. I highly recommend any students considering an exchange to have at least two, as you will change your mind closer to the application dates, and it will be difficult to predict which classes will be approved by your chair. It can be frustrating to try and coordinate class schedules before your prospective school has released their academic calendar, but as most professors will tell you, approval from your chair can come at any point once you arrive. I got approval by email from both of my chairs the week I enrolled in classes, which ended up being at midnight mid-September. Another important thing to note is that semesters may be formatted differently in your destination country, and you may not be able to take specific courses that had begun prior to your arrival.
The next big decision you have to make is on your living arrangements. It is absolutely crucial to put as much thought into where you want to live as you did choosing a country and exchange school. In Japan, space is expensive, and I was nervous to be somewhere where I would be out of my depth understanding the language. It seemed like a lot of work to find an adequate host family, and I didn’t put a lot of thought into roommate arrangements. This was the most difficult part of my exchange, in the end. I had trouble living in a tiny apartment with a girl I didn’t know and a shared kitchen that lacked the things I needed to cook as I would at home. Host families, though maybe intimidating, is an incredible cultural experience, and one I would recommend for anyone concerned about really integrating into a culture.
Being there, in whatever country you choose to study in, is such a surreal experience. I worried a lot about whether I was “taking it in” enough, or missing out on opportunities because I wasn’t as connected as back home. It’s truly a fear of missing out, but I urge you to take a step back and realize that you’ve already done something truly incredible for your education, just by going. My biggest tip is to join clubs. It’s a great way to meet people and learn about popular culture and customs. Out of nowhere I joined a ukulele club on campus, and ended up meeting some of my most memorable friends - all of whom I still keep in touch with. There’s no wrong way to do an exchange abroad, and Bishop’s provides a refreshing framework to keep you organized and on track.