My name is Phuong Tran, and I am currently an exchange student in Tokyo at Rikkyo University. I share in this post of my first month here in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.
This is my first time in Tokyo, and every day I find myself enjoying new and exciting experiences. My days have been unexpectedly busy with school, but there are still many thing I want to participate in but do not have enough time to do.
Currently, I am taking 8 courses at Rikkyo, including 2 business courses, 2 Culture and Literature courses, and 4 Japanese language courses. Each class worth 1.5-2 credits, and there is only 1 class (1.5 hour) per week for each courses. So far, I enjoy the two Culture and Literature courses the most because of the fun activities we do in class. For example, last week we were divided into groups of two students and performed a short “manzai” (a Japanese traditional style of stand-up comedy) in Kansai dialect. We wrote the script in Japanese by ourselves first, then the instructor helped us with making the conversation sound more natural in Japanese. Then we performed the script in both Japanese and English in front of the class.
I personally did not think I was very good at doing comedy but it was a very interesting experience. We had people coming from different countries in my class, and I realized we all have different ideas about what makes a comedy “funny.” For examples, my teacher explains that in Japanese “manzai,” the jokes revolve around mutual misunderstandings, double talks, etc. This may be hard for foreigners to understand because we do not know much about the background. However, my European friends created a normal daily conversation script, which did not have any puns at all. I did not think it would be funny at all when I read it on the paper, but the way they performed, it made us all laugh.
I also enjoy the two business courses in a different way. The two classes are offered in English, and the content is not very difficult comparing to a typical course at OSU. However, doing group-work with Japanese students has taught me many things about their culture. For example, the international students are very active during class discussion, while the Japanese students tend to remain silent event when being asked. I find it hard to discuss case problem with them at first, because they keep saying “yes,” “maybe,” or “I think so, too.” However, after we became friends and more open to each other, working in group was a breeze. A tip, I think, is to talk with them about things other than the course work, become friends, then go back to work. It seems to me that my Japanese teammates did not want to share their ideas with people they do not know well. But after they feel comfortable with sharing their opinions, they work very hard and contributed a lot to our project.
The four Japanese language courses are the most time-consuming ones. I am placed in level 5 (out of 8) based on the result of my placement test. Each of the four focuses in a specific skill, including Reading, Grammar, Writing, and Speaking & Listening. The hardest part for me is Kanji, Chinese characters in Japanese. Even though I have finished 4 years of Japanese back at OSU, I only know about 5-600 Kanji, so it takes me a lot of time to do the reading assignments. Since there is no class for Kanji, I applied for the Language Center’s Kanji test at the end of this month and was given extra assignments in order to study for the test. The test is optional and won’t affect my grades, but I have to study really hard for it.
However, I love Japanese language and this is one of the main reason I am here at Rikkyo, so I am trying my best every day. I love the Japanese pronunciation, and being in Japan is ideal for improving my pronunciation. Recently, I find myself often “eavesdropping” on other peoples’ conversations on the train. It is really hard to follow the conversations between native speakers but I hope I would be able to understand more in the end of my stay here.
Every day, I leave home around 9am and won’t return until after 9pm. Even though most of my classes are in the afternoon, I still want to stay at school in order to join other students at Rikkyo’s Global Lounge, which is a wonderful place to make new friends, either Japanese or international students. The Global Lounge is basically a free space with many tables, where Japanese and international students are welcomed to come and leave at any time. Occasionally, we have special intercultural events such as Study Abroad Fair, students’s presentations on their home countries, oversea experiences, and job opportunities after studying abroad, etc.
Personally, I feel it’s easier to make friend with Japanese students at the Global Lounge than at any other place at school because they are more open and willing to talk to foreigners. At first, I brought my homework with me to the Global Lounge, but then I realized that talking to new friends is more worthwhile there. I applied to be an discussion leader at Global Lounge’s English table and now I am looking forward to my first day doing this job next week.
In general, I find classes are not very hard, but the amount of homework is more than I had expected. However, between the 8 courses I am taking, I find time to join my friends in their course field activities such as a trip to some oldest temples in Tokyo. I feel very comfortable at school and do not feel much pressure about grades. The only thing that makes me upset is that I have to return early in December so I won’t be able to celebrate the end of this semester with my new friends. I have also applied for some extracurricular activities at school (such as taking a Japanese class with a volunteer from Rikkyo Women’s Alumni Association). I am excited for these upcoming events and hoping to share in my next post!
About the Author: Phuong Tran, Senior, Accounting and Japanese. Student Exchange Program- Japan.