Denis Diderot University (France)
The cause of my deciding to study in France was a month in the summer of my second year when I went to Besançon (a small town in France) for language studies. I was completely charmed by France and its beauty and intrigued by its city planning and protection of scenery, and I decided to study here for a year. I studied French in Japan before leaving, but I could barely hold a conversation on arrival and really struggled in classes, hardly understanding any of it. But through my frantic study, I could feel myself slowly grow and learn, day by day. I keep studying constantly to this day, and seeing my improvement brings me a lot of joy.
Paris is filled with libraries, museums and art galleries, and being the capitol, it has frequent exhibits as well. It’s an excellent environment for studying, and I’m happy that I decided to come here. I came to study city planning, but classes often had off-campus learning – visiting relevant museums, exhibits for the Grand Paris project and more. We were even able to visit the city hall and speak directly with city planners. We were also able to use some places for free, such as a library specializing in architecture and city planning, as well as the architectural heritage museum, which has a good view of the Eiffel Tower.
But more than anything, I think I learned the most from meeting the French and other exchange students. The parties in the dormitories, picnics in the sun and so on all made for good memories. Meeting and speaking with people who grew up in a completely different culture from mine for the last 20 years is very exciting. Everything I took for granted in Japan – lifestyle, conversations, food and more – are completely different in other countries. I heard about this, of course, but experiencing it firsthand is entirely different. The foreign students were all very unique and had a stunning amount of knowledge of their fields of choice, enough to make me rethink just how I differ from other people. I’m very happy that I was able to have these experiences while still in university. I believe they’ve done a lot for me.
I don’t have much longer here, but I plan to make the most of the remaining days.
University of Georgia (USA)
I spent a year as an exchange student at the University of Georgia between the second half of my third year and the first half of my fourth year. I doubt there are many people who have much to associate with Georgia when they hear the name. I barely knew anything myself at first. Explained simply, the state of Georgia is in the south of the US, north of Florida. The state capitol is Atlanta, famous for having the headquarters of Coca Cola and CNN. Of course, this is all information you could learn from a quick check on the internet, but there’s a great deal that’s not obvious until you’re there. For example, the school spirit of the University of Georgia. Anyone living in America probably thinks of one thing immediately when hearing of Georgia University: “Study Hard, Party Hard!” Just as the catchphrase says, Georgia’s students study well. And, of course, they love parties. I mostly studied psychology and sociology, but every class had a good deal of discussion, and I was amazed by how many students spoke up to say their piece. I was rather stunned at first, and a little disappointed that I never had a chance to say anything in my first class. There is also some assigned reading, but if you’re determined to learn, you should have no trouble doing well in any class. The heated discussions in class are always interesting, and the teachers are all very passionate about their subjects. I loved every single one of the university’s classes. This university is perfect for anyone who really wants to learn. The university’s students were as eager to enjoy themselves as they were to study, heading to bars in the weekend or meeting at friends’ houses for parties. I often went to bars or cafes with friends after school, and spent almost every weekend partying at a friend’s house. The people of Georgia are all cheerful and hospitable, and anyone should be able to make friends quickly here. I’ve made some friends I’ll certainly keep for the rest of my life. Looking back, I studied well and made a lot of progress in one year. It was, without a doubt, the best year of my life. Even outside classes, I met a lot of people, came to understand many different values, learned many different things, and feel like I’ve grown as a person. If you’re thinking of studying abroad even a little, you should definitely do so. The experience will help you to grow and undoubtedly become a treasured part of your life.
Ateneo de Manila University (The Philippines)
Encountering the Philippines
I first came to the Philippines as a high school student. By chance, I was invited by a friend to an International Exchange program. I came to a foreign country without knowing a thing. The first thing I noticed was, in a city filled with skyscrapers, there were children and the homeless living on the streets, beggars – an unbelievable gap between rich and poor. With as little familiarity as I had with the concept of a developing nation, this experience would prove life-changing. It gave me a strong interest in international aid and development. I had an interest in overseas countries from when I was young, and I decided to study in the Philippines after realizing that living there would allow me to directly experience its culture, research the wealth gap there and study it while consulting the people there directly.
Ateneo de Manila University
Ateneo de Manila University, where I am staying, is one of the Philippines’ top private universities. The school is beautiful, and most of the students are from wealthy families. The plot is large, and since many students come by car, there are traffic jams at the school during the morning and evening. Everyday life in the Philippines is mostly conducted in Tagalog, but classes are largely in English. Exchange students are permitted classes in any department, so I was able to study whatever interested me. Ateneo University is the second or third best university in the Philippines, with a very high level of classes. While classes in Japan focus on lectures, here, almost every week contains group-work, presentations, discussions, exams and reports. I can see why no students here work while studying. The classes, however, are very interesting. Most of all, the classes are all very practical. In the class I was in, I had to choose a partner NGO, research the group, make a proposal and make a presentation in front of the people of that NGO by the end of the semester, with their reactions deciding my grade. It’s an interesting assignment. In a class that taught us about advertisement, our group had to think of a team name and catchphrase, and create a poster. Rather than a direct input of knowledge, it was closer in style to taking on challenges and learning with advice from teachers.
NGO activities and experiences outside school
Currently, apart from school, I do volunteer work at an NGO. My original goal in studying in the Philippines was to learn about development, and I’ve learned a lot from actually coming here. I’ve visited slums and “smoky mountains” (poor neighborhoods near garbage pits), and seen the problems residents there face. Every time I visit, I notice something new, and after many visits, occasionally changes as well. I’ve lived here for seven months, and the residents and children who remember me welcome me by name. Through this NGO work, I’ve come to think and learn a lot about the mechanics and causes of poverty. I feel almost powerless and weak sometimes, seeing them standing up to and facing impossibly large problems. But I’ve started two things to try to make what difference I can. The first is to spread knowledge about the issue of poverty and force people to think about it. These days, I hold tours to bring friends and interested people to smoky mountains to show the situation the people there are forced to endure. The other is the sale of fair trade products at Ateneo University. I’ve succeeded in getting the stores at the project areas to link up with stores in the university to sell their products directly, as part of a financial improvement project. I hope that this growing market will allow these people to earn more and live a more comfortable life.
Special one year for your life
At your destination, you will be able to do what you want, as much as you want. You can take many classes and learn a large number of things, or focus on club activities, or try your hand at out-of-school activities like I did. There staff here are all very friendly, and always willing to help if you’re having any trouble. Thanks to the warm, caring nature of the people here, I’ve been blessed with many good friends – practically a second family. The hot climate, almost vegetable-free diet and swarms of bugs may not suit me, but I love the Philippines enough that I can almost like even this. If you feel that your life is lacking or want to attempt something new, I think studying abroad would be a very good choice. I am so grateful to the Kobe University exchange program for giving me the opportunity to turn this year into an unforgettable experience.