Paying for Your Study-Abroad Experience

If you’re like me, coming from a low-income family and paying for your own education, the idea of studying abroad, in Japan, may seem impossible. Not only do you have to cover the price of tuition and ordinary living expenses, but there is the cost of traveling overseas as well. To make things worse, with a student visa, you’re only allowed to work for 28 hours a week, making it unlikely that you can work to pay off your expenses. Nonetheless, don’t give up hope! It is possible, and here’s how:

Scholarships

As students, we tend to think of scholarships as something that only the best-of-the-best can get. They’re highly competitive, typically require you to submit an essay, and the deadlines always seem to be during times in which you’re already busy with midterms or finals for the current semester (if you’re a university student, that is).However, that isn’t always the case. Many scholarships (especially one’s aimed at students planning to travel abroad) look at a variety of different factors, in order to allow a wide variety of students the chance to pursue their academic goals. Take for example the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, a Congressionally-funded scholarship which helps low-income students, in the United States, who are planning on studying abroad. It does require that its recipients agree to complete a service project (of your choosing) which promotes awareness of the scholarship and check in with the United States Department of State, but the benefit far outweighs the work that is necessary to receive it.

More importantly, apply for every scholarship you can. Nobody will receive every scholarship, and even scholarships which don’t provide much money can be beneficial. To do so, check with your financial aid, academic, and study abroad advisers (if you are a university student), because they will likely be able to tell you about which scholarships you can apply for through your school. In addition, there are numerous websites which help students to find scholarships, and many local businesses offer them as well. Be sure to ask some of your professors/teachers to look over your scholarship essays for them too. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to critique them for you, and it’ll greatly improve your chances of getting the scholarships you’re hoping for.

Student Loans

Yes, I said it, student loans. The biggest nightmare of anyone trying to pay for his/her own education. For most students, it’s not likely that you’ll get a full-ride scholarship, and in those cases, they’re almost always a necessity (Unless you’re from one of those awesome countries, like Finland, which pay for your schooling. In which case, why are you even reading this? No, seriously… Why are you reading this?). They don’t have to be an unbearable burden, either. Again, this will require a lot of time and research, but it is possible to find student loans which won’t require you sacrifice your first-born child or sell your mother into slavery to pay off your debt. It’s true that no matter what, they’re not going to be the most ideal way to pay for your education, but as long as you start paying off the interest while you’re still in school, they shouldn’t become too overwhelming when you graduate and have to pay them back.

Save!

Typically, people start planning where and how to study abroad at least a year before going, so it gives plenty of time to save enough money (if you manage your finances properly). In my case, I created a strict budget and limited nearly all unnecessary spending. At the time, it was quite painful – I couldn’t go to the movies with friends or buy any of the new things I wanted, and I even created a strict food budget. I probably didn’t need to be as hard on myself as I was, but looking back, it was completely worth it! I not only saved enough money, that way, to cover my plane ticket and some of my living expenses, but I got to enjoy all of the things I deprived myself, when I got here to Japan.

Come on a working-holiday visa

For those of you in Norway, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or the UK who can’t afford to go to school in Japan and aren’t students (I wouldn’t recommend dropping out of school or even taking a break, to go overseas, since that’ll likely cause you a bunch of problems down the road), you should aim for a working-holiday visa. It’s a great way to come to Japan to find work, and while you’re here, you can either do self-study or take some lessons. Actually, quite a few of my friends are doing this, and things seem to be going really well for them. Their Japanese isn’t improving as quickly as my friends who are enrolled at a university or language school – since their main reason for being here is work – but you can definitely notice a difference, since they first came here!

All-in-all, there are actually hundreds of different options you have for studying abroad in Japan and just as many ways to acquire the money that is needed to do so. The best thing to remember, though, is to be patient. Even if you can’t afford to study abroad right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future. Just put some money aside, do some research into which options work best for you, and plan ahead. If you do that, you’ll make it here to Japan in no time!

 

joinusrikkyo

See you, in Japan!

Edit:

Specified which countries are eligible for a working-holiday visa, thanks to information from Patricia Bowden.

Advertisements

Japan is strange, but not for the reasons you might think.

For many, when thinking about what kind of country Japan is, the first thing that usually comes to mind is that it’s not normal or that it may even be one of the craziest places on earth. After all, with all of its fetish shops, wacky cosplayers, and bizarre festivals, how could it be anything but weird? Surprisingly, however, it really isn’t — at least not in the way you might be thinking. Yeah, it has a bunch of really strange things, but what country doesn’t? Take for example the United States, like Japan it has its fair share of odd TV shows and commercials over the years, be it well-known shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim or lesser-known and slightly creepy things like this ad for Little Baby’s Ice Cream in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania . When it comes to traditions we’re not much better either. Take for example the President’s yearly pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving day or the fact that every year, we leave it to a rodent (a groundhog, to be exact) to tell us how much longer winter is going to last.
japan-no-further-description-required1
It’s not just the US, either. Whether you’re from Denmark or India, we see these things all the time on social media, meme sites, and even on our way to work or school. For some reason, though, we tend to dismiss these things as an occasional oddity, rather than focusing on them and ignoring the normalcy that is far more common. This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything overtly strange that exists here, in Japan, however. There are numerous — maybe even countless — cultural norms and customs which are completely foreign to westerners, and for those who aren’t used to them, they can be more than just confusing, but frustrating as well. Take for example the idea of tatemae; put simply, it is just the idea that one should put on a public face and avoid expressing beliefs or doing things which others may disagree with, in order to maintain harmonious, positive environment. The problem is, however, that for many Japanese people, it can be difficult to balance tatemae and the expression of one’s honne (true feelings). As a result, even when eating at a restaurant, some people may even reiterate, time-and-time again, just how delicious the food is — even if it is only average at best. In actuality, although it isn’t necessarily tatemae, more than a few Japanese people that I have met during my time here overly praise and complement everyone and everything, regardless of whether or not it is actually needed.
As a foreigner, especially one with a higher level of proficiency in Japanese, this will likely become apparent, relatively quickly. You will likely find that even being able to read simple kanji or able to say something like “konnichi wa (good afternoon),” you’ll be met with things like gasps, clapping, and a bunch of people mentioning how amazing you are and how skillful you are with Japanese — although, it’s quite difficult to believe that they are genuinely impressed and makes it difficult to tell when they truly are. Herein lies one of the biggest oddities of Japanese society: the popular misconception that foreigners simply cannot speak Japanese and that Japan is so unique that foreigners (especially westerners) cannot do or understand things in the same way they do. In fact, it isn’t rare to be asked, “Can you eat raw fish?” or have someone exclaim, “Wow! You can eat with chopsticks?!” while dining with them (as a non-Asian foreigner, that is). These questions and statements are so bizarre that it’s difficult to imagine hearing foreigners gasping and shouting out, “No way! You can use a fork?!” or asking, “Can you eat cheeseburgers?” to their Japanese friends.
Nonetheless, this rather odd way of thinking will likely change as more foreigners come to Japan and become proficient with Japanese. As for its other peculiarities, there are literally hundreds of ways in which Japan is strange. Please, feel free to share your stories and let us know how what your experiences are and what you think is strange or not about Japan!

Communicating in Japan

Coming to Japan for the first time can be a thrilling and exciting journey; but, like any new experience it can present numerous new – and sometimes unexpected – challenges. Whether you have studied Japanese for years, in your home country, or you’ve only recently started, mastering communication will likely be one of your most difficult tasks. As with any language, Japanese has an almost limitless number of ways in which one can express him or herself, and considering the sheer number of words and phrases in Japanese, having gaps in one’s knowledge of vocabulary or phrases that pertain to new experiences can be common, making even something like ordering food, for the first time, a bit of a challenge.

Only eight months ago, having just arrived in Japan – despite studying at my university in the US for roughly three years – this was my experience. Being at an upper-intermediate/lower advanced level, I could easily hold conversation with friends and discuss what I needed to in my classes. Because of that, something as simple as ordering take-out, paying bills, or even going to the doctor’s seemed like an easy task – one that I didn’t need to think about or prepare for. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Like many students who are traveling abroad for their first time, I never actually learned the vocabulary that was necessary to deal with these everyday situations, and having a gap in knowledge of vocabulary, I found myself constantly needing to consult my dictionary and even rehearsing what I was going to say, in order to avoid the confusion and frustration that I was afraid would occur if I didn’t.

The first time I came to understand this was going to McDonald’s and having the sudden realization that I could talk about history, culture, or even basic psychology, but had no idea how to say that I wanted to order my meal as carry-out. Having just been asked “店内で召し上がりますか (Will you be dining in?)?” Being my first time ordering take-out in Japan, I had no idea what the common word for take-out was in Japanese, and being afraid that she would just assume that I didn’t actually know the language, I quickly blundered, “いいえ、外で食べます (No, I’ll be eating outside.).” Had it not been early September, this may have been sufficient; however, likely assuming I was planning on sitting at one of the tables which was out front of the store to enjoy my meal in the warm summer sun, she promptly grabbed a tray out for me and handed me my receipt. Noticing that she misunderstood what I was trying to say, I quickly apologized and explained that I was planning on eating at my dormitory. Thankfully, there was nobody waiting behind me, and listening patiently, she asked something along the lines of “あっ、持ち帰りですね (Ah, take-out, right?)?” and everything worked out pretty well. A bit embarrassed by the whole experience, however, I avoided going back for more than a month (which wasn’t difficult, considering how many amazing restaurants there are nearby).

Looking back, that was probably one of the most educational experiences I’ve had, since I began studying Japanese. It taught me that as important as it is to be able to engage in fun, interesting conversation with a wide variety of people, it’s also important to prepare yourself for the less frequent, but equally important interactions which will occur during your time in Japan. Whether it’s memorizing something as simple as the word 持ち帰りmochikaeri (take-out) or something more difficult, like 糖尿病tounyoubyou (diabetes), be sure to prepare for your trip abroad, by studying vocabulary related to things like paying bills, getting a cellphone contract, talking to the doctor about health problems or concerns, or even words that are necessary in case of a natural disaster. You might not use them very frequently, but they”ll be worth it, in the few cases where you’ll need to use them in daily life.

Daily practice is key, when learning a new language.

Daily practice is key, when learning a new language.

Most importantly, however, just be sure to have fun! Although there’s going to be a lot of things you don’t know, and there will be the occasional difficult moment, you’ll make great friends and create memories which will last you a life time!

"Friendship has no boarders."

“Friendship has no boarders.”

 

Japanese Advice

A typical denshijisho

A typical denshijisho

Now a third-year University student, I have been studying Japanese since I was in middle school with only a one-year break during my senior year of high school. While I do not pretend to be the perfect student, I feel that other Japanese language students could potentially learn from the numerous experiences I have attained over the years.. Here are three tips for all of you studying Japanese out there:

1. Buy a “Denshijisho” (electronic dictionary)

Despite having studied Japanese since middle school, I did not purchase an electronic Japanese-English dictionary until this year. Now, I could not imagine studying Japanese without it. Where before I would spend time searching through paper dictionaries or even looking up kanji in the thick Nelson dictionary I was required to purchase for my University, I can now just type in words to my denshijisho or draw kanji on its electronic pad. While I admire those who have mastered the use of the Nelson and other Japanese-English dictionaries, I much prefer the instant results I get from my denshijisho.

One downside of  denshijishos is their cost, and this is what kept me from buying one over the years. A new one runs from $200-$300, and they are constantly being updated with new dictionaries and features. I bought one from Sharp’s last generation for around $160 and it works just fine. After finally pulling the trigger on this expensive piece of equipment, I am only mad that I didn’t buy one earlier

Some of my friends have told me that they get the same or better capabilities as my denshijisho from cheap apps on their smartphones or ipads, and one even purchased a denshijisho game cartridge for his Nintendo DS. If you already possess a smartphone, ipad, or DS, these devices, you could save a lot of money by pursuing one of these options.

2. Make Kanji Flashcards/Use Anki

I used to study kanji in list form, with the characters, furigana, and English definitions arranged in rows. While I could quickly memorize a fair amount of kanji, I found that I was only memorizing them in a specific order, and I was unable to identify them when they were taken out of this list format. From that point on, I began making my own kanji flashcards. It takes a fair amount of time to make the cards themselves, but to me it has been worth it as I can study kanji anytime, anywhere, and I can easily review kanji i learned in the past.

Kanji flashcards

Kanji flashcards

Recently, electronic solutions have made studying kanji flashcards even easier. For one thing, you don’t have to spend all that time making the flashcards. More importantly, you don’t have to make the hairy decisions on whether you are ready to put a flashcard to in the “completed” pile and move on to new ones. Instead, you can just press a button ranging from “easy” to “difficult” and the program will decide when to show you that flashcard again.

The most popular flashcard app among my ryugakusei friends is Anki. Anki allows you to either choose your own flashcard lists or download other people’s lists from the internet. While I am still running through physical flashcards I created long ago, I intend to make the switch to Anki once I finish studying them.

3. Talk to Japanese People

Out of the exchange students I know who did not speak any Japanese prior to coming here, there is a clear-cut difference in skill between those who have sought out Japanese conversations and those who have been too nervous to try. I urge those who are coming here to take every opportunity to practice their spoken Japanese, as I find it to be both more fun and more instantly gratifying than classroom learning. It is not a replacement for studying, as casual conversation cannot teach you proper grammar or kanji, but what it can do is increase your vocabulary immensely as well as your speaking and listening skills. Plus, it is a great feeling to converse with Japanese friends in their native language!

Japanese People

Japanese people

I hope you find my tips helpful. Nihongo no benkyou wo Ganbare!

Japanese advice n°5 – Sound words

Sound words are a very characteristic feature of speaking Japanese. They’re classified in 擬音語 giongo and 擬態語 gitaigo. Giongo are onomatopoeic words, that is, words that imitate a sound, whereas gitaigo are words that give a sound to something that doesn’t actually make a sound. The difference is hard to explain, but it’s not really important to understand that well. However, you must know the meaning of many of these sound words since they’re used in daily conversation more often than one would expect.

So, here’s a list of some common and useful sound words! Good thing about sound words is that they usually have no kanji, so it’s easy to write them quickly (at least this is a good thing for me).

1. ぺらぺら – Fluent

英語がぺらぺらだね! You’re fluent in English!

2. ぺこぺこ – Hungry

おなかがぺこぺこ。 I’m starving

ぺこぺこ is supposed to be the sound of a growling, hungry stomach. Saying this is actually considered cute.

3. いらいら – Irritated

あんな人と話したら、いらいらする。 I get irritated when I talk to people like him/her.

4. どきどき – Excited

彼女に会うと、どきどきする! I get excited when I see her.

どきどき describes the sound of an accelerated heartbeat.

5. にこにこ – Smiling

I really wonder who came up with a sound for the act of smiling, but it’s just adorable.

6. キラキラ – Shining

It doesn’t sound very useful, but it’s used quite often.

7. べたべた、ぬるぬる、ねばねば - Sticky

30分で散歩してから、汗をかいてべたべたする。 After walking for 30 minutes I got sweaty and sticky.

The humid Japanese summer is a perfect time to put these words into use.

8. どんどん、だんだん – Gradually

どんどん英語になるはずだ。You are supposed to become better at Japanese gradually.

9. わくわく – Happily

Another cute one. Make sure to have some わくわく time while in Japan.

10. おろおろ – Nervous

I say this word quite often and always get some funny reactions. I wonder why.

 

All in all, there are so many giongo and gitaigo it’s difficult to come up with with a short list. However, try to use this one as an introduction only and then find more on your own.

 

Eduardo H.