5 things to do before you come to Japan as an exchange student

You can find hundreds of programs for foreign students so there are plenty of options to choose from when you want to study in Japan as an exchange student. The length of these programs vary from a few months to a few years. You can polish your language skills you on the short-term programs and you can get an academic degree on the long-term programs. No matter which course you choose there are a few things to consider before coming to Japan as an exchange student. I tried to summarise a 5 important points here that will help you during your first few months in Japan.

5 things to do before you come to Japan as an exchange student

You have to make a serious decision and leave your home country, but your winding journey only begins with the decision. So let's see a few points that might be able to help you to straighten out your journey.

1. Prepare for an unforgettable and challenging experience

Living abroad is not something that many people can handle. You will get homesick, you will miss your family, your food, your language and everything you have been accustomed to. A really difficult thing you will need to tackle with is isolation. If you are a social person you will eventually find new friends and people to hangout with, however you will need some time to do that. If you are a foreigner in Japan everybody is very nice to. But unfortunately this doesn't mean that everybody will become your friend. You will have to filter fake people surrounding you and keep the valuable ones.

It's been already 4 years for me in Japan and there was not a single moment I regretted. There were and there are hard times but the lessons you can learn here are priceless. Being independent of others in our modern world is super important. Independence means freedom, in this case in a sense that how to not rely on people to form your environment into such a shape that you find bliss in everyday life. That's what living in Japan as a foreigner teaches you.

2. Memorise katakana and hiragana

The importance of being able to read and write Japanese can't be emphasised enough. Speaking of the Japanese alphabet, you should definitely start with mastering katakana-s and hiragana-s. you can learn these characters in a few days so I would definitely recommend you to start learning these while you are at home in order to avoid wasting your precious time in Japan. You can make your own flashcards, spend a few hours with memorising and reviewing the characters and you will be able to read surprisingly many things in Japan.

3. Research and choose the place you want to live at wisely

There are two major metropolises in Japan called Osaka and Tokyo. With some exaggeration we can call the rest the countryside. When you go to live in large cities you have access to pretty much everything. This means food, clothes, services and so on.

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Speaking of food, you might be a fan of Japanese cuisine, however as time passes there will be days when you want to eat your home country's food or you want to meet international people. As a result of decreasing population you have a smaller chance to do these kind of things when you are at the countryside of Japan. Therefore, for exchange students I would definitely recommend either Osaka or Tokyo. You might consider smaller cities like Kyoto or Nagoya. Also, try to find a faculty which has something to do with your original studies. This will help you in the progress of your career and joining a famous lab for example might open up new opportunities for you.

4. Contact a professor at your target university

As soon as you have decided the university to study at don't forget to find your supervisor. He will be the equivalent of God for you while you are a student in Japan. You will always have to act according to what he says and you should never disobey him. Whenever you want to go on a trip you will have to obtain his permission and most of the important documents will have his seal on. Another thing I can recommend here is to choose the supervisor who is well known not only in Japan but also in other countries. This will guarantee that he speaks good English and has international connections just in case you eventually decide to leave Japan and do something abroad. Even if he doesn't speak Japanese you can communicate by writing your mail in English and having it translated into Japanese. By doing so you will become a candidate who speaks Japanese and he will definitely remember your name. Obviously this doesn't mean that you don't need to prove other things, but it is definitely an advantage if you can speak his native language. Don't use Google Translate for this purpose, use a professional translator instead. Unfortunately, machine translation it is not yet able to correctly judge the situation and your Japanese text will sound as if it was written by boorish person.

5. Don’t pack too many things

Japan is a first word country so you have access to everything. This is not an exaggeration, because even if you can't buy something in Japan you can still ordered from Amazon or eBay. Four example I love Head&Shoulders shampoo, but for some kind of strange reasons they don't sell it in Japan. I used to bring a lot from home but after having the shampoo spilled over in my suitcase a few times I decided to look for other options.

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You might have more special things that you can only buy in your home country but if you think other people would buy it too it might be a good future business opportunity. How do you think bread and iPhones entered the Japanese market? Actually there is a nice Japanese word to call these products: 黒船 or kuro-fune. The dictionary entry is: “product, person, etc. arriving from the West and disturbing the Japanese market, etc.​“.

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