An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Kiwi students living and learning in Japan

Each year young Kiwis keen to experience university life in Japan have the chance to receive a financial boost to help them on their way.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation teams up with Japanese food giant Nakashimato Co Ltd to grant $1000 to selected senior secondary and undergraduate students who have been accepted on exchange programmes to Japan.

Some of 2016’s recipients checked in to share their experiences.

Jenny Wong, 21, left Wellington for a six-month stint at a university in Okayama

Jenny Wong dressed in a traditional Kimono

Why Japan?

I’ve always dreamed of visiting Japan since I started learning Japanese in intermediate school. In the future, I want to be an English teacher in Japan, so I thought this would be a good chance to experience living there and get a broader view of Japanese culture.

Pinch-me moment?

A lecturer from our university encouraged us to participate in the “Ushimado Autumn Festival” in Seto in Okayama. We wore a “happi” (traditional Japanese coat) and pulled a “danjiri” (portable shrine) to a central meeting point. On the way, we stopped at different locations to be blessed, and to enjoy traditional food and dances, and to look at other shrines.

Favourite food discovery?

Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake. Okonomi means "how you want it", and ingredients in an okonomiyaki are infinitely adaptable. Yum!

John White, a student at the University of Auckland, studied in Japan’s capital, Tokyo

Japan study grant recipient John White standing in front of a traditional-style Japanese wooden bridge

How’s the city been treating you?

Japan has truly been a life changing experience so far. Being on exchange in Tokyo has made me more independent, wanderlust, and active. Living in Auckland had me too comfortable with life and Japan has been the injection I needed to feel challenged again.

Describe Japan to a novice:

Japan is one of those countries where there’s endless things to do and when you think you've gotten used to things, something new, exciting, and challenging pops up! From experiencing the hectic rush hour train rides in Tokyo to walking around the traditional and historic areas of Kyoto, you can never be bored.

Kayla Garrett spent six months at a university in Okayama.

Kayla Garrett sitting on the ground in a gymnasium with three other people

Any challenges?

Being far away from friends and family was a bit of a struggle for me in the first few months. It took a while to adjust, but everyone was always kind and friendly and I soon got used to living in Japan.

The language barrier of course made it hard at times, but most people were very accommodating and made things simple so we could understand. 

My school life was busy and challenging. I took a variety of classes, which were all in Japanese. It took a while for me to adjust but overall I enjoyed the challenge and my Japanese skills were able to improve because of it.

Some highlights?

The international students were given an internship at the university. We went to around four classes a week and became assistant English teachers. This was a great experience for me, as I want to become an English teacher after I graduate. Helping out in these classes was a lot of fun and I also got to meet some new people while doing this.

We also visited some primary and middle schools in Okayama. I got to hang out with the kids and teach them a little bit about New Zealand. I was happy to see them interested in my home country.

Will you go back?

I had the time of my life in Japan. Living in Japan, attending school, as well as travelling and meeting new people, was so much fun. I can’t wait to go back soon and start working.

Matthew Flanagan spent seven months studying and travelling in Japan, his first time outside of New Zealand

Matthew Flannigan standing in front of a Japanese shrine

How did you find learning Japanese?

I was able to take a variety of papers in Japanese - studying economics, current issues, intercultural communication and more. Studying not just Japanese but a variety of different subjects in Japanese gave me the opportunity to use and learn vocabulary that is not used in everyday conversation or studied in a Japanese class. Studying a second language in the country where it is spoken natively has helped me improve my Japanese abilities more than anything.

Interesting cultural titbit?

Along with listening and speaking Japanese every day, I was also able to experience the way a Japanese university works and the culture within Japanese schools. Every class began with a bow to the teacher for the greeting and ended again in the same way.

Pinch-me moment?

We had a sports day where all the students from the university participated in many different events. Some were similar to what we have in New Zealand, for example relays and high jump. But there were also events more aimed at having fun than winning. One of which was a game where one person wearing a hat was held up on the shoulders of three other team members. The three people on the ground would run around while the person on top would try to take the hats from other teams.

Overall the trip to Japan was amazing and has given me some of the best memories of my life.

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19 April 2017