Student soaks up Japanese culture on exchange

Leanne Hammersley writes about living and studying in the coastal city of Ashiya, half way between Kobe and Osaka, where she is completing her final semester of a Bachelor of Arts.
Leanne standing under the pillars of orange Japanese gates

Leanne: "The travelling I am fortunate enough to have done has revealed new cultural information, cultural customs and has deepened my appreciation for Japan..."

Since arriving in Japan, life has looked a little different than it did in New Zealand.

To get to my university, I now have a 45-minute commute via two trains and a lot of walking, compared with a five minute bike ride in New Zealand.

Adjusting to the differences between life here and back home initially brought about some homesickness, but modern technology and a solid routine combined to help me adjust and settle into Japanese life. 

I live in a female-only dorm that has around 20 international students from my university. We quickly became close friends and we often enjoy sitting in the dining hall laughing, eating quality Japanese food and exchanging stories of our adventures throughout Japan.

The relationships formed in the dorm have made my exchange and adjustment far easier and I am very glad I chose this living situation. 

I live in a city called Ashiya, conveniently placed 20 minutes from Osaka and Kobe, with places such as Kyoto, Himeji and Hiroshima extremely accessible by train.

My city is surrounded by lush greenery, mountains, quaint buildings and temples and has very-much become my home. Furthermore, Ashiya is quite similar to my home-town of Christchurch, and this helped create a sense of belonging and comfort.

Being surrounded by the Japanese language took a little getting used to, but immersion is the best way to learn a language and my capabilities improved quickly.

I study a mixture of Japanese-taught courses and English-taught courses that centre around the Japanese language and Japan’s culture and customs.

I also participate in club activities and conversational practice with Japanese students, while connecting with other international students to broaden my networks. These activities and environments have helped my Japanese to flourish. 

Leanne with a group of friends

Leanne says joining groups has been a great way to meet friends and improve her Japanese

A typical weekend will often involve travel, either solo or with friends.

A few weeks ago I travelled solo to Himeji, a place where one of the oldest castles in Japan is located.

I spent the day soaking up history, trying out my new language skills with locals, and devouring delicious delicacies.

I have also spent a weekend with friends from my dorm in Kyoto, travelling to temples such as Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari, and walking around the ancient Gion district.

The travelling I am fortunate enough to have done has revealed new cultural information, cultural customs and has deepened my appreciation for Japan and the opportunity I have been given, and always leaves me eager for more enriching experiences!

But why am I doing all of this? Well, my love of Japanese and Japan began in year nine at high school and has continued through until present day.

The rich history, unique culture and the blend of old and new in Japan fascinates me and ignites my passion for studying Japanese.

I am interested in sectors of international relations, education and business, and the language skills I have gained from my studies will contribute to kickstarting a career in these areas. Moreover, the skills I am learning on exchange such as international understanding, compassion, communication, dedication, and diverse thought processes are imperative to careers in international spaces and contribute to expanding my horizons and capabilities.  

I am having an unforgettable experience here in Japan, and for anyone who is thinking of participating in an exchange, I strongly recommend Asia as a destination to embark on a study-abroad journey.

Numerous valuable skills can be added to your repertoire, and your senses alongside your imagination can have wonderful and delightful encounters!

Japan Study Grants are kindly funded by Nakashimato Co Ltd. of Japan.