“Studying abroad is a wonderful experience. It helps you grow immensely both academically and personally.” –Vijayeta Lapalkar, MEXT (Monbukagakusho) Scholar, Kyushu University
Studying in Japan is an adventure of a lifetime. Whether you came here for the culture, to study a specific course in a university, or to experience living out of your comfort zone, Japan is one of the best places to be in. It’s really yabai (crazy/fun)! There are a lot of beautiful views, interesting places, funny moments, and of course, challenging times. But all of these are part of an experience that will make you grow and strengthen you as a person.
Most of the foreigners studying in Japan are in Tokyo, the capital and the largest city. However, Tokyo is very dense and urban. Just as any mega-city, Tokyo life can sometimes be really fast-paced. If you’re not the type of person who wants this kind of life, preferring a less urban and a more laid back environment, you may want to consider studying outside of Tokyo. There are lots of excellent universities located outside of Japan’s capital that offer more access to nature, milder weather, a unique environment, and “warmer” city culture. Tokyo is also the most expensive city to live in Japan so this is another consideration for choosing to study in another city.
In this article, we’re going to show you what it’s like studying at Kyushu University, also known as Kyudai. Here’s a glimpse of the MEXT experience of scholars at Kyudai to show you the nuances of life in Japan, outside of Tokyo.
Kyushu University is located in Fukuoka City, in Fukuoka prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. Scholar YT Locke says Fukuoka is a good city to live in. “Fukuoka has a lower cost of living compared to Tokyo and Osaka,” says Locke. “Fukuoka City’s size is balanced, not too dense and crowded. People in Fukuoka are friendly and more connected to each other. The subway line here is not complicated, and it is easy to travel from one place to another. Moreover, Fukuoka is rarely hit by disasters. The weather is generally mild all over the year. The temperature ranges from 4 degrees Celsius during winter to 33 degrees Celsius during summer.”
The weather and environment was also a reason why Ronald Bual, a Filipino MEXT scholar, found Fukuoka a conducive place for learning. “Coming from a tropical country, I prefer warmer weather,” Bual expounds. “I find it amusing and beautiful being far from a highly urbanized and populated zone. The campus was surrounded by trees and carved by beautiful landscapes that are fresh and appealing to the eyes.”
Get By by Increasing your Social Capital (in short, make friends!)
As a MEXT scholar, you are expected to study hard and maintain your grades. You are expected to be independent and personally coordinate with your home university aside from getting your own place (whether in a dorm or apartment), registering in the city hall, apply for insurance and all the other responsibilities of a student visa holder in Japan. To cope with these responsibilities and the challenges of being independent in a foreign country, MEXT students should find ways to increase their social capital to help them get by.
Circles or clubs are ways to easily get into social groups. Clubs are extracurricular groups officially sanctioned by universities while circles are informal and student-led. They play a large part in Japanese university life. Md Tapan Mahmud from Bangladesh says, “My social circle includes the international students that I met from the intensive Japanese language course. These are the people with whom I went beyond the boundary of Kyushu University for the first time. I developed a nice rapport with them during our guided tour at the beginning of the program, which was part of our culture course.” Ye Lwin from Myanmar agrees. “I sometimes volunteer and participate in travel programs in seeking new friendship circles and making more friends,” Ye adds.
Luis Hernandez says that these social groups also help with language and cultural exchange, “What I did was join clubs to interact with Japanese… due to clubs being a serious activity in Japan. In addition, I joined the “English coffee time” where Japanese people who are interested in practicing their skills in talking to their international friends. I am also not a native English speaker, so it helps me to practice too. I am also able to practice my Japanese. Also, as there are few people from my country, I act as an ambassador sharing the Latin culture. I volunteer to teach Spanish to Japanese people who have been studying by themselves. It makes me happy to meet people who are interested in my mother language.”
Ronald also recommends getting in touch with the university associations, “…thanks to Kyushu University Foreign Students’ Association, I met plenty of students from all around the globe to share my experiences with and made friends for a lifetime.”
Aside from the serious stuff, of course, you should find ways to unwind, Luis adds, “Since I am from Mexico, I like to go dancing in clubs and have some drinks with friends or go to Karaoke to get out the stress of the week.”
As you can see, students try to maximize their MEXT experience by going outside the academe from time to time, creating a more holistic learning environment for themselves. Socialization plays a big part in taking care of your own wellbeing. YT says, “My advice is to be proactive in participating in events and do not always just focus on study.”
For Ronald, he thinks that this social capital might actually help you in the future, “It is important to socialize. I think that having an international network of people may help you with your career in the future.”
Go to the Beach! (And Other Activities Outside the University)
Kyudai is located near the beach. It’s always a good idea to take advantage of this opportunity to immerse yourself in nature to destress or just to enjoy yourself. Luis Hernandez says, “After the first six months, I moved to Imajuku, a beachside place, 6km from the campus. Yes, the beach! I am living in a private apartment almost in front of the beach. It’s what makes this place perfect for summer.” Ye adds, “Sometimes, I go to the beach and forests in exploring new places. Fukuoka and Itoshima have a long coast.”
From skating to camping, Fukuoka boasts of different activities and unique places to visit. Ronald says, “My friends and I went on a trip using a camping van around Kyushu island. We visited some tourist spots in Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Oita prefectures during our 5-day trip. It was definitely one of the most memorable experiences in my life. Aside from this, we have also organized group dinners, over-the-house invites for drinking, birthday parties, and to top it all, we made a skating team.”
You’ll be surprised what you can become in Fukuoka just like YT Loke, who even became a local ambassador! “I became the tourism ambassador of Itoshima City last year through the university. The aim of the program is to visit places in Itoshima and promote it through online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I visited Itoshima’s famous red rice paddy field, Himejima island and many local product shops. Besides Itoshima’s famous landmarks, I also got to make mochi, wooden and ceramic handicrafts. The experience I had from this program is very valuable.”
Festivals are also part of the culture in Fukuoka. YT says, “As a foreign student, I always look for events to participate in Fukuoka such as the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, Saga International Balloon Fiesta, and Nishinihon Ohori Firework.”
MEXT gives you a stipend that is enough for you to be able to treat yourself once in a while. Students sometimes go to the downtown area of Fukuoka city, Tenjin and Hakata, to shop or just stroll around. YT says, “I normally spend my weekend by walking around Hakata and Tenjin. Tenjin and Hakata area is full of shopping malls, retail stores, restaurants, cinemas, and bars. I was able to spend the whole day just walking in this area. It takes 30 minutes by subway from Kyudai.”
Speaking of weekends, Ronald finds time to go to church and shop or go to the movies afterward, a common activity in his country, the Philippines. “My professor usually reminded me to enjoy holidays and weekends. Apart from my usual Sunday visit to the church, I dedicate my weekends to shopping. I go to the supermarket for groceries and department stores for my clothing and personal needs. On some occasions, I invite friends to come over to my place and cook for them. Also, if there are good movies, weekends are the perfect time to watch them.”
To sum it up, Ronald says, “Overall, the work environment was easy-going, stress-free, and educational. I strongly recommend Kyushu University to everyone, to students, professors and researchers.”
I hope that you get a sense of what it is for a MEXT scholar to live in Fukuoka, specifically the student life at Kyushu University. While all stories here are all from Kyudai, other top universities in Fukuoka that are worth mentioning include Kyushu Institute of Technology, Fukuoka University, Fukuoka Institute of Technology, Kyushu Sangyo University, Seinan Gakuin University, The University of Kitakyushu, University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan, Fukuoka University of Education, and Fukuoka Women’s University.
Disclaimer: This article was not sponsored by Kyushu University, nor any of the universities mentioned above