Waseda University is one of the top universities in Japan. Waseda University also has the most international students in Japan, with 7,942 international students in 2019. But beyond the numbers, what is it really like to study in Waseda as an international student? We interviewed Waseda student Amarlin Amarsaikhan from Mongolia. She told us the story of why she decided to study in Waseda and what it has been like for her to live in the bustling city of Tokyo.

Why Waseda?

Ami with fellow Waseda students during a trip outside Tokyo

Amarlin Amarsaikhan or Ami is from Ulaanbaatar City, which is Mongolia’s capital city. She came to Japan in 2018 to study at Waseda University’s School Political Science and Economics English Degree Program. She majors in Economics and is currently in her second year.

Students who have interests in studying abroad have several reasons for choosing a university. The location is a big factor, along with reputation, the courses, and the programs offered by the university. For Ami, it was a mix of her familiarity with Japan and the sense of security that the country offers.

“The main reason why I decided to go to Japan was that my parents’ work was related to Japan. Since when I was a child, I felt really attached to Japan and thought maybe it’s a good idea to pursue higher education there. Also, Japan is really safe and clean, it’s known in the world for that, so I was really happy to enjoy my university years in such a beautiful country.”

The conveniences, good infrastructure, and security Japan offered, on top of the prestige of Waseda, were too good for Ami to pass up. Even though she also got accepted into other prestigious schools, such as New York University and Seoul National University, Ami chose to study at Waseda University.

“I think the Japanese health care system is really developed, and if you get sick, basically the hoken (health insurance) covers 70 percent of it. I think that’s a huge plus for international students where medical fees can be a real headache in various scenarios. You never know what might happen.”

What aspects of Waseda University that you find special?

“I think its position in central Tokyo, like the ease of everything. You can go everywhere, and being at the center of Tokyo is such a great benefit. And the international community is the biggest in Japan among all universities, which is really nice.”

Overcoming Challenges: Adjusting to a New Life

Ami posing with a friend from Mongolia. Ami says students from abroad will surely find friends who they can talk to in their mother tongue.

Studying abroad is one of the best opportunities to learn and develop personally, academically, and professionally, but it is not without challenges. Adjusting to a new life, new customs, new systems, and a new social circle can be daunting at first. Also, very few Japanese people speak English. Although this is improving, as the nation has been preparing for the now postponed Summer Olympics, it is still hard to get by if you don’t know any Japanese. Ami shares how she adjusted to her new life in Waseda.

“The challenge was that I only knew English when I came here. Maybe I could say konnichiwa, and that was it. So many announcements, so many things were in Japanese. For instance, introductions for Sakuru katsudo (university club activities) were usually in Japanese, so it’s really hard to grasp what’s happening if you don’t have any Japanese friends. This was quite tough at first. But then, I started taking Japanese language classes at the CJL (Center for Japanese Language) at Waseda, so my Japanese language level began to improve.”

Managing the Cost of Living in Tokyo

When the sky is clear, Ami gets a view of Mt. Fuji from her dormitory

While Japan is a developed country with a good healthcare system and infrastructure, it also comes at a price. Having a good standard of living most often means that the cost of living is high. This is true in Japan, especially in the capital city of Tokyo, which often ranks in the top ten most expensive cities in the world to live in. The good thing is that it is not difficult to find part-time employment in Japan, especially for students.

“One thing that I did not expect was I did so many part-time jobs for the last year and a half. But it really helped me to grow as a person and to be integrated into Japanese society, so it was really a valuable opportunity. It was hard, but it was valuable. I worked at SchooLynk since last January.  At first, I was a content writer, then I took a break for some time, and now I do marketing.  I advertise and connect Mongolian students in Japan to Doorkel’s (Schoolynk) internships. That’s one of my part-time jobs, but now I also tutor kids English and Math. Also, I tried working at a fast-food chain, in a hotel, and at a resort.”

Connecting to Communities in Tokyo

A snapshot of Ami with her friends during a night jog

“For me, I’m not in any official circles of Waseda because I generally do not have time for it. But I also really like running and jogging. I found Nike Campus Athletes in Tokyo where university students join and run. Before corona, it used to happen every Tuesday. You meet at Ōtemachi Station, and then you run around Marunouchi and Tokyo eki. It’s called Tuesday Night Run by NCA. I really like it.”

Finding a community that shares her interests makes Ami’s study abroad experience all the more fruitful.

“I haven’t joined that many times, but I still really enjoy it. So for anyone who’s planning to come to Japan, like if you’re worried that you won’t make friends or that you won’t find a community that would share an interest as you, I want to say it’s not true, and you’ll find a community that will accept you.”

Going for the gold!

If you are interested in studying abroad in Japan, Ami’s advice is to just go ahead and don’t be afraid to try.

  • First things first, no need to be intimidated, no need to get scared. For me, by the end of twelfth grade, I still didn’t know what to pursue in university. My friends were saying, ‘Oh, I want to study biology,’ or ‘I want to study marketing.’ But I honestly didn’t know anything. I couldn’t decide on anything. Then I came across Waseda’s School Political Science and Economics English degree program, and I really liked it because it could foster my various interests. I’m really interested in so many things. For some people, their only interest is in economics. The goal is clear cut. They want to be an investment banker or something of that sort.”

While Ami has had her fair share of uncertainty when choosing what she wanted to become in the future, she stayed honest to her interests and found the perfect program for her in Waseda, which allows her to develop her skills and overlapping interests in economics, journalism, and foreign languages.

“When I was in high school, I used to be the president of a journalism club in my school, so I was really interested in journalism. Then, through my AP classes, I got to learn economics and enjoyed it a lot. Then I thought if I chose Waseda, I can gain an education in both economics and politics, which is really interdisciplinary and related to each other. It might be really good preparation for the future. I looked at the syllabus, and there was also a journalism class. I’m also really interested in learning languages, and Waseda offered language education for so many languages, so I’m very happy with it.”

Onward to the Next Challenge

Ami wearing a kimono

What is your plan for the coming months?

“I see studying in university as a time to get to know who you are, to know your interests and really develop them, and to grow personally. Among my classes, I have been really liking my finance classes, including my seminar in corporate finance. On top of that, it’s going to be JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) season in December, so I have to prepare. I’m planning to give N2 a try. It seems hard, but I have to.”

JLPT is the official standardized test that certifies one’s Japanese language ability. There are five tests depending on the proficiency level, which goes from N5 to N1, wherein N1 is the highest level. After only two years, Ami is now set on getting an N2 certificate. Talk about having a growth mindset!

With Ami’s story, we can see how her journey from Ulaanbaatar to Tokyo is nothing compared to how much farther she can still go as she continues to develop herself and pursue her curiosities in the world. Studying abroad in Japan is just a step in her lifelong journey.

Ami, thank you for sharing your study abroad in Japan experience, and we wish you all the best!