Case Study: Exchange in Japan
Preparing for Exchange in Japan
by Ousmane from London
Ousmane from London departed for a 3 month exchange in Japan at the end of November 2020. He was originally scheduled to depart in March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to his program being postponed and then cancelled. Thankfully, when Japan re-opened it’s borders in September, Ousmane was still able to get permission from his school to travel and our Japanese partner was able to welcome him. Ousmane was so keen to go that he waited patiently and didn’t give up hope, and his patience has paid off as he tells us how he has prepared for his departure and how he feels after the long delay.
What made you choose to go to Japan for a high school exchange?
I was introduced to Japanese culture from a young age by my cousins. This was mainly through the Ghibli movies at first. One of my cousins was actually meant to go on a high school exchange to Fukushima when she was 17 but it got cancelled due to the unfortunate nuclear reactor incident. At first Japan just seemed like a beautiful landscape with brilliant architecture, but when I was older and more informed, I found it to be a beautiful country filled with brilliant culture and people and more. In the past 5 years I have gotten really into Japanese TV shows and dramas, Japanese anime and Japanese music which has inspired me to learn instruments such as piano and guitar mainly. Hence naturally my love for Japan has increased vastly over the years. Japan has always interested me as it seems so different to my home country England and I love change and new experiences so I thought it would be the perfect country to go on exchange to.
How much of the Japanese language do you know and how have you been preparing?
I currently know all of the basics (Hiragana, Katakana) but only around 200 Kanji. In terms of listening, I would say I can understand slow conversation and in terms of speaking I would say I could get across my point when trying to talk to someone in Japanese (although very often I forget specific words and need to look it up in a dictionary and such). I have been studying for the last 3-4 years on and off although the first 2 years or so was spent on very basic things like the scripts and basic vocabulary. After that I spent time on Kanji, grammar and writing. I have been self-taught all these years, but I could have been so much better if I had consistently studied rather than it being an on and off study. I pick things up quickly so I believe I will learn the most in those first few weeks of being in Japan.
Where in Japan will you live and what are your host family like?
I will have to quarantine for 2 weeks in Tokyo due to COVID-19, but after that I will be going to the Hyogo prefecture. My host family is in Kakogawa city and my school is in Kobe city which are both very beautiful mountainous areas. In my host family I have 2 brothers Takaya and Haruto (younger and same age), a Mother, Father and Grandmother. Over the last 2-3 weeks before departure I have grown especially close to my younger host brother Takaya as I will be going to the same school as him. I haven’t had a lot of chances to speak to the rest of the family as they are really busy in these times, Haruto with exams and the parents with work. Despite this the conversations I have had with the family were very welcoming and every family member is very nice and helpfully. I’m very excited to see them all in real life in about 2 weeks time.
Your departure to Japan was delayed because of the pandemic, how has it been waiting for your departure to arrive?
It is very unfortunate and is a tough time for everyone in the world. I was actually meant to be in a different area [for my departure in March], which unfortunately got cancelled due to COVID, but for me there is neither area I would prefer; I’m just grateful to have this opportunity. At times I felt like giving up, as the delays were pretty much from the start of quarantine back in March, however I can’t even begin to explain how supportive and helpful MyEducation staff were and still are.
Why did you decide to carry on with the exchange once Japan opened its borders for arrivals?
It has always been a dream of mine to go to Japan when I’m still young, if not old. Therefore, even after all of that’s happened, I came to the conclusion that my want to have this experience has not waivered even if it will be different due to COVID. In addition to this I wanted something good to come from all of what’s happened this year and so when Japan reopened its borders it was the perfect opportunity.
How do you feel about having to quarantine in a hotel in Japan?
Contrary to popular belief I actually feel quite good about being in a hotel in Japan for 2 weeks. I have been told that the partners have been kind enough to allow me to go to the office there which is a bonus in my opinion. I have already got a lot of things planned out for the hotel such as working out and getting a little used to Japan before I officially start the program.
How has MyEducation helped to prepare you for this exchange?
MyEducation has been beyond helpful and supportive especially for this specific exchange. A lot of the little things that MyEducation does really helps like checking up on certain things such as uniform you would need to take and the visa and such. The information calls that we had and the booklets that were given to us really helped in preparing for departure. On top of that they even gave me the opportunity to talk to a previous exchange student from Japan which really helped as I could understand what I was getting myself into. There was also a lot of setbacks first being my school agreeing to let me go, and then the fact that my exchange was meant to be in March which was when the pandemic started, however MyEducation were constantly supportive and doing things that we didn’t expect them to do like phoning the Japanese embassy every day to see when they are open. This really showed how much they care, and I feel like if this was another company then ultimately the exchange would have had to have been cancelled. I cannot express how thankful I am to them and their kindness and supportiveness.
What are you most looking forward to about the exchange experience?
I am looking forward to a lot of things that Japan has to offer. From the general landscape to the food and more. I would say I’m really looking forward to establishing a lot of friendships and my experiences with them as well as my experiences with my host family. I am planning to take a lot pictures not just to share with my family and friends and home but also to keep as memories of this unreal experience.
What do you hope to learn from the exchange?
In the grand scheme of things, I hope to become a lot more independent as I believe this experience will get me prepared for what’s to happen later on in life. More specifically I hope to better improve my Japanese language skill and my socialising skills. I believe that in a different country with people who have not a lot of English under their belt, I am forced to bring out my best capacity which at sometimes surprises myself. My family used to travel to Africa every year and no one there could speak English, but I found my time in Africa taught me a lot of things about the way people interact and how language is a very important hurdle to cross when understanding someone. I believe when in Japan I shall learn a lot more about others as well as a lot more about myself.
MyEducation would like to thank Ousmane and his Mum, Hanna, for their patience and understanding as we worked to try and get Ousmane away on exchange. They were always supportive of us and never got frustrated about the change in circumstance, which was very much appreciated as so much was out of our control. MyEducation is also grateful to our Japanese partner for being willing and able to restart their programs once the border opened and for welcoming and supporting Ousmane through his quarantine period. To Miho and Sachie we specifically say thank you.
Have a wonderful exchange Ousmane and we hope you get all the experiences you have been looking forward to and we can’t wait to see the photos!