Nguyen Mai Tran

Date: SP2, 2017
Degree Program: Bachelor of Management (Marketing), Bachelor of International Relations
Host University: Rikkyo University
Host Country: Japan

Why did you choose your host university?

I chose Rikkyo University (Japan) because I wanted to learn and experience more of the culture. I have previously been to Japan on a short holiday before the exchange however, there was so much more I wanted to do but so little time. This exchange was the perfect opportunity to discover, learn and experience more at a good pace. I was also given the opportunity to make friends with local Japanese students as well as other exchange students around the world.

What was the university like?

Nguyen Mai Tran 1University life was really good. The Ikebukuro campus was beautiful and everyone was really nice and friendly. The classes were easy to find and navigate to after the orientation sessions. The classes were an adequate size. The level of difficulty was manageable however the study load was more than I expected due to course equivalences between universities. Usually in UniSA we do 4 subjects with 4 tutorials. However in Japan, they do not have tutorials. I had to complete a total of 10 courses (20 credits) to make up a full-semester load for UniSA credits. Even through the study load was more than I expected, I still was able to go and pursue travelling and explore Japan by using good time management and organisational skills. It was all made possible.

Attendance to classes is mandatory and they do keep roll call to ensure you come to classes. However, some do not take the roll so you just need to go to the classes to figure out which ones don’t. Assessments are not too difficult but it helps to be organised and understand what you need to do and plan ahead. It really made things much easier for me. Everything is mostly online in terms of resources however some subjects may require a textbook and the classes do not provide ‘lecture recordings’ online. There are English books provided in the library for research, you just need to ask where they are. There is an international student exchange office in the McKim Hall that deals with any type of problems if you need help with. However, some things you may have to do on your own thus it might be helpful to ask your assigned buddy or Japanese friend to help you. Another useful tip, if you do not own a laptop, it is not a problem. At Rikkyo there are lots of laptops you can use as well as borrow from the university for on campus or take home. But if you have your own that would make it lot easier.

What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

From my exchange experience, I learnt how to be a better problem solver, how to deal with complicated situations better and learnt how to be patient when things do not go the way I want to. It has also changed my perspective in how I view foreigners and student exchangers, in which I can see their perspectives on how difficult it was for them to come to a foreign country and not understand the language and communicate properly. Therefore, I want to become more helpful to others who are dealing with the same problems as I have personally experience this myself.

Nguyen Mai Tran 2What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

There were 3 dormitory buildings that Rikkyo University provided for students could live in. It is affordable from what other fellow exchange students have told me. However, some students did receive the RUI scholarship that pays for the students accommodation for the whole semester. Some have meal plans and some do not have meal plans. However, there are kitchens provided if the student wants to make their own food. I stayed in an apartment with a fellow exchange student from UNISA. It was affordable to live in an apartment because I had the JASSO scholarship but I do recommended saving up extra money beforehand as you will be spending most of your money on tourist activities and transportation which can become costly over time, especially when on a ‘student visa’, you cannot purchase the JR pass to travel to far distances.

Overall I would recommend living in the dorm with other students because you are given more help from Japanese students while in the dorm which unfortunately, I did not get while being in an apartment as well as it allows you to connect with other exchange students and local Japanese students that you can ask for help from. Despite not living in the dorm I still made lots of friends in which I could ask for help from easily. Therefore it is essential for you to be open and friendly.

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

During the exchange, I just travelled within Japan. I do regret not leaving Japan to travel to other countries however, I did not feel like it was necessary because there is so much to do locally in Japan plus I did only have a limited amount of time to explore. You always have something new to discover and see. Especially if you’re on a budget, it’s probably likely you would want to stay within the country. I had the best time travelling to Nikko, Chichibu, Kyoto and Osaka and of course Tokyo. As mention above, the JR pass would have been really useful if I wasn’t on a student visa but it is just an expense you have to deal with and be prepared to pay for, if you were interested in going far distances which I highly recommend.

Nguyen Mai Tran 3Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

I definitely went through some culture shock. At the beginning where everything was new, exciting and everything that were culturally different was not a problem. However, overtime, I found myself being really irritated and annoyed due to my inability to do simply things back at home was more difficult especially with the language barrier. For example: asking for directions, not having a frame of references to shops I could buy groceries or school supplies etc. Essentially it was like learning everything for the first time. However, I just learnt to become patient and learn from these experiences and believe things will get a lot better over time and it really did. After that, I was able to feel a lot more comfortable and it didn’t bother me anymore.

Having internet on my phone really helped with navigating myself around and searching places or questions. Make sure you go to the orientation session as there is a session where the university will help set up a mobile sim for you to use. You pay there on the day so make sure you have cash. In terms of meeting new people, it was not difficult at all. What you need to understand is that everyone is going through the same experiences as you and I found that the best way to make friends at the beginning is to talk about some of the problems you’re having in terms of forms, housing arrangements, personal experiences in adapting to the new Japanese culture because its highly likely that will have something to comment on or provide advice. Going to the orientation sessions is one of the best way to make friends because that is where everyone will be but in the case of Rikkyo it is extremely important and mandatory to go to them.

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

The benefits from this exchange to my future career would be that it has taught me about culture differences and how awareness of these differences are really important, how to communicate more effectively verbally and non-verbally when language barriers are prevalent, it has allowed myself to become a better problem solver and made myself more independent. I have learnt how to work and communicate in groups. These are all qualities that are essential in the business world and can only be gained from this experience. The world is changing and becoming more internationalised. Therefore, it is important to gain this kind of knowledge and skills for the future.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

Just do it! It is an experience of a life time. It sets you apart from other students or applicants applying for the same job as you. It makes a good conversation starter. I never thought I would go through with it but it was so worth it. I did have some doubts, leaving a place where I was comfortable to somewhere I was a stranger to. However, what I’ve gained such as new experiences, friends, knowledge and skills made me believe this is the best decision I have ever made. I spoke to other people who have graduated and told me that they had regretted their decision to not go exchange to a different country after telling them my own personal experiences. But now, I can say I have friends all over the world and have the opportunity to visit them in the future.

Top Tips:
Learn the language there at the university. It was really useful in terms of content they teach you. I personally did the beginners class – J0 Survival for Japanese daily life.

This was the MOST useful class as it teaches you the common vocabulary and phrases when living in Japan. The class is really fun and I would say I made some really good friends in that class compared to my other classes.

Areas of study and research

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