The Real Japanese Cultural Experience: Part 1

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Hi everyone! This blog post and the next will be about the real Japanese cultural experience – my everyday life as a student at a Japanese language school! My study abroad program has actually already ended, so these blog posts will also be a kind of reflection on my time as a student in Japan.

I chose to study at KCP International in Shinjuku, Tokyo, because it is one of the highest rated study abroad programs out there. I must say, I was not disappointed. When I got to KCP, after attending a welcome ceremony for the US program students in which various things were explained (curriculum and syllabus, rules, Japanese etiquette, etc.), I took grammar, listening, and speaking placement tests. Then I was placed into a group session, appropriate to my level, with other American students.

The group session was basically a two-week-long, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, intensive review of all the material studied in previous levels, to prepare everyone to start learning new material. In the group sessions we were allowed to use English sometimes, though we were encouraged to use only Japanese. We reviewed grammatical sentence patterns, verb and adjective conjugations, and so much more. We also practiced our speaking skills frequently. At the end of the two weeks, we took another placement test and were placed into classes according to our skill level.

(It was also during these first two weeks that I was subjected to the torture called rush hour. Read my blog post called “Well, I Thought I was Immune to Cultural Shock” to find out more.)

After taking the placement test, I was placed into a Level 2 class of about maybe eighteen students (FYI: KCP has 7 levels and at least a few classes of each level). For the next six weeks, I studied with students who were mainly from Korea and China. I was the only American and the only English-speaking person in my class (which was pretty difficult to say the least). We had class from Monday to Friday, three hours a day, in which we were not allowed to speak anything besides Japanese. Every day started with announcements: fun events like festivals and free museum and movie ticket raffle announcements, club activity announcements (Soccer Club, Newspaper Club, Koto Club, Tea Ceremony Club, Singing Club, and more!), and the occasional “Please be careful not to get heatstroke, it’s very hot outside”, “Please be careful of the typhoon today”, “Please keep the bathrooms clean!”, or “Please make sure to separate the trash into the correct trash cans!”. Then the instructor would begin teaching.

My (not so) beloved textbooks

Every day we practiced speaking, learned kanji (Chinese characters), and learned grammar. We also had listening exercises a few times a week and a writing exercise every Tuesday, in which we had to write an essay in class about a specific topic. We would also, of course, get a lot of homework every day. We were expected to at least study an additional three hours every day outside of class. I can tell you that many of the students were doing much more than that! I felt that the homework we were given was exactly what we needed to review and strengthen the material learned in class. So, although it was difficult at times, and there were days when I got very few hours of sleep, I really appreciated it.

We also had tests three times a week: one grammar, one speaking, and one kanji test. The grammar tests were usually 20-30min long, the kanji tests were usually 10min long, and the speaking tests were usually 5min long. Each of the tests consisted of material learned the week before. Although it was pretty nerve-racking having to take tests so frequently, I think that this helped me to hyper-focus on my studies since I could never afford to slack off. I was constantly studying and trying my best, rather than cramming a ton of material before the tests.

Okey dokey, I’ll stop here for now. In my next blog post, I’ll continue to write about my everyday life as a student at a Japanese language school. Ja, mina-san, mattane! See you next time!