I had to write a study report for the people givng me my scholarship. As it basically sums up the year (classes are done. I’m on holiday now), i’ll post it here too for prospective students attending Kyoto next year. Please bear in mind that it will hopefully have changed by the time you get there. If not, god help you.
As a town, Obaku does not have a lot going on for university students, at least not in my experience. There is a Kyoto university campus in Obaku, but it is solely for post-graduate study and therefore irrelevant to me. There are convenience stores between five to ten minutes away by foot, depending which one you go to, a super market about the same distance away, and a large department store a little further on. There are a primary, middle, and high school surrounding the dormitory, so there are a lot of students at the shops or on the train.
The dormitory itself is quite nice. Each room is en suite, and has a small cooker and sink. The cooker only has on hob though, so making meals that have noodles or rice in them is a pain. Each room comes with air conditioning, but the walls are not insulated so it gets very cold during winter and very hot during summer. Each room has a balcony, though since I was on the ground floor I had a lot of bugs on mine a lot of the time. There is a common room, with chairs, a television, and a ping pong table, but it closes at 10pm, which was annoying since people who did not finish university until 6pm would not be home until about 8pm.
Living in Obaku/Kyoto
The commute I think was far too great a distance to have a university dormitory. Provided you arrived when a train was arriving, it takes about 40 minutes to get from Obaku station to Demachiyanagi station, the one closest to university, and there is a 10-minute walk to and from both stations. In the same time, I can get to the centre of Osaka, using the same line. The commute was a real bother when trying to arrange outings with friends or having to wake up very early to make it to morning classes. Dormitories for Japanese students are literally across the street from the main campus, though admittedly they are a lot more expensive.
Kyoto itself is very pretty. I enjoy going to temples and shrines, and the city has a much more relaxed feeling to it than Tokyo does. The food is absolutely fantastic, although the current exchange rate makes it more expensive than Manchester by quite a bit. I love Japan’s open-all-hours restaurants and convenience stores, and am not looking forward to returning to England where shops close at 5pm.
I understand why, but as a foreigner I am constantly being looked at. With less than 5% of the population being foreigners, it is understandable why the Japanese will stare at foreigners, especially European ones. Surprisingly, older Japanese people seem to have less fear of me than the younger Japanese do, and children do not understand society well enough to know when to stop staring at all. I have become accustomed to it, and frankly if staring at me is all they are going to do, it’s fine when compared to what could happen to me in Manchester, but it is still extremely annoying when people actually move carriages on the train to get away from me, or school students begin talking about me assuming I don’t understand Japanese. But, again, it is understandable, and sometimes older people will start conversations with me which is nice (even if I cannot follow their Kansai accent very well).
Kyoto University and Courses
Kyoto University is quite pretty, but there always seemed to be some construction going on so I could not get a complete view of the campus. I was enrolled on a course called KUINEP, the Kyoto University International Exchange Programme, and most of my lectures took place in the International Building. The Foreign Student Division (FSD) has, on the whole, been very helpful during my stay here. They helped me with opening a bank account and other things, and were always ready to help.
Each semester, we had to do a minimum of 6 courses, taught in English through one 1½ hour class each week. On top of that, there was an optional Japanese Language course, itself a further 6 classes a week. Now, I should say first that I understand that KUINEP is set up to cater to as many international students as possible, who are all doing different degrees, and that this is all my personal opinion as a student doing Japanese as a degree, but the way the course is set up was a big problem for me.
Since my degree is Japanese, I came to Japan to learn Japanese. The information booklets we received from Kyoto university before arrival had suggested that the language classes could be used as part of the minimum requirement for the course (6 classes). However, myself and my classmates found out when we arrived that they were not. This meant that we would have to take 6 classes, in English, before we could think about our own degrees, as Manchester had stated that we had to meet all requirements put forth by Kyoto university as well. We asked if we could focus on language classes and maybe take 2 or 3 KUINEP classes, much like how our degree is set up in Manchester (and in Leeds, a student from there told me). Another student, from Canada and one of the only other students doing a degree in Japanese, was allowed to do what we proposed, but we were rejected. Firmly. At the same time, we were assigned a language class by the FSD, and were not allowed to change it. Unfortunately, the class we had been assigned to covered things we had already learnt, but we could not change language class either. I understand that most international students on the KUINEP course are not language majors, but a little flexibility would not have hurt.
The English-taught KUINEP classes were mostly based around economics or politics. There were a couple of classes about Japanese society and culture, but on the whole they focused on international economics and philosophy. Even classes with ‘Japanese’ in the course title talked solely about international affairs, and when they said ‘international’, they actually almost always meant American. Some of the classes were fun, some were boring. The workload was very high, though. This second semester, I have had to write the equivalent of almost two dissertations of the length I will have to write next year for my final year at Manchester. Even if I had solely taken classes in Manchester that were not language classes, such as Japanese history or culture, the total amount of coursework expected of me for a full year would still be lower than the amount I received each semester in Kyoto. Since I also needed to study Japanese for my degree in Manchester (through self-study), the amount of work I had to do for Kyoto, which had little/no bearing on my degree, was astounding. As a native English speaker, I cannot imagine how much harder it must have been for the other international students whose first language is not English.
The KUINEP programme is relatively new, maybe 3 years, so I understand that they are still working out the kinks, but it was annoying that I could not focus my efforts on my degree. Again, though, this is merely the opinion of one student on the programme and relates merely to my personal desires and expectations. As an international exchange programme in a non-English speaking country, it may be a good course for students of other degrees, but a little more flexibility could have made my time on the programme a lot easier.