Asian Studies

Statements from Alumni

Alumni statements on their year abroad in Japan

Chris Aien - MA (Hons) Japanese - Graduated 2011

"... It felt good to be using the language at a kind of level that wasn’t just “survival Japanese” but instead to communicate and understand various complex ideas and opinions."

Chris Aien

I spent my year abroad studying at Gakushuin University in Tokyo. During this time I lived in a residential area around fifteen or twenty minutes from the main campus. The majority of international students studying at Gakushuin lived here, which meant that it was very easy to meet new people who were in the same boat as me.

Despite having a very small number of foreign students, Gakushuin University has a good international relations office, which became the go-to place for assistance, information or simply to meet new people. The international relations office also occasionally put on bus trips around Japan, allowing students to go to places they would otherwise never have the opportunity to see.

Outside of this office, the university is in no way geared towards English-speaking students - everything is conducted in Japanese. While this was initially very daunting, it did encourage me to utilise my Japanese in a practical way and after a few weeks I had become used to it. The very low population of international students also means that if you want to meet new people and properly participate in campus life then speaking Japanese is essential. Again, this was initially quite difficult but became easier over time and greatly improved my language skills.

It felt very satisfying to be utilising the information I had learnt in first and second year at Edinburgh in a practical way. I also joined a couple of music clubs and circles on campus, which was both a good experience and great for my Japanese. This, more than anything else, made me feel really immersed in Japanese life. It felt good to be using the language at a kind of level that wasn’t just “survival Japanese” but instead to communicate and understand various complex ideas and opinions. It was rewarding to have it taken for granted that I understood what was being said.

To conclude, I had a really good year studying at Gakushuin University and if you make the effort to get involved in campus activities and speak to Japanese students then you can not only improve your language skills immensely but also have some great experiences.

Al Blackshaw - MA (Hons) Japanese - Graduated 2007

"... The first two years of the degree had provided me with vast amounts of information about Japan, so I was confident that Kyoto was the right place for me to live and I was right".

Al Blackshaw

I had never been to Japan before my year abroad, when I spent one year in Kyoto. The first two years of the degree had provided me with vast amounts of information about Japan, so I was confident that Kyoto was the right place for me to live and I was right. I was lucky enough to be placed in student accommodation in a rural area in the south, so I had to use my Japanese constantly from day one.

The local residents were very friendly and inquisitive - I was often approached in the supermarket by people who were eager to hear about where I was from and was quite regularly told that I was the first person from Scotland they had ever met! With the amazingly efficient Japanese train service, I was able to reach the city centre with ease and thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of central Kyoto. One minute you could be walking down a bustling electronics shopping district, before turning a corner and finding yourself in the grounds of an ancient temple or shrine.

I will never cease to be amazed by the friendliness of the Kyoto people and it wasn't long before I found myself able to have confident conversations in Japanese. My year in Kyoto was the best year of my life and I would definitely consider moving there permanently in the future.