Andrea Fortner - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to study abroad?

As an international studies/Asian studies major, it was a requirement of my major to study abroad. Up to this point in my life, I had traveled abroad a few times and had made it a goal of mine to study abroad during college.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s direct enrollment program in Nagoya?

At my university the only programs that were offered for Japan were in Tokyo and Nagoya. The largest concentration of international students and sight-seers in Japan are located in Tokyo. I wanted to try to avoid the capital and go somewhere off the beaten path. For that reason, I chose Nagoya. Nagoya is a large city with plenty to do, just without all the tourists.

My second reason for choosing this program is that Nanzan University in Nagoya has a New intensive Japanese language program that all international students enroll in. Since I was only staying for a semester I wanted to make the most out of my time there and immerse myself in the language as much as possible.

Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Japan

Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Hiroshima

What was your favorite part about Nagoya?

The university and my dorm were located in a wonderful part of the town. From where I was living it only took me about 20 minutes to get to the downtown area. There were also many stores near the university so it was a very convenient place to stay.

What made your program experience unique?

We had three trips that our program took us on during the semester. Most of us students were very busy with our studies and didn't get many opportunities to travel throughout the country, so these trips that our program organized were an amazing advantage.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff were absolutely amazing! They were the nicest people who always did everything they could to help us adjust or solve any issues we had. At the end of the semester, when I decided to stay in Japan a little longer to do an internship, one of the local staff members was very helpful in helping me organize my move to a different city.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

One thing that I wish I would have done differently is to get more involved in activities. I did go to some events, but there were also other events that I wish I had had more time to participate in. During the spring semester at Nanzan University, the Japanese students are actually on break for most of the semester and so I wish I had been able to attend more of the events that would have let me interact with more of the Japanese students.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

Depending on what your living situation is the day starts with either a short walk to the school or a commute. Japanese language classes start shortly after 9 a.m. every day. Communication classes are every day and reading and writing classes are three days a week. After Japanese classes I would normally go get lunch with some friends, and then go to my other classes, such as calligraphy, woodblock printing, Japanese economy, etc.

After classes ended for the day I would return home and cook dinner (I lived in the international dorm). After dinner I would spend the next four or five hours doing homework for Japanese classes and preparing for any upcoming presentations.

What was your favorite thing to do on your free time?

Traveling. Photography is one of my hobbies, and so traveling was one of my favourite activities. I loved being able to see how cities and ways of life differed between locations.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived in Nagoya Koryu Kaikan, one of the two international dorms that Nanzan University has. I was one of three people in my apartment (they usually have four people but there were fewer international students in the spring semester). The thing that I liked best about it was that I was able to follow my own schedule, cook for myself, and had a very short walk to the university every morning.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Nagoya?

Do some research and see what things you can buy in Japan and what things you should stock up on before you go. Packing too much just makes the travel less enjoyable. Winter and early spring in Nagoya can be pretty cold and wet. The temps might not go that low but none of the class buildings have central heating, thus making it seem a lot colder than it really is. It will most likely rain a lot so be prepared weather-wise.

Nagoya Castle in Japan

Nagoya Castle

What was the hardest part about studying abroad in Japan?

I think for me the hardest part was staying ahead and on top of my homework. The language program I was enrolled in really was intensive and they assigned a lot of homework every day. It wasn't unmanageable, but I did have to put in a lot of time to keep up. I placed into the ​500 level course and as I quickly learned, there was a big gap between the 400 and the 500 levels. So in the beginning I had to do a lot of work to catch up to where the professors expected us to be. 

Also, with classes being held every day for one and half to three hours we had a lot of time to work on skills that I had not been able to at my home university. These were all good aspects because they helped me improve my language skills, but they were also the hardest part.

What surprised you most about Nagoya?

I was surprised by how much I ending up liking the city. I'm from a rural part of the Midwest, so I'm not accustomed to large cities, but the transportation in Nagoya was really easy to use and made it easy for me to get around. Nagoya is a large city, but there are also a surprisingly small number of tourists. Many of the people I encountered there assumed that I spoke at least some Japanese, which was a nice contrast to how it usually is in major tourist cities. All of these things were a nice surprise for me since it was not the experience I was expecting.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

This obviously varies depending on each person's language ability, but for me it was not that difficult. In the beginning it took a little bit of time to get used to the native speaking speed, but after I adjusted to that it was no issue. Sometimes I did meet people who would not enunciate as clearly and I occasionally had trouble understanding them but in general communication was not a huge problem.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

Studying abroad takes independence to a whole new level. Suddenly you're in another country and you have to do everything from buying groceries to signing up and paying for health insurance all on your own, and usually in a foreign language. You learn to tackle situations you might previously not have thought possible.

Now that you're home, how has studying abroad impacted your life?

I feel that I have definitely gained a new sense of independence and responsibility from living abroad. My confidence in myself has grown immensely. I've managed to navigate some of the busiest cities, stations, and airports in the world all in another language. From someone who comes from a small town in the Midwest, that was a large feat.

What is one thing you wish you would've know before studying abroad in Japan?

I wish I would've know how few opportunities there would be to interact with the local people and students. Unfortunately, the spring semester for IES Abroad does not match up with the national semester period, so most of the semester the Japanese students were on their break. I wish I would've know to take advantage of every opportunity because there would be so few of them.

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

Absolutely! IES Abroad did a great job of organizing everything for us. The local staff are some of the best and nicest people that I met in Japan and they were always willing to help us with anything we needed. I couldn't have asked for a better program or staff!

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

This is such a hard question for me because, if possible, I would love to stay a college student forever and continually study in new places every year. But since I do understand the language, I would like to study abroad in Japan again, but maybe somewhere rural. I would love to be able to see a different part of Japan than what I saw this time.