Peta Waite - 2014 Program Participant

Backpackers bar in Japan

Painting the walls in a friend's backpacker's bar!

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

At the time I studied with Hokkaido Japanese Language School (JaLS) I was mid-way through writing my Masters thesis, and I had just relocated long-term to Japan. The summer prior to this I had travelled around Honshu for two months doing research and interviews with numerous projects and individuals and fallen in love with the country. To look for ways to move back seemed like the next natural step. To have an immersion in language study at the start of this process seemed like the subsequent one.

I combined language and cultural studies at JaLS with the final stages of writing my dissertation, and for me it was the perfect fit. I was writing a paper about young people who had disengaged with the formal education system in Japan, and at the same time was being stretched and challenged in my own language abilities, knowledge, and understanding of culture; and immersed in a whole host of opportunities to meet local people and put what I was learning into direct practice.

Why did you choose to study at Hokkaido Japanese Language School?

I chose Hokkaido JaLS because of their focus on combining small class sizes and intensive language study with social activities and natural opportunities to speak Japanese. Simply, at least in the first instance, JaLS looked fun, and I really believe that it's a vital part of making what is a long-term language learning process a lot more enjoyable. When I first made contact with the school to ask some initial questions they only reinforced my opinions. The team was helpful, quick to respond, and attentive to detail. They were also enthusiastic about their belief in holistic education, considering not only the classroom dynamics, but the selection of activities, cultural learning, housing, and wider support options for me as a student.

I had never visited Hokkaido before commencing this program, but having begun as a student with Hokkaido JaLS, I fell in love with many aspects of this beautiful area and never left. I've now lived in Sapporo since January 2014!

What is your favorite part about Sapporo?

Sapporo is a truly stunning place to live, work, and study. The city is vibrant, with a mixture of great nightlife, delicious food, new restaurants, music and arts, and entertainment. Hokkaido JaLS is in one of the most convenient locations in the city, only five minutes walk from both Sapporo and Odori stations, and close to the main shopping and restaurant districts. However, being placed in Hokkaido means that you are less than an hour drive or train ride away from some breathtaking natural scenery. There are fantastic onsen resorts, outdoor activities in both winter and summer (skiing, hiking and whitewater rafting have been some of my personal highlights), and some natural beauty that has amazed me in every season (again Furano, Niseko, Hakodate, and Lake Toya just start the list off)!

What makes Hokkaido JaLS unique?

I haven't seen or heard of another program like that on offer at Hokkaido JaLS. The school is an incredibly exciting place to be and an incredibly exciting place to learn. It’s a lot more than just a language school, and they offer a lot more than simply classroom based learning. Hokkaido JaLS is a space where local people and foreign students, or residents, come together to share learning, culture, and ideas. They have a great cafe space, a theatre room, and an incredibly cool social lounge which is regularly used for events, parties, and workshops. This means:

foreign students get amazing opportunities to really immerse themselves in Japanese life and make genuine, long-lasting friendships with local people.

The team always have so many ideas in the pipeline for new projects which keep making learning experiences better and better, including specialised workshops and more flexibility to tailor courses to suit the learning needs of students. I found this such a refreshing and supportive part of the learning process.

Snow in Hokkaido, Japan

Next to some of the Hokkaido snow!

How supportive were local staff members throughout your program?

The team at JaLS are incredibly supportive and go above and beyond the call of duty. They offer an on-call service in case you need them, and are warm and personable to approach with any questions or concerns. The teaching staff are responsive to the different learning styles of students and make the taught courses fun and engaging.

Additionally, because JaLS has a heavy focus on cultural and social learning in addition to morning classes, very quickly the core support staff become friends. Sharing new experiences, having fun in Japanese, and laughing a lot solidify relationships and in turn mean that you feel more supported at every step of your learning. This is really important, especially in language study. You have moments where you feel like fluency is only a step away, and low points where you feel like you will never master the basics of the language. JaLS staff are there in both of these extremes, and have a wealth of experience in keeping you motivated and encouraged no matter what your emotions are telling you.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently in your language learning career?

I would have had the foresight to learn Japanese as a teenager and study here earlier!

What was a typical day like for you as a Hokkaido student?

Mornings normally involve quite intensive language study, including three classes of just under one hour each. These classes are small, with between three and six individuals in each, and are run at a variety of levels to suit the needs of participating students (from beginner to advanced). A variety of textbooks are used as the core syllabus at each level of language study, but these are provided by the school and supplemented with a range of other materials and teaching resources. Teaching staff at JaLS are really experienced in providing a balance between teaching aspects like grammar, and practicing this in conversations, role plays, and ways that make the three hour lesson block easy to manage.

The JaLS cafe also means that you can get a caffeine fix in the breaks if need be! JaLS is based in the centre of Sapporo, close to many restaurants and shops, so for lunch, students normally try a variety of local food and enjoy time together.

Each afternoon is different. When I studied at JaLS I took some one-to-one classes in the afternoons three times a week, and then on the other two afternoons there were a variety of social or cultural activities, such as sushi making, kimono wearing, or trips to local tourist attractions.

Evenings and weekends also included a variety of activities, from food parties, cinema trips and music events, to day trips further afield in Hokkaido and time to explore. You can choose which activities you join, which is a great balance. Some days I felt so tired from study that I just wanted an early night! More often, I wanted to explore what Hokkaido had to offer. Being able to do this with friends made the whole experience more enjoyable.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time most?

When I first arrived in Sapporo it was still winter so the snow was crazy! I think my favourite moment was heading into the countryside outside of the city at this time of year to enjoy an amazing onsen resort. There's something really magical about being in an outdoor, natural hot spring with your friends whilst the snow is falling and piled high all around you. It's pretty indescribable. My favourite trip was when we combined this with an outdoor BBQ in an ice house. Eating BBQ lamb in the freezing cold but stunning scenery, and then warming up in the onsen afterwards was about as good as it could get!

What type of accommodation did you have? What was the best thing about it?

When I was studying at JaLS I stayed in a home stay option, with a woman who quickly became like my Japanese Mum. She actually still feels like my Mum. A great thing about the homestay was the insight it gave me into Japanese culture and the chance to practice language that it offered. I ate delicious, home-cooked Japanese food, had help with any homework I didn't understand, and could also ask questions about what was polite, any paperwork and just things that I was finding culturally difficult. I did gain about four kilos in the time I stayed with her though! My Japanese Mum is probably one the best people I have ever met in my life. I moved into my own apartment after I finished studying at JaLS, but still live on the same street and see her often. I guess my relationship with her is the best thing!

After returning home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I didn't go home! Or, rather Sapporo became my home! I've been here for over a year now and just love living and working in this city. That's a pretty big life-impact I guess.