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Athena Study Abroad, Summer in Kyoto, Japan
Athena Study Abroad participants doing the love sign Athena Study Abroad participants doing the love sign

Athena Study Abroad, Summer in Kyoto, Japan

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

Outstanding

The entire experience was simply outstanding and truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Japan is an absolutely beautiful country from its wildlife to its communities. My time abroad will be an adventure never forgotten. The entire experience had an impact on me that is indescribable. Simply being in such a beautiful country with such well planned cultural excursions was amazing and I felt by the end of the trip, I could have made it on my own in Japan for a period of time. The entire trip helped to boost my sense of independence while working to remove my fear or insecurity when it comes to cultural barriers.

I have always known many parts of the United States to be lacking in certain areas (for example, cultural tolerance). Studying Abroad has shown me just how more accepting some other countries can be. I was a little bit terrified of being a foreigner, as I have never left this country before. However being in Japan has removed that fear and also showed me that there are still exceptionally kind and patient communities of people in the world. Not once did I feel wrong for visiting Japan, and many times there were older women who cared for and worried about my classmates as if we were their own children, even though there were severe language barriers in some cases. Those experiences made me want to pass that universal kindness on to others that I meet, and to make others who are unfamiliar in my home towns feel welcome as well.

I chose Athena because it offered the most out of any other program that I looked into. The cost was reasonable for earning 6 credits as well as all of the excursions we were able to go on. The courses being taught were also very interesting. I just felt that as a package, Athena offered the best experience. Jennifer Norris was outstanding. She was always available for questions or to help with directions around the city and she was more than understanding when it came to moving schedules around to accommodate trips; she understood that we wanted to see as much of the country as we could but still made room for class time. I took a full semester long Japan in Modern Society course at my home institution and within three weeks, the Japanese Art and Culture course was able to cover the majority of what I learned in the course I took at home and more because it had a larger emphasis on art. As for the Photo class, I feel I have learned a lot about how to create and plan for images rather than just pulling my camera out and taking a random photo. Altogether, between class time and homework, I felt that both courses were very stimulating intellectually and that the hands-on way of teaching certain things was extremely effective.

In general, most things worked well with out housing situation. For there being so many of us in one living space, most things were well planned for. I did not have to make very many adjustments when I arrived. I feel that I already had an idea of what to expect and the mannerisms associated with Japanese culture felt very normal to me. That being said, I was not confident with certain cultural norms such as bowing and language and I wish I had had someone to teach me specifically what to do before my trip. However, that is my own fault for not asking anyone if I was correct. The biggest challenge was definitely communication. Being a student who spoke only two words of Japanese (and did not confidently speak them) it was difficult to communicate with many people. Although Kyoto was not a city where language was necessary to know for such a short period, I will be eternally grateful for the two students who had previously learned enough Japanese to get by. I would suggest having a list of the basic cultural norms and greetings, or things that may be helpful for each study abroad experience that involves such a drastic change. However, I suppose that is what guide books are for.

We did not have very much free time; there were a lot of activities planned for us. The free time that we did have was spent catching up on homework or going out and enjoying the city. Some in my group went and visited Tokyo, others visited the mountains. A few others, including myself, went to a Ninja themed amusement park. I felt that the program activities were very well planned out and very interesting. I spoke a little bit about them in the previous section. I have never felt more safe or more welcome than I did in Kyoto. Walking around at night, I was extremely comfortable whether I was with a group or by myself and I felt that if we got lost, we could easily find someone to point us in the right direction. Our trip was filled with cultural events, including shrine and temple visiting which was extremely interesting. The Zen meditation was a great experience as well and offered insight into an actual monk's life and beliefs. The Gion festival was the main cultural event of the trip and it was rather interesting as well.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    9

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    9

It was definitely worth going on

Athena was actually the only program I found that had a Japan trip and not only that, but it was affordable for me and it a good length. I really liked how involved Athena was in making sure that everything went smoothly and I really appreciated all the answered phone calls and emails. I really loved Athena's Kyoto summer program. For my first time going abroad, it was a fantastic introduction to traveling and to Japan. I think that it was a perfect amount for never have gone there before and the trip itself was amazing. I loved seeing all the temples and shrines and exploring Kyoto. I loved experiencing the culture and meeting so many different Japanese. It was eye opening and something I'll remember forever. It was definitely worth going on.

I really loved the activities we had and the places we went. I felt that we went to all the major temples, shrines, and places that were important to see. I loved going to the golden temple, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Kizumera-dera temple, and a couple other places. I wish we would have had more time at some of the temples though because there was a lot to see and do at them and we couldn't do or see everything I wanted. I think the only other place I really wish we would have gone and seen was the Imperial Palace. But otherwise then that, I think we saw the most important and famous sites.

It really opened my eyes to how another country like Japan views itself and how it views America and the world. It was really fascinating to be there and see all the different ways that its history affects the country even today and how it deals with a modern country that is also steeped in so much tradition and culture. I feel as if in America, we don't have a strong cultural identity like Japan does and I really wish we did. It would be cool if we had some kind of national dress or some kind of cultural heritage that everyone in the country could claim a part of. I feel like I can better understand another country's perspective now and I feel better about talking and understanding foreigners. On a personal level, the trip helped me realize what I find important in places I live and things I wish that we had back in America. For example, I wish that our public transportation was better and that on a societal level, that we would be kinder and nicer to strangers.

I would say visiting the temples had the greatest impact on me. They were places that we have nothing like in America and they really opened my eyes to how different Shintoism and Buddhism is to Christianity. I loved seeing the gardens and buildings though and I loved how everything in them was so thought out. It seemed to me that almost everything in the temples served a purpose, and I loved how simple some of the things there could be and yet they still make you think. I loved the rock garden at the Royanji Temple and I want to try and replicate something like it at home. The other gardens were really beautiful and I wish we had more gardens back at home like the Japanese do.

I thought that Jennifer was a very good site administrator and that she was very knowledgeable and helpful. I enjoyed having her as an instructor and talking to her outside of class. She was also very willing to help us with anything else we needed and give advice and suggestions of things to see or do outside the program.

I thought that the course was intellectually stimulating and engaging. I thought our class discussions and presentations were very informative and useful. They covered a wide range of topics and were very in depth. I thought our coursework was stimulating also, especially the 20 minute presentation, but I thought our other homework was not as challenging or as much as I am used to back at home. I enjoyed the course work we had though. I thought our housing situation was very nice. It was in a great neighborhood and I loved the traditional style of it. I wish it had a little garden though, but it was good. I think we could have had a better washer/dryer and place to dry our clothes, and maybe instructions on how to use the little stove top. I would have liked to cook more, but even if I had known how to use the little stove top, I had no idea what most of the items were in the grocery store, so figuring out something to cook would have been another struggle. We were close to a grocery store and a convenience store, as well as lots of little restaurants and cafes and I loved exploring what was around us. The portable wifi situation could have been better as it wasn't always working well and we had a situation where one of the students took off with one of them without telling anyone else, and we were left for a couple days wondering where the main wifi went to. I was glad we had a back up wifi. I loved the traditional house though, and it was absolutely a dream to experience it. I loved feeling the tatami mat floors and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I also think it could have been nicer if we had been able to get the TV working, but it wasn't that much of a problem because we were so busy outside walking and wandering around.

Some things I had to adjust to were; I had to be more aware of other people around me, especially if we were on public transportation because if there was an elderly person or someone needing the seat more than I, I needed to move and give them my seat. I also had to remember to bow a lot and the different ways they handled money when shopping. I also had to pay attention to the direction people walked in public and even when they used escalators. I think the biggest challenge for me was the language barrier. It definitely would have been more helpful to have known some more conversational Japanese, but I think even with basic Japanese and English, I got by okay. It would have been more helpful if we had had a Japanese speaking guide, but even so it turned out fine. Other challenges including budgeting my money for food vs souvenirs and knowing how much to spend. Food was kinda a challenge for me because I wasn't used to eating it and I definitely don't eat as much fish. I did try different foods, at least one new thing every day, but it was hard forcing myself to really go out of my comfort zone and try really bizarre foods. I also think living with a group of nine other kids in a small house was a challenge because I didn't really like all the other kids so I had to practice a lot of patience. At first using the public transportation system was challenging because we don't really have anything like it back at home, but one we used it a couple times, I started to get a hang of it and it was pretty easy.

During my free time, when we weren't outside, I was working on homework or sleeping. But when not doing one of those, I took the opportunity to explore the neighborhoods around us and to visit different restaurants. We also liked to visit Nishi market and go shopping a lot or at least, look at the different things you could buy. I liked listening to street performers and riding the trains and buses. We also visited other smaller shrines and temples nearby and got lost a couple of times. I felt very safe in Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nara, except when we went to visit the deer and the deer realized that I had lunch in a bag and they attacked my bag. But otherwise than deer, I did not feel unsafe. I was aware of my surroundings though most of the time and always kept an eye on my belongings. I tried to walk confidently and kept note of places I could go into if I needed help. At night, I felt safe too, and I thought that there was plenty to do. Even though it was weird that a lot of bars close early around 9pm or 11pm. Even during the festivals I didn't feel unsafe, although I get really anxious in large crowds and when we spent two hours pushing through a wall of people to walk less than a mile, I did not like that. Despite the number of people, I didn't feel unsafe and I didn't have anything stolen from me. I felt that people were more friendly and patient with foreigners here because its such a historical and cultural city. I think they are most used to tourists. I appreciated how a lot of Japanese would take the time to try and figure out what I was saying or what I wanted and I think they appreciated my effort to speak bad Japanese. At least, I hope it was at least amusing to them. I think some of them thought it was exciting or funny to see us in Kyoto because we would get stopped and asked for pictures. Back in America, you wouldn't get stopped and asked for pictures because there is so much diversity that you don't really know if someone is visiting America or if they live here.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    8

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    8

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

I experienced every bit of Japan that I dreamed of. I couldn't have asked for a better time!

I have dreamed of visiting Japan and my study abroad experience with Athena did not disappoint me!

My trip to Japan started out rocky because my plane was on the runway when the San Francisco airplane crash happened. The Athena representatives were so kind and helpful, and were very attentive to my and my roommate during this ordeal. It was nice to know that we had the representatives there for us in such a scary and chaotic time--and especially when we weren't even out of the country!

Our program in Japan over exceeded my expectations and gave us so many wonderful experiences: tea ceremonies, hot springs, Shinto and Buddhist traditions, traditional housing, Japanese ryokans, and so much more! I experienced every bit of Japan that I dreamed of. I couldn't have asked for a better time!

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    8

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    6

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

I really wanted to go to Japan, and I really wanted to study art. This program was a perfect fit!

I feel so much more confident about traveling and meeting new people! Thank you, Athena, for showing me it is possible for anyone to explore the world, despite their lack of experience! Our advisor Yuko was incredibly helpful. She went completely out of her way to make everyone experience what they wanted to while in Japan. I loved that there were so many activities and excursions. I know some of the people in my group complained because they would get so tired, but I was glad to utilize the little amount of time I had in Japan to the furthest extent. I really wanted to go to Japan, I really wanted to study art, and I really wanted to do it over the summer. It was a perfect fit!