Saturday, July 1, 2017

In Japan: Week 2

First, with some good news: I got into the second class like I wanted! Bad news: It's really, REALLY tough. However, I was ready for that challenge when I came here and I've been studying very hard.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to do as much my second week here because I was busy studying for a test on Monday. However, that doesn't mean that my week or weekend was without adventure.

On Thursday, the resident assistants threw a welcome party for everyone. We had nachos, pizza (which has different toppings from American pizza like shrimp and eggplant), and sushi to eat and we also played Paper Telephone (kind of like telephone, but with pictures). Luckily, my team got second place and we didn't have to eat the mystery cream puffs (some of them were filled with spicy mustard and one guy almost threw up because of them).

Friday, June 23, 2017

My First Week in Japan Part 2

Here is the rest of my first week here in Japan.

On Saturday, I went on the train to go to Nara with two people from the summer program and two Japanese students.

Sometimes in Japan, they have promotions on the trains. I had no idea that Thomas the Tank Engine was so big in Japan. It reminded me of my childhood so much.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My First Week in Japan Part 1

Hello, everyone! I'm doing just fine here in Japan. Sore feet, a couple of blisters, a cold sore, and having to go to bed by 10:00 PM, but besides those I am doing well. I have been very busy settling in and going to places in the area. Today, I'll be going over some of that.
I left for Japan on Tuesday, central American time. By the time I got to Japan, it was about 2:30 PM Japan time. Here are the pictures of the plane ride over here. With the exception of the last one, all of them are from America because it was raining when I touched down in Japan.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pre-travel Itinerary

My name is Rose Steffensmeier. I'm a senior at Western Illinois University. Soon, I will be going to Japan for the first time in my life. I have wanted to go to Japan for a very long time and I now finally have the chance to do so. I'm going to Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, Osaka Prefecture. I will be there for six weeks, studying Japanese language, history, and culture. I've already arrived, but for those of you who want some help getting ready for a program of your own, I'll go over some of the steps that I took to be able to go to Japan.

1. Sign up for Kansai Gaidai's summer program.

I couldn't go if I didn't sign up for it. I went outside the school's normal programs offered in order to find this one, but the school itself should be the first place you look when looking for somewhere to study. They have a bunch of great offerings and there will be something for everyone. If money is something you need to be worried about, read the next point.

2. Sign up for scholarships and financial aid.

This one is very important. Scholarships really do help out when going to school in general, but especially when you're going overseas since you'll want to get souvenirs, try new food, etc. I signed up for financial aid through my college as well as scholarships. I managed to get one scholarship through the school.

https://gilmanprogram.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/cropped-banner.jpg
There was one scholarship that was the most helpful was the $2,500 I received from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship (also called the Gilman Scholarship). This scholarship gives out awards to many students every year whether your study abroad program is for a semester, a full year, or for a summer like mine is. While many people got the scholarship all across the United States, I was the only one to have gotten it at WIU. There was even a press release on the website back in May.

Sign up for those scholarships; you never know if you'll will receive them if you don't sign up or not.

3. Getting visa and passport in order.

Since I had been to France before when I was still in high school, I still have a passport that was good, but if you are going to a foreign country, make sure you sign up for one months in advance. This way you'll know you will have it before you leave.

This visa was another matter. I had to look up Japanese laws and was confused on the wording of some of them. I even emailed one of the embassies to see what I needed, but I apparently emailed the wrong one. It wasn't until Kansai Gaidai sent an email about which citizens of which countries needed to get visas. Americans only need to get visas if they are going to be there for more than 90 days unless they are working. I'm only going to be there for about 45 days, so I turned out to be fine, but if you're going overseas, make sure you have the right visas.

4. Signing up for school credit.

I am the first person from Western Illinois University to be participating in this program. This meant that I had no idea if I would be getting anything that would be applicable to my general credits that I need to graduate. I talked with both my advisor and the Study Abroad office and, if I pass all of the necessary classes, will be receiving 8 humanities credits. I will be doing my best in all of my classes!

5. Purchase plane tickets.

I went with my mother to the travel agent in Macomb. They helped with purchasing plane tickets and booking my hotel room for the first night. I'm very grateful for their help and would go to them in the future.

6. Gather all necessary supplies.

 This includes textbooks. I had to make sure that I'm getting the right stuff.

7. Pack up everything.

I made extra sure that I did not put my passport in my suitcase and put it in my backpack instead. You need your passport to be able to get past airport security, but you have to hand your suitcase over to luggage first, so always make doubly sure that you have your passport on you BEFORE you give your suitcase over.

I can't wait to board that plane and go to Japan. I also hope that if you are going to an overseas country for study abroad that this list helps you out as well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New Zealand Academics- University of Auckland

Hi everyone! First off, my name is Brooke Costigan and I'm a senior at WIU with a major in Political Science, and a minor in Environmental Studies. I spent last semester studying abroad at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. My partner (this gender-neutral term is favored by many people in New Zealand) lives there, so throughout any of my posts you may get a different perspective from me because I didn't stay on campus, and so most of my experiences weren't actually at the university. Please note that any views expressed in my posts are not representative of the university's own views, and I'm merely stating things as they apply to me and my own experiences.
My partner, Ewan, and me.
 Let me just say this: academics were a whole new ball game in New Zealand. From the moment I was briefed by my study abroad providers, to the second I sat my exams, I was told one thing: "It's really really difficult and you may not pass unless you study every day." Huh. Well that's terrifying.
Before we get much further, let me debunk this for you. It's not THAT bad. "Kiwis" (that's a term New Zealanders call themselves proudly) stress about their exams more than I thought possible. In fact, the professors freak you out so much telling you how hard it will be, that it's likely a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I became so depressed thinking I would ruin my GPA, that I emailed everyone I could and kept stressing out right until the middle of the semester when I reached a breaking point. I had begun to feel that I wasn't really making the most of my study abroad experience, and so I started agreeing to hang out with people after classes instead of spending every minute preparing for classes. In fact, I began to meet up with my Kiwi friends for cards nearly every day. Once I stopped worrying so much, I began to have fun and I can seriously say that my card buddies became my best friends.
Playing a game called "Scum"

In any case, I'm here to tell you that I didn't spend every minute in the library, and I never got below a 'B'--in fact, the key to success lies in reading your professors. Many of my classes had huge essays, and so after the first one, I took note of their personality and exactly what would get good "marks" (most people say this instead of "grades" in New Zealand) for that particular professor. One professor wanted every single political term defined (including democracy), another wanted heaps of citations from his own work. By the way, there's another term the Kiwis love: "heaps" meaning "a lot." So use it heaps.

As there must be both criticism and praise in a good review, allow me to highlight the good things first.
1. The University of Auckland is a beautiful campus, and so studying anywhere became a pleasure.
2. It's right in the heart of the city, so taking a bus anywhere, or checking out new things is super easy. 3. The perspective on American politics is very entertaining, and you can expect to be considered the "American expert" on our politics when you go there. I consider this a cool thing, but also note that Kiwis can have strong opinions on our politics. Honestly I gained more of an understanding for American politics by studying it from another perspective. 4. UoA has tons of events! Many of them are free, and they are always looking to send students on weekend excursions. Their clubs are also fantastic, and while I didn't join the tramping ("hiking") club, they go on tons of trails for people with all sorts of experience.

I don't regret choosing the University of Auckland, but be informed, if you go, on a few  of the more negative things:
1. The university departments are really not very good at communicating with each other. I'm used to a system where if I go to see a professor or advisor, they can punch a number on their phone and ask questions to someone in another department if they need to. At the UoA, I did lots of running around. It was difficult to get questions answered on campus, so the alternative is to bring any questions to your study abroad provider and let them help you. It's the much easier way.
2. Turning in a paper is a serious chore. It must be turned in online, a receipt printed, along with a generated cover sheet, and then those must be stapled to the hard copy of the paper. You aren't finished at that point though. The paper must be physically walked to the building of your department and turned in to a special box depending on the type of class. No personally handing it to the professor, and it's a serious process. You may always hear that the people from New Zealand are very laid-back, but that couldn't be further from the truth in regards to academics at UoA. (It's still true with everything else though)
3. As I mentioned before, the professors throughout the semester will freak you out by saying how difficult the exams are, but the actual exam process is seriously stressful. If you've ever taken a high school state test, then you may be familiar with going in to a room and being threatened with failing the exam if a cell phone so much as vibrates from a book bag. All of the bags are placed at the front of the room and reminders are posted throughout the place stating $150 fines and possible failure for any cell phone noises. Perhaps this happens at some USA universities too, but I'm more comfortable with our professors personally giving our exams in their classrooms. The professors aren't even allowed to be present during exam day at UoA.

No matter where you go, the academics are probably going to take a bit of adjusting to. It comes with the territory of a new university, and while I can honestly say that I'm glad to be back in a familiar education system, I learned so much from New Zealand. Yes, that university seems more disorganized than the U.S. Congress, and they seem to enjoy making things difficult, but it was an amazing experience and I came back all of the better for it. I loved my study abroad semester, and I encourage anyone and everyone to try it out. I encourage you, however, to take more elective classes when you study abroad and not wait until your last years when your general education courses have been all used up.

If you have any questions, and especially if you want to know about New Zealand universities in particular, I encourage you to reach out to me at my e-mail below, and I'd love to chat. Whether you have housing, dining, travel, or any other questions, I'm sure I can help in some way!

AB-Costigan@wiu.edu

Until next time, here's a very accurate video about the University of Auckland and the city itself, and if there's one thing true about New Zealand it's that it's literally always green and flowers are everywhere: