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OPINION: Japan University Study Tour is an Eye-Opener
By Gany Erlano

It was an incredible surprise to receive an email from Professor Uda of Saitama University, asking language students if they would like to participate in a short study tour at Japan’s Saitama University. The professor had apparently contact with multiple Australian universities for the program.

I applied straight away for the opportunity, eager to know what it would be like to study in a different country. The school offers a four-week intensive Japanese studies program to overseas undergraduate students each summer.

The tour did not disappoint.

I fell in love with Japan and its culture from the start. At Kita Urawa Station, our group first met up with our professor and our host families. My host parents, Mikie and Takeshi Arai, treated me very kindly, offering a room of my own.

The Arais told me that the Japanese homes are typically not very big, but their cozy, two story house, located just a bus ride away from Minami Urawa Station, was just fine for me. I learned by email that Mikie was an Ikebana teacher; her back yard indeed displayed some beautiful flowers.From Day Two, I had to learn how to get to the University, which was where the journey began. My host mum was lovely enough to catch the bus with me to the station, where we transferred once to Kita Urawa Station, then took a bus to the school.

After a while, commuting became quite simple, apart from having to remember the bus schedules. I ended up using a7 Eleven store as a landmark to help me remember the course.

It was interesting to see what a university in another country looked like. The total acreage seemed fairly small. In our first class we learned basic Japanese conversation. Having a teacher who spoke only in Japanese was a plus. I had studied a bit of the language beforehand, so it was easy to remember the sentences and sentence structure.

“O namae wa, nan desu ka? (“What is your name?”)

“Kuni wa doko desu ka?” (Where is your country?”)

“Senmon wa nan desu ka?” (What is your specialty/major?”)

After that our teacher told us to use our newly learned sentences in addressing total strangers all over the campus. I was nervous but somewhat confident. We were fortunate to have a volunteer, Hitomi, escort us for the purpose. From what I gathered, Saitama U. students are very kind and seemed willing to help in our assignment. Nobody was rude, and this helped further my knowledge of the language.

Teaching English at a junior high school in Saitama was my favorite, and genuinely humbling experience, of all. The kids, aged around 11-12, were incredibly nice. They were tasked to ask us questions in English about who we were. We answered and helped them with basic sentence structure. It was the cutest experience I've ever had and was truly amazing to see such young children display respect for all of us as well as each other and the classroom.

We all ate together at lunch – a great way to prepare kids for the world. Coming from Australia I had never witnessed that in a school setting. The surprises kept unfolding even as the day ended: to my amazement, the students even cleaned the classrooms after lessons were over.

“These kids are going to provide a great step towards Japan’s future,” I thought.

Gany Erlano is a 2012 graduate of Australia’s Newcastle University, where he studied Fine Arts. He is currently a professional photographer, and continues to study Japanese and Korean.

Edited by Brad Frischkorn

Saitama University

Having a (Japanese language) teacher who spoke only in Japanese was a plus. -- Gany Erlano

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