Studying Abroad & Kansai Gaidai

I’m not exactly sure why I decided to go to Japan. The fact that I was a huge game nerd probably had more than a little to do with it. I was going to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for a Communications major and no real direction. At the same time I was managing to write full-time for PC Gamer magazine; Communications classes are embarrassingly lax, after all.

Anyhoo, the main reason I went to IUP was its outstanding study-abroad program — they had links to tons of overseas schools, so I was deadset on going to Kansai Gaidai in Osaka, Japan. I took about 4 semesters’ worth of Japanese in advance to prepare, and for the first semester in my senior year, I headed off to Japan.

Preparing for this was pretty easy, though there was a good amount of paperwork involved. I had to get a physical and an AIDS test (!) in advance, write an essay justifying why I wanted to study at Kansai Gaidai, and for the actual student visa, it was a ton of paperwork culminating in having to physically visit the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC. Fortunately I was interning at Bethesda Softworks the summer beforehand in Rockville MD, so it was a quick train trip away. (If you’re living in Wisconsin or something, I’m not entirely sure what your options are.)

Detroit Departure

With two pieces of luggage and a carry-on, I embarked from Harrisburg International Airport to Detroit, and then began the longest plane trip–14 hours!–of my existence. (I have since mastered the art of trans-Pacific travel, and the Seattle –> Tokyo trip is pretty much effortless now.)

The first picture of me in Japan.

My first week of life in Japan passed by in a drowsy blur–an endless bus ride to the university on a highway that soared far above the single-story houses of Osaka; staying my first night with 3 other students in a tatami dorm room, fighting off an angry digestive system and battling the worst jetlag I’d ever experienced, my discombobulated brain screaming oh god I want to go home right now!. Eventually my body clock caught up with reality and things picked up — I met my wonderful homestay family, and started checking out the local sights (and trawling Osaka/Kyoto for used game and CD stores).

Kansai Gaidai was an awesome school. The faculty was fantastic, most of the students were really interested in being there, and I met some of the best friends I’d ever have. There were also tons of clubs; after a brief stint in Judo I wound up joining the Ballroom Dancing club. (That was a good idea — it’s much better to sweep a partner off their feet with a solid waltz step than a kou ouchi gari.)

Kansai Gaidai circa 1999

I’m not sure how the school is now. They moved the campus and expanded, so the foreign student population has ballooned in size. I’ve heard a lot of complaints that it’s turned into a party school because they’re not as strict on admissions as before, but I guess that’s how things go. If you want to go abroad these days, I guess it’s a toss-up between Kansai Gaidai and Sofia University; I’d still recommend going to Kansai, as Osaka is a lot more laid back, and jumping headfirst into anything related to Tokyo can make your head explode.

I’d also highly recommend getting a host family; mine were wonderful, wonderful people who were always helpful and full of encouragement. And boy oh boy, Mom could cook. We’re talking about a woman who’d make me tacos and make the tortillas from scratch. Yowza!

Next update, I’ll talk about campus life and transitioning to school in Tokyo.

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