Studying at Kansai Gaidai University was flat-out awesome. The coursework was challenging, but the teachers gave you enough slack to take some time off and enjoy the wonders of foreign exchange. They hooked me up with a great, loving homestay family and a good conversation partner to meet with a few times a week. The non-Japanese language courses were also varied and insightful — I especially remember the classes on Gender Roles in Modern Japan (Hester), Death in East Asian Society (Kenney), and the film class where we blasted through tons of Kurosawa movies in the university theatre.
The library was also a majestic building full of great research materials. The only weird thing was that you had to run your university ID through a special reader and then wiggle your way through a turnstile. Maybe it was to keep out the homeless people. Of which there were none.
There was great food, too! Foreigner-friendly delicacies like hamburg steak and curry rice were plentiful and cheap at the cafeteria, and the popular hangout was a place called Sakedojo, where you could get plastered for cheap with other foreign students in an eating environment that hadn’t passed health inspections since 1923. While everything was covered in a horrifying layer of dirt and grime, the chicken katsu with the top secret “dojo sauce” always tasted awesome, and the girl waitresses were lovely beyond belief.
One thing you might want to be careful about is clubs and activities. Some Japanese university clubs have lunatic schedules, meeting once or twice every day, including weekends. While this is great if you want to become some kind of kenpo monster, you might want to do what I did and take a club that only meets twice a week. My friend Evil Colin took shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and I went for Judo at first but then switched to Ballroom Dancing for obvious reasons.
After class we’d hop on the train and head to Osaka to places like Den-Den Town, which was a veritable smorgasbord of used games, CDs, and various geek stuff that kept us shopping until the shops closed down at 7pm. (I still believe that Den-Den is ten times better than Akihabara.)
One side effect of being in Japan and living with a host family: I was no longer fat. I entered Japan at roughly 230 pounds, and after a few months I realized that none of my clothes fit. The combination of eating healthy home-cooked food, walking to school every day, and not putting crap like Taco Bell in my body had turned me skinny. I could actually run kind of fast. And I could do a pull-up!!! Wonder of wonders.
After a few months of this pure concentrated awesome experience, I started thinking “HMM, I really should think about spending another semester here.” All of my friends shared my sentiment, and we all applied for a second semester so we could spend a full year abroad. The paperwork was easy-peasy and we all headed back home for Christmas, or stuck around Osaka for the holiday season (my friend Jason has some amazing stories about this one-month vacation). I was in full Japanophile mode, I was missing my Japanese girlfriend, and if I remember correctly was pretty unpleasant and down on America. I thank my parents for being so patient with me that holiday season.
So I headed back for another round of Kansai Gaidai fun. The second semester was even better than the first, since we knew the ropes really well and had established incredibly strong friendships. As the semester came to a close, we realized that this amazing part of our lives was going to wrap and we’d all be going back to the United States.
…or would we!?
To be continued…