Inuyama, orientation week, dorm or homestay?, & Kanazawa

こんにちは!Since you last heard from me, I’d made it into Nagoya. IES orientation week went great; I was able to meet everyone in the program, do some sightseeing, and had the incredible privilege of a nice hotel room to myself for the duration of orientation.

Inuyama. On the second day of orientation, we visited Inuyama Castle, one of the oldest remaining tenshu– central tower that defines the structure- still standing today. It’s well over 500 years old! Nearby the castle are several shrines, and pictured below is one of the red torii gates of the Sanko-Inari shrine, a Shinto shrine.

Orientation week. By the end of the week, we moved into our respective housing for our semester at Nanzan before student orientation the following week. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it consisted of a placement test to determine our language class level, many, many, procedure briefings (what to do during a typhoon and an earthquake, driver-pedestrian laws, important deadlines and dates for visa-holders, etc.), and course registration. At the end of the week, we had our entrance ceremony. I’d fully expected it to be a whole big affair, a multi-segmented program with various speakers. Instead, we were sat for all of 20 minutes before we were officially declared enrolled students!

Edited photo of my friends and I under Nanzan's south gate.
my friends and I, post-ceremony, now official Nanzan students

Afterwards, some friends and I hopped on a train to Sakae, a lively district packed with shops, restaurants, numerous izakaya (stay-drink-place, aka a pub) malls, and sights like the Sky Boat Ferris Wheel, Shirakawa Park, and Nagoya TV Tower. On our way to dinner, we came across a lively performance from some members from the popular Nagoya-based idol group, SKE48! We weren’t allowed to take pictures or videos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

students in front of the Nagoya TV tower, posing.
my friends and I in front of Nagoya TV tower in Sakae

Dorm or homestay: which is better? This is a very understandable question. My immediate answer to this is: which is better for you? There are endless pros and cons lists online, and I could definitely tell you my personal opinion, or your family or friends could. But because I see studying abroad as a very personal journey, the best thing you can do for yours is decide this on your own, based on your comfort level, living style, and preferences.

I’m grateful to have experienced both from previous and current abroad experience. What I enjoyed about my homestay was that I had a family to interact with, a place to call home for a time, meals prepared for me, dogs to play with(!!!), and doing laundry was free. Additionally, my comfort level in speaking the target language improved. This is a constant goal of mine, and I strongly believe immersion is the best possible way to do it.

This time, I decided to live in a dorm. I have a small, private room with a community kitchen (shared between 10 students, which makes up one living group) and the bathroom (shared between 20, two living groups). My favorite parts of living in the dorm is the close proximity to campus, lack of a daily commute, coming and going as I please, and daily interaction with students– Japanese and non-Japanese alike. In my living group, besides four native Japanese speakers, there are also Khmer, Azerbaijani, Russian, and Chinese speakers. We don’t speak each other’s languages, so I’d say 95% of our conversations are held in Japanese. This is not uncommon at all here- for Japanese to be the only language in common between international students.

So my advice for those of you faced with the same decision: weigh your options based on your preferences, then choose accordingly. Host families can be a hit or miss. Some are simply not compatible with their student, and may be stricter (or on the flip side: seemingly uninterested and uninvolved) than what the student is used to. Dorms are nice, but having to constantly buy meals and pay for laundry, as well as sharing living spaces with so many people can get tiring. Host families can provide a sense of family and a home away from home, and dorms can provide a sense of independence and community. The decision is ultimately yours; you get to determine what you hope to get out of your living abroad experience.

view of a window and curtain from inside the dorm room. on the left is a desk and chair and on the right is a bed.
view from my dorm room

Kanazawa. The first weekend after classes, IES students had our first field trip: a weekend in Kanazawa! It was a welcome change of pace from the steady wake up-class-eat-study-shower-sleep routine I’d developed at Nanzan for two weeks. Not to mention a well-deserved break from Nagoya’s brutal heat and humidity!!!!! Kanazawa is on the north coast of central Japan, and was spared from much of World War II’s destruction, so its historical sites have been preserved. I could give you all the wordy details about Kanazawa, or I could give you the pictures. I’ll (mostly) give you the pictures.

After a 2.5ish hour bullet train ride (which holds true to its reputation of being fast and convenient), we poked around Higashi Chaya (東茶屋街 Eastern teahouse district), a historic entertainment district of Kanazawa with a variety of teahouses, taverns, and shops- one that sells the Kanazawa specialty of gold leaf products.

The next day we went to 兼六園 Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s biggest gardens. There was lots of incredible greenery here, along with shrines, teahouses, bridges, and more, all with deep history and value to the overall garden space.

Of course we also did some shopping and eating; I got a shiba stuffed animal (after some peer pressure (didn’t take much though)), a 2-inch tall maneki-neko or beckoning cat figurine, and I tried sakura icecream. It tasted mostly like vanilla, with hints of floral. Slightly underwhelming, but still refreshing and worth a try!

I’ve experienced a lot of traveling and major transitions all in less than a month, but surprisingly, even for someone like me who is used to routine living, it’s been manageable and enjoyable. I’ve seen a variety of different cultural practices, historical sites, and tried a myriad of Japanese dishes and sweets. I’m someone who’s always planning, organizing, and thinking ahead, but being abroad reminds me the value in stopping to enjoy the present, remembering to value the people I’m surrounded by and the places and spaces I get the privilege to be in.

Published by Grace Conant

Class of 2025 Majors | Global Studies, Japanese Minor | Spanish Program | IES Nagoya Direct Enrollment: Nanzan University Location | Nagoya, Japan

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