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What to Expect from a Japanese Language and Culture Program

Perhaps my best experience as a student was when I went to Japan as an exchange student in 2018. Thanks to existing Japanese Language and Culture Programs, I was able to study about Japan in Japan! Anyone with a passion for learning about Japan dreams of experiencing the country. At some point, you’ll want more than readings, books, movies, documentaries, and other resources for your Japanese studies! There’s nothing like experiencing Japan yourself.

I studied architecture in college. While the profession was my primary passion, it also sparked my interest in Japan as architecture in Japan is notable. I remember reading about how the Japanese design their buildings to be earthquake-proof, and I was instantly amazed. Since then, I’ve had this dream of understanding Japan even more and experience living there!

What to Expect from a Japanese Language and Culture Program

I started by taking Japanese language units at our university, and I slowly learned about the basics of the Japanese language. Eventually, I grew fascinated with the country’s culture, until I decided to look for Japanese Language and Culture Programs that could help further my studies.

My university recommended various programs. One was the JENESYS (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths) Programme, which allows the youth to have a short stay in Japan, promoting international relations. I also had friends from the Philippines who were able to study in Japan through Jellyfish Education Philippines. Lots of Japanese universities also offer Japanese Language and Culture Programs, such as Kanagawa University, Kanazawa University, and International University of Health and Welfare.

I applied to study in Japan through the JaLS Group in Sapporo. With the motto, “Study Japanese, Enjoy Japan, Make friends in Japan,” I was able to learn and use the Japanese language as our batch went on different field trips in Hokkaido and Kyoto. Studying in Japan came with unexpected lessons. If you’re a few weeks away from your official exchange student life in Japan, let me share a few things I learned from my own experience. I promise you’re in for the best time of your life!

Culture Shock

I thought I already knew Japan well enough to call it my “dream country to live in.” Participating in a Japanese Language and Culture Program was my way of making it official… But I was wrong! Seeing Japan through films and books is different from actually living in it, which means you might go through culture shock.

The crowds will surprise you, specifically in Tokyo. While I lived as a student in another prefecture, visiting Tokyo made me realize that I really was in Japan. The structures, the language the people used, and the fast-paced life? I was overwhelmed! Also, some of my homegrown habits were strange to the Japanese. Taking calls in public transportation is frowned upon in Japan, as well as tipping in restaurants and other establishments.

With this, expect that you will commit lots of mistakes in the beginning, and it’s okay! Depending on the program, you will have intensive exposure to Japanese culture. You have to live it yourself! Be more observant of the people and the things around you. When you’re confused, asking around will be helpful. Just remember that you don’t have to take everything at one time. Every day is a chance to learn!

A Little Chinese Can Help

There are Japanese language courses offered in English but since Japanese Language and Culture Programs aim to provide intensive studies to international students, it’s reasonable to expose the participants to the language. Everyone is challenged to communicate in Japanese to develop their skills. But if there’s one thing I noticed during my stay there, a little Chinese can help you big time!

Along with my fellow exchange students, I often struggled with finding my way to different places as everything was in Japanese! It was different for some of our Chinese fellows. Since the Japanese use Chinese characters, specifically the kanji, knowing even a bit of Chinese could be handy when studying in Japan.

For me, I had zero knowledge about the Chinese language and writing system. Traveling with my Chinese friends was an advantage as I was also able to learn about kanji from them. This experience prompted me to explore the Japanese language even more. I set a goal to be able to read street signs and started there!

Lots of Festivals and Field Trips

Learning about Japanese culture is an exciting part of the program. As a student, I always learn more when I am put in an actual situation. Of course, I enjoyed learning in the classroom as well, but going out to really get immersed in Japan was more memorable. When you get in a Japanese Language and Culture Program, expect to attend lots of field trips and festivals.

The JaLS Group prioritized learning while having fun. Along with my batchmates, I enjoyed learning kendo and sushi-making, which seemed like activities that gave us a break from our classes. Visits to flower paths were also too enthralling to miss! There’s also the kimono-wearing experience, and tea ceremonies, which I wish I didn’t overlook. Participating in these activities can hone your knowledge as you really learn so much about Japanese culture.

Festivals also showed me how Japan celebrates its people and history. You could see how these unite people from different generations and places. You will surely feel welcome like you’re a part of the celebration yourself! The programs will bring you to different places in Japan. It’s the perfect time to learn about Japanese history and customs as deeply as you aim to.

Learning Everywhere

Aside from compulsory field trips and classroom discussions, I made sure I took the time to go out on my own. Programs can teach you many things about Japan, but having the initiative to find your own lessons can make a difference. I decided to spend days staying with my relatives living in Japan. This move taught me about Japan, as much as I learned inside the classroom.

Exploring Japan outside of your program’s itinerary also helps you look at the country from another perspective. Some places and activities may not be part of your program, so you can only experience them if you seek them yourself. It’s scary, of course, but with proper guidance and enough commitment, you’ll surely understand Japan even more!

There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the plan, which is to complete the Japanese Language and Culture Program. These programs are sure to teach you more than you could ever learn through self-study. But if you decide to go out there and take control even just for a few days, you’ll discover and learn even more!

Learning From Your Fellow Foreign Students

Japanese Language and Culture Programs gather international students from different countries and bring them together in Japan. This means you while you learn about Japan, you also get to learn about your fellow exchange students’ countries as well. Interesting, right? In 2018, I was able to study in Japan with fellow international students from Taiwan, South Korea, and China. I enjoyed learning about their culture and language as well. It’s like getting more than I bargained for!

While we mostly communicated in English and Japanese, I was able to learn about how the Japanese language was related to other Asian countries. It was also fascinating how people from other nations who rarely used the Japanese became interested in the language and culture! It’s more fun to learn in Japan when you’re with fellows who are as passionate and curious as you are. You become more motivated!

Had I not met newfound foreign friends at that time, my Japanese Language and Culture Program experience would have been different. My fellow exchange students only made me more interested in pursuing my studies. It’s great how we can understand each other through a language and culture that we didn’t grow up with.


Going through culture shock in the first few weeks is part of the process. Eventually, you will feel like you want to stay for good. When you get an opportunity to study in Japan through a Japanese Language and Culture program, take it! It might be just a short-term stay in the land of the rising sun, but you will learn a lot. Every experience is unique, but all programs will only make you want to know more about Japan. Pursue your Japanese language and culture studies, and have your own full Japanese experience!

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