During orientation there will not be many Japanese students on campus because their semester starts at a different date. Some of the programs I think would be good to participate in is the Speaking Partner Program and the Experience Japan Programs that some of the students run. 

The Speaking Partner Program is especially good because this allows you to interact with and become friends with a Japanese person right off the bat. The person you will correspond with will most likely be an English Major and want to learn about the language and interact with a Gaijin (foreigner). They will show you things and help explain things to you, but overall just treat them like you would a friend back home. 

The Experience Japan Programs and set up by students of Kansai Gaidai and will focus on the travelling, traditons, and food of Japan. This is a good way to meet people and try new and or different things. I remember one of the first programs was a trip to Kyoto, and another was making and eating sushi. 

Besides these actual programs set up or organized by Kansai Gaidai there are some other things that I highly recommend doing. 

Explore the area. Whether it is by walking, bike or some other method of transportation just take some time to explore. I will be mentioning several places in subsequent posts, as well as how to get there and the like. 

After you have made some Japanese friends there are some things that you should have them help you out with, one of those things is to buy a bike. There are several used bike shops where you can buy one, and you should be able to get one for under 10000 yen (about 100 dollars), some much cheaper, regardless it is really handy to have a bike.

Another good thing to have a Japanese friend around for is to get your Alien Registration Card. If you are staying in Japan for longer than 90 days you are required to obtain an Alien Registration Card, this replaces having to carry your passport with you for the most part, and by law you must have your card with you at all times. To obtain your Alien Registration card you have to go to the Hirakata City Hall.

Before you go to the City Hall, there are some documents you have to present to them before you can get your card. When you were applying to Kansai Gaidai they had you provide a number of photographs of yourself, two of them should be given back to you when you get your orientation packet. You will need these two photos. If you don’t have them there is a photobooth directly under Hirakata-shi Station where you can get them done. Besides that you will need take your passport with you.

The easiest way to do that is to go to the Hirakata-shi train station, and walk to the Starbucks that is near the AMPM. Walk past the Starbucks on your left and a small park on your right the following building will be the City Hall. Walk into the door on your right (you’ll walk up a slightly inclined ramp), and walk into the building, you will walk down a hall and take a left. You will see a machine strait ahead a little further. You push a button on the machine that will give you a number and then wait for your number to be called (the button will have English below it denoting what it is for).  

After your number is called you walk past the machine and go to the left all the way down the set of desks, the last two or three are for obtaining your Alien Registration Card. There you will have to fill out the application for the card, this is where it is handy to have a Japanese friend with you because if you have any questions they can ask the attendant for you (not many spoke English when I was there). Bring your application packet because it has the address for the Seminar Houses and other information you may need to fill out the application. After filling out the application and getting approved you will be given a piece of paper that acts as a temporary Alien Registration Card, and be told when to come back for your actual card. 

Because this is already long and I have more that I will write I’ll end this post and call it Part 1, following will be Part 2 and there could be a Part 3 depending on how long the second part will be. So until then!

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When arriving at the Seminar House the staff (volunteer and otherwise) look up your name to make certain that you are an incoming student, where you will be housed for orientation, and so forth. When you check in you will have to show your passport for verification. When they are satisfied that you are who you say you are they give you an “Orientation Manual” and show you to your room.

This Orientation Packet has a wealth of information for you to take in. I will provide the short version here, by what I recommend.

  1. Make sure you read through the entire packet at least once, from there you can take what is necessary for you from it.
  2. Examine the “Orientation Schedule”. It will have all of the events that will be going on throughout the week that are hosted by Kansai Gaidai. Make sure to note when you are assigned to take the “Language Lab Orientation” and the “Japanese Placement Test”. Some events on the schedule that I recommend that you attend are:
    • The Banking Session; this will walk you through opening a Japanese Banking account through Sumitomo-Mitsui Bank. If you already have an international bank account (such as Citibank) this is not entirely necessary, but it is handy to have as Kansai Gaidai prefers to do business with this bank (such as crediting you with your housing deposits for instance).
       
    • If you are participating in the homestay program you should probably go to the Homestay Students’ Meeting, I assume they will give program specific information to you. In similar fashion, if you are going to be staying in a Seminar House for the semester you should attend the Seminar House Residents’ Meeting. You will be introduced to your Seminar House “Otoo-san” and “Okaa-san”, as well as your Resident Advisor and the other people that you will be living with for the rest of the semester. I recommend going to this to meet and talk with people, if you have already read the Orientation Manual then the information they provide will just be repetitive.
       
    • Student Loan Session and Payment of Fees; If you are taking out loans or need to make payments to the university while in Japan. This is mandatory if you have any money that is owed to Kansai Gaidai because they will not let you register for classes unless these are payed beforehand (common-sense).
       
    • Opening Ceremony and Welcome Luncheon; this is a nice ceremony and free food where you can meet people and explore the campus more.
       
    • Registration; Registering for classes is extremely important because you will go through a lengthly process where you will first get a number taken from a lottery of accepted students. You will then have to show up at the Center for International Education at Kansai Gaidai and stand in a line until it is your turn to register. When it is your turn you will have to show proof of payment for all fees (General Deposit, Liability Insurance Fee, Tuition, and Housing), proof of your insurance policy, signature on the Standards of Conduct Agreement and the Privacy Consent Form. After they are satisfied you will then present the courses that you wish to register for, because this is a “first come, first serve” kind of system having a favorable position in the registration lottery helps you get the courses you want. Because the maximum enrollment number for each course is 30 students, and there are over 400 international students, it pays not to be near the end of the line. NOTE: Make sure you have all of your insurance papers in order because this is what most students had problems with.
       
    • Besides these things the other events were not very necessary in my mind, however if there is something that looks interesting to go to, attend it. Otherwise I think your time would be best spent doing other things (of which I will recommend a few in a following post).
       
  3. Take out and post somewhere noticeable the Academic Calendar, because this tells you what the national holidays and when you have no classes, as well as deadlines, etc.
     
  4. Orientation Period Rules; During Orientation there are more strict rules that are put into effect that are lifted, or lessen, after the period comes to a close. 

  • There is a curfew of 10:00pm during the Orientation Period after which the outside gates are locked as well as the door into the Seminar House itself. If you come after the curfew you will have to ring the buzzer because you are not given a key to the outside gate or door until after you move into the Seminar House to begin the semester. This is especially annoying because this will wake Okaa-san and Otoo-san, more times that not hindering a less than favorable relationship between you and them.
     
  • During the Orientation Period there are no visitors allowed past the central lounge (for Seminar Houses I, II, and IV) or the lobby (Seminar House III). Also the visitors are not allowed to use any of the kitchen utensils, computer labs, or pretty much anything except the couch or common area. After orientation this is loosened up a bit, but they will check every now and then. 
     
  • No alcohol is allowed inside the dorms. There are plenty of bars and other places to drink around the area (in a later post I will mention a few of my favorites), just for harmony’s sake adhere to this rule. Also, this rule does not lift after the orientation period.
     
  • Quiet Hours at 10:00pm, you will get yelled at (in Japanese) if you are too loud after quiet hours begin. They say it is to harbor a good relationship with the neighbors. Seriously though, Japanese walls are not thick and sound travels farther than you think it would. Just try to be courteous, it goes a long way. This rule does not get lifted as well, although they will be a little more lenient with you.

Now that covers all of the official business I believe, so the next post will cover my personal “Orientation Dos and Don’ts,” until then!

August 27th 2007

Leaving early in the morning, I got on the shinkansen heading towards my university, Kansai Gaidai. I arrived in Kyoto and waited for the pickup from the university and met a few others that were scheduled for the same time. We waited around the exit, for a while and a person holding a “Welcome incoming Kansai Gaidai Students” helped us load our luggage into the bus that would be taking us to Hirakata City.

Arriving at the place where I would be living for almost 5 months, I was greeted by some student volunteers and we were ushered to respective dormitories we would be staying in for the week long orientation. All study abroad students would be staying in the dorms, or seminar houses as they called them, for the duration of the orientation regardless if they were home-stay or not, this way we would be able to meet each other, develop friendships, etc. 

It was almost 5pm when I arrived so I put my bags in my room and immediately wanted to take a shower, it was a few degrees cooler in Hirakata City than it was in Tokyo but it was still very hot and humid. This gives me the opportunity to describe the seminar houses a bit. 

At Kansai Gaidai there are four seminar houses. Seminar houses I, II, and IV are dormitory style while seminar house III ( the one I would be living in ) was apartment style. Dormitory style meant that there were many rooms per floor, and the bathroom and cooking facilities were shared. Apartment style meant that there were four suites per floor, in each suite there were four rooms housing two students each (unless a person got a single room). Also in each suite there were two sets of sinks, refrigerators and freezers for the kitchen/dining area, the bathroom area had four shower stalls, four sinks, and two toilets. There is also a living area with a tv, really large couch, and two tables. I will describe living in the seminar house in a later post, but that is the general layout of the seminar house’s living space.

For the duration of the orientation because there were so many students, the double rooms had three people sleeping in them, and the singles had two people. At the end of the week the home-stay students would move out. 

At first I didn’t meet any of my roommates or suite-mates, so I took the opportunity to walk around a bit. Also of note, at this point I only had one of my carry-on pieces of luggage because the others I had sent by Yamato Shipping and I couldn’t pick them up yet, so I did not have any towels yet. I went out in search of a place to buy towels so that I could shower. Here’s the area around the seminar houses ( image provided by Kansai Gaidai ):

After taking my shower  I went on a tour of the area hosted by the volunteers at around 7pm, it was a good way to get to know the area and meet some of my fellow study abroad students before classes started. We went to a couple of the supermarkets, the East Gate, the Katahoko bus stop, and the park shown on the image above. I had a good time walking and talking and met some cool people. Finally I made it back to seminar house III and met some of my suite-mates for the orientation period, and turned in for the night. 

In the next post I will write about the orientation itself; the rules and regulations, some of the activities, and my suggestions on what to do and what not to do, until then!!

A few months before you leave, consequently starting your study abroad experience, the campus you are doing the study abroad program through will hold an orientation giving general information, and possibly having some people that have done the program in past semesters and academic years. Although it is probably not mandatory I recommend going to this orientation, at the very least to meet some of the other students that will be joining you on your trip to Japan.

The first part will most likely be a general orientation, some kind of presentation with all of the study abroad students going to all of the countries offered by that university (the general orientation I attended at SUNY at Albany was held in a big auditorium/lecture hall with students going to Spain, Germany, the UK, Japan, and many other countries). This presentation will contain the most generalized information regarding things such as financial planning, organizing your time, dealing with culture shock and jet lag, and reverse culture shock to name a few topics. Because it is such general, broad sweeping information a lot of it will be generic and common sense, however you should pay attention because a couple of gems of information may be given. Also, because it is held before a large group you probably won’t be able to ask questions, so write down or keep in mind questions that you want to ask. They should also give you a packet of information, read it over at the very least, taking notes probably isn’t necessary but if that’s how you remember things better feel free to do so.

After the general orientation, they should separate you into smaller groups by regional program. Depending on how big the university’s study abroad program they may put you into a group of study abroad students going to Japan or, if they have a smaller amount of students, all the students going to Eastern Asian countries (the former was true with my experience, rather than the latter). Regardless you will be grouped with students going to the same general area as yourself, as well as the adviser or program coordinator for your area of travel. My recommendation is to not be shy, don’t be afraid to talk to the other people in the room. Be sure to ask questions that you have, the adviser will know the answer, or if he/she doesn’t they will find out the information for you. A lot of the information provided to you will be different from university to university. For me, there was a student that had gone to Kansai Gaidai the ’06-’07 academic year, so I asked all of my questions directly to her, the answers to which I will be providing in subsequent posts to this blog in due course.

So that should take you through to your orientation, next time I will go through what you should discuss and organize with your home campus (in my case I don’t go to SUNY at Albany so I will describe what needs to go on if you go to a college that isn’t directly providing the study abroad program to you, but it should be very similar for any campus, although significantly easier if you go to a university that provides that program directly), so until then!