The Kyoto Minsai Experience
こんにちは皆さん! Hidir here. I hope you’re all ready for a new blogpost. This blogpost will be a little different from our usual; it will detail my experience for Kyoto Minsai’s Summer exchange program. Without further ado, let’s go!
The first thing I noticed about the program was how affordable it was. The total course fee was ¥88,000, which at the time was about $1000++. It was extremely cost effective, because the fees were inclusive of:-
- 22 nights worth of accommodation,
- twelve 3-hour classes (every Monday to Thursday),
- 4 days of excursions to tourist areas,
- All course materials needed.
Seeing how plane tickets for that period had been cheap as well, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to fly over. A little tip if you wish to save on bank conversion rates, you can use an App called TransferWise to send the course fees over. If you do so, please do note that the App sends the money from a central fund within Japan, and as such, you will have to provide the name of Kyoto Minsai’s bank in Japanese.
Now let’s fast forward to my arrival at the school. My first day at the school started at 8am. Upon arrival, I had to take a 1 hour placement test to gauge my proficiency. As I didn’t do very well for the test (sob sob), I was assigned to the Elementary class. There are 3 elementary level classes, all of which last from 8.50am to 12pm. When I first entered the class, the first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t anyone else in my class who spoke English as a first language, and that had forced me to speak primarily Japanese to my classmates. Though it was quite intimidating at first, it helped me improve at an exponential rate. I also learnt on a later date that I was the newest student. The 21 day course that I had signed up for was actually a 3 month course, and so I was actually joining the last 21 days of the 3 month course. This is the reason why I had to have already studied the first 17 chapters of the Minna-Nihongo textbook to be eligible for the course.
Immediately after the first lesson, the principal of the school brought me to my dormitory, which was about 5 minutes by foot from the school. Though the principal was proficient in English, he tried his best to speak in Japanese when giving me a general description of where I can find restaurants and convenience stores. He then introduced me to the landlord of my semi-detached apartment, and together, the 3 of us headed to my room. One of the first things that struck me was how friendly everyone was, and how willing they were to help me get my bearings. Upon arriving at the room, I was pleasantly surprised. It was better than I had expected for the price I paid, as it came with air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi access and a kitchen. However, the bed was futon-style, which I needed quite a while to get used to. The landlord also informed me about the schedule of the garbage collectors, as they came only thrice a week, twice to collect recyclables, and once to collect general waste. After that, we bid each other adieu and I was left to my own devices for the day.
I then spent the rest of the day exploring. The first thing I realized was that there were 2 train stations within walking distance. But as I had bought the 21 day JR-pass (about $700 SGD), the closest one which I could take was from Nijo-station, which was 10 minutes away from my dormitory. The JR-pass I bought was worth it because it had saved me money on my countless rides by bullet train to Tokyo, Tottori, Hiroshima, and even Ferry rides to Miya-jima. But if you plan on just travelling regionally, I would recommend the regional pass instead.
The next few days were extremely fun but exhausting. The classes were very densely packed with information, but the teachers managed to teach us in a fun and succinct manner. Something unique about the classes there was that there was no assigned teacher to our class, and so the teachers changed daily. There was also homework for us to do, which would take me about half an hour to do every day. It was exhausting for my brain, but I could feel my Japanese speaking powers awakening as the days passed.
My classmates themselves were extremely warm and friendly too. They came from various countries, some from Korea, Russia, Germany, Mongolia, etc. It was extremely cool to make international friends and learn about their country’s cultures.
Aside from the classes, I also had a great time during the excursions to various areas. The train tickets were covered by the school, and the teachers were extremely helpful while bringing us around. We also got to meet the Intermediate level students, whose classes were usually in the afternoon. We went to many places to eat, like Kobe and Dotonburi, as well as cultural visits to places like Nijo Castle. We also learnt how to make Washi paper and took photos with the famous Glico poster. I loved every moment of it.
In my own free time, I also went to explore Japan. Besides the typical places like Inari and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, I also went to Omi-Maiko to just laze on the beach. The beach was pristine, and it wasn’t crowded at all, which made it extremely relaxing to just suntan and swim around.
I also went to Miya-jima island to visit the Torii gates at the ocean, and to hike up Mount Misen. The route up was littered with temples that I fell in love with. One even had buddha statues that crowded the borders of the stairways. It was an adorable sight to behold, as they each had tiny knitted hats. When I finally reached the top, the view left me breathless. The skies were a gorgeous blue, and the air was so crisp and fresh. Pictures do it no justice. Just a little advice though, the observatory at the top closes and 4 pm and the ropeway down closes at 5 pm, so be sure to plan ahead unless you intend to hike down!
Over the weekends, I had also gone to Mikura-jima Island to swim with wild dolphins. Mikura-jima island is off the coast of Tokyo and is home to hundreds of wild dolphins who swim around the area. I had booked a dolphin swimming session with the locals the week before, and took an overnight ferry there, which departed at 10pm. When I arrived at 6am, I met the most accommodating guides. There were about 5 of us tourists, and we all stayed over at the guides’ homes. The guides took very good care of us, even preparing us sushi meals, and accommodating to my needs as the only English-speaker there. We then swam with dolphins which was such a wholesome experience for me. We saw baby dolphins swimming upside down and doing loops from afar. (mother dolphins are really protective of them, so we could never approach their children) We also swam literally an arm’s length distance from the dolphins, some of them even swam around us while making eye contact. Makes me shed a manly tear just thinking about it. :,)
I had also visited Himeji-castle and Nara with my newly made friends. The deer at Nara were very friendly, some even bowed when we fed them. As friendly as the Nara deer were, the people at Himeji were even friendlier. Several struck up conversations with us in Japanese and I felt so happy that I was able to converse a lot better with them despite my poor standard when I had just started. I would like to give a shout-out to all my teachers, you made this possible with all your hardwork, and for that I am forever grateful.
And just like that, my last day had arrived. We had a graduation ceremony, where we had to give a thank-you speech in Japanese in front of all the 3 elementary level classes. It was the most nerve wrecking experience ever, but hey, we graduated! We then had a drinking and karaoke session together as a group that night, where we got to know each other a lot better and sang our hearts out before we finally bid each other goodbye.
All in all, I think the trip to Kyoto-Minsai was very eye opening, as it surrounds you not only with extremely competent teachers, but a perfect environment to surround yourself with the rich culture and heritage. 10/10 stars. Would, like, totally recommend.
Click here for the application form.
Click here for the Itinerary of the Study Tour “Momiji”.
Please send the application form directly to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31st October 2018!