Before starting my exchange year in Japan, I searched all over the internet about Daito Bunka University, where I was about to study. Only one blog in French came out, and that was it. So, I thought that it’s kind of my duty to write an extensive blog post about my university in Japan, since I’m sure other people like me will want to know about it in the future.
But before that, let me talk a bit about my backstory. (If you’re not interested, just jumped to “The Japanese Levels & Other Classes“)
I was an exchange student from Canada (Laval University, in Québec) who went to Daito Bunka from September 2014 to July 2015. My major in Laval University is called “International Studies and Modern Languages”, where I study (obviously) international relations, plus the Japanese and Arabic languages. That exchange year was possible because of the partnership my university in Québec has with Daito Bunka in Japan. It’s optional in my major. I also automatically got a scholarship of 6500$ for the year when I got accepted for the exchange (which is not enough AT ALL by the way, but more on that later).
My Japanese level was pretty low when I arrived in Japan in August 2014. I had been studying for exactly two years, but it was mostly on-and-off. I started studying Japanese in university once a week for three months in 2012, then went to Japan for about two months and a half in 2013, and then studied another 6 months once a week until I went to Japan for my exchange year. That’s why my level was low. So, this takes me to the first point we’ll talk about concerning Daito Bunka University, which is…
The Japanese Levels & Other Classes
There are four levels of Japanese for exchange students in Daito Bunka. You will be placed depending on your JCAT score and how well you did with the Daito Bunka tests when you arrive. Level 1 is for people who don’t know anything about the Japanese language or have a very minimum knowledge of it. Level 2 is basic, where you can introduce yourself and speak a little bit in Japanese. Level 3 is basic-intermediate (which was the level I ended up in when I first arrived) and Level 4 is advanced. Yes, there is a huge step between Level 3 and Level 4! In the last level, you are with other people who are fluent in Japanese, or close to, so it’s a lot more competitive than the other three levels. Also, the classes are made differently: in Level 1 to 3, you are with only a few other students and you become really close to each other because you have about 8 classes of Japanese together per week (each class is one hour half). In Level 4, you can choose any classes you want (even classes that are not only for exchange students), so you are not always with the same people everyday and the groups are bigger. The mood is very different, and I personally preferred when I was in Level 3 (I was able to take some classes in Level 4 during my last semester).
You can also choose option classes in any levels, like Japanese Culture & Art, Japanese History or Current Issues. In Level 4, there’s Special Studies (a kanji class), Academic Writing, Academic Reading, Academic Japanese Communication, and any other classes taught in Daito Bunka that you would want to have. I personally took Arabic, because it’s part of my major back in Canada, so I wanted to keep studying that language while overseas. I also took a class called “Speech and Debate” which was taught in English and was A-MA-ZING. If you want a nice English class about international relations and peace and security, search for the classes taught by a teacher named Garren, he’s a great teacher and I heard every class he teaches are awesome.
I won’t go too far into the details of the classes because they are bound to change over the years, but I would say that my favorite options were Culture, History and Speech & Debate. I didn’t like Field Work at all, which was compulsory for everyone (although I was able to drop it at my second semester, thank Lord). I hope your Field Work class will be better by now!
Since every class is one hour half long, it’s easy to have many of them. I had about 9 to 11 different classes that I took each semester. You can also have one or two days off during the week, and I highly suggest having your Fridays off to have a longer weekend! I personally tought that the classes in Daito Bunka were very easy compared to the ones in my university back in Canada. I didn’t do a lot of homeworks and I didn’t have to read hundreds of pages like I do in Québec. Also, the reports are much easier to do because you don’t have to cite all your sources and they’re a lot shorter than what I’m used to. So all in all, I had a very easy year even if everything was in Japanese.
Daito Bunka has two campus (one in Higashimatsuyama, and one in Itabashi) so there are classes held in Itabashi campus, but I didn’t have any of them so I can’t inform you about it. You will visit that campus during your arrival, though.
I’m not going to lie to you; the first couple of days are exhausting. All the new exchange students have to meet at Narita Airport with a representant of the International Center, and from there take a long bus ride that leads you to your dormitory. You might arrive at around 9PM and Japanese volunteers (the ones who will help you with basically everything during all semester) will be waiting for you to welcome you in your new house. You find your room and get used to your surrounding during that evening. The volunteers explain how everything works (i.e you need to push a button to use the stove and you can’t place a big pan on a smaller circle on the stove, because it won’t work, etc) and the International Center’s staff tells you to meet around a certain time the morning after, because you have to register your move-in in the city to the city hall and open a bank account, among other things. Which means, unfortunately, loads and loads of Japanese paperwork. The volunteers are saviors, I tell you. Also, you need an “inkan” or “hanko” (which is a stamp with your name in kanji on it) to sign all those papers. The International Center will give it to you for the a certain price, so you don’t have to worry about that.
So, the first couple of days are basically paperwork for moving in/bank account/health insurance, visiting the school, choosing a cellphone if you need one (DON’T get into the trap of Daito Bunka’s deal with SoftBank, you should choose your cellphone outside of school by yourself, it’s way cheaper. I recommend Docomo, and you can ask the help of a volunteer if you doubt your skills for renting a cellphone in Japan), do more paperwork, and then take the Japanese language ability test. After that, you’re free to visit a little and party with the other students in Ryûgakusei-kaikan or Green House (or at least, that’s what we did).
Now, the interesting part: the dormitories.
I lived in a place called Green House, which is the only shared house provided by Daito Bunka. All the other dormitories (Live Core, City Palace, Ryûgakusei-kaikan) are like very small apartments where you have your own kitchen, bathroom, balcony and bedroom all to yourself. In Ryûgakusei-kaikan, the only thing you share is a common room where you can watch TV or hold a party. I can’t really talk about those dormitories though, as I never lived there. But I can talk a lot about Green House.
All summer 2014 before arriving to Japan, I was anxious about living in Green House (we don’t choose where we’re going to live, the International Center of the university will place you). I thought that Ryûgakusei-kaikan sounded much better because you have your own apartment. I kept thinking that I doubt I would like Green House, mainly because I thought I might not get along with the other 15 people in the house (yes, 16 people divided on two floors, and all girls). But it turns out that destiny is amazing because Green House was the best thing that ever happened to me while I was in Japan. I lived with 7 other girls on my floor, and I became really close friends with most of them. We would eat dinner together and watch movies under the kotatsu in the kitchen (which my korean friend and I “stole” from Ryûgakusei-kaikan and transported all the way by train to Green House by the way, so if you’re a Green House second-floor’s resident and have an awesome kotatsu to keep you warm in winter, you can thank us!). I really miss it now that I’m back in Canada. Living with other awesome people like that definitely helped making my year one of the happiest of my life. I really wish that it’ll be the same for you.
Also, there’s a cleaning lady coming twice a week to Green House. She cleans the common areas and gets the trash out, but apart from that, to be honest, she doesn’t do much. We still had to make our own cleaning plan to keep the house liveable. So don’t depend on her!
If you want to know how we get to the university from Green House, you can check my YouTube video and blog post about it. I didn’t start filming directly from Green House because I don’t want everyone in the world to know exactly where it is, but it begins in a very memorable place near the house, so you won’t have any problem finding your way.
The things I disliked related to Daito Bunka University in general
This is my own opinion about what I didn’t like at Daito Bunka University. It might have changed or it might be different for you, so take it with a grain of salt.
I disliked the fact that there’s absolutely no help for mental health in the university. As far as I know, there are no psychologists or counselors on the university’s ground, at that’s very shameful. At my university in Canada, we have free access to counseling any time. But in Japan, mental health is kind of taboo and not adressed much as an issue.
Also, I didn’t like the “don’t ask questions, just follow” type of guiding. For example, I was forced to take the Field Work class by the International Center, even if the staff themselves didn’t know the course’s content. I thought that was just ridiculous.
Something that is worth mentioning (although it didn’t bother me that much) is that almost all the staff of International Center don’t speak English, at all. Only one or two can. Same goes for the teachers (of any level). I personally didn’t mind because I wanted to be fully immersed, but I can understand that it might be a problem for other people.
The last thing I disliked is the rent of Green House. I had to pay 52, 500 yen (or about 550$) per month. It’s quite expensive in my opinion. My scholarship was not even enough to pay the rent for the year, so you should think about other means to gain money before entering your exchange year in Japan. Most exchange students had problems related to money, as we all struggled with the high priced rent. I personally worked a lot before coming, had a part-time job while in Japan and had loans and returned taxes from the government, so I had about 16 000$ for the year. I was spending 1000$ ~ 1500$ a month or so. I had to use credit for the last couple of weeks because it just wasn’t enough (but I had to pay 200$ per month to my orthodontist for my Invisalign braces, so I guess that’s why I fell short).
(If you want a part-time job, teaching English is very easy if your English is good enough, and it is well paid. Mine was a very flexible once a fortnight job for a group of 4 or 5 middle-aged women who paid around 40$ for one hour half, and I was my own boss)
Over the course of my exchange year, I’ve had my favorite places to go. I would recommend:
Rashika for a delicious Indian/Nepali curry near Takasaka station (take the road on your right when out of the station, and walk to the weird yellow and blue restaurant, or walk straight ahead near the 7eleven convenience store. There are two of the same restaurant);
Karaoke Ban Ban (for Green House people because it’s near the house) or the Karaoke near Takasaka Station (because it’s super cheap) to have some fun singing with friends;
Peony Walk which is a shoping center where you can walk to or take the bus from Takasaka station;
花和楽の湯 (Kawara No Yu) which is an awesome onsen (hot springs) near Ogawamachi station;
猫かつ (Neko Katsu), a relaxing cat café in Kawagoe;
美々庵 (Vivian) which is a wonderful and cheap kimono renting place (also located in Kawagoe);
The Okonomiyaki place over a goods-selling shop near the supermarket The Price (near Green House);
The supermarkets The Price, Seiyu and Ozam, all equally far from Green House but in different directions. The Price‘s deep fried stuff is the best and the vegetables/fruits are cheaper (and it’s on the way to school), but Seiyu has a better selection of meat, rice, bread, acohol, junk food and milk products. Ozam has the cheapest cereals, but no choices in pasta. Seiyu also sells other stuff unrelated to food, like notebooks and shoes, and it’s a 24hour supermarket/shopping center, while The Price closes at 21:00 and Ozam at 21:30;
The beach at Enoshima. Very far, but so worth it!;
AgeHa, an amazing multi-platforms indoor/outdoor club with varying music styles in Shin-Kiba (also very far but worth it);
The round table in front of the International Center in university where some of the exchange students and Japanese volunteers eat lunch. A good way to socialize between two classes!
And that’s about it for this post (it’s long enough, isn’t it now!). If you have ANY questions, please feel free to contact me here in the comments or write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you’ll have a great time during your exchange year just like I did. Have fun and enjoy!
And here are more pictures of the school, just because!