Japan is one of the most easily reachable destinations for Koreans, but not for me. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in Europe, so I did not get a chance to visit many Asian countries. Even when I returned to Korea in 2015, I still did not get the chance to travel to the country that shares so many similarities with Korea. Therefore, when the short Summer Exchange Program to Japan was offered by my department’s professors, I jumped at the opportunity.
Getting to Know Japan
Japan has always been my dream destination to visit, and luckily I was able to drop by several major cities such as Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka. Tokyo is the capital of Japan; hence, it felt so much like Seoul. There were tall buildings, enormous crowds, and plenty of businesses just like Seoul. Also, Harajuku was very similar to Myeongdong, and although Shibuya was a bit overwhelming, it was interesting to see the rapidness of the area and massive amount of people crossing the road all together. Furthermore, the place known as the Insadong of Tokyo, Asakusa, felt very historic as well as cultural. Although the area was mostly fi lled with tourists like myself, Sensoji Temple and Jokoro Smoke enhanced the Japanese culture. In front of Sensoji is Jokoro, earthenware that produces smoke. The smoke is universally believed to have a healing eff ect.
After journeying around Tokyo, I left for Kobe, which hit me with a sense of serenity. In Kobe, I got the chance to meet students from Kobe University. They were majoring in Intercultural Studies. The students prepared several questions that we addressed in discussions on the relationship between Korea and Japan. Surprisingly Kobe University students proposed some sensitive questions, but it was a great opportunity for us as Korean students to discuss the concerns with great maturity. After the discussions, the Kobe University students and Sookmyung Women’s University students sat down for dinner together. Despite the language barrier, talks were active and mostly centered on K-Pop, university life, and experiences in each other’s countries. When the time for farewell came, we promised to stay in contact and visit each other’s countries again.
While in Kobe, Sookmyung Women’s University students took a train to Kyoto, where we tried on Yukatas and wooden slippers called ‘Geta’. Although they were not the most comfortable outfi ts, I believe I truly experienced Japanese culture. Unlike the Korean Hanbok, which is loose fi tting, Yukatas are extremely tight to the body, making it diffi cult to walk around freely. Kyoto was fi lled with tourists, so all the stores along the streets sold souvenirs. However, though I found the items all very attractive, they were quite pricy.
The last place I visited in Japan was Osaka. The fl ight back to Korea was out of Osaka, so with time to spare, Sookmyung Women’s University students decided to spend the day sightseeing the city. For lunch, we entered a random restaurant, where we were greeted by Japanese cooks who spoke fl uent Korean. Stunned for a second, we quickly recalled how many Koreans visit Japan yearly, especially Osaka.
The Beauty of ExchangePrograms
Exchange programs off ered by Sookmyung Women’s University are great opportunities for students. There are various types of exchange programs. If spending an entire semester or year seems too overwhelming, programs like the ones I joined are great options. I only spent 10 days in Japan, which allowed me to also engage in other activities during the rest of the vacation. Nevertheless, long-term exchange programs are also perfect opportunities to experience life abroad as well as a different schooling system.
Besides having the chance to go abroad, another beauty of joining an exchange programs is the creating of close relationships with new people. The exchange programs I joined was a group adventure. The group was comprised of seven students from three different university school years. I only knew three other students in the group. Although I didn’t know the other four members, in just ten days we became extremely close. Also, though an age gap existed among us, the group grew to depend on each other. In just ten days, we grew to trust and rely heavily on each other like long-time friends.
My Overall Experience
I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have been selected to be a part of the group for this exchange program. I believe it is important that, as students, we experience as much as possible. I highly recommend fellow Sookmyungians to participate in one of Sookmyung Women’s University’s exchange programs.
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