Welcome Party and School Starting

On Sunday there was a welcome party at my dorm for all the new freshman as well as all the new international students. We had dinner and played some games in order to get to know one another.

Yesterday was my first day of school, but it wasn’t overly exciting. What can I say? School is school, no matter what country you are in.

On Sunday the welcome party started at 6:30 PM. We were given a number when we walked in the door that corresponded to what group we were in. The beginning was just a free period where we could mingle with one another. I’ll admit that part was a little awkward. It was hard to mingle with some of the other students because I wasn’t sure what their English level was, and I wasn’t confident enough in my Japanese skill to be able to strike up a conversation with someone. I felt much better when one of the Japanese Resident Supports came over because at least with her there I knew that I could try Japanese with the other students, and if I got stuck or didn’t understand something, she would be there to help me out.

After the free period we ate dinner. The table we sat at was determined by the number we drew when we first walked in the door. For dinner we had pizza, KFC chicken, and sushi. We talked a little while we ate and then we moved on to something they called the “Gesture Game,” but it was basically just charades. Each table had a tablet or laptop with a powerpoint, where each slide of the powerpoint was a different word. One person stood at the head of the table looking at the word and trying to act it out while everybody else had to guess. Conveniently, the words on the powerpoint were in Japanese and English, so even though people were shouting out answers in both languages, you knew when somebody had the right answer.

The game concluded the evening, although we did take a big group photo at the end. After that, we were free to leave or hang around and talk some more. In my previous post I mentioned a freshman I had enjoyed talking to, and I got to talk to her again after the welcome party. She also introduced me to two of her friends, so the four of us stood around and talked for a while. I was really excited because I was actually able to understand a majority of the conversation. As usual, they were careful to talk slow and enunciate well, but it’s always uplifting when I’m able to understand conversation. Native speakers of not only Japanese but any language general speak fast and don’t always enunciate very well. That makes it incredibly hard for anybody who is trying to learn the language, so I always appreciate the people who are willing to take the time to slow down so that I can understand what is going on. I got along with them well enough that I even walked to school with them on my first day.

As I said before, my first day of school wasn’t anything overly noteworthy. It was exciting because it was my first day of school, but at the end of the day it was just school. However, I have to admit, when I’m in school at Rikkyo, I sort of feel like I’m back in high school because there are set class periods (first period is from 9:00-10:30, second period is from 10:45-12:15, etc) and there is even a bell that signals the end of periods. Classes are also longer here than what I am used to. At my home university, classes are usually 50 or 75 minutes (depending on whether the class meets twice or three times a week). There are only a handful of classes that are longer than that. However, here at Rikkyo all the classes are 90 minutes. To people who come from other schools, 90 minutes is pretty standard, but for me its definitely an adjustment. By about 45 minutes into the class, I’m totally ready for the class to be over.

I got placed into the J3 level Japanese class (reference the different Japanese levels at Rikkyo), which means that I have class 5 fives times a week, and they are all first period. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t mind having first period every day. I’m a morning person so that kind of stuff doesn’t bother me. What I do mind is the morning rush hour on the trains. When people say that Japanese trains are like packing sardines, they aren’t joking. Honestly, it’s probably an understatement.

It should also be noted that trains during rush hour usually run late, particularly the train that I ride. When trains are running late, the train station provides official notes stating by how much the train was late. However, it should be noted that Rikkyo does not accept this as an official excuse. “It is our job to prepare for delays and make sure we arrive at school on a timely manner”. In a way, I can understand that. However, I personally feel that in extreme circumstances, they should be accepted. For example, when the trains are running normally, the train ride from my dorm to Ikebukuro is 22 minutes. There is a train roughly every 8 minutes, so ideally I should be able to take the 8:23 or 8:27 train (arrive in Ikebukuro around 8:45 or 8:52) and still have plenty of time to walk to campus. I got on the train at 8:03 this morning (which actually wasn’t the 8:03 train, it was an earlier train that was running late), and by 8:59 I was still on the train. The train this morning was a total of 45 minutes late. Suffice to say I was late to class. If I leave my dorm an hour before class is supposed to start and still don’t make it to class on time because of the train, I feel like that should be an acceptable excuse. Do they expect us to leave 2 hours before class just on the rare occassion that the train is extremely late? Like, I can understand not accepting the train being late as an excuse if the train was only 5 or 10 minutes late, but 45 minutes, really?

Other than the J3 Japanese classes, which is a total of 5 classes (Grammaer, Listening & Conversation, Reading Comprehension, Composition, and Total Skills), I am also taking Seminar on Japanese Language Culture 2A, Japanese Society 1, Politics and Economy 1, Japanese Culture 1, and Modern Japanese History 1, for a total of 14 credit hours. The Seminar of Japanese Language Culture is a class that is designed to be paired with your Japanese language class. It is an optional class, but if you want to take it, the subsection of the class you take (1A, 2A, 3A, etc) is determined by your Japanese language level placement. The different subsections of the seminar have different main topics. Mine is about learning Japanese culture through manga/anime, movies, and dramas. For example, the first manga we will be reading has to deal with Japanese food.

My Japanese Society class is similar in that we will also be using manga and anime to learn about Japanese society. My Politics and Economy class is actually more of a social science class as opposed to the more business kind of class I had been expecting. I had expected to learn about the Japanese political system and Japan’s economy, but we’re actually learning about what it’s like to work in Japan. For example, we have to write reports and conduct interviews of people who work in Japan. I haven’t had my Japanese Culture 1 or Modern Japanese History 1 classes yet, but considering how misleading the titles of the other classes have been, I look forward to seeing what we talk about.

Monday is my hardest day because I have four classes back to back. However, the nice thing is that Rikkyo has a natural lunch break scheduled in. Second period ends at 12:15, and third period doesn’t start until 1:15. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I only have one class, and it’s first period so when I get out of class I still have the rest of the day to do whatever I want. On Thursdays and Fridays I have 1st and 3rd period. It sucks because I have like a two hour break between classes which is long, but not long enough to go home and come back. However, it’s also nice because, since I have to stay on campus, it will be easier for me to sit down and get homework done.

The classes themselves aren’t overly exciting, but they aren’t awful either. The J3 Japanese language classes and the Japanese Seminar are taught entirely in Japanese, but it’s not so bad since the courses are designed for students of my Japanese level. However, it’s still an adjustment. I’ll admit that at my home university I almost never gave my professors 100% of my attention. I was almost always working on something else during class, but even if I was working on something else, I was always listening to what the professor was saying. However, with the classes being entirely in Japanese, I have to actively listen and focus 100% of the time if I want to understand what is going on. It’s quite mentally taxing. The other classes are in English, which is nice. However, I’ll admit that by the end of Monday morning I had almost gotten used to everything being in Japanese, so it was weird to switch back to English. When I had to stand up and give a self introduction in my Politics and Economy class, I actually had to remind myself not to do it in Japanese, because it seems like every self-introduction I’ve done since arriving in Japan has always been in Japanese!

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