I have some questions about studying abroad
April 24, 2013 4:39 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever studied abroad before?

I've been looking into studying abroad in Japan (in the near future senior year of college). I'm planning on majoring in history and minoring in japanese, and i'd like to stay for a year; but i'm having trouble finding the right answers to all my questions.

01.Have any of you studied abroad? How long did you stay? Was it worth it, and would you do it again?

02.If i go to a country where the main language isn't English and i don't speak that language will i have any problems?

03.Is it safe to walk around at night or travel alone? Any scams, etc..i should be wary of?

04.Should you get a job while abroad? How easy is it to get one fairly quick?
A.If you didn't get a job, and you stayed longer than 2-3 months was it hard to get by?

05.Will my cell phone work in another country?

06.Can you get loans,etc...to pay for some of the cost?

07.What was the housing situation like?
A.In some of the ones i've looked at you'd have to pay monthly rent, and utilities which for Japan equaled out to $70 and $99 us dollars a month + the cost of books and groceries.

08.Will i be able to open a bank account in Japan since i doubt my credit cards would work there without charging a fee?
posted by earthquakeglue to Education (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to Japan or some of your specifics, but my 6 month long study abroad program (in Cape Town, South Africa) was the best thing I have ever done, and the most rewarding experience I've had in my life thus far. DO IT!!
posted by katypickle at 4:46 PM on April 24, 2013

You should talk to your school's study abroad office. But

1. Yes, it was incredible. I've seen in my own students (I'm a professor) that a year seems to be more worthwhile than a semester.
2. Depends if the program is set up to be a language immersion program.
3. Don't know.
4. There are probably laws regarding foreigners working. Occasionally there may be positions within the study abroad program - dorm monitor or something. But I wouldn't advise you to try to work during this.
5. If you have an unlocked GSM phone, yes. You'll need a local SIM card though.
6. Probably.
7. Depends on the program
8. Depends.
posted by k8t at 4:48 PM on April 24, 2013

Is this through an established study abroad program with your school or are you trying to "roll your own"?
posted by amanda at 4:53 PM on April 24, 2013

Are you doing this through your US university? I'm going to answer assuming you are.

1. 6 weeks, totally worth it, absolutely do it again
2. A LOT of people in Japan speak English but otherwise depends on the program, are you going to learn the language?
3. Depends almost ENTIRELY on where you go
4. Not if you are doing study abroad, these are fairly structured programs that don't leave a lot of free time for work. Also you are likely there on a student or tourist visa, not on a visa that allows one to work.
5. Don't know, before cell phones
6. You could, my financial aid paid for part of it and I paid for the rest, you would likely have to do private loans though
7. Handled entirely by my university and was included in the fees I paid before leaving.
8. Maybe.

Have you gone to visit your university's study abroad office? A lot of these questions would be answered by them depending on the program you are doing. Sometimes people go for a whole semester, sometimes it is a shorter project based program. Go ask them, they can tell you what programs they offer.
posted by magnetsphere at 4:54 PM on April 24, 2013

1) I studied abroad in college some time ago, and would highly recommend it. I went to Costa Rica, and stayed with a host family. I stayed closed to 5 months.

2) This will depend on the program. I did not speak Spanish, and was told it was not a necessity as I'll be taking Spanish classes. Turns out I was the only one in my group who had never taken a Spanish class - the first 2 weeks sucked in terms of communication, but I caught up very quickly. By the end of the program, my Spanish was better than many of my classmates.

3) This will obviously depend on the place. Petty theft is very common, and muggings occasionally in Costa Rica. We were warned of pirate taxis (illegal taxis). Violent crime is rare, though numerous people were mugged and had things stolen.

4) This is going to depend on the place and work requirements, but I wouldn't even try to get a job. Studying and experiencing life in another place is your "job" while studying abroad.

5) Some programs recommend you not get a cell phone, but again, it will depend entirely on your program and where you go.

6) Talk to your university's study abroad office or program coordinator

7) The housing conditions varied dramatically, but we all lived with host families. Some were modern houses - with cable TV, air conditioning, and spacious layout, and families of varying sizes. I only had a host mother (she was separated, and all her children were old and had moved out), and i lived in her very small apartment - no TV, minimal hot water, no AC, but a beautiful view of the mountains. I think I paid the tuition and costs up front (host families were required to provide breakfast and dinner). We paid for books, other meals, and non-program associated activities.

8) Ask your university's study abroad office or program coordinator
posted by raztaj at 4:54 PM on April 24, 2013

01.Yes. A year. It was life-changing and the most important thing I have ever done in my life.

02. Yes. Which is why you should take some languages courses beforehand. I have said this before: I LEARNED languages in school. I never SPOKE languages until I traveled. The first night you dream in a foreign language will blow. Your. Mind.

03. Same advice anywhere in the world. Be cautious, be safe. Presumably your exchange program will prepare you in advance for cultural differences before you go.

04. Mostly NO. There are different rules and visas for studying vs. working.

A. See above. I knew a year in advance that I was studying overseas, and saved up as much money as I could. Your exchange program usually provides accommodations and some meals, but you are usually responsible for everything else. Again, your program should advise of this beforehand.

05. Depends on your plan.

06. Depends.


08. Depends.

Many of these very simple basic questions will depend on the individual program. Ask THEM.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:55 PM on April 24, 2013

I spent my sophomore year in Japan about 10 years ago.

I was there for a year, and it was absolutely worth it. My time there was challenging like nothing I had previously known, and I underwent a huge amount of personal growth.

I was already more or less fluent in Japanese when I went. There's a lot of difference between the larger cities and the smaller cities/rural areas when it comes to how well people can speak English, but if at all possible I think you should make it a priority to spend as much time as possible on your Japanese before you go. It's very socially isolating to be around people who don't speak your language. Even if you do speak the language pretty well, it's not easy.

The crime rate in Japan is very low. I was in quite a small city, but I always walked around alone after dark and I was never nervous about my safety. (Once I lost my wallet and it was immediately returned to me; once I lost my cell phone and the police actually made a considerable effort to get it back to me.)

It probably will not be legal to get a job while on a student visa, but I think a lot of people do some type of work under the table. However, the English teaching job market in Japan has kind of crashed, and it's likely to be difficult to get a job, especially if you don't have your BA, and especially if you're available for a limited number of hours because of your study schedule.

I don't know about the finances of it (I was able to get a scholarship through Monbukagakusho as a Japanese Studies student; you may or may not be eligible for something like that), but the people at your university who arrange foreign exchanges will know more.

I lived in a dorm specially for international students (we didn't speak English among ourselves, actually; about 90% of the international students were Chinese or Korean.) It was a very tiny room but I wasn't assigned a roommate. Rent was something like $40 a month. But the people who arrange foreign study at your university will know more about that as well.

I think you will be able to open up a bank account after you get your Alien Registration Card (it will take a couple weeks to get this set up.) Most stores do accept US credit cards, I don't really know the specifics of the fees they charge. (But Japan is way more cash-oriented than the US is, you don't pay for your groceries or your restaurant meals with credit cards/debit cards. This may have changed since I was there, I don't know for sure.)
posted by Jeanne at 5:00 PM on April 24, 2013

If you're specifically looking at Japan, you should phrase your questions about Japan, not 'abroad'. The more details you can provide (your school, the program you want to attend, etc) the more info people can give.

For your question 1: I went to France for six months. It was absolutely worth it, and I would do it again. I would recommend anyone who wants to graduate with a language major go to a country speaking that language and do some immersion, or an equivalently intensive program (eg Middlebury) and would be quite skeptical of the real world utility of a language major without immersion time.
posted by jacalata at 5:02 PM on April 24, 2013

Response by poster: @HeyAllie You had dreams in a foreign language?

@Jeanne I'm planning on minoring in Japanese so i'll have at least 2 years of it before i go. You're right though, i should definitely try to learn as much of it as possible before i go.

Thanks everyone, all of this has been very helpful so far! I'll definitely talk to someone at my school closer to when i'd like to go.
posted by earthquakeglue at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2013

01. Doing it right now, but I've also worked in jobs that required extensive travelling, so the challenge is to keep myself motivated in the long-term. I can't afford to go home until all this is over (I'm on a one-year programme), but if you could go back for Christmas or the summer term, I would recommend it for your own emotional health. The key is to occupy yourself in a healthy balance between school and recreational stuff. Clubs, associations, volunteering, all this helps. I do feel incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity, and so I really have been enjoying my time. Be prepared to see a change between expectations and reality though (in terms of travel opportunities, friends made, local conditions) - this could go either way.

02. Others have recommended language classes and I echo them. Depends on how the population is largely comfortable with English. The Japanese do learn English in schools, but being largely homogenous with a healthy local native language and culture, you will be grateful for your basic Japanese to get around (what I'm saying is that the populace-at-large may not be able to communicate with you beyond the very basic, except maybe in more urban/touristy areas.)

03. As others have said, this depends. Japan however is quite safe. If you are a foreign female however, you may attract more attention but mostly benign. Carry yourself with confidence and take necessary precautions will see you through most places.

04. This very much depends on the country. Japan has very strict visa restrictions between students and expatriate workers, I believe -- regardless they can be very strict with foreigners and their permits. Yes, there's also the matter if you can even find time. In terms of getting by, it depends on where you will be staying and your expected monthly allowance.

05. I'm assuming you're American. Yes, especially if it's not under contract and unlocked. Japan shares the same mobile standard (CDMA). I know USA is beginning to have GSM, like elsewhere globally, but not Japan. So if you have a GSM-only phone you may need to get a new one. But honestly, if your phone is a quadband, it should be able to shift between the two.

06. I refer to the replies by others.

07. I don't know enough about this to respond.

08. You should be able to, but it will take time (as you may require supporting documentation from your university as sponsor and proof of your student visa, among other things). This will require further advice from an education professional specialising in Japan or related people. Please expect that you may need to depend on taking out money via your credit card, OR have a stash of cash to last you a month.
posted by cendawanita at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. I spent a semester in Vienna, Austria. It was worth it in that it was a huge opportunity for growth and I matured a lot, but I can't say that I had a particularly good time. If I could I would do it again but would pick a different country.

2. I learned enough German there to get by in basic transactional situations (restaurant, post office, etc.) but not enough to really be able to interact with people. It's going to limit your social circle to mainly the people in your program, which could be good or bad depending on how well you click with them.

3. Don't know.

4. I got a job working at my program's library a few hours a week, which I qualified for because of demonstrated financial need. You might be able to work outside the program if it was under the table but that would be highly unlikely if you don't know the language. It was definitely worth working, because...
A. Going abroad was a huge money suck, especially since I didn't have the financial aid that I would have had at a program run by my school. I burned through all the money I had saved up beforehand and then some. If you want to travel that will add substantially to the base cost of going abroad.

5. Don't know.

6. Yes.

7. It varies.

8. Don't know.
posted by fox problems at 5:23 PM on April 24, 2013

I studied abroad in High School, so this might not be completely helpful, but:

1. I spent the second half of my sophomore year of High School in China. It was absolutely worth it, and I'd definitely do it again.

2. I think that you will have problems, but they will not be insurmountable and the good will almost certainly outweigh the bad. If you're already studying Japanese, you will improve in leaps and bounds by being there, even if you're not fluent when you leave. I spoke Chinese sort of okay when I got to China, and I left feeling pretty confident in almost all conversational situations. Understanding what the hell was going on in class was another matter entirely, but my grades in my Chinese language only classes didn't count.

3. Depends on where you are. I was in a small (for China) city, and I figured that going down dark alleys alone was probably not a good idea. Ask your program advisors and students from previous years.

4. Plan on not being able to get a job (i.e., save money). If you can set something up, great, but visa restrictions make it almost impossible for students studying abroad to get any work that isn't under the table.

5. I defer to those with Japan-specific knowledge.

6. I defer to previous answers but would like to also add: Almost all study abroad programs have some sort of financial assistance, but you have to ask.

7. I lived with a host family. It was excruciatingly awkward most of the time, but I learned a lot (language, how to get along with people, independence, etc.) I mostly bought my own groceries, but other than that, I didn't have to pay anything. I think they got a small stipend from the school.

8. I just brought a bunch of cash with me, but ask your program advisor what they recommend.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:25 PM on April 24, 2013

Studying abroad was one of my best life experiences. It changed me in so many good ways, I always advise students to take advantage of the opportunity. Please please go!

(I'll memail you with more detail about Japan specific info.)
posted by loquat at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2013

Response by poster: @loquat I'm planning on it! Okay, cool thank you!
posted by earthquakeglue at 5:49 PM on April 24, 2013

I studied abroad for a semester in college, and for twenty years I've kicked myself that I didn't sign up for a full (school) year.
posted by telophase at 6:17 PM on April 24, 2013


just came back from half a year abroad in Japan last year as well. As others have mentioned, a lot of the questions here can be answered by the International Student office at your university or whatever office deals with sending students abroad. Note that it's usually way easier (and cheaper) to do your exchange through your university, which usually will have a series of academic partners in different countries. Less paperwork, less credit approval challenges, and more funding possibilities usually when you go through that. Also, I don't know about US schools, but for here in Quebec, partners means that you pay the exact same tuition than you'd pay at your school regularly (versus paying foreign student tuition at your host university).

So answering your questions, from my own experience:

1) Yes, 6 months, Tokyo, incredibly worth it (life changing) and I would absolutely do it again. Like others here, I'm one of those people that love the challenge of traveling without really knowing what to expect. Honestly, the hardest thing for me (and for a lot of people I know who have been on exchange) has not been the exchange itself, but coming back (even posted on ask mefi about it!). That can be pretty rough, and actually my only advice to people considering exchange would to take a lighter course load if they can when coming back just so stuff isn't too rough. The exchange itself? Honestly no matter how you experience it it'll be worth every second. Gosh the food alone... But I'm drifting now ;)

2) You "can" get by. You should at least try to know basic stuff though, if not just to make the effort, which will always be appreciated. It depends what you're planning on doing while you're there, but if you want to join any clubs, make Japanese friends, travel (outside of Tokyo honestly you'd better know some basic Japanese or really know tightly where you're going and have it all planned out in advance), you should know the basics. But if you do two years of careful studying before you should be just fine. Living there helps too. Also I'm guessing if you're interested in Japan you're interested in the language so it shouldn't be a chore. :P But yeah as cendawanita said, Japanese kids learn English in school, but you know it's like Spanish or French or any 2nd/3rd language you learn in school, if you don't practice/use it in the real world, you forget it quickly and it's hard to understand everything on the spot.

3) Yes, I actually miss my quasi-daily 3 am walks. And again like cendawanita said, if you're confident and use the same precautions as in any other big city (I'm speaking from my experience in Tokyo mainly, Shinjuku (Takadanobaba) area, don't know for other places), it's very safe. As for stealing and that kind of stuff, a lot of Japanese guys actually wander around with their wallets half sticking out of their back pockets which I think speaks for itself...

4) I didn't get a job, but I had a government scholarship that paid for most of my expenses, and my savings/parents helping me out for the rest. There are a lot of scholarship opportunities, again that is something your International Office would be able to give you info on. If you get one, I think it's worth it to enjoy your time on the exchange and school. If not, most of my friends who were working worked through agencies giving English/other language lessons to Japanese kids and teens. It pays surprisingly well. I don't know if you could live off of only that, especially since you have to go to school full time, and it might take a while to get a good pool of students, but it's a good job to have. Obviously you have to speak some Japanese in order to teach... There was one guy I know who had a proper part-time job in a restaurant, but he was completely fluent. Those jobs are really harder to get as a foreign student I feel, since a. you have to speak excellent Japanese (including keigo and all other polite forms of language) b. I feel like they don't like hiring non-asian looking (I'm assuming you're caucasian american, it wasn't specified) people because foreigners have a reputation of not being able to communicate well in Japanese/understand the specifics of certain customs so it would maybe put some customers off; c. you'll only be there for a year.

5) yes but it'll be crazy expensive (roaming), might as well get one there, no? You can get some really cheap ones. Apart from travel rental companies (which are also very expensive for long term use), cell phone companies in Japan won't sell you a sim card and phones are locked up, I think I remember reading something about cutting down crime. That along with pretty strict visa rules if you want to get a cell phone (but if you're staying a year you'll have your alien visa so you'll be fine :) ). There's probably ways to unlock and such, as there is everywhere, but I didn't look into that and didn't come across anyone who did it.

6) Probably? see scholarships comments. I'm guessing you'd get your loans from your own, native country, bank though, who've "known" you longer, not the Japanese ones. Just a feeling.

7) Is that 70$ rent??? Where?? Did you mean 700$? Again, International office will be able to give info on housing opportunities for each school they have an agreement with, and what students have been choosing to do in the past (dorms, apartments, guest houses, ...). If not, the japanese universities' websites will say (look the info relevant to foreign students though, it's usually not the same housing system). I'd say look at a solid 1000$/month including rent, utilities, food, if you're in a big city. I don't know for smaller towns.

8) I didn't, I just took out money in large amounts from the ATM regularly, but most people do, and with your alien visa it should be okay. Your host school will most probably help you with all of this. :) Your credit cards would probably work, but the thing is that people still pay cash mainly everywhere in Japan, so you can't really use your cards that often anyways and you're better off having easy access to regular ol' cash.

What a novel!! I'm so sorry... Please read that as enthusiasm crossed with end of semester lack of sleep wordiness, not narcissism or anything. :)

And you should do it! Have fun!
posted by kitsuloukos at 7:38 PM on April 24, 2013

-- Oh and for what it's worth my uni and program: SILS at Waseda University in Tokyo. Kindest staff, great school life, amazing grounds, loved it :) --
posted by kitsuloukos at 7:40 PM on April 24, 2013

01. Philippines x5 months. I did an internship-abroad through the same department as study-abroad at my school. No lecture classes, just internship hours (480 hours for 12 credits)

02. If you'll have 2 years of Japanese minor by then you'll be that much better off.

03. I don't know Japan, but in Manila being a foreigner meant a lot of attention, good and bad.

04. Manila is very lax on rules, so my experience here will be different. I worked under the table here and there because it gained me experience in my field. I budgeted very well and was fine for the 4 months I was abroad. It also helped that currency exchanged at 1 Dollar US to their 40.6 peso's.

05. I have an iPhone 5, unlocked. It was as simple as buying a local sim card + minutes at the 7-11 and putting it into my phone.

06. I qualified for a good amount of free money through FAFSA. I also applied for the scholarships offered through the study-abroad department, as well as any and all other scholarships offered that I qualified for. I ended up funding the entire trip with free money. Including flights, rent, food, city transport, utilities, random expenses for the internship, etc. Put the time in towards getting scholarships and grants.

07. I had to find an apartment + pay a deposit once I got there. I stayed with locals until i found an apartment. This was not easy because my bank had a lot of restrictions; I ended up pulling the max daily atm withdrawal amount until I had the required amount. (This was poor planning on my part and speaks more to #8)

08. Had I done research I would have known how tight my bank is on getting funds from outside the US. Also I would have known that citibank is fairly common in Manila; a second bank account for the trip through them would have made my life much smoother, because I could have picked up local checks (which would not require a 30-75 day clearance timeframe) and ATM withdrawals wouldn't have had a fee, etc.

Make sure they know you are leaving. Even if they know, they still might cancel your card so be prepared; my card was cancelled twice but I had someone at home who could get the replacement card from my mailbox and fedex it to me.

I am flying back to the states in 4 days, and I would do it all over again : )
posted by MansRiot at 7:43 PM on April 24, 2013

1. I studied in London for four months. It was SO VERY worth it, and I'd go back again in a heartbeat if I was still in undergrad.

2. I can't speak to this question directly. I will say that I think I would have gotten a great deal more, in terms of personal growth and language/cultural learning, out of a study abroad in a non-English speaking country. Definitely learn as much of the language as you can, both before you go and during the study abroad.

3. Depends completely on where you are. If you know students who've studied previously in the same program you're considering (or if your study abroad office can get you in touch with them), definitely ask them about this part of their experience.

4. Again, depends. Visa rules, your school's study abroad regulations, and your study abroad country's own work regulations will all determine this. Personally, I wouldn't suggest working at anything more than just a casual, few-hours-a-week job, because you'll want to focus on your classes and the overall experience of living in another country during the short time you're there. Having a job would also severely limit your ability to travel outside of your home city, which to me would have been non-negotiable - once your study abroad is over, when are you going to get another chance to take casual weekend trips to foreign countries?

If your study abroad program has work or internships available as part of the program, check them out - internships especially can be a great way to meet a completely different crowd of people than you might meet in your classes. For my own finances while I was in London, I used my school's financial aid during my study abroad semester, as well as money saved up from a summer job, and I got by. My life in London wasn't super-fancy - lots of omelettes and spaghetti dinners cooked on our tiny apartment's hot plate, but I was still able to go out to eat, go to pubs, and go to the theatre for fun. I also traveled to France, Germany, and Ireland and learned so much from traveling by myself to all these different countries.

5. Probably not. If you're staying more than about a month, it'd probably be worth it to just buy a cheap phone+minutes while you're there.

6. Definitely. Talk to your school's study abroad office and financial aid office. I guarantee you they've worked with other students to help finance studying abroad.

7. I lived in a flat owned by my university, which housed about 20 students, all of us in the same study abroad program. This is a kind of unusual housing situation, but at the very least your university or the study abroad program itself will coordinate some type of housing for its students. My housing costs were similar to what I would have paid for a semester in the dorms back in the states.

8. No idea. Again, great question for your study abroad office.

Finally, GO GO GO! You will love studying abroad!
posted by augustimagination at 7:49 PM on April 24, 2013

03.Is it safe to walk around at night or travel alone? Any scams, etc..i should be wary of?

Outside of a few famously violent countries on distant continents, MOST foreign cities have MUCH less violent crime than you will encounter in the USA. Murders and violent robberies are not a "thing" in most places you will study abroad. The biggest crime risk is things like getting pick pocketed or being overcharged for a cab fare.

As far as scams, there are many. But a good general rule is that if a local stranger walks up to you and starts making conversation at random and is being very friendly and invites you somewhere, some kind of scam is involved. The best travel advice I ever got was when I first visited Istanbul-- I got off the bus with an Australian who lived in Turkey, and as I left to head to my hostel, she told me this: "Don't accept favors from anyone."
posted by deanc at 8:23 PM on April 24, 2013

01.Yes! I studied abroad for my junior year - about 10 months. It was a life-changing event and I whole heartedly recommend it. My friends who only studied abroad for one semester didn't have as great as an experience. It takes the whole year to make friends and really get into a new culture.

02. I went to a country where m language was the main language. But, from other travels, I will say that there may be "problems" but you can get by without speaking a language. It will work out.

04. I looked into getting a job but my visa forbid it. There was under the table waitressing jobs but in the end I didn't take one.
A. If you have the resources (savings, parental support, loans etc.) it is not hard to get by. On one hand if you're socializing with other students they will also be broke. On the other, if you're going to a more expensive country you need to deal with :sticker shock."

05. I studied abroad before cell phones. Sure it could work but you're probably better off jailbreaking or buying a phone there. If you're in the US our contracts are insane. Better deals are to be had.

06. You can get loans for most things...

07. I lived in a dorm off campus. The housing situation will vary greatly by university and even which dorms you choose to live in. My suggestion is to ask to be placed with local/native students. I was placed in a flat with other study abroad students from my own country. We didn't have things from home (cooking supplies, TV, etc.) and it would have been easier to make friends if we had been integrated.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:33 PM on April 24, 2013

01. I studied abroad for 10 weeks and then stayed on for an extra 3-4 weeks in China. Definitely worth it and would do it again in a heartbeat. It's a good experience being completely out of your comfort zone.

02. Depends. A few kids in my program had no Chinese whatsoever. They at first latched on to those of us who knew Chinese a lot better, but by the end of the program were wandering around on their own. Their Chinese wasn't perfect, but they cobbled bits and pieces together enough.

03. It was in Beijing, where I was. Never felt unsafe there ever. Walked around a little bit alone at night, but usually was with a group of friends out exploring the city. Traveling alone in the city wasn't bad, but never traveled around China on my own because I explored some of it with like minded friends.

04. Probably not because you'll run into trouble with getting work visas, unless you're willing to be paid under the table

05. Depends on the phone, but you'll be spending a fortune on roaming charges. Just get a cheap local phone + number.

07. I lived in dorms provided by the school. They were covered in the tuition cost for the quarter I paid for normal not abroad school anyway. The dorms were ridiculously nice and specifically geared towards Western students (We had single rooms, full bathroom, small TV, desk, and a weekly maid service)

08.I think only 1 guy on my study abroad trip opened a Chinese bank account, but he had been in China for the entire summer before the study abroad began. He also ended up staying (I think illegally) in China ever since the study abroad program. Figure out the costs with your bank. Somehow, when I was in Beijing, I could withdraw money from China Construction Bank ATMs without incurring a charge because they had some sort of deal with Bank of America.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:44 PM on April 24, 2013

01.Have any of you studied abroad? How long did you stay? Was it worth it, and would you do it again?
I went to Germany in 2005 for 6 months / 1 semester at uni and loved it. I would absolutely do it again!

02.If i go to a country where the main language isn't English and i don't speak that language will i have any problems?
I did speak German fluently but so many of the other exchangees didn't, and they got along ok. I would advise you to find out what help the university gives you on arrival e.g. registering with local authorities, buying a public transport pass, opening a bank account etc. Has anyone else at your university been to Japan already, or is there at the moment - they can help out, and usually love to talk about their exchange expereince?

03.Is it safe to walk around at night or travel alone? Any scams, etc..i should be wary of?
This depends a lot on the country. Germany I had no problems. I've heard Japan is very safe actually.

04.Should you get a job while abroad? How easy is it to get one fairly quick?
Pros: forces you to brush up your language skills and can make it easy to stay on after the program, meet new people and make some money
Cons: visas and work permits are a hassle, you might need local knowledge about when and where to look, you might need excellent language skills, it might take away from your exchange experience.

A.If you didn't get a job, and you stayed longer than 2-3 months was it hard to get by?
I found myself a little work correcting German students' English but I could have got by without the money. Most people I know didn't work and we were all on the same stipend.

05.Will my cell phone work in another country?
Mine didn't. I had to buy a prepaid German SIM card and use that. Once I had that it worked though. I looked into international roaming but the charges were too expensive in my case. Skype or VOIP can save you heaps if you have a laptop you are taking over as well.

06.Can you get loans,etc...to pay for some of the cost?
Not sure - many of us got stipends and those who didn't had saved money or occasionally had parents paying. I think this depends on your home university.

07.What was the housing situation like?
A.In some of the ones i've looked at you'd have to pay monthly rent, and utilities which for Japan equaled out to $70 and $99 us dollars a month + the cost of books and groceries.
I lived in student dormitories near the university, and paid monthly rent which included utilities. Ours had basic rooms in groups of 5 or 6 people so you shared kitchen and bathroom with other students. We were responsible for our own food and other costs. The rooms were furnished with bed, desk, bookshelf etc.

08.Will i be able to open a bank account in Japan since i doubt my credit cards would work there without charging a fee?
Our university had an agreement with the local banks so we could open accounts for 6 months or 1 year only. I'm sure most exchange students would have to do the same thing so ask the university you're going to what they usually advise students to do.
posted by EatMyHat at 11:49 PM on April 24, 2013

01.Have any of you studied abroad? How long did you stay? Was it worth it, and would you do it again?

I studied in Scotland for four months. I liked it so much, I emigrated here! I can't tell you how much it changed my life.

04.Should you get a job while abroad? How easy is it to get one fairly quick?
A.If you didn't get a job, and you stayed longer than 2-3 months was it hard to get by?

I had an internship when I first arrived, which is all my visa would allow. I ended up getting a job with the company that I had interned for, then came back on a student visa that allowed me to work while doing my masters degree.

05.Will my cell phone work in another country?

Probably not unless it's a tri-band phone, but I suspect Japan will have cheap pay-as-you-go phones that you could pick up.

06.Can you get loans,etc...to pay for some of the cost?

When I came back on my student visa to do a masters, I used a Stafford loan to pay for my tuition and initial living expenses. I'm not sure if it's the same now, but Stafford loans worked for foreign universities.

My advice is DO IT. That initial trip changed my life. Studying abroad is definitely challenging, but that's great and will give you so much back! It's also eye-opening and exciting. Go for it!
posted by ukdanae at 1:26 AM on April 25, 2013

Japan is perfectly safe (and incredibly clean). It's also incredibly expensive. I lived there for a semester in college as an exchange student and loved it. If anything, seeing Japan as an exchange student is probably the best way to do it because going as a "tourist" is prohibitively expensive, IMO.

Also, you'll get a lot of English practice because English is not widely spoken. Then again, if you're in a city you'll find more English than you would if you lived in the country.

As for work, I don't think you can do it legally but there were plenty of people in my program making cash under the table teaching English and even working in hostess bars (long story).

Long-term, it used to be quite easy for a native English speaker to get a job teaching English once you finished college, but these days the Japanese market is notoriously difficult. There are lots of qualified and over-qualified English teachers there already as opposed to, say, South Korea or China where "English demand" is still quite strong.

It's a wonderful country but again, bring lots of cash and/or credit cards because you'll need them.
posted by bardic at 1:36 AM on April 25, 2013

Hi earthquakeglue, I'm a study abroad advisor. Come see my counterpart on your campus now, don't wait until you're about ready to go.

Why? Because the advisor will help you develop questions that you didn't even know you had. Do you want an immersive experience or do you want more of a support system in place? Use the knowledge of the advisor to choose your program carefully.

And go now because you need to start planning now to prepare. What classes do you need to take now in order to be prepared with prerequisites for the classes that will be available on your program? How much language do you need to have--do you need to fill in with extra tutoring or extra exposure to spoken language? It takes time to figure out what questions to ask yourself, and even more time to come up with answers.

Pretty much the answer to every one of your questions is "it depends." The housing situation depends on what housing is offered by the specific program or university you choose to attend. The safety of the neighborhood depends on the neighborhood. Etcetera. Japan is not one monolithic block, and every city, university or institution will be different.

So a whole lot depends on your choice of program. Choose wisely and you'll have set yourself up for a positive life-changing experience.

Questions like the bank one don't have to be addressed until much later. That's logistics-level questions, whereas right now you're at the overarching experience level. Go see your study abroad office. This is what we do.
posted by Liesl at 7:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

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