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Falling for Kyoto – my semester abroad at Ritsumeikan University

Kelsey – Ritsumeikan University

Semester 2, 2019
Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology) / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)

Life in Kyoto

The first few weeks of moving into my new apartment, trying to navigate grocery shopping, exploring the local area, and orientation at Ritsumeikan were so much fun.  However, it was a bit of a shock when I realised that my very basic Japanese language skills were not going to get me as far as I had hoped.

One of the hardest things about not knowing the language was all of the forms that needed to be filled out – for some reason, I had only practised speaking Japanese and did not think that reading and writing would be as important (trust me, it is!).  However, I was lucky enough to always find help when I needed it.

Despite previously wanting to live in Tokyo, I fell completely in love with Kyoto.  Because there are so many World Heritage Sites in the prefecture, it is not as busy and built-up as Tokyo or Osaka.  During the fall, one of my favourite things to do was visit one of the many temples that were open at night and had lights illuminating the beautiful red, orange and yellow leaves.  It was breath-taking!

Campus life

I was prepared for university to be quite different in Japan, but I definitely underestimated just how different it would be.  On my first day of classes, I was shocked to see students running to class – although I knew that it was bad manners to be late, I had definitely been guilty in the past of compromising being on time to class for a morning coffee.

I was also shocked when I heard the school bell, and when I had to push through the crowds of students at lunchtime to buy something to eat.  We even had homework!  Already I could see that my experience at university in Japan was going to be very different from home, but I was ready for the challenge.

The class sizes at Ritsumeikan were a lot smaller than what I was used to, with around 20 students or less per class.  The teaching style was quite similar to tutorials at QUT, but of course, this depends on the instructor and the class.  Overall, I had almost 14 hours of class per week across four days.  The workload was quite high, and I gained an admiration for the students who also participated in clubs, as those require a lot of time and effort too.  I was certainly grateful that I did not need to work a part-time job while I was there and had time to focus on my studies.


Because I was not living in the university dormitories, it was a little difficult to make friends at first.  However, once classes started, I met a lot of interesting and lovely people, who I hope to keep in touch with.  My advice to anyone in a similar situation to me would be to just push yourself to make friends and talk to new people – most people are happy to make new friends, and if they’re not, then you probably don’t want to be friends with them anyway!

Despite this downside to not living in the dormitories, it was also really fun (and at times challenging!) living in a 25 square metre apartment.  I felt like I had a really authentic experience of what it is like to live in Japan, and my apartment was conveniently located within walking distance of Kyoto’s main shopping district and countless temples and shrines.  The process of applying for the apartment was surprisingly easy, and it came furnished which was a bonus.  Having a combined kitchen/bathroom sink/laundry/hallway definitely taught me how to live minimally, and I am now so grateful for all the space I have at home in Australia!

Friends for life

Tips and advice

It is incredibly difficult to sum up such an incredible semester in one short blog post, but the main piece of advice I would give to anyone considering going on exchange is to do whatever you can to make it happen!

It is such a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Even though I felt homesick at times, or found myself looking for familiarity, I would not change anything about my experience, and all of those moments have made me a more resilient and capable person.  While I am missing Japan already, I am happy to be home and I know it will always be there for me to visit.

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