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Exchange Students


Helene's report on her stay in Japan

October 13, 2020

Hélène Mikanda Alinethu, our former exchange student from Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS), wrote an essay to look back her ten month life in Japan. Unfortunately, COVID-10 pandemic limited her activities during spring semester 2020, but she managed to find ways to learn about Japan and enjoy her life in a foreign country.

Here is her essay.

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My Stay in Japan

My name is Hélène Mikanda Alinethu; I am a 20 years old Congolese lady. I studied and stayed in Japan for 10 months. I am a student at the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences, in Peace and Conflict Studies, program of Peace-building and Development.

From September 24th, 2019 to August 3rd, 2020, I stayed in Japan, Tokyo, at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies "TUFS". I was there as an exchange student under the ISEP "International Student Exchange Program"; from my home university, I was invited by the African Studies Center which conducted a fundraising that supported me for my airplane tickets and living expenses. Apart from that I was supported by JASSO as one of their scholarship recipients.

In this report, as I am going to talk about my stay in Japan, I would like to thank first of all those people who made my stay in Japan possible and enjoyable, those who supported me throughout the whole process. This report will be talked about into two main parts; at first I will talk about my life at the university as a student, and lately I will talk about my life as foreigner in Japan which will include my social life and adventures.

First of all, I am a student in Peace and Conflict Studies and while in Japan I was interested in learning classes related to peace-building, war and postwar history of Japan, history of reconstruction of Japan, international relations, Japanese culture and religion. During the first semester, also called fall semester, I took seven classes which are; Oral communication for Japanese language lessons, introduction to gender in contemporary Japan, intercultural communication, international law, and diplomatic relations of postwar Japan, China's economic reform and globalization, and International protection of refugees. I learned a lot in classes that I took for this semester especially in the class of international protection of refugees; it was my first time to have a class on this topic and things that we did in the class were related to some kind of cases happening in my country, Democratic Republic of Congo. This class talked about refugees and their rights, asylum seeking, and many other interesting topics; the most interesting thing to me was about the rights of refugees because this took me back to my country where I see different cases of discrimination of refugees, and this made me understand that it is not easy to leave one's home and be expected to feel comfortable at an outside home; therefore, it is not easy to a refugee, all we need is to make them feel comfortable and we should let them find peace at our host places. About the classes that I took on history of Japan, I learned a lot about the Japan's international relations with other countries especially those from Asia; the history was such interesting as I learned about historical relations between Japan and Asian countries, and how that still have some impacts and still affecting Japan's international relation and globalization with the world. Another interesting thing was to learn about gender in Japan, as a foreign woman from Africa, it was really great to know about gender in Japan.

During the second semester, also called spring semester, I took again seven classes based on my interest; the classes I took are; Topics in the news media and its role in global society, topics in religion and popular culture in Japan, topics in global business and leadership-innovation, introduction to intercultural communication and language education, Japanese performative culture, gender and globalization, and social movements and democracy in postwar Japan. In this semester I learned a lot about the Japanese culture, religion, war and postwar history, reconstruction and development in Japan. It was so interesting to take all those classes on Japan because I got to know that as my country is right now, Japan also went through hard time and they did so much effort to develop fast, they lost, but still they persevered till they reached the goal. I also got to know about religions and culture in Japan; was such interesting to see how religion is also involved reconstruction and that, they, on their own ways support the development process through various ways.

To understand well the Japanese culture, I took a class on Japanese performative culture and a class on religion and culture in Japan; from which I got to know about different values, norms and I also got to see the beauty of Japanese culture. I learned about the Takarazuka performance and was so interesting to see how women perform the dances, songs, and put on costumes no matter the gender ideals around the place. I did a research on that as a way to understand well the gender ideals and roles in the Japanese society with regard to the meaning of the Takarazuka performances. To deepen my knowledge on the Japanese culture, I tried to learn Japanese with regard to JLC classes; I started just one level, 100, which I could not achieve, but kept doing my best in the oral communication class. The thing that I liked the most in learning Japanese was the polite way the language is spoken; I found that Japanese is the most polite language and most of the words I could hear every day apart from "arigatou" was "sumimasen" and "irashaimase"; the language was different and hard to learn for me even though I really love it. During the classes, I did not only learn from the lectures; I also learned from the lecturers and my fellow students through their shared experiences and knowledge.

The second part of this story is about my life outside the university; outside the classrooms, I joined LET'S, an association that brings together students from different places and who speak and who are interested to learn different languages in order to exchange knowledge; I also joined a bible study group at TUFS, a group of numbered students who are Christians and who are open to welcoming other people who are not Christians.

Talking about my social life in Japan; I had a great social experience in and outside school; I got more experiences from the friends I met in Japan, and many of them were from different countries all over the world; this is the greatest experience I have ever had in my life, living with youths from more than 50 countries in the world. Apart from that I visited so many places in Japan, apart from Tokyo; Hiroshima, Okinawa, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Kanagawa, Ibaraki, Chiba, Saitama, Shizuoka. Okinawa is the place where I stayed for many days, and I visited the Himeyuri Peace Museum, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, and also different US military bases where I joined a nonviolent protest in front of the Camp Schwab in Henoko. In many of these places I visited, I also participated in Church services, I visited different Shrines and Temples; I usually went to church at the International Christian University. At my visit in Kyoto, I tried the Japanese traditional dressing "Kimono". Apart from just visiting, I stayed in families in Osaka and Ibaraki. I also tasted some Japanese dishes, among which I liked Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. On January 13th, I joined an international restaurant for children with some Japanese and international students, where we cooked different kind of foods, and I made Congolese Ugali made with maize flour. Within the first academic term, I also started to interact with students of the Ikubunkan Global High School, with whom we organized seminars on Africa and Japan. I also did my internship at the Munakata Foundation, where I usually did researches about different issues in Africa and presentations about my findings, and sometimes I wrote some proposals to the Foundation basing on what could be done. I lastly visited Hiroshima where I wish I could spend more time; in Hiroshima I learned about the Japan A-Bomb, read some testimonies of survivors and also learn about the Japanese understanding of what happened during and after the war; I also learned about the Japan reconstruction and it was also interesting to learn about the atomic bomb from history in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Apart from that, I learned about the social life in Hiroshima and got the chance to visit just for some minutes, thanks to the pastor and some friends, we had a great moment in Hiroshima, and we could also try and enjoy some dishes.

To conclude, I will say that my stay in Japan was beyond my expectations; I learned a lot from the ten months experience I got from Japan. Not just as a student, but also as a professional; I have improved my skills and knowledge and for me, my stay in Japan was a dream come true. All these could not have been possible without the support of different people who made all the things that I have said above possible. I want to thank all the crowd funding group with each person involved in it, I want to thank the African Studies Center, I want to thank Sasaki Sensei, I want to thank Baptist community in Japan, the TUFS and JASSO administrations, all my Japanese and international friends I met in Japan and those I met in Rwanda; you all made my stay in Japan enjoyable and possible, and everything you did for me will never be forgotten; your support changed me, and I will always be grateful.