Thursday, February 23, 2023

Studying abroad can be a transformative experience and for me, spending six months in Japan was an experience of a lifetime. I was inspired to participate in the exchange programme to gain new experiences and broaden my horizons. I have always been interested in different cultures and was eager to learn more about Japanese culture, language and society. On 23 rd March 2022, I was shortlisted by the University of Nairobi department of Literature for an in-person interview under the international student exchange program, I was  very excited. The  prospect of finally harmonizing my dreams and interests with the opportunity to actualize them was coming to pass. 

In addition, I saw the exchange programme as an opportunity to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. I wanted to experience life in a completely different environment  and learn how to navigate a new culture and language. I saw it as a chance to build new connections and gain valuable skills that would make me a more well-rounded individual. My initial impressions of Japan were shaped by my expectations of a modern and technologically advanced country. I was excited to experience the unique blend of tradition and innovation that Japan is known for. However, as I spent more time in Japan, I began to appreciate the country’s cultural and historical richness. I was impressed by the Japanese people’s respect for tradition and their dedication to preserving their heritage. This was particularly evident in the country’s architecture, which I found to be a beautiful fusion of ancient and modern styles.​

Samuel, with Mr Chida, a member staff at International Department, Soka University

As I interacted more with the local people, I also noticed their polite and respectful demeanour, I was impressed by their willingness to help and their attention to detail in everything they did. I was amazed by the cleanliness and efficiency of the public transport system and the well-organized nature of Japanese society. My biggest challenge during the exchange programme was dealing with the language barrier. Initially, conversations were often limited to basic phrases and gestures, and I found it difficult to express myself and make meaningful connections with people. To overcome this challenge, I made a conscious effort to immerse myself in the language and culture. I took language classes and joined language exchange programmes, which allowed me to practice my Japanese with native speakers and improve my skills. I also made a point
to explore the city and attend cultural events, which helped me gain a deeper understanding of the local customs and traditions. 

I found that patience and persistence were key to overcoming the language barrier. Eventually, with time and effort, I was able to communicate more effectively which made my experience in Japan all the more rewarding.In Japan, there is a strong emphasis on respect for elders and authority figures. I noticed that people often use honorific language to address those who are older or in positions of authority, and it is considered impolite to interrupt or contradict them.

Punctuality and efficiency are other cultural differences I noticed in Japan. It is customary to arrive on time for appointments and meetings, and there is a strong focus on being efficient and productive. This is unlike in Kenya where time is often more flexible and there is a greater emphasis on personal relationships. One cultural experience that I found particularly interesting and unique in Japan was the “Seijinshiki” (Coming of Age Ceremony), a national holiday celebrating individuals that have turned 20 years old, considered adulthood age in Japan. Attending this ceremony gave me a deeper appreciation for the cultural traditions and values
in Japan, and I felt grateful to have witnessed such an important celebration.

Academic life at Soka University in Japan was also a novelty. The classes were smaller, with electronic equipment to aid learning, and professors engaged with students on a different level. It made for a more intimate and collaborative learning environment. One unique aspect of Soka University was the emphasis on discussions and critical thinking. In many classes, the professors would pose open-ended questions and encourage the students to engage in debates and share their opinions. This challenged me to think more deeply and critically about the material, and I appreciated the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives from my classmates who at times were also international students. The dormitory I stayed in was located on campus and housed both Japanese and international students. It was a unique and eye-opening experience for me. It was a great way to immerse myself in Japanese culture and connect with other students from all over the world. Living in a shared space provided the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and learn about their cultures and perspectives. It was an important part of my exchange programme that I will always remember fondly.


With former ambassador (Japan to Kenya) Ryoichi Horie and his wife Mrs. Horie, Dr. Masumi Odair (lecturer Dept. of Literature at UoN) and fellow exchange students Lorna Katile (2nd from left) and Michelle Opondo (far right)
Learning the Japanese language was an exciting challenge. Since I had no prior knowledge of the language, it was a bit daunting at first but the language courses offered by the university
proved very helpful. What I appreciated the most was the opportunity to practice speaking the language amongst native speakers which helped me get more comfortable with the language and understand the
nuances of Japanese culture. My experience in Japan had a significant impact on my personal growth and worldview. Immersion in an entirely new culture and way of life took me out of my comfort zone and to
got me to approach situations open-mindedly. It challenged me to be more independent,adaptable, and flexible in my thinking, decision-making and actions.
I gained an appreciation for Japanese culture that  is anchored on respect, discipline, and a strong work ethic. I also adopted a minimalist and sustainable approach to life, as I observed the Japanese approach to living with limited space and resources.