Name: Rachelle Brandel
Program: Semester Exchange at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan
Term Abroad: Fall semester during senior year
It actually took me a long time to decide to study abroad. I had always wanted to go to Japan ever since I was young, but studying abroad always seemed so Ivy League and it definitely wasn’t in my budget. But I finally made the decision to go, no matter what, when my grandmother passed away. I realized that life is short and I needed to fulfill my dreams before the responsibilities of a family and career came first. I chose to study in Japan because it has always been my dream to go there. I’ve always been enthralled with the fashion, culture, and style of Japan, so studying there was a no-brainer. I chose to go to Kansai University because it was in Osaka, Japan. Osaka is known for having some of the best food and entertainment in all of Japan and the people of Osaka are known for being fun, kind, and outgoing. There would also be fewer foreigners present, which meant less of a chance at speaking English.
The first thing I learned about Japan was that walking is a staple of life. But after walking and later trudging up hills and down staircases, I soon realized it was time for me to buy a bike. A bike is quite cheap in Japan, ranging from a mere $40-80 depending on the extras thrown in. The average bike will come equipped with a basket in either the front or back, a light (for riding at night) and a small tinkling bell. My bike turned into the Japanese version of my car back home; I got a sense of freedom back that I hadn’t realized I had lost.
Soon I was biking to parts of Japan I hadn’t thought to explore before. I figured out the path between my dorm and school and started going through neighborhoods filled with Japanese architecture. I ended up finding a small bamboo forest on the way home one day and, by leaving early one morning, was able to meet and talk with a group of adorable 5 year-olds who ended up being my morning companions almost every day.
Now, we still used our legs and even the trains from time to time (not even a professional biker could manage the hills surrounding Kyoto) but our bikes allowed us to reach out farther and even helped us to reach out to the surrounding community. Everyone, and I mean everyone, uses bikes in Japan; from business men decked out in $300 suits, to middle school children going off to school. The most amazing were the stay at home moms; these women could have a baby strapped to their back, two toddlers on their bike, bags of groceries in their basket and still peddle up the hill like a pro. Talk about super moms.
Our bikes also helped us to appreciate the moments when we decided to walk. We noticed more things going on around us, and would even talk to people we might have seen while biking. The steps we took up temples and shrines became sacred for us instead of a drudgery we wished would end.
While you don’t necessary have to get a bike, I’d suggest doing something unexpected and outside something you had planned or would normally do. Riding a bike introduced me to so many things I didn’t expect and made my study abroad that much greater.