Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Kansai region, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

When I first transferred to Valpo, I assumed that I would be able to complete a degree in International Business and cram in a semester long study abroad within a mere four semesters. That was a naïve assumption to make and reflected my lack of experience at the time in understanding how college works and what realistic goals are.

If things had gone that way I originally envisioned, I would have likely ended up studying in Japan during the spring semester. In fact, that is what many of my peers who came before me did. Interestingly, the difference between fall and spring semester at Kansai Gaidai for international students is stark, and it is not just because of the weather. Based on what I have learned and experienced, I would strongly encourage anyone looking at Kansai Gaidai to study abroad to aim for the fall semester.

Firstly, there is much less stress during the initial application process. The application process is fairly lengthy with a lot of different moving parts. There are obligations the student needs to fulfill both on Valpo’s end and on Kansai Gaidai’s end. For spring semester exchange, it is a very quick turnaround because winter break for Valpo students is only three weeks. For fall semester, there is a three-month buffer called summer vacation. I was very on top of everything during the entire process, but if I had made mistakes or lagged, I had more time to resolve issues.

Next, while the Asian Studies program operates on a calendar similar to the one at Valpo, the same cannot be said for the rest of the programs at Kansai Gaidai. Local Japanese students start their classes two weeks later than international students in the fall, but during spring semester their classes do not start until April, several months after international students arrive. This is the majority of the student population numbering in the thousands. During my first two weeks here, the campus grounds were deserted and empty, and it was quite unsettling. Several hundred international students may sound like a lot, but that does not even come close to filling the campus. Spring semester transfer students arrive in January but do not get to see the campus operate at full capacity until April. I would have felt like I was missing out on an authentic experience if I had needed to wait more than two weeks. I also would have made less connections.

Lastly, yes, I do have to talk above the weather. In late August through early October, the Kansai region is incredibly humid. I did not always enjoy this, but I found it much preferable to back home especially given that the Chicago area this year was already experiencing freezing temperatures in October. After this humid period, the region transitions to fall, and it is almost perfect. At the moment, it is almost December, and while my family at home is freezing, I can walk around and still be quite comfortable. Also, while spring students get to see the cherry blossom blooms, I would argue that Japan is just as visually striking in the fall. If I had to recommend a place to check out during the fall that really showcases impressive fall sights, it would be Arashiyama, Kyoto. Anyone who is here during the fall needs to check it out!

A view from within Arashiyama’s bamboo forest.

Kyoto during fall.

Even when the lighting is not the best, Arashiyama is striking.