Taking a GAP Year in Japan

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High School Gap Year

Post submitted by Emma C, Gap Year in Japan '23

When I was 13 years old, I decided I wanted to study abroad. I had visited a museum that featured some beautiful Japanese artwork and was immediately entranced. I saw Japanese words and desperately wanted to know what they meant.  
From there, I self-studied the Japanese alphabet. The next logical step was to get a teacher, and from there, I knew I wanted to go to Japan for real.  
My school has worked with CIEE high school study abroad programs before, so it was the logical choice for me. My school counselor has been so supportive and has helped me through all the uncertainties of grades and the like.  
Still, studying abroad was a scary idea, so I researched extensively before I committed. I had reached out and interviewed via Zoom several past CIEE abroad students. The input all seemed good, so I started preparing to apply.  
I was planning to go on a gap year program my freshman year in 2021, however, Covid-19 canceled those plans. I delayed until 2022 to apply, when the new vaccines came out and I was eligible to take them. 

Why Take a Gap Year in Japan?

In Japan, my goals were to become fluent in Japanese, explore, and learn more art forms. Considering how time consuming these can be, and that I have always been relatively independent, the Japanese Language & Culture GAP program was the best choice for me.  
I got accepted!  
Through this process, my parents have been 100% supportive, even through all the uncertainties of Covid. Five months later, I was on the plane to Japan.  
Another reason I chose Japan was how unique its culture is. I wanted to experience it for myself and gather experience with different people. I lived in California, which hosts a diverse population of people, and that has just promoted my urge to explore and learn.  
Being by yourself for a year is super scary, and this is another part where CIEE played a helpful role. By getting a Gap program homestay, I am not fully by myself. They have helped me understand and figure out all the intricacies of Japanese life.  
I've currently been living in Japan for a little over a month with my host family, and they are great! It's really reassuring to have people to rely on in the country, as you do feel a bit isolated.

Daily Life Studying Abroad in Japan

In terms of daily life, I have school during the week (thankfully not on Saturday, like many Japanese schools), and it starts at 8:30 a.m., and goes until 4:30 p.m. On some days, its an hour shorter. It's a relatively big school and is super friendly.  
In Japanese schools, there are only 3 years of high school. I have a daily uniform, but it's not super strict.  

Unfortunately, I live in Osaka, while my school is in Kyoto. This means my daily commute to school is about an hour long. Thus, I get up early, around 6, have breakfast with my host family around 6:30, then run to the train station.  
Trains in Japan are a dream to be on, mainly because they are always on time. Breakfast varies day to day with my host family, but it's either a traditional Japanese breakfast, or different bread options.  
Another thing I love about Japan is the food. School lunches are top tier!  

In terms of classes, my school alternates different classes each day. I'm currently taking calligraphy, English, Japanese literature, chemistry, biology, two different math classes, and P.E. After school, I'll often hang out with friends.  
There are two other American exchange students at my school, so sometimes I'll hang out with them, but I also have made Japanese friends.  
It's fun to explore shrines together, eat food, study, or do karaoke. On the weekends, I'll often be with my host family doing something, like going to gardens, or seeing landmarks.  
I recently traveled to Himeji castle, which was incredible. I also highly recommend going to an Onsens (hot spring).  
The most surprising thing about Japan for me was the confusion of which side of the street to walk on. It is often opposite to that of the U.S., but sometimes it switches back depending on the place! For example, Osaka and Tokyo have different correct sides!? Other than that, the weather has caught me off guard a few times. I arrived right after a tsunami and anticipate more natural disasters along those lines coming.

What I Have Learned in Japan So Far 

Staying in Japan, even for a month, has taught me so much about myself already. From interacting using miming (yes, I thought I knew a lot of Japanese, and no, I did not), budgeting, and learning how to take a break. 

If I have to give anyone studying abroad advice, it would be this;  

  1. Take breaks and put yourself out there! It is so vital you take care of yourself, it's easy to be overwhelmed.  

  1. Stay in contact with people, move one step at a time.  

  1. Everything is new, but that's ok and normal 

  1. Explore on the weekends, or just sit with new people or your host family during meals.  

 If you’re interested in other destinations, check out all the other great CIEE Gap Year Abroad locations.