Victoria University student Laurence Fudim went to Japan in July 2019 after winning a New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship.

Laurence, a Bachelor of Laws (Graduate Entry) student, studied law and Japanese at the International Christian University in Japan. He reflects here on his time in Japan.

Why Japan?

The New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship is an initiative of the Australian Government and aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific region in Australia. I chose Japan as my host location because I had completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Japanese language at Monash University and had travelled to Japan numerous times for leisure over the years. I wanted to fully immerse myself in Japanese society to further develop my language and cultural skills.

Laurence Fudim at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

Life in Japan

Japanese people are very friendly towards foreigners and are proud to share their language and culture with you. There are always plenty of interesting events, markets and shows. One of my favourite things about summer in Japan is the abundance of traditional festivals called matsuri. The most significant and exciting aspect is carrying the mikoshi - a miniature, portable Shinto shrine. The atmosphere is very energetic, with traditional music playing in the background and local residents coming out of their homes to cheer and view the procession. I was very lucky to take part in carrying the mikoshi during my local matsuri and had an incredible experience.

In winter, my favourite pastime is going to natural hot springs. As a volcanic island country, Japan has thousands of naturally occurring geothermal hot springs for bathing, called onsen. Going to onsen is a cultural practice that the Japanese have been doing for centuries. I can’t think of something more therapeutic than escaping the noise and commotion of the big city, lying back and relaxing in a hot bath surrounded by nature. Japan is renowned for its powder snow and attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. In addition to that, I regularly went cycling in the back streets and alleys of Tokyo, finding little tucked away temples, charming family-owned shops, unique architecture and much more.

Studying in Japan

The Japanese learning environment is much more assessment and exam based than in Australia. Most classes have a number of mini-exams throughout the semester and then a final exam at the end. Also, I find that the style of teaching is more lecture focused, whereby students listen to the teacher and take detailed notes. Australian classrooms tend to be more interactive, with the teacher asking students questions and encouraging class discussions. I also feel that students in Australia tend to express their opinions and ask questions more frequently than students in Japan.

The challenges

One of the biggest challenges of moving to Japan is adjusting to the new environment. Japan is a group-oriented and homogenous society with customs, behaviours and unwritten rules that differ greatly from Australian culture. Learning to respect these differences is vital to adjusting to the new lifestyle. Moving to another country is always difficult but the best thing to do is keep an open mind and try to embrace the new experiences as much as possible. Another challenge is homesickness. I did miss family and friends, but because the time difference is small it is easy to stay in regular contact and some visited me in Tokyo.