The first few weeks in Japan were already filled with wonderful experiences. We were warmly welcomed by a few students from Fukushima University at the station when we arrived in Fukushima City. After moving into the International House and meeting the other students, we jumped right into the Japanese culture and we were invited to join Iizaka's Kenka Matsuri (Fighting Festival) in my first week. The Iizaka's Kenka Matsuri is an exciting festival in Japan, with a history stretching back over 300 years. This was an exciting way to start of the exchange and also to get to know the other exchange students as well.
From the very first day, I felt very welcomed at Fukushima University. I really appreciate that Fukushima University assigns a buddy to each exchange student. This really helped me get around more easily on campus, but also in Fukushima. Many of the exchange students have become good friends with their buddies and are doing all kind of fun activities with them. I think I can speak on behalf of all the exchange student when I say that we really appreciate them.
Although the university is relatively smaller than my own university in the Netherlands, I still really enjoyed it. The campus' scenery is much more lively and green than what I am used to. Fukushima is a beautiful prefecture and I am amazed by how incredibly beautiful the scenery is. The Netherlands is as flat as It can be, and I just cannot get enough of the beautiful mountains that are everywhere. The campus as well is really pretty, located on a hill with amazing views over the mountains.
On the introduction day, we got a book with information about the available courses and all the available circles and clubs that Fukushima University has to offer. I was surprised by the sheer number that we were able to choose from. It took some time to decide which clubs or circles I wanted to visit, but I was really excited to try it, and to meet some new people (although the language barrier did scare me).
Too scared to go alone I dragged some friends with me to go and visit the volleyball circle. After watching me and a friend were happy to hear that we were allowed to join, and so we did. The people at the club are so friendly and the atmosphere is really nice. We just play some matches and the main objective is to have fun.
Speaking of dragging friends to circles and clubs, I got dragged along to Judo. I had chosen the volleyball circle first because that was the sport I had practised back home, and I was familiar with. Although I have never practise judo before, and my friend also did not we decided to watch a practice either way, because previous students from here university had a great time at this club. After watching the practice we joined this club together, with zero experience, but lots of dedication. We were ready for the challenge.
So far we have had a great time at this club and have met some incredible people. It was really nice of them to accept us into the club, we had no experience but they took the effort and time to teach us, which I really appreciated. Even though I do not speak Japanese they really made me feel welcome.
Because I do not speak Japanese I am not able to fully enjoy all the classes that Fukushima University has to offer. But there are still many courses that are taught in English or classes that I can join with the help of a few Japanese speaking friends. The lectures of the Future studies and the Ambassador program are incredibly interesting to me and have given me new insights into the 2011 disasters. In my opinion, it is really good to gain more insight into the disaster, and also to learn from guest speakers. It does sadden me is that many foreigners still think of Fukushima as a 'dangerous' place, they assume that it is unsafe. And the only thing they can think of when they think of Fukushima is a nuclear disaster. But Fukushima is a beautiful place that has so much to offer.
On the 4th of November, we were able to also participate in was the tree planting in the "Fukushima tree-planting festival'' in the Kitaebi area of the Kashima district of the tsunami-hit city of Minamisoma. This was a follow-up event to the 69th Nationwide Tree-Planting Festival held earlier that year in the city. With 3.000 other participants, we planted about 27,000 Japanese black pine and other tree saplings on tracts of seaside land devastated by a massive tsunami triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake under the theme of "Building forests of hope to connect to the future," contributing to improving coastal disaster prevention green belts. It was an impressive event and I am glad to I was able to participate.
The Christmas season was beautiful to perceive, the city was illuminated by lights which gave the city a very warm atmosphere. With the international students we played a Christmas present game and threw a Christmas party and of course, a lot of Christmas music was involved. We also celebrated the new year together. Although the celebration of the New Year which is so much different than how we celebrate back home, it was nonetheless fun. We went to the shrine in the middle of the night unsure if there would be people around, but the shrine was filled with friendly people wanting to speak with us.
With the other exchange students, we have tried many of Japan's cuisine. We have found an amazing Ramen shop that serves delicious food, and I must admit that we come here quite often. This shop offers some very spicy food, sometimes we are daring enough (or stupid enough) to try the spiciest levels because we must try everything. Often with lots of regrets, but it is still so delicious. When we are not on a spicy tour we love to try out the other restaurants that Fukushima has to offer.
The highlights of my study abroad experience thus far would have to be: exploring every little bit of the city, meeting great people anywhere (classmates, university students on campus and even strangers in the supermarket) who helped me with small practical issues or gave me a motivational talk that would make my day! I also really enjoyed cooking together with other students and discovering new places together. And last but not least the friendly professors, the incredibly buddies that helped us in so many ways, and the incredible people of the international centre that made this exchange possible and made it into a great experience.