Spring 2017 Alumnus Sarah Peters on KCP and Japan

KCP’s Spring 2017 student Sarah Peters shares her insights on KCP and Japan. Thanks, Sarah!

When I began my trip to KCP, I was very anxious, as I’m sure everyone is regardless of how prepared they are. Some of my most pressing worries were about taking the placement test and consequently which level I would be placed in once at the school, and my expectations of the class. Having now realized that I truly had nothing to fear, I still acknowledge that these fears were valid. Unless you know someone currently in the program or who has graduated from the program, you don’t have a lot of reassurance. I myself didn’t have much to go off of. Now that I have graduated, though, I can give my own reassurances.

First, the placement test shouldn’t be a worry as you’re tested based on how much you know. You don’t want to cram too much before this test or you may be placed in a class with expectations higher than what you’re used to. These “tests” are more evaluations than anything — they want to match your current skills with a class best suited to them. I was placed in the second level, and though I was disappointed since a lot of the overarching material we covered was review for me, I was surprised to find myself challenged with the material.

I learned several details about the lessons that had never once been mentioned to me in all my education in the United States. This is part of the reason I believe KCP offers the best Japanese education. For instance, in the US I was never taught that there are indeed accents on words in Japanese, though they can be difficult to pick up on. Sure, I watched a lot of anime in Japanese and had been through years of Japanese study, but this small yet key aspect of Japanese evaded me all this time. In my classroom experience, students practiced intonation daily and were even tested on them.

The staff at KCP are very understanding of your situation and always have a variety of sources on hand to direct you where you need to go. For instance, WiFi is inconsistent in Tokyo, so it is best to buy what they call a Pocket WiFi in advance. This can be a tedious (and expensive) process, but when I asked the staff at KCP to help me find an affordable model, they went through extensive effort to find a multitude of sources that provided me many options for a Pocket WiFi plan. Even though this dilemma of mine had little to do with coursework, the KCP staff were still willing to assist me fully, and with many other problems students had they showed the same enthusiasm to help.

Another thing I want to reassure you is that outside of class, there are supplemental English help lessons. Full immersion in your normal class can be intimidating, especially in a lower level, but even if you don’t understand the classroom instruction the first time, the English help sessions review most of the same material but in English. That said, it’s always better to hear it in class first so you can get used to hearing and comprehending Japanese quicker!

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from class, as I had never had a full immersion class before. Furthermore, even if I wanted to use English, it wouldn’t do me much good since most of my peers didn’t even know English. However, this only served as encouragement to pursue my lessons wholeheartedly so I could better communicate with my classmates. The most important thing to remember about full immersion classes is that you are in the exact same boat as your classmates. The level they’re in likely matches their skill in Japanese, so if the more complex subjects confuse you, they probably confuse your classmates as well. From this shared dilemma, you can form excellent bonds with your classmates by organizing study sessions outside of class. I highly recommend doing so, since you can gauge your classmates’ knowledge best this way and can get to know them better overall. KCP encourages building relationships with your peers, not just so you can work with them in class but also so you can broaden your horizons and get to learn about cultures different from your own. Frequently in class the teachers will ask the students of their customs so you can share where you come from and learn where others came from as well.

This solidarity between classmates helped me grow as a person. Back home, I had been experiencing tensions between friendships and many of my friends at home were graduating, so when I came back from studying abroad I would have to start over in simply making friends again. KCP gave me that chance both in class and on the cultural excursion trips where I had the chance to meet other English-speaking students in the program who might have not been in my class while learning about the culture of Japan alongside them.

On top of all the wonderful and ongoing friendships I made through the KCP program, I also got a much richer understanding of Japanese that was taught in a manner that I could practice my newly honed skills often and retain them in the future. As previously mentioned, the lessons were much more in-depth than any educational experience I had received in the United States and there was no better environment to practice than in Japan itself. Tokyo is vast and full of many activities, so I was able to use Japanese when it suited me. By thinking creatively and retrospectively about my own life as I partook in opportunities of my choice, such as visiting the local game arcade, I gained much more out of speaking Japanese than just repeating standard phrases from a textbook. KCP does have a rigorous program, but you also have plenty of time throughout the week to exercise your freedom and make use of the knowledge you gain day by day in real time, going at your own pace. Just be sure to always make time for homework!