In spring 2006 I came to Japan for the first time. My Grandparents and I made a trip around Honshu for two weeks.
Although I have already travelled to a lot of countries before visiting Japan, I always felt that I wanted to see a different country for the next trip. But Japan was different for me. It was the first time for me to feel that I wanted to visit the same country again. But I decided that if I go to Japan for a second time, I won’t go as a tourist but as a person who is living a normal Japanese life.
I grew up in a city with 25.000 citizens in East Germany. The buildings there are really old and traditional and the city is surrounded by mountains and lakes. I walk to my school every morning. It takes me about 10 minutes.
During my exchange year I studied at 品川女子学院a girls school in Tokyo, the largest city in the world. My host family lived in Yokosuka, a port in Kanagawa prefecture. It took me longer than one hour to go to school.
I think this was the biggest change I had to adept to. But it also changed my view of the world to live in such a big city.
Another big change was the fact to be a student at a girl’s school. In Germany I was the only girl in my class, so I was kind of afraid if I will be able to make friends in a class which consists of girls only. But everyone was so nice and supporting, that it wasn’t a problem at all.
After having lived in Tokyo and meeting so many people from various countries it was really hard for me to go back to my small city in Germany.
Now five years later after my High School Exchange I am back in Tokyo. The fact that I am older now made me realize many things about Tokyo I wasn’t aware of before.
Tokyo gives me the chance to try things, to get to know things I would have never been able to experience in Germany. But on the other hand life is really busy and tiring. I often miss situations like sitting with my parents in our garden during afternoon, having dinner together outside and watching the sunset.
Right now I have a hard time to decide which lifestyle to chose.
I think that Japanese and Germans are not so different in character but the school system defers totally from each other.
German school life:
Morning: I wake up at 7am; I spend a lot of time thinking about what to wear at school, because we have no school uniform in Germany. After getting dressed I have a light breakfast (apple, yoghurt). I also make me some bread for late breakfast (after 4th class). Then I leave for school. Some people are coming to school by bicycle, others by bus but I walk. My school is only 10min. away from my Home.
The 1st class starts at 8:15am, but it might be possible that you have a 0th class which starts usually at 7:15am. One class lasts for 45min.
Between classes you have either a 5min. or 10min. break. Bigger breaks are after the 4th class (20min.) and 6th class (1hr.).
You mostly have to change your classroom for every class. In Germany each teacher has his classroom. The students need to go to the teacher’s classroom to receive a lesson.
Lunch/Afternoon: After lunch break you will mostly have two more classes, so eight classes in total. Different from Japan most schools do not offer any after school activities. If you want to dance, play soccer or so on you have to ask your host parents. They will help you find clubs in your host community. After school you mostly return home once. One hour is mostly enough to finish your daily homework’s. After finishing your homework’s you might go out to meet with your classmates or participate in a club. But you should return for dinner. In Germany work mostly finishes between 4pm and 6pm. Therefore dinner time mostly is around 7pm.
Evening: Dinner is very important in Germany. The Family assembles and eats together. While eating everyone is talking about what happened during the day also weekend trips and so on are being discussed.
At 8:15pm German television is always showing movies. If there is time everyone is going to watch a movie together.
Usually everyone is getting ready for bed between 10 and 11pm.
In Germany most students start studying English during the 3rd grade of Primary School (age: 9/10). But you will only learn the name of colors and numbers. Therefore, when we apply for work, we start counting our English education from the 5th grade (1st grade of Junior High School). During the first 3 years of English education we learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary but after the 8th class we won’t be tested on grammar anymore. We will have to write essays, hold speeches, make presentations and do listening examinations. During class we mostly read texts about different topics and later state our opinion, discuss about it in an open conversation with the teacher.
Our graduation examination from High School will be consisting out of an essay over 800 words and a listening and reading part. Regularly, there won’t be multiple choice questions in any class in Germany!
The English speaking ability of German students differs a lot depending on region (big city/ small village) but also on the students and the teacher.
But since English and German have the same origin, it can be said that the average German student is able to take part in a basic conversation about daily life after graduating from High School.
As I said before, Germans and Japanese are not so different in character. Be polite, nice and open for anything, then you should be fine.
A difference to Japan is that in Germany people state their opinion. So if what you want to say doesn’t hurt somebody’s feelings you should say it.
German and Japanese are not related in any way, so compared with other European/Americans it will be harder for you to remember the German language. You need to have a strong wish/reason/purpose on wanting to remember the language. You should think about a good reason, which will give you the strength to go on studying even if remembering German might seem impossible sometimes.
You should try asking your teacher if you might attend German classes of younger grades, since mostly we won’t have any grammar studies after the 6th grade anymore.
You should be talkative, try to explain about your day during dinner time.
Be not afraid to make mistakes and carry a notebook with you where you might write down unknown words which seem important to you.
But in the end the thing which will help you the most is a good relationship with your host family. If you have a good relationship you will talk a lot together, they also will support you with your language studies and show you around Germany.
You also should stay in contact with your family after your exchange, this will help you not to forget the German language.