When people think of Japan, often the first thing that comes to mind is the modern metropolis of Tokyo or the traditional tranquility of Kyoto, not education. So many travelers fall in love with something about Japan that they cannot wait to come back.
If you are looking for a college education, it is not as hard as you might think to come back, stay, study, and live. That’s exactly what I did. My second time to Japan was a one year abroad at Akita International University (AIU). Akita is best known for its cold winters, tasty rice, and sake, and being very countryside. Considering that my university was on the top of a small mountain that was in turn surrounded by rice fields, I understand committing time to stay at Kokusai Kyōyō Daigaku—as it is called in Japanese—may not seem like something to do on a whim. I would however recommend a campus visit, with the help of this guide, to get a brief taste of why AIU is a step above other schools of study.
AIU is a relatively new university, established on the former site of a Minnesota State University in 2004. The school is tiny. It has about 800 Japanese students and 200 international students, coming from 120 partner institutions from around the globe. That’s how I went. I did a one-year exchange program through my university in San Francisco at that time. AIU emphasizes liberal arts education to prepare the students for a full range of jobs in Japan and around the world. AIU is unique because it teaches all of its courses, besides its foreign language courses (French, Spanish, etc.), in English. This is great for all of us that know a little Japanese, but we would not survive a class such as politics or religion in the Japanese language. Most international students stay a semester or year, but you can obtain a 4 year degree in Japan if you would like. How cool would that be? Undergraduates are taught through liberal arts which basically means a little bit of everything. There are three graduate programs the school offers: teaching Japanese, teaching English, and Business Communications. There are currently no doctorate options. The courses are as amazing and supportive as the staff. The small student-to-teacher population means you can create stronger bonds with professors and peers because you’ll almost certainly be living on campus.
Students studying one year at AIU through an exchange are guaranteed student housing. The Komachi Dorms where I stayed are cheaper in rent and have free utilities. That’s great for air conditioning and hot showers because summers are burning and winters are freezing. The drawback to these dorms is you can’t have the opposite sex in your room after 10 pm, no drinking is allowed, and you need to share your bathroom with the neighbor next door (the rooms connect to the bathroom). There is a lobby downstairs where you could cook because there is no kitchen in Komachi Rooms. Other people stay at the Global Village apartments. Rent is higher there and you must pay utilities. They have a kitchen and refrigerators, so some people stock up on food and save money that way. The rules are relaxed in Global Village so visitors and parties are common every night. It is the place to go to make friends and have your own bathroom! You select and pay for which room you want during school registration. International students are almost always paired with a Japanese student to encourage cultural exchange. That was an experience in itself. Studying and living is great, but the facilities are top of the line as well.
The administration and student body know the campus is remote, so they do their best to make sure you’ll be welcome and enjoy your time. There is a large park across the street and a sports center for exercising. I’ve heard rumors there is even a ninja course hidden in a nearby forest. Also the school and some classes arrange field trips to connect with the community. I taught English several times through the community outreach programs and it has certainly boosted my resume. Still, most people spend their days on campus hanging out or studying. You can expect the average teacher offices, cafeteria, school shop, and café that all schools have. However, AIU has everything to feel comfortable and succeed in your goals. A massive library houses books and videos in English and Japanese. A computer lab is open 24 hours for late-night research or web surfing. And a language lab hosts television stations, computer programs, books, practice tests, and more in almost two dozen languages for the language enthusiast. Social life is great with all the clubs—volunteer, sports, hobby, language, and many with a Japanese twist, like tea ceremony club. If you are ever stressed out, there is an international study center, advisors, and counselors all there to listen and help you out.
Akita International University is friendly and welcoming. You can spend the night at Plaza Krypton right next to the area if you’d like. The next nearest hotel is about 30 minutes away in the capital city. At AIU you can show up and do a self-guided tour, request one from the office, or meet and greet with students walking to and fro. To really see AIU, try to come during an open campus day (announced on the website, or contact for details) where clubs put on performances and sell food from all around the world. Faculty will also be there to answer everything about the school that’s on your mind. If you’re traveling in Akita, take a stop by AIU and consider becoming more than just a tourist.