Interview with Kolbrún

Kolbrún Arna Björnsdóttir
School Iwate University
Favourite place at school The caféteria
Would you rather be able to fly or read minds? If I could fly, you wouldn‘t have to pay for the flight to Japan 🙂

1. Upon arrival, did you have to change any classes you chose? How did that go?
I had to change my classes because the classes I chose before going to Japan were just for the University of Iceland to have on record. It went very well, it was easy to understand and we had lectures that were in Japanese, Chinese and English, so all international students would be able to understand everything.

2. Did someone pick you up from the airport?
I travelled around Japan before the school started so no. As Morioka does not have an airport (the closest international one is in Sendai) there is no pick-up service at airports but someone can get you at the train station.

3. How was your first week adapting?
I adapted very quickly, thanks to the tutor the school provided me with, and the lectures the school held for international students.

4. How much are you paying a month for rent, food, transport and other necessities?
The rent here is very cheap, around 9000 yen. Then you have to pay water, electricity and gas but the bill for the rent plus all of these never goes above 15000 yen, which is very good for people that don‘t have a lot of money. Food in Japan is very cheap and you can easily have a low food budget while still eating well. Even restaurants here and the caféteria at the school grounds are  very cheap. I don‘t use transportation that much as everything I need is with in walking distance and if it isn‘t I use my bike. Morioka isn‘t that big so it doesn‘t have trains but instead has buses. They aren‘t very expensive if you‘re not going to be on for long, but they charge based on how many stops you pass.

5. Did you get into student dorms? If no, where are you staying and how has it worked for you?
Yes, I‘m staying in the International House on Iwate University campus. It‘s within 5 minutes walk away from where most of the classes take place (good for students that are always last minute;)). The dorm is nice but it has it‘s flaws since the building is quite old. For example the only heater we have is a gas heater that is very expensive to use. If you decide to come here I recommend you buy an electric heater for 5000 yen. It will save you a lot of money.

6. Did you apply for any scholarships? If yes, which ones did you receive?
I applied for 2 scholarships and recieved both of them. The first one is the Jasso scholarship that gives you 80.000 yen per month, and the other one is the Sasakawa scholarship that gave me in total around 317.000 yen.

7. Did you create a bank account or do you withdraw from ATMs?  If you withdraw from ATMs,  what would be your recommendation in terms of timing and amount? If you created a bank account, which bank did you go to?
Within a week of my arrival at the university my tutor took me to make a bank account at JP bank, as it is neccesary to pay your bills and to receive your scholarship. When doing that you get a bank book and a bank card that you can use to withdraw money. As for withdrawing from your creditcard from an ATM I recommend you refrain from doing it too often and if you have to withdraw a lot at a time. The reason is that since you‘re withdrawing in a foreign country, the banks back at home will charge you around 700-1000 krónur for each withdrawal.

8. Does your phone work in Japan or did you have to get a new one?
Well, in some ways it works and in some ways it doesn‘t. I can not call anyone inside or outside the country but I can text. I can also use the internet, which is the most important thing for every young adult J If however you want to be able to call you will most likely have to buy a new phone and get a contract with a phone company for either half a year or a year. A cheap way to get around this is to buy a second hand phone. They are usually very cheap and in very good condition.

9. Have you had any funny/embarrassing language miscommunication?
Not that I can recall.

10. Did you apply for LÍN and advance payment from your bank? If yes, did you encounter any problems/do you have any tips?

11. Do you miss anything about Iceland?
Icelandic milk. All milk in Japan tastes like cream and is way to fatty for my taste and impossible to drink straight. They also aren‘t very good at making good cakes, which is a shame.

12. What’s your most interesting/funny experience in Japan?
Probably that one time that I went to a mountain town and was out walking with some friends when the heaviest rain I have ever experienced started poring and withing a minute all of our clothes were soaked and the street was like a river. Could just as much have jumped into a lake.
Also I accidentally signed up for an advanced Japanese culture and history class, tought in Japanese. Stayed in it the whole semester and took the final. So hard and I asked myself so many times how I could have been that stupid but I passed and afterwards I think it‘s just kind of funny 🙂

13. Did you buy a travel insurance before you left for Japan? If yes, where from?
I got insurance from my credit card.

14. Did you bring medicine with you to Japan?
Just headache medicine.

15. Is there anything you regret bringing with you?
No, I don‘t think so.

16. Is there anything you wish you would have brought with you?
Icelandic chocolate. It‘s just so much better than Japanese chocolate.

17. What’s the weather like? Do you have any tips for keeping cool/warm?
Iwate University is in Morioka city in Iwate prefecture, which is in northern Japan. From mid November and through February it can snow and get really cold. However this winter was unusually warm so we almost never had any snow and it wasn‘t that cold. Tips to keep warm is to buy an electric heater (costs about 5000 yen) instead of using the gas heater provided in your dorm room as the gas is expensive and the gas heater doesn‘t work all that well. Otherwise just dress well when you go outside.

18. How are classes compared to those you took in Iceland, and is it heavier/easier?
Over all I don‘t think anything has been that hard, except from the advanced class I took. There is however much more homework here than there is back in Iceland.

19. What’s your favourite Japanese food so far?
I‘d have to say curry.

20. What’s your most disliked Japanese food so far?
Tsukemono (pickled vegetables).

21. Are there any specific shops that you recommend?
Daiso, a 100 yen shop that sells everything you need for your dorm room. Don Quijote, a store that sells literally everything on a pretty good price. All the stores at the station. There are so many and you can find everything there. Also a fun place to walk around.

22. Do you have any tattoos? If yes, did you encounter any problems?

23. Is there anything one must see or do in your location?
There is a daibutsu (a large statue of buddah) here in Morioka. There are also many cool and big shrines in the city that are fun to visit as well as the ruins of Morioka castle.

24. Did you travel within Japan? Where did you go and how was your experience?
I‘ve travelled to quite many places. I stayed in Tokyo for a while and I can tell you that the subway isn‘t as scary as people say it is. It‘s relatively easy to understand if you know where you‘re going. Also so many things to see and do. I also went to Nikko, a small town north of Tokyo that has many World Heritage sites, and the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period. Sendai is a very nice place to visit, many things to see and it‘s cheap and easy to get there from Morioka.
We went to Appi Kogen for a skii trip and it‘s a nice little mountain town with a skii reserve and we spent 2 days there skiiing. It was very nice.
I spent christmas in an onsen at Hanamaki, and I recommend it, it was very nice.
I‘ve also been to 3 costal towns that were heavily damaged by the 2011 tsunami. Miyako, Yamada and Rikuzentakata. It was a very interesting and an informing experience. For example almost the whole city of Rikuzentakata was gone. When I went there, there were just dirt fields as far as the eye could see (couldn‘t even see the ocean) where before there was a town. It was devastating to see but the towns people are working so hard on rebuilding their city. It‘s so inspirational.
Study hard and if you decided to go as an exchange student to Japan in the future have as much fun as you can, because the time runs so fast once you‘re here. Also don‘t be scared by the application process, it‘s much easier than you think.


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