Back when I was an undergraduate student, it was always been my dream to experience an exchange program at least once. I’ve always wondered about how it feels to learn subjects in a totally foreign situation alongside people from different background and culture. On June 2015, God finally heard my prayers when my Department Dean broadcasted a message about SAKURA Exchange Program focusing on Water and Wastewater Treatment in Chuo University Tokyo for 9 Days. This program is sponsored by Japan Science and Technology (JST) and it covers all expenses, including accommodation, Jakarta-Tokyo return tickets, visa, and meals (¥3,000/day was given for meals only! Heaven!).
Soon after I received the Dean’s message, I immediately prepared the documents needed such as TOEFL test results (TOEFL ITP was accepted), Academic Transcript, CV, Certificate of Active Student, and Copy of Passport (FYI, for exchange program seekers, these documents are super essentials! Always make sure to update and keep these files in your folder).
Weeks later, I received the good news: I was selected to be one of student exchange representatives! After filling several forms and issuing visa requirements, on Indonesia Independence Day (August 17th, 2015), I flew to Tokyo alongside 9 other representatives.
As soon as I arrived at the airport, the sense of adventure was suddenly rushing in my blood. I’ve always wanted to explore a certain country when I visited it, so I dedicated myself to explore Tokyo every day after the classes or designated activities ended. Besides my interests to study about Japan’s advanced technology and science in Water Treatment, I also wanted to go deep into Japan’s cultures and to have a direct experience of its foods, people, traditional culture, buildings, public transportations, and even cute anime stuff! So in results, my experiences on SAKURA Exchange Program in Tokyo were divided into Day Part (classes, presentations, field trips) and Night Part (exploring the city).
In SAKURA Exchange Programs, our learning activities were mainly divided into classes with experts and professors, group discussions with in-house students, laboratory visits, field visits, museum visits, trip to Mt.Fuji, and lunchtime (my favorite activity of the day).
One of the memorable stories was when I was confused because there was no bottled water in my room, I was so thirsty and I asked my friend, “How do you drink? This hotel does not provide water.” Then she told me that I could drink from the sink in the toilet. I was reminded that I was in Japan where I could easily drink from any water taps. But still, drinking from the sink that was so close to where you pee? No, I prefer to drink from other sources.
The next day, we visited City Water Treatment and we were given an explanation about how clean water is retrieved, treated, and distributed across the city. The water source was coming from the river where it was already pristine and clean (not the kind of river you usually see in Indonesia!), then it was treated by staged chemical and biological treatment. Finally, the water was distributed to a highly monitored piping system throughout Tokyo. Given the explanation, I immediately convinced by the water quality in my toilet sink. Since then, I drank from the sink and it actually tasted nice!
Other memorable experiences were to be able to share thoughts and knowledge with Japanese colleagues. We were given a task to solve river problems in Indonesia by evaluating and taking insight from what we already learned from our studies in Tokyo and from sharing with in-house students. They were really stunted to know that river quality in Indonesia was so bad because people still considered river as their public toilets and a place to throw garbage. Maybe it is common to us, but for them, it is way beyond weird and nonsense, because Japanese already moved on from this habits decades ago long before they were even born. So we patiently explained to them about this condition and we came up with the solution, not only from technical aspects but also from institutional, social, and economic aspects. By combining our ideas together, my team was successfully awarded as Best Presentation.
Other memorable experiences was visiting Edo-Tokyo Museum (we could learn the history from Ancient Japan to Modern Japan we see today, the museum was also very interactive!), The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) (we could learn about present and future innovative technology), and Mt. Fuji (who does not want to visit the famous Mt. Fuji while in Japan?). To spend all of the activities above with nice friends and teachers made the trips super fun and enjoyable!
With my left brain was getting all too worn out at daytime, night time was the time to balance it. Every night, I carefully made the itinerary on where to go on the next day. I only had time after 4-5 pm every day to explore Tokyo, and I had to go back to the hotel on 12 am because in the morning I should attend the designated full schedule. To those who willing to spend time in Tokyo, either as a student or as a tourist, here I share my itinerary when I explored Tokyo:
Day 1: Shibuya Crossings and Hachiko Statue, buy Gindaco Takoyaki!
Day 2: Shibuya Street, shopping souvenir at Disney Store and Daiso, Cute Photo Box, and Eating Crepes in Harajuku
Day 3: Exploring Tokyo Dome (my friends entered ghost house and rode roller-coaster) and shopping souvenir at nearby Don Quijote
Day 4: Shinjuku and City Skyline Viewing at Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings
Day 5: Asakusa, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Skytree (see from distance), Roppongi Hills to see a lot of Doraemon Statues
Day 6: Odaiba (from noon). Initially, we wanted to go to Disney Sea after 6 pm because for passport holders, the tickets were discounted from ¥7.000-ish to ¥4.000-ish. But given the time and distance, we thought it would super exhausting, so we canceled.
Day 7: Akihabara, super recommended for Anime and Manga lovers!
Day 8: Buying Tokyo Banana at Tokyo Station, eat at Standing Steak Restaurant
I and my friends were usually traveling around Tokyo by Subway and JR Line Trains. As you might know, train line in Tokyo is one of the trickiest lines in the world. We were lost several times but Japanese people were so kind and helped us to find the way. While strolling around Tokyo, my impression about this city was sophisticated, clean, and everybody there was walking extra fast! This city sure never sleeps. Oh, and did I mention foods we ate along the way? Believe me, Japanese foods were all super delicious. Words can’t describe!
There goes the end of my Summer Exchange Experience in Tokyo. I was more than privileged to learn about this amazing city and its culture from many perspectives. Seriously, if you are still a student who loves to learn new things, explore new places, and get new friends/mentors, you have to experience an exchange program at least once in your life! Satisfaction guaranteed!