20 Things I wish I had known about ICU (International Christian University) before I Studied Abroad

I spent 12 months studying abroad at International Christian University in Tokyo (from June 2012 – June 2013).

I think the school is wonderful; classes aren’t too difficult and if you play your cards right, you get a lot of freedom. I wrote a post about the wonderful aspect of ICU (to help you figure out if ICU is the school for you).

That being said, ICU is completely different than I expected.

Completely different.

IMG_4901(From the front gate, looking into the ICU campus. It’s beautiful… but such a long walk…)

I remember when I was first applying to study abroad; I emailed some of the past students and asked a bunch of questions about ICU. Most were answered in long, complicated messages… and I felt bad about that.

But then, about a month ago, I started getting emails from prospective students asking some of the exact same questions.

So I decided to simplify the process.

[Edit: I was an OYR at ICU from 2012 – 2013]

20 things I wish I had known about ICU before I arrived:

1. ICU isn’t in Tokyo.

I mean it technically is, but when I heard “In Tokyo,” I imagined being able to take a 10 minute train ride into the city to hit up the night life.

It’s not like that. At all. ICU is in a small town. Granted, it’s only a 10 minute bus ride to the station, but it also takes another 25 minute train to get to “a” heavily populated station. In general, if you want to go “out,” it takes at least an hour each way.

And costs AT LEAST $10- round trip.

Which really puts a damper on going out to clubs (or anywhere else at night, especially when it gets cold). The longer I spent in Tokyo, the more I realized this wasn’t necessarily a fault of ICU (it is actually in a really great location) – but more of a fault of my previous ideas of what “in a major city” should look like.

This is what I expected to see when I heard "In Tokyo"

This is what I expected to see when I heard “In Tokyo”

2. ICU Does not take care of their students (especially if you life off campus).

And I’m not saying this because I’m bitter. I actually really love it. I was raised with a considerable amount of freedom, and really cannot thrive under a restrictive environment.

However, when I say that ICU doesn’t take care of their students, I’m not joking. Here is a list of things ICU will not help you with:

  • 1a. Foreigner Registration Card: In the first 30 days in country, you MUST sign up for your foreigner registration card. ICU doesn’t really inform you about this. At all. Other universities in Japan will do this for you. But, not ICU. (edit, as of August 2012, you get your gaijin card at the airport, so you don’t have to go to Tachikawa Immigration Office anymore) – EDIT apparently now you can get your card at the airport. New laws and such. So that’s a relief!
  • 1b. Japanese Bank Account. Most foreign banks charge extraordinary fees to withdraw or use money in Japan. That being said, the ATMS at 7-11 will accept nearly every type of foreign card. ICU will not help you get a bank account, and this gets tricky because some banks don’t let foreigners open an account until they’ve lived in country for at least 6 months. I went to three banks trying to open an account and none of them let me (grrrrr).
    I have to pay my rent by a monthly bank transfer to my landlord, so I end up paying my boyfriend in cash each month while he makes the transfer with his account. It works, because we co-signed the apartment. I have other friends who have to pay monthly fees of $10 – $50 each month to make the transfer with a foreign bank account.
  • 1c. National Health Insurance. When you bring your foreigner registration card to your district’s Municipal Hall, you are required to sign up for National Health Insurance; something that ends up costing 700 – 1,000 yen a month ($9 – $12). On the bright side, this health insurance automatically covers 70% of your medical fees if you are hospitalized or visit a clinic. For someone who is in and out of hospital as much as I am, I have already gotten my money’s worth from the insurance (after a nasty bike accident).
    Your bills will come in the mail each month. Pay them at 7-11 or another convenience store, as mentioned in this post.
  • 1d. An apartment. In the last five years, ICU has built three new dorms to accommodate students. Even so, there is still not enough room for all the exchange students. So what happens if you apply to the dorms (during your ICU application)… and get rejected?
    Well, you’re on your own.
    If you ask nicely, ICU will set you up at a “student dorm,” a sort of hostel an hour train ride away. If you’re lucky. If you’re a graduate student, you might not find out you were not accepted into the dorm until it was too late (and you are in-country), and so you might have to spend the first couple weeks of class living out of a hotel room (which happened to a friend of mine).

    This was my apartment :)

    This was my apartment :)

    I have met one term, one year, graduate, and regular four-year Japanese students rejected for the dorms. Each one was less than thrilled about whatever living arrangements they eventually acquired.

3. Class registration is a nightmare.

I wanted to include this in the “ICU does not take care of the student” section, but it’s really awkward enough to deserve its own section.

You can look at the course catalog online whenever you want; it has all the classes for the next year already assigned. Therefore, before the first semester had even ended, I had already picked all the classes I would take for the next two semesters. Don’t judge me.

Registration day is the day before classes start. It has 5 parts. It is horrifically inefficient, time consuming, easy to mess up, and offers to guidance.

But, the best part of registration is the fact that you will automatically get into your classes (except for GE classes, but I still don’t know what those are, and International Students usually aren’t supposed to take them). The evening of registration, classrooms are assigned based on enrollment. Just check your schedule in the morning to see what classroom each class has assigned.

I had one class where the professor expected around ten students, only to be straddled with a class size of around 65. He wasn’t too thrilled about it. But at least you don’t have to deal with pesky “wait lists” like American universities.

If you want to drop classes, you can only do it in the add/drop period (two days that take place about a week after classes start). Make sure you do this step correctly, because you are never given a confirmation email (or any sort of confirmation, really). So several students are in for a nasty shock when they get their final report card back, only to find an F (that transfers back to their home university, killing their GPA) in that class they thought they had dropped.

The teachers don’t care if you show up to class and your advisor has anywhere between 50 – 100 other students. No one is going to look out for you. Take care of yourself. If you think you dropped a class (and it turns out you didn’t) – your professor will never email you asking about your class attendance, missing assignment sheets, or the fact that you just missed your final. They really just don’t care.

Also, if you miss registration day, you can register later… On limited days. For a fee of 5,000 yen (about $65). Don’t miss registration day, please. I’ve had several friends miss the registration day before (because of travel) and had a horrific time trying to register late.

4. Classes are laughably easy (except for JLP – Japanese Language Program).

But then again, none of my grades transfer, as long as I make above a C.

A good majority of the class’s grades are based on a single, final report. Class participation and attendance count for 20% (at most). Four of my classes had a presentation (35%) and a paper – based on the presentation (45%).

JLP (Japanese Language Program) has a final exam worth 45%, a mid-term worth 25%, quizzes worth 20%, and class participation/projects worth 10%.

They don’t give you a lot of incentive to show up for class (I mean, you know, aside for the knowledge).

5. It is surprisingly easy to come close to missing a third of your JLP classes.

JLP has the rule that as long as you go to two thirds of your class, you will pass. If you miss more than that, you automatically fail.

But see, the problem is that all of my other classes only meet once a week for a stretch of around 3-4 hours. I didn’t have class on Thursday and Friday. So it was difficult to get motivation to go to Thursday and Friday classes, especially because I wanted to travel around Japan. I would leave on Wednesday night and come back Monday morning.

I missed a lot of class. Which is probably the reason I did so poorly at it.

But I wasn’t the only one.

6. They (probaby) won’t fail you for missing more than a third of your JLP classes

Or at least none of my professors did – and I had friends in each of those classes who missed WELL over 1/3 of the classes). If you’re worried, ask the professor.

And they grade JLP pretty harshly. Most of my friends are barely scraping by with a C or B. Don’t expect to make above a B unless you’re are practicing for several hours every night or just happen to be good at languages.

I am very happy with the consistent C’s that I’ve been making. I know several people failing (and will have to re-take the class).

7. Intensive JLP is not worth it.

Unless you are a language geek. I’m not. I did intensive classes in the summer, which meant I sat in a room and studied Japanese for 6 hours a day.

That’s just too much. I hated it. I was miserable. I wanted to get out and see Japan – not slave away in the classroom. But I’m me – and you might have different motivations.

After I got out of class, I had no motivation to study for another 3 hours in order to prepare for the next day’s class.

I had no time, no social life, to time to travel, and no time to meet friends, job hunt, or write.

 

If you are a language geek, take the intensive (though it has limited availability, mostly only for the lower levels). If you are “normal” take the regular class (which, to be honest, is still 2.5 hours of Japanese language a day. It’s not exactly a walk in the park).

I spent more time on my JLP class than I did on my four other classes, combined.

8. The ICU summer course is very helpful for study abroad students.

The summer course is fantastic. This year it ran from July 4th to August 15th. About half the students who took the summer course where continuing on for another term (or full year) of study abroad.

Not only did you get to fully concentrate on learning Japanese during the summer (it was the intensive class, so it was 6 hours a day…), but you also gradually got used to living at ICU. That way, when all the new September students and study abroad students arrived in the fall, you weren’t floundering along with the rest of the study abroad students.

The summer term also hosted several (free) cultural events.

Cultural Event #7 - Making traditional Japanese shoes (Zori)

Cultural Event #7 – Making traditional Japanese shoes (Zori)

And, since a lot of the summer course students stayed on for another term, I got to start out the year with a nice group of friends.

I can’t imagine what ICU would be like if I hadn’t taken the summer course first.

I definitely would not have gotten as much out of it.

The only downside to the summer course was living in Oak House, essentially a dorm modeled off a technology-rich prison.

9. The Dormitories are incredibly strict.

Remember how I said that ICU gives their students freedom? Yeah. That doesn’t apply to the dorms. The newer dorms (Dialogue house, Oak house, and Zelkova) are the worst.

Dialogue house is where all the one-term students stay. It is located on the floors above the dining hall and the floors below the faculty meeting rooms. You have a key-card that makes the elevator work (without it, you can’t go anywhere). You are not allowed to have any visitors from outside Dialogue house (but people do) or any visitors of the opposite sex in your room (but once again, people do).

Dialogue House

Dialogue House

If they catch you, they claim that they can kick you out. I’ve never actually seen that happen, though

Oak and Zelkova house give off the impression of a fancy prison cell. You have a key card to swipe in at the front door, at the stairwell to your floor, and to you room. You have to leave your keycard by a sensor near the door in order to turn on the lights, use the outlets, or use the AC/heater.

If you are travelling in group, each person has to swipe into the front door. If you forget to swipe in, the door registers you as still outside. Therefore, you can’t swipe into your floor. And you can’t swipe out of the dorm (because it still thinks you are outside).
I’ve heard stories of people getting trapped in the door (or their floor) and missing/being late to class.

I lived in Oak house during the summer program. It was terrifying. I am a forgetful person. I always forgot to bring my card, put it into the sensor so I could use the electricity, and swipe out. I’m sure I drove my roommate crazy.

And, you know, they have curfews. Most (possibly all) dorms have curfew. After 10:30PM, you couldn’t swipe out of Oak house. So, let’s say you wanted to meet a friend at 11PM. You had to leave the dorm well before 10:30PM, because after 10:30PM, you couldn’t get out. The curfew only worked for “leaving” the dorm, you could return at any time. I would come back around 2AM on weekends, with no problem.

And, if you were able to slip out of the doors after curfew (let’s say while someone else was swiping in), you wouldn’t be able to get back inside, because your key card still registered you as being inside.

It’s all rather complicated.

We even had someone try to crawl out the window; they had a flight out early in the morning and were going to spend the night at the airport. Unfortunately, they tried to leave at 11PM. The doors were locked.

He had to beg the dorm parents to let him out. It was all pretty funny.

The newest dorms are the most strict; the older dorms give you more freedom. Kind of. Older, women’s dorms are not allowed to have male visitors (and vice versa). Keep in mind most people break these rules. Just be careful… because Japan, as whole, is not nice to rule-breakers.

The front of Oak House

The front of Oak House

The best dorm to live in is Global House. Most of the international students live here, and it’s the most expensive dorm. It’s the only dorm (I think) where you get to live in a single room, sharing a suite with three other people. You cannot have overnight visitors (at all) and you must sign in any visitors you DO happen to have.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to get my own apartment.

But as bad as the dorms are, it can be worse.

10. Dorms provide a safe community to easily meet people.

Especially since a lot of these dorms do not allow outside visitors. Living in the dorms is a great way to meet people.

Sometimes I’m sad. I miss being able to walk across the hall and hang out with neighbors. If you have trouble meeting people or are not obnoxiously outgoing, try to get into the dorms.

I have a fun community of people who live in near-by apartments to bother, so I’m never lonely. It really just depends on the person.

11. If you don’t get into the dormitories, prepare for a headache.

ICU cannot house all the international students. But they accept them anyways. It’s the same case for Graduate students. If you’re “lucky” you get into the strict dorms. If you’re not, you have two choices.

  • 11a. Let ICU find a place for you. Keep in mind, ICU doesn’t particularly care about your comfort level. I mean this in the nicest way possible. Why should they care? If you let ICU find you a place, you will not have control over how long your commute is, how expensive the apartment is, or how many roommates you have. I have several friends living one of a couple “student hostel dorms,” an hour commute away. Train tickets are expensive.
  • 11b. Find your own place. I picked this option. When I applied for ICU, I didn’t select any of the housing options, and enclosed a little note that basically said “Thanks but no thanks, I’m going to find my own place.” People who apply don’t necessarily get any confirmation if they get into the dorm, only if they are rejected.

I actually never got a notice from ICU approving me to live off campus. They also never asked for my address… or any sort of other personal information. If you’re not on campus, you’re not their problem.

For me, the decision was easy, because I like freedom. And I like personal space.

My boyfriend (I met him during his study abroad at my college and then just kind of followed him back to Japan) lives in Tokyo and goes to school up in Akita. [Edit, we’re married now and live in Tokyo. Wow, this article is kind of old…]

So he found a place for me.

And I LOVE my apartment. It’s a beautiful, two-room (with an additional bathroom) right next to campus with a fairly cheap rent (about the same as Global House).

The only thing to watch out for when getting your own place is the initial payment. My rent was listed at 46,000 yen a month, which is fantastic.

But it’s misleading.

When you first sign for an apartment, you have to pay two month’s rent up-front as a down payment. It is supposed to cover the fees for changing the locks, cleaning and repairing the apartment, the realtor fee, and a deposit for damages you might do. You don’t get any of that money back when you move out. It is horribly depressing. And expensive. Some apartments do not charge key money. Some do. You just have to look carefully.

Without them, I don’t think I would have been able to find (or rent) such a fantastic, cheap apartment. The whole ‘not speaking Japanese fluently’ thing really puts a damper on apartment-hunting.

There is a nice dorm literally RIGHT NEXT to the “High school” entrance of ICU (did I mention that ICU also has a High School in its campus?). Rent isn’t horrible, and they don’t charge key money. It is a great place for students.

My apartment was kind of tiny, though...

My apartment was kind of tiny, though…

12. Only around 20% of students live on campus.

And I am being kind here, because two professors have told me the percentage that lives OFF-campus hovers more around 85%. I don’t know how many students apply to live on campus or how many get rejected. I just know that most of my Japanese friends commute somewhere around 1-2 hours a day by bus, train, or bike.

13. Clubs are really the only way to meet people (especially if you live off-campus).

Most of the students only come into ICU for classes. The cafeteria (and most other buildings) close a 9PM. There is no general hang-out place to meet new students (that doesn’t close early in the evening). And, since most people commute, it’s not like they hang around campus for a long time after class. They have to go home.

So meeting people really boils down to where you live and what clubs you join. If you live off-campus, clubs might be your only option.

Joining a club is incredibly important. But it’s also stressful.

boxing club at icu friends japanese foreigner

I loved the boxing club (this is us)

14. Choose your club(s) carefully. One term students seem to have the most fun in Smooth Steppers and the Wadaiko club – both incredibly intense club activities, but a great place to meet people. I didn’t join either; I only had enough time to join a low-intensity club.

I’m in the Boxing club. I absolutely LOVE it. I also have an internship in the city, so between those, I end up busy most nights and afternoons.

Most clubs are friendly. Some appear friendly, but really don’t accept foreigners. I was in one of those (not going to mention names, because the people in the club were very nice). Three months later, my friends and I still weren’t on the mailing list, weren’t invited out to eat/hang out with the other members of the club before/after practice, and were asked not to participate in the ICU festival presentation, since “it doesn’t look good unless we all look the same.”

As depressing as it was to quit, all of us had other clubs to fall back on, so it wasn’t too lonely.

Clubs will put forth the most effort recruiting in the first two weeks. If you aren’t put on a mailing list, given the club email to ask for questions, added on facebook, included in future events, or invited out (aside from the party after the first practice), find a new club. Quickly.

That being said, foreigners are known for quitting clubs… so clubs might not put forth any effort into keeping their foreign members if they think they will quit.

Then, the foreigners – feeling left out and ignored – quit.

It’s a catch-22.

It’s really, actually very sad.

That being said, there are plenty of wonderful clubs that love one-term and exchange students.

15. There is no meal plan; you have to pay for each meal one at a time.

Meals at Gakki, the cafeteria, run from about 300 yen – 500 yen ($3.60 – $6.20) per dish. This is still much cheaper than eating out… but it adds up fast. Watch out. Some of the dorms (specifically Dialogue house) don’t even have a kitchenette/rice machine/oven/refrigerator on the floor so you can cook your own food.

Be prepared to spend a lot of money on food.

One of the first things I bought was a rice cooker and an electric skillet. Both have already paid for themselves a hundred times over.

16. It is impossible to survive on less than 1,200 yen ($15) a day.

This is excluding rent, utility bills, clothes shopping, and transportation to the city. Don’t think that you are special. You cannot survive on less than that.

Assuming you eat all your meals in the Gakki, that’s already at LEAST 900 yen a day (assuming you only eat curry). That’s not including snacks in between classes, a more wholesome meal, fruit, or going out to eat with friends.

I go into the city about twice a week, eat out at a “real” restaurant with friends about once a week, go shopping about twice a month, and go through about 1,700 yen a day (calculated weekly). It’s expensive…

And then there is shopping, karaoke, bar hopping, clubbing, trains, busses, onsen, club fees, textbooks, and a million other things that will drain you dry.

IMG_2079

My first week in Japan, already hitting up the Karaoke places

17. Important terms for ICU students:

OYR: One Year Regular. It means that you are either a one-term or a one-year student.

Gakki: The cute nickname for the cafeteria. It comes from the words Gakusei (student) + ____

JLP: Japanese Language Program

ELP: English Language Program

Nomihodai: All you can drink. This is a group event; it is sad and lonely to do Tabehodai or Nomihodai alone.

Tabehodai: All you can eat. It is usually paired with Nomihodai, for a price of anywhere between 2,000 – 3,500 yen ($25 – $40). This is a group event; it is sad and lonely to do Tabehodai or Nomihodai alone.

At Nomihodai and Tabehodai right after the summer course ended.

At Nomihodai and Tabehodai right after the summer course ended.

Izakaya: A Japanese bar. It’s a cute bar, you pay anywhere from 200 – 500 yen ($2.50  – $6) per dish or alcoholic beverage. It is a fun thing to do with friends. You usually get a small booth. Beware: prices can easily reach $30 a person, even if you’re trying to eat cheaply

Last train: Don’t miss this. It is like the name suggests: the last train from the city. The last train out from the station Shinjuku to Musashisakai (the stop for ICU) is at 12:50. Trains run every 2 minutes, and starting about 30 minutes before the trains stop, each train is packed so hard you can’t breathe. For tips about riding the “last train”, check out this previous blog-post.

One-coin bike parking lot: Located to the left of Musashisakai station. It was re-vamped last year, so that you have to pay 100 yen ($1.20) a day to store your bike. If you don’t put it here, and try to park next to the station or in another store’s parking lot, they will tow your bike. Don’t test them. For more information: click here.

Onsen: Public bath. You shower off first and then soak in a large bath with your friends. It’s incredibly fun (and not awkward or sexual at all). I try to go at least once a month.

September Students: Students who enter their freshmen year at ICU in September. To American students, this isn’t weird. To Japanese students it might be a little odd, since a majority of new freshmen enter start in April. But ICU is unique in the fact that it also accepts students for the September term. That way, the new Septem students start the exact same time as study abroad students. It’s nice having a large group of people who don’t know what’s going on. The support group is fun.

18. Allocate some time at the end of the semester to go travelling with friends. Don’t fly out right after finals, you will regret it. Most of the dorms do not kick you out until a couple weeks after the semester officially ends; worst case scenario you can probably crash in a friend’s apartment or cheap hostel until your flight.

I made the mistake of choosing a flight right after finals end; I was invited on and am missing out on some fun trips to Hokkaido, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka. But then again, I’m broke, so I’m not too sad about it.

19. Be careful bringing medication into the country

. Japan is surprisingly restrictive. You are not allowed to bring in more than two months of any prescription medicine, including Birth Control Pills. They tell you that you can fill out an import form to bring in essential medicine once you’re in Japan. You really can’t. I’ve known several who tried, including someone who had a difficult time adjusting to classes because he was denied his ADHD pills.

Furthermore, ICU will generally not accept anyone who has a history of mental illness or is on any severe medicine.

The reasons are two-fold:

One, you probably will not be able to get your medicine through customs (or they are illegal in Japan). When you cannot get your medicine through customs and stop taking it, you might have severe problems.

Two, even if you are taking your medicine, you might have problems. Remember when I told you how ICU doesn’t care about or take care of their students? They want easy-to-ignore students.

20. There are cats everywhere.

I’m not joking. Everywhere. And they have no fear. I’ve nearly hit several of them on my bike (especially when it’s late at night).

At night they can be scary, because they just sit in the middle of the road, on top of benches, and on random ledges, their eyes all sparkly and creepy.

21. (Added by a previous student) Just because it’s called International CHRISTIAN University doesn’t mean you have to be Christian. It is only as Christian as you want it to be, including not at all. (

There are at least 8 cats in this picture. Can you find them all?(This is in front of one of the dorms

There are at least 8 cats in this picture. Can you find them all?
(This is in front of one of the dorms)

So that’s what I’ve learned at ICU this first semester. Keep in mind, I am a foreigner (living off campus) so some of this might be heavily biased.

If you have any questions/comments/corrections, please either leave a comment below. For more information about ICU, check some of the other posts I’ve written:
12 Things I love about ICU

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

41 Comments on 20 Things I wish I had known about ICU (International Christian University) before I Studied Abroad

  1. Hi Grace, my name is Chi and I’m 17. I already have an overal IELTS score of 7.0 but I haven’t taken the SAT exam yet. If I have no SAT scores, would I still be able to apply to ICU?
    Thanks so much in advance for your answer.

  2. I was an OYR in 2007-2008 – sounds like things haven’t changed much! Anybody thinking about going to ICU should certainly read this (though it shouldn’t necessary stop you from going).

    Just want to add to the chorus that this is a great overview of what it’s like to be an international student at ICU. I was also startled to learn that students at US colleges and universities are INCREDIBLY coddled when compared to life as a student in Japan; it’s true, they really make no effort at all to integrate you into the community or make your time special; it’s all up to you. If you miss the one club sign-up event, there is no recourse. I was very lucky in that I met a few friends through my Japanese language course, but other than that I was not involved much in school activities. I went to a small handful of other events that were publicized to foreign students, but other than that I found it very difficult to make Japanese friends.

    The dorm thing is ridiculous; I was one of those lucky ones who was rejected from campus dorms (to my shock) and put in a random place an hour commute away. I ended up taking a short-term (6-week) lease at the mens’ only dorm and then looked for a place closer to campus through a rental company recommended by another exchange student. If you’re the independent type who can live and cook on your own, I would highly recommend doing this – you don’t want to be stuck in Nishi-kokubunji your whole year, which is even more isolated and boring than Musashi-Sakai.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me relive some of those days. I really, really wish this had been around when I was getting ready to go to ICU.

    • This us the best write up I have ever seen. Thanks for taking the time to detail every aspect, great & important topics. It is better to know the truth, and decide if this will be the best match for you. Love your honesty, THANKS!!!

  3. Can I ask what your grades were like in high school? When I went to visit ICU they said that they will be looking at your sophomore-senior grades when deciding to accept you or not. And what were all the admission requirements for you? Thank you.

  4. Hello! I found your article/blog very interesting and helpful as well as exciting. I’m still a Junior in the United States and ICU is one of my top college/university choices. I’m actually from Japan and have studied the past almost six years in the United States which lands me as an international student. By any chance would you know how hard it is to be accepted as a regular four year student? I think I have a good chance of getting in due to Japanese being my first language (even though I’m still in the process of learning the more complicated words) and my career goal is basically what ICU wants from their students and I’ve taken Human Geography and International Relations this school year but I’m really scared about GPA and SAT or ACT scores. Also, how many clubs would you recommend I join maximum? I was thinking about archery, lacrosse, chamber music orchestra, and tea ceremony. How hard are they and how much commitment do I have to show? Do I have to have previous experience?

    I’m so sorry for all of the questions but I would be very grateful if you could help answer some of them… thank you!

    • Oh… oh gosh, I completely forgot to include some questions!

      How much free time do you have during the school year and is there enough time to get a job?

      • Hey there! I’m a Japanese-American but I was born and raised in NY&DE so that makes me a American to the heart. I’m a senior (graduating this month!), and I will go to ICU this September (this blog scares me…) I got into ICU as a regular 4 year student, however as a non-Japanese. There is the regular 4 year student for both Japanese and Non-Japanese. I am still in the process of officially applying. I only took the SAT, and I had at least over 1900. Aim for over 2000 to be safe. My GPA is between 3.5 and 4. I did take AP tests, but they didn’t ask about it so far. In your post, you mentioned about Japanese being your 1st language. If you have a Japanese passport already, that’s really handy. If you don’t you would have to apply for a student visa and everything. I agree with this person, if you have citizenship for Japan, it’s a LOT easier. I have dual citizenship, and that’s also a bit different but easier, compared to what the people without Japanese Citizenship go through.
        What you need:
        -Japanese Bank Account (using my dad’s)
        -Health Insurance (I still have to buy one)
        -Student Visa/Japanese Passport (They will ask for copies)
        -Your own health documents (TB shot, etc.)
        -Guarantor documents/signature if you’re a minor by the Japanese standard (I’m 17, so I needed it) A guarantor is someone who you can contact in emergency situations who lived in Japan. If you have a relative, for example. If you’re international, then the ICU will be one for you. However, you need to fill out another document for that.
        -And the ICU is in the suburban part of Tokyo. It is not the city-like NYC. For example, to get the Shinjuku that’s about 1 hour by train.
        -However, ICU is the best Liberal Arts college Japan has to offer…
        Hope this will help!!!

  5. Hi Grace,

    I’m lucky enough to have been given the opportunity by my university in England to take part in the Summer Programme at ICU this year. I’ve never been to Japan before so this is a hugely exciting thing for me.

    I’ve been given the choice to stay in a dorm, at an apartment or with a host family. Do you have any recommendations as to which I should choose? I think the dorm that is offered is Oak House and from what you’ve said above it sounds a little strict. I’m 21 and used to a lot of freedom back home, so the prospect of not being allowed out beyond 11pm is a strange one. I read somewhere recently that the curfew system changed in 2014, meaning you couldn’t get in after 11pm if you went out earlier – do you think there is any truth to this?

    Thanks for your time. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and have learned so much about life at ICU and in Japan generally.

    Thanks,
    James

    • Hey,
      I’m in the same boat as you right now, and I’m unsure of what to choose as well. In addition to the restrictions of Oak House, I’ve also heard that you might not get much Japanese practice. At the same time, staying with a host family is a dice roll.

      • That’s crazy. The only advice I actually got from the director of the programme at my university was not to stay with a host family, as he felt it has the potential to distract from written study. But at the same time he’s pretty old and cynical so perhaps I should take that with a pinch of salt. I’ve been thinking that a host family might be a barrier to socialising with the other course participants, but again I have nothing to base this fear on! I’m still very undecided haha

    • Hey James,

      I am also going to ICU and am currently studying in an English University. However I’m starting in September for an academic year, are you staying on after the summer program or returning to the UK afterwards?

      Adam

  6. Thank you so much for this informative post.

    I’m currently an undergrad student looking into doing ICU for a year but I’m worried about competition. I don’t actually know how competitive it is, but it’s been extremely hard finding more detailed information at the moment (Though I know I can probably get more info early October, I’d like to have the extra month of preparation).

    Could you describe your experience? Whether that involves a simple or complex application process, what you felt the program prioritized (current grades/gpa, recommendations, essays).etc

    Thank you so much for your time.

    • Hi Ethelon,

      Thanks for the message. Sadly, I entered ICU as a one year exchange student, so I didn’t actually go through the application process. I have absolutely NO idea what they prioritized, sorry (though, at least for exchange programs, GPA was pretty important).

  7. Gakki = Gakusei Kitchen

    Was OYR 11-12. Intensive was horrible and wonderful all at once: when you’re with the same people day in and day out you make some pretty powerful bonds.

    Great article. I think you’ve got ICU down to a T.

    • So THAT’S what Gakki stands for. I always wondered.

      I was the year after you (OYR 12-13). It was fun, especially because ICU was actually bigger than my home University in the states, but I also spent a lot of time off-campus just doing my thing.

  8. This is cool! I’m not going to ICU but potentially another university in Japan this fall. I’ve heard you can take in medication if you apply to bring it well beforehand. I wonder if getting an apartment would be better than going for dorms? I would be in Tokyo I think.

    • Yes, you should apply ahead of time to bring in medicine. However, sometimes the process takes too long (or they flat-out reject your application). I had a friend who wasn’t able to bring in his ADD medicine while he was abroad, which caused several problems.
      A somewhat risky method that a lot of people use is just packing it in your suitcase and hoping you don’t get searched at the airport. My luggage has only been searched once – and even then, not very much, so I doubt you would actually have problems.

      As for renting an apartment – you have to have a Japanese person act as a guarantor (if you are foreign). If you don’t have that, you usually aren’t able to get an apartment…

  9. I really appreciate this. I’ve been looking at international schools that the GI Bill will pay for in Japan and for the twenty or thirty of them, ICU was the only one that offered a computer science degree in English. Thanks to the massive amount of paperwork that I have to complete before I separate from the military in order to discharge and remain in Japan, I’ve been very nervous about applying for this school, but both of your blogs (this one and also the things that you love about ICU) have definitely helped me in as far as motivation goes. Thank you.

    • Hi Cameron,

      I’m glad to hear. Let me know if you have any additional questions about ICU! I know when I was researching the school, I couldn’t find much info online about ICU at ALL, and that made me pretty nervous…

  10. Grace, I stumbled across your blog (don’t remember what I searched for) and it brought back a lot of memories. My wife and I were both OYRs at ICU from 1995-1996. She lived in one of the dorms, and I lived in an awful 4 1/2 mat room with a shared toilet and no bath just outside the south gate–I rode my bike every night to the public bath up past the main gate. My room was in an old building that shook every time a truck went by on the highway, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the trucks and earthquakes. I signed up for wadaiko club, but quit after one term because it was too much like a cult.

    On the other hand, I’m really glad we went to ICU, because for all their talk about being an international university, it is very, very Japanese. If you can adjust to life there, you should be able to handle living in Japan for a long time. We lived in Hiroshima for 3 years after college (my wife was a CIR on the JET Programme), and we’re now living in Georgia, both working for Japanese companies. After 14 years back in the US we’re still having reverse culture shock–we miss a lot of things about living in Japan, but would feel too guilty leaving our companies here (I know, we’ve become too Japanese). Anyway, just wanted to say hello!

    • Ouch. That is a tiny appartment. I think I actually know the public bath you’re talking about (I also lived about a 6 minute bike ride outside of the South gate). Thankfully my apartment had a bath, so I only used the other one when friends visited.
      ICU must have changed a lot since you were there. They’ve built 3 new dorms in the last 4 years and have been doing some major (and minor) renovations. Progress is good, I guess.

      I agree, ICU was a very Japanese college. It was nice – I really did like it there. I wish I had spent more time on campus (I was working a part-time job and internship, so most of my friends were outside of school).

      I can also agree on reverse culture shock. I get cravings for Japanese food all the time – and I’ve only been out of the country for less than a year! At least they have more Asian food stores, so we can cook up some of our favorites.
      Thanks for leaving a comment – I always love hearing from other people :)

  11. ElizabethB // 24 January, 2014 at 12:26 pm //

    Hey Grace,
    I am planning on doing a academic year study abroad in Japan and summer in South Korea. I was curious about the mention of not being able to bring in more than a two month supply of prescribed medication.
    For medications of BC, how did you get around the issue? When I was looking at working with TDL we were instructed to see if out prescriptions would go through Costco. But again, they focused on contact prescriptions and things.

    This is also preparing me for the future for when I live in Japan with my SO, if he can’t work in America (Japanese native from Akita)

    I love you posts and relate almost 95% of the time. Keep up the great writing and inspiration!

    • Hey :)

      Thanks for the message! As for the medication… that’s a bit of a tricky subject. I had a friend who went through all the normal channels and was unable to get his autistic medicine into the country – even after 5 months of trying. I just kind of… well… put all my medicine into a small bag, surrounded by electronics (to mess up the airport sensor) and prayed for the best. It worked.
      I had friends whose parents would mail them BC and stuff, but that can get rather pricey. So sadly, I haven’t figured out the best way to get around the medicine rules, at least in the long term.

  12. Hi Grace! I think I went through JLP at the same time as you! (summer of 2012?) I’m also from Texas though I go to school at Duke now. I just happened to find your blog and reading through it, you seem like an awesome person, and I’m sad that I missed out meeting you! I was wondering which class you were in? (I was in C4!) Also, I did a homestay during the program. Does ICU not provide homestays during the year?

    • You did JLP at ICU too? Awesome! I was summer of 2012 (I think) and lived in Oak house. I was also C 2 (?) or 3 (I forget). I remember it was hard to meet commuters, though.

      ICU DOES offer a homestay program throughout the year, but most of my friends ended up not liking their homestay families (which is sad). I was also about a year and some change into a serious relationship, so I decided to live off campus so I could spend time with my then boyfriend (now fiance) when he visited.

  13. Darin Buzon // 12 October, 2013 at 7:40 pm //

    How did you manage to talk with past students about ICU? I’d like to get some information from them and research more about ICU.

    • I actually studied abroad at ICU for a year – so I was able to just ask my friends about the school. As for getting in contact with current students… I’m not exactly sure how you would do that.
      You can always try the ICU facebook page.

  14. Darin Buzon // 16 September, 2013 at 10:56 pm //

    This is great, I really want to go to ICU, and I’ll definitely use this as a reference. But I had a question about financial issues. How were you able to meet your needs financially for your tuition needs and such?

    • I hope you get to go to ICU! Thankfully, when I did study abroad, the financial aid office at my home university covered ICU tuition. The most expensive thing was dorm and food – there are a couple scholarships (like JASSO) that can help cover costs. I would say your best bet is apply to various scholarships!

  15. Hello,
    I am a rising senior in the high school within the U.S.. I recently was able to visit ICU with a former alum (my Japanese teacher and mentor) on a group trip. I absolutely loved ICU and have since been researching it extensively. I found these posts wonderfully informative. I am curious about the segment in which you said,
    “But then again, none of my grades transfer, as long as I make above a C.”

    Does this mean that the credit was transferred regardless of the grades, or that you did not receive credit? Also (and most importantly, as I will most likely go to a graduate school), is there any way to know what colleges, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, will accept a bachelor’s degree from ICU. I would be applying as a regular student. I know that the website said many, but I was wondering if you knew how to find out more specifically, short of contacting individual graduate schools to ask.

    Another question just occurred to me, would you say that it is easier or harder for a regular student to receive a place in the dorms as opposed to a study abroad or one year student?

    Thank you very much,
    Hannah

    • Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for the message. I’m glad to help.
      Your first question, regarding grade transfer, it depends on the college. I am a one year exchange student at ICU from a pretty small university in America; my home universities’ policy is to accept the credit, NOT the grade (provided I make above a C). I haven’t met anyone else who has a college like that – all the other exchange students I know have to worry about their International Christian University GPA transferring back to their home university.

      As for your second question – I have a couple friends that are doing graduate work here; none of them have had problems transferring credits, grades, or credentials to other graduates schools in Asia or the US. I DO know that ICU grad school students have some of the highest paid jobs within Japan, since ICU is ranked pretty high within the country.

      Dorms are… difficult. I chose not to live in the dorms because they have a set of strict rules (curfew, who you can or cannot bring into the dorms/rooms, drinking policies, etc). As far as I know, grad students (female) can live in Sibley house – I’m not sure about the others. Nearly all of the grad students I know live off campus in apartments near the school (to be honestly, I actually don’t know of any grad students living on campus). You would have to ask ICU – but they’re pretty notorious about making information difficult to find.

      I hope that helps. Sorry I can’t quite answer all the questions.

  16. SecretCatPolicy // 5 May, 2013 at 4:02 pm //

    ” You have to take a 20 minute bus ride to the station”
    Actually, you can walk it in about half an hour. This is a lovely walk, it helps you stay fit, it’s a great time to be alone with your thoughts and it saves you 220 yen. There is no greater place on earth for walking than Mitaka.

    “And costs AT LEAST $10- round trip.”

    Since you’re American and so probably not used to public transport, let me (a Briton) tell you this: on the grand scheme of things, bearing in mind the amazingly high quality of service you are getting, that’s the public transport deal of the century. Really, do not complain about this. Imagine how much owning and running a car would cost you…

    I’d also like to point out a couple of extra things:

    21. Just because it’s called International CHRISTIAN University doesn’t mean you have to be Christian. It is only as Christian as you want it to be, including not at all.

    22. the reason I studied at ICU was because they had a homestay programme.

    23. Assuming your home university is OK with it, you don’t actually have to do anything other than JLP if you don’t want to. I didn’t, and that gave me plenty of time to do my stuff.

    • Alright, I fixed the times. I don’t live on campus, so I wasn’t quite sure how long it took (but you’re probably right at around 10 minutes).

      I love walking to the station when the weather’s good – but since I mostly go in to Tokyo for my baito, I get frustrated that it takes so long. It could be worse. The town I’m from in America (Texas) doesn’t even have a bus system (let alone a train) – so I think I’m just spoiled by being able to drive everywhere easily.
      And there is no way I would even own a car in Japan – like you said it’s way too expensive.

      Funny thing on your 21 – one of my good friends here is Jewish, when he told his parents he wanted to study abroad at ICU, they freaked out. I think ICU does a great job with religious freedom.
      And my home university said I had to take at least 13 credits a semester (each university is different). I’m actually not taking JLP this semester because I wasn’t able to get everything done. Instead I’m just taking 14 credits of “regular” classes.

      Anything else you have to offer? I think I’m going to add your 21 in, since that’s pretty important.
      Thanks!

  17. Anonymous // 25 April, 2013 at 4:57 pm //

    SAYING IT HOW IT IS!!!

    • SecretCatPolicy // 6 May, 2013 at 8:49 am //

      I don’t like to bang on about point number one, because there’s some validity to what you’re saying, but to me the issue isn’t the times, it’s the attitude. You really don’t need to go that far for a good night on the town. Kichijoji is a pretty cool spot and it’s only two stops away on the Chuo; fifteen or twenty minutes on a bike. It’s got a great shotengai, department stores, restaurants, bars, karaoke, clubs, cinemas and all the rest. I dare say the train gets old if you’re riding it all the time, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

      I can certainly second your sentiments about ICU leaving you alone in a positive way – if you are individualist by nature I concur that this is a great place for you.

      It’s also an awesome, awesome place to be if you love nature; not just the campus cat tribe but the forest as a whole. So many amazing things I saw there – like a tanuki with eyes glowing green from the streetlight as it disappeared into the night; I found a hornets nest, and stood listening to them chewing the bark to make paper; I came upon the carapace of an elephant beetle that was the size of a shoe when it was alive; I watched Joro-gumo build multi-planar secondary webs to keep birds out of their primary web; I trailed a dual-lane ant highway, one lane for big ones and another for smaller ones, for fully half a kilometre; I came within an inch of standing on a gecko with near-perfect concrete camouflage…unless you’re in the deep country, you won’t get nearer to nature than this.

      What I said about homestay shouldn’t be taken lightly. My degree was in Japanese and Cultural Studies and to me there was nothing more valuable than being in a Japanese home with Japanese people. They were funny old sticks, and it got kind of wearing at times, but it was such a once-in-a-lifetime chance that it was the decider for me. I knew a couple of other people on homestay and they too found it a really positive experience. It was also pretty economical, as they included breakfast and six dinners a week into my rent. ICU fixed it up, and not all Japanese universities can or will.

      I don’t know if they still do it, but when I was there they just started a tandem partner scheme which was a good way to meet people, get work checked and work on your speaking. If that’s still around I recommend it.

      Oh, and there’s a semi-secret pedestrian exit in the woods that goes through the seminary grounds.

  18. Thanks for this awesome post Grace! It was really informative. I’m moving to start taking classes at ICU in August, I’m going to be with the Rotary Peace Fellows. Are you taking grad classes at ICU? I’ll be doing a masters and wondering what the class load is like with those classes. Thanks!

    • Hi Sana,

      Glad I could help! I wrote another post about ICU if you find that helpful – I think it’s a great school, though.
      I have a couple friends in grad school, and they seem to love ICU.

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