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Frequently Asked Questions (MSHSE)

Wondering how long the plane ride is? Want to know if you have to speak Japanese to go? Read below for answers to these (and many more) questions for those interested in the Michigan-Shiga High School Exchange (MSHSE).


Pre-program questions

Do I have to be able to speak Japanese?

No. While some level of Japanese language study can definitely be helpful, it is not required for program participation. Most Japanese students are able to understand or speak some English. We will provide you with some basic conversational Japanese phases to help you during your home stay and at school while in Japan. You may find after this program that you want to start seriously studying Japanese!

What if I don't have the best grades?

On the program application you are asked to give your GPA and have two teachers complete recommendation forms. While good grades can be an indication of the type of positive traits we look for in potential participants, it isn't the only one. Strong recommendations from teachers and clearly articulated enthusiasm for cultural exchange and Japan are also considered. We want students who have applied themselves at school and who also have character traits that will make this exchange experience a positive and successful one.

What if I have food allergies or health concerns?

After admission into the program, you will complete a health form asking you about allergies, medications, dietary restrictions, disabilities and other health issues. This information will be reviewed by the Michigan State University Travel Clinic. Travel clinic staff will work with students to help them prepare for managing any conditions or medications while abroad. Environmental and food allergies can be disclosed on the application form if you feel they should be considered during the exchange student pairing process.

How am I matched with a Japanese student?

Your completed application will be sent to Japan after your admission to the program. The information you give will be used by the Shiga Board of Education to match you with one of their selected Shiga students. While most pairings are usually quite successful, keeping an open mind and allowing for differences in personality and culture is important in any international exchange program.

What have past participants said about their experiences?

Past students and their families frequently report that this program is a life-changing experience. For many past participants, going to Japan and staying with a host family for 2 weeks was the longest and/or farthest they had traveled without their family. As a result, many come back feeling more confident and mature. High school educators have remarked that students often return with a renewed enthusiasm for education, especially topics related to language, culture, and international understanding. The Michigan hosting portion of the program has also had a huge impact on many past participants and their families, since hosting a Japanese student in their home often makes them see their country, state and hometown with new eyes. It makes everyone grow in ways they didn’t consider before participating in the program.

Questions about life in Shiga

How long is the plane ride?

It is a long trip to Shiga prefecture. The international flight is typically at least 12 with the possibility of layovers on either side of the journey (airline arrangements vary by year).  The total travel time can be much longer depending on layovers and additional ground travel to get to or from the airport(s). Past students have used the travel time to get to know the other students traveling with them on the program, practice their Japanese, write in their journals, etc. 

Will I be near other students from Michigan?

Since Shiga is quite a bit smaller than Michigan, there is a chance that there will be other Michigan students at your Shiga high school, but it is not guaranteed. It will depend on who applies in Shiga and what schools they attend. Every year we have Michigan participants who experience being the only exchange student at their host school (or even the only foreigner in their town!), as well as students who attend their host school with 1 or more Michigan students (or even other exchange students from other countries!).  Each year and situation is somewhat unique.

Regardless of what school you attend and whether you're there with other Michigan students, at some point during the 2 weeks you will be visited during school hours by the Michigan chaperones.

Will my phone work? Will I be able to use it in Japan?

Maybe. If you are interested in having cell phone service while in Japan, you will have to contact your phone provider and ask them whether or not that is possible and what additional charges (if any) you would incur for doing so.

Generally, most students find they don't need cellular service or data while they are in Japan, and those who have used it have found that it can be very expensive. In recent years, most students have opted to bring their phones, but to use them in wi-fi only mode for the 2 weeks in Japan. This allowed them to communicate via various apps with family back home, as well as to take pictures. 

Regardless of whether students decide to pay for cellular data in Japan, we encourage participants and their families to be very mindful that they are not overusing their ability to communicate. Past participants frequently report that the two weeks seemed to go by very quickly, so you don't want to waste any of that time on your phone doing things you can do after the program ends!

The Michigan chaperones always carry working phones (at least one with a Michigan number and one with a Japan-based number) to communicate with parents/guardians in Michigan and Shiga, as well as with the Japanese officials coordinating the program in Japan.

How much spending money will I need? Are there ATMs?

We suggest bringing about $400 dollars. Most past participants have found that having some yen in cash before departure was ideal so that they could purchase snacks and drinks immediately upon arrival in Japan. You can change all of your dollars to yen before leaving Michigan, or some in Michigan and some in Shiga. You should check the exchange rate and fees at your local financial institution, as most banks and credit unions can order foreign currency in advance of your travel.

International ATMs are available at many convenience stores, post offices, and at large banks in Japan, but hours of operation and card compatibility varies. Many past participants have reported using their U.S.-issued debit cards (with a Visa or MasterCard logo) to access their accounts and withdraw money (in yen) while in Japan. The ATMs at 7-11 convenience stores in Japan seem to have the widest compatibility and the most convenient hours of operation.

Credit cards are often accepted at large stores, but may not be accepted at smaller shops or for smaller purchases. International Transaction fees may apply for ATM and credit card transactions. A credit card can be useful to have for emergencies. Travelers Checks aren’t accepted at many banks in Shiga and are quickly becoming outdated as a form of payment.

If you plan to use any of your U.S.-based bank or credit accounts, be sure to inform your financial institution of your travel plans. If you do not, it's possible they will freeze your account if you attempt to use it. 

What clothes will I wear?

It is very hot and humid in Shiga in June and July. Loose-fitting cotton shirts, skirts, shorts or slacks are the norm. We will cover packing in detail at the orientation.

For daily wear outside of school, we recommend packing clothing that is versatile and comfortable, but with an emphasis on keeping it appropriate. The lengths of shorts or skirts in Japan are typically more modest than in the U.S. and thin shoulder straps on shirts are not common unless wearing something over them. Clothing that is ripped or highly distressed is also less common. 

School uniforms will vary depending on your particular school placement, but nearly all past participants needed to wear a uniform of some kind. Uniforms typically consist of a white button-down shirt or blouse paired with dark-colored slacks or a skirt.

Again, we will provide more details/considerations and answer any questions at orientation.

How do I get to school?

This will depend a lot on where your host family lives in relation to your host school and where in Shiga the school is located. If you live vary near, you'll likely walk or ride a bike. If it's further away, your commute may require walking/riding a bike combined with a train ride or bus, or a host parent may have the time to drive you to school. Each situation is a bit different.

What are school lunches like in Shiga?

Most high schools in Japan do not provide lunch at the school in the way that most Michigan schools do. Past participants have reported bringing a bento or boxed lunch to school (typically prepared by their host family) or grabbing something to eat at a local shop or cafe with their host student.

What will I do during for the two weeks in Shiga?

Homestay

You will stay with your host family, participating in their family activities. This will vary a lot depending on your family placement and their daily lifestyle, housing arrangements, where they live, etc. Past participants have found this to be one of (if not the most) rewarding aspect of the program. Shiga is a region of Japan with a very long history that is rich in culture and natural beauty. Your family may take you to interesting attractions in or outside of your host town and/or they may arrange opportunities to experience traditional Japanese activities nearby. Just like your Michigan family, they may have particular activities, games, etc. that they enjoy together and they may want to share those with you as well. Regardless of the particulars of your host family, you will be learning something new every moment as long as you keep an open mind and a positive attitude. 

School

You’ll attend school with your host student. Some Michigan students have followed their Shiga student to all of her/his classes, while others have had different schedules that included other classes or activities. For example, some past students have helped out with English classes or other cultural activities that are going on at the school. There are often after school clubs that you may participate in with your host student. The school may be holding its cultural or sports festival activities while you are there, in which case you may be able and encouraged to participate.

The Michigan chaperones will visit your school at some point during school hours within the 2 weeks of the program.

Program Events

The group arrives in and departs from Japan together. The first two days will include a group stay at a hotel in Shiga, a courtesy visit with government officials in Otsu (Shiga's capital), and some sightseeing before meeting up with your host family. The last two days will include a farewell ceremony/event and a group stay at a hotel near the airport.

What fun things will I be able to do in Shiga?

Before you leave Michigan, you will have an opportunity to communicate with your Japanese student and family. They will ask you what you’d like to do, see or experience. Some students may be in an urban area, others in rural areas. No matter where you stay, you’ll learn much about Japanese culture and people. There will be school activities that will keep you busy as well.

Will there be any celebrations when I am there?

Summer is typically a very active season in Japan, despite the heat and humidity. Communities around Lake Biwa (located in the center of Shiga Prefecture) may hold small festivals or matsuri or have fireworks displays. Schools are preparing for summer break, so Shiga students may be cramming for exams while also preparing for their Culture and Sports festivals. Tanabata typically falls during Michigan students' time in Shiga, but it is not a national holiday and activities will vary by region. What types of celebrations you witness will depend a lot on your location.

Questions about the Michigan portion of the program

What living space should my family provide the Shiga student?

They should have their own bedroom and bed. You will receive a copy of their application before you go to Shiga that is similar to our application, giving you information about the student, their home/family, their personal preferences, etc. While you are in Japan, your host family will provide daily meals and include you in their daily life and activities, so the same is expected while the Shiga student is staying with you and your family in Michigan.

Will the Japanese students be able to eat American food?

Just as we ask the Michigan students to be open-minded and try new things, the Shiga students will be asked by their chaperones to do the same. Generally speaking, the Shiga students are excited to try a lot of well-known and new (to them) American foods. 

Many past Shiga students have been excited to eat foods they are already familiar with (hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta, ice cream, etc.), but they also really enjoyed experiencing foods they didn't know before, such as gumbo, tacos/enchiladas/fajitas, mac & cheese, goulash, casseroles, etc. Even things that might seem quite normal to us in Michigan such as a salad, can be very different in Japan and is very exciting for the Shiga students to try.

Just know that American foods tend to be saltier, sweeter, fattier, and served in larger portions than typical Japanese cuisine (especially at restaurants). Many Japanese students in the past have felt it's rude to leave food on their plates, but may also be unable to finish such large amounts of food (especially if it is very rich). 

Will I be able to drive my Japanese visitor to/from school?

For safety and insurance reasons, the Japanese students cannot drive any motorized vehicles while in Michigan and may only ride in vehicles driven by adult licensed drivers who are NOT student participants in the program. While we understand that this can be problematic, as it means that the Michigan students are unable to drive themselves and their Shiga student to school during the Michigan homestay, it is important that this program rule be obeyed. 

This rule also applies while the Michigan students are in Japan- They may not operate any motorized vehicles and should only be driven around by adult licensed drivers who are not students participating in the program.

I will be at sports practice/club meetings, etc. while my Shiga student is here. What will they do at that time?

While you are in Japan, there will likely be some times when your Shiga student has tests or other activities that you cannot participate in or that your hosts may think will be boring for you. Usually during this time, your host family, host school teacher(s), etc. may arrange alternate activities or ask you to spend time with them. If you find that you similarly have meetings or events that you cannot miss while your Shiga student is visiting, please make other arrangements or ask for her/his preference (as she/he may want to attend anyway). There may be creative ways to incorporate them into your activities, or it may be the perfect opportunity for them to spend time with another member of your family enjoying a different activity.