Japan High School Exchange 101

Japan High School Exchange 101

High school can be a difficult time, but attending a high school in a country that speaks another language and embraces unfamiliar cultures and traditions is an adventure few can boast to their friends and family. Jes Stayton, study abroad in Japan alumni offers some advice to a prospective exchange student on making the most of this amazing experience.

Packing a suitcase for a Greenheart Travel program.

Packing Tips for Japan

One of the things I regret most about my pre-exchange program preparation is that I brought too much stuff to Japan.  Bring everything you need, of course, but don’t pack with the mindset of ‘I’m going to be there 10 months, 5 months etc.’ Also, try to leave space in your bag for the things you will buy in Japan. Remember that you can buy toothpaste, shampoo and other necessities in Japan.  I would bring what you need for the first month, and then buy everything else after that.

I think it might be a good idea to bring some bath towels. In Japan, everyone has their own bath towel, slippers, chopsticks, plates, etc. I doubt that your host family will require you to buy your own plates, but they might want you to use your own towel(s). This differs from family to family. My first two host families lent me a towel, but my current host family asked me to buy my own.

As for clothes, it is important to remember that you will be living here, not just on a trip. Don’t pack only your most fashionable things. Bring the clothes you wear for hanging around the house; the sweaters you wear when you are cold. Most Japanese houses don’t have central heating, so this is important. If you own long underwear, you should bring it. Most Japanese people wear long underwear during the winter. In fact, I think it is a good idea to bring enough underwear and bras for a week. Some families wear different underwear and bras everyday.

Lastly, if you use a digital camera, it might be a good idea to bring an extra memory card. I was planning to delete pictures taken in America, but once I got to Japan, I found I didn’t want to.

A Japanese host family on a picnic.

Etiquette for Staying with a Japanese Host Family

The home stay is one of the most important parts of going on an exchange program. In my opinion, an exchange student’s relationship with his/her host family is most important. Before coming to Japan, I thought that most of my struggles would be at school, and didn’t think about the home stay much at all. However, after coming to Japan, I found that it was actually the opposite. The vast majority of my mistakes were made at home. Teachers and students at school also tend to be more understanding than the host family.

Remember that your host family is not your real family no matter how nice they are, so offer to help your host family with chores, and if you can, do chores that relate to you. This means that unless your host family says otherwise, wash your own laundry, clean your own room, etc.

Aisatsu (greetings) are very important in Japan. Always say, ‘Arigatou gozaimasu, ‘Ohayo gozaimasu’, ‘Oyasuminasai’, ‘Tadaima’, and other greetings. It took me a long time to realize that not saying ‘Ohayo gozaimasu’ to everyone, every morning, was rude. Also, if your host family bothers to correct your Japanese or teach you Japanese manners—study it. They are helping you out of kindness, so if you make the same mistake again and again, it looks like you don’t care.

Don’t worry too much about your mistakes, though. Always apologize, and remember the mistake so you don’t make it again, but try not to stress about it. I tend to make myself miserable that way. Your host family knows that as an exchange student you will make mistakes. They won’t hate you because of it. Try your hardest, and make sure your host family knows that you are trying, and you will be okay.

Architecture in Japan.

Studying Abroad in Japan

If you study Japanese at school, I would recommend asking your teacher what phrases, or words she/he thinks you should study. If your teacher, knowing that you will be going on an exchange program, goes out of his/her way to teach you something, I would make sure to study it. When I looked at my Japanese notes a month into the exchange program, I realized that many of the things I had trouble with in the first month were things I had already studied during my last few lessons before leaving. Also, don’t slack off during the summer.

Once you get to Japan, I recommend you try to write down the words you don’t understand, and study them later.

You likely won’t be able to write down all the words you hear, but anything you can write down is a step toward understanding Japanese. In class, you may not understand anything at first. I could understand my English classes, but not my history or religion class (I asked to take history, so don’t worry about that). Try to pay attention, even if you don’t understand. Listen for words you do understand, and watch the teacher.

Some teachers gesture while they speak, making the class easier to understand. If you take notes, try to notice the separate radicals (parts) of kanji. Knowing radicals will make it easier to write and remember kanji later. For example: the kanji used for “time” is made of the kanjis for “day” and for “temple.” I already know how to write these kanji, so remembering the kanji for “time” is easy.

People wearing traditional Japanese attire.

General Advice for Japan

One thing I think all exchange students should do is talk to people. No one will think you are stupid or laugh at you for not having perfect Japanese. At the very beginning of your exchange program, when you are still a novelty, the other students in your class and at your school will be fascinated by you. Complete strangers said ‘konnichiwa‘ to me in the hallway, and asked me questions about America. This period of time is a golden opportunity. Talk to your fellow students, and try to make friends.  If someone invites you to go out together or eat lunch together at school, accept if you can. Later, it will be much harder to make friends, and meet people.

Try to focus on Japan while you are there. Don’t spend all your time thinking about your own family and your own country.

Concentrate on the good points of being in Japan. If you are homesick, distract yourself from it. This is difficult to do, but if you can do it, you will enjoy your time much more. Also, always try new things, because if you don’t you will regret it later. Join the bukatsu that you have always had an interest in, not just what sport you did at home. I joined the orchestra club because I play the violin, but I wish I had joined the kendo bukatsu instead. An exchange program is an opportunity to expand the bounds of who you are, so don’t worry about what you have always done, or what other people will think.

Does High School in Japan sound perfect for you? Click below to learn more about the program!

Study Abroad in Japan

24 thoughts on "Japan High School Exchange 101"

  1. Palvin says:

    Can 14 year old can join in exchange program in Japan please reply

    1. Shannon Pedersen says:

      Hi Palvin!
      Students as young as 14 can participate in our Teen Summer Language Camp in Japan (https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/language-camps/japanese). Otherwise, the minimum age requirement for our high school abroad experience is 15 years old (https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/high-school-abroad/high-school-in-japan#/tab/eligibility).

  2. Subarnarekha Debnath says:

    So, if I want to join the highschool as a one month exchange student; is it possible?
    Can I get a part time job if I am on homestay for 1 month? If I don’t know Japanese is it possible?

    1. Shannon Pedersen says:

      The shortest program a student can attend for high school abroad in Japan is 3 months. Students cannot work while on program as that is against both the tourist and student visa restrictions. Additionally, there is a strict language eligibility requirement for high school abroad Japan (https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/high-school-abroad/high-school-in-japan#/tab/program-dates).
      Alternatively, you can attend the Japan Teen Summer Language Camp which does accept beginners and students can study there for 2-6 weeks (https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/language-camps/japanese).

  3. abdur rahman says:

    konichiwa my name is abdur rahman i am a muslim and i study in india. i study in my inter first year ( in japan high school 2nd year) is there any chance of me studying my last year in japan because i really want to study there for my last year and i really want to experience my last year in a japanese high school. can you plese tell me

    1. Shannon Pedersen says:

      Hi Abdur Rahman,
      Our requirements to study abroad in Japan include Canadian or U.S. citizenship. You can read more about our eligibility requirements here: https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/high-school-abroad/high-school-in-japan

  4. Alexa says:

    Heyo! Im currently not in high school, soon going to be, and I am quite interested with Japanese culture and their country. I am a very anxious person so it would be hard for me, but I have always wanted to be a foreign exchange student to Japan because of my large fascination with it. Ive wanted to go for a year but I’ve seen how expensive it can get. I certainly wouldn’t want to go alone either so would I be able to go with someone who’s also exchanging? In the same household? I was Planning to go with my sister who is 2 years younger than me but I wouldn’t work out since it is too much of an age gap. What I am worried about is not having proper manners that they would in Japan and make mistakes or at school, I may not understand much. Would I get paired with a family who speaks english and have a kid who does too I can talk too? I am also scared about feeling very homesick. Not going to lie, I am quite picky so I am afraid they may not like me because I don’t eat much. Overall, I am just nervous and scared, but after awhile I think I can learn. Do the families get upset if you do something wrong or do they understand? Thank you too, haha.

    1. Haldis Toppen says:

      Hello! For more information on our programs, please reach out to our email travelabroad@greenheart.org. Sorry for the delay. Cheers, Greenheart Travel

  5. Mopsie says:

    We would be honored to host 2 or 3 Japanese students for a school year. Would you please recommend a few respectable foreign exchange programs for consideration? Thank you very much.

    1. Sara Thacker says:

      Hi Mopsie! That’s great! Please check out our sister company – Greenheart Exchange. https://greenheartexchange.org/host/host-an-exchange-student/

  6. hermione says:

    I want to know if you have a disapility can you still go and do you need to talk japanese

    1. Chase Chisholm says:

      Hi, there! Thank you for your message. It varies for our High School Abroad opportunity in Japan, but not as much for the Teen Summer Language Camp option. Here are the eligibility requirements for studying abroad in Japan with Greenheart Travel: https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/high-school-abroad/high-school-in-japan#eligibility.

  7. Bella gage says:

    I’m thinking about being a foreign exchange student in Japan. I am curious about food and stuff if you have allergies. Would I make my own food? Thanks for the information btw it’s very helpful.

  8. Bithika Das says:

    hello, i am eagerly interested in Indo-Japan exchange program. I am a student of japanese language of Visva-bharati university,india. please guide me how i can become an exchange student?

  9. Monica Liu says:

    I have 1 question. Do you have to learn or speak Japanese to become an exchange student?

    1. RonTheBird says:

      I think in general you have to be in the process of learning Japanese to go on an exchange program.

    2. hermione says:

      I want to know that two

    3. Sara Thacker says:

      Hey guys! For the study abroad program you need to have at least 1 year of Japanese language study. For our summer Language Camp program, however, we can take beginners! https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/language-camps/fukuoka-japan

  10. Aya Abdullah says:

    Hey there! I really want to study highschool in japan can you please guide me with the exchange program thing please?

    1. Megan Arzbaecher says:

      Hi Aya! That’s great to hear that you are interested in studying in Japan. Good for you! You can learn more about our exchange program here: https://greenhearttravel.org/program/teen/high-school-abroad/high-school-in-japan

  11. Claudia Gusenleitner says:

    Hi ??
    I have a question I’ve wanting to
    Ask for longer now. I searched the internet but I couldn’t find answers (maybe i did it wrong)
    But if u want to be an exchange student, u have to enter a scholarship of a company and so u come to Japan, to a hostfamily and a school.
    But the question is: Will there be other exchange students, from the same/ another company too? Because I fear that I will feel hopeless in the beginning when I come to Japan. Like: where do I have to go, where is this and that…
    i also fear the students there won’t like me.
    (Yes, i am human and i have fears too ._.) but as much as I fear I want to go to Japan. REALLY BAD !

    I hope u Can give me some advice
    Ps: sry if my English is broken, I’m Austrian so I normally don’t talk/write English xD

    1. Grant says:

      Hi Claudia!

      Great question! So, there is a good chance you would be the only exchange student at your school, but I don’t want you to feel too nervous about that. 🙂 Your host family, teachers, and friends will be your support and they will be able to help throughout your time in Japan! They all want this to be the best experience possible for you. You will learn so much during your first few weeks in Japan and after a while things will start to feel routine. 🙂

  12. Convonalene says:

    i really adore all your posting style, very interesting,
    don’t give up and keep writing as it simply nicely to look through it,
    excited to find out way more of your own stories, have a pleasant day!

  13. Matthew Fontaine says:

    Kendo would have been really cool to learn. You did a great job putting this guide together Jess! I’m actually quite surprised to hear some of what you said. I probably would have packed everything I owned myself. Haha. Sounds like being in a host family would be more difficult then I would have expected! I’m really proud of you for taking this experience! I can’t wait to see you this summer though! Send me an email sometime!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *